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20.3.09

Blown (2005)


Director: David C. Hayes, Bill Konig, Kevin Moyers, David Sabal
Starring: David C. Hayes, Jeff Dolniak, Kevin Moyers, Carina Lira
Not Rated Running time: 65 minutes
Released by Sub Rosa

It's becoming increasingly clear to me that there is absolutely nothing that Sub Rosa Studios will not release. The last time I picked up one of their discs, I had to struggle to find something nice to say about a barely watchable home movie (see The Curse of La Llorona). Blown is more of the same, except this time the action centers around a demonically possessed inflatable sex doll who terrorizes an apartment full of dudes throwing a bachelor party. It has it's funny bits (the shower scene and the climactic final battle between the engaged couple and the doll, in particular), but most of it falls flat. It's only an hour long, and it takes about half that time for anything to really happen. A "Masterpiece Theater"-style wraparound segment features a host who re-enacts missing scenes, watches part of Night of the Living Dead, and constantly reminds the viewer that the movie sucks. It's hard to trash a movie the bends over backwards trying to remind you that it's not supposed to be good. All I can say is that it's not even necessary - Blown speaks for itself.

Killer Pad (2008)



Director: Robert Englund
Starring: Daniel Franzese, Eric Jungman, Shane McRae, Emily Foxman
Rated R Running time: 84 minutes
Released by Lions Gate

On the film's DVD cover, just above the kind of artwork that screams "zany comedy", is a blurb announcing that Killer Pad is "From the Producers of Dude, Where's My Car?". That should tell you all you really need to know about Robert Englund's not-so-triumphant return to the filmmaking saddle. His last movie, 976-EVIL, was a Nightmare on Elm Street redux full of tepid jolts and horrible one-liners spouted by a villain that was infintely more laughable than frightening. This time around, Englund forgoes all attempts to scare and tries to find yucks in a script where there are none to be found. After meeting with an Asian tranvestite mystic landlord (Mad TV's Bobby Lee), three college boys stumble into a *ahem* killer pad that turns out to be too good to be true. What's the problem you might ask? Well, the fancy, high-dollar house overlooking the Hollywood hills is located smack dab on top of a portal to hell. A Latino gardener (Hector Jimenez) tries to warn them that the place is evil, but the excessively dumb trio think that he is asking for hot sauce. Funny, eh? They finally figure out their dream home's secret when their house warming bash is rudely interrupted by the appearance of a hermaphroditic devil woman (Emily Foxman) and her crew of demonic babes. Joey Lawrence shows up as himself, people start getting killed in amusing ways, and a drunken priest staves off the power of Satan by performing an impromptu sing-a-long of Kiss' "Rock and Roll All Night". Yes, it's that kind of movie.

Killer Pad knows it's dumb, and is damn proud of it. It's also grating, obnoxious, and worst of all, thoroughly unfunny. Englund should be slapped - HARD - for refusing to even try to give this useless little clunker even the smallest amount of sleaze appeal. There are tons of hot chicks in this film, but there is no nudity or sex. There are a number of crazy death scenes, but a disappointing lack of gore. Robert (Lightning Bug, Laid to Rest) Hall's make-up effects look very nice, but the digital FX look like something straight out of the Sci-Fi Channel's stock footage department. The disc features a "making of" doc that is nothing more than a commercial for the Viper Filmstream digital camera. Too bad Englund doesn't know how to light a scene or edit footage in a more coherent manner. The Viper camera is very nice indeed, but would be better employed in the hands of more competent directors. Sorry, Freddy. I liked you better when you were buried under latex.

18.3.09

The Curse of La Llorona (2007)



Director: Terrence Williams
Starring: Antonio Royuela, Mary Sanchex, Anne Stinnett, Elizabeth Osbourne, Cyd Shulte
Unrated Running time: 65 minutes
Released by Sub Rosa

Thoroughly awful shot-on-video horror flick that proves SubRosa will release almost anything. THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA is the third part of a trilogy based on the “Crying Woman” tale of Mexican folklore. This time the story centers on a family who gets more than they bargained for when they take in their emotionally disturbed niece. It seems the girl, named Hana, is being haunted by the malevolent Llorona and is set on destroying everyone around her.

Terrence Williams’s incoherent, cliche-filled script is loaded with ridiculous dialogue and puzzling story elements. For example, characters repeatedly insist the story takes place in a rural area (the next door neighbor is even said to have a farm), yet it is plain to see the film was shot in a relatively normal looking suburban neighborhood. At another point, Hana’s uncle finds a half-eaten brain in the garage. His reaction? Throw it in the garbage can and act as if nothing happened. There’s also a creepy doll involved that makes my head hurt to think about, so I will let you investigate that element on your own.

This is a badly made movie with lousy special effects and a story built on characters saying and doing stupid things. The actors, to their credit do as best as they can, but cannot possibly overcome the sheer incompetence in the writing and direction.

Williams is prolific, if nothing else. He’s churned out a half-dozen movies over the span of three years. At a glance, the quality of them seems to be at the same level as THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA. His last film, HORNO, was released in 2009. I don’t know if Williams has given up filmmaking or not, but if he keeps it up he could become a modern day Jerry Warren.

17.3.09

King of the Ants (2003)


Director: Stuart Gordon
Starring: Chris McKenna, George Wendt, Kari Wuhrer, Daniel Baldwin, Vernon Wells
Rated R Running time: 102 minutes
Released by First Look/The Asylum

As uneven a film as Stuart Gordon's King of the Ants shapes up to be, it makes for a logical transition from the black-humored horror films he became known for (From Beyond, Re-Animator, Dagon) to the dark fables he has been turning out in recent years (Edmond, Stuck). Adapted for the screen by Charlie Higson (from his novel of the same name), the film tells the story of aimless young house painter Sean Crawley (Chris McKenna). Shuffling through life with no ambition, no car, and no money, Sean thinks that things may be about to get better when he meets a shady electrician named Duke Wayne (a very good George Wendt, playing against type). Duke thinks that Sean might be just the guy to perform a little job for Duke's friend, Ray, a mobbed-up contractor played by Daniel Baldwin. It seems there is a tenacious city accountant (an uncredited Ron Livingston) who knows a little too much about Duke and Ray's not-very-legal business dealings. Sean is asked to tail the accountant and play amateur private detective. Which he does - poorly. Then one night, a very drunk Ray asks Sean if he'd be willing to go a step further and kill the nosy accountant. Sean agrees, but only if he is paid the paltry sum of 13 grand. When Sean does the deed, it is genuinely shocking - not because of the level of brutality on display, but because Gordon leaves his trademark black humor at the door. The violence in King of the Ants goes for agonizing realism, and the accountant's painfully slow death is pretty hard to watch.

Being the sleaze they are, Ray and Duke have no intentions of paying Sean for the murder. When Sean reveals that he swiped an incriminating file from the dead man's briefcase and tries to force the pair into paying him, Sean is whisked off to Ray's secluded desert home. not wishing to kill Sean, Ray decides to do something even worse -- make him forget. For several days Ray and his band of thugs (including the Road Warrior's Vernon Wells) take turns bashing Sean's head with a golf club. Beaten to a pulp and suffering from startling hallucinations, Sean appears to have his mind sufficiently scrambled enough for Duke to untie him. A bloody melee ensues, Sean escapes, licks his wounds, and plots his revenge.

The film stumbles badly when Sean becomes romantically involved with the dead accountant's wife (Kari Wuhrer). This diversion doesn't make a whole lot of sense (to me, anyway) and slows down with had been a pretty tightly wound neo-noir outing. I will admit that Kari Wuhrer's frequent nudity did help me overlook this blunder, however. No matter what genre he's working in, Gordon knows how to keep a viewers interest. Once the film regains its composure in the final reel, Sean has gone through one of the weirdest character arcs in recent film history. Filmed with handheld cameras and abundant natural light, King of the Ants is drastically different from Gordon's previous films. Retaining the same dark sophistication that has marked his best work, Gordon uses the template of a revenge thriller, loads it up with an unusual amount of characterization, and throws in a few dashes of horrific surrealism for good measure. The result is a wildly uneven, extremely brutal, and compulsively watchable mishmash of old Gordon and new Gordon. Highly recommended for those with strong stomachs. Where else are you going to see killer Norm?


16.3.09

In a Glass Cage (1987)



Director: Agusti Villaronga
Starring: Gunter Meisner, David Sust, Marisa Paredes, Gisele Ecchevaria
Unrated Running time: 108 minutes.
Released by Cult Epics

The "glass cage" of the film's title refers to the archaic iron lung which has become the home within a home for ex-Nazi Klaus. Before his spine was broken in a fall, Klaus was a doctor who got his rocks off by raping and torturing little boys. Now in exile and living only with the aid of the massive breathing apparatus, Klaus spends his days staring at his reflection in a mirror mounted near his chin. Bathing, shaving, and feeding is done with the help of Klaus' steely-eyed wife Griselda (Marisa Pariedes), who secretly wishes that her husband would hurry up and die, already. Griselda doesn't seem to have much warmth in her soul - not for her crippled husband, and not even for their young daughter, Rena (Gisele Echevarria). She's still protective of them, however, and springs into action when a mysterious young man barges into their home and locks himself in Klaus' room. When the man finally unlocks the door, he tells Griselda his name is Angelo (David Sust) and he is a nurse who has arrived to care for the incapacitated Nazi. Griselda demands that the young man leave, but relents when Klaus insists that he should stay. You get the impression that Griselda has some knowledge of her husband's proclivities, and assumes that this must be the reason why Klaus' would want the handsome stranger to be his constant companion. But she is wrong. In the days that follow, it becomes more and more evident that Angelo doesn't know a thing about nursing. He does, however, know a lot about Klaus, courtesy of the scrapbook the Nazi left at the scene of one of his crimes. Things get very, very nasty when we discover that Angelo is not interested in revenge - he is actually a fan of Klaus' work.

Nazism is fairly irrelevant to the story in IN A GLASS CAGE, and seems to be an easy way for writer/director Agusti Villaronga to establish the fact that Klaus is supposed to one very bad dude. Being a child molesting killer alone doesn't always guarantee that audiences will be revolted by the character's onscreen shenanigans (see Freddy Krueger), so the Nazi aspect is a good way to make sure that audiences know that they should be mortified. It's also unlikely that being a child molesting dairy farmer, or a child molesting insurance salesman would provoke as strong a reaction. IN A GLASS CAGE is more concerned with the universalism of human evil, and the way that it tends to perpetrate itself until someone finally puts an end to it, than it is about studying any political philosophies. Considering the material, it's not as explicit you would think it would be, but still features no small amount of stomach-turning moments. There is a scene where Angelo disrobes and gives Klaus a taste (sorry) of what is to come (sorry, again) that sends that "Ick meter" past the red line. No movie that features child rape and torture is going to be a walk in the park, yet IN A GLASS CAGE finds a way to be very distressing without showing too much.

The acting, photography, and production values are far better than any movie about a pair of lunatics who prey on children deserves to be. Villaronga only slips when he tries to hammer the aforementioned theme about human evil a little too hard into viewer's noggins. The film allows the tension to build steadily in the first half, but by the second half the film turns into a more straightforward thriller, and Villaronga resorts to a few overly arty shots and a heavy-handed attempts at symbolism that detract from the stark, unsettling tone that the film had achieved up to this point. Villaronga would have been better off letting the material speak for itself - IN A GLASS CAGE is heavy enough without any unnecessary artistic flourishes. It's a small criticism, though, and one that you will likely not notice since the film's action is wrapped tighter than a drum. While it may not be entirely successful as the profound meditation on human evil it obviously wants to be, IN A GLASS CAGE works flawlessly as a remorseless, stomach-churning thriller.

The Cult Epics disc has a short, but informative, interview with writer/director Agusti Villaronga as its only extra.

3 out of 5. 

15.3.09

Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (1970)



Director: Mario Bava
Starring: Brett Halsey, Charles Southwood, Marilu Tolo, Teodoro Corra
Not Rated Running time: 85 minutes
Released by Anchor Bay

As a big fan of director Mario Bava's work, I tried my hardest to come up with some nice things to say about his 1970 comedy/western Roy Colt and Winchester Jack. Even Bava fanatics describe the film as non-essential at best, an unfunny and overlong bore at the worst. You don't want to know what non-Bava fans have to say about it. As much as I'd hate to admit it, the film's detractors are mostly right.

Roy Colt (Brett Halsey) and Winchester Jack (Charles Southwood) are partners-in-crime -- when they are not beating the tar out of each other, that is. After one particularly intense knockdown dragout, they go their seperate ways; Roy takes up with a feisty Indian prostitute (Marilu Toto), while Jack stumbles into a Sheriff gig after saving a crippled banker from a nervous tic-afflicted bandit. It seems that the banker is in possession of a treasure map that leads to a hidden stash of gold - and a group of outlaws led by a holy man gone wrong known as the Reverend (Teodorra Corra) have their eyes on it. Coincidentally, so does Roy Colt. And Winchester Jack. And the feisty hooker who doesn't care what man she's with as long a he marries her and shares the wealth. The usual gunfights, fistfights, a surreal melee in a brothel, and even an intermission occur before all parties have their grand standoff at the "x" on the treasure map. All of this is played for laughs that are delivered in the typical zany Italian style. The cast is up to the task, and Bava does seem to understand comedy, but all the talent in the world can't overcome the fact that the film simply isn't funny. Roy Colt and Winchester Jack is rife with the kind of low humor that might appeal to folks who laugh hysterically at sight of someone being hit in the groin while a wacky noise plays on the soundtrack.

Bava's legendary visual style is limited to the odd shot or two (a skull with daylight shining through its eye socket, Roy and the prostitute walking through a foggy, reedy swamp); the flat earthtones of the Wild West are not especially conducive to the Master's usual experiments with color and composition. Bava handles the film with technical competence, but can't add much life to a lackluster script that is stretched too far. There is about an hours worth of story here that is padded with too many useless action scenes and misfiring gags.

So take it or leave it. Bava devotees will be all over this one, warts and all. People with a passing interest in the Italian director would be advised to skip Roy Colt and Winchester Jack and go after Bava's next film, the excellent Twitch of the Death Nerve, instead. It's not awful, but for a Bava film it is a disappointment. About the best thing Roy Colt and Winchester has going for it is the nifty little theme song at the beginning of the film.