Sunday, March 27, 2016

Nightmare Beach (1989)

Also known as "Welcome To Spring Break", this movie is essentially a hybrid of three things that were dying in the waning days of the 80's-the slasher movie, the raunchy beach comedy and Italian horror-in particular the giallo. It also may or may not have been directed by Umberto Lenzi*. The credit for the film goes to "Harry Kirkpatrick", which seems to be a pseudonym, but Lenzi insists that it wasn't him. So who directed this? Who knows? Honestly, who cares either.

The movie begins with the execution of the leader of a biker gang called the Demons (who actually have the logo of Lamberto Bava's "Demons" on their jackets).  One year later, it's SPRING BREAK! WOOOOO! It is here that we are introduced to two indistinguishable slabs of meat masquerading as human beings (one of whom, Nicolas De Toth, went on to be a successful editor in Hollywood) are out for fun. However, a psychopath dressed in a motorcycle get-up is killing dumb teens via electrocution (and one death via immolation). So, whose the culprit? Is it the corrupt police officer (John Saxon)? The weird Reverend (Lance LeGault)? The alcoholic doctor (Michael Parks)? Or has the man who was executed-who promised revenge from beyond the grave-come back?

There is some fun to be had with "Nightmare Beach", but most of it comes from the fact that the whole thing is basically late 80's America through the eyes of people who don't live there. That and the fact John Saxon and Michael Parks are fine. Outside of that, there isn't a whole lot to get excited about here.

This is mostly due to the fact that the direction is so bland. Lenzi (or Kirkpatrick, or whoever) seems to have forgotten how to direct, and the whole thing feels like a lot of Italian horror movies from this period-flat and ultimately forgettable. There is gore, but it all looks unconvincing and cheap. The score is by Claudio Simonetti, but it's repetitive and truth be told, okay at best. In fact, that's another big problem the movie has-it's repetitive. I don't know about you, but after a while, the barrage of stereotypical characters, wet t-shirt contests and awful music (so much shitty Hair Metal) begins to grow monotonous.

I've definitely seen worse as far late 80's/early 90's Italian horror is concerned (hello "Killing Birds" and "Witchery"), but outside of people who need to see every 80's slasher movie and the most undemanding trash enthusiast, there isn't a lot to love here. Hell, you'll probably forget it exists a month after seeing it.

Rating: 4/10

*Lenzi not only may or may not have directed this-he also wrote it alongside Vittorio Rambaldi, the son of legendary effects man Carlo Rambaldi. I also mention this because he previously directed the Lenzi scripted "Primal Rage". Also, the obnoxious, sounds like the theme for a failed 80's sitcom pop song from that movie (called "Say the Word") pops up here too.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Last Shift (2014)

One of the things I like about Netflix is how some studios release their movies on the service mere weeks (or in the case of IFC, the day of) their home video release. Case in point-Magnolia pictures, who have a tendency to release their movies a month or so afterwards, such as today's movie "Last Shift".

Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy) is a rookie cop who is told to wait for a team to pick up hazardous material. Unbeknownst to her, the department is haunted by the ghost of John Michael Paymon (Joshua Mikel), a cult leader whose spirit-and those of his followers-is waiting and ready for her...

Best described as a mix of "Assault on Precinct 13" and "Sinister", "Last Shift" is a movie that definitely got under my skin. It's a bit of a slow burn (and occasionally drags), but as it goes on, the film creates an atmosphere of dread and unease that sticks with you, thanks in particular to the simple but effective story that creates a sense of isolation. Oh, and the fact that it manages to do jump scares and not come off as derivative or forced. They actually feel earned. Oh, and when the final 20 minutes come in, it all builds into something that actually creeped me out a bit.

I'd be lying if the movie is perfect (some of the visuals feel a little too much like the director watched "Sinister" and thought "hey, let's do something like that!") but in the end, this is a nice little sleeper that deserves your attention.

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Savage Harvest 2: October Blood (2006)

A while back, I reviewed a film called "Savage Harvest", a micro-budget "Evil Dead" pastiche that marked the directorial debut of indie horror vet Eric Stanze. 12 years later, his company Wicked Pixel gave the world a sequel, and not just a retread at that. Indeed, this is a (barely) bigger budgeted, longer and more ambitious film than the original. So, is it better?

The plot is actually a bit loaded for a movie like this. Here, Ashley Lomack (Emily Haack) is the sister of the lone survivor of the events of the first film. She receives a VHS (remember those?) of her sister, face covered in blood, seeming to be stalked and eventually killed by an unknown force. In the process, Tyge Murdock (Benjamin Gaa) is a director of micro-budget horror who sees an actor die on the set of one of his movies. Returning to his old hometown to think about his life and escape from his troubles, he runs into Ashley, as well as his old friend Zack (Eric Stanze). It is here they must re-visit the past, and return to the site of the film's previous events...

I'd be lying if I said this movie isn't flawless, because the flaws do stick out. The biggest one is the fact that the first hour of the movie is very deliberately paced. This turns out to be a mixed blessing. On one hand, it actually manages to gain a sense of dread and unease, as you can tell something awful will eventually happen. It also allows a brief, interesting look at the nature of making micro-budget horror that feels autobiographical. Unfortunately, that look into that world isn't addressed enough, and the movie runs into a problem a lot of micro-budget horror movies run into: bad acting and occasionally uneven pacing. Granted, you don't expect award worthy performances, but the acting on display is pretty dire to be honest, and you ultimately get several moments that kind of drag on because of this. 

However, a little over an hour into the movie, the film becomes an all out splatter flick filled with demonic possessions, chainsaw dismemberment and so much more. It all actually looks pretty impressive for the budget, and once it hits the fan, the movie becomes unrelenting. It's also pretty well directed by Jason Christ, who manages to do something a lot of shot on video, super low-budget movies fail to do-it actually feels like a movie instead of people goofing around, pretending to be filmmakers. It's refreshing to see something like this that's actually treated seriously for a change. 

Another major plus is the fact that, as I said, this movie actually has ambition. So many super cheap horror movies tend to think referencing other horror movies is enough. This is a movie that, though it owes a huge debt to "The Evil Dead" (as well as "Demons" and "Night of the Demons"), actually tries to stand on it's own as a sequel, and tries to inject more story than you usually get from this kind of fare.

As I said, this is far from a perfect movie. However, it is also better than I expected it to be, and also manages to be a rare sequel that improves on the original. If you are a sucker for micro-budgeted indie horror, then you should check this out.

Rating: 6.5/10