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Death Wish V: The Face of Fear (1994)

Director: Allan A. Goldstein
Strarring: Charles Bronson, Lesley-Anne Downe, Michael Parks, Chuck Shamata, Miguel Sandoval
Rated R Running time: 95 minutes
Released by Trimark

People have to be absolutely nuts to associate in any capacity with architect/vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson). Over the course of four films, Kersey's wife, daughter, maids, about thirty of his friends, and about a dozen of his acquaintances have been shot, stabbed, raped, beaten, burned, and blown up. In the fifth and final entry in the Death Wish series, nothing has changed. This time, Kersey is happily engaged to fashion designer Olivia Regent (Lesley-Anne Downe). Regent's ex-hubbby is a sadistic mobster who starts trying to muscle in on Regent's business, and eventually has a cross-dressing assassin brutally bash his ex's face into a mirror. As you have already probably surmised, the cops handle the case in the most half-assed manner possible. When Olivia is finally gunnned down by a couple of mobsters disguised as cops, Kersey once again decides to take matters into his own hands . Since ol' Chuck was about 73 at the time of filming, his one-man-army schtick is a lot slower and creakier. He ends up using a poisoned canoli, a remote controlled exploding soccer ball, shrink wrap, and a vat of acid to waste the mobsters. In the film's best moment, Bronson puts a mannequin on a forklift to distract some guards. Amazingly, the mannequin manages to steer the forklift around the warehouse, until it crashes with a huge explosion.

It sounds great, but Death Wish 5 is ruined by a lifeless production. Bronson phones this one in, and doesn't bother to do much else expect squint and rattle off a few insipid one-liners. Director Allan A. Goldstein exhibits no style whatsoever, giving the film the flat and by-the-numbers look and feel of a second string TV production. The bright spot here, however, is Michael Parks (Kill Bill 1 & 2, From Dusk 'til Dawn) as maniacal gangster Tommy O'Shea. Parks hams it up to the next level, portraying the racist, violent, cocky, and vicious mob boss with demented glee. It's a shame he couldn't inspire Bronson to get motivated to deliver one last time. The Death Wish series came to an end with a whimper, rather than the bang it should have.

Pumpkin Karver (2006)

Director: Robert Mann
Starring: Amy Weber, Michael Zara, Minka Kelly, Mistie Adams
Rated R Running time: 90 minutes.
Released by First Look Pictures

Every fall, a couple of Halloween-oriented horror flicks hit the shelves. The vast majority of them suck. 2006's entry into the seasonal-slasher genre, Pumpkin Karver, is no exception. Why is it spelled with a "k"? I don't know . . . why did they put a juggalo on the cover? Pandering to the illiterate teenage arsonist market aside, Pumpkin Karver is the same movie you've seen hundreds of times before. A troubled teenager and his smoking-hot older sister (Minka Kelly) are sitting at home one Halloween, getting ready for the evening's festivities. A prank performed by the sister's idiot boyfriend ends with her brother using his pumpkin carving knife to ventilate the A-hole boyfriend. Some time later, the siblings pick up and start over in a new town. Some local teens decide to throw a Halloween party in a pumpkin patch, and wouldn't you know it, a batch of obnoxious characters start getting offed in some not-very-impressive ways. The siblings ultimately confront the killer, and the whole thing comes to an improbable end.

Lots of eye-candy actresses and some decent photography are about all this one's got going for it. There are a few decent gore set-pieces ( a pumpkin carved face, a guy peeing on his very own head following a decapitation, etc.), but not enough of them to break the monotony. No nudity either, especially shocking given the sluttiness of several of the female characters. Director Robert Mann, if IMDB can be trusted, appeared in 1972's Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things. If this is true, I will give Pumpkin Karver two stars for that association. And that's about it.

2 out of 5.

Slashed Dreams (1975)

aka Sunburst

Director: James Polakoff
Starring: Robert Englund, Peter Hooten, Katherine Baumann, James Keach, David Pritchard
Rated R Running time: 74 minutes
Public Domain

Oh, what I wouldn't give to see the look on Freddy Krueger fanboy's faces when they brought this one home. In the mid to late 80's, an enterprising video company took a 1975 movie featuring Robert Englund, re-titled it, and slapped it with artwork that would indicate that it was a slasher film, all for the purpose of cashing in on the freakishly successful Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Let's take a look at the VHS artwork for Slashed Dreams, shall we?

So as you can see, we have a scantily clad woman, presumably being threatened by an knife-wielding a-hole. To be fair, the film does feature some homicidal meanies, and if I recall correctly, they are armed with a knife. So technically, the VHS-version of Slashed Dreams is factually accurate. Where we run into trouble, however, is in the tone that the artwork tries to convey. The best way to drive this point home is to show you the original movie poster for the very same film, when it was released under the title Sunburst.

Night and day, my friends, night and day. The latter poster is a much more accurate representation of Slashed Dreams (aka Sunburst) - a hippy-dippy, hairy-legged, feelgood rape/revenge movie.

Fed up with bourgeois society, Robert and Jenny, a couple of idealistic college kids decide to venture out into the wilderness to visit their cabin-dwelling friend, Michael (Robert Englund). After driving for what feels like an eternity, they stop at a general store run by Rudy Vallee, of all people. Rudy uses the occasion to launch into an impromptu performance, entertaining the dopey nature lovers. Things get serious when Rudy insists that they need to take a knife with them. Since that would be against their peace-and-love ways, they decline. Rudy is disappointed, but wishes them a safe journey. After still some more driving, the couple arrive in the full-blown boonies. They walk through the woods, pick berries, and even meet a friendly bear. All is well and good until they run into a couple of oddly dressed ruffians, who clearly are up to no damn good (James Keach and David Pritchard, who both helped write the movie). Rather than high-tailing it out of the area, the couple just blow the whole encounter off. So when the thugs pay them a visit later that night, beat up Robert (Peter Hooten) and rape Jenny (Katherine Baumann), we are want to say "I told you so".

Robert Englund turns up in the final act, just following the assault. He tries to console the couple by making them tea and telling Jenny to "get over it" in a really existential, confusing way. Robert goes off to confront the attackers, and after a clumsily staged tussle and a little bit of mud wrestling, the bad guys run away. Robert, Jenny, and Michael share a laugh and are now free to frolic about the forest without fear of getting raped again.

It's silly, naive, and boring, but Slashed Dreams is not awful. Nothing much happens, the villains aren't scary in any way whatsoever, and the some of the most irritating folk music this side of Joan Baez plays incessantly. This is a very, VERY 70's movie that looks and feels like a hybrid of a nature film and an anti-rape PSA. Kinda hard to truly hate a movie like this when it is so well-intentioned - sort of like stuffing a kitten into a woodchipper. Still, I can't recommend Slashed Dreams to anyone except for maybe Lilith Fair-goers and the eunuchs who love them.


Cult (2007)

Director: Joe Knee
Starring: Rachel Miner, Taryn Manning
Unrated Running time: 85 minutes
Released by Maverick Entertainment

CULT begins with a double prologue that tells the story of a Chinese girl who is murdered by her father after it is discovered that she has become pregnant out of wedlock. The murdered girl wore an amulet, which is believed to possess magical powers. We jump forward in time - a group of smoking hot women in their underwear are gathered together. They are members of a cult that worships the slain China woman, and are performing an eye-gouging ritual to invoke the powers of the amulet. The cult's robe wearing leader has other ideas and stabs all of the babes just as the ritual reaches its climax.

We finally land at a modern-day college campus, where a plucky young student (Rachel Miner) and her friends are researching the amulet, the curse, and the cult for a school project. All sorts of spooky crap begins happening before we even know what the hell is going on. Lots of hard-to-believe things start to happen, and people start turning up dead in even harder-to-believe ways. Obviously, the group's school project is to blame for all of this trouble, yet Miner's character can't stop her research. It turns out her mom was one of the poked-out-eye babes from the second part of the prologue.
Terrible music cues, seasick camera work, and dialogue that runs the gamut between stupid and retarded are all in abundance here. Factor in a confusing story and bad special effects, and CULT adds up to one dumb, and worst of all, and boring movie.

I almost felt bad for star Rachel Miner (Penny Dreadful). She is a decent actress in a film that is four kinds of awful. Then I discovered the film's estimated budget: 950,000 dollars! Since very little of that money seems to have gone into the filming or production of this atrocity, I hope Miner at least got a healthy paycheck out of it.

1 out of 5.