Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dawn of the Mummy (1981)

Beginning at roughly 3000 years ago, the pharoah Surferman (or something along those lines as it was hard to tell the exact pronunciation) has died and is entombed into his memorial spot with his slave laborers buried alive beside him. I don't care how good the dental plan was, their union really dropped the ball with that one. Anyway, as was the custom at the time, a high priestess sets a curse on the burial spot that would ensure that if it was ever desecrated, then Surferman and his army of the undead would rise again and kill any that cross their paths.

Fast forward to present day where an arrogant white American treasure hunter, who is clearly unconcerned about the rapidly disintegrating world viewpoint against arrogant white Americans, decides to blow the hell out of Surferman's tomb in search of the gold buried within. This seems odd as the monument is not exactly majestic; amounting to little more than a dank pit entered through a hole in the side of a hill, but then I would guess those pyramid-shaped ones were likely cleaned out years ago. The treasure hunter and his resident assistants are warned by an old woman of the curse, but presume she must be crazy as someone has obviously blackened out some of her teeth with a Sharpie.

Naturally, this all leads to a random 80's NYC montage though it is in the daylight ensuring that the ratio of drug dealers and prostitutes to normal people is decidedly low. Here we meet a variety of lovely ladies all rushing to catch a flight to Cairo for a fashion shoot. It would seem like someone was playing fast and loose with the budget on this one as not a single stationary scene takes place here which may just account for the meandering first hour of the film where practically nothing happens.

And this is where the complaining begins as Surferman and his minions take freaking forever to wake up. Admittedly, there is fun to be had as one ponders the fact that the model's Jeep gets a flat and they are shown fixing it, but then in the next scene are all suddenly riding horses...that they found the middle of the desert. Later, they will run afoul of the treasure hunter and his pals and after being shot at by them, will immediately barge into Surferman's tomb and insist that their photo shoot take place there. Because strangers with guns who just tried to kill you are easily intimidated by anorexic women and their equally feminine photogs. Credit, however, to the lone male model who inhales a truly heroic amount of weed via a hookah found in town.

Eventually, Surferman (resembling one who has had their flesh torn off and is then dipped in milk chocolate) does shake off the cobwebs and seek his due vengeance. The last half hour is an eye gouging, skin ripping, mutilating and eviscerating good time and yes, most definitely worth the wait. I am even willing to ignore the fact that Surferman and his friends are able to almost simultaneously be in town and at the fashion shoot campground despite the fact that there was clearly a huge distance between the two as set early on. The gore really is just that satisfying.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Best of 2010?

About a year ago, when this site was in its infancy (insert joke here about how childish it usually still is), I compiled a Top Ten list of my favorite horror films of 2009. Admittedly, this was not an easy task though I consider at least the first four to all be exceptional examples of horror done right. Looking back at this past year, however, I am hard pressed to come up with a single movie that I would deem as such. This can't possibly be right...right?

To be fair, my main interests in horror continue to be in discovering (or rediscovering) movies from several decades ago and therefore I do not go out of my way to hit the multiplex with each new Hollywood endeavor nor do I scour about trying to track down all the best of the independents when they find a release, but the crop that I have caught in 2010 have been underwhelming, to say the least.

There was the usual ho-hum remakes (The Crazies, NOES) and sequels (RE4, which I really only saw because my buddy insisted that IMAX 3D would make it worthwhile...not so much). Throw in the overhyped (Human Centipede, Frozen) and series' I tuned out long ago (who is still watching these Saw movies?) along with the old masters whose outings pale in comparison to their earlier work (Giallo, Survival of the Dead) and those which sounded more interesting than they turned out to be (Burning Bright, Altitude) and there is really not much worth celebrating.

This is not to say it was all entirely awful, but frankly, it makes me a little sad to think Piranha 3D would top any list I might attempt to sort out. By all means, people, correct me if I am wrong here. I would be more than happy to eat crow if there were examples of decent horror that I missed along the way because as it stands now, I've got nothing for you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Devil Times Five (1974)

A transport van slides out on an icy road and rolls down a hill, expelling several children of varying ages. They immediately band together and trek through the winter wilderness until reaching a large cabin being used as a company retreat for a CEO and his top advisors and spouses to discuss an expansion of their psychiatric wards (how coincidental). The driver of the van wakes in the aftermath and frantically seeks out the children; finding them just as they reach the villa and paying a dear price because of it. The children regroup and are taken in by the vacationers who soon begin to realize this ragtag bunch may not be as innocent as they appear to be.

Ever see your mother half-consumed by piranhas and then dragged naked through the snow by a gang of sociopathic children? Leif Garrett has as he was cast as one of the kiddie killers alongside his real life mother playing one of our victims. I bring this up not only because knowing this fact makes the movie that much more enjoyable upon viewing, but also to illustrate how Devil Times Five refreshingly does not pull any punches simply because children are involved. Credit to overzealous stage parenting perhaps, but horror too often seems to get held back when wee ones are thrown into the mix and this made for a nice change of pace. Now there are probably not any "Helen Lovejoys" that read this blog, but just in case, in my defense, I would imagine that your average child working on a production and being able to see it from the backstage perspective would be more likely to not be frightened as those of us purposely scaring ourselves silly as we scoured late night cable long after the parents went to bed. I think I turned out okay (no counter arguments, please). Nonetheless, I am sidetracking myself here so allow me to reel my thoughts back in. Devil Times Five is fucking brutal. Okay, moving on.

On the flipside, I almost hasten to highlight the faults as they are miniscule, but in the interest of full disclosure, the score of Devil Times Five is consistently distracting as it would have played better accompanying a soapy melodrama than this nasty little slice of horror and there are some odd choices made in terms of film speed (See, even the complaints are a bit atypical). The opening wreck is clearly sped up to give the impression that the van was moving considerably faster than it was which just comes off as cartoonish. I almost expected a puff of kicked up dust to linger behind it ala the Roadrunner. This is thusly offset by half of the killings taking place is super slow motion including one that is the only black and white scene in the movie. What was that terrible movie about the 50s sitcom world that gets colorized when everyone starts screwing? And they were trying to be artsy. Come on, Devil Times Five, you're better than that.

Of course, I shiver to think what this means for the future of my half-written but eerily similar screenplay, Ghoul to the Square Root of 9, or The Circumference of a Witch, The Denominator, X=Death!, I could go on for days...

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Bubba, a hulking adult male with the mind of a child is the best friend to 10 year old Marylee which does not sit well with some of the locals. We find the (jealous?) evil postman spying on them in a field of wildflowers and scowling when Marylee plants an innocent peck on Bubba's cheek. He quickly drives off to consult other like-minded folks weary of what Bubba is supposedly capable of doing. Unfortunately for our simple minded friend, Marylee soon finds herself at the receiving end of a dog attack to which Bubba saves her from, but is incapable of explaining when he brings her body back to her mother. And in what might be the most destructive game of 'Telephone' ever, the wannabe vigilantes hear that Bubba has murdered Marylee and track him to his favorite hideout inside the shell of a scarecrow just off his mama's property. Bubba is gunned down by the hillbilly firing squad mere seconds before news comes over the CB that Marylee is alive and was actually attacked by the dog. A farce of a trial leads to a complete acquittal for the men responsible for Bubba's death, leaving both his mother and the DA fuming. But as Mama states as she is dragged out of court, "Justice comes in many forms..."

What if television networks still produced features like Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Bad Ronald (1974), the original V mini-series, etc.? Not that I am one to question the entertainment value of fat people running on treadmills or the other "talents" of ordinary folks that clog the airwaves these days, but I do miss the event moments that TV used to be interested in creating. Everything now just feels so safe and easily manufactured, not that this has much to do with anything here except for the fact that it leaves me more time for my Netflix queue and burgeoning VHS collection.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a rather solid effort that makes great use of the constraints of broadcasting on network TV. Bloody violence was clearly not going to fly and so the filmmakers needed to focus entirely on atmosphere, setting tone, building suspense; all of which Dark Night excels at. Perhaps the purveyors of the modern slew of PG-13 horror that I railed against a few posts back should take notice (if they even care about making a solid product in between their work shooting hip hop videos).

This is not to say that Dark Night is without fault though the quibbles are minor. I would have liked to see a bit more set up of the vigilantes as we learn little of them prior to Bubba's killing. The scene where they drive through town to round each other up for the hunt comes off as far too well-planned than the chaotic situation would have called for. Without so much as a word, each man immediately springs into action when they see the pickup approaching as if it were a forgone conclusion that they would one day have to execute the town simpleton.

As noted above, the trial is also a bit ridiculous as the judge dismisses all charges due to lack of evidence. Despite the fact that there was the testimony of Bubba's mother that these men all but told her their intentions just before the killing and the fact that Bubba had 21 gunshots in him with a planted pitchfork wrapped around his hand after death as his only means of defense. Of course, this ignores the fact that both of his arms were looped through ropes on the scarecrow stand like a retarded Jesus, making the pitchfork all but useless even if he was brandishing it at the time. Granted, the law of this land is far from perfect, but my expectation that the judge was in cahoots with the men never does come to fruition leaving a bizarrely simple scene that clearly was done so to just move the plot along.

The greatest of the missed opportunities comes later though when the postman and Bubba's mother get into an argument which ends with her telling him that she "sees the way he looks at that little girl." Could Bubba have died so gruesomely in part because the leader of the vigilante group was acting out on the shame and guilt he felt for lusting after children? It is an interesting conceit that unfortunately never comes up again even when the postman confronts Marylee alone in the hallway outside the Halloween dance. It could have been a very disturbing scene, but no, instead he merely grills her about Bubba's ghost in another "just moving the plot along" scenario. And this is where Dark Night falters a bit as the very basic plot of revenge could have easily gave way to some of these hinted at but never realized additions.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Night Train To Terror (1985)

How does one profit off of three barely released and completely ignored features? If you answered, cut them all to a third of their runtime and package them together into an anthology centered around God and Satan trading souls aboard a train whose only other occupants are a terrible rock band performing for themselves, then you've already seen this and frankly, that's cheating. You should be ashamed of yourself. It is a rather ingenious plan from a marketing standpoint though a bit of a sucker punch to any discerning horror fans that need their movies to make sense. For those that may be wondering, the three films in question are Cataclysm (1980), Carnival of Fools (1983) and Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars (1992), all of which will hopefully be reviewed in their entirety at some point here as they each possess interesting qualities. The only problem being that I have now essentially seen all of their "greatest hits" and will be left with nothing more than exposition and character development; the two components of basic filmmaking that Night Train of Terror completely disregards.

And this is where it gets difficult to review as each new scene in each story is missing integral connecting scenes that explain how characters got to where they are, where new characters came from, why that one guy is suddenly dead, you know, stuff that usually helps progress the story along. The first tale, to the best of my deciphering, involves a playboy, who under a doctor's hypnosis, lures easy women back to their hospital so that Bull from TV's Night Court can lop off their body parts and sell them to medical schools around the globe. Highlights include a lobotomized patient performing unnecessary surgery, several paper mache severed heads (much thanks to whatever elementary school art class provided their services here) and Bull from TV's Night Court sweating profusely (if you're into that sort of thing).

Our middle story begins with a romance between a college student and the girl he falls for while watching her perform in a pornographic video (ain't love grand?). He tracks her down but is then swept into the Death Club that she participates in. Basically, Flatliners (1990) except with obscenely complicated traps including a Harryhausen-esque deadly beetle and a wrecking ball on a slowly dwindling rope swinging above the club members who are all in sleeping bags for some reason. There is also what may be the longest electrocution death of all time. This is definitely one to track down.

The final tale is perhaps the most convoluted of all as a demon masquerades as a young man that never ages. After the mysterious death of a concentration camp survivor, a detective discovers that this young man has had a huge impact on every major war the world has ever known. With the assistance of a defrocked monk (great band name) and the wife of an author whose latest work declares "God is Dead," (only post-dating Nietzsche by about a century), they set out to bring this purveyor of evil down once and for all. A bit of a let down even with more stop motion lunacy to spice things up.

As for the bookender, we find God and Satan waxing philosophically without ever really saying anything and a performance of the same song at the beginning, end and in between each tale by our soon to be rocking out in hell bandmates. At one point, the lead singer even yells out, "Again, from the top," to which we, the audience, must always reply, "Dear God, No!" Though to be fair, the same lead singer's corpse somehow holds the breakdancing pose he was performing even after the train crashes. Impressive.

So to sum it all up in a way that only this movie can be, allow me to severely edit my final thought. Night Train to Terror is ............... movie ............... experience.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Stepfather (2009)

Less a review than a mild rant on the preposterous advent of teen friendly, studio forced PG-13 horror that seems to be increasingly gaining in popularity. Bear in mind that this is neither a condemnation of all horror that falls outside the R-rated realm as there are numerous examples of successes (though most seem to have come before PG-13 even existed as an option), nor do I require buckets of blood to consider a horror outing worth my time. This is merely one example of how I have lost all faith in modern mainstream horror.

The opening scene to The Stepfather remake all but apes the standout original as we see a man slowly transforming his appearance before the bathroom mirror and then picking up his suitcases and calmly walking out the door to his former home. The original Terry O'Quinn vehicle sets the mood for the rest of the film perfectly as the camera pans down the staircase and reveals the aftermath of a chaotic and bloody struggle that arose when this madman was too often disappointed by the shortcomings of what he needs to consider "the perfect family." It is a quick flash that is kept at a distance and yet it sends enough of a jolt right from the outset to reel in any suspect-minded viewers.

The far more pedestrian remake takes a slightly different route as the man meanders a bit once he has adequately changed his looks, even going so far as to prepare himself a quick breakfast. He then surveys the rest of the ground floor level of the home and stops to ponder on each of his four victims, scattered across different rooms. For each of the recently deceased (three of whom are small children), we get a close up look at their splayed and slightly bluish-hued bodies in the earliest stages of decomposition. I think one could argue that this alone is far more damaging and exploitative than the far shot of the original, but I digress. The man soon vacates, after the prerequisite jump scare as he recalls charging after one of the children, and the viewer is left believing that he must have poisoned or suffocated each one while they slept, based on the set up.

But, no. As we immediately learn in the next scene while detectives discuss the not so grisly findings, the family was killed "by multiple stabbings and blunt force trauma." Strange, as there was not a single drop of blood anywhere in the home aside from a nick on the man's face from when he was shaving. Oh...the horror. Congratulations, movie, you just eliminated any bit of credibility you may have had in the first three minutes.

Continued viewing past this point then illustrates the same safe approach taken to sexuality as Amber Heard (as the new family's oldest son's girlfriend) is given nothing much to do other than prance around in skimpy bikinis and as night falls, mostly just her underwear. Therefore, providing just enough stimulation for masturbatory fantasies for the kids who need mom and dad to pick them up after the show, courtesy of your friends at Sony Pictures and the MPAA.

It is a sad state of affairs indeed which quite clearly explains why I find myself swiftly retreating back to the glory days of the 1970-80's as much as I do.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pulse (1988)

(Not to be confused with any J-Horror or insanely terrible American remake of said J-Horror)

David (Joey Lawrence, just a few years prior to coining THE monosyllabic catchphrase of the 90s) goes to stay with his father and stepmother in suburban California for the summer. This happens to coincide with the neighbor across the street going "crazy" after his wife's death and tearing apart his house before frying himself on open power lines. Or did he? You see, there's a new electrical current in town and it is people...about something. Maybe it finally just got fed up with all the juicing we've been doing for years; saw too many of its kind reduced to sparks from all the technological wonders of 1988, it's hard to say (namely, because the movie doesn't bother with an explanation). The problem for David and his family is that the power line from their recently departed neighbor runs right into their home and that refrigerator sure seems to be making some funny noises now...

Pulse is one of those movies I had seen bits and pieces of on any number of lazy Sundays throughout my childhood as it seemed to play endlessly on one of the pay movie stations. I would like to once again publicly thank my father for having the insight and questionable moral compass to employ one of those old cable signal descrambler boxes in our living room which allowed my love of horror to grow (not to mention my supreme appreciation for women fostered by countless hours spent with the Spice channel). Many an afternoon and late evening were wiled away in front of the ol' picture box which may have played a part in how spooky I found this film to be when I did catch an airing. I had already acquired a sense of mild dread from the natural creaking of houses and the hiss of appliances that would randomly sound off and Pulse played to those fears effectively.

The story is rather mundane; mixing a struggling family dynamic (as father and son deal with issues that arise when parents are recently separated) and that of a small boy who cannot make anyone believe that there is something sinister at work within the home. We get a purposely creepy home inspector who speaks vaguely about the evils of electricity that he has encountered (and who completely disappears about halfway through the picture). And then there is the shower scene, which remained my most vivid memory of this film from so many years ago. The stepmother, who is slowly coming to the realization that something may be amiss, decides the best course of action in dealing with the situation is to bathe in the middle of the day. Unfortunately for her, the electrical current commandeers the water heater, spraying her with scalding hot water while she screams and writhes in agony. One might question how the current kept her from sliding open the glass doors to get out of the stream or why her husband does not even try to open them from his end before chucking a lamp as hard as he can through the glass, effectively spraying her with dozens of pointy shards. Or how as she is carted off by paramedics, her face is completely exposed and not even a little red, but these are minor trifles. The point is, it used to scare me when I was 10, but failed to hold up all that well over time.

Where Pulse does succeed mostly is in its final act when father and son come together to fight back. It strikes at an interesting conundrum as one's home is, to many, the culmination of a life in order. People, Americans especially, take a great deal of pride in the space that they provide for their families and will defend it when called to do so. Besides that, the basic need for shelter is important to recognize. Where does one go when they cannot go home? Now, I can certainly see how the more discerning horror fan might question the entertainment value of a character checking a dryer's lint trap for strange noises; it is a bit of a tough sell, but there is enough tension built up here accompanied by a supremely eerie score to merit a mild recommendation. Though, again, better suited for any of you that might be still shopping in the Juniors section, or at least capable of going into Pulse with that kind of mindset.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mausoleum (1983)

Following her mother's untimely death, 10 year old Susan runs off to find solace within a glowing, green-fogged mausoleum (Quick, somebody build this kid a treehouse.). Twenty years later, Susan is married and trying to go about her life though she continues to see the same therapist she has since childhood for what he characterizes as her "schizophrenic delusions." Unfortunately, her problems dig a bit deeper than that as her body is now routinely taken over by the demon within her and used to seduce unsuspecting servicemen before violently murdering them. This takes place mostly within the home that Susan shares with her husband which I think begs the question; who is cleaning up the aftermath? Not that I needed a scene of a demon mopping the floor, but it does get pretty grisly and Susan doesn't remember a thing so she's no help.

Her husband Oliver does begin to notice that Susan is acting strangely and consults her therapist who is able to draw the demon out with hypnosis. He in turn consults a demonologist who just happens to have a diary regarding Susan's ancestry and the curse that befalls the first born daughter of each generation. This seems to me to be a perfectly good excuse to have cut the bloodline by this point (seeing as it apparently goes back to the 1600s), but to no avail. Luckily for everyone involved, the diary also gives a step by step procedure for exorcising the demon which involves a crown of thorns that is kept at the mausoleum in which the demon usually resides. Does Superman store kryptonite in his apartment? Yeah, there's a reason for that.

Possession-themed horror films have never greatly appealed to me, if only because I am not really afraid of little girls or the elderly, at least on their own. Ever walked a passage of a retirement home with all the dying strewn about the hallway in their wheelchairs? Unsettling. Nevertheless, Mausoleum switches it up a bit by focusing on a young and sexually appealing woman who is able to use her feminine instincts to draw in her prey. Prepare yourself as this does take up a significant about of the running time as Oliver is constantly gone to work, leaving Susan's demon little to occupy itself with other than that.

I will leave it up to you to determine how offended one should be by the fact that our protagonists employ both a Hispanic gardener (and say things referring to him like, "You know how they are.") and an old black maid who has a "comical" scene where she bolts from the house upon learning of Susan's possession that only Walt Disney could have appreciated. On the plus side, upon full transformation, Susan's demon has angry beast heads where her tits used to be, so I guess that about evens us out.

Bouts of ultraviolence and mostly nonsensical. I begrudgingly approve.

(This has nothing to do with the movie. It just came up when I searched for "Mausoleum" in Google Images to add the poster art. Enjoy.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Psychomania (1973)

The Living Dead are a biker gang in a small English town. They wile away their days riding their bikes in circles around what might be the solidified rock remains of witches and hassling local shop keeps and food vendors. But their leader, Tom, is fed up with his mortal soul and decides to kill himself and come back with the indestructible power of Satan coursing through his veins. This is apparently accomplished by worshipping frogs and entering a room in his folk's manor that no one has entered since his father died there 18 years previous. Upon his return, Tom sets about convincing the rest of the Living Dead members to off themselves so that they make reek unholy havoc together. Be warned local grocers, your end cap display of canned vegetables will never be the same again.

I may be coming off as a bit harsh within the synopsis, but Psychomania is actually pretty great. There is hardly a dull moment and it is readily apparent that the filmmakers were not taking themselves too seriously. Chalk it up to poor research, but I was expecting a far more dire and bloody event.

It is very much a film of its time (not that I am all that well-versed on 1970's Britain) as the set and costume designs quite clearly illustrate. I almost half expected The Kelly Affair to show up at a local club on their European tour. This plays well with the underlying dark humor as it would be difficult to take Psychomania seriously had it gone for a more somber tone. While it starts quickly enough, the movie really gets going once Tom plunges to his death. The funeral itself has great flair as Tom is buried upright on his bike while a fellow Living Dead member regales us with a cheesy folk song about "riding free." It doesn't take long after that for Tom to burst screaming out of his grave (always a great scene made even better by the inclusion of him atop his deathcycle).

I made light of the gang's crimes in the description above and there remains a rather strange dichotomy after they return as ghouls as they continue to ride their bikes through shop aisles and create what can only be described as a mild nuisance, but then they also take to compiling a pretty hefty body count along the way. We see almost none of this action as the movie routinely shows just the bloodless aftermath which again was likely the right choice considering the overall tone throughout.

There are also a few choice chase scenes that considering the budget are insanely well done. Interesting camera angles coupled with the weaving of the roadways and some pretty heavy traffic make it all the more exciting and in contrast to the rather pedestrian camerawork that is presented during the non-action scenes. Kudos, as well, to a rather hilarious montage of the lesser gang members doing themselves in; my favorite being the one stripped to his skivvies and dragging a thick chain and weights around his ankle to the local riverbed.

Now, I can't say that I totally understood how returning from the dead worked here. Apparently, one just has to really believe they will return so don't go crossing your fingers at the last second if you decide to give it a go. This invariably made me think of another slightly better known film about the power of belief and of Dorothy clicking her heels together, "I will return from the dead, I will return from the dead...Hail Satan!" But then, that particular movie might not be quite so esteemed as it is had they gone that route.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Curtains (1983)

Six budding actresses of varying age and skills have been invited to a large manor deep in the woods for a casting session held by Jon Stryker, a renowned director intent on finding the perfect study for the lead role in his next picture. What these girls do not know is that Stryker had already promised the role to Samantha Sherwood, a famed thespian who was so determined to understand her character that with the help of Stryker got herself committed to an insane asylum, as the role is that of a woman gone quite mad. Stryker decides to leave her institutionalized once he loses faith in her ability to adequately portray his heroine. When Sherwood learns of the impending casting call, she escapes and sets her sights on reclaiming the coveted role by any means necessary.

Talk about your classy slasher. There is an air of superiority present throughout Curtains that almost made me feel less than worthy as I downed a few Bud Lights through its runtime. These are not your typical oversexed teenage victims, but rather a man and women of distinction, who admittedly are not above giving up a bit of flesh to get what they desire. Like I said, classy. It's almost a shame that one of them decides to take it up a notch and don a part wizard, part decrepit old woman mask while they cut up the competition. I guess that's what you call "slashing your way to the top."

Curtains was rife with production problems including having to recast a lead role halfway through and therefore reshooting several scenes and a nervous studio demanding significant cuts that ultimately leave a number of holes throughout the story. Most noticeably with the character of Matthew who is barely introduced when the girls first arrive (his reason for being there is never explicitly stated), frolics with one of the ladies in the hot tub and then is never seen or heard from again. This is especially shameful as there are pieces of what could have been a really great film. This is not to say remains of Curtains is without its flaws. There are a few scene shifts that employ what can only be called 'curtain wipe' and in my occasionally humble opinion, John Vernon is woefully miscast as the cold, but subdued director. Not once do we get the hands shaking, wild eyed Vernon that he is so adapt at nor does he ever tell anyone to "Go fuck an iceberg," (kudos to you if you know where that comes from), but seriously, he plays it so cool that a cardboard cut out version of him could have been placed in several scenes without me noticing.

As it stands, Curtains remains an interesting relic of its time and like so many others from the era, exploits the spookiness inherent in both dolls and mannequins despite neither having much of anything to do with the plot. The mannequins especially as one girl seeks shelter inside a prop warehouse that just so happens to store dozens of them; all hanging from the neck with makeshift nooses which seems like an odd and needlessly complicated storage solution.

A little humor never hurts either, especially with two of the hopefuls supposedly being a champion figure skater and dancer who both have scenes that showcase how little skating and dancing experience the actual actresses have. As well, I couldn't help dwelling on the scenes inside the insane asylum. How did the actors cast to play crazy determine how they should act given that our lead was supposed to be researching crazy to act crazy in the production within the production? Probably getting a little too meta here. Moving on...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pigs! (1972)

(Who is this woman? How did the pigs get shark's teeth? Wouldn't a "cannibal pig" only eat other pigs? Damn you, misleading posters.)

MAN RAPES DAUGHTER; DIES OF KNIFE WOUNDS, or so reads the headline of the local gazette to open Pigs! It seems like an integral part of the story may be missing though. In fact, Lynn, the abused daughter, does attack and kill her father and is immediately sent to an insane asylum as she has no memory of the event and in a running theme to the movie, will be constantly asking for her Daddy. Not long after though (we still haven't even gotten to the opening credits) she will escape while the attending nurse sneaks away for a tryst with one of the doctors, who might I add share one of the least convincing stage kisses I think I have seen...nothing but mashed faces.

Anyway, Lynn hits the open highway just long enough to pull into an unnamed little town and respond to a job posting at the Zambrini residence. Zambrini has a few problems of his own, namely, his pigs that developed a need for human flesh after some drunk allegedly passed out in their pen. Again, it seems like some information is missing here as this would suggest that a pig will literally eat anything you put in front of it and then need to eat only that one thing for the rest of its life. I guess we'll just go with it. Unfortunately, he really isn't very adapt at keeping this secret as the whole town seems to know about it which leads to the best (unintentional) gag of the film as the only skeptical citizen of this whole burg is the town sheriff who responds to complaints about Zambrini digging up graves and preparing the flesh for his pigs by stating, "I don't think there is any law about feeding corpses to pigs." You might want to double-check that, Chief.

Meanwhile, Lynn becomes the talk of the town and is sought after by just about every red-blooded male residing there. Of course, the abuse Lynn suffered at the hands of her father makes her mighty dangerous whenever another man tries to have his way with her. Soon enough, the slop buckets are filled to the brim while the sheriff very, very slowly realizes the town's population dwindling.

The lightning fast pace of the first few minutes (which could have easily made up the whole first act) immediately slows to a caterpillar's crawl once we reach the pig farm. Fair enough, as I will happily wade through a poorly crafted narrative to get to all those lovely shots of pigs tearing into humans that danced in my mind prior to viewing. Still waiting. Not that there aren't a few fun moments, like when the investigator trying to track down our escaped mental patient goes into the cafe and orders "a slice of yellow pie," Ummm...Banana Cream? Lemon Meringue? Whatever cowardice tastes like? We may never know. As well, there is a strange theory that is thrown out midway through about how the consumed bodies become pigs or that eating human flesh turns the pigs into some kind of zombie pig hybrid. It is not well fleshed out and if the whole point was that the pigs were supposed to be figurative and the insatiably sex-starved males were in fact the Pigs! the title suggests, then it was not adequately explained. But I think I'm giving the movie too much credit here. It is called Pigs! There's an exclamation point! Show me pigs!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

A young boy witnesses his father's death at the hands of a killer toy that was left for him on their doorstep. The experience leaves the boy so traumatized that he is unable to speak. It really doesn't help when someone keeps leaving more presents for him and he is accosted by a department store Santa. Meanwhile, an old toy shop owner and his bug-eyed teenage son carry on a rather odd relationship and a drifter rolls into town intent on keeping tabs on everyone. But the question remains, what does an 8 year old boy do to make so many mortal enemies?

I have now viewed the entire Silent Night, Deadly Night series and am only slightly worse for wear because of it. If anything, this final installment at least has something to do with Christmas (unlike the last entry) and finds a way to successfully fit in an insane naked robot sequence to rival all other naked robot sequences (but we'll get to that in a minute).

Truth be told, The Toy Maker is a bit slow to start after the initial death of the father. On top of his vocalization problems, Derek will also not go back into his room as he is terrified of all toys now. This leads to an odd sequence where he sees a commercial for the same toy that killed his father despite the fact that he 1. had been watching a VHS tape of the old Rambo cartoon which it somehow interrupted and 2. once we discover who is producing the toys that kill and why; it is obvious that a commercial never would have been produced for any of them. All the same, Mom is not much help at all as her only solution to his issues are to buy him new toys and take Derek to see ask for more toys.

This is where we meet the old shop keep Petto and his son Pino (I'll give you all a second to see if those names stick out for any reason). They make for quite a pair and quite honestly, should have been the real focus of this entire picture. Or maybe the obnoxious neighbor kid who digs one of the phantom presents out of the trash and finds a pair of rocket skates that send him flying into traffic or even the 45 seconds we get of Clint Howard as a random store Santa. The point being that The Toy Maker only slows down when we are forced to check back in with our protagonist and his mother in its feeble attempts to tie this whole thing together.

Did I mention that a babysitter and her hot shit boyfriend all but get eviscerated by a swarm of army men, superhero action figures and RC cars? Or Pino, who is in fact the naked robot with a remarkably human face but the body of a 5'9 Ken doll (and yes, he does have the same anatomical issues). Pino kills his creator (isn't that always the way?) and decides he would like to join our Mother and son clan which in his defense, he has blown a few circuits by this point. And what better way to impress your prospective foster parent than by ramming your "Ken bump" into the woman's crotch while repeating "I love you, Mommy," over and over again. Nevertheless, guess who stupidly gets killed off a few moments later and who ends up surviving this mess.

Dig that poster though.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Sorority Row (2009)

A prank gone awry leads to several sorority sisters covering up the death of one of their own. You can guess the rest.

Does the pleasure derived from a viewing experience change significantly when the viewer absolutely despises every potential victim (which in this case occurs right about the time the opening credits cease)? To be fair, our heroines are all tied to the (accidental) murder and cover up involving their friend so pathos was likely to be in short supply anyway, but come on now movie, what do you expect of me when every character is irrepressibly vile and contemptuous while possessing not a single iota of genuine humanity? Were the makers of Sorority Row so clueless about the slasher genre that they somehow believed that its fans want nothing more than to bask in the bloody set pieces that spring up around long bouts of inane, bitchy banter? If so, than they failed in that regard as well as the deaths are neither gratuitous nor inventive enough to forgive glossing over some of the most basic tenets of storytelling. Unless you consider putting glasses on "the smart one" or consistently highlighting how one of the girls is sluttier than the rest as proper character development, then all that is left for a suitable viewing experience is buckets of blood and gore which never do come.

Everything else is exactly what you would expect from a post-Scream mainstream slasher right down to the multiple red herrings that lead to a killer's identity that so flimsily ties to the rest of the film it is borderline insulting. I am going to spoil this one for you though spoil is likely too strong of a word here. The killer turns out to be one of the girl's boyfriends who is so concerned that her mistake will affect his family's good name (dear old Dad is a US Senator) that he sets out to kill the dozen or so people that may have knowledge of the event. The only thing more unbelievable than that reveal is the fact that Rumer Willis' character gets hit on twice during the movie. Damn, I think the bitchiness rubbed off.


Friday, November 05, 2010

Rats: Night of Terror (1984)

In a post-apocalyptic world, the remaining few are split up into two factions: those that have fled underground to avoid the ravages of nuclear fallout and the scavengers who have remained on the surface. Our story here unfolds around one particular band of survivors who pretty well encompass exactly what we've come to expect from the extensive library of Mad Max retreads. That being brash and violent punks whose commitment to fashion forward thinking despite the Earth being almost completely decimated is staggering. Fine leathers, silk scarves and yellow jump suits...and this is just the men. They roll into a deserted city and immediately scope the area for any hostile beings which essentially boils down to one of the gang literally riding his motorcycle about 20 feet ahead of the pack and then circling back. Unfortunately for our anti-heroes, the enemy here is hiding in plain sight.

They decide to hole up in an abandoned tavern/boardinghouse/bio-dome, seeing as it has a sophisticated gardening center that is able to grow vegetation that the soil will no longer cultivate, as well as, a water filtration system that appears to be made out of excess parts lifted from the set of TV's Double Dare. This would seem to be a model set-up for our barbarians of the new world order to exploit except for all those bodies lying around that appear to have been feasted upon.

What begins as another cheap Italian rip-off of one sub-genre quickly morphs into an equally cheap Italian rip-off of another...and yes, that is what I consider to be high praise. To be fair, Rats: Night of Terror is an awful film, even within the relatively low standards that should be applied here. The vast majority of the time is spent with poorly-constructed characters doing completely asinine things that only further hurt their survival chances. The music score does not ever seem to fit (and if history is any indicator, could very well have been lifted from any number of other films) and honestly, you just cant make standard footage of rat colonies climbing all over one another all that menacing. The fact that most of the attacks involve someone off camera dumping a box of rats onto one of the scavengers does not help, nor that the actors were clearly attempting to hold as many of the vermin to their bodies as possible to give the effect of being attacked.

Alas, there remains a few select scenes that are most definitely worth the price of admission. As is usually the case, I will refrain from spoiling too much here though they involve the rats burrowing into human carcasses and manipulating the bodies in ways that made me sad it took as long as it did in my lifetime to see something like that. I will also say that the ending left me in equal measure both numb with shock and giddy like a schoolgirl. Utterly fantastic nonsense.


Worth noting: The prologue to the film states that all FIVE continents were destroyed by the nuclear warheads. I guess I can see forgetting Antarctica, but that still leaves a remainder...

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Schoolgirls in Chains (1973)

(In true exploitation style, the artwork does not really match the all.)

A young girl accepts a ride with two brothers when her car breaks down and is swiftly taken to their out of the way house and introduced to the other "pets" that live in the basement. Frank is the morose and protective older brother who initially shows no interest in the girls as they are intended to be playmates for John who has the mental capacity of a child. However, they both do little to nothing without the approval of the matriarch of the manor, lovingly referred to as Momma. And Momma will do anything to keep her boys close to home.

Now that's a lurid title. Perhaps a little too much so as the US DVD was released as simply Girls in Chains which seems like an unnecessary exclusion even if it is true that there isn't a single pleated plaid skirt to be found anywhere in the film. As it stands, though, this movie is far less exploitative than similar abduction fare from the era. Personally, I found this to be a pleasant surprise as some other films that revel in the sexual violence usually just get my mind wandering as to if the filmmakers were more interested in getting their rocks off than anything else (and if they expected the same from their viewers...sorry, not my cup of tea).

Most of the action revolves around John prodding at the girls as they play 'Doctor' and even when Frank does lose control with one of them he clearly takes no pleasure from it. Momma has most definitely done a number on both of her boys which is highlighted in the most integral scene of the film when they flashback to Frank bringing the girl he loves home to meet Momma and inform her of their impending nuptials. It does not take long for Momma to pridefully explain to his once future bride that they have been having an incestuous affair for several years and then invites her to watch next time she comes around. Admittedly, it was a tad confusing to think that adult Frank was healthy enough to succeed at a relationship with another woman, but it does provide for the most darkly humorous moment in the film.

The success of Schoolgirls in Chains lies mainly in its ability to draw empathy for both the victims and their captors. This really should not be possible but I'll be damned if the brothers are not deserving of at least a bit of pity. Outside of the pivotal scene explained above, we do not get much more in the way of how Momma has indoctrinated her boys to loathe women as they do outside of her insistence that young girls are evil and want only to hurt their mother. More than anything, it is in the performances of the actors that we see how damaged the brothers are. Quiet, nuanced roles in an imprisoned woman's exploitation flick? Stranger things have happened.


Friday, October 29, 2010

New Year's Evil (1980)

A sadistic killer who refers to himself as 'Evil' keeps calling the world's oldest looking VJ (no offense, not "Downtown" Julie Brown) every hour to mark a fresh killing based on when the clock strikes midnight in each of North America's time zones. He also claims that he will be coming for her when the new year turns over at 12 o'clock Pacific time. Meanwhile, our heroine's production assistant has gone missing and her adult son is in her dressing room acting oddly, if only to make us believe he will turn out to be the killer. Add some overlong renditions of pseudo-new wave songs for the bored teenagers to bop their heads to and you've got yourself a half-hearted, holiday-themed slasher flick.

This is a tough one to delve into as I would rather not reveal the killer's identity though who he turns out to be plays a significant role in New Year's Evil's biggest shortcoming. Motive really should not be an issue when it comes to slashers. The indiscriminate killer is always far more fascinating than just some poor bastard who has been scorned by love, or money, or is hell bent on simple revenge. Even when you look at someone like Michael Myers, while he did have a focus on his baby sister early on, it was never based on anything tangible. So when the third act of your movie suddenly starts to have that Lifetime movie of the week feel to it, someone fucked up.

This is unfortunate as the first half of the film is fairly potent. The killer is effectively creepy (even if the voice modulator he is using makes him sound more muppet-ish than anything else) and is picking off unsuspecting random females as he should. He is also quite the Lothario which is a somewhat interesting departure from our socially inept psychos in other genre-related movies.

As well, New Year's Evil makes a few other atypical choices early on that set it apart. The most glaring being that our killer fails to kill one of his earlier time zone victims. Shockingly, the cops do not show up about two minutes too late like they usually tend to do and scare 'Evil' off before he can complete the deed. Take that, Mountain Standard Time! There is also a pretty fantastic kill involving suffocation by way of a giant bag of weed. Sorry, hippies, apparently marijuana does kill.

I don't know, can I suggest just turning it off with about 20 minutes to go and making up your own better ending? Let me know if that works out for any of you.


P.S. There should be no more than a 3...maybe 4 month delay between reviews from this point forward. That's the TWSNBM guarantee.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987)

Following a nuclear war, the remaining inhabitants of Earth are few and most of the women have been left infertile due to fallout. Enter Sam Hell (the incomparable 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper), an oversexed vagabond whose sperm levels just so happen to be off the charts. Captured by the provisional governing body, he is forcibly recruited by the Med-Vac division to impregnate any woman found to still have a light on in their oven. This leads to a rescue mission in Frogtown where several nubile young ladies (how come the women in all these movies are always barely covered up? Are there really not enough tattered rags but for what amounts to a bikini? And better yet, why am I complaining about this?) have been captured by amphibian-human mutants that have been driven from what is left of society and restricted to their own makeshift towns. Hell and his all-female warrior companions kick rubber-masked ass, keep on the look out for more bubble gum (not likely to be easy in the post-apocalypse).

Hell Comes to Frogtown essentially boils down to being an entertaining but rather shallow effort. The humor is solid even if the timing of its actors is not (truth be told, Piper simply chewing scenery would amuse me) and he is most definitely the main attraction here.

The story suffers from a lack of imagination (I know what I just said, bear with me) outside of the interesting premise. We get Hell (in government sanctioned metal briefs to protect their investment) and his companions covering the first act on the road with little progress and a lot of campfires to sit around doing nothing. There is a rather forced love story sub-plot brewing between Hell and the main Med-Vac rep that was pointless and therefore will not be mentioned again.

The film picks up slightly once they finally reach Frogtown (which is basically a rundown construction site in the middle of the desert) and the mutants do look decent for the budget. There is more bantering and Farmer Vincent himself of Motel Hell (1980) pops up to flash his creepy, pearly white smile and get shot (movie has gotta have some heart after all). The kidnapped females are now employed in Commander Toty's harem and no worse for wear because of it. It makes for an odd scene when those that are to be rescued seem content with where they are, but they come along willingly all the same. It all ends as expected.

There seemed to have been a reluctance to discuss (humorously or not) the state of a world where procreation is expected to be the sole purpose for sex. The amphibian people are rightfully pissed about their situation but little is made of their plight or really even the intentions behind kidnapping the fertile women. We are told initially that they are being held for ransom, but then are suddenly held as (not really) sex slaves. There are whole scenes that consistently lead to nothing and have no bearing on the film as a whole. More than anything, I was disappointed in the directionless route that was taken when there was so much potential.

Just watch A Boy and His Dog (1975) again.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Dead & Buried (1981)

The people of Potter's Bluff, a small New England seaside burg, do not take kindly to strangers (or so it would seem). The townsfolks penchant for brutally murdering any visitors that happen to find their way within its limits is a pretty good indicator. However, a short time later, the recently deceased tourists show up alive around town with new identities and no memory of their previous lives outside of Potter's Bluff. This is not to say that the entire populace is behind this particular brand of malevolence as the town sheriff appears to be unaware of the local past time and goes about investigating the savage deaths. With the assistance of the humorously macabre town coroner, the sheriff slowly uncovers the town's secrets leading to a somewhat fulfilling twist.

There are few films that can overcome the shortfalls of their story, but Dead & Buried does precisely that. The final reveal is suitably haunting though far too convenient for what it has been led up to. I will leave most of the specific details out for the uninitiated, but will say that the explanation for how the citizens came to be, most specifically, their complete lack of memory function, serves only to lazily fill numerous plot holes.

Be that as it may, the atmosphere that is created around Potter's Bluff through lighting and a truly astounding use of fog (apparently taking cues from, well, The Fog (1980)) is exceptional and from the first reel, gives the whole picture an otherworldly feel to it. There is clearly something amiss well before the first tourist is burned at the stake and this uneasiness created does not let up.

Much credit should also be given to the character of Dobbs, the town coroner who above all other eccentricities, shows what can only be described as 'restrained giddiness' each time a freshly disfigured corpse finds its way to his steel slab. There is little doubt that this man revels in his work and this inclusion of black humor is almost always welcome amongst the horror elements.

Still, the question remains, as is usually the case with the dreaded "twist ending," was it really necessary?


Friday, May 28, 2010

Turkey Shoot (aka Escape 2000) (1982)

In the not to distant future (actually no one ever references the time period that I recall, but that is how these things usually work...the U.S. release suggests 2000 so we'll just go with that), a totalitarian state rounds up 'deviants' and sends them to labor camps for re-education and behavior modification. The whole of the action takes place within Camp 47, known for its "success" rate and the lack of overpopulation issues that trouble other camps. Success means death as those in charge of Camp 47 are far more concerned with inflicting their sadistic desires on the prisoners than in fulfilling any particular ethos. This leads to a (most dangerous) game where a select few prisoners are hunted for sport in the grounds surrounding the camp by its top brass and high ranking government officials in for a visit. This includes one gentleman who brings along a fanged wolfman with serpentine eyes to act as his sidekick (way out of left field, to say the least). In the end, the tables are turned as the prisoners successfully overpower their hunters and wage a full-scale battle against the camp leading to a government sanctioned wipeout of the entire facility with the use of napalm bombs...and yet our heroes survive somehow.

Turkey Shoot is one of several Ozploitation films highlighted in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2009) that I caught last year. It comes recommended for some truly insane stories (one being the use of live ammo during a cat and mouse chase scene in Turkey Shoot for no discernible reason) and if nothing else, it will increase your Netflix queue considerably.

As for the film itself, it falls somewhere in between being too exploitative to be taken as a serious dystopian allegory, but then not nearly enough to throughly enjoy from a sensationalist point of view. The movie (at least for me) smartly eschews a through explanation of the politics behind how this totalitarian state came to be, seeing as most attempts for related fare tend to be rather broad and generic (V for Vendetta, as one example). And for the most part, the action (which is what I'm paying for) is unrelenting and suitably graphic, including Olivia Hussey chopping off one of the goon's hands. Needless to say, she's a long way from Juliet.

Still, the main premise is treated all too seriously considering the rather hammy acting, spurts of excessive violence and the odd addition of the wolfman character. There is fun to be had, but I will likely stick with this guy for all my Australian produced bleak future needs.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Sender (1982)

A young man wakes on the side of the road and proceeds to stroll into a lake with a letter jacket full of rocks (something that will stick out later as we learn he is a momma's boy shut-in with uncontrollable telepathic powers so it is unlikely he was also any high school's star receiver). He is rescued and transported to a mental health facility with no memory of who he is or why specifically he wanted to kill himself. Dr. Farmer, a resident psychologist takes to him until she finds him snooping around her house one night. The problem is that John Doe 83, as he is referred to, was in the locked down facility all night and could not have escaped.

A quick note: He is referred to as John Doe 83 despite the fact that I counted maybe 7 residents in the entire facility. Granted, maybe they never recycled names and there were at some point 82 other nameless loons, but I digress...

Clearly, there is something special about John though Dr. Farmer's main interest remains figuring out who he really is. Presumably, this mystery would be solved as his mother shows up in Farmer's office one night, but she is rather obtuse and then leaves suddenly. I really don't know if this is spoiler material or not, but seeing as I can't imagine anyone not figuring it out immediately, let me just say, the mother is dead. Dr. Farmer is not so quick to notice though as they have several strange encounters before she finally picks it up.

Meanwhile, John Doe's issue seems to be that his dreams and the emotions that cause them become real and affect those around him without his control. This leads to mass chaos within the mental ward throughout the film and allows the extras to stretch their acting chops with the classic "crazed mental patient" routine. There is one fantastic scene where the head doctor goes against Farmer's wishes and attempts shock therapy on John Doe leading to everyone in the room being catapulted back away from him in super slow motion (Nevermind that the Matrix movies tried to ruin it for everyone; slow motion can be used effectively).

As a whole, I cannot really recommend The Sender. There is a long lull in the middle part of the film where I was basically checking my watch to see how long it would take Dr. Farmer to catch up to what was evident early on and then there really was not even a definitive conclusion. John Doe must resist his mother's ghost from luring him into death and does so, but then is immediately released from the hospital despite the fact that he still has those uncontrollable dreams that cause serious havoc unchecked. The hospital's new motto: "Just go bother someone else now..."

I also forgot to mention the religious subtext as John's mother apparently thought he was the second coming of Jesus Christ because of his abilities though I guess its only fair as the film also completely forgot about this by the third act.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

City of the Living Dead (1980)

The suicide of a priest in a New England cemetery somehow opens a gate of hell and subsequently unleashes the dead on the town of Dunwich. A reporter and a psychic girl he rescues from being buried alive (with a pickax to the front of the coffin that she is in...don't those things open from the side?) must find the city before All Saints Day as this is when all of the dead will return. Once there, they team with a local psychiatrist and a patient to locate the demonized priest and destroy him.

There really isn't a great sense of urgency with the ghouls of City of the Living Dead. Granted, they do seem to enjoy a good brain squeeze (awesome, by the way, makes me wish more movie zombies had such hand strength), yet they seem to be just as comfortable lying motionless on someone's kitchen floor or simply messing with people through shattered glass wall bleedings and maggot showers (of course, it is in these details that Fulci is so rightfully esteemed).

I've really never been much of a gorehound. It isn't so much the graphic imagery that bothers me, but rather that the efforts put into this aspect of a movie more often than not seem to overshadow the actual story. All the same, I've always had a soft spot for Fulci (even if I think his best films are the more giallo-minded ones) and therefore am more willing to ignore the occasional odd pacing or unexplained bits that inevitably arise.

How were the ghouls able to transport themselves telepathically? Why did even the recently deceased have faces that resembled pizza with the cheese pulled off? What was with the brain squeezing (again, awesome), but still, that is some serious strength for the rapidly deteriorating dead? Does any of this even matter?

No, it does not.

Also, continuing on this subject of gore for the sake of gore, kudos to the boyfriend who somehow doesn't lose his lunch when his girl slowly and methodically spits up most of her intestines and internal organs from within the relatively cramped space of a 2 seater automobile. Too bad for him his actual reaction was not to run like hell.


This is basically what 12 years of Catholic school upbringing looked like to me.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tourist Trap (1979)

A group of young friends' car breaks down outside a secluded oasis/roadside museum attraction. Naturally, the ladies decide to skinny dip to pass the time (even the prudish, Little House on the Prairie extra...which when compared with the other halter topped, short shorts wearing girls makes for the easiest game of 'Guess the Final Girl' ever), but alas, in a stunning reversal of the expected, they all remain underwater up to the neck the whole time. Don't worry, it gets stranger. Meanwhile, the proprietor comes along to run them off his property, but then ends up insisting that they take his truck up to the main grounds when he learns that they are stranded.

Once within the museum, the kids learn that their friendly host is also a bit of an odd duck. Not to mention that they should have been at least a bit suspicious about his propensity for trying to separate them. While the owner and the only male traveler go back to work on the car (you know, the place they just left), one of the girls decides to check out the old manor behind the shop that the owner specifically told them to stay away from (so, yeah, she's dead). It turns out that there may be someone else on the property with a penchant for creepy masks that remind of Leatherface's cross-dressing and makeup fiasco from TCM: The Next Generation. He also has the ability to psychically manipulate his surroundings, including the dozens of mannequins in every room of the manor.

This is where Tourist Trap excels. Mannequins are inherently creepy, but this is all amplified here by some great staging and stellar use of sound effects. Take the opening death scene of the first character who broke off from the group (and who is seldom mentioned of again...guess they weren't much of friends). He finds himself locked within a room with some truly ghastly mannequins popping out of closets and bursting through windows, all laughing maniacally. He runs back to the door he came through where he is bombarded by flying objects littered throughout the room including a jagged lead pipe that rips into his stomach. At this point, the movie goes silent as he reels in pain until a dripping sound slowly builds of his blood draining through the pipe. There are a number of eclectic choices like this made throughout Tourist Trap setting it apart from your more standard slasher or supernatural (or both) flicks.

I feel like my reviews are always better when the movie is bad. Maybe next time.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

W-O-W. I did not see this coming. A truly gripping, complex outing that improves upon the original Nightmare in every way. Genuine scares that for once in modern horror do not feel contrived, but with subtle nuances that both pay tribute to the series, as well as, open up a refreshing new chapter that can be built upon to ultimately surpass the last.

No, I'm just fucking with you. It was...not completely awful. As usual with films of this particular ilk, I would have preferred a sequel to starting over, but then, I am not exactly the target demographic. One thing I do want to note, if you are going to "re-imagine" a basic storyline, then do not include watered down versions of every classic scene from the source material. Create your own...or at least try.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

New Nightmare (1994)

A demonic force has decided to use the visage of Freddy Krueger to enter our world with its actions corresponding with a script that Wes Craven is writing to bring the franchise back. Heather Langenkamp (as herself) is experiencing Freddy-related dreams in her real life while dealing with a stalker who calls to recite the ever familiar nursery rhyme (1..2..). She is offered the lead role in the new Nightmare feature and soon after deaths surrounding the picture start to occur. As she investigates further, she realizes that other old cast members are having the same issues and her young son is afraid to sleep because of something that visits his room each night.

Craven must have been pretty disgusted with how his creation was perverted over the course of five sequels. Well, either that or he realized that no one was paying much attention to his output leading up to New Nightmare (personally, I think People Under the Stairs (1991) is his best film though I question if the campiness of it all was really intentional). Whatever it may have been, he returned to put the Nightmare series to bed once and for least for a few years.

Such a waste. A solid premise that could have wrapped up a longstanding slasher franchise in the best way possible is wasted by the truly awful decision to focus almost entirely on the 'mother who will do anything to save her child' angle. Yawn. There was so much potential with these actors actually having to face off against the demon that made their careers, but instead they are either unnecessary to the story (how come John Saxon wasn't being affected by the demon the way every other character was?) or written out halfway through (Robert Englund actually leaves a phone message to let us know he is going to completely disappear without explanation). Show of hands, who wouldn't want to see Robert Englund have to take on Freddy?

But no, instead we have yet another doe-eyed, slightly creepy horror movie child who turns every serious moment he is given into unintended comedy. I am not usually one to pick on eight year olds, but seriously, this kid was awful. I blame Craven as much as anything as you need to know your limits when it comes to child actors as good ones tend to be few and far between and some of the things he had this kid doing (the gravelly-voiced "Never sleep again") was never going to work. And really, why should I care? It just seems like Craven got lazy when his original vision of bringing back those that started it all to actually face an evil on par with Freddy wasn't coming together, so he threw in some run of the mill child in peril nonsense.

There are other issues that arose: a lack of any kind of history about the demon masquerading as Freddy trying to enter our world, that damn freeway scene (I can suspend disbelief as well as anyone, but if the money/technology is not there, do something else), demon Freddy's glossy finish. Seriously, he looks like his skin just got buffed and waxed and though it is difficult to tell because of the trenchcoat, I swear this Freddy is wearing leather pants. Let that sink in for a minute. Leather. Pants.

There are a number of nice nods to the original Nightmare. I will give it that.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Freddy has been awful busy since his failed attempt at fatherhood as Springwood has just one teen left and the adults are experiencing mass psychosis due to the disappearance of all their children. We learn this in the only feasible way possible to start the final(?) chapter of a horror franchise, that is, through computer animated statistics. Anyway, Freddy releases the last surviving kid into the outside world to unwittingly bring back his now adult daughter and as an added bonus, some stowaway teens that are trying to escape the group home they are stuck at in the next town over.

Once back in Springwood, the runaways are ordered to take the van straight back to the home (Hey, just because they were trying to flee by hiding in the back doesn't mean they'll still run when you hand over the keys, right?), but Freddy has them running in circles as Springwood is trapped by some sort of dream forcefield. It took six films, but at least somebody finally tried getting the hell outta Dodge, even if they weren't necessarily running from anything just yet. They decide to hole up on Elm street until morning while Maggie (Freddy's daughter) and John Doe teenager try to figure out the shared connection they seem to have with the town. This proves to be difficult as literally the entire town has gone wacko. We know this because every single citizen talks to imaginary children. I think it's safe to assume the screenwriters did not minor in Psychology.

Anyway, most of the teens are disposed of in properly madcap fashion before Freddy possesses the body of his daughter, as this is the only route by which he can escape Springwood. His plan is a fresh start in another Ohio suburb and it will be up to Maggie and another volunteer doctor, who got a dream therapy book from the library and therefore is now an expert, to save the rest of the youth in the group home.

I really cannot justify myself here as it goes against everything I have been railing about the last few sequels, but I kind of like Freddy's Dead. It may just be that it transcends its awfulness (and it is awful in practically every regard) into the arena of cheese cinema at its finest.

To be fair, the premise of properly ending a franchise that has had little cohesiveness through the first five entries is a difficult one. We are treated to several scenes of Fred Krueger before his death with some typical choices (Yes, we all know serial killers start by abusing animals) and a few portraits of him as a doting father. It is not unreasonable to project a child killer in this way as there have been real life examples of family men who have done hideous things to strangers, but the necessity really is not there. There is nothing about her presence or actions that mark his defeat in any specific fashion. She acts as every other final girl has by throwing everything she could get her hands on at him (Ninja stars? Really?) and coming out on top. As well, there is nothing "final" about his death other than those ridiculous floating snakehead things coming out of him (an explanation for how he came to be Freddy was all but impossible to satisfy, but still, what they came up with was pretty weak).

Nevertheless, I was entertained yet again by this entry. If only I could figure out why...


Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 5: The Dream Child (1989)

In yet another continuation of the story from the previous entry, Alice is back and graduating from Springwood High with the other survivor of Dream Master, her bland jock-o boyfriend, Dan. They also have acquired a new set of friends who somehow have no idea who Freddy is or that Alice and Dan have a habit of getting those around them wasted. Maybe they transferred in Senior year or were on study abroad programs the first time around. Of course, Alice is starting to have nightmares again though Freddy does not appear in them early on and time seems to keep slipping for her as she will end up in the dream world while awake. Freddy is lurking but too weak to penetrate Alice's dreams therefore he is using the dreams of the fetus growing inside of her to try to get back into the game. That's right, Freddy has baby fever and Alice is having to juggle holding him off and the prospect of being an unwed, teenage mother...heavy stuff. Meanwhile, she does get guidance within the dream world from both Freddy's mother and the 6 year old version of her unborn son (huh?) which really just boiled down to "too many cooks in the kitchen."

Dream Child is definitely a step back in the right direction as Dream Master was tepid, at best. There are some really outstanding set pieces built around the various dream worlds inhabited here and even when it gets a bit goofy (the Freddy-cycle), its still pretty striking. Characterization is better as the kids do have some substance to them and die in ways that are fitting to their specific personality traits as Freddy has always exploited when at his best.

Still, many questions linger due to another overly complex, but ill-explained story line. Why is Freddy capable of infiltrating Alice's fetus dreams? How does he use this to get to her and her friend's dreams? There is a tacked on sub-plot with Freddy trying to take control of her child by feeding it souls and an even more unnecessary turn with Freddy's mother and her remains having to be put to rest properly...for reasons still unsubstantiated. This seems to be coming up throughout the series, but it really is so much better to keep it simple especially when the alternative is consistently heavy on ideas with little to no follow through.

Then, there's the obvious hot button issue at stake here. I was genuinely surprised it was brought up at all, even if the discussion was quickly discarded. I speak, of course, of the Big A, little -bortion. Alice has seen Freddy kill her brother, the father of said fetus (whose death she credits with not considering the option), several of her friends and who is now again acting as a threat to everyone that remains in her life. And in the end, more people die due to her decision. I don't mind saying it...seriously, Alice, pretty fucking selfish.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master (1988)

And it continues as the survivors of Dream Warriors are back and still attending high school in Springwood. Unfortunately, the three have what are basically extended cameos as Freddy rises again and offs them all with relative ease (what happened to that fighting spirit?). This includes Kristen who is only able to use her power to bring people into her dreams to screw her bookish friend Alice into taking over said powers and thusly, drawing Freddy's wrath. We are also reminded that Kristen is the last of the Elm Street kids therefore marking Freddy's triumphant switch from vengeance demon to just plain 'being a dick' demon, as he sets his sights on any old teenager that comes his way. Luckily for him, Alice graciously keeps dragging friends into her nightmares so that Freddy may dispose of them...and the town can have a funeral. Seriously, there is a funeral scene directly after almost every death. People are sad...we get it. Anyway, Alice also starts to possess whatever skill her dead friend's had before their untimely demise and will use all that she has acquired in her final battle with Freddy. This includes, but is not limited to, kung fu and weight lifting. In the end, though, it is "mind over matter" that sends Freddy back to hell not unlike Nancy's tactics of conquering the fear that gives Freddy all his power.

Also, Freddy is resurrected with the assistance of flaming dog urine and one of the dead teenagers turns into a cockroach. There really wasn't a sufficient place to add these two facts to the above synopsis, but they should be known.

Interesting trivia fact: The cockroach girl went on to play one of the many daughters in the 'Growing Pains' spin-off 'Just the Ten of Us.' One of her sisters on the show? Heather Langenkamp

Interesting trivia fact (if it was still 1995): Director Renny Harlin went on to make a series of semi-popular but astounding bad action thrillers. He has only gotten worse with age. Hell, NOES4 might actually be his crowning achievement.

There is little redeeming value found in Dream Master. The re-emergence of the survivors from Dream Warriors is likely the most egregious error as they are given no reason to be there other than to act as hapless victims. Meanwhile, the new kids are nothing more than generic, one-dimensional characters who are dead long before they can ever establish themselves. Freddy has officially hit full-on, stand-up mode (He might as well have been standing in front of a brick wall, microphone in hand, opening for Emo Phillips).

As well, there is never an adequate explanation as to how Alice is absorbing her dead friend's abilities nor really what the Dream Master is exactly. Alice's long forgotten mother taught her as a child that she could control where her dreams took her by reciting a nursery rhyme that is "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" just with slightly different wording. This does not help Kristen at all as her beach dream turns sour when a "Freddy shark" shows up nor is Alice ever able to manipulate her own dream environment through the use of this prayer. Still, somehow she uses it to defeat Freddy. Honestly, I didn't really get it. Feel free to explain if it made more sense to you.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors

A rash of "suicides" amongst the children of Springwood have led desperate parents to commit their troubled kids to the local mental facility. According to the medical staff, they all share a "group psychosis" of a boogeyman though as one of the kids expresses, "no one seems too impressed that we all dreamed of him before any of us ever met." Enter Nancy, now a graduate student specializing in dream therapy and keeping herself alive through the use of Hypnocil, an experimental dream suppressant (which will come back into play in Freddy vs. Jason). Once the hospitalized youth start turning up dead, Nancy is able to convince their lead physician, Dr. Gordon, that they are dealing with more than simple mental problems. Gordon also meets a mysterious nun who offers Freddy's conception story and suggests that they must bury his remains in hallowed ground to forever defeat the monster. Through the use of one of the teen's special power of bringing people into her dreams, Nancy and the remaining kids face off against Freddy while Gordon sets about tracking down Freddy's bones to lay him to rest.

Widely considered to be the best sequel of the franchise and frankly, my personal favorite in the series, Dream Warriors continues to evolve Freddy's mythology in interesting and provocative ways while still remaining true to what made the original so great. The kids are all strong with well-developed personalities to differentiate them and with the added bonus of them all possessing a "dream power" to fend off Freddy's actions ("I am the Wizard Master!"). As well, bringing Nancy back (after she was rather bluntly written out in Part 2) and in a mentor role was brilliant though her death was a little too low key for such a central and overarching character in the series.

The effects continue to progress with some especially interesting stop motion thrown in for good measure. Freddy is still (barely) holding on to his malevolence though the one-liners are beginning to get more and more frequent. He remains frightening mostly due to the mental imagery that comes with how he was conceived ("bastard son of a hundred maniacs") and the first we see of the souls of his victims screaming to be released from his torso. Unfortunately, Freddy will become a joke in and of himself for the next few rounds of Nightmares.

Of all the kills in the series, I don't think any is more disconcerting than the 'bloody veins marionette' death of Philip. For whatever reason, that is one that has always stuck out to me and continues to creep to this day. Dream Warriors is heavily stacked with some of the series' best kills if only because this is the only one (that I can remember at this point) that seemed to fully embrace the fact that in a dream you can make literally anything happen. While all of the kids are pulled into one dream at the end, they all see things and set the stage around them based on their own experiences/fears/etc. and this allows them to exploit their created environment the best that they can to take on Freddy. This was the only time in the series where a minor character's death did not seem inevitable (unless of course you've seen it already).

Sigh. It's just downhill from here...


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

Five years have passed since the original and Nancy's house on Elm street is now home to a new family and Jesse can't even get a single night's sleep in his new abode before Freddy is invading his dreams. With the help of his best girl, Lisa and new friend (the douchebag that wasn't Robert Downey Jr. in Weird Science), Jesse quickly learns that Freddy is trying to possess his body in order to satiate his bloodlust. Will Jesse be able to fight off the demon inside of him? By demon, do I mean Freddy or the homosexual undertones that are prevalent throughout the film? Also, where can I get a black leather comforter?

A much-maligned, but not terrible rushed sequel to the original, the main difference here is the possession story. Freddy is back and suddenly not all that interested in revenge (despite what the title may suggest) as none of these kids or their parents are linked to his murder (though I guess he's always just kind of held all of Springwood responsible). I find it odd that he is apparently powerless when 1428 Elm is vacant and now seems to need the body of a teenager to do his bidding for him.

Meanwhile, Jesse is clearly a little confused. He is thrust into a relationship with Lisa though he seems far more interested in his buddy Grady. Add to that, the PE coach who "gets his rocks off" working the boys out to exhaustion and spends his nights at S&M bars (where Jesse randomly shows up to one night under Freddy's will). Not to mention when Freddy interrupts his alone time with Lisa in the cabana and he runs Grady's house. But lo and behold, it is Lisa who he must turn to in the end to overcome Freddy's influence.

There are some outstanding effects throughout, most notably when Freddy literally tears through Jesse's body and some other not so great ones; why would Freddy's guard dogs have human baby heads? Wouldn't that make them less effective? The scenes with Freddy invading the big pool party are probably the highlight of the whole affair. He saunters in with that child killer swagger and slices his way through a few random teenagers (including one that tries to reason with him...great stuff). But then the ever relentless Lisa who follows Freddy back to his old digs and coaxes Jesse out of him...with a kiss? And before you can say "Christian conversion therapy," Jesse and Lisa are back in love. All in all, the whole possession angle did not bother me much though it is not handled very well and makes the final confrontation pretty anti-climatic.

Interestingly, director Jack Sholder made two fantastic movies prior to and right after NOES 2: Alone in the Dark (1982) and The Hidden (1987). Both of which I would recommend over this one, even with its positives.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

(In anticipation for the Platinum Dunes hundred maniac raping of the Nightmare franchise due out April 30th and just because its been awhile, I've decided to revisit the series over the next week or two. We'll see how far I actually get.)

Four teenage friends discover that they are all dreaming of the same razor-clawed, disfigured man leading to one of them, Tina, being savagely murdered in her sleep. Her boyfriend, Rod, is charged with her death as he was the only one in the room at the time and his explanation of the events leaves quite a bit to be desired for the local authorities. Meanwhile, Nancy is continuing to be stalked by this man in her dreams and comes to the realizations that she can be physically hurt in these dreams and she can bring things out with her. Somebody pass the coffee.

As I view it today, there are an awful lot of goofy choices throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street that routinely pull me out of the experience. Granted, it will forever hold the distinction of being the one horror film I can remember having to turn off as a child because I got too spooked for comfort. If memory serves, Tina's body getting dragged through the school corridor is what ultimately did it. Nevertheless, as I watch it now, there are a number of effects that are either unnecessarily humorous (not because of budgetary constraints) or just flat out perplexing: Freddy's extendo-arms in the alleyway, Tina pulling his face off to reveal a laughing skull, the unplugged phone that licks Nancy, the marshmallow fluff stairs, Nancy's drunk mannequin getting pulled through the peephole, etc. I understand that much of this was done to show the power that Freddy has within his world that these kids were thrown into. I just wish it were simpler because at its base, the premise is about as good as can be.

At the same time, this does not wholly get the treatment it deserves either. The idea is that Freddy is getting his revenge by attacking his killer's children where they cannot be protected yet never once do any of the parents take his existence seriously, a theme that will run throughout the course of films (not counting Freddy vs. Jason). Without recognition from those that wronged him, Freddy's actions lack any real significance. And what kind of self-respecting monster lets a guy named Rod take credit for his murders anyway?

That being said, there are clear reasons as to why the film is highly regarded in most circles. As noted above, the premise is unmatched in the uneasiness that it creates for the viewer. You just can't not sleep. If Freddy wants to get you, you will have to deal with him eventually. The kills are all effectively brutal and gruesome and unlike any of the rest of the series, the majority of the second half of the film maintains a dream-like quality where the viewer can never be certain if anything they are seeing is really happening. Heather Langenkamp also gives one hell of a knock-down, drag out performance that holds the whole thing together and sets her apart from the typical one note, run screaming final girls that tend to dominate the genre.

A few remaining questions:

Is it me or is Nancy's mother's skin almost as bad as Freddy's? If that's the ravages of excessive drinking, I think I've just been scared straight.

Is Glen narcoleptic? He couldn't stay awake 20 minutes if his life depended on it. And yes, Glen, your life clearly depended on it.

And who keeps a souvenir from the serial murderer they played a part in hunting down and burning alive? Seriously, Nancy's mom was a weirdo.