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Night Fright (1967)

Director: James A. Sulivan
Starring: John Agar, Bill Thurman, Carol Gilley, Ralph Baker Jr., Dorthy Davis
Not Rated  Running time: 75 minutes
Public Domain

An obscure Texas-lensed semi-remake of Russ Marker's even more obscure (and never completed) The Demon from Devil's Lake. A government space craft used for experiments involving animals and radiation crash lands in a small town. Unfortunately for the locals, the biggest and meanest one, a monster that looks like its half-gorilla/half-Vulcan, survives and begins chomping down on local teens. The Sheriff (B-movie legend John Agar) and his loyal deputy (Bill Thurman; Keep My Grave Open) try to destroy the creature before any more locals get killed.

Pretty standard low budget monster movie with lots of teen dancing, neckin' in vintage convertibles, malt shops, and scenes of the cops standing around trying to figure out what the hell is going on. The film's creature, which is more than a little reminiscent of the Robot Monster, is barely seen thanks to too-dark day-for-night sequences. If you want to know what it looks like, check out the cover art, because it looks like a furry blur in the movie. The creature scenes are entertaining, but otherwise its pretty tedious, with way too much time spent showing people walking around in the woods.

Agar is good as the earnest-cop-just-trying-to-do-the-right-thing kinda role he played many times before, while Thurman makes for a likable sidekick. Other than that, the most interesting thing about Night Fright is its Texas drive-in circuit pedigree. Many in the cast and crew worked with Larry Buchanan and S.F. Brownrigg at some point in their careers. So if you're interested in regional filmmaking of the drive-in era, Night Fright is worth checking out. If not, skip it. There are better monster flicks available where you can actually see what's going on.


Eye of the Tiger (1986)

Director: Richard C. Sarafian
Starring: Gary Busey, Yaphet Kotto. William Smith, Seymour Cassel
Rated R  Running time: 92 minutes
Released by MGM

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Vietnam vet Buck Matthews (Gary Busey) has just been released from prison after serving time for a crime he didn't commit. All he wants to do is return to his hometown and lead a quiet, peaceful life with his wife and young daughter. But things don't work out that way, since the entire town is under the control of the corrupt sheriff (Seymour Cassel) and a drug dealing, motorcycle riding gang led by semi-mowhawked biker/drug dealer named Blade (William Smith).

Good guy Busey quickly gets himself on the gang's doodoo list when he interrupts a rape-in-progress perpetrated by Blade's mentally deficient brother. Next thing you know, motorcycles are crashing through Buck's living room window, his daughter is traumatized, and his wife is dead. Buck does what any ex-con/'Nam vet would do in a similar kind of situation: he teams up with his best buddy (Yaphet Kotto - who is sporting a very weird hairdo in this), gets a monster truck fully loaded with rockets and machine guns, and goes to get some justice.

Yaphet Kotto and his hair
It's kind of strange that someone decided to name Eye of the Tiger after a song that was a hit three or four years earlier in Rocky III. Was it still popular in 1986? I don't remember, but someone at the studio thought it was. Not only is it used as the title, the song is played several times through the course of the movie.

Other than that little quirk, it's a pretty standard riff on the action movie template of the 80's. While  not as outrageous as some of its brethren (particularly Cannon Film's output), there's plenty of craziness on display. The gang drags the wife's coffin around with a motorcycle. There's a decapitation ala She-Devils on Wheel. Yaphet Kotto flys a biplane while tossing dynamite and hand grenades at the bikers.  And Gary Busey interrogates one hospitalized thug with a gob of Vaseline and a stick of dynamite. I'll let you use your imagination with that one.

I think anyone who grew up on 80's action will find something to love here. There's a slew of familiar faces (Busey, Kotto,  Cassel, a very over-the-top William Smith), preposterous situations, and copious amounts of ridiculous action. The film does begin to meander a bit during the second act, but regains it's composure in a satisfying, if completely retarded, finale in which Busey and Kotto rain hell on the evil biker gang. EYE OF THE TIGER is dumb, loud, and smothered in cheese, but it's a hell of a lot of fun.


100 Feet (2008)

Director: Eric Red
Starring: Famke Janssen, Bobby Cannavale, Ed Westwick, Michael Pare
Rated R  Running time:  101 minutes
Released by The Asylum

After a twelve year absence from the movie biz, writer/director Eric Red (Near Dark, The Hitcher) returns with this haunted house thriller starring Famke Janssen. Janssen plays Marnie Watson, a woman just released from prison for killing her abusive cop husband. Marnie says it was self-defense; Shanks, (Bobby Cannavale) her dead husband's partner, doesn't believe her.  As a condition of her release, Marnie is placed under house arrest -  the same house where she offed her hubby. If she moves more then 100 feet out of range of the monitoring system, Marnie goes back to the slammer. In the meantime, Shanks vows to make Marnie as miserable as possible for killing his partner.

It turns out that Shanks doesn't have to do a thing, since the husband's ghost (Michael Pare in a wordless role) has decided to not go towards the light. At first he seems content to frighten and annoy Marnie. But when she becomes romantically involved with a much younger (and still living) delivery guy, he gets much, much nastier.

Right off the bat, Red earns points for two things: not indulging in the usual J-horror inspired ghost antics, and for keeping  100 Feet from turning into an R-rated domestic violence PSA. Most of the action takes place in the haunted townhouse, with Janssen being the focal point of nearly every scene. She's very good in this; tough, battle-scarred, and resourceful. I can forgive her for sticking her hand down the garbage disposal late in the second act.

The ghost effects are exceptional. Pare hovers around the apartment, his face bone white and out of focus. It's the kind of thing you'd see in a nightmare. It's also worth mentioning that the film features one of the nastiest death-by-poltergeist scenes I've ever witnessed.

My only real quibble is with the film's grand finale. Janssen's character does something (or maybe doesn't do something) that is completely inconsistent with every thing else we've learned about her. It bothered me, but not enough to ruin 100 Feet. It's one of the better recent horror films, and certainly the best thing The Asylum has ever released.

3 out of 5. 


Blood Suckers from Outer Space (1984)

Director: Glen Coburn
Starring: Thom Meyers, Dennis Letts, Robert Bradeen, Laura Ellis
Rated R  Running time: 79 minutes
Released by Shriek Show

Occasionally amusing low budget zombie comedy filmed outside of Dallas, Texas. Toxic gas leaking from a sinister military research facility turns the residents of a small farming town into blue-faced flesheating ghouls. A young photgrapher and an attractive party girl from the city manage to survive the outbreak (by huffing from a tank of nitrous oxide), but face an even greater danger from a nuke happy General (Dennis Letts) who hopes to cover the military's butt by vaporizing everything in sight.

 Most of the jokes are painfully unfunny, yet the film's goofy tone helps make Blood Suckers from Outer Space much more entertaining than most of the other 104,653 "zombie comedies"  currently in circulation. There's a couple of gore scenes (one featuring a farmer and a dismembered arm provides the biggest laugh), a guy in bikini briefs, a couple of boobies, and a zippy new wave via Broadway theme song. Pat Paulsen has a bit part as the President of the USA - a joke reference that will be totally lost on viewers under 40 years of age.

Shriek Show loaded the disc up with extras, including an making of documentary in which nearly everyone involved disparages the film. I don't think Blood Suckers from Outer Space is nearly as bad as the makers do, apparently.  It would fit in perfectly on the USA Network's departed "Up All Night" program. If you even know what that show was all about, then this movie might be right up your alley.


12 Rounds (2009)

Director: Renny Harlin
Starring: John Cena, Aiden Gillen, Ashley Scott, Steve Smith
Rated PG-13  Running time: 108 minutes
Released by 20th Century Fox

It's loud! It's dumb! It's improbable! It's also one of the best action movies of the year, and most shockingly, it stars wrestling superstar John Cena. Cena plays New Orleans cop Danny Fisher, who foils a plot orchestrated by international arms dealer and all around d-bag Miles Jackson (Aiden Gillen; Mayor Carcetti from "The Wire"). As he is being apprehended, Jackson says, "I'll remember you." And he does. A year later, Cena's girlfriend (Ashley Scott) is kidnapped by Jackson, and Cena is forced to solved a series of twelve puzzles in order to save her. Twelve puzzles that cause spectacular car crashes, fiery explosions, tiki bar oblierations, and a fat guy to go SPLAT.

Yes, it takes one hell of a suspension of disbelief to appreciate, and the plot is a blatant ripoff of Die Hard With A Vengeance. But what makes 12 Rounds work is it's willingness to dispense with logic and be a pure action movie with the mentality of a monster truck rally. Director Renny (Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Cliffhanger, Prison, Die Hard 2) Harlin never lets up on the pace, which accomplishes two things: 1. it never allows the audience to get bored and start thinking too much, and 2. it doesn't allow much opportunity for John Cena to "act." Seriously, apart from a five minute sequence after Jackson is captured, virtually all of the film is one long action sequence. Cena is actually pretty good as the musclebound cop hero since he spends all of time punching people and yelling, and Ashley Scott does a good job looking pretty and scared as the kidnapped nurse. It's Aiden Gillen as Jackson that really stands out, though. Gillen does a terrific job playing the Hans Gruber-style super villain with a vague European accent. He manages to exude that oh-my-god-I-want-to-punch-him quality that works as the perfect counterpoint to Cena's earnest badass character.

Don't think. Just watch it. Preferably on the biggest television you can find.


Danika (2006)

Director: Ariel Vromen
Starring: Marisa Tomei, Craig Bierko, Regina Hall
Rated R  Running time: 80 minutes
Released by First Look Pictures

It's The Sixth Sense meets "Desperate Housewives" in the dull, confusing thriller from Ariel Vromen (Rx). Marisa Tomei is Danika, a working wife and mother of three who just might be losing her mind. She's wracked with fears about her family (husband cheating on her, innocent daughter is a hellion at school, older son is going to catch AIDS from his hot latin girlfriend, etc.) and is growing dangerously preoccupied with a series of child disappearances in her city. And to top it all off, she's beginning to suffer from increasingly violent and nightmarish hallucinations that begin blurring the line between reality and fantasy. Is Danika having visions of the future? Or is she in need of an extended stay at the local nut hatch?

All is revealed in a predictable "twist" ending that makes the preceding 75 minutes of Danika a waste of time.

Marisa Tomei is excellent as the fragile title character, but nothing else in the film arouses much interest. Imagine a Lifetime Television remake of Jacob's Ladder and you'll get a good idea of what kind of movie this is. Lots of J-horror inspired shocks and dreary photography add a dark tone to what is essentially the kind of tedious melodrama that your mom will probably like.

A couple of zombified boobs, a decapitated head or two, and a solid performance from Tomei can't save Danika from a predictable script and tired horror conventions.

Laid to Rest (2009)

Director: Robert Hall
Starring: Bobbi Sue Luther, Kevin Gage, Sean Whalen, Nick Principe
Unrated  Running time: 90 minutes

Special effects whiz turned director Robert Hall (LIGHTNING BUG) returns with a relentless, gory slasher that's a throwback to the days when cinematic massacres were more fun. A nameless and busty brunette (Bobbi Sue Luther) awakes in a  coffin in a funeral home run by genre vet Richard Lynch (Bad Dreams). She has no idea who she is or how she got there. Before she can begin to put the pieces together, the film's star arrives: Chrome Skull, a hulking, unstoppable killer who wears a shiny skeletal mask, a video camera mounted to his shoulder, uses shiny, expensive looking weapons and drives a very slick car. He's sort of the James Bond of the serial killer world, if James Bond casually murdered everyone in sight.

So she runs. And runs. And runs. In fact, the rest of the movie involves the girl (and two guys who end up getting dragged into it) trying to figure out just how she got in this predicament while avoiding getting butchered by Chrome Skull. In the meantime, Chrome Skull eviscerates nearly every character who appears in the film with creative gusto. Faces are chopped off, guts are spilled, heads are crushed, you name it. All of which is masterfully done. I'd even go as far as to say that the splatter effects (by Hall's Almost Human FX) are some of the best I've ever seen. One scene in particular, a brutal head stabbing that occurs early in the picture, is almost guaranteed to make you squirm.

Gore isn't the only thing going for the film, however. The film's protagonists - the girl, the trucker with a bum leg (Kevin Gage), and the uber-nerdy computer whiz (Sean Whalen) - are actually likable, a quality which is absent from 99.9% of the slashers on the market. Everyone else, well, they make good targets for Chrome Skull.

Highly recommended for fans of old-fashioned special effects and cinematic mayhem. LAID TO REST is a fun and gory little slasher.

3.5 out of 5.


Life Is Hot in Cracktown (2009)

Director: Buddy Giovinazzo
Starring:  Evan Ross, Illeana Douglas, Brandon Routh, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Tony Plana, Kerry Washington, Desmond Harrington, Richard Portnow
Not rated, 102 minutes

Less than five minutes after the film begins, we see a young woman being led into an alley where several nasty teenagers with really bad intentions have made plans to gang rape her. She begs, she pleads, she screams, she threatens to tell her brother, but none of it does any good. At the point when the gang begins tearing the girl's clothes off, we start to expect the film's hero to appear with a shotgun and a one-liner and put an end to the attack.

But it doesn't happen. Each member of the gang gets to take his turn, and they cap the event by urinating on the naked, crying woman.

There's no one around to save the girl, or anyone else for that matter, in Buddy Giovianzzo's Life is Hot in Cracktown, a relentlessly bleak drama about life in a California slum that shows that Giovianzzo's worldview hasn't brightened much since his 1985 debut, Combat Shock. Adapted from the director's book of the same name, Cracktown is a loosely connected series of stories involving hookers, crackheads, abusive parents, psychotic teenagers, terrified elderly people, trannys, and the men who love them. While it doesn't possess the same apocalyptic fury of Combat Shock, Cracktown shares the same life-is-a-nightmare-and-the-only-way-out-is-death tone that makes it one of the year's more unsettling motion pictures. Giovianazzo has lost none of his edge, none of his ability to kick the audience in the gut and then rub their face in their own sick.

Rapist, gang leader, and all around jerk Romeo (Evan Ross) does his best to look hard  for the camera.

While there is no real star, the most compelling character by far is teenage gang leader and all-around scumbag Romeo (Evan Ross, son of Diana Ross!). He's the only character in the film that is almost impossible to feel any sympathy for, and is interesting to watch just to see what terror he's going to inflict next. From organizing the film opening gang rape, to a long, hard-to-watch scene where he and his gang torture a frail old man with an enema bag, he's one of the most evil little bastards you'll ever see in a movie. His character would be right at home in an early 80's revenge thriller like Death Wish or Tenement where we would at least get the pleasure of seeing his head getting blasted with a sawed-off shotgun. But in Giovianazzo's world, the bad guys live on while the decent and well-intentioned pay and pay and pay.

This is one dark little movie, full of beatings, rape, child abuse, do-it-yourself abortions, with a feeling of pending doom permeating every scene. Suffice to say, this isn't one you want to watch with Grandma. But if you've got the stomach, Life is Hot in Cracktown deserves to be seen.

3.5 out of 5.


Undead or Alive (2007)

Director: Glasgow Phillips
Starring: James Denton, Chris Kattan, Navi Rawat, Matt Besser
Rated R  Running time: 91 minutes
Released by Image Entertainment

Three decades of movie watching has taught me that it is generally a good policy to avoid anything starring any past or present cast members of  "Saturday Night Live." That goes double for films billing themselves as "Zombedies." So it was a little disorienting to find myself amused by, and even laughing at, Undead or Alive, a zombie western that is guilty of both of the above.

Luke (Chris Kattan, "Saturday Night Live") and Elmer (James Denton, "Desperate Housewives") are a couple of bumbling wannabe cowboys trying to hightail it out of town after robbing a corrupt Sheriff (Matt Besser) of a bag of loot. Complicating their getaway is a curse put on the White man by Geronimo, which manifests itself in the form of a plague that transforms the living into flesh eating ghouls. The pair eventually team up with Geronimo's sexy niece (Navi Rawat) and try to make to Colorado before the Sheriff, his zombie posse, and the U.S. Army catches up with them.

While many of the gags fall flat, Undead or Alive is a lot funnier than most of the, umm, "zombedies" that are flooding the market.  Much of this is thanks to Kattan, who is almost restrained in this when compared to his usual over-the-top performances. His character, the prissy pseudo-cowboy who wears colorful western attire and carries a cameo containing a portrait of his horse, gets most of the laughs. Comedian Brian Posehn has a non-speaking part as the farmer who starts the zombie outbreak. There are a number of gory effects (courtesy of KNB vet Robert Kurtzman), and the anachronistic soundtrack features surf rock and a variation on the theme from Brokeback Mountain.

All in all, it's an entertaining entry in a genre that will hopefully die soon.


Intermission: Felix the Cat in "Neptune Nonsense"

Boardinghouse (1982)

Director: John Wintergate
Starring John Wintergate ("Hawk Adley"), Kalassu
Rated R  Running time: 98 minutes
Released by Code Red

Boardinghouse's big claim to fame is that it was the first shot-on-video film to get a theatrical release. Oh, what I wouldn't have given to see the look on theatergoers' faces while watching this one.

My friends, this isn't one of those movies that is "so bad it's good." No, this monstrosity falls into the "so bad it's surreal" category.

The man responsible for this abomination is writer/director/composer/and star John Wintergate (as "Hawk Adley"). He plays Jim, a guy with poofy blonde hair who loves wearing European-style bikini briefs, colorful tank tops, and frequently practices his extraordinary telekinetic abilities in the bath tub. So Jim decides to buy an old boarding house that has been vacant for years. Seems that the place was the scene of several murders that occured when the previous owners mind power experiments went haywire. Knowing this, Jim realizes that there is only one thing he can do: move in and fill the house with as many single and attractive young women as possible.

Shower scene goes bad courtesy of a monster pig head hallucination 
Writer-director-star-mastermind John Wintergate looks surprised
The lovely ladies of Boardinghouse kickin' it by the pool

So this bargain basement Hefner does just that, and in no time the house is occupied by a gaggle of ladies wearing short shorts and teased hairdos. But all is not well in permland. Weird stuff begins happening. People start dying. Pig heads replace real heads, mice and guts get barfed up, socks get levitated, gardeners start leering, briefs are worn, and psychic powers are unleashed in a colored lightbulb finale where people point at each other and yell.

Boardinghouse, with all of its scenes of Wintergate cavorting by the pool, in the living room, on the beach, and virtually everywhere else with scantily clad group of bad actresses, has the look and feel of an early 80's porn film. However, instead of graphic intercourse we get flying bars of soap, magic shows, ancient synth music, and makeup effects that could have come from Halloween Express. We are warned of bad things to come by the state-of-the-art "Horrorvision" effect - which is a black gloved hand wiggling around in front of a psychedelic background, or sometimes as a blobby silhouette of a ghost. Or something like that.

It's bad. Real bad.  So bad that at times, you are certain to wonder if you are really seeing what's happening on screen. In that respect, there are viewers who may find some entertainment in cracking jokes about the onscreen shenanigans. Everyone else, well, consider yourself warned.

Code Red have done an amazing job on this disc, possibly more than it really deserved. There are trailers, an interview and a commentary track with mastermind John Wintergate and his wife/co-star Kalassu. In the interview, Wintergate insists the film was an intentional comedy, but a producer (or maybe the distributor) wanted the movie to have a harder edge in line with the slashers that were popular at the time. I find this a little hard to believe, but I'll take Wintergate's word for it. He seems like a nice enough guy, and his commentary and interview are the most entertaining parts of the disc.

A sequel is supposedly in the works. God help us.


Sub Zero (2005)

Director: Jim Wynorski
Starring: Costas Mandylor, Nia Peeples, Jacqueline Samuda, Linden Ashby
Rated PG-13 Running time: 90 minutes
Released by Lionsgate

Goofy action/adventure flick from Jim Wynorski built off the Cliffhanger/Vertical Limit template. Terrorists steal an EMP device (which looks like a Rubik's Cube) that can trigger catastrophic satellite attacks from a top secret facility deep in the Himalayan mountains. While making their escape, the terrorists' plane is shot down, and the doomsday cube falls somewhere near the summit of K2.

Enter John Deckert (Costas Mandylor), a badass mountaineer who hangs up his climbing equipment after a tragic accident takes the life of one of his friends. His retirement is shortlived, however, because Uncle Sam comes a callin' and informs Decker that if he can't climb to the top of K2 and retrieve the aforementioned device the world will be in danger of being destroyed by terrorists. Now that's motivation! Decker reassembles his crack team of climbers and sets out to battle the enormous K2, as well as terrorists and other assorted punks with nefarious plans.

If you've ever seen a Jim Wynorski film, then you already know what you can expect - one-dimensional characters, ludicrous story lines, and silly dialogue all executed with deadpan delivery and a light tone that makes it clear that none of this is meant to be taken all that seriously. All those elements are present in Sub Zero, though this time around it isn't as much fun. From the generic score to the lifeless action scenes, this feels like something that was concocted just to fill shelf space. The PG-13 rating doesn't help matters. This film would have benefited greatly from a few exploding heads.

The best things here are Mandylor (who would make a solid action hero if he can find his way into better material) and the craptastic CGI effects. In fact, I recommend this movie only so that you check out the film's conclusion, which features a parachute scene that you'll have to see to believe.


A Strange Adventure (1956)

Director: William Witney
Starring: Ben Cooper, Joan Evans, Marla English, Nick Adams, Jan Merlin
Running time: 70 minutes
Released by Republic Pictures

Despite the title, nothing particularly strange happens in this tale of a nice young hot rod enthusiast named Harold (Ben Cooper) who inadvertently becomes the getaway driver for a heist perpetrated by a pretty young nightclub singer (Joan Evans) and her gangster friends. After the gang takes Harold to a remote weather station to hideout from the fuzz, he and a pretty hostage team up to plot their escape, so they can attempt to clear Harold's good name.

The cast does the best they can with the material, which has the feel of something one of Republic's in-house writers (in this case, Houston Branch, who wrote over fifty screenplays for various studios) fired off in an afternoon. It's a B-movie all the way, with just enough hot rod action to market A Strange Adventure as a slight juvenile delinquent drama. Also noteworthy is the film's bad girl played by Joan Evans, who bears a striking resemblance to a young Elizabeth Taylor. I can imagine that particluar trait of hers having gained her a good deal of work back in the day. Other than that, the film is pretty bland, with too little action and too much talking.

There's also nothing here that hints that director William Witney, a serial/B-movie vet, would go on to direct something as outrageous as Darktown Strutters some twenty years later.