Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Unholy (1988)

I remember seeing the VHS box for "The Unholy" back in the day at the local K-Mart.


I'm sure many a horror fan remembers seeing this going to the local mom and pop rental or movie chain. Like "The Brain", "Hellraiser" and "Evil Dead II", it had a cover that caught you eye. I didn't rent it, but that cover stuck with me. Well, it was on IFC last night, so is it worthy of such striking box art? The short answer: occasionally, but mostly no.

In New Orleans, several priests have been killed, so it's up to Father Michael (Ben Cross) to stop it. There's a catch though: he doesn't really believe in devils and demons, even after a visit with a man known as Luke (William Huss) who has been witnessing a presence, as has virginal Millie (Jill Carrol.) In the process, he's been seeing visions of a naked temptress, whose actual a demon known as a Daeisidarius...

On paper, "The Unholy" should work. Most of the performances are good, there's some striking visuals, and the gore and creature effects (including what can only be described as demonic munchkins) from Bob Keen-who at the time was being called "The British Savini"-are a lot of fun. The problem though, is everything else. The score by Roger Bellon is your basic "synthesizers at high volume" type of late 80's horror music, it's unintentionally amusing at parts and entire plot points such as an investigation from a detective played by Ned Beatty are largely forgotten.

The biggest problem however, is the direction. Simply put, director Camilo Vila films the whole thing as if it were a bland TV movie. Thanks to that, there's nothing here that's scary or atmospheric. With a better director and script (which was co-written by Phillip Yordan* of all people), this could have been something worth watching.

As it stands, only the less discriminate of 80's horror fans might enjoy this movie. Everyone else is better off watching something more worthwhile, like "Breaking Bad" or funny pet videos.

Rating: 3/10

*Yordan was a longtime screenwriter for Hollywood, whose credits included "El Cid", "The Naked Jungle", "Johnny Guitar", "Mutiny", "King of Kings" and "God's Little Acre." His only other genre credits are "Day of the Triffids" and "Conquest of Space."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Vampire's Night Orgy (1974)

Leon Klimovsky is a name that probably isn't familiar to you-that is, unless you are a fan of 70's Euro Horror. In that decade, he gave the world "The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman", "Devil's Possessed", "The Dracula Saga" and "The People Who Own the Dark" to name a few. Then there's "The Vampire's Night Orgy." While it may have vampires, and much of it takes place at night, there's no orgy to be found.

The premise couldn't be more simple really. A bus with some tourists in it breaks down, leaving the tourists to spend some time in a small town. Said town has vampires, and the next thing you know, the tourists start disappearing one by one.

As I said, pretty basic stuff. Anyway, this isn't exactly a perfect movie. The dubbing is off, it's a bit too slow for its own good, and the ending is ripped off from "Two-Thousand Maniacs." Then there's the score. While it's oftentimes decent, it rarely fits the events taking place onscreen. I don't know about you, but seeing a fight scene set to light-sounding, funky Library Music is kind of disorienting, not to mention unintentionally funny.

All that being said, this is moderately entertaining stuff. It's not up to par with say, most of "The Blind Dead" series, but there's still enough atmosphere, minor gore, black humor and brief female nudity to please you. It also comes up with some striking images, which range from smoke and maggot covered charred corpses to images of the dead feeding that brought to mind the aforementioned "Blind Dead" series and "The People Who Own the Dark." Then there's this guy:

The dark side of Paul Bunyan

Every time he shows up to kill someone, I couldn't help but smile. I mean, look at him! He's like the jolliest looking killer you could imagine.

As a whole, "The Vampire's Night Orgy" isn't one of Klimovsky's best movies, but it's far from one of his worst. For fans of Euro Horror, this is worth seeing.

Rating: 6/10

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Setup (2011)

You know, if your going to pinpoint one person as being symbolic of everything that is wrong with straight-to-video movies, it's pretty much ridiculous. I mean, they're straight-to-video movies. Nobody expects anything worthy of mention for them. Yet, that is exactly what I am going to do.

Rapper 50 Cent is symbolic of much of what is wrong with straight-to-video movies. It's funny how this guy went from being one of the biggest rappers on earth to a regular in such movies, but he's got a shit load of money, so he act/produce these movies. With "Setup", he somehow brings in two bigger stars-Ryan Phillipe and Bruce Willis of all people-into his world of mediocrity.

Mr. Cent stars as Sonny, who along with his best friend, is shot (way to be subtle about one of your claims to fame) by Vincent Long (Phillipe) after a heist gone wrong, and now wants revenge. To get this revenge, he teams with the mob, which always works well in these movies. When the mob's muscle Petey (Randy Courture, in a rather thankless role) is shot, and things start to go south, mob boss Biggs (Willis) wants something done about all this.

I will say these two things: Willis is good (though only around for like 10 minutes total) and the production values look much better than most straight-to-video movies. Then again, it did cost $20 million to make, which seems like a bit much for something like this, but hey. Apart from that, this is your typical bad cop/heist/whatever movie from Lionsgate and Grindstone Entertainment. That means there's a bad soundtrack made up of dull rock and uninteresting rap, badly written character drama, mostly bad acting (Phillipe's performance could be called bipolar, as he goes from committed to looking like he doesn't want to be there), plot points like a pseudo-religious angle that go nowhere, plot holes the size of craters, and no reason to care about anyone or anything that happens.

Then there's 50 Cent. Look, there are rappers that have proven themselves to be good to decent actors. Look at Ice Cube, Ice T, RZA and Mos Def for example. 50 Cent is not one of those good actors. Next to Master P, he's the worst rapper trying his hand at acting I've ever seen. This is a man who is completely void of anything resembling dramatic chops, charisma or screen presence, and serves more as a vacuum than he does an actor. And that's one of the reasons why he's so bad for these kinds of movies. Sure, Phillipe and Willis are clearly there for the paycheck-that or they were blackmailed or owed somebody a favor-but guys like James Remar are talented guys. Yet, this is a vanity project for a man who couldn't act to save his life.

If you are a hardcore 50 Cent fan (though I doubt that kind of thing still exists), you will want to see this. Everyone else is better off reading a book or something.

Rating: 1.5/10

Friday, July 20, 2012

Konga (1961) and Trog (1970)

No fancy introduction today. Just a look at two films produced by Herman Cohen and featuring Michael Gough.

First is "Konga." Here, Gough plays Dr, Charles Decker, a botanist who has come back from Africa after being presumed dead. Among the various man-eating plants, he also brought forth a cute little chimp named Konga, which he tests his growth serum on. Once it reaches man-size, he uses it to get murderous revenge on those that have wronged him. When he starts to get the hots for Sandra (Claire Gordon), his girlfriend Margaret (Margo Johns) isn't going to have any of that.

"Konga" is something of a mixed bad. On one hand, the second act really drags, and is too talky for it's own good. It also gets really repetitive, with each murder being the same thing over and over again, and the final few frames are a real eye roller. On the other hand, Gough is a lot of fun here, and the last fifteen minutes deliver the campy goods, with a giant Venus Flytrap biting an arm off and Konga growing to be at least 30 feet tall. Plus, there's something oddly charming about the cheap, unconvincing gorilla suit. As a whole, the thing is 50/50, but fans of schlocky monster movies might enjoy this.

Less enjoyable is "Trog", which was directed by Freddie Francis*, and is the last film to star Joan Crawford. She plays Dr. Brockton, who has made the discovery of a lifetime in when she discovers a prehistoric man, or a troglodyte. She manages to domesticate the hairy fella, but corrupt land developer Sam Murdock (Gough) lets him go, leading to a rampage.

Though there are a few so-bad-they're-good moments, "Trog" is dated even by the standards of the time and mostly boring. Crawford seems drunk off her ass the whole time, slurring her dialogue and not showing any signs of commitment. Not faring any better is Gough, who has to deliver painfully bad dialogue and bad quips to the troglodyte. Even the scenes with the creature are a dull, though seeing once acclaimed actress Joan Crawford chase a man in an unconvincing monster suit with a "hypno-gun" is something of a tragicomic image. Still, this is slog to sit through, and other than the novelty of this being Crawford's last movie, there's no reason to watch it.

Ratings:

Konga: 5/10
Trog: 2.5/10

*Francis was no stranger to British genre films. Among his credits are "Dracula has Risen from the Grave", "The Skull", "Tales From the Crypt", "Tales that Witness Madness" and the underrated "The Creeping Flesh" and "Girly." Needless to say, "Trog" is not a highpoint in his career.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Monster Brawl (2011)

I've mentioned this before, but I'm something of a wrestling fan. Sure, it might run into moments that I hate (as a recent Smackdown spoiler suggests), but I still watch it regardless of what happens. It's clear that writer/director Jesse T. Cook is a fan as well (what with the appearances of current and former wrestling personalities and references to things like Japanese Death Matches), but with "Monster Brawl", he takes a one note premise that could have been fun and does nothing to make it work.

The plot couldn't be more simple-Buzz Chambers (Dave Foley) and Sasquatch Sid Tucker (Art Hindle) are two announcers who are pleased to give you Monster Brawl, in which eight monsters (Zombie Boy, Cyclops, The Mummy, Werewolf, Swamp Gut, Witch Bitch, Lady Vampire and Frankenstein) are all going to compete in one-on-one wrestling matches, with the voice of God (Lance Henriksen) serving as a narrator/ringside announcer. Oh, and the graveyard is cursed.

As I said, pretty basic stuff. On the plus side, most of the performances are alright. Foley and Hindle seem to be having a lot of fun as the announcers, while Kevin Nash does a fine job as Zombie Boy's manager. The only performance that doesn't ring true comes is from Henriksen, who sounds bored most of the time. It's hard to blame him though, as this is a movie with a fun premise that doesn't know what to do with it. Sure, there's a few chuckles to be had, but most of the jokes fall flat on their face, especially around the final act. Speaking of which, the third act just drags on and on, not showing any sign of letting up, but never managing to do anything that's fun.

Which leads me to my biggest complaint: the "matches" themselves are boring. Sure, it must be hard to wrestle with all that make-up or in a rubber suit, but there's little here that actually resembles a wrestling match. The fact that the film seems to be as influenced by old fighting games like "Killer Instinct" and "Mortal Kombat" as it is by wrestling hurts it too. Each match ends the same-you gotta kill your opponent in some gruesome fashion. By the third or fourth maiming that occurs however, it just gets repetitive. Apart from title belts, nothing feels like it's at stake here, making it all feel more like a pointless exercise than it does a wrestling and horror geeks dream come true.

As a whole, even the most hardcore mark (look it up) will probably find themselves bored by "Monster Brawl." It's a premise that doesn't do anything with the joke at hand, and feels more like a boring fantasy from a fan boy than it does a movie you'd actually want to sit through.

Rating: 3/10

Friday, July 13, 2012

RIP Sage Stallone

Why? Because he helped found Grindhouse Releasing.

Mutant Girls Squad (2010)

So and so!


What's her face!


The ugly one!

Sorry, I couldn't resist. Anyways, "Mutant Girls Squad" is the latest from Sushi Typhoon, who apart from "Cold Fish", seem to aim for high end splatter, random wackiness and moments of drama-but mostly moments that make you wonder what is in the water. This splatter-centric variation on "X-Men" is told in three parts, each one directed by a veteran from the studio.

The first act is directed by Noboru Iguchi. Here, poor teenager Rin (Yumi Sugumoto) is about to discover a little secret-she's a mutant (she has a metallic claw like appendage for an arm), and so is her dad. However, a group of government soldiers with phallic nose guns is after her, as well the rest of the town. Cue wall to wall splatter.

Segment two is from Tak Sakaguchi, where the story comes through. Rin is taken in by a group of fellow mutant girls lead by Kisaragi (Sakaguchi), who is training them for terrorist acts involving slaughtering those who want to kill their fellow mutants-and innocent bystanders. In the process, she befriends tentacle armed Yoshi (Susuka Morita) and loner with a troubled past Rei (Yuko Takayama), and in the process begins to have second thoughts on this whole killing people thing.

The third act comes from Yoshihiro Nishimura, and is where the shit hits the fan. The girls start to kill innocent civilians whilst Kisaragi makes his final plans to become something that could destroy humanity, and a mutant/goddess that can bleed fire is awoken. Can Rin and Yoshi help save the day? Can Rei come around and realize that what she is doing is wrong? What is with the filmmakers and schoolgirls?

Though not all the jokes work (Kisaragi's mutant power is a rather obvious and forced erection joke) and the constant arterial sprays can get tiresome, "Mutant Girls Squad" manages to be more entertaining than not. This is largely due to the odd mutant powers (a girl with swords coming out of her tits, a girl with a chainsaw coming out of her ass), random visual gags (chainsaw butt girl wears a yellow cheerleader outfit that says "I hear Texas." I don't know why, but that cracked me up) and stronger than usual acting on display. It could also be seen as a social commentary, here speaking about such issues such as racism in Japan, government war-mongering, terrorism and the awkward life of being a teenager. Of course, you aren't watching this for intelligent mussing, you are watching this for over-the-top gore and general what the fuckery, and on that level, it works.

Is this the best of the wave of Japanese splatter movies? Not really, but after the disastrous "Helldriver" and the redundant and boring "Yakuza Weapon", I'll take it. Nothing great, but a nice little diversion for gore-hounds.

Rating: 6.5/10

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Zombies vs. Strippers (2012) and Humans vs. Zombies (2011)

With a few exceptions, I think it's safe to say that zombies have reached their saturation point. Sure, it was cool at first when zombie movies got wide theatrical releases, and that more of them were hitting the home video market. At this point though, it's something that's overdone. How many more times do we need another "zombie apocalypse" or "strippers vs. zombies" (or "strippers vs. anything") movie? It's been done to death (pardon the pun), and movies like "Zombies vs. Strippers" and "Humans vs. Zombies" aren't going to do anything for the dead.

"Zombies vs. Strippers" is about...well, what the title says. Spider (Circus-Szalewski-now that's a name) is upset that business isn't booming for his strip club the Tough Titty, and even his favorite TV character Ramboner (ugh-this character is like a weird mix of Binky the Clown from "Garfield and Friends", a racist Southerner and a conservative talk radio guy) can't bring him joy. Well, as a punk rocker Rudy (Jonathan-Erickson Eisley) and a biker gang lead by Red Wings (Brad Potts) will reveal, the zombie apocalypse has come.

I know that you shouldn't expect great art from a movie called "Zombies vs. Strippers", but for the love of God, must it be so boring? Apart from that and it's many other flaws (poor direction, nobody but Red Wings being interesting, bad comic relief, unconvincing and dull gore, a redundant "we ran out of cash" conclusion), the biggest problem with the movie is that it's almost never funny. Not even in a dumb way. The pot-head DJ makes bad jokes, the token black stripper says things like "Aw hell nah!", nearly everyone mugs for the camera, and everyone is too stupid to know the zombie apocalypse is happening until a little more than halfway through the movie. I know that dumb humor is a requisite for movies like this, but does it have to be so lazy? All that being said, their are a few amusing one liners and jokes, and at least one or two inspired moments. Still, this is worth little.

Better (but not good) is "Humans vs. Zombies." Here, a group of college kids must survive a viral outbreak that causes...ah fuck it.

If there's anything that does work here, it's that this movie is better directed than the last, and actually bothers with character development. Apart from Brad (the "fat guy whose more annoying than funny" character), these mostly feel like real people, and it helps that the actors are game and mostly good. Unfortunately, the whole thing is way too by the numbers to garner much interest. It also relies on the crutch of having to make nerdy references (video games, zombie books and comics) to try and garner some kind of geek cred without doing much to earn such a thing. I personally hate it when directors do this, and here it's not exception. Add a terrible conclusion and hit and miss humor, and you get something that almost gets it right, but ultimately doesn't.

At best, "Humans vs. Zombies" is worthy of a decent rental, but is nothing worth owning. "Zombies vs. Strippers" however, is only for the less discerning straight-to-video junkie.

Ratings:

Zombies vs. Strippers: 3/10
Humans vs. Zombies: 5/10

Sunday, July 8, 2012

RIP Ernest Borgnine


Murder Obsession (1981)

For fans of Italian Horror, the name Riccardi Freda holds meaning. Not only did he mentor the late, great Mario Bava, but he also did some fine work within the genre of the fantastic. Horror films like "Tragic Ceremony" (which starred Camille Keaton), "The Ghost" (which starred Barbara Steele) and "Lus tof a Vampire" (which was completed by Bava) are films that tend to get name checked when it comes to important titles in genre (well, the last two at least, though "Ceremony" itself is a fine film.) Not name checked often, but still entertaining is his last movie, 1981's "Murder Obsession."

Michael Stanford (Stefano Patrizi) is having some problems. He recently almost killed an actress (Laura Gemser), and returning with his girlfriend Deborah (Silvia Dionisio) to visit his mother (Anita Strindberg) only brings back horrible memories about the death of his father. When more company follows, the guests start to have strange dreams involving things like very large spiders and occult rituals. Oh, and there's a black gloved killer on the loose.

"Murder Obsession" is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style movie. Throwing in all kinds of sub-genres (Giallo, Gothic, Supernatural) and cliches (fog drenched landscapes, eroticism, black gloved killers) into a story that ultimately doesn't make much sense, and has a few flaws to boot (the cheap looking gore kinda sticks out.) That out of the way, this is also pretty fun for the most part. Even before the killing starts to take place, Freda throws in all kinds of demented images (Debbie being felt up by a clearly fake large spider) and offbeat plot twists and turns to make sure you never lose your interest. This is a movie that, even if you don't like it, you'll never find yourself bored by the events taking place.

Plus, the things that do work really stick out. Even is the effects aren't always up to muster, the kills are bloody enough to make you take notice. The score by Franco Mannino is mostly effective, with its blend of classical flourishes and electronic effects perfectly complimenting the events at hand. I even really liked the plot twist at the end, as it actually makes sense considering the events that have taken place, and the strange relationship Michael has with his mother (even though you know who the killer is before the film is halfway over.)

Will "Murder Obsession" be considered a classic in the genre of Italian Horror? Probably not. Those who have a thing for out of the ordinary fare should definitely get a kick out of this movie. It might not be Freda's best movie, but it's a hell of a way to go out.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, July 6, 2012

Rise of the Animals (2011)

When I saw the trailer for "Rise of the Animals" a while back, I rolled my eyes, thinking that it would be a micro budgeted (about $7,000 apparently) version of your average SyFy channel movie. What I saw ended up being what might become my guiltiest pleasure of the year-a off beat horror comedy that mixes (and has some fun with) the nature-run-amok genre mixed with some cute teen romance thrown in for good measure.

Wolf (Greg Hopple) is a nerdy (but thankfully not in an obnoxious way) pizza delivery boy whose only friend in the world is Jake (Adam Schonenberg.) One night on a delivery, they meet a group of girls partying in a cabin in the woods, and Wolf almost loses his virginity to Samantha (Nicole Salisbury.) Things take a turn for the worst the next day though, when animals-and I mean all animals-go on a blood-thirsty rampage against humanity. Can Wolf find the love of his life, or will he find new love in Rachel (Stephanie Motta)? Can they make it out alive? What is causing these critters to turn on us?

There are some obvious flaws-the acting is poor, the CG effects are bad (at times even worse than some SyFy channel movies), the jokes are more hit than miss, and the gore effects can get annoying (most of it is your standard issue "buckets of blood splashed on people" variety) and repetitive. However, this isn't something like your basic Asylum movie done with only money on it's mind, and featuring washed up actors who will star in anything for a check. This is an honest to God movie made by people who wanted to make a movie, and it has much more heart and enthusiasm than those movies. It also deserves kudos for not going the Chris Seaver/John Johnson route of "Let's just goof off and film it" school of micro-budget movies making.

It's also better made. Though the film itself is essentially a movie made by college students, writer/director Chris Wojcik manages to film the whole thing in a brisk pace, with little fat to trim and some shockingly competent direction and editing on display. I also liked the protagonists. Sure, the actors playing them might not be the most experienced guys you'll meet, but they actually come off as real people, and they are likable to boot, as you really do find yourself rooting for Wolf, Rachael and Jake. Oh, and even though the jokes miss more than they hit, the ones that hit got some solid laughs from me. The best one BTW, ends with Steph knocking out a horse with her fists and feet.

I can't rate this higher than I want to, but for fans of no-budget horror comedy, "Rise of the Animals" is a bit of a surprise. I'll watch this over "Super Shark" any day of the week.

Rating: 5.5/10

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Satan's Slave (1976)

As the 70's went on, the Satanic scare genre brought forth by "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Exorcist" was going strong, with films like "The Omen" and "The Blood on Satan's Claw" making people scared of the devil and his followers. Then there's those movies that have gone mostly ignored or dismissed. The latter case goes to Norman J. Warren's take on the genre "Satan's Slave", which mixes Euro-Sleaze inspired exploitation to the mix, but still somehow comes up short.

Cathy Yorke (Candace Glenndenning) has come to the countryside to spend some time with her uncle Alexander (Michael Gough.) However, strange events start occurring, and what do you know, there's a cult of Satan worshipers on the prowl. Also, Cathy and her cousin Stephen (Martin Potter) have a thing going on.

Fans of exploitation should get a kick out of some of "Satan's Slave." Apart from the incest, there's also some choice violence (including some nasty eyeball trauma), tons of nudity, torture, Satanic acts and other nasty things in the movie. Unfortunately, it ends up feeling like there isn't enough. For all the sleaze on display, "Slave" feels like a movie directed on autopilot. Warren directs much of it like it were a more adult version of a television movie, meaning that few of the visuals have much of an impact. Sure, there's some memorable moments, but you also have to sit through what feels like hours of talk to get to them.

It also doesn't help that the whole thing feels like it was written by people who don't know how to make a good horror or exploitation movie. There's some interesting ideas going on here, but they are rarely touched on, and usually end up falling through the abundant holes in the script. Plus, you really don't care about anyone's fate in this movie, because nobody is written well. People go from being tough and independent to being weak and powerless in the drop of a hat.

It's a shame the end result doesn't hold up, because the exploitation elements at least keep you from losing total interest, the acting is better than usual (Gough in particular is good), the score is effective and the cult itself is pretty creepy. However, the bad outweighs the good here, and in the end it feels like you are watching something that should be more entertaining than it actually is.

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, July 1, 2012