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20.12.14

Night of the Living Dead (1968)


Director: George A. Romero
Starring: Judith O'Dea, Duane Jones, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Judith Riley, Keith Wayne
Not rated, 90 minutes

In the late 1960's, a small, Pittsburgh-based production company named The Latent Image decided to make the jump from commercials and industrial films to feature-length movies. Their first project would be a low-budget, black-and-white horror film intended to make a decent profit and hopefully lead to bigger things. To their shock, their little movie went on to become one of the most successful and influential independent films of all time, and would introduce a young director named George A. Romero to the world.

In the Pennsylvania countryside, a disparate group of people seek refuge in an abandoned farmhouse, while a growing horde of cannibalistic ghouls amass outside. News reports tell of an almost unfathomable horror: the bodies of the recently deceased are returning to life and feasting on the flesh of the living. As the night goes on, tensions amongst the survivors grow as their hopes and options for a safe escape diminish.

The film's grainy black-and-white photography and documentary-like approach, combined with an odd soundtrack consisting of public domain monster movie music and electronic sound effects gives the movie a genuinely nightmarish quality that holds up nearly five decades later. The scene in which the dead snack on the remains of two ill-fated characters while a low pulsating tone growls on the soundtrack has undoubtedly fueled many bad dreams over the years. Same goes for the basement scene, in which a woman's screams are looped and echoed over the sound of a trowel puncturing her flesh, over and over again.  Romero would certainly make gorier films, he would never again make one as frightening and unnerving as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

The scenes inside the farmhouse fuel an unbearable, and rapidly intensifying, atmosphere of hopelessness and dread. Coolheaded Ben (Duane Jones) begins clashing with the abrasive Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman), while our heroine Barbara (Judith O'Dea), lingers on the edges of catatonia. Meanwhile, the news reports coming in over the television tell of a situation that is well out-of-control and certain to get much worse. Romero does a remarkable job of setting a tone that feels as the world as you know it is quickly coming to a horrifying end. While Romero's subsequent DEAD films would continue to use the "siege" narrative, none of them are as claustrophobic and nerve-racking as it is here.

Five decades since its release, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD continues to spawn tributes, remakes, and ripoffs. The film casts a long shadow that nearly every "zombie" film made since must reside under. Most remarkable of all is that the film has lost none of its power to shock and unnerve, and its apocalyptic tone has never been rivaled. Simply put, this is one of the greatest horror films ever made.

5 out of 5.


18.12.14

The Man in the Attic (1953)


Director: Hugo Fregonese
Starring: Jack Palance, Constance Smith, Byron Palmer, Rhys Williams, Frances Bavier
Not rated, 82 minutes

This was the fourth time Marie Belloc Lowndes' 1913 novel THE LODGER was made into a movie. Helen (Frances Bavier) and William Harley (Rhys Williams) are an older couple renting out rooms in their home for extra cash. One day a man (Jack Palance) arrives to inquire about a room. Carrying only a black briefcase, the man introduces himself as Slade, a pathologist who works at the university. Explaining that he works late at night and often conducts research in his downtime, he asks if he can rent out the couple's attic and adjoining rooms. An intrigued Helen agrees and accepts him as a tenant. Her intrigues slowly begins to turn into suspicion, as Slade wastes no time in revealing some very odd behaviors. Helen catches Slade turning several paintings of actresses around on his bedroom wall, because he says their eyes were following him around the room. He shows himself to extremely secretive, twitchy, and awkward in conversation. While Helen expresses concern over Slade's unusual personality, husband William dismisses her concern. After all, he says, the family dog likes him, which means he can't be that bad. Slade soon learns that he isn't the only tenant in the Harley home: the Harley's gorgeous niece, a professional dancer named Lily (Constance Smith), is back from France and is staying there, as well. Sparks fly when the two meet, with Lily intrigued by the mysterious Slade, and Slade showing a very intense interest in Lily. A romantic triangle forms when a police inspector investigating the Jack the Ripper case finds himself under the pretty dancer's spell. However, his romantic gestures are thwarted by several new Ripper killings. While Lily becomes more and more enamored with the mysterious Slade, all signs begin to indicate that he may not be the sensitive and misunderstood soul she thinks him to be.

MAN IN THE ATTIC doesn't try very hard to establish the setting of Victorian London during the Jack the Ripper killings. Some characters have English accents, some don't. We're also treated to several time-padding musical sequences that have a distinctly America-in-the-50's feeling, with Constance Smith doing her showgirl thing amid a assortment of tastefully clothed dancing ladies. Without a few shots of cobblestone streets and the occasional bobby, you might forget this is a Jack the Ripper movie, though one that plays fast and loose with the details of the case.

It isn't a total loss, however, as the film moves at a good pace and is full of some very engaging performances. Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee from "The Andy Griffith Show") and Rhys Williams are fun  as the bickering landlords, supplying a humorous tone to an otherwise serious film. The dramatic weight rests on the shoulders of Jack Palance as the strange, and possibly dangerous, Slade. From the moment he appears onscreen, Palance exhudes a tense and unpredictable energy that is mesmerizing. Even when he's being polite, he seems to be masking something intense and unpleasant. I won't say much more about his performance, as the film does make a half-assed attempt at mystery and I don't want to spoil anything. In any case, Palance is the primary reason to watch MAN IN THE ATTIC, if for no other reason than to see any early performance from one of the most unique and mesmerizing actors of his generation.

This movie is also notable for being one of the last big roles for actress Constance Smith. Smith was on her way to making a name for herself when she ran into a series of tragic events that would ruin her career. The Irish-born Smith had a somewhat of a reputation for being difficult, meaning that she wasn't willing to conform to studio authority.  As the story goes, she was pressured into having an abortion by studio heavies, and would soon spiral into a nightmare of substance abuse, mental illness, and violence. She died, homeless and forgotten, in 2003.

3 out of 5.

11.12.14

Scary or Die (2012)


Director: Bob Badway, Michael Emanuel, Igor Meglic
Starring: Bill Oberst Jr., Corbin Bleu, Domiziano Arcangeli, Elizabeth Di Prinzio, Hali Lula Hudson, Shawn Caulin-Young
Rated R, 94 minutes

A low-budget horror anthology that tells five interrelated stories happening in and around Los Angeles. In the first story, "The Crossing", two psycho rednecks (Bill Oberst Jr. and Shawn Caulin-Young) and their female squeeze (Hali Lula Hudson) encounter a horde of illegal alien zombies. "Teujung's Lament" is about a man who gets mixed up with a vampire cult. The third story, "Re-Membered", is a modern update of Edgar Allan
Poe's "The Telltale Heart" in which a body in the trunk of a car begins to drive a man insane. This is followed by the film's centerpiece, "Clowned", in which a drug-dealer-with-a-heart-gold (Corbin Bleu) is bitten by a cannibalistic clown, and is transformed into a cannibalistic clown himself. The film closes with "Lover Come Back", a short tale of a woman who returns from the grave through the power of voodoo.

Horror anthologies are usually hit-or-miss, and SCARY OR DIE is mostly a miss. The exceptionally dumb first story is saved by some decent gore effects and an over-the-top performance by the very cool Bill Oberst Jr. After that, the movie sinks into a melodramatic stupor, with the remaining stories taking on a too-serious tone that make them a chore to sit through. The longest story here is "Clowned" and is the film's main attraction. If you think clowns are scary, well, here you go. There are two hideously ugly clown in this one (one obviously modeled after John Wayne Gacy). Other than that, it's an overlong bore that should have spent more of its running time focusing on clown mayhem instead of schmaltzy family drama. And like "The Crossing", it's very, very dumb.

SCARY OR DIE has decent production values and a (mostly) capable cast. What it doesn't have, unfortunately, is an original bone in its body. Every story here is cliche-filled and predictable, with everything panning out exactly how you imagine. Worse than that, it's a movie that takes itself far too seriously to have any fun at all. Dumb and unoriginal can work in some cases, but dull and uninspired cannot.

2 out of 5.

7.12.14

Dawning (2009)


Director: Gregg Holtgrewe
Starring: Najarra Townsend, Jonas Goslow, David Coral, Christine Kellogg-Darrin, Daniel Jay Salmen
Not Rated, 82 minutes

Aurora (Najarra Townsend; CONTRACTED) and Chris (Jonas Goslow) are a pair of siblings who travel to their father's cabin deep in a remote wilderness. Upon their arrival, we learn that this isn't going to be a happy family get together. Dad (David Coral) is a recovering alky who is hypercritical of his pothead son, while his new wife, Laura, is seen by the kids as an icy home wrecker responsible for their parents' divorce. The family's half-hearted attempts at having a pleasant weekend are interrupted by tragedy when Aurora discovers the family dog has been mortally wounded. If that weren't enough, moments later a crazed man bursts into the cabin. The man babbles incoherently about someone, or something, in the woods that is coming for all of them. Not knowing what to do, the dysfunctional family subdues the stranger and tries to decide their next move.

If DAWNING were to be summed up in a single word, it would be "frustrating." While director Gregg Holtgrewe makes effective use of a shoestring budget (just over 100,000 dollars) and employs a efficient visual style to build tension, he focuses too much on the events inside the cabin, and neglects the threats outside. We can't count on this family to learn much about the mysterious entity that is lurking just beyond the door, because they can't stop bickering long enough to do anything productive. Nobody is able to go for help, nor are they able to extract any information from the stranger. We are left with an incredibly vague menace that never gives us any clues as to what it might be, or if it even exists at all. The actors handle the material fairly well, but really aren't given much to work with outside the "family drama" department.

Holtgrewe ramps up the intensity in the final act using an unnerving soundtrack and some interesting visuals. However, without a compelling villain or threat to work with, the tension Holtgrewe works hard for begins unravelling. DAWNING then races to an ending that is too ambiguous for its own good.





6.12.14

Creepshow (1982)


Director: George A. Romero
Starring: Ed Harris, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, E.G. Marshall, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Stephen King
Rated R

This horror anthology from director George A. Romero and writer Stephen King is an unabashed love letter to the infamous EC horror comics of the 1950's. A boy (Joe King, son of Stephen, aka writer Joe Hill) is confronted by his angry father (Tom Atkins) over one of the boy's prized possessions: a lurid horror comic called "Creepshow." The exchange gets heated to the point where Dad slaps the kid in the face and storms out to toss his beloved comic book in the trash. The heartbroken boy cries over the loss...until "the Creep" appears at his bedroom window. From there the comic appears and introduces us to five tales:

"Father's Day" - The corpse of a cruel and domineering millionaire rises from the grave in search of the birthday cake his good-for-nothing children never gave him.

"The Crate" - The discovery of a crate containing a furry and ferocious creature leads a p-whipped college professor (Hal Holbrook) towards a creative solution for his troubled marriage.

"The  Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" - A dim-witted farmer (writer Stephen King) discovers a meteorite that oozes a glowing liquid that covers all it touches in a rapidly growing moss.

"Something to Tide You Over" - A wealthy psychopath (Leslie Nielsen) devises a sadistic revenge against his wife and her lover (Ted Danson).

"They're Creeping Up on You" - A mean rich guy (E.G. Marshall) finds himself trapped in his apartment with a horde of ornery cockroaches.

CREEPSHOW isn't remotely scary, nor is it trying to be. Instead it sets out to capture the macabre tone of comics like "Tales from the Crypt" and "Vault of Horror." Like its source of inspiration, each story features a revenge theme in which characters experience an unexpected, and grisly, fate. The script by Stephen King has been often criticized as being too simplistic and heavy-handed. The critics are missing the point -- the old EC comics were basically simple morality tales in which a clear villain paid a horrible price for their misdeeds. There was nothing subtle about them, and they were more about setting up a shocking payoff than exploring complex themes. To that end, King perfectly captures the vibe of the influential comics. Meanwhile, George Romero incorporates a a colorful, comic-inspired visual style throughout the film that perfectly complements King's stories. It's a fun and unique way of making viewers feel like they're thumbing through the pages of a lurid horror comic, and it's unlike anything Romero has done before or since.

For my money, the person who really shines here is special effects wizard Tom Savini. Having made his name as the "Master of Gore" (MANIAC, DAWN OF THE DEAD, THE BURNING, THE PROWLER, etc), Savini was given the chance to spread his wings and tackle a slew of creature effects for the first time. From the very detailed corpse in "Father's Day" to the awesome puppetry behind Fluffy the crate creature, Savini shows that he is capable of so much more than blood-and-guts.

If you're over the age of five, there's little chance CREEPSHOW is going to frighten you in any way. However, it's the only collaboration between three masters of their craft at the height of their respective powers. It's also a fun movie that demonstrates just how much love the three have for the comic books of their youth. Over thirty years after its release, CREEPSHOW remains on of the finest horror anthology films ever made.




5.12.14

Snowtown (2011)


aka THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS

Director: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Henshaw, Louise Harris, Aaron Viergever, Richard Green
Not rated, 119 minutes


SNOWTOWN is a harrowing portrait of the people surrounding Australia's most notorious serial killer. The film focuses on teenage Jamie, a young man living with his cancer-stricken mother and his two younger siblings in a low income housing community in Adelaide. His mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harris), is in a relationship with a neighbor who enjoys taking nude pictures Jamie and his brothers. Meanwhile, step brother Troy thinks nothing of wrestling Jamie to the ground and sodomizing him when the feeling moves him. It's a hopelessly bleak existence in a neighborhood teeming with sordid characters and broken souls.

Hope comes in the form of a charismatic neighbor named John Bunting (Daniel Henshaw).  John invites himself into the family's life and quickly becomes a sort-of boyfriend to Elizabeth, and a father figure to her sons. When John learns of the nude photos, he immediately devises a solution: psychological warfare. With Jamie's assistance, John chops up the corpses of a dozen kangaroos and and soaks them in five gallon buckets of blood. In broad daylight, John splatters the creep's house with gore, sending a very clear and terrifying message.  As Jamie becomes drawn into John's inner circle, he learns that John is not content with acts of psychological terror -- nor are pedophiles the only target of John's rage.

There's an oppressive atmosphere of dread and despair that hovers over SNOWTOWN, which perfectly compliments the unsettling subject matter. With the exception of one extremely graphic torture scene, the film doesn't wallow in the sordid details of the John Bunting story. Instead, director Justin Kurzel forces viewers to experience the feeling of pending doom that hovers over virtually every character in this movie. No one is safe in John Bunting's world; anyone can be tortured and killed at any moment. This feeling of unbearable tension is due in large part to Daniel Henshaw's astonishing turn as the psychopathic John Bunting. Affable working class bloke one minute, a snarling attack dog the next, Henshaw's Bunting pulsates with danger in every scene.

This is a movie that makes you see and feel things you don't want to see and feel. This isn't a pleasant movie, or one that you could call entertaining. It is, however, an incredibly well-made and profoundly disturbing look at a real-life monster and the people in his grip.  SNOWTOWN is one of the best true crime/serial killer films ever made, though it's one many will not be able to make it through.

4.5 out of 5

2.12.14

Eden Lake (2008)



Director: James Watkins
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kelly Reilly, Jack O'Connell, Thomas Turgoose
Rated R, 91 minutes

The time-worn trope of sophisticated city slickers clashing with lower-class country dwellers gets the survival horror treatment in James Watkins's EDEN LAKE. Here the urban folk are represented by Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender; PROMETHEUS), a couple of lovebirds who seek to escape the grind of city life with a romantic weekend in the English countryside. They cross paths with a gang of trashy kids, led by an especially nasty little prick named Brett (Jack O'Connell; STARRED UP), and what begins as minor annoyance is exacerbated by a few bad decisions and ends up leading horrific violence. 
It's a story that has been told in many ways and in many genres. EDEN LAKE manages to set itself apart by being meaner and nastier than its peers, as well as by featuring terrific performances by the film's leads. Despite the fact that they do some tremendously stupid things, which only serve to make their situation worse, you genuinely care about Steve and Jenny's plight. The come off as decent people who are thrust into a world whose rules and customs they cannot possibly comprehend. And on the other side, Brett is a monstrous character, perfectly depicted by O'Connell, that will have you gritting your teeth and yelling at the screen. This is a case where actors elevate the material, and director James Watkins keeps things lean and mean, slowly ramping up the tension until the film's pitch black and haunting conclusion. Highly recommended.
 
4 out of 5

29.11.14

Mother of Tears (2007)


Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Asia Argento, Moran Atias, Christian Solimeno, Adam James, Daria Nicolodi, Udo Kier
Not Rated 102 minutes

Thirty years after it began, Dario Argento brings his "Three Mothers" trilogy to a close with MOTHER OF TEARS. What might have been another fascinating and visually arresting journey into the supernatural, instead turned out to be one of the most maddening films of the Italian director's long career.

The discovery of a box containing strange artifacts heralds the return of Mater Lachrymarum, the final and most terrible of the Three Mothers. Lachrymarum's arrival sends Rome into chaos as her presence transforms normally mild-mannered people into violent and destructive maniacs. Amidst all the craziness, an American woman named Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) discovers she is being pursued by the Third Mother's minions, which include a posse of cackling witches and a monkey. As Sarah soon finds out, she is the daughter of a powerful "good" witch (Daria Nicolodi) and is the only person who has the power to stop Lachrymarum's quest for world domination. With her deceased mother aiding her from the great beyond,  Sarah teams up with a skeptical cop to do battle with the incredibly sexy, but incredibly evil, Mother of Tears.

MOTHER OF TEARS is shocking for reasons completely unrelated to the film's gratuitous nudity and gore - there is almost nothing here that bears the mark of the "old" Dario Argento that made the previous films in the trilogy. Argento's horror outings were unique experiences that bore his signature: a sumptuous color palette, painstakingly composed visuals, a camera that became part of the action, and a flair for tense, startling, yet beautiful, scenes of violence. Of course, plot often took a backseat to the power of the visuals, so nonsensical dialogue and story developments were never far away. Here, the only thing left is the nonsensical. Aside from a shot or two, MOTHER OF TEARS looks flat and uninteresting when compared to SUSPIRIA and INFERNO. Even more disappointing was Argento's decision to forego style and tension in favor of explicit gore and nudity. The film's first murder scene, which involves a woman being strangled with her own intestines, is so over-the-top gory, the effect is more comical than frightening. It sets an uneasy tone the film that it never recovers from. So when we see things like a mother throwing her baby (an obvious doll) off a bridge, or a witch having her head crushed with a train door, you're going to find yourself laughing at film, more often than not.

One of the reasons this film was so greatly anticipated was the news that Argento was reuniting with some of his key collaborators from his glory days. You have Daria Nicolodi (Argento's ex and mother of Asia who co-wrote and starred in DEEP RED), Claudio Simonetti (ex-Goblin) handling the score, and Sergio Stivaletti (DEMONS, PHENOMENA, OPERA, and many, many more) in charge of the film's effects. What went wrong? Everything, it seems.  This, without question, is Argento's silliest movie. Coming from a person who absolutely adores his often despised 1985 film, PHENOMENA, that's saying a lot. There are many points in the film where I was convinced that Argento had set out to make a comedy instead of a horror film.  Asia Argento is terrible as the film's heroine and seems like she probably did this as a favor to her old man. Daria Nicolodi appears briefly in a very weird scene, and Udo Kier is wasted in a throwaway role that becomes nothing more than a vehicle for another Stivaletti gore effect. The story and dialogue us about as silly as you'd expect from an Argento movie. Sadly, this time around there's nothing for those elements to fall back on.

One's appreciation for this movie will ultimately depend on how you approach it. If you treat it as a campy, trashy Euro-horror flick, there's more than enough here to make you happy. However, as the final chapter in Argento's legendary trilogy, MOTHER OF TEARS is a terrible disappointment.

2.5 out of 5.

17.11.14

Children of the Living Dead (2001)


Director: Tor Ramsey
Starring: Tom Savini, Damien Luvara, Jamie McCoy, Sam Nicotero, Heidi Hinzman
Rated R 90 minutes

Two NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD alumni, screenwriter John Russo and "they're coming to get you, Barbara!" zombie Bill Hinzman, reunite to excrete a movie that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that George Romero was the brains of the operation. CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD is a sequel of sorts to Russo's NOTLD: 30th Anniversary Edition version of the 1968 original film. Like its predecessor, it's awful in every way you can imagine, and some you probably can't.

Where do I begin? The film struggles to tell a story about a Pennsylvania town that has come under siege by a horde of zombies led by the notorious Abbott Hayes, a rapist and murderer who has now joined the ranks of the undead. It seems that a greedy businessman's decision to relocate a small cemetery into one giant mass grave under his soon-to-be constructed car lot has stirred Hayes from his slumber. Why this matters to Hayes, I couldn't tell you. CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD is easily one of the most incomprehensibly written and edited films I've ever seen. With multiple prologues (three, by my count) and a story that never seems to achieve any degree of coherence, the movie is confusing beyond words. The terrible acting, dialogue, camerawork, and sound is the icing on one really crappy cake.

There are a few amusing moments. The first prologue, starring Tom Savini as a zombie killing mercenary, is the most energetic section of the film. It's still awful, but it was somewhat entertaining watching Savini fight a bunch of zombies in a Pennsylvania field. Too bad the makers decided to kill him off in the first ten minutes. I also got a few laughs out of the film's head baddie, Abbott Hayes (makeup created by Vincent J. Guastini, HOOD OF HORROR; SPOOKIES). I'm not sure who told him to walk with a high-stepping strut like a background dancer from the "Thriller" video, but added a surreal and hilarious touch to a movie that was otherwise painfully stupid.

CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD is a movie that is so thoroughly rotten, you almost have to see it to believe it. Director Tor Ramsey took to the internet to respond to a bad review, and wrote a long, detailed apology to anyone who endured this atrocity. I'm pasting it here because I think Ramsey's message is more entertaining than the movie itself.

Director Tor Ramsey:

I am writing to you to offer my sincerest apology for the 90 minutes of your life wasted watching the movie CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD. I read your review on the internet and would like to thank you for understating its worthlessness. 
So you're a filmmaker? Quick, find another profession that causes less stress, like painting the tops of radio towers! But if you insist, perhaps you'd like to know some of the circumstances behind the amazing CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD. 
Let me address a few specific areas you mentioned: 
1) we had two lens, a 25:250 and a 18mm. Later when I gently requested two more primes, a 50 and a 35, I was blamed for jacking up the budget with unreasonable demands. (???????) 
2) the choice of shots isn't as poor as the choice the editor who re-edited made in choosing the shots. There's more to work withm he just didn't. See below 
3) The robotic delivery of the lines was due mainly to the fact that all the dialogue was looped needlessly and I was invited to the looping session. 
4) The reason the Savini stuff works better than the rest is that once Savini's stuff was shot was whem the Karen lunacy binge kicked in full throttle. 
5) Among the highlights of my brilliant cinematography team was the twomost expensive days of production when they loaded five rolls of film backwards, and shot it without realizing it, ruining precious footage. 
Seriously, what can I tell you but the Executive Producer of HALLOWEEN and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET teamed up with the co-author of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to do what was described to me as the sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, on the same level as a RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Hell, who wouldn't have jumped at the chance! 
Unfortunately I was to find that if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and walks like a duck it ain’'t always a duck. I was to find out later that the only connection this thing had to George Romero’s great trilogy was John Russo and the words “Living Dead”. 
The Exec. Producer’s daughter Karen Lee Wolf wrote a script so horribly incompetent that nearly a dozen writers and directors had walked off the project due to her obsessiveness over no changes being made to her script. In addition to being an untalented, inexperienced, uninformed---excuse me while I get my other list of adjectives --- spoiled, immature, arrogant hack. 
Karen had never seen DAY OF THE DEAD or DAWN OF THE DEAD or even modern horror films like SCREAM. In fact she thought zombie movies and Fangoria fans were stupid and wouldn’'t stoop to that level. So she created a level all her own to stoop to. 
The Producer of HOWLING and LAWNMOWER MAN had gotten me on this thing and he immediately began pleading with me to leave the project. Every one that gopr within a three mile radius of this unreadable abomination told Karen her script ---to use Harry Knowles words “sucked a big poodle turd” She refused to listen, threatening to fire anyone who questioned her script. 
Karen conned and manipulated her aging father into greenlighting her pathetic script then Joe let Karen go out to Pittsburgh to “supervise”. In her case, this meant threatening to fire anyone who changed so much as a word in her script. No *beep* --- we were running interference on Karen sneaking around to do the gags with Savini. 
When actors told me the lines made no sense and wanted to work through the scene, Karen wouldn’t allow changes to be made. 
As for Russo, I was surprised to find him not quite the idiot internet sites make him out to be and certainly doesn’t derve to be fed to one of his own zombies as the prevailing winds usually concur. . He’s basically a decent guy who should be allowed nowhere near a movie set. Sadly I must confess his reputation as a hack is well deserved. He insisted I use his DP, a 63 year old farmer named Bill Hinzman who played the cemetery zombie in the original NIGHT. Bill’s previous work was unwatchable garbage like FLESHEATER and SANTA CLAWS and though the Wolf’s knew Hinzman’s work, they told me I had to use him anyway due to Russo. I also had to use Russo’s pal Bob Michelucci as my Art Director though he had never set foot on a movie set and his experience was limited to doing sets for a softcore porno mag called SCREAM QUEENS. 
Russo also insisted on shooting without an on-set art department, no Assistant Directors, no Script Supervisors, no Wardrobe department and no makeup department. Also no Production Manager. Basically we had a 9 man crew made up of friends of Russo. Also Russo said we could not afford a Generator or anything stronger than a 4K. 
I didn’t shoot stuff this amateurish in film school. 
Here’s the clincher --- the budget for this thing was $500,000. Lunch money by Hollywood standards, but my first film was $200,000 and when you getout of LA its possible to get at least movie of the week type quality in production value for that amount of money. But not if the Producers scoop $120,000 off the top for their back pockets, and not if the Producer (Russo) pays his friends ridiculously high salaries. 
I will always maintain that a lack of money is no excuse for poor production value. Deals can be made and favors called in, and if not then you can get creative with the lighting style and create your own scheme. In any event, half a million bucks is PLENTY of money to pull in a good-looking movie. 
Though I had an Emmy award winning DP who worked for MTV ready to come on board at half his usual rate, they made me hire Hinzman who made almost four times what my guy was going to get. 
Next up was they wouldn’t let me do it SAG, or even using out of toen actors from LA, so we cast using local actors from Pittsburgh --- except for Barrett Worland who was Karen’s pet project from LA. Jamie was a non-SAG actress I had worked with before in my first film. In any event, after five days of auditions, it became obvious I had little to work with. 
Savini was great to work with, and I came up with all those gags he did outside, while he came up with the ones in the barn. I wanted to do much more but my job came in jeopardy when I was accused of allowing Tom Savini to take over the movie. Later, Joe Wolf found what a name Savini is and said he made a mistake not building the movie around him. 
Savini saw the ordeal I was going through and used to come by my room to make sure I was surviving --- he was very supportive and told me these guys didn’t deserve the job I was giving them. 
Regarding the final cut of the film, I turned in a Director’s cut which I felt worked on some level and that at least wouldn’t be an embarrassment to anyone whose name was involved. I emphasized the action scenes and whittled the LOOOONNNGGG dialogue driven scenes down to a bare minimum. I still think it was a lousy movie, but it had a little something going for it, as I cut around some of the bad performances. (The saying goes that performances are made in the editing room, well poorly edited performances are also.) 
Joe Wolf told me he thought we had a winner in the film with the cut I turned in, and others who saw the cut said they thought it worked as a zombie movie. 
What happened next was truly mind-boggling. Karen Wolf fired every one in Pittsburgh, shut the door on yours truly, and hired a new editor, supervised the edit, then brought in all the actors and replaced the dialogue in nearly every scene. In her re-edit, she put back in all the long droning scenes of dialogue, then added back in the dialogue of hers that I changed. I was not present at the looping sessions---that’s one reason for the robotic delivery of the actors. 
Then to cover the endless plotholes and the lack of structure she added the looped dialogue in ways which as you noted are laughably absurd. For example --- the first date you see in the film where Matthew takes Laurie to the construction site was originally shot as the final scene in the movie when Matthew takes Laurie to overlook his shattered dreams. When it was brought up that there wasn;t enough character development in the relationship between Laurie and Matthew they added in the ridiculous dialogue you heard and tried to make it look like a first date. 
The worst thing she did was in her butchering and slaughtering the sequence with Tom Savini. Firstly, the incessant mumbling made me wonder if this was a zombie movie or Savini doing Popeye. Secondly, the scenes were completely robbed of any suspense or tension due to the unorthodox editing and lack of a musical score. Originally Savini’s daughter was cast, and she turned in a terrific performance as a girl being pursued by zombies – who Savini saved by blowing up the car. She was also in the scene right after that with Savini saving her from the two oncoming zombies. Why she was cut out is probably due to the fact that Karen didn’t like her. 
As for the choices in editing, I wasn’t present so I have no idea what was going through this guy’s head --- Lewis Shoenbraun did the re-edit. I was never once contacted by he or Karen. To cover the many numerous plotholes that were in Karen’s script, the two of these guys got together and put together scenes that were outtakes drawn from the context of other scenes with looped dialogue dropped over. What was going through these people’s heads is beyond me. 
But ain’t show business grand! 
My feeling is that there is a movie in there somewhere in the dailies that isn’t the travesty you unfortunately witnessed. Sorry you had to sit through it, and as much as I hate to say it, it is my fault for allowing this to go on. I am apologizing because as Director of the film, it is ultimately my responsibility to deliver the goods. When circumstances present themselves that make it impossible to do so, my obligation to the craft is to leave the project. 
This being my second film, I hung in there because no matter what happened, if I had walked it would look like I was a quitter. 
Anyway, my first film is actually quite good and has gotten really good reviews on it. Perhaps you’ll have the chance to check it out sometime and I would welcome any feedback on it. 
I agree with your assessment of CHILDREN --- based on the cut you saw, myself and every one involved look like idiots. I’d like to think I’m not one, and I’m walking away from CHILDREN with a brand new perspective on the perils of taking on a project when all the tools a filmmaker should have are taken away. 
Like the man said, experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And that is the end of the story! 
Best Wishes, Tor Ramsay 
Director CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD 
I can assure you that Tor Ramsay's statement on the film's disastrous production is infinitely more interesting than the film itself. If you still feel compelled to watch this atrocity, you can probably find it on Youtube. For the love of god, don't spend any money on CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Easily one of the worst movies I've seen in a long, long time. If you insist on watching this turd, the full movie is up on Youtube. Whatever you do, don't spend any money to see it. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.

1 out of 5.

8.11.14

Human Beasts (1980)


aka The Beast's Carnival
aka El carnaval de las bestias

Director: Paul Naschy
Starring: Paul Naschy, Eiko Nagashima, Lautaro Murua, Silvia Aguilar, Azucena Hernandez
Not Rated 88 min

After betraying his Japanese employer, a cold-blooded thug-for-hire named Bruno Rivera (Paul Naschy) takes refuge in a large, beautiful home in the Spanish countryside owned by a seemingly kind doctor. The doctor and his two beautiful daughters nurse the wounded hit man back to health and even help hide him from the vengeance-minded Meiko, Bruno's former lover and the sister of the man Naschy betrays and kills. While convalescing, the good doctor makes sure Bruno is well-fed and medicated, while the sexy daughters vie for his romantic attentions. Everything, however, isn't as great as it seems on the surface. Bruno begins to experience strange dreams and visits by a ghostly figure who randomly appears in his room. And while his hosts prepare for an upcoming feast, Bruno can't help but notice that the sound of the pigs being slaughtered for the meal is awfully similar to human screams........

I'm deliberately skimping over the plot synopsis for this movie. HUMAN BEASTS is a weird and wild ride that ends as a completely different kind of movie than it begins, an I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't seen it. The movie begins as a crime flick, turns into a ghost story/mystery, and then ends as something altogether different. It's definitely not perfect - the early scenes involving the Japanese gangster are laughably awful. The only thing less convincing than the action scenes in this section is the ridiculous toupee Naschy wears during them. However, once Bruno gets to the strange house in the mountains, it becomes a much more interesting movie. There is beautiful Spanish scenery, even more beautiful Spanish actresses, some surprisingly kinky sex action, and some standout scenes of grisly violence. There's also a farcical dinner/costume party scene that feels like Naschy's attempt at social commentary. I'm not exactly sure what he's trying to say, but it seems like he's saying something.

HUMAN BEASTS takes a good amount of time getting where it's trying to go, but patient viewers will be rewarded with a terrific ending that packs a fantastically macabre punch. It isn't Naschy's best, but it is one of oddest and most interesting works in Naschy's filmography.

3.5 out of 5.









3.11.14

Pieces (1982)


Director: Juan Pierre Simon
Starring: Christopher George, Linda Day George, Frank Brana, Paul L. Smith, Edward Purdom
Not Rated 85 minutes
Buy PIECES at Amazon

PIECES has one of the greatest tag lines in motion picture history: "It's EXACTLY what you think it is!" It certainly is, and then some. This is a nasty, violent, sleazy little gem that is an absolute blast from start to finish.

The film opens in 1945, in a home in a well-to-do neighborhood. A boy is in his room assembling a puzzle of a nude woman when his mother storms in and discovers it. Mom has a category five shit fit over the puzzle, and starts raiding the kid's room for any other pornographic contraband. While she is rifling through the kid's belongings, junior quietly sneaks up behind her with a very large axe. He swings.....and swings....and swings, until chunks of mom's body are strewn about the room. The kid, now covered in his mother's gore, sits down to finish assembling his prized possession. He hears a neighbor, accompanied by the police, enter the house, so he hides in the closet. Poor kid, they decide, must have seen a madman butcher his mother.

Flash forward to a college campus in the modern day. Sexually liberated babes are in abundance, which is good news for the now grown kid who has decided to assemble a real-life version of the puzzle. A trench coat-wearing detective (Christopher George) and his trusty partner (Frank Brana) must follow a trail of body parts to find the killer. Is it the stuffy, British accented dean (Edward Purdom, HORROR SAFARI)? Is it the oddball professor (Jack Taylor)? Maybe it's the hulking, menacing groundskeeper (Paul L. Smith)? Red-herrings and weird encounters abound, until the final scene where the chainsaw-wielding maniac is unmasked.

PIECES was released when the slasher genre was running hot and heavy in America. Most of those films are dainty little wusses next to this movie; PIECES is a grue-slinging, boob ogling, hunk of sleaze that chews up anything critics might consider morally objectionable and spits it right back in their smug faces. Written by JP Simon (who also directed this, as well as 1988's SLUGS), Italian sleaze merchant Joe D'Amato (ANTHROPOPHAGUS; EMANUELLE IN AMERICA), and schlock producer Dick Randall, this is a movie that carefully lists all the ways to tastefully tell a murder mystery, and then does the exact opposite. All of this is done with leering, lingering eye on the horrid details. It's great.

When I say "great," I don't mean it in the traditional sense of film evaluation. I mean it in the sense that PIECES delivers the goods with more gusto than any other slasher from the era. There are several graphic chainsaw murders that leave little to the imagination, a gaggle of naked ladies, and few truly puzzling, yet hilarious, moments. Of course, there is plenty of bad acting (Linda Day George, as a cop who goes undercover as a tennis instructor, being one the worst offenders), silly dialogue, and a complete lack of concern for tension and suspense. What PIECES lacks in intelligence and finesse, however, it more than makes up for in cheap thrills.

What more can I say? If you are a horror fan, you should already own this. If not, do yourself a favor and pick up the awesome two-disc set from Grindhouse Releasing. It's got a ton of special features that will tell you more about this movie than you would probably ever want to know.

5 out of 5. 





30.10.14

Dawn of the Dead (2004)


Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Mekhi Phifer
Rated R 101 minutes

The modern era's reigning "King of the Comic Book Adaptation" made his feature-length film debut with this ill-advised and wholly unnecessary remake of George Romero's 1978 masterpiece. And like his blockbuster comic book movies, Snyder manages to strip all the complexity and nuance from the source material, delivering a crowdpleasing, but superficial, action movie. The bones of the story are essentially the same: a mysterious plague infects society that causes the recently dead to return and devour the warm, juicy flesh of the living. Bloody chaos ensues, and a diverse group of survivors take refuge in a shopping mall.

That's pretty much where the similarity ends. Romero's zombies were dumb, stumbling, and imbecilic drones that you could run, walk, or bunny hop away from. Snyder's zombies, despite being in varying stages of decomposition, have tremendous cardiovascular capabilities. You won't be hoofing your way to safety with these ghouls around; they run and leap with the tenacity of an Olympic athlete. This change alone gives his version a completely different feel than the original. They aren't necessarily more frightening, but they are a lot more dangerous.

The other big difference is that this film doesn't have much to say; it's a popcorn movie through and through. When it's over, people will probably talk about the action in this scene or that scene, or a particular gore effect or two. What they won't be doing here, unlike Romero's original, is talk about what it all means. It was probably a wise decision to not get philosophical, but it makes the movie largely forgettable in the grand scheme of things.

It isn't a total waste of time, however. The saving grace here is the screenplay by James Gunn (SLITHER; GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY), which manages to give the characters enough depth and personality to make you root for their survival. Or their deaths, whatever the case may be. There's enough humor, thrills, and satisfying action scenes to somewhat make up for the loss of the more thought provoking elements of the Romero film. These zombies also look great, thanks to effects by David Anderson. Fun fact: David Anderson's wife, Heather Langenkamp (Nancy from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) helped out with some of the paint-and-prosthetic grunt work.

In the end, it's a fun action movie that delivers enough crowd-pleasing thrills to keep the haters at bay. It certainly doesn't add anything to the original movie, nor does it take anything away.


12.10.14

Bunnyman (2011)



Director: Carl Lindbergh
Starring: Cheryl Texiera, Matthew Albrecht, Alaina Gianci, Veronica Wylie, Jack Kuza
Rated R 90 minutes
Buy at Amazon


BUNNYMAN is one of those movies that is so festooned with technical incompetence that the end result has an almost surreal and dreamlike quality to it. There isn’t much story here to speak of: a carload of people have a fatal encounter with a truck-driving, bunny suit-wearing psycho killer and his cannibalistic family.  This is a movie in which people say and do the kind of stupid things no normal human being would ever say and do. After an incomprehensibly edited car “chase” scene, which ends with the group’s car parked on the side of the road and the Bunnyman parked behind them, they decide the best course of action is to sit and wait for the killer to leave. He does. Later, after the Bunnyman rams their car, killing a guy who was underneath of it (?) (and then leaves), the group decides the it would be a good idea to wander into the woods, rather than to stay near the road where they at least stand a chance of finding help. After a laughably stupid encounter with a random hick, the group walk right into the Bunnyman’s lair, where they are tortured and killed in unspectacular fashion.

BUNNYMAN has a discombobulated, nonsensical quality to it that at times feels like it was concocted on the fly, or was possibly Frankenstein’ed together with some old gore home movies and an Easter bunny costume Lindbergh had laying around. The actors have a dazed aura about them that implies that even they were unable to puzzle out what was going on.  For a movie that has such a simple plot, it’s very impressive to see how incomprehensible the director was able to make the final product.


It’s pretty easy to see that director Carl Lindbergh set out to make a hardcore and brutal horror flick in the vein of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, mixed with a hefty dose of HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES weirdness. While he certainly managed to incorporate a lot of blood-spraying gore, he neglected to pay much attention to, well, everything else. About the only good things I can say about this one is that a couple of the actresses are pretty good looking, and Lindbergh manages to pull off a visually appealing shot or two. Given the amount of technical incompetence on display in BUNNYMAN, I have to suspect that it was on accident.

Apparently there is a sequel, BUNNYMAN 2 (aka THE BUNNYMAN MASSACRE), that can't be much worse.

21.9.14

Spirit Camp (2009)


Director: Kerry Beyer
Starring: Roxy Vandiver, Julin, Katy Rowe. Amy Morris, John Paul Burkhart, Amy Morris, Brandon Smith
Not rated 96 min.
Buy Spirit Camp (Unrated Special Edition) at Amazon


A good girl with a bad reputation named Nikki (Roxy Vandiver) is court ordered to attend a cheerleading camp in order to avoid reform school. She’s to serve out her sentence at Camp Lumis Lake, where a homicidal maniac slaughtered a gaggle of campers a few years earlier. There she has to contend with a snooty posse of “popular” girls, a maniacal counselor and her flamboyantly gay assistant, and a town full of suspicious weirdos. All of those problems take a backseat when it seems that somebody has decided to resume the killings thought to have ended long ago.



 IMDB categorizes SPIRIT CAMP as a “horror” film. Despite a healthy body count and the presence of a masked psycho killer, it’s actually a quirky comedy that pays loving tribute to the slashers of yesteryear, most notably FRIDAY THE 13th and HALLOWEEN. While I generally detest horror-comedies, this movie turned out to be a lot of fun. The cast here has so much personality and enthusiasm that they give off a charming and goofy vibe that is contagious. There are many fun performances here, but it’s Roxy Vandiver as Nikki and Julin as her bitchy nemesis, Rachel, that really stand out. It’s been five years since this movie was released, and I can’t understand why these ladies aren’t household names by now. The slasher scenes (featuring a masked killer obviously inspired by Michael Myers) aren’t scary, but they are done well enough to make you wonder what they could have pulled off if they had played this movie straight.



Kerry Beyers’s name appears about twenty times in the credits. He wrote it, directed it, filmed it, edited it, stars in it, did special effects, and just about every other job imaginable on a film set. He obviously put in a tremendous amount of work here, and his passion is reflected in the final product. SPIRIT CAMP is a fun little no budget picture that proves the talented people can create something entertaining without millions of dollars and a big name cast. Those looking for a pure slasher will be sorely disappointed, but this movie is so well played and good natured that it’s impossible to hate.

31.8.14

Smiley (2012)


Director: Michael J. Gallagher
Starring:  Caitlin Gerard, Melanie Papalia, Shane Dawson, Andrew James Allen, Roger Bart, Keith David
Rated R 90 min.
Buy SMILEY at Amazon


Shaken by her mother’s untimely death, an emotionally fragile young woman named Ashley (Caitlyn Gerard) seeks a new start by going off to college. She gets more than she bargained for when she meets a crew of computer hackers, geeks, and trolls who introduce her to “Smiley.” Essentially an updated version of the “Bloody Mary” legend, typing “I did it for the lulz” three times in a chat room will summon a hulking, smiley faced monster who will kill the other person in the chat. So, of course, she tries it and somebody turns up dead. Or do they? Ashley must decide if someone is playing a prank, is she’s going bonkers, or if there really is a killer on the loose.

I’m not really sure what the director was going for here. At times SMILEY plays like an extended riff on the SCREAM franchise, and at others it seems like one big in-joke involving the gaggle of “internet celebrities” filling out the cast. In any case, the movie has a strange and spastic feel to it, never knowing whether it wants to be a serious horror film or a seriously overlong Youtube skit. With bad acting, bad writing, and incredibly obnoxious characters, the movie is a chore to sit through. Caitlyn Gerard gives a twitchy, jumpy performance that is jarring for all the wrong reasons. I can't fault her for that, because I have to assume director Michael Gallagher wanted it that way. It also has a twist ending that makes the entire experience nothing more than a waste of time. Keith David is wasted in small role as a useless cop, so don’t get your hopes up when you see him onscreen. The most surprising thing about the movie is that it was branded with an “R” rating. There’s very little blood and no sex or nudity, just a few “F” bombs here and there. If you’re looking for horror, you won’t find it anywhere in SMILEY. 1.5 out of 5

24.8.14

Evil Angel (2009)


Director: Richard Dutcher
Starring: Kristopher Shepard, Ving Rhames, Ava Gaudet, Marie Westbrook, JJ Neward
Rated R 123 minutes

 The “Father of Mormon Movies” takes a drastic detour into the world of occult horror in EVIL ANGEL. A paramedic, his emotionally disturbed wife, and a private detective become mixed up in a mystery involving hookers and black magic. An already bad situation is made even worse by the arrival of a murderous, body-hopping female demon who begins hunting and murdering people around the city. I’m hesitant to give away much more about the plot of EVIL ANGEL. Writer/director/editor Richard Dutcher takes great care to unveil the story slowly, and it would be too easy to unintentionally spoil the surprises. While the movie doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before, what it does, it does very well.

The first thing I noticed was how good this movie looks, which is due in large part to the camera of cinematographer Bill Butler. For a movie made independently on a relatively low budget, it looks as clean and sharp as anything Hollywood has put out recently. The title sequence is absolutely gorgeous, with a scantily clad woman slowly and sensously removing what little clothing she wears. There’s a joke hiding-in-plain-sight here that you may or may not notice right away. I didn’t. Just when you think you’re about to watch a slicker-than-usual erotic thriller, the film abruptly shifts into a extremely tense scene involving a terrified man and a horde of white faced demons who are pursuing him. Dutcher nails these startling changes in tone masterfully, and goes on to do this several times throughout the picture. Dutcher moves from intelligently written drama to gory and exciting action and back again without so much as a hiccup.

Ava Gaudet in Richard Dutcher's EVIL ANGEL
Lilith attacks
This is a movie with smart writing and solid acting, and the entire cast here does an admirable job. Even Ving Rhames, who has spent about a decade phoning in roles in a slew of DTV dreck, is good as Carruthers, the jaded private eye who ends up getting personally involved in the case. Ava Gaudet is the standout here, as the gorgeous, but extremely disturbed wife who seems to be constantly planning new ways to manipulate her long-suffering husband. Richard Dutcher even has a small role as an eccentric paranormal expert who helps Marcus figure out what's going on.

For a guy known primarily for Mormon oriented films, Richard Dutcher appears to be perfectly comfortable working in the horror/thriller genre. While EVIL ANGEL might be a little too slow and character driven for some horror fans, it’s an impressive outing that is deserves more attention than it’s gotten to date.

19.8.14

Meadowoods (2010)


Director: Scott Phillips
Starring: Michael Downey, Kerry Goodwyn, Conner Thorpe, Ila Schactler
Rated R 88 min

MEADOWOODS is a story about three friends: Travis, an obnoxious frat boy who constantly mugs for the camera and doesn’t seem to take anything seriously; Jennifer, a very bitter and angry young girl, who enjoys rambling on about how much life sucks; and Ryan, a passive, bordering on spineless, young man who videotapes everything. The trio, for reasons which aren’t entirely clear, have decided to kill somebody and to document the act on film. After some discussion about how’s and the where’s of the deed, the three friends decide to kill a classmate of the angry young girl. Kayla is friendly, intelligent, talented, and his a sense of direction in life, qualities that these three would-be killers lack. To add some additional sadism to the act, they trick Kayla into agreeing to an interview under the pretense that it's for a documentary on college life. The real reason, however, is to find out what fears she may have so that the group can torment her in her final moments. But as the day raws closer, the dynamics within the group begin to shift, and things don’t work out quite the way they planned. 

When a “found footage” movie is done right, it can become a totally immersive experience that almost transports you into the action (BLAIR WITCH PROJECT; [REC]). When it’s done wrong, the entire film will unravel and expose every flaw. MEADOWOODS unravels the instant the actors appear onscreen. The movie attempts to convince the viewer that they are witnessing a crime-in-progress, but it never once seems natural. It didn’t help matters that director Scott Phillips chose to add soundtrack music and to incorporate editing techniques that feel entirely out of place in a movie like this.

Putting that aside, it certainly wasn’t a boring story, despite the fact that very little happens in the movie. Intentional or not, the young actors do a very good job of making you really, really dislike them. I’m not sure who was more annoying: Travis with his arrogant smirk, or Jennifer with her all-around shitty disposition. It’s Ryan who comes off the best, mainly because he has the least screen time of the three. While the film is at successful making the characters hard to identify with, it completely fails at giving insight into how these people got to the point that murdering another human being would be such a fulfilling act for them. Later in the movie, you get the sense that it’s Travis who is the one really driving this plan, with the other two just going along with it. I wasn’t convinced that Travis was charismatic enough to hold that kind of power over anybody. I also doubted that these three people would be friends under normal circumstances, much less being close enough to plan a murder together. On the other hand, Ila Schactler gives a very natural and convincing performance as the group’s target. She does an excellent job at conveying innocent naiveté  earlier in the film, and stark terror near the end. Hopefully, she will find her way into better movies.

The movie swings for the fences with a strong, BLAIR WITCH-styled shock ending. While it is somewhat effective, it can't overcome the many huge problems that exist in the rest of the film. It's easy to see what MEADOWOODS set out to accomplish, but weak characterization and a bungled "found footage" motif make it an occasionally interesting miss.


17.8.14

Hard Ride to Hell (2010)


Director: Penelope Buitenhuis
Starring: Miguel Ferrer, Kathryn Isabelle, Brent Stait, Brendan Penny, Laura Mennell, Brandon Jay McLaren, Sebastian Gacki
Not Rated 94 min.

In this silly direct-to-video horror/action flick, a group of travelers in an RV run afoul a demented gang of devil-worshipping bikers. Their leader, Jefe (Miguel Ferrer), is an immortal brujo so evil that even Aleister Crowley wanted nothing to do with him. Jefe is looking for a Miss Right to bear his demon baby, a child that will ultimately go on to take over the world. But rather than go the subtle, seductive route, Jefe and his gang ambush travelers on lonely desert roads, rob them, rape them, and then eat them. Among the group of doomed travelers is a woman (Laura Mennell) who has recently suffered a miscarriage, and may have permanently lost the ability to bear children. Human children, that is. Jefe takes a shine to the woman, and thinks she might be that special lady that could be his demon baby mama. Her companions, however, will have to survive the gang’s cannibalistic onslaught.

There’s a lot of really dumb things going in HARD RIDE TO HELL. Stupid dialogue, weak acting, and a story that rips off a half-dozen other movies, with RACE WITH THE DEVIL being the most obvious influence. It also has the look and feel of a movie that, with a little editing, would be right at home on the Syfy Channel. While the movie approaches TOOTH & NAIL levels of stupidity, unlike that movie, HARD RIDE TO HELL actually ends up being fairly entertaining. If you can make it through the painful first act, the movie gets much more lively once the cannibal-devil-bikers attack the campsite. The violent action scenes are done well enough to make you overlook the fact that the bikers look like a group of pro wrestlers and masked stuntmen, which they probably are. The movie maintains a zippy pace from this point on to its over-the-top and appropriately ridiculous conclusion. It was interesting to see Miguel Ferrer playing a more overt heel, rather than the weasely, conniving types he’s played in the past. While I can’t say he’s especially convincing as the immortal villain, he’s still a fun actor to watch, and is much better than the material deserves. The scene-stealer here is Brent Stait as Bob, a special forces commando turned traveling knife salesman. Stait brings a very fun element to the movie as the genial badass who ends up being the only person keeping the campers from becoming satanic biker chow. Kathryn Isabelle, as Kerry, is mainly required to act scared for most of her screentime, which she does very well, and looks pretty cute doing it.

I’ll never convince anyone that HARD RIDE TO HELL is a good movie, because it’s not. However, it’s one of those movies, like SIMON SAYS, that manages to be an entertaining train wreck IF you can put your brain on standby for an hour and a half. I enjoyed it, but I can’t help to wonder what it could have been if a little more attention went into the writing. 2.5 out of 5

11.8.14

Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)


Director: Roger Corman
Starring: Antony Carbone, Robert Towne (as "Edward Wain"), Betsy Jones-Moreland, Beach Dickerson, Robert Bean
Not rated 63 min.

There are a few cut price DVD outfits selling CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA and marketing it as a horror film. It's not. This is a parody of horror and spy flicks that Roger Corman threw together in five days using leftover footage from LAST WOMAN ON EARTH.  It is also a strong contender for Corman's chintziest production.

Secret agent XK150, aka Sparks Moran (Robert Towne, billed as “Edward Wain”), goes undercover aboard a boat captained by an American gangster named Renzo Capetto (Antony Carbone). Renzo is helping a group of Cuban military officials smuggle a crate of gold out of the country, and XK150 is trying to figure out why. However, Renzo is conspiring to get the Cubans out of the picture so he can have the gold for himself. He concocts a harebrained scheme to kill off the Cubans and blame it on a sea monster that he has his dimwitted lackeys create. The plan works for a while, until a real sea monster makes an appearance.

Agent XK150 (Robert Towne) in disguise


The Creature from the Haunted Sea
This was the third comedy Charles Griffith wrote for Corman, following BUCKET OF BLOOD and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. It has not aged nearly as well as those films. Part of the reason is Griffith took a "quantity over quality" approach this time around, and launched a barrage of sight gags and corny jokes with hopes that something would stick. Not much does. The funniest aspect of the movie is the creature, which looks like a mountain of steamed spinach with ping pong ball eyes. Apart from that, I can't imagine anyone in this day and age finding CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA very amusing.

Sergio Aragones of "Spy vs. Spy" fame drew the cartoons featured during the opening credit sequence. "Edward Wain" is actually Robert Towne, who would go on to incredible success as a screenwriter and director. He would also write TOMB OF LIGEIA for Corman just a few years after this. Like a lot of Corman's early movies, the people involved are more interesting than the movie itself. Corman would direct the fantastic PIT AND THE PENDULUM next.


10.8.14

Silent Madness (1984)


Director: Simon Nuchtern
Starring: Belinda Montgomery, Vivica Lindfors, Sydney Lassick, Solly Marx, David Greenan, Roderick Cook, Jeffery Bingham, Rick Aiello
Rated R 87 min

SILENT MADNESS opens in an insane asylum, where budget cuts and a bumbling hospital administrator cause the release of a homicidal maniac named John Howard. Oops! Howard is somewhat of a local legend, having slaughtered a houseful of sorority girls years earlier. None of this sits well with a concerned psychiatrist named Dr. Joan Gilmore (Belinda Montgomery, Doogie Houser’s mom). Not only is she upset that the b-hole hospital chief, Dr. Kruger (Roderick Cook) is letting seriously mentally ill people out onto the streets, she’s doubly concerned about the release of a complete loon like Howard. For good reason, it seems. Howard gets right back into the swing of things. First he kills a couple who are having sex in a parked van. Then he snatches a girl on a skateboard, drags her into a boiler room and crushes her head in a vise. He does all of this in broad daylight, so it’s clear getting caught isn’t much of a concern for him. Howard sets out for the old sorority house where a group of girls are hanging out over spring break and dealing with their slightly crazed old house mother, Mrs. Collins (Vivica Lindfors). Meanwhile, Joan starts investigating the old murders while attempting to find John Howard’s whereabouts. She doesn’t get much help from the ineffectual Sheriff (Sydney Lassick), but finds an ally, and romantic interest, in newspaper man Howard Johns (Solly Marx). During the course of her investigation, Joan learns that Dr. Kruger has been conducting strange experiments on some of the more troubled patients -- including John Howard. Kruger wants to keep a lid on this so he dispatches a pair of goonish orderlies after Joan to prevent her from finding Howard before he does. While all this is going on, sorority girls start getting whacked by the psychotic Howard.

It seems like writer/director Simon Nuchtern was more interested in making a light whodunit than a typical horror film, and SILENT MADNESS ends up being one of the tamest slashers of the era. While it has an impressive body count, there’s little to no gore seen. The “R” rating comes from a handful of brief topless scenes, not onscreen violence. This was originally released in 3D, which appears to be limited to one very stupid looking scene in which an animated hatchet is hurled towards the camera, freezing in mid-air. It makes JAWS 3D look like AVATAR in comparison.

John Howard, escaped lunatic

Sydney Lassick is on the case

On a more positive note, Belinda Montgomery and Solly Marx turn in good performances as the likable pair of amateur sleuths who end up cracking open a mystery that ends up involving a little more than an escaped lunatic. Sydney Lassick is also fun as the unlikely sheriff. Watch for former genre goddess Elizabeth Kaitan as one of the ill-fated sorority girls. SILENT MADNESS has a great cast and some memorable characters, but is far too weak to be a horror film, and far too predictable to be a decent thriller. It’s not clear why Simon Nuchtern set out to make a slasher without the gore, but the movie is largely forgotten because of it.
Duck! 

6.8.14

Demon Hunter (2005)



Director: Scott Ziehl
Starring: Sean Patrick Flannery, Billy Drago
Rated R 78 min.

Sean Patrick Flannery stars as the half-human, half-demon Jack Greyman. Greyman is a motorcycle riding, trench coat wearing badass who works as a sort of devil exterminator for the Catholic church. A sudden escalation in violent possessions occurs thanks to a demon named Asmodeus (Billy Drago). It turns out that Asmodeus is attempting to impregnate a slew of attractive young ladies so that he can sire a race of demon-babies that will do his bidding on Earth. Greyman reluctantly teams up with a pretty nun to stop the lecherous demon before he can cause any more trouble.

DEMON HUNTER was produced by TV vet Stephen J Cannell, which might explain why the production looks and feels like something that might debut on the Syfy channel. In fact, if not for a couple of topless scenes, you might think this was an unsold pilot for a television series. It’s more of an action film with some horror elements, and not a very good one at that. Sean Patrick Flannery is a good actor who should really be in better movies. Here the script only requires him to throw a few punches and brood, while doing his best grizzled, world weary badass shtick. Billy Drago is, well, Billy Drago. Again, there isn’t much asked of him except to play the same snake-like villain he’s been playing since INVASION USA. Drago gets to make out with several hot and naked chicks in this, so this might end up being one of his favorite film jobs. The most interesting part of this movie, for me, was Tania Deighton as the sexy succubus dispatched to seduce Greyman into letting all this Antichrist business slide. She’s so good looking you can almost ignore her rubber horns, stupid looking CGI wings, and bad acting. This film also has a truly Terri how "heavy metal" soundtrack that sounds like stock music made for beer commercials.

Aside from a couple of very attractive breasts, there isn’t much to see here.

Tania Deighton as a succubus in DEMON HUNTER

Scalps (1983)


Director: Fred Olen Ray
Starring: Jo Ann Robinson, Richard Hench, Roger Maycock, Frank McDonald,
Rated R 82 min.

A goofy and unethical archaeology professor sends his students deep into the California desert to explore an Indian burial ground. Along the way, they encounter a gas station Indian who warns them that the land is protected by a terrible curse, and the spirits won't be pleased about a bunch of kids screwing around out there. They don't listen, of course. The students begin to regret this decision when a very unhappy demon named Black Claw appears to exact a bloody revenge.

With bad acting and terrible dialogue wrapped around a dumb story, SCALPS isn't a "good" movie in the traditional sense. It's even more damaged by some mind-boggling editing decisions (flash forward scenes of each character's death are shown early in the movie) made, according to Fred Olen Ray, by an unscrupulous distributor. This act removed all of the tension from a movie that didn't have much to begin with. This same distributor also had the brilliant idea to incorporate test shots of a very silly looking lion-man character who wears a mask that's only point of articulation is an Elvis-style lip sneer. There's also a very awkward, out-of place cameo by Forrest J. Ackerman in which he shamelessly plugs his book "Mr. Monster's Movie Gold."

The lion man, SCALPS

Forrest J. Ackerman runs into the professor (Kirk Alyn)
That said, SCALPS does have that odd, somewhat endearing quality you'll find from these early slashers. The desert landscapes and the grainy 16mm photography give the movie an occasional atmosphere of doom and foreboding, which quickly dissipates the moment a character speaks. The greatest thing about SCALPS, however, are the effects from Bart Mixon, John McCallum, and Chris Biggs. None of them are very convincing (with the exception of a very well-done scalping), but they are all gory and fun.

Made for peanuts over the course of several long weekends, SCALPS was a movie that seemed to be doomed from the start. As Ray (and longtime collaborator T.L. Lankford) relate in the commentary, this movie required a massive amount of work and sacrifice to make, yet had almost no payoff whatsoever. The movie was essentially stolen from them almost immediately, and while the various distributors made a killing off the movie, Ray and Langford never saw a dime of it. This version of SCALPS, Ray says, is the most complete version ever seen, yet it is still not the movie he intended to make. Ray and Lankford are open and honest about the end result, but you can hear that a twinge of heartache still exists over thirty years later. They maintain a sense of humor, though, and provide a very insightful and entertaining commentary about their not-so-good slasher.

While not a good movie, SCALPS is a ragged and gory little flick that provides some thrills and some unintentional laughs. The real reason to check this disc out is the commentary track, which should be of particular interest to aspiring filmmakers.

"Black Claw" from SCALPS



28.7.14

The Ironbound Vampire (1997)


Director: Karl Petry
Starring: Richard Matyskiel, Deana Enoches, Suzanne Lenore, Dennis Drenth, Conrad Brooks, Delores Fuller
Not rated 59 min

Seeing the name "Conrad Brooks" in the credits should tell you all you need to know. THE IRONBOUND VAMPIRE is an ultra-low budget, shot-on-video movie filmed in beautiful Newark, New Jersey. The confusing plot seems to deal with a World War I vet who has turned into a vampire and is killing people in modern day Newark. I lost the ability to follow what was going on about fifteen minutes in. Ed Wood regular Conrad Brooks (PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE) and John Link (from the spectacular LORD OF THE G-STRINGS) play the vampire's henchmen. Another Wood vet, Dolores Fuller (BRIDE OF THE MONSTER), has a bit part in a party scene. At times, it's difficult to tell if this is supposed to be a comedy or a horror film. In the end, it's neither. In fact, the only thing that distinguishes this from a home video is the terrible acting. IMDB states that this movie was originally in color, but the version I watched (off a Mill Creek set) was in black-and-white, which probably helped blunt the chintziness of it all.

While THE IRONBOUND VAMPIRE is pretty bad, it's not as awful as THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA. Do yourself a favor and skip both of them.  Only watch this if you want to see what New Jersey people looked like in the 90's.

Conrad Brooks and John Link in THE IRONBOUND VAMPIRE


Richard Matyskiel transforms into THE IRONBOUND VAMPIRE