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13 SECONDS (2003)

Dir: Jeff Thomas

An alleged rock band (we never hear any of their music) drives to an abandoned building that might be either a school, a movie theater, an art gallery or a large house, depending on which character is describing it.  Instead of doing anything like working on the album they're supposedly recording, they wander off alone, take naps, shoot up heroin, and generally meander around the place with blank looks on their faces.  The cast of this hopelessly muddled mess have two strikes against them from the outset: First, none of them can act and second, the script doesn't contain any dialogue that would sound good coming from the mouths of Hollywood's biggest stars, much less this po-faced gang of nonactors. Right across the board the people in this fiasco are unable to adequately convey fear, anger, confusion or anything else. They all behave like they're hypnotized or else speaking English for the first time. The somnambulistic acting makes sure things stay on the same level of deadening tedium throughout the arbitrary proceedings, and a further audience narcotic is supplied by one of the blandest piano scores you've ever heard, persistently hammering away in the background regardless of whether it fits the scenes or not. Most of the movie is made of clips of people walking around in the dark, swiveling their heads around when shadowy shapes flit past doorways behind them, yelling irrational lines at each other and accusing each other of various mistakes. After a while some bloody ghosts or demons or whatever start lumbering around making squealing sounds and shaking their heads back and forth in fast motion. The movie has no sense of forward momentum and suffers from too many repetitious shock situations and routine imagery. None of the scares work because of the cast's lack of ability combined with the problem of the characters not having any distinguishable personalities anyway.  The poorly edited feature has nice professional lighting and a lot of good camera set-ups but writer-director-star Jeff Thomas can't make any of it interesting or authentically scary. An idea about old paintings changing to depict gruesome deaths is cool but is wasted though amateurish presentation.  13 SECONDS is so bad you almost have to see it to believe it..... but please, don't bother. The whole film doesn't even contain enough interesting footage to make a good music video.  


 1408 (2007)

Dir: Mikael Hafstrom

Stephen King's umpteenth story with a writer as its hero was adapted into this strong, scary haunted hotel thriller.  The always excellent John Cusack stars as a jaded writer of cheesy books about supposedly true-life haunted sites all across America.  He normally makes his living by cynically debunking the alleged hauntings but his skepticism meets its match in the title room, an eerie suite in downtown New York's Dolphin Hotel which is off limits to guests due to a history of 56 mysterious deaths of former occupants.  Bullying his way past polite but determined hotel manager Samuel L. Jackson (typically wonderful in his limited role), Cusack prepares to spend a night in the cursed room, reciting sarcastic running commentary into his trusty pocket tape recorder.  I've always liked the plot device of having a movie's central character recording his thoughts on tape, conveniently providing the audience with a journal of what's going on as well as some insight into the narrator's reaction to a given chain of events. The night starts out calmly enough with only the subtlest indications of an unknown intelligence afoot in the room and cleverly builds to a shattering blast of emotionally charged full-out torment. The pages of a Giedon Bible suddenly go blank, apparitions of various suicides that occured in the room are glimpsed, the bedside clock radio begins ticking away an ominous countdown (presumably to Cusack's death) and the increasingly warped snippets of The Carpenters' soft rock hit "We've Only Just Begun" that it sporadically plays are wickedly funny and unnerving.  1408 is something of an anomaly for a 2007 horror movie.  It's a personal, intimate, often quiet film that isn't particularly interested in blowing viewers out of their seats with elaborate computer generated effects, relying mainly on the presence of a knowable central figure with a believably troubled past enduring a grueling night of psychological torture inflicted for no clear reason by unseen evil forces.  The gradual loss of his grip on reality and sanity make for fascinating viewing.  Ambitious effects sequences are withheld until near the finale, making them all the more nightmarishly powerful when they violently intrude upon a story that confidently takes its time to establish a realistic milieu for its unlucky protagonist.  The film only reflects the era in which it was made in the handful of visuals and cutting techniques that point to the influence of J-horror (THE RING, THE GRUDGE, et al). Even these moments are handled with skill and are never so obvious as to make the movie feel like a copy.  There may be other, earlier ghost films to which it can be compared but 1408 has a dark feel that's distinctly its own.  One particularly odd aspect of the story is that the malevolent room clearly has a death wish, as indicated when it provides a clue to how to bring about its own destruction.  A real plus here is that the hero of the story is a thinking man who reacts believably to his predicament, making one desperate attempt after another to escape the cursed room even as his every effort to deal with the horrors from a rational viewpoint is shot down.  There are perhaps one too many "twist endings" for the story's own good and a number of questions are left unanswered, but the final twist, which some may find too literal for their tastes, concludes the movie on a strangely satisfying note, clarifying once and for all whether the paranormal phenomena we've witnessed were the real thing or merely the product of Cusack's troubled character's imagination.  The ending made perfect sense to me but I've heard somewhat different interpretations of its meaning from other viewers, so perhaps 1408 is a movie that allows its audience to draw its own conclusions, not from any inability to think of a suitable ending but as a deliberate plan to invite viewers to consider the psychological damage inflicted on the protagonist and what it could mean for him and for the human psyche in general.  Don't expect much in the way of monsters (other than a frightening rotted zombielike creature seen in a filthy heating duct) but do come to 1408 prepared to give it your full attention and to witness one of the creepiest and best constructed ghost movies (and one of the best King adaptations) in years.

 27th DAY, THE (1958)

Director: William Asher

  Anti-Communist propaganda wrapped in science fiction trappings.  It's nice to see a 50's sci-fi film that actually tries to tell a story and give serious consideration to complex themes, but THE 27TH DAY is too naive and simplistic to work. Five ordinary people from different countires around the world are abducted by alien Arnold Moss in a saucer left over from EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS. The alien explains that his race's moral code forbids them to kill sentient beings, but that their (unnamed) planet is dying and they need a new world to colonize. He gives each of his captives a small glass box tuned to their bodies' personal magnetic impulses, so that no one but the recipient can open it. Each box holds three small capsules containing a deadly superweapon. If commanded to activate, the capsules are capable of destroying all human life within any specified 3,000-mile radius.  The capsules have no effect on plants, animals or buildings, but will make all people within the target area simply vanish. If the humans use the capsules to wipe out their own kind, Moss' race will settle on Earth, but if the capsules remain unused for 27 days they will lose all their destructive power and the aliens will be good sports about the whole thing and go away and die. The only characters with any sense are the women, one of whom commits suicide (which causes her supply of the deadly capsules to disintegrate). The other female character throws her box into the ocean, so two of the five sets are immediately rendered harmless. Unfortunately, the three male subjects--one of whom is a Soviet soldier-- are under great pressure from their governments to reveal all the secrets of their astounding high-tech weapons. The preposterous finale sees the kindly German scientist use clues given by the alien to reprogram the capsules so that they only kill all the Communists in the world! Yes, that's right: At the end, only democratic societies still exist on Earth, which conveniently now has room for all those good-hearted aliens too. In addition to the implausibility of that optimistic twist, there are a number of internal logic problems that scupper the movie's good intentions.  The alien states that he comes from one of 30,000 inhabited worlds but we're never told why the already overcrowded Earth seems to be his race's only hope. We're told the only safe way to use the capsules to wipe out an enemy nation is to wait until the last moment, just before midnight of the 27th day, to prevent the enemy from having time to use their capsules in retalitation, yet it's pretty obvious that since the capsules make people instantly disappear, there wouldn't be anybody left to retaliate. Main characters have terrible fake British and German accents. The script is annoyingly politically correct, never identifying the enemy as Russia, although the character names, accents and social structure depicted make it abundantly clear that's who we're talking about here. The enemy is referred to throughout the film as some country "behind the Iron Curtain", their leader is simply called "The Leader" and Communists are never called anything more specific than "enemies of freedom". According to this movie, the only people in the world who harbor any dangerous thoughts are those who favor un-American forms of government. Oh, pleeeeeeeze.  There are some nice touches, like having the Chinese and Russian abductees being basically decent people who don't reflect the views of their tyrannical governments, but this movie is much too talky and full of plot holes to be the least bit convincing.  If it had been made as a fantasylike parable, the way TV's THE TWILIGHT ZONE would have done it, it might have been very powerful stuff, but the flat, literalistic approach only makes it seem that much more far-fetched. Today it only remains interesting as a curiosity from a bygone era.  If a remake is attempted today, there would be scarcely anything that could be carried over from this version.  There aren't even any good special effects.


 666 DEMON CHILD (2004)

Dir: Cary Howe

Oh my goodness...How in the world did this ever get distributed, in ANY form?   Without question one of the WORST horror films in the history of civilized society, 666 DEMON CHILD was almost unwatchable even to a bad movie aficionado like myself.  In a nutshell (or maybe a Hefty bag), here is what can politely be referred to as the story: A small group of bickering, obnoxious geology students run over an old coot in the desert and fall prey to the baby monster that pops out of the egg the old boy was carrying.  The rest of this sorry mess, all enacted by people who shouldn't be involved with acting, is a series of identical deaths in which people hold the rubber puppet baby to their necks and thrash around screaming and pretending it's biting their throats out, in between which they argue, overact, and irritatingly behave in ways that are just plain contrary to human nature or logic.  These people are so incredibly stupid, repeatedly wasting precious time and putting themselves in jeopardy, that you feel like they deserve their gruesome fates.  There's no suspense, no point, and no FX to look forward to once you've gotten your first glimpse of the IT'S ALIVE-style demon baby and its accompanying pre-recorded monster sounds and  blood tubes that pump red liquid out of people's collars.  The big surprise ending, which has the feel of having surprised the director when he realized he'd run out of film, is that the sole survivor finds a cave full of more of the eggs.  WOW, isn't that clever?!  If you're blind in one eye and can't see out of the other, you'd probably still see it coming.  On the plus side, the prop eggs themselves look neat and the baby  monster puppet looks like it would be an inspired creation if only they'd ever given us a good look at it.  Not so bad as to be fun to watch, 666 DEMON CHILD is made nearly unendurable by terrible sound quality (good luck understanding what the characters are saying over the loud, repetitious soundtrack) and inadequate lighting that appears to have been supplied by a couple of the free flashlights they give out at Radio Shack.   Since it's hard to see, hard to hear, and has no new ideas, this is one to miss.  If Mr. T finds out I actually rented this, he'll surely say "I pity the fool!!" 


Dir: Allen Kellogg

A late-arriving attempt to cash in on the reality TV fad and an even later attempt to ride the coattails of that obnoxious old crone who refuses to die, the Blair Witch. This is yet another easy-to-produce "found footage" fiasco whose lack of professionalism is supposed to signify reality. Six people have to spend a week in yet another Abandoned Mental Hospital for what must be the world's most unimaginative, least clever television show. The presentation opens with titles explaining that nobody survived, so it's a foregone conclusion that they're going to get picked off one by one. Since this was made in 2009, it's also a foregone conclusion that the ghost is a white-faced, scraggly-haired little girl who moves in a jerky pixelated manner and crawls up stairs on her hands and knees. Just as you'd expect, the cast members spend most of the time engaged in exclaiming "Oh my god" and repeatedly stating the obvious in unending arguments. There are too many holes in this scenario to enumerate, like why nobody from the TV network shows up even after people start disappearing and one character goes into a coma. There's a smattering of semi-effective video effects toward the end, but most of those are split-second glimpses of the same little J-horror escapee looking into the camera. The nature of the haunting isn't explored enough to be interesting, the details of the "show" are too unimaginative to pass for even the cheapest TV production and the characters are too dense and bad-tempered to care about. The big finale goes so far as to quote visually from BLAIR WITCH, as the last survivor, camcorder implausibly still in hand in a time of extreme terror, finds the others standing with their backs to the camera. This is followed by the end credits, which are in turn followed by a quick moment of weirdness that doesn't really add anything to the story but at least it's a little odd. Unless you're ready to endure an hour and a half of horribly dark, shaky, grainy, wobbly video footage made all the more "real" by dull dialogue and hollow sound, you'd do well to steer clear of this hunk-o'-nothin'. Even the title is hard to take seriously. In most parts of the world it gets dark every night, so the threat of it getting dark for seven nights falls something short of terrifying.





 8TH PLAGUE, THE (2006)

Dir: Franklin Guerrero, Jr.

This low-budget haunted prison movie has weak acting and inept camerawork and it looks cheap and ugly, but it's still entertaining, unpredictable and creepy. The soundtrack is a cavalcade of unsettling electronic hums and howls that give the proceedings a deeply nightmarish atmosphere even when nothing much is happening. Leslie Ann Valenza, an actress whose enormous lips appear locked in a permanent frown, searches for her missing sister in a backwoods region near an abandoned prison.  Written on one wall inside the filthy old structure is a weird symbol that causes anybody who even looks at it to go completely insane and become instantly possessed by an ancient evil locust-god. The possessed parties turn violent and are difficult to kill, making the film hover close to traditional zombie rampage cinema. There are continuity errors and only a few isolated examples of photography that isn't lousy, but the mood is effectively ominous, the pacing is good and the bloody gore effects are as convincing as anything in much more expensive features. Some of the gore sequences are quite intense and don't pull any punches. The demon-possesed characters and bloody convict ghosts are authentically scary. A major weakness is that, in spite of the title and numerous references to swarms of locusts in the dialogue, we never see so much as one single locust buzzing around.  This curious omission of apparently important visual content would've been a lot less noticeable if they had given the film a title like, oh, I dunno, maybe "PRISON OF THE DEMONS" or "LOST SOULS BEHIND BARS" or "THE GIRL WHO'S ALL LIPS VS. THE DEVIL", or some such thing that wasn't a specific reference to a plague of locusts. It's also a bit distracting when we are told that a police deputy can't get his jeep any nearer than a mile from the prison because of the overgrown terrain and then the next group of shots offer plenty of good looks at a perfectly clean road that runs right up to the building. Still, as I said, the whole thing is really creepy and the meager story at least keeps moving right along. For all its flaws, I enjoyed it much more than HOSTEL or SEE NO EVIL, similar-minded gore movies released by major studios which cost a heck of a lot more to produce.  I'd definitely watch another horror movie made by these same people.  If that sounds like a "Just-Barely-A-Thumbs-Up" rating for THE 8TH PLAGUE, well, that's what I'm giving it.



Dir: Nacho Cerda'

The most challenging and cerebral of the films picked up for release as part of the "After Dark Horrorfest" collection.   It will be too slow-moving for some modern day American viewers accustomed to a steady flow of nonstop action, but it's a fascinating exercise in style and mood.  A middle-aged American businesswoman travels to Russia (actually Bulgaria) to learn the strange truth about her family background.  She is led to the most decrepit, filthy, broken-down old farmhouse imaginable, where she meets a sullen man who claims to be her twin brother.  Their insane father tried to kill them when they were infants, and now the house is doing its best to turn back time and give him a second chance, thus proving that their destiny is inescapable, their dates with very specific deaths ultimately unavoidable even after four decades of postponement.  The theme of things coming "full circle" is echoed in many elements, from the identical footage shown during the opening and closing narration to the fact that the family home is surrounded by a river that runs all the way around the property, cutting it off from the surrounding woods, to a scene in which a man casually runs his fingers around the rim of a drinking glass while looking out a window.  The house is like something out of a nightmare, with big dark rooms, splintering floorboards and claustrophobic tunnels knee-deep in stagnant water winding through the cellar. Many touches are unique and original, as when the characters are menaced by silent, blank-eyed zombie versions of themselves.  The bloody doppelgangers embody personal horrors of both the past and future, and any damage inflicted upon them only results in identical injuries to their perplexed living doubles.  In one of many outstanding scenes, the heroine shines a flashlight around a gloomy bedroom and whatever spot the beam of light hits is revealed exactly as it looked 40 years earlier, when the house was clean and orderly.  The plot is confusing, but the characters are just as nonplussed as the audience so it generally works. The theme of inevitable doom makes THE ABANDONED an extremely dark, downbeat experience, but an inspired and surprising closing monologue defies expectations by confriming that there really is a way to break a circle of tragedy after all.  There were a number of details I didn't fully comprehend and a lot of unanswered "what if?" scenarios came to mind while following the odd story, but if you like horror that's surreal, dreamlike and heavy with oppressively somber atmosphere, you'll find this movie worthwhile viewing in a LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD kind of way.  Just don't expect all the details to make sense on a rational level. 



Dir: Tim Boxell

Excellent special effects, done with actual three-dimensional prop creatures instead of computer-generated cartoon imagery, help this straightforward tale of rampaging lizard monsters in New Zealand. A young woman fleeing with some stolen money (shades of PSYCHO) hides out in her family's old remote cabin in the woods. Unfortunately for her and the nature enthusiast who ends up trapped there with her after a blizzard, the area's ecosystem is out of whack because of a rapidly-evolving new species of carnivorous lizard creatures. Eventually a Russian badguy makes his way to the cabin and things turn even uglier. The nasty, violent reptillian critters look like small alligator/ iguana/ gila monster hybrids, with rows of sharp teeth, the ability to spit venom that temporarily blinds their victims, and mean scary little faces that resemble infant Godzillas.  The heroes make repeated attempts to kill the things but more and more of their gooey, fast-hatching eggs are found and the new mutant species turns out to be capable of adapting to new dangers very quickly, so they become harder and harder to kill.  An attempt to drown one in a fish tank results in it growing gills!  You get to see the voracious little devils dissected, crushed, shot, beaten, burned, blown up and otherwise abused but the film never seems so repetitious as to grow tiresome.  ABERRATION tells only a minor, perhaps oversimplified, story but the gory attacks by the flesh-eating mutants are well executed and the slimy, sticky, messy effects almost rival those in the ALIEN movies. There's a lot of witty, wisecracking dialogue between the two major characters but for once it sounds both natural and kind of funny.  With impressive gruesome effects, nifty monsters that are able to serve up some effective scares and amusing dialogue delivered by good performers, ABERRATION ranks as one of the better low-budget creature features of the period.



Dir: Ryan Schifrin

Well, it isn't very good, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it abominable. A man who had his legs paralyzed in a mountain climbing accident that killed his wife goes to spend a few weeks at a remote cabin by the woods, cared for by his new live-in male nurse.  The only other building nearby is the house next door which is occupied by a party of shapely giggling bimbos. Sitting in his wheelchair looking out the window with binoculars like in REAR WINDOW, the poor guy sees a large dark humanoid figure lurking in the forest just before one girl disappears. Of course nobody believes him. He soon realizes they're all being stalked by a ferocious killer Sasquatch!  Long gone are the days of 1970s style Sasquatch/Bigfoot movies, in which viewers were encouraged to sympathize with the misundetstood creature and see him/it as just a part of nature. This beast is a mean, violent, superstrong meat-eating predator that attacks humans unprovoked and lives in a cave full of bones. The earlier portions of the movie are fairly tense and scary in an old-fashioned "monster on the loose" sort of way. But once the creature reveals itself and launches an all-out assault, the movie falls victim to some terribly poorly blocked and staged action scenes. A man has the entire front half of his head chomped off and we see his legs dangling beneath without so much as a drop of blood running down. To make this effect appear convincing, they would have needed to pretty much empty a bucket of stage blood onto the floor.  There are several gruesome deaths in ABOMINABLE but the victims' bodies all seem to have been filled with gelatinous, extra-thick cherry pie filling instead of anything resembling human blood in its normal liquid state. The Sasquatch gets an axehead that appears to be all of eight inches from end to end stuck about an inch deep in his back, and when he's shoved back first against a tree, the axe absurdly gets pushed all the way through his enormous thick body, sticking out of his chest.  (Did it suddenly grow several inches longer?  Where did the handle go?  And why didn't the exposed end of the axehead stick in the tree? The Sasquatch has bones, doesn't he?)  When a car crashes, the driver is thrown through the windshield but a passenger is inexplicably hurled sideways. One stunt after another is botched, ruining any sense of realism. And that's a shame, because the acting and dialogue are perfectly serviceable and an eerie feeling of helpless isolation is established early on and is well maintained through most of the movie, creating a creepy mood that is wrecked by the phony action and effects work that comes along in the last third, making suspension of one's disbelief ever more difficult. The monster is an impressive creation, standing about 7 feet tall with long brown fur, an ugly snarling face and a broad mouth full of gigantic sharp teeth. He's one of the best (and scariest) Bigfoot suit designs I've seen.  Genre regulars Lance Henriksen and Jeffrey Combs appear briefly as dumbbells on an ill-prepared Sasquatch hunting trip who quickly end up as Purina Yeti Chow.  ABOMINABLE premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel, so you know it can't be too good, but it's still a better-than-average man-in-a-suit monster rampage movie in an agreeably simple, old-fashioned format.  If only they'd go back and reshoot the action stuff..... Oh, and while they're at it, it might be a good idea to leave out the shot in which the hero tells a cop to "send in the Calvary", when he meant to say "cavalry". 




Dir: Bret McCormick

Stomach-turning foolishness shot with little money and less talent, THE ABOMINATION concerns a hapless mechanic living with his white trash mom who spends all her time watching "Brother Fogg", a TV evangalist who promises to cure diseases right through the TV screen. Televangelists are an easy target since contempt for them is so easily fostered, but this shabby project never bothers to tell us whether its unfunny preacher parody is responsible for the supernatural element of the story or not. Mama coughs up a bloody glob she believes is a tumor, but which is really a flesh-hungry monster. In a scene of maximum disgust, it crawls into her sleeping son's mouth, impregnating him in a sub-ALIEN manner. Soon there's a giant tumor-monster (it looks like an old truck tarp dipped in red latex paint) hiding in the washing machine and the kitchen pantry, making silly hissing noises and somehow ordering the young loser to bring home fresh victims for its dinner. The reluctant father of the thing thinks it's an ancient form of pure evil that means to rule the planet, but it's really only a blob that constantly wants to be fed. This idea could have resulted in a great horror-comedy tale with Frank Henenlotter at the helm, but Bret McCormick is no Henenlotter. He's barely even a Herschel Gordon Lewis. The actors can't act and the story never does have any real focus, but the thing that ultimately makes sitting through THE ABOMINATION too much to ask is its painfully slow pacing. Most of it consists of people driving and/or walking around while absolutely nothing happens. Every so often some gore is thrown at the screen in a half-hearted stab at viewer wakefulness. The small number of bad actors screaming while ridiculous makeup effects squirt red paint around the cramped sets isn't enough to make this childish home-movie palatable. Toward the end, the phrase "The abomination which makes all things desolate" is heard over and over at varying speed and volume, but this would-be artsy touch is just as silly as everything else. Unwilling to commit to being either funny or scary and too slow-moving to succeed at either, this sad clunker is an abomination, all right.



Dir: Jeff Burton

Watching this maddeningly slow-moving jalopy of a slasher movie is like watching Pete Walker's THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW or Michele Soavi's STAGEFRIGHT with all the interesting parts removed. Reggie Bannister of the PHANTASM films is the only one present who plays any kind of specific character as grouchy old Gus, an alcoholic nightwatchman at the very strange Baxter University. The rest of the cast don't seem to have been given the slightest idea how they were supposed to react to anything or what kind of personalities they were supposed to be suggesting. Everyone seems to be drugged or borderline insane, reciting their lines with Acting 101 intensity at all the wrong times. After a while I got the feeling I was watching a group of androids from some distant planet doing their best to pass themselves off as earthlings. Apart from Reggie, the actors seem dazed and repeatedly fail to bring anything to their roles that an audeince might relate to. They aren't helped by an amateurish script that not only neglects to give anybody any recognizable character traits but also can't settle down and decide who its central character is. Glenn Shadix (Otho in BEETLEJUICE) is the unlikely head of campus security, who acts like a sadistic weirdo with a hidden agenda for no reason. Jason Carter (the Robin Hood-like Marcus on BABYLON 5) is a drama teacher who's so incoherent and moody that he appears completely deranged. Even the college dean acts bizarrely, placing emphasis on the wrong words and syllables when he speaks and undergoing what appear to be random personality shifts. And then there are the main stars: a gang of college-age oddballs who seldom say or do anything that jibes with what the rest of them are saying and doing. The confused plot has the usual handful of attractive young nobodies partying in a campus building after hours and getting bumped off by an unseen killer, but the kills are a long time in coming and awkwardly staged. One girl gets chopped in half climbing through a trapdoor just like in STAGEFRIGHT, but her exposed innards look like stiff wads of rubber that don't even bleed. Another actress (the closest thing to a symptahetic character this movie has) is choked into unconsciousness (it's amazing how many psychokillers know how to do this sort of thing), only to appear later on tied to a chair. Then she gets scalded with boiling liquid on one arm and one side of her face, which kills her instantly anyway. Cruel, painful and traumatic, to be sure, but it hardly seems like enough to kill a healthy 20-year-old. And why didn't the killer simply do away with her at the first opportunity? The trouble seems to start when one girl dies after being given a date-rape drug and the others decide to dispose of her body and keep her death a secret, an idea borrowed from I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. The desperate-to-be-clever ending throws in a number of surprise twists and revelations that don't add up to anything remotely believable and don't do much to make sense of all the strange behavior and numerous coincidences that came before. The only reasonably clever moment comes when a girl rehearses onstage for the role of Lady MacBeth while tormented by guilt from her involvement in a real death. It's a skyscraper-sized coincidence, of course, but at least it's witty and ironic. The rest of the time people just wander around dark hallways complaining and coming up with irrational ways to react to their situation. The sleeping pill of a movie is also known as THE FINAL CURTAIN.



 AEON FLUX (2005)

Dir: Karyn Kusama

This is a belated attempt to make a hit movie based on a series of surreal anime films that established a cult following in the US when they were broadcast as bite-sized bits on MTV's LIQUID TELEVISION.  Some 400 years in the future, after most of humanity has been wiped out by a virus,a superpowered chick in skintight black leather joins an underground resistance group trying to topple the super-scientist of dubious motives who runs the world's last surviving city. There's one odd-looking set and visual effect after another but in the age of elaborately designed video games, none of them are as mind-boggling as the filmmakers seem to think. Some of the science of the future is appropriately far-out (people receive messages by swallowing capsules that play the transmissions right inside their brains) but other areas seem curiously unimaginative (the weapon of choice still appears to be plain old guns that fire plain old bullets).  Charlize Theron is too cute and not nearly scrawny enough to make an ideal human counterpart to the impossibly bone-thin, gaunt heroine of the animated segments, and the whole movie takes itself so seriously that it's never as much fun as it ought to have been.  The main distinctiion of the cartoons was their uniquely stylized animation and editing techniques, so I have to wonder what the point was of doing a live-action version in the first place.  The first two-thirds of the movie feel like an extended trailer, all sound and fury and highfalutin' computer effects, but things take a surprising turn when, around the one hour mark, AEON FLUX suddenly introduces a bit of clever plotting that's coherent and thoughtful.  When the imaginative concept of preserving humanity's future through a secret cloning program finally arrives, you get the feeling that this movie is actually about something after all.  But this serious (and potentially fascinating)science fiction story never gels with the over-the-top action and ultimately seems to get lost in a sea of overdone visuals. A nice try, but ultimately a disappointing adaptation.  If you like the style of the weirdness on display here, I recommend the animated version.  It's a lot weirder but much more fun and somehow easier to watch.




Dir: Fredric Hobbs

A fascinating psychedelic relic that takes a dim view of the deceitful world of show business, this crazy movie deserves to be better known. Alabama (Christopher Brooks, who is consistently entertaining as he hams it up deliciously), a lazy, inept stagehand at Earthquake McGoon's nightclub (a real-life establishment named after a character from the Li'l Abner comic strip), accidentally bursts through a wall and discovers a trunk containing the long-lost equipment of legendary magician Carter The Great. He starts playing with the magic props, tries on Carter's swami outfit, and despite a recorded warning from the late illusionist, embarks on a career as "Alabama, King of the Cosmos". He becomes an overnight success and is soon signed up with Otto Max, a notorious agent with a fake Scottish accent. If only Alabama had been listening to the old-time radio broadcast that opens the film, he might have learned about "Raw Zeta", a deadly new element developed by a female Nazi scientist named Dr. Caligula during WWII. Raw Zeta is said to resemble hashish but can allegedly be used for mass mind control using a human host as a sort of transmitter. Carter's ghost, who first appears with his bloody beating heart on the outside of his chest, repeatedly warns of danger ahead but Alabama, drunk on his newfound celebrity status, tries to shoo him away with the help of a drum-pounding, bone-shaking, chicken-sacrificing voodoo witch doctor. Plans are made for a nationally televised magic act that will conclude with the secret of how to make an elephant disappear being revealed to the public for free at a Woodstock-like music festival. Strange, rich, decadent show promoter Mr. Gault is really a vampire who plans to use the unwitting magician as a tool to hypnotize the entire nation so that people will freely offer themselves as a food supply for his army of motorcycle-riding bloodsuckers. If the hapless quasi-hero had been a little more alert, he might have noticed that he'd already met Gault twice before, disguised first as a little old lady and later as an elderly magician. In a factory run by the undead, bound victims move along a conveyor belt while hissing vampires take random bites out of them along the way. An android double for Alabama is constructed by the still-alive Nazi scientist, but although it's designed to become his eventual replacement, it ends up imbued with Zeta...which gives it the power to kill vampires. With Alabama too blinded by promises of superstardom to see what's happening around him, it's up to the witch doctor and a girl named Midnight to save the day. The trippy climax finds time to answer the age-old question of whether getting stepped on by an elephant will kill a vampire (according to this movie, it will.) The sloppy photography and choppy editing, which are often deliberately odd, leave much to be desired but the zany allegorical tale really does make its own kind of sense if you pay close attention long enough for your concept of storytelling to loosen up a bit and reset itself with that of writer-director Hobbs. This isn't the only work of fiction to draw parallels between the self-serving, brainwashing character of the media and the bloodsucking tendencies of vampires, but it's certainly among the most subversively unique. With its blend of bikers, vampires, ghosts, magicians, rock stars, Nazis, an elephant and even a robot, ALABAMA'S GHOST earns a lot of points for ambition and originality. The opening titles play out during a musical number by the (real) Turk Murphy Jazz Band. Even though he's an active, if minor, character in the story, Murphy (playing himself as a grouchy, impatient club owner, although I don't believe he really owned Earthquake McGoon's in real life) sings a song called "Alabama's Ghost", about events that haven't happened yet, which is only one example of the movie's playful disregard for traditional narrative logic. The comments on the manipulative nature of the media are more timely now than in 1973, but the movie's cleverness will be lost on many modern viewers because of its clumsy use of the language of film and the sea of distractingly dated fashions and lingo. Think what you will about its odd structure and uneven pace, at least you'll never accuse it of being predictable. Worth looking for.





 ALIEN 2 (1980)

Dir: Ciro Ippolito (as "Sam Cromwell")

If you've ever heard of this terrible Italian unofficial followup to Ridley Scott's ALIEN, you probably heard of it with reference to the fact that it has a soundtrack by the Oliver Onions.  Some of the odd electronic soft rock/jazz/blues/disco score is pretty unique and memorable, but the movie itself is mostly a disaster. A space capsule that splahses down in the ocean (cue NASA stock footage) brings with it some wads of blue crud that look like rocks but which actually contain bloody red face-eating alien tentacle things which the audience is never given a good look at.  The central character is a psychically sensitive girl who picks up bad vibes whenever deaths and dangers arise nearby.  She joins seven other people with no personalities on a spelunking trip into a gigantic deep cave that might be in Colorado (mentioned in the script), New Mexico (a village of Spanish-speaking residents is shown) or somewhere in Europe (bathrooms are marked "W.C."); I wasn't sure which. They take one of the blue space stones with them, and spend a great deal of time walking around in the cave before the thing in the "stone" starts popping out to pick them off. There are some ambitious gore effects, like when a man's head plops messily off and splatters on the ground, and when a girl's eye socket bursts open as a puppet monster emerges.  But there isn't any real story being told, the characterization is nil and a bunch of nondescript red tentacles flopping about is a poor substitute for H.R.Giger's trend-setting bio-mechanical creature designs. The bizarre finale takes place in a deserted bowling alley in which the pinsetting machines and other electrical devices continue to function even when nobody is operating them. (Admittedly, this part is kind of spooky.) After finding a dead body we don't get to see and being momentarily chased hither and yon by a camera with red jello all around its lens, our heroine runs back out into the street and finds the whole city is abandoned and the sky has turned red. Have the aliens eaten everyone in town? Or even in the whole world?  If so, how come there are no bodies or body parts in the streets?  The inside of that cave got extensively littered with bloody piles of human limbs and innards in just an hour's time. The movie ends with the truly lame caption, "...YOU MAY BE NEXT!",  indicating that the writers had given up trying to make sense of any of it by this time.  There are some effectively eerie, dreamlike stretches, but on the whole it's unevenly paced and insultingly sloppy in terms of plot. We never find out where the aliens were from, what they wanted, how intelligent they were, or anything else. They just rip up some bad actors for a while, and then the film ends. If there was any justice, the directorial career of Ciro Ippolito would have ended with it.


 ALIEN 3000 (2005)

Dir: Jeff Leroy

"ALIEN 3000"-? I knew there had been a lot of sequels to ALIEN made by now, but I had no idea I had missed so many of them! But seriously folks, this cheapie has nothing to do with the ALIEN series.  It was going to be called UNSEEN EVIL 2 but it had nothing to do with UNSEEN EVIL either.  Lorenzo Lamas and Priscilla Barnes star.  A string of gruesome unsolved deaths near a cave in the desert is investigated by a U.S. Government-appointed team of a half-dozen jerkwads (mostly civilians at that) who can't stand each other.  After some lame dialogue and unlikely reactions and attitudes, the dimwits start to get bumped off by an alien creature who borrowed the PREDATOR's cloaking device, so he looks just like that better-known space miscreant did when he was just a swishing transparent blur sneaking around. The paintball fanatic of the group figures out that they could see the creature more clearly if they could splatter it with paint.  In a laughable turn of events, two hits from Nerf-ball-sized paintballs succeed not only in making the monster completely visible head to toe from every angle, but also allows us to see the multicolored paint job on the rubber suit!  (Uh, guys?...Only the paint would be visible in this scenario, not the actual invisible creature itself.)  The effects are uneven: When the monster is played by an actor in a rubber suit he is quite scary and effectively dangerous looking, but in some scenes a flat, cartoonish CG image is used and looks kind of goofy as the alien gallops along bouncing as if weightless. The gore effects also vary in quality, with one scene in which a man is torn apart being so shocking and so well-done that I had to back the disc up to see it again, while some of the later gore effects are done with ludicrously bad, scarecrow-like fake bodies and smashed heads represented by melons and red paint.  One ridiculous female mercenary character is so unbelievable and her presence so grating that I was rooting for the alien to pull her head off from her first appearance.  I wouldn't want to spoil the end of a good movie, but this one ends with the predictable scene of a fleet of saucers disgorging more of the same monsters on Earth.  So how come we can see them clearly as soon as they step off the ship, and they happen to have the same color scheme as the allegedly paint-covered one seen previously?  Sheesh.  I did like that rubber monster suit, though...




Dir: Don Dohler

A belated followup to the lovably cheesy 1978 original.  This isn't really a direct sequel, but rather another movie about a spacecraft unleashing alien creatures in the woods near a small town in Maryland.  In terms of content it's pretty much the same as the writer-director's three previous films in this vein, NIGHT BEAST, THE GALAXY INVADER and the first ALIEN FACTOR.  Computer generated effects have, of course, replaced the old-fashioned techniques of the original and while some of them are pretty good, others don't work at all (check out the flickering edges of the ship as it glides across a starfield).  This time a pair of FBI agents are after a female extraterrestrial who's stolen some uranium.  When she's shot and carted off to a hospital, a monster emerges from her ship, sets up a deadly force field around the town, and clomps through the woods murdering people.  The monster is described as a "Protector" but he's just a mindless killing machine who uses a PREDATOR-style laser weapon to zap anyone he sees whether they pose a threat or not, including people who are trying to run away.  The green rubber-suited monster looks like a cross between Pumpkinhead and STAR TREK's Gorn.  He has glowing red eyes and looks great in long shots but phony in closeups. The force field effect is impressive, as are the laser blasts, charred corpses and briefly-seen spaceship exteriors.  The debits are the same as in Dohler's other movies, specifically  bad acting, stilted dialogue, weak characterization and an unimaginative story.  The background music is good, although it sounds like a score for a film made 20 years earlier.  Something seems to have gone wrong at the end, as if some footage went missing or was never shot.  The dialogue sets the audience up for a closing twist that never happens. It is explained that the force field stops the time continuum within its radius and that the flow of time will be returned to normal once it has been shut off, but nothing ever happens to support this claim. When the ship is blown up and the force field deactivated at the end, time suddenly jumps from night to morning but in a way that doesn't make sense.  The people who were killed by the monster are still dead, so I guess the town wasn't sent back to the moment before the force field was erected after all.  All the talk about the stopping and starting of the flow of time serves no purpose and really should have been left out.   Unlike the ambitious five-creature monsterfest original, this movie only gives the audience one space creature to look at, unless you count a woman in hastily applied zombie prosthetics who never gets to do anything.   The embarrassing goraner of a final shot has her wake up on the morgue table and swivel her head around to stare into the camera, instead of casting her gaze in the direction of the coroner who's about to slice her open.  Sadly, Dohler's writing and directing skills never improved beyond the level seen in his premiere feature, although the technical aspects of his movies continued to get better.  Thus, ALIEN FACTOR 2 is more professionally shot and edited than its predecessor and has better lighting and music, but the story is as mechanical as ever.  This feature will probably only be enjoyed by devoted fans of the director, who passed away in 2006 at age 60.



Dir: Don Dohler

The first feature by successful indy filmmaker Don Dohler is diminished by bad acting and a cheap grainy look, but it's still pretty inventive and a lot of fun to watch. An alien craft transporting dangerous lifeforms crashes in the woods near a small Maryland town. Three killer creatures escape and go on a cutprice rampage, killing local yokels in the woods. In a subplot that turned up in a lot of movies after JAWS became a hit, the greedy Mayor (played by the actor who is better known as vampiric TV horror host Count Gore DeVol) is determined to cover up the danger so the local tourist trade won't suffer. The real attraction here is, of course, the monsters themselves, and while they're not exactly up to the Stan Winston level of realism, they're a remarkably varied and imaginative lot of wild, nifty space creatures with very cool names. The Leemoid is a huge bug-eyed transparent lizard brought to life with stop-motion animation. He's an impressive creation but it's too bad the animator didn't have a piece of non-reflective black velour to put down, because you can usually see the tabletop surface he was animated on very clearly right there among the trees underneath him. The Inferbyce is a shiny black bug-man that resembles a walking cockroach with claws and antennae. The Zagatile is nine feet tall with pincers in his mouth, flashbulb eyes, hairy stilt legs and an oversized fat butt. Two other aliens put in quick cameos: one who looks like a Morlock from the 1960 version of THE TIME MACHINE and another who resembles a corpse made out of shredded wheat. With all those creatures, this is practically a visit to the poor--okay, starving--man's STAR WARS Cantina. As noted, the acting isn't too good, but the project has a winning enthusiasm and a love of the genre that make it likable and endearing in spite of its rough-hewn appearance. Dohler liked the theme of crashed spaceships turning aliens loose in the woods so much that he returned to it in several of his later projects like NIGHTBEAST and THE GALAXY INVADER. Those only offered one monster apiece, though, and had nothing to add in story terms, so THE ALIEN FACTOR is probably still Dohler's best work.  It's certainly your best value in terms of Monsters Per Reel. His later films tend to look a little more polished and professional but this one shows the most real imagination and has a certain indefinable charm that only works better with a touch of nostalgia added. Recommended to fans of low-budget monster suits (especially if you're a fan of monsters with big chubby rear ends.)



Dir: Uwe Boll

Here's another sci-fi-action movie based on some asinine video game.  This one didn't even turn out as good as the MORTAL KOMBAT or RESIDENT EVIL movies.  Maybe that's the fault of the director, who also churned out the first weak HOUSE OF THE DEAD video game movie.  Christian Slater smirks his way through a hopeless mess of a plot about other-dimensional monsters and mad science, but you'd be better off spending 2 hours of your life playing the video game than sitting through this poorly-thought-out adaptation.  It seems an ancient society opened a doorway into a dimension of evil and allowed some monsters (who look like the ALIEN crossed with Ray Harryhausen's Ymir with the movements of attack puppies) into our world.  Thousands of years later, a mad scientist forces little centipedes down people's throats so they can run around with lots of strength and energy and be (mostly) bulletproof. Slater plays an ex-agent of one of those Government Bureaus Of Spooky Goings-on that turn up so often in sci-fi that came along post-X-FILES. There are too many unanswered questions and lapses in continuity to list here, but suffice to say that this is a misfire by any standards.  There are a few mildly suspenseful moments, but the monsters are never shown with enough clarity to leave much of an impression and the story doesn't bear up under the slightest scrutiny. This is not to be confused with the (much better) slasher film from the '80s with the same title. 


 ALTERED (2006)

Dir: Eduardo Sanchez

The man who directed (if I may call it that) THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT tries his hand at making a real movie this time and the results are surprisingly good.  I don't normally enjoy films that feature crude, stupid, violent foul-mouthed rednecks as their main characters, but Sanchez makes ALTERED work in spite of all the elements the script has in common with many bottom-of-the-barrel backyard gore movies.  Three hunting buddies who have all had alien abduction experiences in their pasts capture an extraterrestrial in the woods and take it to the secluded home of a friend who had undergone prolonged medical experimentation at the hands of the creatures. For reasons he can't explain, the guy who had the most contact with the aliens now understands them to some degree, receiving certain mental and emotional signals from the captive creature. His redneck buddies want to sadistically kill the thing as punishment for their abductions and subsequent traumas, but the guy who's in tune with the strange beings fears that killing one of their kind will so anger the rest that they'll come back determined to wipe out the entire human race.  Tempers flare as we learn some of the tragic history the guys have endured since their ordeals, and the angry alien eventually frees itself from captivity to go on a brutal killing spree. The mounting suspense and good number of successful scares will hold your interest but the acting and pacing are fine too.  Another pleasant surprise is the revelation that one of the guys from BLAIR WITCH, who appears here as a markedly different kind of character, can actually act: he's excellent in this movie. There's a nicely maintained feeling of realism throughout, and the lighting and photography look slick and professional.  ALTERED's greatest flaw is the underdeveloped nature of its plot.  The writers never thought the story through in any great detail, so we never find out exactly what the aliens did to the hero that qualifies him as "altered", nor for what purpose, nor why they now want him back, nor why they appear to be somewhat afraid of him.  In one scene he sits in an open field with his eyes closed while dozens of the creatures walk right past him, apparently unable to see him.  Why?  And why would a man who had an alien tracking device implanted in his body elect to surgically remove it himself and store it in a pickle jar?  Wouldn't any hospital have been able to find the object inside him with an X-ray or an MRI, and wouldn't they have had a better chance of extracting it safely?  And wouldn't the existence of the bizarre little device have served as adequate proof of the truth of his story?  Furthermore, why would a man who's been kidnapped by aliens and who now lives in fear of meeting up with them again stay in the same area where they first found him, living in an isolated little house in the woods with no neighbors nearby?  It's true that he turns out to have something of a plan at the end, although it seems both unnecessary and unlikely.  The monsters themselves are wonderfully creepy humanoids with green skin, three-fingered clawed hands and large bulbous heads with evil faces.  They have squinty black eyes that can hypnotize earthlings and huge fangs surrounded by big exposed gums. Their foreheads are marked by what appear to be orifices that expose patches of their brain tissue. They look remarkably similar to the aliens in Jet Ellis' NIGHT FEEDERS, a movie with which ALTERED has a great deal in common.  The story's lack of depth is frustrating, but there's more than enough here to make ALTERED well worth an hour and a half of any monster movie fan's time.




Dir: Edgar G. Ulmer

Director Ulmer had a reputation for being able to make something out of nothing.  This project must have been a real challenge for him.  Most people who remember this know it as "the invisible bank robber movie".  It's a stale story full of one-dimensional characters and nonsensical science, but Ulmer still manages to make the proceedings less painful to watch than many another director would have.  The symbolically-named Faust is a bitter, hardened criminal who is broken out of jail (the opening titles are cleverly picked out by police searchlights) so that he can take part in the invisibility experiments of a mad scientist who is being forced to do the evil bidding of Major Krenner, a spy who might remind you of some James Bond supervillains it it weren't for the fact that the actor playing him makes the character seem like a total pansy.  The invisibility machine, which looks like a collection of random science fiction electrical props left over from other movies, has the unfortunate side effect of leaving the subject with a fatal case of radiation poisoning, a detail nobody tells our antihero until after his first couple rounds of invisibility.  Since it would be difficult to build an army of invisible soldiers if they each had only a few weeks to live, the plan is for the master thief to steal the priceless radioactive materials needed to improve the process.  Of course he can't resist the urge to steal some cash from a bank while he's at it.  Unfortunately, the special effects aren't up to the standards of the invisible man pictures of the 1930s and 40s, with visible wires often seen attached to the floating props.  Invisible man stories were somewhat passe' by 1960 anyway, the undisputed high point of the genre having been James Whale's original 1932 classic THE INVISIBLE MAN, which did everything better than this picture does.   When the fully dresed human subject is zapped with the ray that turns him invisible (or transparent, as this movie prefers to call it), his clothes vanish right along with him, which led me to wonder why the leather straps holding him to the lab table remained visible, since they were clearly under the ray too.  For that matter, why was the table itself not affected?  The bad guys have to make quite a few stupid moves in order to keep the plot moving, like the scene in which a guard armed with a rifle actually decides to sit down and relax with his back to the door behind which a dangerous prisoner is supposed to be sleeping.  A scene in which the crook's head and hands suddenly become visible during a bank heist comes off as more funny than dramatic.  "The Major" forces people into obedience using their relationships to their children, a soft spot he redundantly exploits in three separate characters.  Some of the dialogue is pretty dreadful and overwrought but Ulmer keeps the mood along film noir lines to make it a little easier to swallow.  At the end, a character breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience, which was probably intended to be a startling, disorienting and chilling moment in 1960 but which is another aspect of the film that's likely to inspire chuckles today.  In truth it probably inspired its share of chuckles even in 1960.  As mentioned, the director acquits himself admirably, as they say, and most of the acting is perfectly adequate, but this dreary, coincidence-packed, hour-long movie is a long way from being remembered as a classic. 




Dir: Courtney Solomon

Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek are great, as always, in a period horror tale that doesn't really work. It's one of those movies based on supposedly real events, which tells you right from the start that it isn't going to have much of a story or a decent ending. An opening title tells us that the haunting recreated here is the only case on record of a spirit causing a person's death. But since the only person who dies in the film is poisoned by another character, that isn't exactly true. It takes quite a stretch to blame the death on a "spirit". In the 1800s, Sutherland is a respected landowner and money-lender who's guilty of cheating an old woman that just happens to be a suspected witch. Shortly thereafter, his teenage daughter is repeatedly terrorized and trounced upon by an invisible apparently demonic entity. The story suffers from a repetetive nature as one character after another confidently states his disbelief in the supernatural and is convinced in turn. The haunting itself is all conveyed through well-worn stock scares, like slamming doors, breaking windows, whispering voices, candles blowing out, covers pulling themselves off the bed, and other schtick you've seen in other movies about haunted houses and demonic possession. In this film's favor, some of this material plays as scarier in the hundred-years-back milieu than it often does in a contemporary setting, if only because there are no electric lights, telephones, high-tech hospitals or other modern comforts that might make the family seem less isolated and helpless. Too many scenes turn out to be somebody's nightmare, with one character or another suddenly waking and sitting bolt upright in bed sweating like in a Freddy Krueger movie. A little of this goes a long way, and when an elaborate and intense action sequence lasting several minutes ends the same way it's irritating. There are logic loopholes too. After the third or fourth time the poor girl's bedroom door slams itself shut so tightly that three grown men can't force it open, you'd think it would occur to somebody to remove that pesky door altogether, but nobody thinks of that.  The writers' final explanation for the haunting is an unsavory and ugly one that seems to be about to repeat itself in a dull, incomplete-feeling 2006-set wraparound which adds nothing but a bit more running time. An end caption tells us that the version just presented is "only one of many plausible theories" about what really happened, but most viewers won't consider it plausible in anything but a fantasy context. The best thing about AN AMERICAN HAUNTING, apart from some sincere performances by a veteran cast, is the highly authentic period setting. The sets, wardrobe and props all show an uncommon restraint in that they don't glamorize the era with perfect clothes or structures, offering instead what is most likely a very realistic look at a harsh period of history when people thought nothing of having a few stains or tatters on their clothing and were happy just to have enough money to afford a reasonably secure home and simple food to feed their families. The movie looks great but the high level of historic period detail isn't sufficient to make it a good horror story. 



Dir: Andrew Douglas

The most generic and pointless haunted house story conceivable (family moves into spooky house, some scary things happen, so they leave) is remade for the new millenium with added CGI and visuals that show too much RING/GRUDGE influence.  It's impossible for me to get excited about a remake of a movie that was excellent the first time around (PSYCHO, PLANET OF THE APES, KING KONG).  But since I always thought the original 1970s AMITYVILLE HORROR was boring and not nearly as scary as it was cracked up to be, doing a modern remake didn't seem like an entirely bad idea.  I'm still unsure of why anybody thought the old house in Amityville was worth revisiting, though, since the supposedly true-life haunting, in which many people still believed when the first film version was made, has long since been discarded as a load of total hooey.  I suppose there are teenagers who weren't around in the '70s who might still be misled into thinking all this is "a true story", but even they might get suspicious of the new movie's claims of veracity if they notice that the (newly added) little girl ghost is an imitation of the ghostly kids seen recently in THE RING and its wanna-bes, while the (newly-made-up, partially reality-based) villain is ripped off of Reverend Kane from the POLTERGEIST sequels.  Yes, this AMITYVILLE HORROR is the fault of a deranged preacherman who tortured Indians in the house a couple hundred years earlier for no discernible reason other than that Hollywood is always ready to take another dig at organized religion by depicting anybody with "Reverend" in front of his name as a dangerous insane hypocrite.  The only other religious figure in the film is an old Catholic preist who is shown to be cowardly and totally ineffectual. The 2005 AMITYVILLE rehash is at least better paced and more eventful than its model.  The decision to show bloody apparitions right from the start eliminates any question of what is going on and removes the element of creepy low-key mystery from the story, but at least it keeps things moving along at a brisk clip.  The acting is mostly excellent, especially the child actor who plays snotty little boy Billy.  He's completely believable when he's being a little creep, when he's sad, when he's calm, and when he's scared.  The movie is also technically well made, with good use of flickering, strobing lightning effects and fine photography.  The only real problem is the "already been done a million times" nature of the story.  There aren't any big surprises here, and all the scares are typical haunted house movie stuff.  (For me, the most intense part was a non-supernatural scene in which the heroine's 8-year-old daughter is seen standing precariously on the roof!)  The final shot brings the whole film down a notch, as the movie ends on a really dumb cheap shock that would have had audiences booing and hissing even in the '70s.  A redundant and fairly flavorless production, but still decently made and maybe worth the price of a home video rental, if not a theater ticket.



Dir: Philip Cruz

This lethargic backyard gore comedy features flabby overaged porn celebrity Ron Jeremy as its resident Leatherface ripoff, which should tip you off as to its value.  It's largely played for the cheapest of cheap laughs, but it's difficult to tell whether the project started out that way or if it just sort of morphed into a spoof somewhere in mid-production when someone realized how vacuous the material was.  Some cheerleaders end up stranded in the usual nowheresville setting, where crazy fat Jeremy punishes unrepentant sinners (which is darn near everybody) for his master the Devil.  He does so by stabbing them with butcher knives and hacking at them with meat cleavers. Ron has supernatural powers courtesy of Satan, so he can't be killed by bullets or other conventional means. He wears a metal welding mask even though he's a butcher by trade. Some of the characters are shady types who have rape and murder in their pasts, but the "sin" for which one girl is punished is overeating. The script treats her as if she were a repulsively obese and gross-looking total hog, but the actress looks maybe 15 or 20 pounds heavier than the other girls in the cast and would surely be considered quite attractive by the vast majority of real-life guys.  In a moment of real humiliation for the actress, the killer (who, it must be noted, is considerably fatter than his supposedly sinfully gluttonous victim) lures her into isolation by dangling a doughnut on a string in front of her. Most of the comedy consists of easy-to-write sexual slang and foul language in lieu of anything genuinely witty or hip.  A few of the jokes in the early portion of the movie are honestly kind of funny, but the film wears out its welcome and gets progressively more tedious as it drags on toward the intelligence-insulting climax. The editing is excellent considering the junkpile of sleazy footage that was shot, and in the end it appears the clever editor did a better job of making the movie work as a comedy than its actors or director did.  In spite of a few witty moments it's mostly a royal bore stuffed with bad acting and routine stalk-'n'-slash claptrap.  It was shot in Florida as DEAD MEAT but the title was changed for the DVD, perhaps to avoid confusion with the Irish-made zombie movie of that name.  


Dir: Shaky Gonzalez

One should never expect too much of a film directed by a guy called Shaky, but this vampire movie from Denmark is at least only mediocre rather than offensively bad.  It's a neotraditionalist affair that would have been very different had it been made before the pop cultural impact of Anne Rice and BUFFY.  A girl inherits the classic, dusty old family mansion in the middle of nowhere. She goes there with her boyfriend (a guy with a very short attention span) and a sleazy over-sexed gal-pal. The trio finds an old book about her great-grandfather, a cloaked vampire with the unforgivably silly name of Rico Mortiz. (You may go ahead and take a moment to groan here.) Of course the heroine discovers something rotten in Denmark, namely old Rico's remains (a huge mutant bat skeleton) and manages to spill a few drops of blood thereupon.  Rico is up and at 'em again briefly for the climax but most of the movie is devoted to the flashbacks about his original reign of terror.  Considering they're supposed to be her great-grandmother's memoirs, it seems odd that some of the vignettes appear to be taking place in the 1980s. The movie's raison de'tre  is its special effects, which consist of too much gunplay, some gruesome vampire bites, and an impressive giant hairy bat monster with huge fangs. The monster FX and the fangs look great but some of the action is a bit too much. There's even one of those ridiculous shots of a guy repeatedly firing two guns while jumping sideways and flying across the screen in slow motion. Credibility is further compromised by trendy footage of the vampire's evil minions in their long overcoats walking toward the camera in pretentious backlit slo-mo. Rico's vampire looks older and curiously different from his original "human" self, and when he gets really mad his forehead turns into what looks like one of STAR TREK's Klingon prosthetics.  A scene in which a vampire suddenly transforms himself into a rat looks great. ANGEL OF THE NIGHT really has nothing on its mind and brings nothing new to the vampire genre, but if you like bloodsucker movies then you're probably seen far worse ones.


 ARNOLD (1973)

Dir: Georg Fenady

Don't miss this incredible sick comedy that features a once-in-a-lifetime cast and a mean streak a mile wide.  Within the first five minutes you get a fogbound cemetery, a crumbling mansion, a raven, a black cat, an old gravedigger, thunder and lightning, a bizarre wedding/funeral and a musical number.  Stella Stevens, who never looked lovelier, is a golddigger who marries the already deceased Arnold Llewellyn, a millionaire who spends the whole movie in his custom-built coffin with a built-in cassette player. Tapes of the late Arnold's smoothly threatening voice mysteriously arrive in the mail every so often and are played back for the benefit of his scheming, greedy, treacherous survivors.  One by one the cast of liars, swindlers and cheats is bumped off in inventively brutal and horrific ways that leave the bodies in messy bits and pieces courtesy of Arnold's diabolical booby traps.  Is Arnold really dead or is he somehow faking it?  Does he have a living ally carrying out his evil wishes?  Or has he returned from the dead to take revenge on his selfish family and staff?  This unbelievable feature is a perfect link between the dark wit of the DR. PHIBES movies and the more visceral, dismemberment-obsessed horrors to come (THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE et al).  The graveyard never looks like anything more than something constructed on a soundstage and there's almost nothing that qualifies as an action scene, but the standout performances and macabre sense of humor more than compensate.  The puns and situational gags are nonstop as stalwarts like Roddy McDowell, Patrick Knowles (from FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN), Farley Granger, John McGiver and Elsa Lanchester (THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN herself) lurk through the misty English setting trading barbs with ease.  Jamie Farr (Klinger from TV's M*A*S*H) shows up in his strangest role ever, a mute Hindu manservant with facial scars, an eyepatch and a turban.  Although the late misanthrope's presence dominates the household, the movie itself is definitively stolen by the wonderful Bernard Fox (best known as Dr. Bombay on BEWITCHED), who strikes the perfect comic note as the delightfully inept Constable Hooke.  With this guy in charge of local law enforcement, it's no wonder that one character after another meets with a gruesome demise.  Well-meaning and cheerfully tactless, he blusters through the bloody shenanigans coming up with "logical" explanations for all the bizarre deaths, writing them off as unfortunate but simple accidents.  "It's all right 'ere in my report", he proudly bellows at anyone who'll listen.  Fox's overconfident policeman, who can never get his bicycle's kickstand to work properly and who puts his bobby helmet on backwards at one point, is such a richly funny character that he could have supported an entire series of comedy films in the manner of Leslie Nielsen's Detective Frank Drebin from the NAKED GUN series.  There's very little onscreen bloodshed but the murders all feature mutilation and surprising (for the time) extreme cruelty.  Apart from hapless Constable Hooke, the story doesn't allow for any truly sympathetic characters, but the proceedings are so confoundingly odd and unpredictable that the lack of a hero miraculously doesn't detract from the entertainment.  Morbid and downbeat in the extreme, ARNOLD (which has to have been partially inspired by the PHIBES movies and their best-known imitation THEATER OF BLOOD) deserves more recognition as a bold and twisted cocktail of gags and gore. The Toledo, Ohio-born director also made TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM and directed many TV series episodes.


Dir: Tanit Jitnukul

Demented supernatural horror from Thailand. A wealthy arrogant businessman and his (mostly innocent) family are the victims of a voodoo curse that causes them to die one by one in outrageous ways (one character coughs up a pile of double-edged razor blades).  A spiteful girl named Boom, the cad's rejected mistress, is behind the gory deaths, enlisting the help of a creepy old man and his expertise with voodoo dolls. Various ghosts watch from the sidelines (including the now standard post-RING Creepy Little Girl) and baffled medical authorities deal with people vomiting sizeable quantities of live slugs and worms. ART OF THE DEVIL is constructed in a choppy, time-jumping manner with present day events shot in black and white and the flashbacks that make up most of the film in color.  I found it to be needlessly complicated, confusing and hard to follow, but perhaps you'll have better luck with it than I did.



 ASPHYX, THE (1972)

Dir: Peter Newbrook

 In 1875, Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens) is obsessed with the then-new art of photography. When he accidentally captures a mysterious ghostlike image in a photo of a dying man, he deduces that the thing was an asphyx, a normally invisible death spirit that exists as a separate piece of the consciousness of every living thing, appearing only at the moment of death to lead the soul into the next world. This leads to a series of dangerous experiments by which Sir Hugo contrives to capture and imprison his own asphyx, thereby making it impossible for him to die. As his obsession with eternal life grows, his loved ones are placed in mortal peril, leading to a series of tragedies that bring only everlasting loneliness and despair. He sets out to make his entire family immortal but his tendency to devise unnecessarily theatrical violent "deaths" for them works against him. This fascinating British production is a superior dark fantasy with a convincing cast giving sincere performances. The melancholy mood is sustained throughout and the dialogue is excellent. The only real flaws are an enormous hole in the plot (you'll notice it), some crude makeup and effects work, and untidiness regarding the details of exactly how a person's asphyx functions (a human whose asphyx has been captured ages to the point of looking like a cheap joke store mummy mask, but an animal still looks the same after 100 years).  Still, you can't have everything. The artfully constructed story, the increasingly horrific nature of the experiments and the marvelous acting easily manage to outweigh the film's shortcomings, making this morbid period horror parable one of the best British genre films of the '70s. It's definitely a movie you'll talk about afterward. Don't miss it.  In addition to its original title, it's also been released on video as SPIRIT OF THE DEAD.



Dir: "Anthony Dawson" (Antonio Margheriti)

An early work from a filmmaker who was soon to become one of Italy's best known directors of science fiction and horror. This is an honest effort to craft a futuristic space adventure in pulp magazine tradition, but Margheriti's intentions are ultimately undone by slow pacing and terrible special effects.  This is one of those movies in which rockets always have huge tails of fire blazing from their back ends in deepest space (and here they always seem to be burning at a curious angle, at that).  The miniature work, pyrotechnics and space scenery look resolutely phony and the sets look every bit as cheap and cobbled together from scrap as they probably were.  In the year 2116, a newspaper reporter (Rik Van Nutter of THUNDERBALL) is sent along on a space mission to write an article about something to do with radiation.  The grouchy commander of the spaceship resents his presence, and it's no wonder.  This guy is so concerned with asserting his youthful individualism that he never shows the slightest respect for anyone in charge.  He's so smug and sarcastic that I was surprised some officer didn't jettison him right out the airlock and just say, "Oops!"   You'd think a man who was legally allowed to tag along on a military operation of this importance would at least show a little decorum and treat high-ranking experienced space travelers respectfully, but not our all-knowing hero.  He is confident that he knows more than the veteran astronauts because they're all old fuddy-duddies who like to go by the book, whereas he follows his heart and has little regard for the chain of command or anything like official procedure.  In a story from this era, he naturally turns out to be right and gets to be the big hero.  It seems that a malfunctioning spacecraft controlled by an onboard computer (called simply the electronic brain) is generating a 5,000-mile-wide sphere of blazing heat.  The runaway ship is moving into Earth's orbit, and soon its heat field will burn the entire planet to a cinder.  Everyone argues about what to do while trying to make sense of the script's insane notions of science and strange view of the cosmos, which apparently puts an entire galaxy somewhere between Mars and Venus.  People are put into suspended animation in glass chambers during spaceflight, but once it becomes apparent that traveling from one planet to another takes no longer than, say, driving from one major U.S. city to another, you might wonder why they would bother.  One gauge on the chintzy control panel apparently measures "WOW", although I never did figure out what that might mean.  Of course the valiant crew of the BZ88 includes one female member, a token love interest who raises plants to create oxygen and who starts the story off already needing to be rescued from certain death even though she seems to have had the same training as all the cocky men on board.   A wise old captain is the only character who's remotely likeable here, and if this project had come along 20 or 30 years later you just know his part would have been played by Morgan Freeman.  The script is weighed down with endless technobabble as characters repeat strings of code words, numbers and other space jargon back and forth for what feels like weeks.  The story was written by a Russian, which shows in certain aspects of the character interaction and in the futuristic space fleet's structure.  To be fair, ASSIGNMENT OUTER SPACE does contain early uses of a number of story elements that would later appear in better known (and better made) features, but that isn't enough to rescue it from its own high-powered gravitational field of utter tedium.  Only those with a deep interest in early Italian SF cinema are likely to find anything of value here today.  It was also released under the stunningly imaginative title SPACE MEN.



Dir: Hugo Fregonese and Tulio Demichelli

Spain's greatest horror star Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina) conceived, wrote and costarred in this crazy pastiche of elements from the Universal monster rally films of the '40s.  It's actually very clever and imaginative and even tells a pretty good story, although these virtues often go unnoticed due to the mountains of cheap visuals, hurried editing and terrible English language dubbing under which they are entombed.  Michael Rennie, best known as the alien in the 1951 classic THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, gets to play another space visitor, only this time he's an evil invader. As Warnoff from the planet Ummo (really), he sets up shop in an abandoned monastery with a great looking dungeon full of cobwebbed skeletons and flesh-eating bats. His assistants are two recently deceased young biochemists whose bodies are now inhabited by fellow...um...Ummoans. Their mission is to dominate Earth by bringing to life its greatest monsters to use as servants. They dig up Naschy's famous werewolf character Waldemar, last seen in NIGHTS OF THE WEREWOLF, and surgically remove the silver bullet from his heart (actual open-heart surgery footage is used). In a sequence copied directly from HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, they pull the stake from the chest of a skeleton in a carnival sideshow to resurrect a blue-faced vampire called Mialhoff. Rennie's aides then catch a quick flight to Egypt to awaken Ta-Ho-tep, a wonderfully effective, scary mummy with a frozen withered face and filthy rotting bandages. The Frankenstein Monster is here renamed Farancksalan, presumably to avoid accusations of copyright  infringement, but the design is a direct imitation of Universal's Monster, with greenish skin, facial scars and a high flat head. His creator, Dr. Farancksalan, literally wrote the book on monster mythology, a dusty old volume which leads the aliens to the various creatures. The book also contains chapters on Nosferatu and the Golem, but last-minute budget cuts kept those two out of the movie. The film is sometimes ridiculed for its proposal that a total of four monsters could take over the whole planet, but in fairness to the script, it should be noted that Warnoff does state his intention to create "thousands more" like them. I can see how one could concieveably amass an army of vampires, werewolves and Frankenstein-style beings, but... mummies?    In the end the emotionless aliens' plan fails because the human bodies they now inhabit make them susceptible to the human emotions of sympathy, jealousy and love. When his female helpers show these weaknesses, Rennie tortures them with high-frequency soundwaves and colored flashing floodlights. The loopy but loving tribute to horror's golden age was idiotically re-titled DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN in some markets, even though the two monsters (who are technically Mialhoff and Farancksalan anyway!) never even meet.  Naschy's Wolfman fights both the Mummy and the Frankenstein type creature but the Dracula-inspired character never comes face to face with the other monsters, just as in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA. The laboratory set is nicely detailed but looks exactly like something from a 1940s mad scientist film and never convinces as a product of advanced alien technology. It's too bad this movie wasn't allowed a decent budget and more generous production time. It's all terribly uneven but it's ambitious, fast-paced, crammed with monsters and all sorts of horrific and imaginative details and for the most part is great fun to watch in spite of some shabby visuals.



Dir: John Florea

This forgotten movie's alternate title, INVISIBLE STRANGLER, is the more accurate one.  The term 'astral projection' refers to a phenomenon in which the consciousness separates from a person's physical body and travels around on its own, leaving the body behind in a coma-like state.  The wandering spirit is supposed to be capable of traveling great distances in a short time and moving through solid objects.  An expert on psychic phenomena explains this theory to a character in the film (and thus to the audience), but the strange thing about it is that astral projection isn't what the movie is really about at all.   Roger Sands (Frank Ashmore) is a convicted murderer who, by reading a couple of very impressive books that were unwisely stocked in the prison library, learns how to make himself invisible through sheer will power.  He also has telekinetic abilities which enable him to throw things around without touching them, but he never practices anything like true astral projection.  His physical body vanishes from sight (via a cheap optical effect that looks like he's being beamed up to the Enterprise) and he is unable to walk through doors without physically opening them.   Unfortunately Roger is also stark raving mad, allegedly because his selfish pin-up girl/ socialite mother (whom he killed) was ashamed of him and never told the public she had a son. He uses his disappearing trick to bust out of prison (the sign on the building says "Hospital" but it's obviously a prison on the inside) and goes on a poorly-motivated rampage, strangling various female celebrities who remind him of his mama.  According to this movie, rich people do nothing but sit around drinking and being bored all day.  The script is unclear on how the psycho chooses his victims.  Sometimes they seem to be women who actually testified against him in court, but at other times they seem to be marked for death simply because they're wealthy and beautiful.  It seems unlikely that he would have been convicted by a jury of 12 gorgeous female alcoholic dancers and models, but, again, this aspect of the plot is a bit fuzzy.  The murders are usually shot from the invisible killer's POV, inviting the audience to share in the experience of choking good-looking women to death.  Roger often behaves stupidly and risks capture by lurking around in a skin-diver's wetsuit and mask or by tossing objects around in the immediate presence of police officers with their guns drawn.  Sometimes he has to shed his clothes to be completely invisible, but at other times they disappear right along with him. The real star is prime-time TV fixture Robert Foxworth as a hard-working cop who is very serious, impatient and aggressive when he's on the job but acts just the opposite in the company of his flighty wife (Stephanie Powers), who never seems to be wearing any pants and who tells him to "have a nice time" when he heads out to hunt down a crazy murderer.  When the killer is finally shot down in the wildly implausible conclusion, some sort of black void opens up in the floor and the maniac's body floats off into what appears to be outer space and explodes!   Foxworth seems pretty shaken up by this strange sight, although he (and the entire police force) took the whole invisiblity thing in stride and never seemed to have any trouble believing their maniac was an invisible man.  Elke Sommer, Leslie Parrish and other familiar faces turn up in the cast too.  But it's still not a good movie, too full of logic problems to be convincing.  The similar PSYCHIC KILLER did it better a year later.  ASTRAL FACTOR went unreleased until 1984, by which time it looked sadly out of step with the times.  Today it's of interest only for its cast of experienced TV performers and its very '70s take on psychic phenomena.


 ASWANG (The Unearthing) (1993)

Dirs: Wrye Martin, Barry Poltermann

This unusual attempt by Americans to make a horror movie based on authentic folklore from the Phillipines is interesting for a while but turned out a little too muddled and pointless to leave much of an impression. It reportedly caused something of a stir at Sundance in '94, but that wasn't so much because it was any good as because it was simply more disgusting than most shockers of the time. A dull-witted pregnant girl is offered a huge sum of cash to masquerade as the wife of an odd young guy who comes from a wealthy family but who has to have an heir in order to claim his inheritance.  He also gets to keep the baby, but that's OK with her as she didn't want to be a mom anyway.  They travel to his family's isolated mansion in the woods, where it transpires that the scheme is just a coverup for the creepy family's real motive: to eat the baby!  The guy's family is made up of aswangs, vampirelike creatures who have 20-foot long slimy red tentacle tongues and (presumably) the ability to spin cocoons around their victims. In one unintentionally funny scene, an old lady aswang is left hanging from a balcony by her tongue.  There are some fairly novel ideas here, but parts of the story make no sense (why does the sister suddenly freak out and attack the heroine with a chainsaw if she's in on the plot anyway? Why does the servant suddenly switch allegiances from one character to another? For that matter, if these people possess supernatural powers and have the area law enforcement in their pockets, why do they need to cook up convoluted plots like this?) and the overall mood is one of detachment, with a heroine who has no particular personality and a script marred by dismal attempts at humor. The ending is just what you'd expect if you've seen many low-budget horror projects.  It's good to see somebody try something a little different from typical movie style vampire stories once in a while, but this one goes for grossness over substance and is ultimately nothing more than a nice try. It was shot in Wisconsin.  

 ASYLUM (1972)

Dir: Roy Ward Baker

After several moderately successful horror anthologies (DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, TORTURE GARDEN, TALES FROM THE CRYPT), Britain's Amicus Productions got everything right with this near-perfect package of smart, gruesome short stories linked by an ingenious wraparound that, for once, actually figures into the shorts themselves in a uniquely direct way. More complex than Amicus' previous films in this vein, ASYLUM still holds up today and is a rather amazing achievement in cinematic horror storytelling. Robert Bloch's immensely clever script takes place at an out-of-the-way madhouse where a new doctor (Robert Powell) is applying for a position. The oddball administrator (Patrick Magee) offers him a challenge: if he can guess which demented patient is in fact the institution's former head, now hopelessly mad himself, he will be hired on. To that end Powell visits four insane residents in their cells and listens to each of their macabre stories explaining the bizarre circumstances that drove them over the brink and led to their incarceration.  The tales themselves are miniature masterpieces of pure, simple, literate horror, told in efficiently brisk style and with superb actors playing it straight in all the right places.  A cheating husband dismembers his wife and wraps the pieces in brown butcher's paper, placing them in a basement freezer. His plan to run away with his mistress falls through when the dismembered limbs refuse to stay dead. (This segment contains some brilliantly nightmarish images that still pack a wallop today, the sight of the living, paper-wrapped body parts being somehow more frightening than more explicit, bare bloody pieces would have been.)   A poor tailor (Barry Morse, who is wonderful) is offered a job making a very special suit for a strange man (Peter Cushing), who insists that the outfit be worked on only after dark and who provides his own fabric, a strange material that gives off a constantly shifting otherworldly glow. A neurotic young woman who happens to be a recovering drug addict is visited by her fun-loving, carefree and beautiful friend, who is only too happy to stab to death anyone she thinks could stand in the way of her friendship with her old playmate.  Finally, a demented sculptor (an intense Herbert Lom) creates miniature robot dolls which he plans to will to life psychically.  (This last segment, called Mannikins Of Horror, was remade in 1989 as an excellent episode of the TV series MONSTERS.)  The twisted tales culminate in a surpruising, multi-twist finale.  In addition to the agreeably sick little stories and excellent acting all around, ASYLUM has memorably drab, shadowy sets that maintain the chilly mood, as well as an ingenious classical soundtrack and even, on a few occasions, a wicked sense of humor that perfectly seasons its many attempts to freak out its audience.  If more horror movies were as clever, scary and fun as this one, the genre would have a better reputation in the mainstream. A classic of its kind and one of the best of the '70s. 



Dir: Phil Jones

Thirty years after ASYLUM OF SATAN, this similar exploitation quickie came along.  At least as bad as its predecessor, it's a monumentally unconvincing bit of tripe about an idealistic young psychologist (played by a bobble-headed actor wearing his hair in a style that makes it look as if a small firecracker had just gone off in his face) who gets his first assignment at one of those evil nuthouses that only exist in poorly written scripts.  There isn't anything realistic in this movie from start to finish as each new scene seems to be trying to outdo the last in terms of credulity-stretching absurdity without ever going far enough to suggest a dreamlike or surreal milieu.  We're supposed to believe that someone built an asylum to house 9,000 dangerously insane patients (why?), and that it currently holds about 600 psychotics and a staff of about a half-dozen people (one of whom is blind), led by Bruce Payne (the only one who looks like he's having fun here, doing a bad guy performance that appears to have been patterned on the work of Alan Rickman). Payne is the sinister doctor who, assisted by a cult of about three people in hooded robes and stylish facemasks, sacrifices people to a demon called "The Harvester" in the basement.  The towering, growling Harvester is an inspired creation with a scary horned mask, glowng red eyes and plated body armor.  It's by the creator of the effects for the JEEPERS CREEPERS movies, Brian Penikas, and it deserved to be used in a more professional project than this. The contrived rituals consist of cutting victims' tongues out and drugging them with something that sends them into cardiac arrest at the exact moment of the creature's materialization.  It is explained that the monster only wants the souls of evil people (hence, the convicted murderers contained in the facility provide a neverending supply) but when the malevolent doc is in the mood to dispose of anybody who gets nosy he sacrifices them to the demon too, so I guess this particular entity of evil isn't as picky as the script would have us think.  People smoke cigarettes inside a hospital (remember, this was shot in 2002) and a supposedly dangerous mental case who's normally kept strapped to his bed is allowed to roam the place freely at night.  Our hero even agrees to a secret meeting with him in the labyrinthine basement.  Except for Payne and the always watchable 'Tiny' Lister, the actors are terrible in their roles and the story moves so slowly it's painful.  There are miles of useless dark tunnels underneath the building (again, why?) and a frightened nurse who stays on at the place voluntarily even though she knows what's going on (surely flipping burgers would be a preferable career to being exposed to this kind of danger on a daily basis). Even the way the villain gets away with carrying out regular sacrifices with so little effort is too much to swallow.  Apparently desperate to establish something in the way of viewer interest, the movie opens by matter-of-factly showing us a sacrifice to the demon, so there goes any element of mystery.  Most of the running time is bogged down in maddeningly repetitious exposition that requires you to listen to assorted nuts babbling lines like "There's something evil going on here" again and again while the dim-witted hero takes forever to deduce what the audience has known since the first two minutes.  After much walking around the halls (watch for how the lighting constantly changes in the rooms and walkways of the hospital) and more unlikely situations, the film finally stumbles its way to its deprssingly predictable non-twist of an ending.  Surprisingly, considering the tacky subject matter, sex and nudity don't enter into the proceedings at all.  A complete misfire with next to nothing going for it outside of a couple of brief looks at an interesting monster costume.  The director tragically died of cancer at age 40 the year this was released.  It was shot as HELLBORN. 


Dir: Michael Stanley

Remember that creepy little Zuni warrior doll that was after Karen Black in the TV-movie TRILOGY OF TERROR?  This demented low-budget quickie offers a whole army of them!  The one in TRILOGY was supposed to be a wooden carving that came to life, but the ones here are supposed to pass for flesh and blood monsters even though they're ridiculously immobile and nothing about them looks organic. The "beast creatures" look like crude homemade plastic imitations of the TRILOGY doll, painted flat red with no detailing and big plastic eyes that light up.  Set in 1920 for no apparent reason, ATTACK has a lifeboat with nine shipwreck survivors (of course we don't see the shipwreck) drift to an uncharted island which has an unexplained pond filled with flesh-melting acid, another pond filled with safe drinking water (and fish), and a tribe of 10-inch-tall Beast Creatures.  The carnivorous action figures are very aggresive and jump down out of trees to attack. The puppeteering is terrible and consists largely of off-camera assistants throwing the dolls at screaming actors.  When the dolls need to move, you only see the upper halves of them like the Muppets. The only time you see their whole bodies is when stagehands have helpfully placed them in trees to make it look like they're peering down at their prey.  None of the amateur actors are very good but they do seem to be giving it their best shot, running and screaming like crazy when the little guys attack.  And, to be fair, there are some honest attempts at characterization.  None of the protagonists are very bright.  They seldom think to arm themselves with big sticks or branches, even after they know the little guys are dangerous flesh-eaters and that they go down pretty easily.  One whack with a branch will send a beast creature sailing off into the bushes or smacking comically into a tree.  Some of the dialogue is so bad it's hysterical, as when a character watches a guy fall onto a sharpened spike, stagger around screaming in pain, break the end of the spike off where it sticks out of his chest, scream some more, and then collapse, the other end still protruding from his back, and concludes that "He never knew what hit him."  Another guy, a master of understatement, looks at a man who has been turned by the acid pit into a completely fleshless, clean white skeleton and calmly informs his companions, "There's nothing we can do for him now."   Can't argue with that logic.  Perhaps the strangest thing about the script is its total absence of any discussion of what the creatures might be, how they got there, or anything else about which normal people might wonder.  Instead the actors say the same things to each other over and over, reciting the usual stranded-in-an-inhospitable-place cliches.  At one point we see dozens of the critters gathered around a big carved idol that resembles a gigantic saltine cracker with a face.  Nobody says anything about it and it's never mentioned again.  So are the beast creatures supposed to be part human?  Some species of mutant monkey or cat?  Demons from hell?  Aliens from space?  Nobody in the film ever even speculates, preferring instead to keep yammering on about the need to get to higher ground, although I was never sure why.  A couple of survivors are rescued at the end and their rescuers don't seem any more impressed by the discovery of an unknown and very strange new species than the other dullards were.  With no real story to tell, the movie usually focuses on long, boring scenes of the characters walking around between the trees, punctuated by the frenzied, violent monster attacks.  It isn't good cinema but it would make an excellent party tape to watch with friends.   They should have stuck with the more mature shooting title of HELL ISLAND.


Dir: James Felix McKenney

Political allegory that blends pretentiousness with amateurishness to a somewhat less than stunning effect.  In an unspecified post-apocalyptic age, a girl stuck in what looks like a cluttered old fix-it shop spends her time performing repair and maintenance chores on the big clunky tin-can-man robots who did most of the fighting in the war that has all but wiped out mankind.  Outside the unlikely looking set is what looks like a snowdrift in which wind-up miniature robots slowly lumber around shooting death rays at one another.  The sight of the bulky, dome-headed retro-bots fighting it out is arresting at first but undisciplined editing results in sheer boredom through repetition as scenes of toy robots wobbling along, blasting and burning go on a lot longer than was necessary.  Fan fave Angus Scrimm appears on video monitors as a scientist who delivers lengthy pep talks about how "our enemies" will resort to any means necessary to destroy us and how we must respond to the challenge.  The most interesting ideas, including the talk about repopulating the planet with clones of healthy humans, are barely touched upon.  Most of the film is devoted to footage of the girl working away (rather unconvincingly, for the most part) at her robot repair tasks while Scrimm's pleasant voice prattles on in the background spouting military propaganda that frequently sounds like quotes from the misleading speeches Americans heard on TV during the George W. Bush administration.  At the closest thing there is to a climax, a few human soldiers show up and are immediately massacred by robots with crude close combat weapons like drills and buzzsaws that pop out of their boxy bodies and rip people to bits. (Apparently the fighting robots of the future are going to be designed by 10-year-old boys.)  The good-intentioned social commentary and political values are appreciable but AUTOMATONS is too boring and heavy-handed to offer much entertainment.  Shots of blinking radar screens and barely-moving robots last so long that you may find yourself in serious need of a fast forward button to make it through this deliberately grainy, B-&-W project that feels like an attempt to make a David Lynch or Guy Maddin movie on no budget in somebody's Uncle Charlie's old vacuum cleaner repair workshop.  Scrimm's performance as the televised talking head is the movie's main saving grace, and even that disappoints when, at the end, after his character finally realizes he's been lied to by his government all this time and has unknowingly helped to doom the world, he never displays the drastic change to a broken, devastated man that was needed.  (In fairness to Angus, it should be noted that it's doubtful he was given much time to work out the finer points of his performance in what is basically a glorified home-movie.)  It's nice to see an independent production that has its own voice and isn't a direct copy of any Hollywood blockbuster, but this crushingly slow and depressing movie isn't likely to leave a lasting impression.  The shooting title was DEATH TO THE AUTOMATONS.   


Dir: Greg Strause, Colin Strause

With its small town setting and emphasis on space monsters clomping through the woods killing yokels at night, this unambitious sequel is like a Don Dohler movie made with better actors and more pricey optical effects.  The Alien chestburster glimpsed popping out of a dead Predator at the lame conclusion to the previous AVP movie causes the departing spacecraft to crash in the woods near a sleepy Colorado village, and of course the chase is on as the surviving Predator runs around trying to destroy the inevitable "Predalien" (he looks like a standard Alien, but with dreadlocks and mandibles added since the Aliens take on the physical characteristics of their hosts) while lots of ill-fated humans get in the way.  This new hybrid creature is able to impregnate humans with multiple Alien embryos at once, so he manages to amass quite an army of similar creatures (who grow to maturity faster than ever in this entry).  As before, the Predator is somewhat interesting while the Aliens are just mindless killing machines.  By this time, plotting and dialogue have sunk well below the levels of any entry in either series.  There are some nicely done battle scenes between the two monsters, but they tend to be too dark, happen too fast, and leave the overall impression of nothing more than a collection of various blue-lit surfaces swishing around in the shadows as the warring beasts duke it out.  Innocent children and pregnant women die horribly this time, probably because it was felt that an AVP movie made in 2007 would need to show a meaner, more cruel edge in order to keep up with the times in an era of cinema horror largely defined by the SAW and HOSTEL movies and the mindless brutality of the likes of Eli Roth and Rob Zombie.  There are a few suspenseful scenes (very few), a few cool weapons and gadgets, and lots of flawed logic and dumb behavior.  The Predator (who apparently now has neon blue acid blood to compliment the Alien's well-known neon green acid blood) takes great pains to destroy all evidence of the interplanetary battle and the creatures' presence on Earth, blowing up his ship and dissloving bodies of Aliens and their human victims.  But in a poorly thought out scene, he takes time out from his big mission to ritually skin a deputy and hang his bloody carcass in a tree for local authorities to find, for no logical reason other than cinematic tradition.  Audience complaints were numerous about the dark, murky, low-contrast nighttime footage that tarnishes most of the action scenes.  (Apparently this movie was rather unwisely made with VERY specific projection requirements, which resulted in it looking pretty drab and hard to see for most viewers.)   The human characters are no better nor worse than those in any typical teen slasher movie, and the big climax-- in which the ubiquitious Corporate Controlled Government Bad Guy launches a nuclear strike that unconvincingly and implausibly wipes out only the precise area of the Alien infestation-- is so tired by now that it's almost an insult to your intelligence. It's followed up with a coda that is neither clever nor meaningful, but which points the way toward the founding of the sinister company featured in the original 1979 ALIEN.  (So what?)  And that's all... she's rote.

BANE (2008)

Dir: James Eaves

There's the germ of a good idea in here. The people who write thoughtful sci-fi TV series like THE OUTER LIMITS or DOCTOR WHO, for example, might have crafted an original and thought-provoking film out of this material. Unfortunately the makers of BANE were unable to scrape together anything beyond an irritating semi-coherent mess that staggers along the edges of torture porn before turning into torturous corn. The SAW influence is undeniable as four young women wake up with no memory of who they are or why they're being held prisoner up in a weird pseudo-hospital. The establishment is headed by a creepy doctor, his handsome hunk assistant, and a couple of unexplained knife-wielding goons whose role model must have been Michael Myers. The girls are each interrogated and threatened in scenes that seem to go on forever and might not have been so unwatchable if they weren't peppered with noisy, repetitious split-second cutaways of blurry black-&-white or red-tinted images of violence. At a specified time, each woman is scheduled to be whacked to bits (some stage blood is tossed at the walls) by the killers. At an hour and 45 minutes this feature is at least twice as long as it needed to be. The frequently repeated shock images are presumably supposed to be startling but after the first couple times they pop in they're only annoying. The big twist ending involves alien invaders who have insectoid heads and jiggling feelers swinging around from their mouths (you never do get a clear look at them). The whole ill-advised torture project was, as it turns out, an experiment aimed at changing the emotionless aliens' minds about destroying humanity by infecting them with the human emotion of extreme horror. In a wincingly trite bit of narration it is stated that "love" is what finally does the creatures in, but this is quite a misstatement. It isn't the emotion of human love at all that finally destroys the creatures, but rather the feelings of tragedy, loss and regret. (A little script doctoring could have done wonders for this movie.) Instead of making the invaders sicken and wither in a way that might have been believable, the introduction of remorseful feelings somehow causes them to die by making pints of green slime pour out of their heads. After watching this tedious feature you realize that none of the characters' bloody deaths were necessary at all, and that most of the clues given early in the film about the nature of what's going on never really amounted to anything. A potentially interesting concept is once again blown by pretentious writing and clueless direction. The same director also brought you the laughable vampire movie THE WITCHES' HAMMER in 2006.





Dir: Alan Rudolph

A brazenly exploitative feature that could only have been made in the 70s. Three loud, laughing showgirls on their way to a Vegas gig experience car trouble, stranding them in the middle of the Nevada desert. They fall into the clutches of Andre (Andrew Prine), a looney who keeps women chained up in his barn, calling them "animals". He dresses up as a ringmaster and tries to train the confused gals to be part of his circus act. Now I know that most men are physically stronger than most women, but I find it a little hard to believe that three frightened adult women, working together, couldn't at least knock a man down and make a run for it. The filmmakers evidently couldn't think of a plausible way to show the capture, so once Andre catches the girls, we cut to them sitting there already chained up, which made me wonder how he managed that one (what were the other two doing while he was shackling the first one, etc.?) All in all he has a dozen women in his "act" which, unfortunately, we never see much of. Opportunities to show bizarre human circus act scenarios are wasted as all Andre ever does in the film is unimaginatively make the women walk around in the desert now and then. He makes one girl pretend to be a snake but all she does is lie there and cry while a real snake crawls on her. Most of the time his captives don't appear to be any smarter than animals, as when an opportunity to grab Andre's keys arises and they all holler and laugh and make a racket, getting his attention, instead of keeping quiet. When one of them tries to escape, he smears her with blood and turns her loose in the desert, then sets his hungry cougar free to go after her. Andre refers to "all the others" so I gather he's done this before, but no clue is given on exactly how he might get the cougar back into its cage again. But wait, there's more!  Atomic bomb testing in the area has turned Andre's father into a deranged raditaion mutant who lives in a shack and prowls the desert killing campers, successfully sneaking up on his victims even though there's nothing around for him to hide behind and he growls constantly. With his long gray hair, lumpy bloated head, one closed eye and huge mouth, he looks like Jason Voorhees's grandpa. He'd make a great Halloween mask.  Apparently old Dad will kill anybody he gets his wrinkled hands on, including Andre, so I was never sure how he keeps ending up trapped back in his shack, which is locked from the outside, after each of his escapes. That Andre sure has a knack when it comes to imprisonment. He decides that one of the girls is his mother (?) but this never helps her. The mass-murder ending seems unnecessarily cruel. The title is only two-thrids accurate, by the way. There is a barn and nearly everybody ends up dead, but no one is ever seen naked. It's odd to see a downbeat, perverted, sexist horror film that could safely play on daytime TV with no cuts. The soundtrack has some very creepy nightmarish parts but sometimes uses campy pseudo-circus music that makes many scenes seem ridiculous. And speaking of music, the rap/hip-hop band "Mr. Hyde" appropriated the great title for one of their songs (and albums). Other titles for BARN were TERROR CIRCUS and NIGHTMARE CIRCUS, both of which might make viewers think they'd get to see a weird human circus act that never arrives. The movie is over-the-top enough to make it a hoot to watch, but with that unforgettable title and the humans-as-trained animals theme, it should have been a whole lot weirder.



Dir: Jimmy T. Murakami

The sci-fi fun never stops in this marvelous bargain-priced STAR WARS-inspired space fantasy from producer Roger Corman.  Along with a clever script by John Sayles and inventive art direction by a young James Cameron, there's a stirring early score by James Horner. Horner's music for BATTLE is so exceptional that it was later used in several other low-budget Corman productions. The chaotically overcrowded plot is essentially THE SEVEN SAMURAI in space. Richard Thomas is a farm boy from a small planet of gentle, robe-wearing pacifists. When their world is attacked by the laser-blasting space cruiser of heartless galactic warlord Sador (John Saxon, who seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself), Thomas embarks on a mission to recruit the galaxy's toughest and bravest fighters to come to their aid. There are enough alien cultures, mysterious planets, odd characters and imaginative science fiction ideas in this low-budget wonder to occupy an entire season of any STAR TREK teleseries. One drawback is that, in the interest of keeping things moving at hyperspeed, many interesting places and concepts are only superficially dealt with, leaving fans hungry for more details of these assorted lifeforms and their respective histories and cultures.  Robert Vaughn gets to play what's basically a futuristic space mercenary version of the same character he was in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.  Sybil Danning is super sexy as a tough alien "Valkyrie" in a great leather costume, Morgan Woodward is perfect as a wonderfully designed green lizard-man, and George Peppard has fun in his very campy role of "Space Cowboy".  There's a robot factory, a dead planet, and a race of identical bald white aliens called The Nestor, who all share a single consciousness and provide some very funny dialogue.  Sador's army consists of big mean mutants with lobotomy scars (one of many peculiar details that are left unexplored), and his plan is to live forever by regularly having body parts of his victims grafted onto himself to replace his own aging body bit by bit. The spaceship that looks like STAR TREK's Enterprise with breasts and has an inboard computer that talks with a silly old mama voice went a bit too far in the direction of camp for my taste,  but the all-star cast of enthusiastic pros and excellent space battle effects, plus the parade of one clever set design after another, make this an endlessly entertaining, if sometimes juvenile, space adventure.  If only more of the STAR WARS imitations in the '80s had shown as much imagination and offered as much Saturday matinee-style fun as this one.    




Dir: Paul Annett

Lifeless, unexciting werewolf tale that was a sad end of the line for Amicus Productions, who had crafted high-caliber shockers like TALES FROM THE CRYPT and ASYLUM.  This nonsensical celluloid sleeping pill wastes a good cast on an under-explained story with a sappy, sub-William Castle-style gimmick in its last reel. Ruthless billionaire big game hunter Calvin Lockhart summons a group of various persons with shady pasts to his isolated mountain estate, which he's just had outfitted with high-tech surveillance equipment. Cameras and microphones and lighted radar maps are installed to help Lockhart figure out which one of his guests is really a werewolf. Mind you, I was never sure why he believed any of them had to be a werewolf.  Or for that matter, how he knew they weren't all werewolves. Each of the suspects has been involved in some way with mysterious murder cases, disappearances, cannibalism, or some other unsavory subject, which somehow leads to the conclusion that one (and only one) of them must be a werewolf.  This seemed to me to be a sizable leap in logic, but, whatever. Peter Cushing, as an expert on the subject, struggles valiantly as he tries to make the phoniest werewolf lore ever used in a legitimate movie sound believable. Cushing's character calmly and authoratatively informs us (with a straight face) that a person afflicted with werewolfism would instantly die from even the slightest contact with anything made of silver. It seems awfully unlikely that most people would be able to go their entire lives without ever even coming into contact with any silver. But, whatever. I guess Mr. Billionaire has stainless steel utensils at his dinner table, huh? Another logic problem arises when we find out that the allegedly secret control center for the multi-million-dollar surveillance system is located in a room with an enormous glass skylight, leading one to question security expert Anton Diffring's qualifications for the job. Lockhart's character is cold and heartless without actually being evil, so it's very difficult to fully understand him. After a good deal of dull walking around and far too much empty talk, the movie pauses for its big gimmick, The Werewolf Break. A timer superimposed on the image ticks by 30 seconds while a narrator reminds us about all the various remaining suspects and challenges us to guess the identity of the beast.  Then in the semi-cheat ending, we learn that the murders were the work of not one but two werewolves, each represented onscreen by a big gray dog wearing a thick fur collar and shown in some crummy day-for-night footage. None of this is scary in the least, the final part of the ending is as predictable as can be, and there's next to nothing in the way of special effects.  A real dog in more ways than one.




Dir: Coleman Francis

So monumentally inept in all departments that it's often surreal, this asinine mess has rightly earned a spot on just about every 'Top Ten Worst Films Of All Time' list ever compiled.  Most of its 53 minutes is footage of people standing and walking around in the Mojave desert. Bald 400-pound wrestler Tor Johnson plays Josef Jaworsky, a top Russian scientist who has defected to America with a briefcase containing secrets about how the Russians beat America to the Moon (?).  Two Kremlin agents shoot at him, so he runs into the desert just as an A-bomb goes off. No reason is given for why his government plane touches down on the edge of an A-bomb test site, but the resulting radiation turns Tor into, well, a 400-pound bald guy with some streaky makeup smeared all over his head. He's now an unreasoning brute, but the normal people in the movie don't seem any smarter. Even though "the beast" lives in a cave and never gets near any residential neighborhoods, the movie opens with an implied rape scene inside a house. When Tor occasionally strangles someone, his victims act like they're getting a neck massage and falling asleep. In a scene that tries pitifully to copy NORTH BY NORTHWEST, an idiot policeman in a helicopter shoots at a man who's looking for his idiot children who are wandering around the desert.  The skinny Dad escapes (even though he tends to run across the tops of rocks and hills) and drives away, leaving his homely butch wife standing in the desert even though he's just been repeatedly shot at by a stranger. Stupid cops take forever to bravely scale the steep rock wall of a plateau, but when they go back down we see they're walking down a gently sloping hillside.  One cop has to reach the top of the plateau by parachute, but the little boys easily make their way there on foot and another guy apparently just drives his car up to the same place. There's no sense of geography, and if you watched this movie a hundred times you'd still never get a clear picture of where anything is supposed to be in relation to anything else. The only real entertainment value is in watching for the many ways the director tried to cover up the fact that his film was shot without sound.  People only talk when they're facing away from the camera, covering their mouths with their hands, or standing far off in the distance. Throughout the whole feature, stupefyingly corny, condescending, monotonous narration constantly explains what little action there is. When Tor sees the two runaway kids, he says "Aaaaaa" and shakes a stick at them.  Poor Tor Johnson. He might not have been a wonderful actor, but by all accounts he was a good-hearted man in real life and he surely deserved better than this in his declining years.  BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS makes THE ASTOUNDING SHE-MONSTER look like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. You'll either find it depressing or else laugh your head off at it.



Dirs: Dave Castiglione, Dawn Murphy

There may be many things you should do before you die, but sitting through this sorry slice of slop isn't one of them.   The anthology horror movie hits absolute rock bottom as three poorly made videotaped horror shorts are stuck together in a futile attempt to construct something like a releasable feature.  The framing device is a simple-minded and atrociously lighted bit of nothingness about a hack writer trying to think up some new horror stories.  If the nonsense seen here is the best he can come up with, he shouldn't quit his day job.  Shortcomings like weak acting and effects can be forgiven in an independent production, but this one's troubles run much deeper than that.  None of the slow-moving segments have interesting or original plotlines, honest tries at characterization, or any scares or suspense, and production values are lacking even when compared to other video movies.  In the first segment, which seems to last forever, an obese woman is unaccountably treated like a superhot sexpot.  Despite the fact that she's cold and snotty, displays no real personality, behaves rather disgustingly and is a good 90 pounds overweight, she is ogled wherever she goes by lust-crazed guys who behave as if she's the most glamorously beautiful female they've ever seen and who practically beg her for sex.  The punchline is that she's really some kind of unexplained monster who eats men after having sex with them, which is why her apartment is littered with Halloween prop hands and heads.   In the three- second glimpse we get of her 'true form' as it is reflected in a mirror, she has a white sheet wrapped around her torso (she's naked in real life but the sheet shows up in the mirror, so maybe it was supposed to be part of her body), big furry spider legs sticking out of her sides (they poke out through the sheet), and a $35. Be Something Studios She-Wolf mask for a head.   The next, equally pointless, vignette is about a honeymooning couple who go to spend a week at a mysteriously abandoned resort hotel and are bothered by ghosts.  There are captions to let you know when it's "Day 1", "Day 2", and so on, but since the pair gets spooked and leaves after the third day anyway, the captions serve no purpose.  This segment does contain the movie's only tiny little redeeming features, specifically a clever and well-timed visual effect used when someone's image in a swimming pool suddenly vanishes, as well as a surprising giant glowing yellow head.  It's still terrible and terribly slow.  The hotel, supposedly closed down in 1908, is equipped with hot tubs and architecture that makes it painfully obvious it was built much later than that.   The last segment is even worse.  Alone in her apartment, a young woman hears that a mad killer has escaped from prison.  He kills a couple of children and then comes and kills her.  And that's it.  The oddest thing about this little exercise in tedium is that some shots of her bedroom are shown flopped in an apparent effort to make the room look bigger, which would have worked just fine if there hadn't been a big poster for the Chevy Chase movie FUNNY FARM on the wall right where the viewer can plainly see the print keep switching from forward to backward.   Utterly devoid of imagination and intelligence, this three-part hunk of junk is the kind of thing that gives direct-to-video features a bad reputation.  You could do better than this yourself with a borrowed camcorder and a couple of free weekends.  


Dir: Scott Glosserman

After the SCREAM franchise ran itself into the ground, you might not think there was room for another self-reflective postmodern teen slasher movie, but this project uses all the old cliches so creatively that it's nothing short of brilliant.  A team of filmmakers doing a story on a serial killer are given the rare opportunity to follow the killer himself as he sets the stage for his upcoming massacre. The cheerful, introspective psycho helpfully explains the creative process involved in making sure every unlikely piece falls into place as he plots to slaughter a gang of teenaged boneheads in a spooky old farmhouse.  Even the Freudian symbolism attributed to the genre by high-falutin' "film theory" writers is spelled out and nonchalantly explained as a necessary part of the process behind the success of any famous serial killer.  The story takes place in a reality in which the killing sprees of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger all really happened, and wide-eyed Leslie means to follow in the bloody footsteps of his idols and become the next big "celebrity slasher".   He already has a lot of the necessary elements picked out, including his "red herring" and his virginal "survivor girl".  The eager young reporter and her two camera guys are gung ho at first, but once the time comes for innocent people to start dying, they find it hard to stand by and watch when their sense of responsibility kicks in and they think that maybe... just maybe... they should use their inside knowledge of the maniac's plot to stop him.  That may not sound like the freshest or most entertaining idea for a movie, but the way it plays out here is unique, creative and packed with insight into slasher movies and their appeal and into the media's insatiable appetite for sensationalism in the name of ratings. To go into more detail would be to spoil the fun of this ingenious feature, since it isn't just the details but the manner in which they are unveiled that makes BEHIND THE MASK so much fun.   The morbid jokes here work so well because they are consistently delivered in the most deadpan, mock-serious tone possible, with nary an instance of broad or obvious comedy.   One of the movie's many achievements is its ability to include practically every slasher film cliche imaginable and still come up with something that's involving, unpredictable and almost wholly original.  Robert Englund shows up as Leslie's "Ahab", a determined psychiatrist in the tradition of HALLOWEEN's Dr. Loomis, Kane Hodder apears in a single shot as the current occupant of Freddy's old house on Elm Street, and Zelda Rubinstein of the POLTERGEIST movies is a librarian.  A basic familiarity with post-1979 slasher cinema will greatly enhance your enjoyment, but even those viewers who aren't particularly into typical slasher flicks are advised to look for this immensely clever and rewarding feature.  Everything that happens makes perfect sense, and even the end credits sequence is classic, consisting of black-and-white security camera footage which is shown while the Talking Heads hit "Psycho Killer" plays on the soundtrack.  It's not an exaggeration to claim BEHIND THE MASK as one of the most intelligent and creative slasher movies since the original HALLOWEEN.  And one more thing: no talking on the phone, straightening up the house or fiddling about online while you're wathcing it... this movie will reward you for giving it your full attention.  


Dir: "Joe D'Amato" (Aristide Massaccesi)

Even many hardcore gorehounds were sickened by this one. It's easily one of the nastiest Italian gore movies ever, a statement which should serve as fair warning.  Disturbed young amateur taxidermist Frank (Kieran Kanter, an Irish actor with very feminine features) has problems. Not only were his parents killed in a car crash, but his ailing girlfriend dies in hospital while in the act of kissing him. Conveniently for him, she's buried in a cemetery that's lit with huge bright floodlights at night, making it that much easier for him to dig up her corpse. In a gruesome sequence that seems to last forever, he stuffs her like a trophy as the camera lingers on internal organs, dripping blood and other unsightly messes. Along with taxidermy, Frank's other hobby is murdering random women for no reason. He tortures and kills a dope smoking blonde English hitchhiker and a beautiful jogger. His deranged, perverted middle-aged housekeeper Iris helps him dissolve bodies into piles of bloody lumpy glop in a tub of acid or incinerate them in a furnace. All the gore is presented in an almost clinical, matter-of-fact way that sometimes works at odds with the delirious nature of the story. There's no moral point or statement being made, as things simply continue on in the same blood-soaked fashion until the two fiends finally predictably kill each other in bloody, violent fashion. It's really more of a parade of sick sights than a story. At one point Frank pulls a girl's fingernails out with pliers. He pulls a heart out of a cadaver and for no reason other than that he's nuts, starts chewing on it. There are throat bitings, eyeball pluckings and brutal stabbings too.  It's all pretty well made and the gore is very convincing, but as stated above the only real point of it all is to gross viewers out.  The movie caused some controversy when it was reported that real autopsy footage was used.  This sickie quickie was made as BLUE HOLOCAUST and was released on VHS in America as BURIED ALIVE. The only possible reason to watch it is to see the Grand Guignol style gore effects, but if you're in the mood for a movie with an actual plot you'll most likely be disappointed.



Dir: Olaf Ittenbach

Another stinkbomb from overworked stinkmeister Olaf Ittenbach, a monumentally untalented German gore fanatic who's been doing his part to give the horror genre a bad name ever since he managed to get THE BURNING MOON released in 1992.  As with Olaf's other projects, this is an unbelievably sadistic celebration of cruelty and depravity with subpar acting, crude scripting and next to nothing in the way of a story. Ittenbach keeps cranking these things out with appalling regularity, and the only improvements since his earlier movies is in the photography and the quality of the gore effects. The cinematography is so good in this one that it actually resembles a "real" movie if you don't pay too much attention. A woman is told two confused and entirely pointless stories by a creepy old man in a cemetery. The first half of the film is about a bunch of horrible cocaine dealers who do nothing but shoot, stab, strangle, bludgeon, torture and mutilate people.  The second half is about a bunch of horrible 15th-century inquisitors who do nothing but stab, strangle, bludgeon, torture and mutilate people.  There's a half-hearted attempt to tie it all together with some baloney about the still-living, beating heart of the son of the devil, which is kept in a box until a satanist who's clever enough to find it a new body to inhabit will finally come along. But this material never really goes anywhere, serving only as a transparent excuse to link the relentless string of torture murders together.  There's no feeling of plot or progression, just an endless succession of people screaming and crying as they watch their wives, husbands and other loved ones get sadistically chopped, hacked and mangled before they too end up as quivering, stage blood-covered messes.  Olaf's obsession with extreme barbaric cruelty and prolonged bloody suffering ultimately push all other considerations out of the movie, as was true of his previous, equally vile work. There isn't even a decent ending, just one more senseless killing. The whole mess is just another sick piece of "no hope" trash that will turn you off in a major way unless you're a hopeless misanthrope.  



Dir: Thom Maurer and Barrett Klausman

Poor H.P. Lovecraft's name gets dragged through the mudhole of inept filmmaking once more in this spectacularly muddled dud. Credited as a "Triple D Production", which must stand for dull, dumb and derivative, it took two directors to make this bad a mess of it. Style over substance can occasionally make for an interesting horror film, but not when the style is crude and unoriginal and the substance nonexistent. This is one of the truckload of video horror travesties made around this time that tried to camouflage their lack of creativity by going for the harsh, grainy, flickering look that had been used in some good films (SAW, SAW II and the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and THIR13EN GHOSTS remakes) and some awful ones (FEARDOTCOM and the HILLS HAVE EYES remake). By this time that style was looking dated and cliched, but this hunkajunk is padded with pointless cheapjack surrealism and supposedly artsy camerawork, so be prepared to develop a headache from squinting at endlessly repeated split-second shots of grainy, overexposed, high-contrast shock images tricked up with overly brightened red blood spatters and silly fast-motion that is supposed to suggest some kind of nightmarishness but is instead more reminiscent of old  comedy skits from THE BENNY HILL SHOW.  William Sanderson plays an inbred with the IQ of an artichoke and an extra face growing on his right shoulder blade. It's a good thing they never give us a good look at the underdeveloped "twin", because when we do see it it looks like a wad of modeling clay that was hurled from across the room and happened to stick to Sanderson's back.  The setting is a laughably unconvincing asylum in 1911 populated with cartoonishly evil mad doctors and drooling idiots who stagger around freely. A mentally retarded woman with the top of her skull cut off is hooked up to an ill-explained brainwave machine built by a mad psychiatrist who is an incredibly bad actor.  Actually all the acting is appallingly bad, creating a tidal wave of unnatural dialogue spoken by embarrassingly amateurish nonactors. The film's main villain, another mad doctor who has somehow reached a position of high respect and authority in the psychiatric community of 1911 even though he's a ranting, abusive, foul-mouthed arrogant twit who casually murders helpless mental patients, is just as bad an actor as the crazed brain specialist, and the sanitarium is headed up by another terrible actor doing a mock-German accent.  The cast of this film is so consistently awful that one wishes a high school drama coach would have showed up to lend the film some semblance of professionalism. All the actors in this fiasco ever have to do is shout indignantly at each other, but they can't even handle that. Second-billed Tom Savini makes an extended cameo as a redneck sheriff. The wad of Silly Putty on Sanderson's back eventually forms itself into a monster from another dimension. He/ it is on screen for about 8 seconds and resembles Freddy Krueger with Cthulhu's tentacles on the lower half of his face. Nobody ever says or does anything that feels remotely believable and the constant intrusion of meaningless shock imagery only increases the overall irritating quality of the project. If you're a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, you owe it to his memory to avoid this heaping mound of generic horror rubbish with his name unfairly attached to it.


 BIG BAD WOLF (2006)

Dir: Lance W. Dreesen

Talking werewolves are just too goofy to be scary.  This was confirmed as far back as 1943's RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, but here's another attempt to make it work, made over 60 years later.  Even though the beast here spends his time pulling people's heads and legs off, he's not frightening and always comes across as totally artificial. One problem is that the werewolf talks with the voice of Freddy Krueger. I don't mean a voice kind of like Freddy, either; I mean he sounds a hundred per cent dead-on like Freddy, even down to his inflections, wisecracks, puns and boisterous laugh.  I have to hand it to the folks who made the costume, though. It must be extremely difficult by now to come up with a werewolf design that won't be accused of copying either THE WOLF MAN or the ones in THE HOWLING, but to their credit, the effects crew here actually succeeded in creating a creature that looks impressively different from previous screen lycanthropes while still looking like something people could reasonably be expected to recognize as a werewolf.  It's too bad he bellows away in that stupid voice making jokes, because it really ruins what otherwise seems to have been an honest effort to tell a fairly creative werewolf story.  That, and the fact that the heroine is unconvincing and unlikable and the script is so focused on crude, raunchy talk and sexual situations that are repellently distasteful without being scary.  Parts of this movie are utterly disgusting but not in an enjoyable gross-out way. Just in a sick, trashy way.  The slow story is about a dorky teenage boy's cruel stepdad, a meanie named "Toblat" (spell it backwards, WOLF MAN fans).  The character of Mitch Toblat is a completely vile, hateful, obnoxious, arrogant, threatening jerk when he's not a wolfman, so there's little difference between his human and monster selves. The monster version is bigger, hairier and has a better sense of humor but apart from that they're equally detestable.  He slaughters a bunch of horrible college creeps at a cabin in the woods.  Then it's up to his mild-mannered, soft-spoken, pacifistic stepson to summon the courage to destroy him with the help of his spectacularly implausible crush, a super-tough, trash-talking, tongue-pierced leather-clad biker chick with the requisite masculine name (in this case "Sam").  The boy's prim mother is a useless limp dishrag who earns no symptahy or respect and who'd never marry a creep like foul-mouthed macho Mitch in a million years in real life.  The movie does a few things right and contains a few surprises, however.  One interesting element is the unusual reversal of stereotypical female teen horror roles.  In this instance, it's the sleazy "bad girl" who has what it takes to fight supernatural evil, while the blonde virgin is a scheming wench who only refuses to have premarital sex with her rich boyfriend because she thinks that holding out will encourage him to marry her and let her get her hands on his family's money.  Young women who swear and have casual attitudes about sex are usually ready-made victims in this kind of fare, while virgins are normally presented as innocent and virtuous.   Another surprising (and pleasing) twist comes when the surviving kids tell the police it was "too dark" to see what kind of animal was responsible for the killings, instead of trying to convince them it was a werewolf and ending up getting laughed at or threatened by any and all authority figures from there on out.  It's very rare to see characters have the good sense to tell the cops just as much as they need to and keep their mouths shut about supernatural matters nobody would believe.  The movie does a lot of things much better than the average low-budget monsterfest, but the sheer coarse ugliness of the plot and dialogue combine with the unscary monster and the miserably unsatisfying, inconclusive cliche' ending to make BIG BAD WOLF a dreary and ultimately forgettable little feature.      


 BITE ME! (2004)

Dir: Brett Piper

When it comes to cheap horror/exploitation quickies, writer-director Brett Piper is about as good as it gets.  His films tend to be hokey and trashy but they always have a real sense of humor and a unique feel that sets them above the competition. He's one of very few low-budget schlock filmmakers who can pull off deliberately campy dialogue in a way that can make you smirk along with him instead of rolling your eyes in embarrassment, the reaction most horror-comedies tend to get. As was the case with much of his previous work, BITE ME! is very silly and unrealistic but is fun to watch because of a playful attitude and a witty awareness of its own lack of class.  A crate of chemically treated marijuana is delivered to the surly manager of a pathetically seedy, out-of-the-way strip club with a juvenile dinosaur theme.  The abrasive manager is a funny character who reminded me of Moe Syszlak from THE SIMPSONS. Stop-motion animated mutant spiders the size of cell phones come crawling out and start attacking his funny, talentless would-be exotic dancers, growing bigger as they suck blood and leaving their victims pumped up with a venom that has a cocaine-like effect.  We never find out anything much about the little beasts or their exact origin, but the goofy cast's hysterical reactions to them make for pretty entertaining viewing.  Most of the acting is pretty terrible, but the cast seem to be having so much fun with the sleazy material that it's easy to get caught up in the shenanigans. A dimwitted exterminator who reminded me of Otto the bus driver on THE SIMPSONS only makes things worse when he sprays the creatures with pesticide, which makes them instantly grow to even larger sizes.   The only character whose presence constantly threatens to spoil the fun is a deranged, screaming, violent DEA agent played by an actor who is too young for the role and whose ridiculous characterization goes embarrassingly overboard in the direction of parody anyway.  With the help of some substandard CGI work combined with substandard stop-motion, he eventually morphs into a great looking humanoid spider monster with extra pairs of pincer-equipped arms and huge bug eyes. It's an imaginative creature and makes for a good climactic battle sequence in spite of the shabby (some would say endearingly shabby) effects work.  Nothing in BITE ME! is ever believable, from the skinny little butt-kicking tough girls to the silly mafia type chick with the "New Yawk" accent to the dopey strip club patrons and their cheesy fight scenes, but realism clearly wasn't the point here.  If you can put your brain on hold for an hour and a half, you ought to have some fun with this one, much like its participants so obviously did.  It's dumb, yes, but it's a hoot.  




Dir: Glen Morgan

Here's another remake of a '70s horror film by the same director who helmed the Crispin Glover WILLARD remake.  Like that one, it's not likely to have any lasting influence but it's still pretty good.  The original BLACK CHRISTMAS from 1974 was more nightmarish and, in all honesty, scarier.  This version tells a more coherent story and actually comes with a proper ending, something that almost feels like a bonus in a 2006 slasher movie.  Fans of the original were eager to bash this re-do because of its far-fetched plotting, but in fairness it should be remembered that the older version had more than its share of stupid behavior and unlikely situations too.  Once again, an old house being used as a dorm for a bunch of (mostly unpleasant) college girls is under siege by a deranged killer who suffocates his victims with plastic bags and stabs them to death.  In this version, he also plucks out their eyeballs like in SEE NO EVIL and MR. HELL.  The characters are basically the same as in the '74 film (generic nice girl, cynical rich girl, jerk boyfriend, nerdy bookworm with big glasses and pulled-back hair, etc.) but the movie is bogged down with a needlessly complex and absurdly implausible background story for the killer, a common trend that was weakening many horror films made around this time and giving rise to innumerable "prequels" detailing far-fetched and unwanted origin stories for cinemurderers like Leatherface, Michael Myers and Hannibal Lecter.  In '74 we never really found out exactly what was going on or even who the killer was, which was a little frustrating, but this movie goes overboard in filling in all sorts of unhelpful detail on its way from one killing to the next.  If you can get past the choppy pacing and some hard-to-swallow situations, the 2006 BLACK CHRISTMAS will at least give you some suspenseful scenes and a few surprises.  Some of the main characters are unfortunately played by amateurish actors but it's always great to see SCTV alumnus Andrea Martin (one of the ill-fated students in the original) show up as the kooky house mother.  The preview trailers featured several scenes that were left out of the finished film.  The movie has a fantastic visual style, bucking contemporary trends somewhat by eschewing the washed-out, flickery, overexposed look that was making all major horror movies look the same in '06, going instead for a rich color pallette that perfectly captures a festive holiday feel ominously shaded in disquieting patches of deep black.   One actress looks about 25 years older than the character she's playing and the sequence set in the asylum from which the maniac escapes is frankly ridiculous, but as slasher films go, this one isn't too bad.  



Dir: William Mesa

Made as THE DARKENING, this undistinguished tale of a haunted hotel suffers from a cornball plot, stiff performances and a general failure to find any of the techniques that can make ghost stories truly scary.  A woman trying to make a go of a bed-&-breakfast with a history of ghost movie cliches hires Griffin, a heroic but personality-challenged occult investigator and his equally one-dimensional skeptic tagalong Justin to solve the establishment's dark mystery and put an end to the spooky visuals that have been sending her guests running from her poorly computer-generated property.  Justin starts out as a sarcastic non-believer but nonetheless manages to instantly fall head-over-heels in love the first time he sees the ghost of a woman who was murdered by her satanist husband six years prior.  The ghost appears as a mediocre glowing white optical effect whose hair always sems to be blowing in the wind even when she's indoors standing still and who usually looks slightly off-kilter with the scenes into which she is inserted.  The script conatains some references to her having been the guy's lover in a previous life, but since she has only been dead for six years and the fellow looks about 27, well, I'm not sure how that works.  The devil worshipping sorcerer is the only dramatically effective character, coming off as impressively cruel and threatening in his few scenes.  He's easily defeated by a ridiculously simple ritual at the end, after which the film abandons all remaining integrity by closing on a silly final line that makes you realize that several of the main character's previous decisions no longer make any sense.  There are one or two good special effects but the slow pace and unimaginative story make this play out like a rejected story arc for the old DARK SHADOWS TV soap opera.   Yawn.     




Dir: Fernando Mendez

As Mexican horror movies from the 1950s go, this is easily one of the best. Maybe even  the best.  It has gorgeous B-&-W chiaroscuro photography loaded with crisply lighted, shadowy images imparting a spooky look that's right up there with the best-known film noir achievements. Many Mexican horrors from this period tend to be silly, sometimes childish, affairs or direct imitations of old Universal movies from the '30s, but this delirious feature is its own distinct animal, a creatively morbid combination of gothic horror themes. Asylum director Dr. Masali reminds his dying colleague of their pact: the two docs had sworn that whichever of them died first would somehow contact the survivor with the secret of how to pass back and forth between life and death. After his friend passes away, Masali holds a seance at which the man's ghost does indeed show up....  offering Masali what he wants but adding an ominous warning of the horrors to come if Masali continues to insist on defying death. The doctor of course refuses to give up his obsession, leading to supernatural occurences and eventually multiple tragedies. When Masali gets too cocky in his regular medical work, a violently deranged asylum patient (who doesn't respond to anything but gentle tinkly music from music boxes) breaks free and throws acid in the face of an attendant, turning hiim into a gruesomely disfigured maniac (unfortunately the scar makeup isn't entirely convincing, making the guy look like a quickie version of Lionel Atwill in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM made out of a rumpled dishcloth).  The traumatized victim later murders his attacker, a crime for which Masali is wrongly sentenced to be executed, and then kills himself, his signed confession tragically blowing away in the wind.  Masali's opportunity to return from the dead comes right on schedule, as he is reincarnated at the moment of his death into the hideous (and thoroughly dead) body of his acid-scarred former employee.  Now a stiff-limbed, mud-covered, horrible looking walking corpse, he goes increasingly mad, determined to punish the party guilty of the crime for which he was hanged, without realizing it was the very man whose body he now possesses!  Things get even crazier with the introduction of a subplot about a couple who have seen each other in their dreams before they ever met and several reappearances of the caped, vampirelike ghost of the doctor from the beginning.  The character of Dr. Masali is an interesting one: he isn't evil or malevolent in any way. He's simply overconfident, perhaps a little careless with the safety of others, and unhealthily obsessed with unlocking the secrets of life and death. In this way he resembles the classic profile of Baron Frankenstein, bold and determined but devoid of any wicked intent.  His horrific condition, however, eventually maddens him, leading him to plan a horrible attack on an innocent person, at which point he must be stopped to restore order to the world. The ending didn't exactly work for me, as I'm not sure a supernaturally powered body like his could be so easily defeated in the manner shown, and it would have been a more fitting and ironic end to see him sentenced to eternal life imprisonment (after the disfigured man's confession is eventually found) than simply killed off in time-honored monster movie fashion. But those are relatively minor quibbles. BLACK PIT OF DR. M. (Mexican title MISTERIOS DE ULTRATUMBA, or "Mysteries from beyond the tomb") is still highly recommended viewing, a dark and deranged cocktail of horror elements stirred into a unique, largely satisfying tale.  



Dir: John Fasano

Conservative parents in the quiet little town of Mill Basin are worried about the negative influence a touring hard rock band called Black Roses might have on their impressionable teens.  The Mayor allows the concert but lives to regret it when it turns out the alarmists were right: the members of Black Roses (led by a guy absurdly named "Damian") are in fact demons from hell who sometimes sprout mediocre rubber monster faces and who plan to destory America by turning its youth into devil-worshipping mutant slaves who will slaughter their parents!  This movie contains some excellent creature effects and more earnest attempts at characterization than you'd expect, but it's such a wrong-headed and ridiculous concept that the finished product is downright insulting.  Apparently aimed at a young audience, it nonetheless confirms the worst fears of small-minded, backward parents, making one wonder exactly who the filmmakers thought would enjoy this drivel.  Intentionally or not, the story makes it clear that the ignorant smalltown mentality of the frumpy townsfolk, steadfastly resistant to anything new or different and automatically suspicious of strangers, is the best defense in protecting one's kids from evil influences like loud music.  The Mayor tries to be reasonable and open-minded and gets his daughter killed as a result.  Some kids who attend Black Roses concerts spontaneously change into skull-faced ghouls, while others simply become cold-hearted killers. A few of the band's fans even turn into fanged, misshapen, inhuman monsters. The band's supernatural powers are inconsistent and never explained or explored at any length, and the music is so far off-base as to be laughable. This group sounds more like Guns 'N' Roses than anybody with the aggressive heavy metal sound the script called for.   The footage of teenaged morons screaming in a worshipful frenzy at the feet of this middle-of-the-road "big hair" disco band is ludicrous.  A dedicated English teacher tries to expose the band for what they really are but nobody will listen, which is at least a switch on the usual movie device in which it's a teen who tries to convince authority figures of some impending threat.  None of it is the least bit believable, largely due to the fact that nothing anyone does in this silly film is intelligent or even halfway sensible.  The fact that one character after another reacts to what's happening in the dumbest, least appropriate manner makes it impossible to care about the characters.  It's okay to have some stupid people in a story, but when each and every character seems to be dumber than a bag of wet hair it definitely drives a wedge between them and the audience. With a great five-foot-long scorpion-crocodile thing that pops out of a speaker, a record that turns soft and fleshy like the videotape in VIDEODROME, and a very impressive monster costume when Damian finally turns into a remarkably well made, impressively organic looking rubber-suited creature.  The brain-punishingly stupid ending (in which demons from hell are defeated by fire, of all things) includes a predictable and illogical "twist" in which the demonic band, having at last been publicly exposed as the soul-stealing devils they are, show up to perform a short time later in another unsuspecting community without even changing their name.  Nice creature effects can't salvage this poorly scripted and muddled relic of the late 1980s.  It was shot in Canada (by the makers of ROCK 'N' ROLL NIGHTMARE) but the setting is supposed to be the American midwest.  Julie Adams (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) makes a cameo. 



Dir: Jonathan King

New Zealand horror comedy that deserves a look.   A young man with a deathly fear of sheep arrives at the high-tech farm home of his wealthy, egotistical sheep breeder brother just in time for a genetic engineering experiment to get out of hand.  Lunkheaded hippie activists try to sabotage the unnatural project and unwittingly free a mutant sheep fetus (possibly the first one seen onscreen since GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS) whose bite turns ordinary sheep into bloodthirsty killers and humans into weird woolly weresheep.  Our poor sheep-fearing hero suddenly finds himself part of a small group of survivors trying to escape the invasion of the flesh-eating beasts, whose typically inoffensive creies of "Baaaaaa" start to take on an ominous tone.  Like the killer bunny rabbit movie NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, BLACK SHEEP chooses one of the least threatening species of animal to present as monsters.  Unlike LEPUS, however, this movie plays up the absurdity of vicious attacks by harmless-looking critters for all it's worth.  The man-into-sheep transformations are excellent, as are the realistic lifesize puppet "attack sheep" and the many gruesome gore effects that kick in once the army of contaminated carnivorous sheep go on a surprising bloody rampage at a meeting of rich international investors.  There are plenty of good one-liners, sight gags and funny characters as well as amusing moments of disarmingly straight-faced buffoonery to entertain you as long as you don't take things too seriously.  Much of the film's content plays like lifts from the early works of Peter Jackson and Joe Dante, so don't expect BLACK SHEEP to try very hard to break any new ground plotwise.  The script, which makes equal fun of soulless businessmen and clueless ecology nuts, never picks any particular point of view, electing instead to present just about everyone as a self-important, out-of-touch goofball crippled by personal hangups and an oversimplified view of the world.  (Fair enough.)  The acting is absolutely perfect for this type of project and the main characters are actually quite likeable despite their sometimes questionable actions.   It won't be to everyone's liking, but those who enjoy gory horror satires with ambitious effects work and solid performances are adivsed to check it out.      



Dir: William Levey

The '70s was a big decade for Frankenstein movies. It was an even bigger one for awful Frankenstein movies. There was FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, FRANKENSTEIN '80, and this famous flop, perhaps the worst of the lot. Black interest movies were big boxoffice when this was slapped together, but BLACKENSTEIN is so inept that black audiences and white horror fans hated it just about equally.  Whereas BLACULA (1971) was a "real" movie with impressive production values, stylish direction, fine acting and a good literate vampire story, this movie is crude, boring and senseless. Eddie Turner (Joe DeSue, an actor who constantly looks at risk of falling asleep while speaking) is a crippled 'Nam vet who agrees to be experimented on by Dr. Stein, a Nobel Prize winning scientist with an old-fashioned mad doctor laboratory in the basement of his gothic mansion. There's nothing in the script about the name Stein being a shortened version of Frankenstein, so I guess the similarity is just coincidence. We're told that Eddie had his arms and legs blown off by a land mine, but when he's moved to the lab on a gurney it's obvious that the body under the sheet has both legs and feet. Dr. Stein's other patients are a 90-year-old woman who apears to be about 60 (an accomplishment you'd think would have been a bigger deal in the medical world than it is here) and a crazed Russian who has had a new leg grafted on with lasers and whose other leg has developed tiger stripes in a confused primeval jungle DNA related accident.  The filmmakers had heard of DNA but don't seem to have known exactly what it is, as bottles labeled "DNA" sit around the lab. The lab is mostly empty except for a bunch of the old lab equipment created by Ken Strickfaden for the original FRANKENSTEIN movies of the 1930s, but its purpose here is unclear. The only procedure performed on Eddie appears to be multiple limb transplantation, so I'm not sure what all those sparking, flashing electrical devices and crackling jacob's ladders were supposed to be doing beyond adding ambience to the lab. We never see any actual footage of the operations, just shots of the doctor walking around the set intercut with closeups of blinking light bulbs and bubbling beakers. Eddie's doctor girlfriend (an actress called Ivory Stone, the best performer here) rejects the romantic advances of lab assistant Malcomb (a black actor with an awesome scary deep voice), so the jealous dude contaminates Eddie's bottle of DNA with some from the Russian. This naturally causes Eddie to grow a big square forehead and overhanging brow in the Boris Karloff tradition. It apparently also causes his freshly-transplanted feet to be clothed in socks and shoes that go perfectly with the traditional Frankenstein suit in which he is inexplicably clad when he first rises off the operating table. I'm surprised he didn't sprout neck bolts. The slowest monster ever, the new pseudo-Frankenstein lumbers around at night killing women for no reason I could figure out. His lips seem to be glued shut, as he shuffles around going "Mmmmm..." in a manner that sounds like he's snoring.  You may not notice this because most people who are watching the film with you will most likely be snoring by that time too. He takes forever to shamble ten feet but he's still able to catch up with his imbecilic victims. There's no logical reason for him to want to kill women, but kill 'em he does, by pulling out their intestines like a George Romero style zombie. When he yanks their guts out, he stops snoring and makes a sound like an elephant trumpeting.  The only victim he seems to have tracked down deliberately is the implausibly cruel, demented orderly at the V.A. hospital who had tormented him at the beginning of the film. When the LAPD's police dogs tear Eddie/Blackenstein to pieces at the end and rip his guts out, I guess it's supposed to be ironic. Any parts of the story that are potentially interesting or which threaten to become entertaining are quickly skimmed over, while the many shots of the "Monster" lumbering across the sets with his square afro and purplish complexion, dragging his feet and snoring, all seem to last about six times longer than they need to.  The music score is full of abruptly cut library cues that seem humorously over-emphatic for the scenes they're scoring and too much Disneyland Haunted House record "spooky howling wind" noise used in nighttime shots in which trees and clouds are perfectly still.  Writer-producer Frank Saletri must have been a much more interesting guy than this movie would lead one to think. He lived in the Hollywood estate formerly owned by Bela Lugosi, where he supposedly held real seances, and was ultimately found shot to death in his bed.  Director Levey also made WHAM-BAM-THANK YOU-SPACEMAN and HELLGATE. And check out this credit: "Property Master- Bud Costello".  What, was Lou Abbott unavailable?


 BLOOD & DONUTS (1995)

Dir: Holly Dale

If you're tired of vampire movies that all seem to have the same interchangable characters, styles and attitudes, check out this quirky osbcurity from Canada. It isn't exactly scary most of the time, although there are a few gruesome shock moments where they're needed. It's mostly a character study about a guilt-ridden vampire and the hopeless inner city losers he meets. That might not sound like a great idea for a movie, but the whole thing is written and directed with an insouciance that makes it a unique and original excursion into low-key comedy and drama.  An outlandish freak accident involving a golf ball awakens a vampire who's been dormant ever since the 1969 moon landing. A woman who used to be his lover now wants to kill him. The troubled bloodsucker becomes involved with several characters who hang out at a run-down all-night doughnut shop, including a wiseguy cab driver, a likable young waitress and a couple of thick-headed thugs who work for the neighborhood crime boss. The crime boss himself is played by none other than David Cronenberg, the director of SCANNERS, VIDEODROME, THE DEAD ZONE and the FLY remake, among many others. He's perfectly cast here and gives a first-rate performance as the sarcastic crimelord. The condescending way he talks to his stooges and his strained relationship with them would make this movie worth watching all by itself, but you also get a good supply of other eccentric oddball characters, excellent dialogue, and of course vampirism. The story is a bit unfocused, and I'm not sure car battery jumper cables could successfully be used in real life the way they are here, but BLOOD & DONUTS is unpredictable, clever and manages to come through all the post-BUFFY and Anne Rice-influenced vampire fiction of the period with a voice all its own.




Dir: Philip Gilbert

Sleazy, scuzzy, depressing cheap horror as only 1971 could have bred.  This one is so nasty and hateful that it's positively David Lynchian  in its contempt for everything and everybody. After her prostitute mother is killed by an unseen assailant in a screamingly unconvincing hammer attack, pretty Melody Patterson (of F TROOP) is sent to a sparsely furnished orphanage run by sadistic Gloria Grahame and her equally crazy hired goon Lew Lesser. Grahame and Lesser torture, starve and murder the "kids" (most of them are supposed to be teens but look like they're played by 30-year-olds) right under the noses of the inept local cops but few people care or notice. Patterson's character seems meant to be a teenager but she looks 35, which makes a scene wherein Grahame threatens her with a "Just wait till you get old and stop being so pretty" speech feel very strange indeed since Grahame only looks about 40.  The film gets off to a weird start straight away as you're left to wonder why a woman who looks to be in her 30s would be sent to an orphanage upon the death of her mother. Other "kids" at the orphanage act so sluggish and disinterested in the mysteries and disappearances occuring around them that I expected to learn they were being drugged. But the script never indicates this, so I guess they're just supposed to be morons. Adding to the almost surreal mood is the fact that, in her very first scene, Patterson's voice is dubbed by cartoon voice specialist June Foray, who did voices for ROCKY & BULLWINKLE, LOONEY TUNES and many other animated characters. After the opening scene, Patterson provides her own voice for the remainder of the film. Even after she's aware of the unbridled cruelty taking place behind the scenes, Patterson somehow fails to tell visiting detective Vic Tayback (later Mel the cook on ALICE) about the brutal and illegal goings-on.  The gore effects are shabby and the plot contains several holes in logic including a mystery that's too transparent to be very mysterious, but the main goal appears to have been to create a mood of cynical despair, an area in which BLOOD AND LACE succeeds with plenty of bonus points left over. Just about everybody we see is a bitter, venal, cruel pervert of one kind or another.  Surprisingly, this very sick and mean-spirited quickie was rated PG (or as it was called at that time, GP) when it was originally released, in spite of scenes of hammers smashing people's faces in, a girl kept tied up in an attic and starved for days as punishment for trying to escape and dead kids' bodies being tossed about and kept in a meat freezer, plus various meat cleaver attacks and nonstop unpleasant talk about murder, disfigurement, bribery, prostitution and incest.  Maybe it's just as well BLOOD AND LACE is so poorly made. It might have pretty hard to watch if it had been anything like convincing.  Did I mention that one girl is inexplicably named "Bunch"....?



Dir: Brad Grinter

People who think PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE and ROBOT MONSTER are the worst monster movies ever made clearly haven't seen BLOOD FREAK. I defy anybody to find a more imbecilic, poorly made movie than this one (although some of the work of Andy Milligan, Herschel Gordon Lewis or Fred Olen Ray come pretty close!).  It's an almost supernaturally dumb horror fable about the evils of marijuana. A motorcyclist named Herschel (after the above-mentioned Mr. Lewis) meets a "morally loose" young woman (uh-oh!) who persuades him to smoke his first joint, against the wishes of her clean-living, innocent Christian good-girl sister.  He then eats some contaminated turkey meat given to him by three scientists who look like 1972-era gas station attendants wearing lab coats.  The combination of pot and bad turkey is all it takes to turn the poor sap into one of cinema's goofiest monsters. Most of his body remains unaffected, but his head turns into a large papier-mache' turkey mask!  The ludicrous turkey-headed freak inexplicably thirsts for blood, forcing him to roam the countryside, gobbling like a turkey and killing people in gruesome ways. A throat slitting looks surprisingly realistic for the time and a long, sick scene in which a screaming man gets his leg sawed off while blood gushes all over the place looks so completely convincing that I suspect a real one-legged man was hired to play the victim.  The kills are so extreme and bloody that they're a little disturbing, adding a tone of exploitative sadism that's completely at odds with the overall pious, "high moral ground" attitude. When his victims' blood pours out, the turkey monster slurps it up with his big cardboard beak.  Every so often an unidentified squinty-eyed man seated at a desk interrupts the proceedings to explain what's going on and to preach about good old-fashioned morals.  He has a coughing fit in a scene that may or may not have been intended to be funny.  The acting, editing, and dialogue could scarcely be any worse and you won't believe the idiotic ending.   Strictly for lovers of turkeys.



Dir: Herman Cohen

Rebellious, suicidal teen Nancy (Sandra Harrison) is the new kid at a remote, shadowy girls' school. For some reason, her troubled state of mind makes her a perfect subject for the wicked headmistress' plan to... .well.... I'm not sure what her plan was, really, but after she hypnotizes Nancy with a cursed medallion, the poor girl ends up just as confused as the audience as she finds herself transforming into a bloodthirsty vampire each night and then later thinking she's only having nightmares, more or less forgetting the murders she commits. This is basically a distaff remake of Cohen's then-recent hit I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and forms a loose trilogy along with it and I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN. Nobody seems to know why BLOOD OF DRACULA wasn't given the obvious and more logical title I WAS A TEENAGE VAMPIRE, particularly since Dracula never shows up (guess he was down for the count). Like the other two teen monster flicks, this one has a maladjusted adolescent turned into a killer monster by a sinister and perverted adult authority figure. Presumably AIP felt that the best way to emotinally reach the teenage audiences for which these cheap shockers were made was to provide the easiest situation for awkward teens to relate to: scheming adults who can't be trusted and kids who aren't really to blame for their bad behavior. Overall BLOOD OF DRACULA is the weakest of the lot, although Harrison is excellent in the main role and the spooky nighttime sequences are reasonably well done.  The main problems lie in the fact that the plot doesn't make any sense (you can't give much thought to the whole vampire transformation thing as it's presented here) and the fact that the ending, which is so rushed and poorly shot that you can barely tell what's supposed to be happening, is a mess.  If Cohen had taken the time to stage a more satisfying climax the film would surely be more fondly remembered today.  The most memorable thing here is the great stylized " bat girl"  makeup on Harrison when she transforms. With her exaggerated widow's peak, big jagged fangs, pointed ears, huge flared eyebrows and black circles under her eyes, she looks like the ideal older sister for Eddie Munster!  The details of her condition are illogical but visually she remains an inspired and impressively scary makeup creation, especially for a cheap quickie made as drive-in double-feature filler.  Not a classic but certainly fun enough to be worth a watch for anyone with a fondness for the 1950s.




Dir: Al Adamson

This is arguably Adamson's most coherent feature. It manages to feel like it's moving logically from A to B most of the time, without the scattershot approach and patchwork feel of his later efforts. It's still an entirely laughable production, ruined by stiff performances, choppy editing and an absence of desperately needed special effects (when vampires are turned to dust by the rays of the morning sun, the "effect" is achieved by cutting away to a reaction shot of somebody exclaiming, "Look, they're turning to dust!" and then cutting back to the vampires' dust-filled costumes). Viewers who remember John Carradine as an elegant, classy Dracula in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) may be saddened to see him here as George, the grumpy butler to one of the worst vampires in movie history, but dear old Carradine does appear to be enjoying himself in the role. The trouble starts when the blandest young man imaginable inherits a castle which, through the miracle of poor filmmaking, appears to be located in the middle of a desert and on the edge of a forest at the same time. The lad and his equally uninteresting girlfriend arrive there to find it inhabited by Count and Countess Townsend, who are in fact members of the Dracula fang-mily tree. The Count is portrayed by Egyptian actor Alex D'Arcy (of HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND), who would have made a perfect Gomez Addams but whose pathetic Dracula ranks among Howard Vernon's and Zandor Vorkov's as one of the least effective ever put on film. In addition to their loyal whip-wielding old butler, the dull Townsend/Draculas are also aided by a huge, hulking mute named Mango, whose grimy face is disfigured with cuts, scars and warts that move and change from scene to scene. The S-&-M-tinged story has young women abducted and kept chained up by their wrists in the cellar to provide the vampires with a constant blood supply. An escaped murderer (Robert Dix) on the lam makes his way to the castle too, after a lengthy plot detour in which he runs through the woods chased by sheriff's deputies who are never around when he randomly drowns a woman, shoots a hiker and smashes a guy's head in before stealing and blowing up a car. Luckily for the killer, everybody he comes across is all alone in the middle of nowhere when he stumbles onto them. An extended TV broadcast print titled simply DRACULA'S CASTLE includes an extra sequence in which Dix's character turns into a werewolf (an extra in a Don Post Wolfman mask) who spends even more time running through the woods chasing people. In the original version, however, he is simply a madman who kills just for kicks. The added werewolf angle blends in fairly well with the rest of the wacky proceedings since George and his vampire masters conveniently worship Luna, God Of The Full Moon, in the original version. In either version, you'll find some unintentional laughs but little else.





Dir: Joe Bagnardi, Bruce G. Hallenbeck, Kevin J. Lindenmuth

The title sounds like a Paul Naschy movie, but this is actually a tedious three-part anthology of aggravatingly slow-paced homemade video shorts about werewolves.  The amateur antics look like the work of a few buddies who had a little spare time and an early model camcorder. Each of the shorts has an idea worthy of serious treatment, but all three are ruined by incompetent camerawork, acting, editing, and (most unforgivably) scripting.  In the first segment, a guy travels to his old hometown to visit the girl he used to have a crush on.  The drab, simpleminded young woman lives with her horrible mean old granny, who won't let her out of the house because of some dark family secret.  If you don't know after five minutes that she's a werewolf, you must not be paying attention. After what feels like an eternity of stilted dialogue embarrassingly delivered by amateur actors, she eventually gets around to turning into one of the most pathetic movie lycanthropes ever, with a cheap face prosthetic that doesn't even match her neck and hands.  There's an okay little story to be told here, but this telling of it is hopelessly predictable and almost too anticlimactic for words.  The second vignette is about a lesbian shapeshifter who is pestered by an annoying girlfriend who keeps begging to be turned into a werewolf too, thinking it will make her immortal.  The dialogue is just as phony and boring as in the first story, the lesbian twist is unnecessary and the supposedly big revelation at the end is ruined by a poorly wrought papier-mache' monster head that doesn't even look like what it's supposed to be.  This episode does contain a good pun, though, written on the side of a box.  Unfortunately that's its high point.  The characters are such a bunch of completely unrealistic poseurs that it's impossible to care about them.  The acting in this one is slightly better than in the first and last installments, but that's not much of an endorsement.  The last episode is the dullest of all.  It's basically the old TWILIGHT ZONE episode "Eye Of The Beholder" redone with werewolves, and while you've got to admit it was a clever idea, it only has enough content to fill a three-minute sketch at max.  Stretched out to an interminable 30 minutes, it's almost unwatchable and you'll see the "surprise" ending coming within the first minute, thanks to the avalanche of clues presented with sledgehammer subtlety.  The whole project is a sad waste of effort.  A little effort, anyway.





Dir: Corbin Timbrook

The envelope, please.... And the Least Originality In A Screenplay Award goes to... BLOOD RANCH, a movie named after Dracula's favorite salad dressing!  Writer Antonio Hernandez and director Corbin Timbrook should be ashamed of themselves for churning out this blatant ripoff of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE without adding so much as a single instance of anything remotely new. Content to function as undistinguished TEXAS clone Number 743, BLOOD RANCH simply goes through the motions determined by all the other movies of this type. Another carload of attractive dope-smoking college twits gets stranded in the desert. In direct imitation of the 2003 TEXAS CHAINSAW remake, they hit a semi-catatonic female victim who escaped from the family of killers. It's kind of shocking that no trace amounts of originality even accidentally seeped into this film. The ranch has a poorly-made sign calling it "The Web" and the leader of the standard gang of inbred cannibal crazies calls himself "Spider", which should give you an idea of the level of subtlety that went into the script. Spider is played by James Fitzpatrick as an obvious imitation of Bill Mosely's "Otis" character in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, which of course was Rob Zombie's TEXAS CHAIN SAW knockoff.  The direction of individual scenes in BLOOD RANCH is competent enough and the various technical aspects are at least average, with good lighting and photography overall, but the movie has absolutely nothing to set it apart from all the other TEXAS copies that came before it. There are a few more members of the killer family than in some of the others, but most of them get bumped off before they get a chance to establish any real identities for themselves. Sticking to formula in strict fanboy devotion, there's no motivation for the killers' crazed behaivor and no rhyme or reason to anything they say or do. They're just a bunch of guys who look ridiculous, shout at each other a lot and kill teens by dismembering them with a chainsaw. The best thing about this stale cracker of a film is that all the psychos are killed off by the end, which means that, with any luck, maybe Mr. Timbrook won't bother to crank out a sequel.  The whole thing just provides further proof that, even over 30 years later, nobody is able to do it as well as Tobe Hooper did it back in '74.   




Dir: Lory-Michael Ringuette

Another carload of distinctly unpleasant, ill-tempered "friends" heads out to the woods for a weekend campout in what must be the eleven-zillionth FRIDAY THE 13TH copy.  Shot on digital video on what looks like a budget of about 35 bucks, this one is unquestionably at the bottom of the slasher barrel.  There's no actual story, only a series of knife murders committed by some nut in a gas mask. The killer is referred to as "Juebel" but we never see his face or find out who he really was. He's just a maniac who kills campers, plain and simple. There's talk about a history of forest fires in the area and the slasher supposedly only strikes during the full moon every leap year, but there's no reason for any of this nonsensical backstory.  We're told that the bodies of his previous victims were never found, but it looked to me like he was leaving corpses and trails of blood all over the place. One terrified girl somehow decides to keep walking and walking and walking further into the woods, and even into a dark cave, in a hilariously contrived scene. The Jason wannabe is bulletproof and impervious to knife wounds but decapitation seems to do the trick at the end.  He kills a crazy old woman and a park ranger (played by the director), but they appear to have been hanging around for quite some time so I don't know why he didn't whack them sooner.  In one scene the ranger stops while walking along in bright sunlight, puts on his sunglasses, and immediately walks into the shade. A guy who just happens to be carrying his guitar with him stops by the campsite to sing a ridiculous song about the killer. It must've taken someone all of five minutes to compose. Other meaningless tripe includes a prologue about a wounded man staggering out into the road one night and a couple of generic victims (including Brinke Stevens) who got knifed to death by the psycho 4 years earlier. None of this has anything to do with anything, as most of the misleadingly titled BLOOD REAPER is made up of footage of people walking or driving around. Every so often somebody gets fatally stabbed in the gut, then finally one half-dead victim lops the slasher's head off, The End.  You can sense the disdain this movie has for its audience.  Really pathetic.  



Dir: J. Christian Ingvordsen

In 1983, a U.S. Naval pilot shot down in Grenada discovers a human skull on a pole with a small carved talisman on a cord around it. For no good  reason, he removes the (not very cool looking) little thingie and puts it around his neck. After he's been rescued, the cursed necklace causes him to go nuts and kill some mechanics. Then he hides the talisman in a storage compartment at the base. He's shipped off to the funny farm for 22 years, and in all that time it never occurs to him to tell anybody about the talisman even though he knows exactly where it's hidden and his story could easily be proved.  By the time he's released, it's 2005 and the former Naval station is being converted into a military history tourist attraction. The gang of sarcastic oversexed college twits working on the renovation decide to sneak in after hours to play with a Cryptique spirit board (an unnecessary plot detour). Somebody in a flight suit and helmet starts sneaking around stabbing them to death. As the Navy man, John Christian is excellent in both his "nice" and "evil" scenes, although he doesn't look a day older in the 2005 portion of the film than he did in the 1983 segment. At one point he explains that the only way to destroy the demonic talisman is for the person wearing it to be killed while under its influence. There's no logical reason why his character would know that. He just does. The main (male) character is such an idiot that he thinks the killer is a character who has been with him throughout the last few murders. He bashes the guy's skull in before he remembers that they'd been together the whole time. Oops. There are some lapses in internal logic, but as teenkill movies go BLOOD RELIC is probably one of the better exercises in stalk-&-slash made around this time. The pacing is perfect, the characters are a little better defined than usual, and the prevailing mood is decently suspenseful.  There were even a couple of mild surprise twists that honestly managed to fool me. Second-rate scream queen Debbie Rochon comes off a little better than she usually does as the most cynical member of the group, and she even keeps her clothes on except for quickly flashing one breast. Most of the other actresses play slutty characters who take their shirts off as often as possible, appearing topless so many times in a single night that it borders on the absurd.  There are a few brief, gory makeup effects but they're strictly standard stuff. The false scares that turn out to be practical jokes won't fool anyone, but the actual murder scenes are pretty good.  It's too bad there isn't an interesting villain or any visual side to the supernatural aspect. Whoever wears the necklace simply freaks out and starts killing people, and that's about all we ever learn about it.  The closing credits ruin the scariness by showing unfunny outakes in which the actors crack up laughing. Oh well.... I guess you can't have everything, huh?




Dir: Fabrice-Ange Zaphiratos

Pretentious sexual metaphors clog up the works of this cheap, noisy supernatural slasher tale made in Wisconsin with French financing.  A strange, grouchy family's Christmas reunion at a cabin in the woods is disrupted by the presence of a ghostly Japanese samurai warrior who lurks around in full armor, accompanied by heavy breathing and heartbeat sound effects as he stalks and slashes people with his katana sword, usually in standard P-O-V tracking shots.  The family matriarch is an insufferable self-involved artist with psychic powers she acquired when she cut her hand on a Japanese sword as a child.  She senses some kind of vague evil emanating from her son's new girlfriend, who eventually puts on the armor and literally becomes the murderous Samurai. Or merges with his evil spirit. Or maybe she was partially possessed by him all along. It's hard to tell.  I assume some sort of metaphor for budding sexuality was intended, especially since sexual arousal in women seems to bring about attacks on innocent passers-by from the killer ghost (or whatever he is).  The mother's flashback to the childhood incident in which a long, thin object that caused her to bleed awakened her to new sensations also appears to be meant as a sexual reference, presumably representing the loss of one's virginity.  Unfortunately, BLOODBEAT is so atrociously edited and poorly acted that it never works. Any lofty aspirations writer-director Zaphiratos may have had are lost in the sauce of dull characters, empty dialogue and muddled narrative. When the samurai glows with a flickering blue animated luminescence and the psychic mom's hands glow with cartoon red ovals, the special effects are so bad they'd make Don Dohler wince.  The bloody stabbings are decently wrought but none of the events come together in any meaningful way and the script is a Swiss cheese of plot holes. In one ridiculous (and too long) scene, a man is assaulted in his kitchen by flying killer groceries. Energy released by sexual frustration seems to be the key here, but exactly what the samurai's connection is with anything else in the movie is unclear.  The climax, in which the unbearable mother with glowing hands psychically fights off the advances of the girl in the flickering blue armor looks ridiculous and isn't helped when the other family members, who also appear to have telekinetic abilities, come to the rescue and everyone stands around grimacing with wide-open eyes and mouths, looking like they've all just sat down on something sharp.  During this stretch, there is some dialogue that might have been intended to sort out what's supposed to be happening and why, but the poorly electronically enhanced ghost voice (he/she sounds like a robot) and the loud soundtrack (a pompous combination of unpleasant synthesizer doodlings and classical violin) make it impossible to hear much of what is being said beyond such cartoonish exclamations as "You can't destroy me! It's impossible!"   Determining exactly what point the makers of BLOODBEAT were trying to make is also impossible.  Some sources list this as a 1985 release but it's actually from '82.   




Dir: Julien Magnat

When the newly appointed Pope is kidnapped by a gang of vicious corpse-eating Ghouls, sexy monster fighter "Bloody Mallory" (the gorgeous Olivia Bonamy) comes to the rescue in this ingenious horror-action-adventure from France.  A campy, witty epic that's sometimes described as a French BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, MALLORY is actually closer in both tone and content to big-budget Hollywood films like HELLBOY and VAN HELSING with maybe a pinch of TANK GIRL thrown in.  If all that title-dropping sounds like I'm labeling BLOODY MALLORY a ripoff, I'm not. This fun movie has its own unique brand of humor, carefully drawn characters, and clever supernatural mythology that's nicely consistent and puts fresh and funny spins on well-known monster mythos without ever descending into computer-animated nonsense the way VAN HELSING did.  The Ghouls, who resemble the "crawlers" of THE DESCENT, need the Pontiff in order to carry out a diabolical ritual that will turn control of Earth over to the wicked fallen angels led by rogue demon Abbadon, who wants to wipe out all humanity. Other evil creatures include indestructible decadent vampire Lady Valentine (Valentina Vargas, the actress who played sexy Cenobite "Angelique" in HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE), a four-eyed demon dog, a shape-shifting succubus named Morphine (!), and various demented "berserkers".  Aiding the determined Mallory are a wisecracking drag queen sporting a costume equipped with hidden weapons (watch out for those platform shoes with the built-in guns and that exploding lipstick!) and a telepathic little girl who has a super-genius I.Q. and the ability to possess people and animals by simply hopping from one body into another.  One of many clever story elements has the child injured in a fight and her body slipping into a coma, requiring her to spend much of the film slipping from one convenient host body to another while waiting for her own body to physically revive.  Zooming around Europe in her customized pink hearse, the punk-look Mallory (who devoted her life to fighting evil after she found out that her new husband was actually a demon from hell) is an appealing, funny, agreeable heroine. She has a more bitter and cynical edge than the Buffy character but, like Buffy, there's also a sensitive, thoughtful human side to Mallory that keeps her from devolving into a one-dimensional action hero.  The plot contains more genuinely imaginative and unexpected twists than any half-dozen similar Hollywood features but still manages to offer the occasional scare in spite of its breakneck speed and surfeit of broad jokes.  Also working in the film's favor is stylish fight choreography and straightforward camerawork and smart direction that makes sure the audience can always see exactly what's going on (no hyper-cut blurs of random movement here).  The ending works perfectly with everything that's come before and the final bit during the closing credits is so well done and witty that I didn't even mind the fact that it was one of those obvious setups for a sequel.  Funny, scary and exciting and packed with original characters, extravagant sets and marvelous visual effects (well, all right, some of the CGI stuff at the climax probably won't win any awards), BLOODY MALLORY is a must-see affair for fans of campy comic book-style horror adventures.  It's easily one of the most accomplished movies this subgenre has to offer.




Dir: Jesus Franco

If it weren't for the crude camerawork and obsessive use of the zoom lens, you'd never know this was a Franco film.  Lacking his typical perverse style, this West German production is Franco's stab (ha ha) at making an entry in the burgeoning slasher film genre kicked off in the U.S. by HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH.  Like many '80s slasher films, it's crammed full of good-looking young women who behave like total morons and contains a few graphic gore effects. Also like many others, it borrows freely from Mario Bava's A BAY OF BLOOD.  During a party, a disfigured guy (one side of his face appears to be a giant scab, though we're never told what caused this disfigurement) puts on a Mickey Mouse mask and brutally stabs a girl to death with scissors. I think it's safe to assume the Disney Corporation was not consulted to give consent for this scene.  Five years later the scarfaced guy is released from the loony bin, which is not all that shocking when you take into account the fact that his doctor is Jesus Franco. He (the scarred guy, not Franco) travels with his sexy sister (who is also crazy) to an isolated language school (owned by their elderly aunt, who is crazy too) that teaches beautiful oversexed females how to speak Spanish.  Someone begins bumping off the shapely students in gruesome ways. Is it the guy with the giant facial scab? Is it his sister, who appears to have incestuous feelings for him?  Is it the laughing bald gardener with the I. Q. of a potato?  Or is it the young teacher in charge of the girls?  The mystery is poorly constructed, so you'll figure out who the killer is before you're supposed to.  But at least there is something going on that feels like a story being told here. People are killed by chainsaw, butcher knife, pruning shears and, most memorably, an electric buzzsaw that slices a girl's head off.  (The impressive decapitation is a quality special effect, particularly for in a Franco movie, and looks surprisingly realistic until afterwards, when the camera lingers a bit too long on the prop body with the chunk of garden hose sticking out, squirting an overdone high-pressure spray of stage blood.)  At least as shocking as the murder itself is its improbable set-up, in which a girl lets a guy she has just met tie her up inside a sawmill for some kinky fun, even though he wears a mask and never speaks. Yeah, that could happen.  An especially ugly turn of events has a little boy accidentally witness the murder, after which the killer cruelly runs him over in his Mercedes.  Even with all the bloody deaths, the sickest scene by far is one in which a real live snake has its head lopped off with shears on camera.  That was simply uncalled for, even by slasher movie standards.  Some people will find the theme music annoying, but for some reason I kind of liked it.  At one point, a man turns on a car radio and the movie's background score is heard!   This instance of toying with reality, blurring the line between the 'real' and 'reel' worlds, is one of the few indications that Franco was in charge.  He seems to have been giving it a good honest try with BLOODY MOON but one gets the feeling he was out of his element with this type of material.  It's certainly not as quirky, surreal or personal as most of his films. The English dubbing is terrible and the pacing is, to put it mildly, uneven, but fans of extreme gore movies and slasher flicks in general will probably enjoy it. 




Dir: Nick Marino

Filmed under the equally uninspired title TERROR NIGHT, this forgotten feature (which was never officially released until it came out on DVD in 2004) wastes a potentially great idea for a themed slasher movie.  Too bad the script makes no sense, the characters have no character and the film appears to have been edited with a rusty weedwhacker.  Silent movie star Lance Hayward (John Ireland) has been missing for over 20 years and his estate in the Hollywood Hills is scheduled for demolition.  On the last night before the wrecking ball is scheduled to arrive, some young airheads decide to go sneaking around the mansion just for kicks. They are killed off one by one in various gruesome ways that provide opportunities for average gore effects.  The gimmick is that the killer dresses up as characters from Hayward's old movies and bases all the murders on specific silent era death scenes.  Each killing is accompanied by matching (presumably public domain) clips from old sepia-tinted films about gangsters, pirates, knights, cowboys, and so forth.  The surprise twist is that there's absolutely NO surprise twist at all: the murderer is, as you're led to suspect from the beginning, Hayward himself, inexplicably stronger and more agile than his 20-year-old victims even though the script tells us he is over 90.  Try to imagine a man in his 90s quickly slipping into a heavy suit of medieval armor and easily overpowering a musclebound young headbanging biker dude and you have an idea of the basic problem with BLOODY MOVIE, which probably should've been called BLOODY STUPID MOVIE.  The sets look much too clean for a house that everybody assumes has been abandoned for decades and the notion that the stately home of a huge boxoffice star would be bulldozed with all his furniture, valuable movie memorabilia and everything else still inside is idiotic. In one scene, our slasher is played by a younger guy who I guess was supposed to be Hayward in a skintight flexible latex mask, although there's no reason for the deception, just as there's no reason for anything else that happens, including why the actor originally disappeared or why he's now bent on slicing and dicing everyone in sight.  At the closest thing there is to a climax, Ireland (who looks maybe 65) briefly gets distracted when one of his victims says she's a fan of his work and begins reciting dialogue (from one of his silent movies, yet), but he quickly loses interest and kills her too, abruptly spoiling one of the film's few chances to create a memorable moment.  The incomprehensible movie ends with a long pointless scene of the arthritic mass murderer strolling down the street with his dog.  After the supply of Ireland-walking-the-dog footage has been used up, the movie basically shrugs, gives up any attempt at explaining anything, and lazily lets the end credits roll.   An impressive number of aged guest stars show up long enough to mutter a few lines apiece, so you get brief appearances by Cameron Mitchell, Dan Haggerty, Aldo Ray and "the Skipper" himself, Alan Hale.  Michelle Bauer shows off her "talents" by stumbling around the sets naked for a while as usual.   The Hollywood setting and movie references are fairly interesting and fans of eighties horror might enjoy the dated soundtrack and wardrobe, but that's about it as far as entertainment value.   



Dir: Miguel Morayta

One of several feature films made by editing down Mexican horror serials, poorly dubbed into English and released in the U.S. by the legendary K. Gordon Murray.  This one is typical of the lot, offering some nice shadowy cinematography and a senseless plot that tries to emulate the classic Universal Studios horrors of the 1930s and '40s.  There's a lot to be admired here from a visual standpoint, but the ridiculous English language dubbing ruins any chance for real scares. You wouldn't normally associate the name Cagliostro with heroism, but the Van Helsing substitute in this meager tale is the long-winded Count Cagliostro, who takes forever to explain such useless plot details as how the evil Dracula clone, Count Seigfried Von Frankenhausen, can be temporarily laid low by driving a stake into his heart but can only be permanently destroyed by a specific type of acid that can only be distilled from a certain rare flower.  He explains this to his daughter and her straight-laced vampirology student boyfriend, but none of it ever enters into the story in any useful way. The vampire (who is known as Count Frankenhausen even though he introduces himself as Von Frankenhausen, probably because someone didn't know that "Von" would be considered a part of a family's surname rather than a middle name) lives in the same beautiful, spacious castle set that would be home to THE BRAINIAC a year later.  He can turn into a big silly plush bat, keeps a cellar full of zombiefied women in cratelike coffins (they never do anything), and has the power to hypnotize people by staring into their eyes, at which times his pupils light up and a sound effect like at the beginning of the old song The Martian Hop is heard. Cagliostro's daughter poses as a maid to infiltrate the vampire's household,  but when Frankenhausen gives her the evil eye treatment it doesn't seem to have any effect on her.  She faces worse danger from the mean old lady who tends to the vampire. Much of the plot is frustrating. He's supposed to be an expert on the undead, but stuffy do-nothing hero Caglisotro is such a dope that, even when presented with evidence that most would consider overwhelming, he still isn't certain that Frankenhausen is the vampire he's been looking for. The evil Count's wife is a sickly human woman who knows what he is, hates him and keeps a wooden stake by her bed in case she ever works up the courage to shish kebab him.  In a turn of events that flies in suddenly from left field,  Frankenhausen decides he's in love with the young new housemaid, which leads to a very incomplete and unsatisfying anticlimax in which the two Counts never even come face-to-fangs and the big plush bat flies merrily away, laughing loudly as he flaps off toward the semi-sequel WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES. The best sequence features a ghostly black carriage (driven by Death himself) eerily trundling over the countryside in slow-moition and making no sound that can be heard by mortal ears. THE BLOODY VAMPIRE would undoubtedly be better remembered if more emphasis had been given to the near-poetic visuals, but since it's terribly talky most of the time and the English language dialogue is excrutiatingly clumsy and stilted, it's hard to care about the dimwitted pseudo-heroes and their lack of adventures.



Dir: Carlos Aured

This dismal movie is my favorite example of foreign films getting new dumbed-down exploitation titles for U.S. release. This was known in America as HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN and promoted with artwork showing a chained up man being attacked by women wielding various weapons, including a blowtorch, even though nothing remotely similar to that is in the movie. It's really a mediocre Spanish stab at making an Italian style giallo film, written by and starring Paul Naschy. Like some other collaborations between Naschy (Jacinto Molina) and director Carlos Aured (HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB comes to mind), this is crippled by a failure to ever decide who the main character is. Once again, women who have physical defects are shown to be dangerous and unstable. Naschy is a hitchhiking ex-con who is offered a job as caretaker at the mansion of three pretty but crazy sisters with unique problems. One has an unrealistic metal hand that looks like a glove from a suit of medieval armor. Another is confined to a wheelchair and the third one is, uhh, just a total slut. For a while this plays out like some silly male fantasy with the women watching their muscular new handyman at work, seducing him and growing jealous of each other. All of the women are attractive (of course) and when they hire a live-in nurse, she's a beauty too. Then somebody in the neighborhood starts murdering blue-eyed young women and cutting the corpses' eyes out. Naschy, who may have strangled his wife, is the prime suspect. If you can stay awake to the end you'll see some really sick revelations about the murderer's true identity and motive. The killer has been forced to carry out the murders by a surprise villain who we're told uses a combination of hypnotism, drugs and... telepathy (?!). It's a shame this whole movie is ruined by the horrendous soundtrack. Try not to laugh when many scenes of people sneaking around dark places and being graphically murdered are scored with the same light, perky jazz tune. The ridiculously cheerful music even continues when a man is brutally gunned down by the cops and dies a prolonged slow-motion death. The violence is very explicit, including a graphic and gory throat slitting.  But that sappy, snappy music keeps popping up and wrecking any potential ability to scare or disturb. The plot, when there finally is one, is fairly original and suitably twisted, but most of the time this meandering women-in-peril tale is just boring. 



 BOO (2005)

Dir: Anthony C. Ferrante

This visually stylish but thematically empty horror salad was shot in 2001 but went unreleased for four years. The title might suggest something  whimsical and family-friendly, but don't be fooled...this gory movie is definitely not kid stuff.  A gang of tiresome teenage stereotypes, including the gorgeous blonde who's a wet blanket and the jock who is such an insufferable hot-headed jerk that he would have NO friends in the real world, sneak into the local closed-down haunted hospital on Halloween night. As per usual for cheap movies, the power is still on at the long-closed facility.  Attempts at character development fall by the wayside as the movie tries to paper over the holes in its nonsensical storyline with repeated looks at shadowy figures standing in the distance, flickering lights, slamming doors, and various piles and puddles of nondescript bloody goop. There are also zombielike ghosts present who mostly just stand around staring at people but sometimes zip across a room in fast motion like the ghosts in STIR OF ECHOES and THE RING.  The trouble all started way-back-when because of a homicidal mental patient who was obviously completely hateful and psychotic but who was nevertheless given easy access to the materials needed to start a fire that quickly engulfed the building, an establishment at which security was clearly not a top priority.  In the present, Jacob the all-purpose crazy evil guy now wants to possess a warm body to escape the confines of the dreary old building.  This leads to lots of screaming, running around, shooting and generally irrational behavior. BOO isn't even among the worst of its kind, since the relatively frequent bursts of horrific imagery and startling cheap shocks work fairly well and the lighting and photography are well above average.  The problems lie with the script, which never bothers to clarify the nature of how its horrors work and, worse, requires nearly all the characters to behave so stupidly and illogically that the experience is ultimately more frustrating than frightening.  The vapid proceedings are briefly enlivened by cameo appearances by Dee Wallace Stone as a ghostly nurse.


 BOOGEYMAN 2 (2007)

Dir: Jeff Betancourt

Just what the world needed: another movie called BOOGEYMAN 2!  Unlike Ulli Lommel's 1983 stock footage copout by the same title, which was a sequel to his 1980 haunted mirror hit THE BOOGEYMAN, this BOOGEYMAN 2 is a followup to the 2005 flop about a young man tormented by the shadowy ghoul of the title.  Despite a reference to the fate of the main character from the previous film, this unsteady feature doesn't function as a satisfying sequel since it eschews the supernatural element and makes Mr. Boogey the product of its traumatized characters' disordered imaginations.  If you try hard enough and stretch the material almost to the breaking point, you might be able to convince yourself that the Boogeyman really exists as a character in this shaky tale, but in truth the story as presented never gives any indication that there's any such thing as a Boogeyman anywhere outside the minds of persons who are, shall we say, psychologically interesting.  The untidy scipt is about a brother and sister, now young adults, who as children saw their parents brutally murdered, a childhood tragedy that scarred them both with an unreasoning fear that the Boogeyman was forever lurking in every dark room and corner waiting to strike.  The brother announces that he's been cured of his phobia by a hard-nosed psychiatrist (Tobin Bell of SAW fame, who's probably the last guy most people would want as their psychiatrist) who runs a private clinic for patients with irrational fears.  Since the sister is still tormented by Boogey-phobia to the point of being barely able to function on her own, she checks herself into Bell's facility for treatment after her brother leaves her (or as she sees it, deserts her) for a promising job offer in another city.  The clinic turns out to be one of those places that only exist in horror movies, colorless and eerily underlit for no reason and populated with unpleasant, unfriendly neurotics with crippling phobias and even more crippling social skills.  They start to get bumped off in ways that tie in with their personal fears, and the film threatens to turn into a semi-remake of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS, which was also set at a mental hospital for troubled teens getting slaughtered in unique personally-themed manners.  The story teaches a pretty good morality lesson about the risks of forcing people into confrontations they're not emotionally ready for.  But it never really rises above its status as one more disposable slasher movie despite decent acting and technical aspects.  The only time BOOGEYMAN 2 loses control of its plot and opts to cheat is when a mutilated victim is found duct-taped to a bed and drenched in blood.  By the time the hysterical character who discovered the bloody mess gets the other characters back to the gory scene, the mess is (predictably) gone without a trace.  Of course there's no way an ordinary mortal, no matter how disturbed, could possibly do that good a cleanup job and dispose of that much evidence in about three minutes time.  You might also wonder what the equipment for performing open-heart surgery is doing in a psychiatric hospital.  But in the world of slasher movies, it never pays to ask too many questions or think about the plot as it pertains to reality.  This one has perfectly decent performances and is peppered with some strong dialogue, fairly interesting psychology and genuinely good ideas, and if you've sat through your share of slasher movies it certainly isn't one of the worst you've seen, but it's too convoluted for its own good and is saddled with the kind of eye-rolling groaner of an ending that won't win it many fans.  


Dir: Wallace Fox

This creaky but creepy Bela Lugosi cheapie is probably one of the oddest movies of the 1940s. It's full of unpleasant characters, senseless deaths and strange plot devices which give one the impression that screenwriter Gerald Schnitzer was under the influence of powerful mind-altering drugs when he conceived what may charitably be termed the story.  Lugosi stars as the kindly proprietor of a soup kitchen, but in his secret headquarters behind a hidden door he's a ruthless crime boss who manipulates the local (very stupid) thugs and derelicts into committing crimes for him and then killing each other. He's also a prominent psychology professor and author in the same city, but despite his distinctive looks and thick accent, nobody knows it's the same guy!  Although Bela leaves the dead body of one of his accomplices at each crime scene, he causes so many deaths that he still has enough corpses on hand to fill up his own private cemetery in his basement.  He even marks the makeshift graves with homemade tombstones bearing the victims' names (neatness counts). At first he seems sincerely devoted to his innocent, unsuspecting wife, but then he's shown to be ready to kill her in a heartbeat. One of his henchmen is a pathetic mad scientist. The neurotic, drug-addicted doc has the (totally unexplained) ability to revive the dead, but this is treated as a very minor subplot. He keeps the living dead men in a secret pit beneath the basement (??) and calls them "my pets".  One character is shot to death, tossed into the pit, helps the other victims tear Lugosi to pieces at the climax, and then is shown to be none the worse for wear and proceeding with his wedding plans afterward!  The mad doctor is still alive at the end, and nobody ever seems particularly impressed or surprised by (or even comments on) his incredible discovery.  I mean, this guy casually brings victims of fatal gunshot wounds back to life.... You'd think he'd be a pretty famous and highly regarded chap in the medical community instead of a junkie who has to hide in a musty cellar and count on a heartless criminal for drugs and money.  Lugosi is good in the demanding three-part role, which was probably inspired by his similar dual identity in 1940's THE HUMAN MONSTER, but this movie is so implausible that it frequently becomes downright surreal.  Make that downright NUTS.



Dir: Joy N. Houck Jr.

A sincere attempt at an anti-government, anti-surveillance paranoia movie is ruined by a muddled script and incompetent editing.  Four civilian volunteers-- a twitchy preacher (THE DUKES OF HAZZARD's James Best), a moronic young Southern woman, an angry war vet and a quiet intellectual (MAJOR DAD's Gerald McRaney, also the star of NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR)-- agree to participate in a convoluted psychological experiment.  They are placed in an ugly room with walls that will slowly close in on them to simulate the effect of overpopulation without actually adding more people.  There are video cameras (which keep malfunctioning) everywhere and everything is being monitored by well-meaning scientists who don't know that their project has been infiltrated by sinister government agents sent by a corrput senator. Much of the movie consists of various characters watching various monitors and commenting on the various malfunctions.  Three of the four test subjects have dark secrets including adultery, murder and suicide in their pasts, which makes it seem unlikely that any of them would volunteer for an experiment that involves mind-reading.  They are repeatedly told how important it is that they tell only the truth, but when the veteran is caught lying on his registration form the lax scientists let him take part anyway. The subjects have to sleep on truly terrible prop beds that are supposed to be high-tech medical/emotional monitoring devices but look like cheap lawn chairs with a couple of hunks of pipe bolted on.  Of course the experiment goes horribly wrong and the project ends in violence, death and lots of embarrassing ranting.  There are some interesting ideas here and a clear point of view, but THE BRAIN MACHINE does such a miserable job of telling its story that it's more frustrating than entertaining.  The director must have loved establishing shots, since we see the same two shots of one of two buildings about every three minutes.  Much time is devoted to a swimming pool that, as far as I could tell, had nothing to do with anything else in the film.  Mismatched film stock results in distracting color shifts in the middle of many scenes and you can see the boom mic hanging down in the lab.  An effort is made to show how people lose their grip on sanity when faced with stressful conditions, but a major problem is that these characters all seem half bonkers to begin with, so making them crack doesn't appear to be much of a challenge.  You'd think the fact that the demented preacher says "women" when he is shown images of skulls and cemeteries in a psychiatric testing session would have tipped these geniuses off that the guy had issues.  The dialogue is just awful and includes insults like "You scientific bitch!".   The minister says something suggesting he doesn't really believe in God at all, but when questioned about it he keeps saying, "No, I'm talking about a personal God,"  a peculiar sentiment which is never explained.  A watchman is electrocuted when he touches a cable on the wall, a scientist who tries to make the "brain machine" files public is ruthlessly gunned down, and the abrupt, cynical ending sees the machine being delivered to Anytown USA so the feds can start listening in on everyone's thoughts.  The concept may be prophetic, but the filmmaking is just pathetic.  The homely feature was also released as GREY MATTER, THE E-BOX and even MIND WARP, a title shared by at least two other films.    




Dir: Mike Nichols

Insufferably stupid slasher cheapie with no internal logic, no surprises and nothing that comes near to resembling a point. Some utter morons head off into the woods to shoot a porno film (which one assumes would have turned out a lot better than BREADCRUMBS). They are eventually killed off for no reason by an evil girl and her mentally deficient brother who sports an embarrassing makeup job that may have been inspired by the hitchhiker character from the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. The script's aggravating aura of general ignorance doesn't end with its use of mental retardation as an unquestioned trigger for homicidal behavior. The idiot siblings (who, it should be noted, don't appear any less intelligent than their brainless prey) both look like full-grown post-pubescent teens although the script requires the actors to continually call them "children" and talk about them as if they were eight years old. There's also a middle-aged man chopping firewood nearby, but whether he is good, bad or indifferent is never bothered with. The "heroes" argue for what seems like hours over whether or not the so-called children are guilty of any wrongdoing long after anyone with any sensory apparatus could tell they're obviously diabolical psychos. You have to feel sorry for the actors in a mess like this. They are called upon almost without exception to behave in the most irrational, illogical ways, never offering a believable reaction to anything or saying anything that makes them seem like human beings who would be capable of tying their own shoes, much less producing their own movies. Viewers will know which character is being overtly groomed to join the crazy killer kids in the woods long before the non-surprise ending finally staggers to the screen. The too-old-for-the-part slashers get a few throwaway lines about eating candy, playing games and needing a mommy, all of which are too cliche' to make them seem like sentient characters. The movie fumbles with the notion of establishing itself as a modern-day parallel to the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel but it isn't a theme that is carried through with conviction and it isn't handled with enough artistry to amount to something clever or memorable. Even the cheesiest slasher movies of the 1980s is more entertaining than this fiasco.







Dir: Curt Siodmak

No classic, but surely not the dreadful endurance test some critics have made it out to be. The story isn't exactly the height of realism, but WOLF MAN creator Curt Siodmak's thoughtful script sounds sincere and natural enough to distract you from the plot's absurdities. At an island rubber plantation (I was never sure where the island was supposed to be), foreman Raymond Burr (TV's original PERRY MASON) kills his boss so he can marry the man's attention-starved pretty wife. Actually he doesn't so much kill him as he does stand idly by and fail to help when the boss is attacked by a convenient poisonous snake. An old hooded witch whose name sounds like "Al Long" when people say it sees what happens and plots to avenge the plantation owner by making Burr think he's turning into a gorilla, thus driving him bananas. She repeatedly spikes his drinks with something evil she makes out of a magic plant, and soon Burr sees his hands turning dark and hairy and acquires a compulsion to run around in the jungle after dark.  A lot of this is similar to Siodmak's script for THE WOLF MAN, which also concerned an anguished protagonist who fears he's transforming into a wild beast. In this movie, however, we never really learn for certain whether the transformations are really happening or if it's all just in the character's guilt-troubled mind. A scene in which Burr looks into a mirror and sees a gorilla staring back at him would seem to indicate that he's simply hallucinating, but a few shots of the gorilla running between the trees of the backlot jungle make it uncertain. The gorilla (or whatever it is) kills a few local workers because this was 1951 and much of the general public still imagined that real-life gorillas would run around throttling people for no reason. WOLF MAN star Lon Chaney Jr. plays the local police chief, a well-intentioned man whose beliefs seem to vacillate between logic and superstition throughout the story. He's a sympathetic character but unfortunately he's got a bit of an itchy trigger finger, causing him to gun down both Burr and his new bride at the end. Or at least I think that's what happened. Choppy editing and a lack of expository dialogue make it hard to tell. It's not one of Siodmak's best, but good acting and (mostly) sensible dialogue keep BRIDE OF THE GORILLA from ever coming off as ridiculously as it could have in other hands.  Burr's next contribution to monster movie history would be his appearance as the reporter hero in the American footage added to the original 1954 GODZILLA.



Dir: Bernard McEveety

A lot of devil cult movies are laughable, but here's one that's deadly serious.  In addition to superb camerawork and a chilling nightmarish quality, it benefits from a great cast giving perfect performances in a very natural style that goes believably from relaxed to hysterical exactly as needed.  A young couple (unmarried, significantly) travel with the man's 9-year-old daughter into a small desert town that's under some kind of unexplainable attack by otherworldly forces.  For the past few days, children have been disappearing, their parents murdered in the strangest of ways, and nobody is able to leave town or even use the phone lines to call beyond the city limits.  Harried sheriff L.Q. Jones and his simple deputy Alvy Moore (Hank Kimball on GREEN ACRES) have their hands full, to put it mildly.  In some dreamlike scenes, toys come malignantly to life to commit horrible murders, an idea that was later used, though far less effectively, in XTRO.  As presented here, the concept is creepy and disturbing and you won't be laughing.  The multi-layered story, which is full of interesting ideas and clever recurring visual motifs, is ultimately about an unspeakably wicked plot by a satanic cult who need the bodies of children to replace their own aging carcasses.  With slimy fanatical doctor Strother Martin as their leader, this circle of evildoers appear more sinister, more malevolent and a lot more dangerous than the cult in ROSEMARY'S BABY, a film that might have been an influence.  Many scenes have the haunting feel of one of the scarier TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, and a palpable sense of panic that gradually turns to total despair can be felt throughout.  The only real misstep comes when the locals figure out (approximately) what's going on and, realizing there are only four kids left in town that the cult might be after, decide to patrol the dark streets randomly instead of thinking of rounding those specific high-risk kids up and taking them all to one place where they could be protected.  A scene in which a major character's mind snaps from witnessing a bizarre, seemingly impossible murder is a real surprise and adds to the building mood of unstoppable horror.  A horrifying climax and a downbeat finale really make the dark themes of THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN resonate in the mind of the viewer.  It's easily one of the best witchcraft/devil thrillers of the '70s and frankly, I'm mystified that it isn't better known. Talk about a "cult" film!



Dir: Roger Corman

Described by producer-director Corman as "a sick joke", this entertaining quickie has become a cult favorite. The delightful Dick Miller was in many other movies (including several more for Corman) but this was his only real starring role. He's so perfect in every way and gives such a superb performance that I don't know why he didn't achieve real stardom after this. Miller is Walter Paisley, slow witted and inarticulate busboy at The Yellow Door coffee house.  He longs to be as popular as the pompous beatnik poets and artists that hang out there but could never spout the stream-of-consciousness "poetry" that so impresses the hip cat crowd. The satire of artsy, pretentious poetry is brilliantly handled, led by the wonderfully egotistical Maxwell, a bearded blowhard who rambles on through one self-indulgent monologue after another, always impressing his sycophantic clueless followers, who all have themselves convinced that his empty poems are loaded with deep meaning and that they "get it". After Walter accidentally kills a cat, he covers its body in clay and tries to pass it off as a sculpture to avoid admitting that he caused its death. ("The Dead Cat", Walter cleverly names his "statue".)  The art crowd is impressed with Walter's previously unknown "talent" and hails him as a brilliant sculptor. Of course everyone demands to see more of his work, and soon Walter resorts to killing people and covering them with clay (like Vincent Price did with wax in HOUSE OF WAX).  His first human victim is a narcotics officer (a young Bert Convy) who he kills semi-accidentally in a moment of panic, whacking him with a frying pan like in 1982's EATING RAOUL. Walter enjoys his newfound popularity for a while, adopting a funny new wardrobe and smug attitude overnight. Charles B. Griffith's script is full of puns and clever remarks, as when Walter tells a stuck-up shapely model he wants to "make a statue of her", meaning it quite literally. Miller carries the cheap and rushed production, giving his hapless character all the right amounts of pathos, comedy and mental disturbance at all the right times.  The ending, however, is badly botched. The script (and the plot) clearly calls for Walter to be found dead and covered in his own clay, having turned himself into his own final "masterpiece".  Evidently Corman couldn't think of a way to show a person actually managing to cover his own body with clay, and had neither the time nor budget to make a clay-dipped Miller dummy, so poor Walter simply hangs himself instead.   It's the worst fumble in the film but it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of either the biting satire of the art world or the pure fun of watching Miller go creatively insane.  The film was remade in 1995 as THE DEATH ARTIST.


 BUNKER, THE (2001)

Dir: Rob Green

Dark, claustrophobic sets and effectively creepy atmosphere distinguish this grim melodrama about guilt and its psychological consequences.  Near the end of World War II, a group of German soldiers makes its way to an isolated (but near-impenetrable) bunker where hundreds of corpses of plague victims were clandestinely sealed away in the tunnels below the structure some years back. Trapped inside the dirty, confined, cramped spaces, the men's conflicting attitudes lead to disagreements and bickering that cause them to gradually fall apart emotionally.  They are warned by a superstitious old codger about the terrors in the underground corridors, but of course they end up going down there anyway, leading to their untimely demises.  The movie is never clear on whether the shadowy ghosts in the tunnels are real or imagined, but the gloomy  cinematography perfectly captures a feeling of mounting tension and dread that makes THE BUNKER a good bet for fans of psychological chillers. Flashbacks to brutal executions have a bright, overexposed, sunlit yellow look that makes them seem all the more appalling while also allowing them to contrast sharply with the dismal steely-colored look of the bulk of the movie. The biggest flaw is that the Germans are played by British actors who speak in a very British way, using tellingly English expressions like calling Americans "Yanks", saying "torch" for "flashlight" and interjecting "bloody" into their dialogue when they're upset. I wish they had shot the movie in German and provided English subtitles, or at least hired a cast who could do realistic German accents. I know it shouldn't matter what language the actors are speaking as long as they're good in their roles (and they are), but I couldn't help but find it distracting to have to keep reminding myself that these very British Brits were supposed to be Germans. At the very beginning of the film I was thinking, "Wait a second, why are the English wearing German uniforms, and why are they hiding from Americans?" before I caught on that they were supposed to be Germans. A war story told from the point of view of men who were simply misguided but faithful German soldiers instead of the usual goose-stepping Nazi caricatures is an intriguing concept, but the fact that there's nothing the least bit Germanic about any of them will be for many viewers a constant distraction. And while I'm certainly no expert on WWII memorabilia, some details of the German uniforms looked somehow wrong to me. (I admit that on this point I am not qualified to judge for historical accuracy. It would require an expert on Nazi party military paraphernalia to attest to the authenticity of the various insignias and weapons seen in the film.)  The ending is a bit of a letdown, but on the whole THE BUNKER is chilling, moody, consistently interesting stuff that ought to be worth a rental for horror fans.  



Dir: Byeong-ki Ahn

A scary, engrossing Korean horror fable that borrows heavily from THE RING but still emerges as intelligent and unpredictable enough to be worthwhile. This movie is as much about the horrors of forced conformity and the loneliness and isolation that comes from thoughtless people's rejection of strangers as it is about the supernatural.  A group of unpopular teen girls who can't take the constant hazing and bullying they get from the school's clique of "cool" tough girls any longer call upon evil spirits for revenge.  Soon, the mean girls begin to commit suicide by wrapping their heads in plastic bags covered in lighter fluid and setting themselves on fire.  Overcome with guilt, the girls who called upon the powers of darkness try to call off the curse, but one poor gal who broke an important rule during their black magic ritual is now left open to possession by the vengeful spirit of a "different" local girl who died 30 years earlier and placed a curse on the whole village and its corrupt, selfish citizens. Camerawork and production values are above average and BUNSHINSABA even tells an actual story as its mysterious events build to a tragic climax.  If you liked the RING movies, here's something in a similar vein but with enough new concepts and effective nightmarish visual tricks to achieve a distinct feel of its own.  Recommended.