Sunday, October 29, 2006

October Horror reviews- International Edition

MURDER ROCK (1984) - Later period Lucio Fulci giallo. Someone is killing off the best dancers in a class from which the top students will be offered prestigious jobs. A wily police detective suspects someone in the school but can’t pin the murders on anyone- not even the people with the most to gain. This one has always had a bad reputation because of the terrible 80s music that permeates the story. It’s true the Flashdance style tunes are abysmal and unintentionally funny but they don’t make the film any less solid as a good thrill tale. The murders are fascinating and the amount of nudity on display is ……plentiful. Handled like a throwback to the 70s heyday of the great Gialli the killer is inventive and lucky with an identity always hovering just out of sight until the end. Well done if not brilliant and a welcome return to form for Fulci at a time he was being regularly attacked. The man could really make exciting cinema. (3 stars)

WILD ZERO (2000)- When is a film not very good but a whole lot of fun? When it’s this one, baby! Best described as ‘Japanese Rock ‘n’ Roll band VS. A Bunch of Zombies’ there isn’t a logical moment to be found anywhere in its 90 minute running time- and that’s just fine. Completely insane from beginning to end it must be seen to be believed. Flying saucers swarm about the Earth somehow causing the dead to rise and eat the living. It’s up to Guitar Wolf and a few friends to battle these evil things and play loud rock ‘n’ roll at the same time. It’s as if someone had too much money for a music video shoot and just went berserk. The Farm Film Report guys would have loved this movie! (2 &1/2 stars)

A HOUSE OF MAD SOULS (2004)- A ghost story from Thailand that I can’t really tell you too much about. The subtitles on the DVD I watched were awful and didn’t even bother to start until after the opening credits leaving some apparently important info a complete mystery. Over long even at 82 minutes this one might have been good trimmed of about 20 minutes and subtitled by someone with a working knowledge of English- but who knows. Beautiful lead actress but what the hell was going on there at the end? Damned frustrating! (1 star)

BEAST OF BLOOD (1970)- Now that the Blood Island films have been issued on DVD in spectacular special editions the petitions can stop and other, lesser films can be pressed onto digital disc. Yes- the Holy Grail of all film history is now available and the weeping can subside. All Hail the Blood Island series- the greatest film accomplishment of all---Ok, OK! I’m bullshitting! The Blood Island films are all pretty bad but most have fantastic elements and some are even great guilty pleasures. I’m slowly working my way through them and this one is pretty damned fun. John Ashley’s doctor character returns to the island for a poorly scripted jungle romp with that maddest of mad scientists Dr. Lorca. Insanity ensues with plenty of naked breasts and green blood everywhere. If you’ve seen one of these you know what to expect and this one doesn’t disappoint- if you know what I mean. (2 stars)

Monday, October 23, 2006

October Horror Reviews

VISITING HOURS (1982)- Lee Grant plays a television talk show host and commentator who stands up for people she thinks have been wronged. Her latest crusade focuses on a battered wife convicted of an attempted murder of her husband. This stance so angers the nearly silent character played by Michael Ironside that he breaks into her house, kills her housekeeper and tries very hard to filet Miss Grant. It seems he hates women because of his strict upraising but since he seems to hate blacks, Mexicans and anyone who isn’t staring back at him from the mirror its hard to figure out his fixation on this poor lady. At least he’s an equal opportunity hater. Anyway, Grant spends the bulk of the movie in the hospital as Ironside continues to try to kill her. I have to be honest and admit the reason I rented this is because William Shatner plays Grant’s boss so I was hoping for a bit of Shatnerama. Didn’t get any of that- in fact the Shat Man is quite good throughout, But it was nice to see his toupee glisten in the stage lights. The film itself isn’t bad but it isn’t very good either. It’s a competently made, middle of the road film. Nothing special. (2 stars)

DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE (1980)- A mad killer is stalking and strangling women in Los Angeles. Ho hum. Not a bad little film and it has some nice touches but on the whole it’s only OK. We follow both the killer and the cops as they attempt to catch him as his spree goes more out of control. There are some good performances and the script is well laid out but there is also no real spark. A few important scenes are flatly directed and most of the humor falls flat. I can’t quite see what there is here that has garnered the film such a cult following. Nice DVD though. (2 stars)

DANCE OF THE DEAD (2005) - Tobe Hooper’s Masters of Horror episode. In a post-apocalyptic world Robert England runs a hip nightclub where he stages a horrible show. Victims of a plague-like disease are injected with drugs and human blood causing them to twitch around in a parody of dance. A young girl on her first night out in the dangerous side of town recognizes one of the hideous dancers and……ya know. That’s enough plot summary. This MOH episode was bad. That it was based on a Richard Matheson story makes me sad and all I can do is recommend you avoid it. Mr. Hooper hasn’t really hit the mark in a film in over a decade and although I continue to hold out hope for his return to form I think that with this short work I may have to finally give up. (Of course, THE MANGLER was reason enough!) Not that it’s terrible exactly- just pointless. As an exercise in nihilism DANCE OF THE DEAD could be called effective but as entertainment it’s a flat line. And even the 1 hour running time was over-long. 20 minutes could have been chopped out without much effort. (1 star)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

October Horror Reviews

SERIAL KILLING 101 (2003)- I checked this out because Tom Weaver (yes that Tom Weaver!) recommended it in his Fangoria column. In an attempt to impress a cute classmate (singer Lisa Loeb who’s too old for the part), high school senior Casey tells his guidance counselor that he wants to become a serial killer. He gets the girl’s attention but even with her help he’s less than successful at becoming a killer. The pair runs through a checklist of serial killer traits, none of which describe Casey, but they forge ahead anyway to often amusing results. Meanwhile the local murders of teenage girls might be the work of a real serial killer and Casey’s choice of future vocation marks him as a suspect. He starts putting his newfound knowledge to use to find the killer but does he want him as a mentor or to stop him? Although the film is never as funny as it could be it’s still pretty damned good. The film has a great cast giving it their all and one corker of an ending. Recommended. (3 stars)

THE EYE (2002)-- Hong Kong scare film in Cantonese with English subtitles. A woman blind since the age of 2 is given a cornea transplant that restores her sight. It also seems to give her the ability to see ghosts! The film is quite good and packs an emotional punch even though I feel it gets a bit unfocused at times. Also, there are leaps of story logic that I might understand if I were more in tune with the culture. As it stands I wanted more info on a couple of topics but the strength of the story won me over completely. Directed by Hong Kong filmmakers the Pang brothers who will be making their American horror debut soon with THE MESSANGERS. Good stuff for adventurous viewers. (3 stars)

BONEDADDY (1998)-- Rutger Hauer is a retired Chicago medical examiner turned crime novelist. His newest book is a fictionalization of his most famous unsolved case involving a serial killer that taunted the police by sending them the bones of victims. Publication of the book brings the killer back out to play but everyone but Hauer thinks it must be a copy cat. Femurs start showing up and the finger bone of suspicion points to someone new every ten minutes but as the suspects narrow it looks like it might be someone very close. Hauer is very good playing the world weary egomaniac who is respected but disliked by everyone he knows. This is a better than average Canadian made thriller with a pretty good script. Nothing earth shattering but I like watching Rutger in a lead role. He’s a natural. (2 & 1/2 stars)

BODY PARTS (1991)-- I had wanted to see this movie for years and its out on DVD now so I finally scratched the itch. Too bad. The movie starts well with Jeff Fahey losing an arm in a car accident and getting a replacement from a convicted criminal. The film has brief moments when it’s OK but it consistently veers into crap territory and become so completely unbelievable that I was rolling my eyes for the last 20 minutes. It has a few interesting ideas floating around but the game cast including Brad Doriff and Kim Delaney can’t save it. It’s a shame since the core question of where in the human body ‘evil’ resides is worthy of a good horror film. This just ain’t it! (1 star)

AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982)- Has there ever been a good Amityville film? This one is a prequel telling the supposedly true story of the family that was murdered in the house. Kind of entertaining in a laugh-at-it kind of way. The family would have had to be idiots to not notice the supernatural things happening 5 freakin’ minutes after they walk through the door! Invisible grasping hands, floating furniture and free flowing blood from the walls are only a few of the tell-tale signs of EVIL that these folks ignore to their detriment. Actually the film seems more of a take off on THE EXORCIST than anything else although they do spice it up with incest and an abusive father. Entertaining for many wrong reasons this one also has the great scene of a lawyer trying to defend his client with a plea of Demonic Possession! Love it! (2 stars)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Where are the Amicus movies?

Each October I watch as many horror films as possible within those wonderful 31 days. Not that I ONLY watch horror films during the month of All Hallows Eve but I go out of my way to see a lot of them while carving pumpkins and dressing up as a ghoul for costume parties. The other night I watched my DVD-R of TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and got into a discussion with friends about those great old Amicus anthology horror pictures. Very few of them are available on DVD and that seems a crime. This is the perfect season to enjoy those movies with their multiple stories, dry sense of humor and twist-in-the-tail endings. I have the British release of DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965) but I think the only ones out on this side of the pond are ASYLUM (1973) and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970). There’s a real market out there for these babies and I can think of quite a few that some enterprising company should consider for next October. There’s the already mentioned TALES FROM THE CRYPT; VAULT OF HORROR (1973); FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1973); TORTURE GARDEN(1967); and TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973). Hell! I've never seen TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS!

Of course, I realize that one thing that might be standing in the way is the tangled rights and ownership mess with EC Comics from which many of the stories from these films originated. But surely there’s enough money to be made to get things moving. Please!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

October Horror Reviews- 21st Century scares

SEED OF CHUCKY (2004)- I have a checkered history with the Chucky series of films. I liked the original quite a bit but had never bothered with the sequels until a few years ago brought BRIDE OF CHUCKY. Directed by Ronnie Yu (famous for THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR) I loved it- a delight with tongue firmly in cheek and plenty of wit. I was worried that a sequel to that film might falter but to my surprise this one is just as much fun. Residing more in the horror/comedy area than in just horror this shows a love and affection for the genre while making jokes for anyone with a sense of film history. Chucky and his bride Tiffany have birthed a son that doesn’t really have that killer instinct so prized by his parents. Also unsure as to his gender poor Glen (or Glenda) tries to fit in but complications ensue. Jennifer Tilly is great and John Waters has a very funny small role as a paparazzi. (3 stars)

THE BOOGEYMAN (2005)- Boy, was I surprised by this one. I had heard that this film was nothing too great with most reviews agreeing that it wasn’t anything more than OK. While I don’t think its fantastic this little gem is more than just OK and in some ways is actually damned good. A young man is haunted by an incident in his childhood. On a stormy night his father was pulled into a closet and taken away by The Boogey Man- the same ghoul his dad told him scary stories about. Even though years of therapy have helped him accept the idea that his dad just left his mom that night and was never heard from again the poor guy still fears the night and closed doors. When his mom passes away over the Thanksgiving weekend he goes back home to confront the house, his memories and possibly the Boogey Man. Smarter than I expected and gorgeously filmed this is a short little scare film with a gentle creepiness that really works. They aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel here- just make one heck of a nice autumn supernatural tale. Recommended. (3 stars)

MIMIC 3: SENTINEL (2003)-- Not bad and a definite step up from MIMIC 2. The movie is simply REAR WINDOW with giant bugs and it’s done pretty well. It succeeds by remaining a small story told with a minimum of fuss and keeping the running time to a brief 75 minutes. Good acting from a strong cast that includes Lance Henrickson and Amanda Plummer. Stay away from the commentary track on the DVD, as it will make you want to smack the director for being poorly prepared to discuss the film. (2 & 1/2 stars)

HIGHWAYMEN (2004)-- A pure road revenge film that could have been made in the 70’s. The only thing that feels modern about it is it’s slick production values. It’s good but not great with no real flaws but also a certain lack emotional depth that kind of mutes the effect. Colm Feore plays a homicidal manic whose chosen weapon of murder is his big green Cadillac El Dorado. Jim Caviezel is the man who lost a loved one and is tracking the bastard down while using Rhona Mitra as victim bait. The stunt work is very good and thankfully avoids the ‘car crash equals explosion’ BS that plagues so many movies. It’s always nice to see a retro vigilante film that seems born out of the mean-spirited cycle started by DEATH WISH. For my tastes there just aren’t enough of them! (3 stars)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Horror Reviews for October- It Came from the 70s!

THE DARK (1979)- I’d heard of this film for years but had never watched it. I remember the VHS box sitting on the shelf of the local video store when I was a teenager. The amazing cover art did call my name once or twice but I was always able to resist. Turns out I was right to fight the urge to sit through this turkey. Terrible barely begins to cover it. The film’s dialog is so awful that I’m surprised that the actors agreed to speak any of it. And you can tell they all knew this was a dog because every single one of them phones in their performance. Usually good actors like Richard Jaeckel, William Devane and Keenan Wynn are terrible. There are line readings here that wouldn’t have passed muster for a 16mm student film. And the direction couldn’t be more pedestrian! It’s as if most the crew fell asleep during filming and just used what ever had made it to the print stage. Special mention should be made of the atrocious score that is one of the most unintentionally funny things I’ve ever heard in a horror film. Someone whisper-moaning ‘The Daaaaarrrk’ over synth throbing is just hysterical. Of course, there’s a lot of history about the original director being fired (Tobe Hooper?), the changing of the killer from a madman to an alien (!!) and everything being rushed- but STILL. The script alone was reason enough to stop filming. A re-write might have gotten it up from ‘crap’ to ‘passable’ but I doubt it. It would have been best to bury the whole idea and sew the ground with salt. As Beth said, “ That was a big turd!” You got that right. (1 star)

THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971)-- Maybe a little better than the first Yorga film although neither is top tier vampire cinema. I love Robert Quarry as Yorga with his smart-ass answers to stupid questions in the first few scenes. His performance is great even though the slow motion shots of him running toward victims with both arms outstretched are a little silly looking. The best segment is definitely the ending, which is suspenseful and manages a nice shock before the end credits. Well done, low budget movie. (3 stars)

PATRICK (1978) -- Good, solid sci/fi horror film from Australia. Interesting premise told with some style and strongly indebted to Hitchcock (think MARNIE with telekinesis). Director Richard Franklin went on to do PSYCHO 2 and from this it’s obvious he was angling for the job. My one real complaint is that it could have been shorter. Much shorter. (2 & 1/2 stars)

SSSSSSS (1973)-- I loved seeing Strother Martin play such a quiet, intellectual character (mad scientist though he is) and he was fascinating enough to have my attention for the first hour or so. But the last 30 minutes or so kind of loses interest and gets by rote and pretty dull. Doesn’t merit a repeat viewing but worth seeing for Strother and the sight of the freak snake man make-up on one sad character. The movie is rated PG and there are some scenes where they use fake leaves and tree limbs to hide some nudity that just had me rolling my eyes. They must have wanted that PG really badly! (2 stars)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

PIECES (1982)

It was during my 9th grade year that I saw my first European horror film and it was on the big screen. Lucky me!

In the 9th and 10th grades I attended a boarding school in Chattanooga. Being trapped in a campus dorm Monday through Friday made some type of escape on the weekend absolutely necessary. Not being overly interested in drugs and only marginally interested in alcohol I usually spent a few hours each Saturday in a movie theater sucking up whatever Hollywood would throw at me. But on this particular Saturday night I was in for something a bit more…..odd.

Several of us had spotted the newspaper ads for PIECES and were taken aback by the forwardness of the rather lurid image. By this time I had heard of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE but had yet to see it so this seemed even more dangerous. If this was striving to top that film what might be sprayed across the screen? A few of us teenage boys made plans to see this sucker no matter what. Understand- we were under no illusions about the nastier elements of the film. Hell! That’s why we were daring each other to go! We saw PIECES as a test of our masculinity, a rite of passage that without experiencing might point towards us becoming less than we were capable of being. We were men in training and we could handle anything this film could throw at us! Take your best shot!

Needless to say we were appalled by what we saw. Stunned. Shocked. Sickened. Grotesque on a level none of us had seen before we were reduced to trying to ‘man up’ by making fun of the gore and pretending we weren’t scared when the sounds of a chainsaw (or, in a smart cheap scare, a motorcycle) roared out of the screen. Luckily there were enough ridiculous moments to allow us the respite of humor to salve our raw nerves. I’ll never forget one of my buddies’s stunned reaction to the killer getting into a small elevator with an intended victim while hiding the chainsaw under his coat. His ‘Is that woman blind’ was one the biggest laughs I’ve ever had in a movie theater to this day.

Although I didn’t know it at the time this was a turning point in my love of the movies. Not immediately but over the next few years I began to return to the horror genre more often and found that I preferred it to all others. The thrills of scary movies have remained my favorite viewing and exploring the European horror films has been the most fascinating area of this most frowned upon hobby of mine. Oh well.

Recently I’ve gotten the urge to revisit this movie. I know there are several cheap DVDs out there as somehow PIECES has fallen into Public Domain. But what I really want is a (God help me) Special Edition with extras. I know! I’m nuts. But there were rumors a few years ago of just such a thing from Grindhouse. And having discovered that the Spanish director of this one made a film called SLUGS a few years later I’m now interested in seeing more of Juan Piquer Simon’s…..oeuvre? With titles like MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (soon to be released!) and SEA DEVILS on the list my curiosity is aroused. Of course, he also made POD PEOPLE which was one of the worst pieces of crap Mystery Science Theater ever heckled.

So, I’m looking over the various DVDs of PIECES and I’ve ordered SLUGS. I don’t know if I’m going to enjoy this venture into the movies of one of Spain’s least known horror directors but I’m looking forward to the journey.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Horror reviews for October- Sequels nobody asked for!

A few years ago I started reviewing a lot of horror films during the month of October and emailing the mini-reviews out to my unsuspecting friends. This year I'm going to do it here! First- a few of the older ones to get me in the mood. I use a 5 star rating scale.

STARSHIP TROOPERS 2: HERO OF THE FEDERATION (2003)-- I’m one of the few, the proud, the fans of the first film. I loved its black humored satiric take on Heinlien’s rah-rah patriotism and the fact that most people miss the social commentary only makes me happier. That type of intelligent vitriol can rarely be maintained so I was unsurprised when they didn’t even try. More of a horror film than anything else, the story centers on a small number of troopers trapped behind enemy lines on a bug planet. Holing up in an abandoned fortification they slowly discover they’ve been infiltrated by a new kind of bug that takes over a human host body. Poorly written, poorly directed and just generally crappy this is one to avoid. If not for the pretty good special effects I would have dozed off. (1 star)

BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2004)-- The joy is gone. While I consider the original a classic and loved the madness of the first sequel this third trip to the well comes up dry. Herbert West has been in prison for his earlier crimes for 13 years when he is given the chance to continue his experiments behind bars. It’s great to see Jeffery Combs playing the cold-blooded West again and the movie has flashes of fun but it never comes together. A mess, but at least it leaves the door open for another sequel that might be better. Produced in Spain and at times the (funding mandated) need to have a mostly Spanish cast is a major hindrance. (1 & 1/2 stars)

GINGER SNAPS BACK: THE BEGINNING (2004)-- While I really liked both of the first two GINGER SNAPS films this one just doesn’t quite make it. It’s not bad but it has many elements that felt too 20th century for me to take the 1815 setting seriously. Still, there’s a lot in the film to like, including the ending. This one tells the tale of how the werewolf curse came to be loosed on the countryside (i.e. Canada) by events surrounding a pair of orphaned sisters attacked by beasts in the woods. Brought into a lycanthrope-besieged fort by an Indian warrior they try to survive and rid themselves of the shape changing disease. (2 & 1/2 stars)

THE HITCHER 2: I’VE BEEN WAITING (2003)-- This unnecessary sequel isn’t in the same league as the original but it isn't the disaster I expected either. C. Thomas Howell returns as the poor sucker scared forever by Rutger Hauer’s serial killer John Ryder. Still troubled by the past he and girlfriend Kari Wuhrer return to the Texas crimes to lay old ghosts to rest. Unfortunately they run across hitchhiker Jake Busey who Howell immediately suspects is Ryder reborn. Busy is great doing his patented psycho performance capped by the scene in which he removes his own finger to appear innocent. The movie isn’t bad but it isn’t great either. It is beautifully photographed and well paced but succumbs to the common sequel problem of following the original too closely. By the time a character is strung between a tractor-trailer and a truck you know they couldn’t top the first film’s darkest moment. Also it has one nagging ‘Oh, give me a break’ moment near the climax that should have been rethought. Overall, not bad and worth seeing for the sharp opening sequence at least. (2 &1/2 stars)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

One of the best of the Summer

A SCANNER DARKLY- The first animated adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story that I’m aware of turns out to be one of the best. The film follows the tale of undercover cop Bob Artor (Keanu Reeves) as he wallows in the shallow end of the drug sub-culture searching for criminals worth busting. There is very little wrong with this film and it is fantastic on nearly every level. Capturing both the detail and feel of Dick’s novel it remains very close to the book…..probably too close for it to have been a financial success. While it is very funny the downbeat ending assures it of escaping the imaginations of most of the slack-jawed mouth-breathers that would go to see this film because of its ‘drug’ plotline. This is a smart and thoughtful movie that will wear well over the years. Easily one of the year's best so far.