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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines (2012)

At this point, the best way to describe the "Wrong Turn" franchise would be "redundant." It feels almost pointless to watch, review and most of all critique them. Ever since the studio decided that it would make for a fine straight-to-video franchise, they've been fodder for indiscriminate gore hounds and nothing more. Okay, the first DTV sequel is the best in the series IMO, but it's been a downhill slide ever since. Our latest installment...well, it's a "Wrong Turn" movie, meaning it's over the top splatter and little else.

Granted, the movie does at the very least try to be a little different. Here, we are introduced to a serial killer named Maynard (the one and only Doug Bradley) who is also related to Three Finger, Saw Tooth and One Eye. Meanwhile a group of kids headed to West Virginia's Mountain Man Festival (seriously, if these movies were more popular, the tourism industry in that state would be fucked) end up running into Maynard, and in the process briefly go to jail with him-that is, until the police find out who Maynard is and let most of the others go. Unfortunately for everyone else, our jolly pack of inbred killers are out to break him out. Oh, and cause some havoc along the way.

I will say this for the movie: Doug Bradley is a lot of fun here. He's clearly having the time of his life playing this guy, and chews scenery in the best possible way. Also, if you are here for gore, then this movie more than satisfies, as the deaths are all creative and bloody as hell. Plus, unlike the last two sequels, this one actually has a sense of humor that is mostly welcome. It's obvious that writer/director Declan O'Brien (directing his third entry in this series-he's like the Darren Lynn Bousman of of this franchise) knows that the audience isn't there to be scared and that this is now ultimately his baby, so he at least tries to have a little fun.

Alas, it's still not a very good movie. For one thing, Bradley is the only actor whose worth a damn here. Everyone else is pretty wooden, and nobody here is the least bit interesting. It's probably just me, but the over-the-top nature of these movies is starting to get tiresome too. I know, that's the audience for this, but for me, the constant series of ridiculous murders (including death by combine harvester) is something that's starting to lose it's luster. You can only go "look at how we're going to creatively kill this guy!" so much until it gets boring. Worst of all is the ending, which sets up a sequel. Granted, it's obvious that they're going to make another one, but the conclusion is lacking anything resembling fun. It all fells perfunctory, not to mention cynical.

Speaking of which, that's the other way to describe this-cynical. Everything about this feels like a product meant to make more cash from whoever it is keeps bothering with the series. There's nothing here that feels genuine. It's simply a cheap cash grab that doesn't show any real interest in entertaining the viewer. It just wants their money.

Will I watch the next "Wrong Turn" movie? Most likely. Will I like it? Probably not. I'm sure they'll finally end this series with "Three Finger Needs a Kidney", but at this point, I'm just wondering why I continue to bother.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Surgeon (1995)

If anything, you could say that the Carl Schenkel (who also gave the world the Christopher Lambert film "Knight Moves" and "Dracula Blows His Cool") film "The Surgeon" is a very 90's movie. The hair of the lead villain looks like he could have fronted a lame rock band or at least could have been a blue jeans model. The score is the kind of thing that any number of straight-to-video horror films of the time would have had. The sex scenes are filmed in a way that resembles the kind of soft core skin flicks I used to watch in scramble vision as a 14 year old. The list goes on, but it's positively 90's.

The movie opens in the 50's, where a small boy sees a surgeon accidentally killing his brother. Years later, somebody is killing people within a hospital, but the culprit is soon caught. He's Dr. Julian Matar (Sean Haberle), and he's been working on an experiment that regenerates dead cells. Meanwhile, Dr Theresa McCann (Isabel Glasser) and her new sidekick Dr. Benjamin Hendricks (James Remar) are getting to know each other quiet well if you get my drift. This won't last forever though, as Matar has escaped, and begins killing those who are responsible for firing him, as well as the occasional hospital patient.

There are some positives to be had here. The main one is the use of beloved character actors such as Malcolm McDowell, Charles Dance and Peter Boyle (the latter of whom plays the chief of police.) Granted, you don't get a whole lot of Dance and McDowell, but their presence does offer some class to the proceedings. Also worthy of mention is the character of Matar, whose one of the more interesting villains in 90's straight-to-video horror. He's a guy whose completely insane, as a large needle that extracts pituitary fluids that he needs to survive. It's a nice twist on both the slasher and mad scientist role, and Remar manages to make him a menacing yet strikingly human villain with his performance.

Unfortunately, you couldn't say the same for Glasser, whose as wooden as a 2X4 and isn't all that interesting as our lead. To make matters worse, few of the characters are all that interesting (Mother Love shows up to play the "excitable black woman" stereotype), and the humor is decidedly hit and miss (though it thankfully doesn't go too far in the comedy department.) Worst of all, for a slasher movie set in a hospital, this isn't a particularly gory film. There's a few nasty surprises (the worst being a hypodermic needle to the eye) but the film itself seems to be afraid to get too bloody. Granted, this was a period in which the Ratings Board was really cracking down on violence in horror movies, but the almost straightforward approach the film takes ends up hurting it a bit.

As a whole, this isn't that bad of a movie. Unfortunately, it isn't that good of a movie either. If anything, it's just there, offering a few nice touches and squandering it with a mediocre script and a refusal to get too nasty. If any movie could have used a little more grue, it would be this one.

Rating: 5/10

And now, for something only related because Peter Boyle is in it, I give you this

I vaguely remember this, but I don't think I watched it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Book Review: Ghost Rider Omnibus

I'm amazed that there hasn't been a good Ghost Rider movie. Granted, the character has never been considered Marvel's greatest creation, but everything about him screams that he'd make for a fun little B-Movie. I mean, it's a guy with a flaming skull for a head who made a deal with Satan. Everything about him should be awesome in that sense. Well, Jason Aaron realized this, and he helped create a Ghost Rider tale in the comics that managed to actually make the character and the universe he lives in largely awesome.

Johnny Blaze is out for vengeance. He thought things were finally going to go his way, until he discovered that he was taking orders from the archangel Zadkiel, who wants to overthrow God and create the universe in the way he sees fit. In the process, Johnny will find himself fighting against a new array of villains (a religious fanatic known as the Deacon, a monster known as the Skin Bender and people who worship Zadkiel) some old (the return of Blackout) and some friends (a nun who becomes the new Caretaker and the other Spirits of vengeance) who either make things harder or help along the way. Also back is Johnny's brother Danny Ketch, whose made a bit of a deal with Zadkiel.

To say this is better than the movies would be an understatement. This is everything those should have been, with it's biggest strength being the way it fully embraces it's status as pure pulp. This is the comic equivalent of one big B-Movie, with zombies, demons and monsters (to name a few) thrown into the mix of motorcycle races around the world and Satanic conspiracies that's incredibly fun. It also helps that there's a sense of humor within the proceedings. This is a book that knows it shouldn't be taken too seriously, and it thankfully is more funny than not. Oh, and it actually has interesting characters, with Sister Sara being my favorite-she's actually a devout but tough as nails character who manages to transcend the usual stereotypes you'd expect to get. Oh, and then there's this guy

He's Knuckles O'Shaugnessy, and while he's not in this a whole lot, he's pretty much awesome. I mean come on, look at the guy.

On the downside, the art can be uneven and the ending feels a bit rushed. There's three artists working here, and while I like the second and first artist, I found the art from Roland Boschi to be kinda flat. The ending meanwhile, feels kind of rushed and concludes a bit too neatly for my taste.

Those are minor complaints though, as this is a blast of pulpy entertainment throughout that packs enough fun characters, black humor and crazy situations to please even the most jaded person. Okay, maybe not the most jaded, but if like this kind of thing, then you should love this.

Rating: 8.5/10

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bloody Pit of Horror (1965)

Mickey Hargitay had an interesting career to say the least. A former Mister America who married Jane Mansfield, he found himself in films such as "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" and "Promisies...Promises." However, he soon found himself getting work in Italy, with credits including "Black Magic Rites", "Delerium" and "Lady Frankenstein." However, his most well known work in the genre is 1965's "Bloody Pit of Horror", which was directed by Massimo Pupillo*.

Hargitay stars as The Crimson Executioner, who centuries ago was executed for committing horrendous acts of murder and sadism. In the present (1965), a group of bikini models, a photographer and his crew break into a castle for a photo shoot. There fun ends when castle owner Travis Anderson (Hargitay again), who at first is okay with this, but has an ulterior motive: he believes that he's The Crimson Executioner reincarnated, and he's got some plans revolving around torture for his guests.

The evil side of Space Ghost

The main reason to watch this is Hargitay, who chews scenery in a way that's worthy of admiration. There's been plenty of over the top madmen in horror, but The Crimson Executioner delivers speeches, torture and exclamations with so much zeal that one wonders if the actor is a bit too into his role. This is also a movie that's apparently something of a hit among gay horror fans, as the camera seems to be obsessed with Hargitay's sweat glistening body. There doesn't seem to be a moment that passes by in which we don't get a glimpse of the guy, and I have to wonder if the homoerotic imagery was unintentional or if the director and/or cinematographer was enamored with the man's physique.

Apart from that, I can't really call this a good movie (the other performances are bland at best, the pacing is a bit too slow at times and the conclusion kinda fizzles), but for fans of earlier horror/exploitation films, this is worth a viewing. Here, you get plenty of what typified these kinds of movies (a bit of female skin, some minor gore, torture scenes that were pretty strong for the time and a fun score by Gino Peguri) so that if this is your kind of thing, you will definitely get a kick out of it. Plus, the whole thing is so ridiculous and over the top that it's hard not to get into it for the large part. If anything, it would make a fun double bill with "The Brain that Wouldn't Die."

Raiding the local Halloween display proved to be most beneficial for the filmmakers

As a whole, there's little about this movie that's "good" in the traditional sense. If you are an avid lover of schlock at it's most over the top, then you'll probably get a kick out of it.

Rating: 6.5/10

*Pupillo's other credits in the genre are "Terror Rises From the Grave", "Lady Morgan's Vengeance" and "Django Kills Softly." Interestingly enough, he was a writer for "Primitive Love", which starred Hargitay and Mansfield.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hidden (2009)

I'd hate to be a mom in a horror movie. If you are a  mother in a horror movie, you are either a.) terrorized or killed by some type of evil, or b.) complete evil yourself. So yeah, no luck there if you are a mom. In the Norwegian film "Hidden", the mom in question is of the evil variety.

Kai Kross (Kristoffer Joner) has come back home for his mother's funeral and to inherit her home. This turns out to be a bad idea, as Kai was abused by his mother as a child, and the horrors of the past are beginning to catch up on him, as the locals begin to grow suspicious of him and a someone he knew as a child may be returning.

An entry into the fourth (and so far final) After Dark Horrorfest, "Hidden" largely works, and is one of the most overlooked titles in the series history, as well as one of the most underrated. That's largely thanks to the impressive cinematography and direction on display that makes great use of the woods and house-they positively feel like places where nothing but dread and bad omens lurk. It also sports a fine lead performance from Joner, who manages to make Kai a sympathetic character that also serves as a striking commentary on the horrors of child abuse and the effects it has on one's future. Finally, it manages to be a creepy little movie that understands the importance of atmosphere in a horror movie, as it breathes malice and oncoming danger through it's very pores.

I'd be lying if I said that this is a flawless movie. While it's mostly chilling, it can also feel a bit too predictable, as you can probably guess some of the films secrets early on. Also, while I normally don't mind slow pacing in horror, here it occasionally feels like a hindrance instead of a gift. Granted, it usually works, but there are moments where even I started to think to myself "come on, why isn't anything happening?"

That being said, this hits much more than it misses. Fans of atmospheric horror more interested in mood instead of splatter (though there is a little gore here) will most likely find plenty to savor. Check it out sometime.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970)

It's funny that for all the talk about Italian horror on this blog, I have had yet to review a film from the great Mario Bava. While there were Italian genre films before him, he is often considered to be the Godfather of the genre. Sure, he did movies outside of the horror genre (westerns, spy films, gladiator movies) but for the most part, he's known for being the man who gave the world Italian horror films. One of the sub-genres he helped to popularize was the Giallo, as films like "Blood and Black Lace" and "Bay of Blood" are often considered to be important titles within the genre. Like the aforementioned "Bay", 1970's "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" is something of a twist in the formula, here being that you know who the killer is from the get go.

It's probably just me, but he looks a little like John Kerry

The killer in question is John Harrington (Stephen Forsythe), a bridal shop owner who has some serious childhood issues that cause him to take out his frustration son brides-to be, and by issues I mean he kills them. After killing his wife (Laura Betti) in a rage, John continues to try and live his life. However, he soon starts hearing voices and seeing her all over again. To make matter worse, the police seem to be investigating him, and he soon starts to further lose his mind.

Though occasionally a bit slow, "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" is a good example of how Bava was a master of his domain. Here, you get all the hallmarks of quality Italian horror (a great score, colorful visuals and solid cinematography) with some added bonuses. For starters, many of the performances are strong, with Forsythe in particular standing out. He manages to make John an creepy and disturbed individual without overdoing it with camp histrionics, and finding the right balance between overacting and delivering a solid acting job.

What's even more fascinating with the film is how it serves as both a nice twist on not only the Giallo film, but also the "Psycho" theme of repressed childhood trauma. We know that something happened to John in his childhood, and while you can probably guess it about halfway through, it still manages to be an engaging watch. It also is worth noting that, like "Bay of Blood", it really does feel like a precursor to the slasher craze. Unlike that film, it doesn't feel like an inspiration for the likes of "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" as much as it does the likes of "Maniac" and "High Tension" in that it mixes mother issues and/or sexual repression with a homicidal streak. Oh, and the ending is pretty great too.

For fans and students of Italian horror, "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" is worth a watch and adding to your library. For those wanting an introduction to Italian horror, than "Black Sunday" and "Blood and Black Lace" are better introductions, but it is a good eventual viewing. Nobody made Gothic horror the way Bava did, and you are in a treat with most of what he did.

Rating: 9/10

Saturday, October 13, 2012


My computer is kinda fucked up/filthy right now, so 80's Horror Week is now done. Sorry about that.

Friday, October 12, 2012

80's Horror Week: Spookies (1986)

One of the problems nostalgia can have is that it can sometimes cloud judgement. "Spookies" is probably an example of this. Sure, it has all kinds of monsters and practical effects, which is why it remains such a sought after cult favorite, but as a whole it's not very fun to sit through.

 Honey, your date's here!

In fact, the story behind the movie is more interesting than the actual movie itself. Originally, it was called "Twisted Souls", and is where the plot with kids in a house comes in. However, the financers weren't too happy with it, so they added a bunch of new footage and things that in no way related to much of the movie. Long story short, the end result was "Spookies", and it's actually two movies combined into one. The end result works as well as you'd expect.

On the unrelated side of things is a plot that involves a kid going into a house and getting more than he bargained for. There's also a Kreon (Felix Ward), a sorcerer who has waited centuries for his bride Isabella (Maria Pechukas) to awaken. For this to happen, he needs sacrifices. That's where plot b (which also makes up the "Twisted Souls" footage) comes in, as a group of teens (actors clearly pushing 40) come in to the house, and start getting knocked off one by one by a wide assortment of beasts.

In the spirit of fairness, I will admit that the "Twisted Souls" footage is at least interesting. That's mostly because of the array of practical effects and offbeat monsters on display. The creatures themselves range from admittingly cool (a spider woman, a grim reaper type and an tentacled monstrosity) to incredibly weird (muck monsters that fart whenever they take a step.) Sure, the acting is terrible, but the sheer gutso of this footage actually makes this movie seeing at least once simply for the what the hell factor.

Unfortunately, almost everything outside of the "Twisted Souls" footage is just plain bad. The character of Kreon is the ultimate example of producer meddling, as he seems to hold no purpose other than for there to be a cheap reason for all of this. In fact, everything about the added footage outside of some neat zombies feels unnecessary. Why is there a cat monster? What's with the kid? Why am I supposed to care about Isabella? None of this makes any sense, and none of it is interesting. It's the equivalent of going to a haunted house ride, and someone showing up out of nowhere to add a bunch of stuff nobody wants.

Wow, thanks mom! This is exactly what I wanted!

The best way to describe "Spookies" is that it's one half really stupid but kinda fun monster fest, and another half of pure tedium. At best, one should fast forward through the added footage and just watch everything with monsters.

Rating: 4.5/10

Thursday, October 11, 2012

80's Horror Week: Brain Damage (1988)

Frank Henenlotter is a name many a horror fan knows. He's the man who gave the world the 1982 film "Basket Case" and it's sequels (an alright first one and a pretty bad third one), "Frankenhooker" and the somewhat disappointing "Bad Biology." What I especially find interesting is the fact that everything he's done is heavily inspired by the kind of films you would watch in Grindhouse theaters and late night horror shows on TV. He doesn't even like to say he makes horror movies-he will tell you outright that he makes exploitation films, and all his films have that edge too.

A boy and his parasite

I find "Brain Damage" to be his best movie. The films tells the tale of Brain (Ryan Hurst), whose just your average guy who one day wakes up to a euphoric feeling, as if he's high. Well, he is high thanks to Aylmer, a talking worm like creature (voiced by horror host John Zacherle) who injects Brian in his neck with a drug that makes him feel great. On the downside, Aylmer needs to eat human brains, and Brian soon finds himself trying (and failing) to stop Aylmer, as his addiction starts to get the best of him.

As you can tell, "Brain Damage" is a parable for the horrors of addiction, and it's a damn fine one too. When horror films usually try to deal with issues like this, they end up becoming too preachy or sloppy for their own good, but "Brain Damage" manages to capture the enslavement of addiction and how it ruins the lives of the addict and those around him without taking on a hectoring tone. In a way, this is reminiscent of "Basket Case" in that it manages to throw in some genuine pathos into a film that's essentially an exploitation picture. Unlike "Basket Case", this is a better put together and acted film that feels like it was made by a real pro.

That being said, you don't need to worry about Henenlotter growing up. Sure, "Brain Damage" is a little more mature than his last film, but it still knows that at the end of the day, you shouldn't be taking all of this too seriously. Like "Basket Case" and "Frankenhooker", there's a wonderfully dark sense of humor that runs throughout most of the film, as you get plenty of weird imagery, warped gore gags (the highlight being a blowjob gone horribly wrong) and even an amusing "Basket Case" callback. This is a movie that, in spite of it's serious commentary, ultimately wants you to have fun, and that's what Henenlotter's best movies are: fun movies that know what their target audience wants.

Me after having to listen to The Offspring

To hell with all those anti-drug commercials and D.A.R.E. "Brain Damage" is the kind of thing people should see if they want something that actually has something to say about addiction. It's actually fun, never rams it's message down your throat, and is never boring. Plus, it's a genuine artifact in that it's one of the last true Grindhouse movies, and is one of the best examples of it's type. 

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

80's Horror Week: Psychos in Love (1987)

I sometimes feel confused when someone romanticizes 42nd Street New York and Grindhouse theaters. Sure, there was some great stuff back then, but the places themselves weren't the most ideal. I'm sorry, but most of the world (including those that go on and on about how great those theaters and streets were back then) wouldn't want to sit in a theater with shitty air conditioning, sticky to the point of "I can't get my feet off the ground" and people talking in the theater incessantly. Oh, and the hard drugs, filthy cheap sex that left semen everywhere, dirty needles, crackhead hookers and raging unemployment.

It's no wonder why most people would prefer to watch such films at home then sit next to a flatulent, greasy looking man who has breathing problems in a hot, uncomfortable theater that smells like pee. Unfortunately, a lot of the movies that went straight to video weren't up to par with the likes of "Basket Case" and "Evil Dead 2", so you instead got the likes of "Flesh Eating Mothers" and "Splatter Farm." Gorman Bechard's "Psychos in Love" manages to be somewhat different in that it actually offers some laughs (up to a point), but it also has the cheap Casio keyboard score and poor direction that marred  many of these titles.


Meet Joe (Carmine Capobianco) and Kate (Debi Thibault.) They're young, they fall in love, and life seems to be going good for them. Also, they both like to kill people, and they really hate grapes. Add a plumber who also likes to kill people-and eat them too-and you're on a collision coarse with wackiness!

There are a few things to like about "Psychos in Love." For starters is the humor, which works at least half the time. I genuinely laughed several times at some of the jokes, particularly some that  break the fourth wall (the best involving a boom mike.) I also like the idea of the film, which can be summed up as "What if you mixed "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" with a screwball romantic comedy?" I don't know why, but there's something about the idea that's so wrong it almost comes off as perfect.

Unfortunately, the film proves to be too wacky for it's own good. There are too many dumb gags-sound effects when a girl shows her boobs, annoying songs, montages and more that are meant to be funny, but just caused me to roll my eyes. Also, once the couple start to lose interest in killing, the movie stops being interesting, and the joke ends up feeling too drawn out to really warrant it's 88 minute length. I know, that's not very long. However, the end result feels like it would have been better if they trimmed some of the fat and cut a few gags that really don't work.

The dark side of being an 80's Madonna fan

As a whole, "Psychos in Love" is worth a rental if you have a soft spot for the likes of "Blood Diner" and "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers." Just don't expect anything as funny or manic as those movies.

Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

80's Horror Week: TerrorVision (1986)

When the official encyclopedia of hip-hop is written, I hope that "Television, the Drug of the Nation" by Disposable Heroes of Hiphopcracy is included in the "worst message songs" category. While it is true that television has it's negative effects, "Drug of the Nation" tells the listener this with the laziest lyrics and most forced "this is bad for us all!" message imaginable. Then again, I do find it ironic that the group's mastermind is now behind Spearhead, which has collaborated with Pink and appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show", but hey, most of us can't rail against the system forever.

Of course, I mention this as a guy who was partially raised by TV as a kid. My parents did most of it (and a fine job might I add), but like many of my generation, it's hard for me to imagine my life without television either today or in my childhood. Before my tween years, Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel were my places to go (as Jane from "Daria" said, "TV counts as a place!"), though the latter was a bit different back then. There weren't as many original shows as there are now, so Godzilla movies, "Under the Umbrella Tree", "The Racoons" and kid friendly movies were the name of the game. Why am I mentioning this? Because apart from the gore and sexual humor, the Charles Band produced, Ted Nicolau directed "TerrorVision" feels like something that could have been played on that channel back in the day.

It was at this moment that mythical beast Medusa began to question her life choices

Meet the Putterman family-parents Stanley (Gerrit Grahm) and Raquel (Mary Warnov), their kids Suzy (Dianne Franklin) and Sherman (Chad Allan) and out of his rocker war vet grandpa (Bert Remsen.) They have a new, state of the art (well, by 1986 standards) satellite television, so it looks like Sherman and gramps can be entertained while his parents go to a swingers party and Suzy goes out with her metal head boyfriend O.D. (Jon Gries.) Unfortunately, intergalactic garbage that contains a hunger monster (voiced by beloved voice actor Frank Welker) has landed, taking over the frequency and eating anyone in it's path.

Before I get to reviewing this movie, I just want to mention that the theme song for this movie is awesome.

Anyways, "TerrorVision" in itself is a movie that I find to be hit and miss. On the plus side, Warnov and Grahm are great. These are two people who are the definition of Regan era excess-shallow, rich without really deserving it, and rude to their own offspring and anyone not like them. I also really like Franklin as Suzy, who perfectly captures the Valley Girl type you found in the era. It also has some memorable gore effects (the highlight being grandpas demise) and and an amusing side character in horror hostess/phone sex worker Medusa (Jennifer Walker), who brings a certain deadpan humor to her proceedings.

The downside starts with what I meant by this could have played on Disney Channel in the early 90's: most of this is way, way too broad for it's own good. Granted, broad humor and horror can work great together, but almost everything here is exaggerated to the point of it being annoying. The worst offender in this department is the grandfather character, whose just a poor version of the "war veteran with a screw loose" stereotype. It could have been funnier, but it's so over the top that I found it to be annoying. Then there's the failed attempts at trying to bring forth social commentary. It works a few times, but when the movie seems to be trying to say something with the monster becoming addicted to TV, I couldn't help but roll my eyes. There's potential for something better here, but it doesn't quite gel the way it wants to.

"Sesame Street" character Tippy the Turd didn't go over the way executives hoped it would

I know that "TerrorVision" has a cult following, but for me it's a great concept that never really evolves beyond "Hey, isn't this wacky!" It certainly has it's moments and a few good performances, but as a whole I found it to be disappointing.

Rating: 5/10

As of this moment, "TerrorVision" isn't on DVD or Blu-Ray, but Shout Factory announced that it should be available in those formats shortly.

Monday, October 8, 2012

80's Horror Week: Night of the Creeps (1986)

Welcome to day one of 80's Horror Week! If you follow this blog, you may know that I had previously done a week called "Not on DVD Week", which has a name that explains itself. So, why 80's horror? Mostly because I find it a fascinating period. Case in point: today's film. I remember seeing today's film, "Night of the Creeps" on VHS in either the late 90's or early 2000's. My impression of it was positive, and thankfully it still holds up well. There's nothing worse than finding a movie you might have enjoyed in the past that you revisit and don't care much for.

Peeping Zom

Anyway, "Creeps" starts in the late 50's with an alien experiment crash landing on earth. At a local make-out point, said experiment (an alien slug that kills and infects the host, turning them into zombies) infects a girls boyfriend, and to make things worse for her, she's killed by an escaped maniac who kills her.

27 years later, Chris (Jason Lively) and his pal J.C. (Steve Marshall) wanna hang out with the cool kids. When Chris sees the girl of his dreams Cindy (Jill Whitlow), he will do anything to get with her-even try to join a fraternity and get involved in a prank. Said prank involved finding a corpse and putting in on the steps of a rival fraternity. They do find a corpse that happens to be frozen in a lab. Unfortunately, said body is the infected boyfriend from years ago, and he's only sort of dead. As bodies pile up and zombies start to grow in number, it's up to our heroes and Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) to put a stop to the undead menace.

 At the "Grizzled Detectives Society" meeting, things were turning ugly

I think the main reason "Night of the Creeps" stands out so well is because it harks back to a slightly less cynical time. This is a film that has likeable main characters that are very well acted, though it's Atkins who steals the show. One or two of his lines sorta fall flat, but he's so wonderfully written, and carries a dry sense of humor combined with genuine humanity, and the actor plays the part perfectly. Plus, it's a film that never feels mean spirited. If this had been made today, it would lack the youthful naivety of it's younger characters. There's a real sense that writer/director understands the pressures and foibles of life on either a college or high school campus to the lengths people will go to for love when they are younger.

Also worth mentioning that while this has plenty of the hallmarks of 80's horror (female nudity, gore, zombies and practical creature effects), this is a movie that at heart is an homage to 50's genre films. Everything from the alien menace to the upcoming school dance to it's depiction of college life mostly feels like it could have been lifted from on of those films, and it's all the better, as it adds to the B-Movie charm. That's the biggest strength the movie has to it too-it's got oodles of charm. This is a movie that doesn't want to offend or talk down to it's audience. It just wants them to have fun with the ride, and it succeeds by offering fans of these kinds of tongue-in-cheek horror films what they want without being stupid or needlessly disgusting.

I Think I saw a cat that looked just like this a few months ago

I wish more zombie/comedy movies were more like "Night of the Creeps." There's nods to other horror films, but they never feel overwhelming. There's a sense of humor, but it never feels stupid or forced. It takes place on a college, but it never indulges in cheap stereotypes. It's the kind of thing that's got tons of heart, enthusiasm and a surprising amount of humanity, and I welcome it with open arms.

Rating: 9/10

Sunday, October 7, 2012

80's Horror Week Schedule

It's time to put on your Shutter Shades, Leg Warmers, Head Bands and Hair Spray, because tomorrow this blog starts a week dedicated to reviewing 80's horror films. Here's the schedule.


Hope you like it.

The Girl in Room 2A (1974)

Many a time has someone waxed poetic over the Giallo film. I'm too lazy to talk about the rich history, and I've already done that, so here's a Wikipedia article that explains all you need to know. Anyways, there are plenty of classics in this genre, as well as some under appreciated gems. Then there are films that aren't exactly the height of caliber. Films such as "The Girl in Room 2A", which offers some moments but largely feels like a wasted opportunity.

Margaret Bradley (Daniela Giordino) has just gotten out of prison and is looking to start anew. She takes residency at a boarding house, and this being a horror film, staying at places like this might be a bad idea. This turns out to be a bad idea due to the fact that a sadistic cult has a thing for sacrificing beautiful women, and they've got their eyes on her.

As I did say, there are some fine moments to be found here. For exploitation fans, there's plenty of female nudity on display, and the kills may not be as stylish as they are in say, an Argento or Bava film, they are still bloody and vicious enough. There's also a nice score by Berto Pisano (whose other credits include "Strip Nude For Your Killer", "Burial Ground" and "Death Smiles At Murder"), a decent lead turn from Giordino, and a few choice visuals. So, how does this film end up falling short?

For starters, the direction is flat. Interestingly enough, this isn't from an Italian director, but from American born William Rose, whose credits mostly include sexploitation films like "50,000 B.C. (Before Clothes)" and "The Smut Peddlers (his only other horror credit is as one of the writers for the dreadful "Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks.") While he does offer some fun moments, he mostly seems to be lost as to what to do with a movie like this. Many Giallo films, even some of the bad ones, at least have a little style to offer. Here, we end up getting what feels like an Italian version of a rather lame regional horror film.

It also really fails in the mystery department. The raison d'etre in Giallo films is usually the mystery, and if it isn't handled well, the movie can kinda stall. That's what ends up happening here, as there's little that's interesting about the mystery on display here. It's mostly just people talking a whole lot and occasionally having to stop and explain what's going on, and that can be boring. It also doesn't come to a good resolution either. In fact, the film falls apart at that point, and the ending itself feels like the people behind it just started making things up as they went along.

I've seen far worse as far as Giallo films are concerned, but this is still a bit of an artless mess. Hardcore connoisseurs of Euro Trash will probably enjoy this, but the rest of us will end up feeling a bit underwhelmed.

Rating: 4.5/10

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bad Channels (1992)

Man is often plagued by questions. Is there a God? Why are we here? When will the world end? Or, you can get to the most pressing question, which is "what went through the mind of Charles Band when he produced/came up with the story for 'Bad Channels'?"

Pictured: A man who is not sane

For those who don't who Chuck is, he was the man behind Empire Pictures, which gave the world films like "Trances" and "Re-Animator." After Empire folded, he gave us Full Moon, which is mostly known as the studio that's given the world all of those "Puppet Master" movies. With "Bad Channels", he gives us a movie that borders on a sane argument for the criminalization of drugs. That's because the end result resembles the ramblings of a man who snorted a bunch of blow, wrote a terrible story that makes no sense, and green lit the sucker.

Dann O' Darre (Paul Hipp) is a wacky radio DJ (aka a great argument for the death penalty) whose known for publicity stunts and other "wacky" hijinks. Anyways, an alien lands on Earth, takes Danny boy hostage. Here, with the help of Dann's stupid audience, the alien is able to shrink women for his collection. Of course, nobody believes him, and more and more people keep listening and calling.

There are three things about "Bad Channels" that keep it from being a complete bomb. One are the few chuckles it gave me. Two is songs from Blue Oyster Cult. Three is these guys:

This is Sykotik Sinfoney. They are essentially a poor man's Mr. Bungle, and there's a scene in which they perform a song called "Manic Depresso", which is... well, take a look yourself:

It's one of the weirdest things I've ever seen, and may be the strangest moment in the history of 90's straight to video movies.

The rest of the movie doesn't hold up well. Among it's many problems (it's almost never funny, the acting is awful, the characters are annoying, the direction from Ted Nicolau is suspect at best), the biggest one is that I have no idea what the hell it is. Watching it, I couldn't help but wonder what the target audience for such a film would be? People who want a new "Rocky Horror"? Stoners? Troma fans? The "USA Up All Night" demographic? People who constantly have to tell themselves "Hey man, rock lives on!"? It's a movie that defies any real explanation, and just is. There seems to be so real reason as to why "Bad Channels" exists, though I wish it didn't.

Sadly, that's not a good thing. Hell, the only reason to bother watching this movie is above you. Watch that instead.

Rating: 2.5/10

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Black Magic Rites (1973)

If there's anything I can say about "Black Magic Rites" director Renato Polselli*, it's that he loves breasts. It often feels like not a moment goes by in which a woman is topless. What he doesn't seem to like is plot. This is a movie that goes "Plot? Fuck that shit!" and throws in a lot of...well, a lot of stuff happening. It kind of reminded me of "Resident Evil: Retribution" in that it does away with any real effort towards narrative and characters, only instead of explosions and slow motion it's loads of female nudity and surreal, acid tinged imagery.

So, whatever plot is here deals with a Satanic cult that needs the blood of virgins to awaken the witch Isabella (the gorgeous Rita Calderoni) that was killed centuries ago. Enter Laureen (Calderoni again), who is somehow connected to the witch, and new castle owner Jack Nelson (Mickey Hargitay), who is not only the witch's lover, but is also Dracula.

The recent midnight screening for "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" went worse than anyone expected

It is nearly impossible for me to describe what this movie is really about. It makes me feel as if I am describing a weird fever dream from a recovering drug addict. All I can say is that there are some great visuals, some gore, wide eyed comic relief that feels like it belongs in a different movie, Satanists with goofy red bodysuits, and so much more. So, is it entertaining? Yes and no.

Granted, the constant barrage of gorgeous naked European girls is pleasant to look at, it doesn't add anything to the plot, which even by the standards of Italian horror makes no sense. Plus, for every great moment of bloodshed we get, there's still a lot of moments that drag on and on (in particular the witch being impaled and burned at the stake, which feels like it never ends) that tested my patience. The comedic scenes also stick out like a sore thumb. Granted, you can make horror and comedy work, but none of these scenes feel necessary, and are more lame than they are funny. Then there's the conclusion, which just feels like the people behind it had no idea how to end the movie, so they just made the whole thing up on the spot.

A fate worse than death: Being forced to watch "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"

At the same time, there's some wonderful imagery going on here. That's mostly thanks to the gorgeous lighting and cinematography on display, which at times borders on Bava and Argento levels of impressive. It also gets away with some real stand out scenes, the highlight being a burial that leads to a bat attack. It doesn't make much sense, but damn it if it isn't a well done scene. Finally, this movie is oftentimes unintentionally hilarious. There are so many things that make no sense, as well as tons of continuity errors (our heroine at one moment is wearing shoes, and the next isn't) and all around bad directorial decisions (beware of the dreaded snake pit that only has two snakes!) that made me laugh hard. At times, it's like a how not to guide as far as directing and editing is concerned, and you almost find yourself glad for that. Emphasis on almost.

As a whole, there's little here that resembles a good movie. However, it's so utterly incomprehensible that fans of offbeat trash cinema should see it at least once. As it stands, I find it to be a movie that defies any proper rating. Whether or not that's a recommendation is up to you.  

Rating: I Don't Know

*Apart from this, Polselli's directorial credits in the genre include "The Vampire and the Ballerina" and the sleazy Giallo film "Delerium." As a writer, his credits include This, "Delerium", "Django Kills Softly" and "Psychout For Murder."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Zombie A-Hole (2012)

Hello, dear reader. As you are aware, it is the first of October, and that can mean only one thing. Actually, it means many things, but for this blog, that means it's time for the most reviews in one month. So without further adieu, here's a review for "Zombie A-Hole", an exploitation homage from "Puppet Monster Massacre" director Dustin Mills.

Three people-religious cowboy Frank Fulci (Josh Eal), one-eyed avenger Mecy (Jessica Daniels) and lost soul with a dark past Castor (Brandon Salkil) all have one thing in common-they are out to kill a zoot suite wearing zombie (also played by Salkil.) Said zombie has a connection to all three, and on the side likes to kill naked women. That's about it for the plot.

On paper, I should hate this movie. It calls itself a Grindhouse movie when the real thing died years ago. It overuses things like slow motion effects, and its nods to both genre films and beloved directors are tiresome. Yet in spite of all of that, I found myself enjoying the movie more than I thought I would. This is mostly because it's a genuine Independent movie made for almost no money (it cost about $3,000 to make), but it thankfully doesn't make the same mistakes nearly every other micro-budget zombie movies does. By that, I mean it doesn't make the plot overcomplicated, sticks to the basics, and manages to work within it's miniscule budget. There's no stabs at social commentary, a zombie apocalypse or fat in the story. This is a basic B-Movie with the three B's (Beasts, Boobs and Blood) that knows what it is.

There's also a lot more imagination here than in most no-budget zombie movies. A good example is the talking, shrunken corpse, which is a really nice touch. In fact, this is a movie with several nice touches (bloody piss raising the dead, an animated flashback and energy weapons) that all add to the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink nature of the film. Plus, it's clearly obvious that everyone involved is having a good time making this, and have no illusions about what it is they are making. Hell, a few of the cast members aren't too bad as actors, with Daniels in particular standing out. Finally, this may be favoritism, but this is from my home state. I gotta represent talent from here, especially if it's actually worth a damn.

Is "Zombie A-Hole" A classic? Far from it, though it's obvious that those behind it didn't aim too high. They just wanted to make a no-brains Grindhouse tribute, and nothing more. It thankfully hits more than it misses, and those looking for a micro-budget zombie movie that actually tries something different might enjoy themselves.

Rating: 7/10