Monday, March 29, 2010

Death Ship (1980)

A cruise liner collides with a menacing black ship (and right in the middle of the big costume ball) capsizing the boat and killing most of its passengers. The remaining survivors are stranded at sea until they come upon the same vessel now anchored in the middle of the ocean. Seeking food and shelter, though apparently not an explanation for how their life raft came upon the captain of the cruise liner emerging alive from the depths of the ocean hours after the collision, they board the black ship and begin to investigate. What they find is a vessel that seemingly operates itself as there is no crew to speak of. There are, however, what seem to be limitless shots throughout the movie of gears grinding, dials fluctuating, crank shafts um...cranking, all set to suitably ominous music. Anyone with an irrational fear of close-ups of machinery operating, take heed. Meanwhile, the captain is clearly not right and the survivors keep having strange accidents. I wonder if these happenings have anything to do with that framed portrait of Hitler found in a cabin below.

Akin to any number of haunted house movies, right down to the nonsensical series of events that unfold, Death Ship creates a relatively spooky atmosphere centered around an incoherent mess of a story. The ship does a perfectly adequate job of offing the survivors on its own as showcased by it immediately stringing up and tossing one overboard, but then we have this hostile, possessed captain character mucking things up. Then, an older woman's face melts after consuming peppermint candy which acts as the lone supernatural death in the movie. Sure, there are doors teetering and those malevolent pistons of DOOM!, as previously noted, but we never get any indication of ghost Nazis actually being present on the ship. I guess this particular model of ship just happened to share the same fascist leanings as its previous occupants. As well, why the ship ever came to be at all comes up as the castaways discover a few operating tables and a drawer full of gold fillings. It is determined that the vessel was employed as some type of interrogation/torture ship though it would seem to be troublesome to take prisoners all the way out to a giant freighter circling the Atlantic. It's not exactly like the Nazis were following the Hague Convention protocol while on land. And then it ends with the ship refusing to let the captain change course to run down the remaining few escaping by lifeboat because deep down the Death Ship is just a big softie...and I, as usual, am just confused.



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dark Tower (1987)

A monolithic office structure is nearing completion in Barcelona until a series of bizarre deaths in and around the building disrupt its progress. While the security chief is initially convinced that these are merely unfortunate accidents, the architect who designed the building and who witnessed the first death is certain that some kind of force is responsible. Parapsychology comes into play as does the somewhat mysterious death of the architect's husband. I bet you just figured out the ending because yes, it was that predictable (except for when the dead husband takes shape as some kind of lizard creature)...cue the revenge and roll credits.

Personally, I've always preferred 'houses that kill:' Poltergeist (1982), the Amitys, Pulse (1988) was okay if only for the scene where the lady gets trapped in the shower and the water progressively gets hotter...its creepier than it sounds. But then, there is a level of comfort and safety that people expect their homes to provide so when this fails, it can be justifiably disconcerting. This does not work quite as well with a still in development office building. Most people just want to get out of office buildings as quickly as they can which had loneliness been the reason for the Dark Tower's homicidal tendencies, then maybe I could understand. As well, seeing as the entire tale became nothing more than a ghost seeking vengeance, why did the window washer have to die? or the multiple elevator/elevator shaft casualties? Another issue here with the Dark Tower, those are some pretty cliched ways for a building to kill.

On a side note (and not entirely Dark Tower's fault) but the security chief was played by Michael Moriarty who I have had a life-long tendency to confuse, by name only, with Michael Ironside. So, every time Moriarty's face eventually appears on screen, I tend to exclaim, "Damnit, not again," because everyone knows that anything is better with a little Ironside. And this is just the kind of mood killer that is never a good way to start a film.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Shock Waves (1977)

A small vessel containing its crew and a handful of tourists breaks down off the coast of a desolate island. They experience an "underwater disturbance" as the grizzled old sea captain stereotype refers to it. Later that night, the boat is sideswiped by what they think is a ghost ship (feel free to recite that last line again in your best Shaggy voice), only to discover at sun up, a rusted out old wreck lying dead in the waters. It is assumed that they ran into this hunk despite the fact that the collision practically capsizes their vessel, but they are now anchored hundreds of yards away. The only course of action left is to investigate the island where they come upon an old villa occupied by a hermit that acts surprised to hear of the massive wreck just off the coast and who clearly knows more than he lets on. I've said it before, never trust a guy with one of those thick, over the eye scars.

The nazi zombie sub-genre is a small, but much beleaguered area of horror. There have been recent efforts like Dead Snow (2009) that focused too heavily on lame humor and older affairs such as Zombie Lake (1981) that are ludicrously awful though not wholly unentertaining. Is that straight to DVD Joel Schumacher film that came out recently another example? I have yet to see it though I think its villian(s) fall under one of the other supposed experiments conducted by the Third Reich. Oh, that Hitler. Such a kook.

Shock Waves is arguably the most recognized of the bunch, a solid effort that holds up to multiple viewings. We are treated to several shots of the Death Corp. rising slowly out of the water (ocean, riverbed and even swimming pool, mind you). It may be a tad bit of overkill, but effectively creepy all the same. The Nazis themselves have a great look about them, similar to the mutants of The Omega Man (1971), complexion wise, but with shocks of yellow hair and killer goggles I would never take off if I had a pair...nor should the Nazis as that comes out in the third act. Good atmosphere, good score, a little light on the gore. As cool as it was when a Nazi opened its eyes underwater and dragged a river crosser to their respective death, a bit of blood is always welcome.

Fairly positive review...


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Nightmare Weekend (1986)

Scientist creates a behavior modification computer program that transforms inanimate objects into metal spheres that when ingested turn vicious creatures docile...logically. But his treacherous lab assistant has double-crossed him and wants to sell the technology to a shadowy figure in what later becomes a forgotten sub-plot. The assistant decides to test the program's effect on humans through three young co-eds and the lovers they pick up in town who range from epileptic dance guy to MLB's Keith Hernandez. This produces an interesting side effect where an individual's sluttiness directly corresponds to how zombie-esque they become. And if that wasn't enough, the scientist has a daughter who does not trust the assistant and is best friends with a green haired hand puppet that can somehow sense when she is in trouble from miles away and commands the program to help her out of jams by way of the metal spheres.

There can be beauty in chaos as another more well-known horror film (franchise) that used flying metal spheres had already proven, but for all of its half-baked developments, Nightmare Weekend never adds up to much of anything. The ambition clearly outweighed the resources as most of the film takes place either at the scientist's (i.e. director's) home or a dimly-lit local bar where the entire town seemingly hangs out at all day, every day. An observation more than an excuse as budget constraints have not disrupted a vast number of superior horror films. I imagine there was never a cohesive plan and likely re-writes from people who never met the previous authors. We have the typical mad scientist who is actually quite level-headed and his assistant whose plan to sell his program with no real application that would be worth anything to the criminal element she was conniving with. Girls turn into zombies from swallowing the sphere while others simply die because the sphere pierced their face. Then, there is the hand puppet, George. What 18 year old girl doesn't want to be best friends with a creepy, possibly living doll? It never moves from the table the poor bastard operating it had to hide under throughout its scenes. He does rescue the daughter from being raped and then later eaten through the program though I have no idea how. Really, I don't see why the scientist would even concern himself with taming wild dogs when his computer program is apparently made of magic.

Awful lot of sex, too, if that's your ticket. 85 minutes crammed full of delusional actresses seeking their big break. This includes one rather odd exchange of fluids atop a pinball machine in plain sight of many people who don't so much as flinch so I guess that happens a lot.

Still, vaguely entertained.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rawhead Rex (1986)

Anonymous Irish farmer uproots an ancient engraved pillar from his property (where is the local historical preservation society when you need them?) unleashing a buried demon hell bent on slashing its way through anyone it may cross paths with. One might imagine that somebody in this quaint little burg would have noticed the stained glass image of a strikingly similar pillar trapping the demon beneath it, as this is readily displayed in the church and would have likely helped to avoid this situation altogether, but it was not to be. Meanwhile, a historian has come to town with family in tow to research the origins of cult practices in the area and is now called upon to write himself into his own story to stop the monster.

While not all that familiar with the fiction of Clive Barker, I have the distinct feeling that nowhere in his notes on Rawhead Rex did he suggest that the creature resemble a mutated Teddy Ruxpin. Hell, with big, dead eyes and a permanently goofy scowl on my face, I might go around clawing a few peasants myself. Perhaps Rex was the basis for the old wive's tale about children getting their faces stuck while acting out, but I am fairly certain that pre-dates 1986. Whatever the reason may be, the Rex-sized embarrassment that is the costume design in this film pretty well kills any shot of genuine tension. There is nothing intentionally funny about Rawhead Rex. I would not be quite so hard on the film if it was not clearly taking itself so seriously. Rawhead Rex is supposed to have you peeking out from between your fingers gripped to your face in terror, but the creature is so ineptly and cheaply produced that every scene with it is instantly laughable. The low budget wonders that get it right know that you have to put what little money there is into your monster and/or the gore and/or convincing a lass to peel off her scivvies, as all else can (and usually will) be forgiven. Of course, it was but a year later that Hellraiser proved how effective and gruesome a budget-conscious film could be so I would guess Clive got over this one quickly.

As well, the story is severely lacking as there is no attempt, at least which made the final cut, of mythologizing Rawhead Rex. We learn that he terrorized the area a few hundred years prior before being felled by some sort of talisman that drains its powers and apparently leaves Rex susceptible to being pushed into holes. But where does he come from? Were there others? What gives the talisman its power over Rex? Still, our hero really learned nothing from what little he did gather anyhow as Rex is again buried alive but in considerably looser digs than the first time with no towering stone atop his grave. It should come as no surprise as to who pops up out of the ground in the last reel. Unfortunately for Rex, it was not meant to be as no one cared enough to produce a sequel which may just be the only good way to vanquish a monster of its kind.


Is Rex taking style tips from the Crite hunters?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

R.O.T.O.R. (1989)

Senator Combover is making a push for the White House and what better way to do so then to try and force a prototype of "police robotics" out onto the streets before its development is fully realized. This, of course, is R.O.T.O.R., or Robotic Officer Tactical Operation Research (I know these words, but that doesn't mean they go together in any cohesive manner). And like "a chainsaw on frappe," R.O.T.O.R. is released to rid the streets of Dallas from criminal scum like the woman whose fiancee was speeding because this is who he chases for the majority of the film. Luckily for her, the Marlboro Man was R.O.T.O.R.'s main developer and is now intent on taking him down with the aid of Dr. Steele, a roided out transvestite skunk woman.

Robocop on a budget (and clearly influenced by it) though it does hold the distinction of pre-dating T2's motorcycle cop robotic assassin except that R.O.T.O.R. looks like he would be more at home at a gay disco than the mean streets. Why exactly would anyone mustachio their robot? A fine question, I think, though I have no answer for you. His big reveal was even more of a disappointment seeing as we are shown a badass metal skeleton version of R.O.T.O.R. wearing Brian Bosworth sunglasses early on only to get that neighbor your parents told you to stay away from in the end.

This is actually a particularly difficult film to review seeing as roughly a third of the dialogue is incomprehensible due to its mumbled performances, especially the male counterpart to the Jetsons maid, Willard, who is meant as comic relief but is impossible to understand. Not that the more lucid moments are much better as characters have a tendency to say things like, "You look like you've got both eyes coming out of the same hole." On top of all this is the technical jargon used throughout R.O.T.O.R. that amounts to little more than vaguely scientific terms thrown against the wall to see what sticks. His 'Sensor Recall' was probably the most innovative if not still mind-boggling technological advance. With its use, R.O.T.O.R. is able to track people's past actions by simply removing his sunglasses and no, an explanation as to how this could possibly work is never attempted.

To be perfectly clear, I have not laughed as hard as I did during R.O.T.O.R. in a long time and for that I give it credit. It is a rousing effort that was likely made with the best of intentions and I would guess that deep down they knew the cheese was thick while making it. Not to mention that they set up a sequel in the end. How can you not love that optimism?

I will not boo at the Special Olympics.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Remember Courtney? Yeah, I didn't either but she was the younger sister of Valerie from the original who is now all grown up and looking to do some slumber partying of her own. Also, she has been recast with TV's Crystal Bernard who would shortly after this begin a long mediocre reign on the sitcom Wings. I will try not to hold this against her.

Meanwhile, Valerie is at a mental hospital as she apparently still has the Russ Thorn in her side and Courtney isn't exactly right in the head either. See, she keeps having these dreams that start with a shirtless hunk but end with premonitions of what will prove to be a bloody weekend at one of her friend's dad's condo...I guess. To be honest, the whole movie is kind of a mindfuck and not in that good way. Courtney has lots of visions/hallucinations/whatever throughout the run time all of which feature our brand new killer, the leather clad Psychobilly Dream Rocker with a power drill at the end of his rather elaborate axe. He struts his way through the kids (after an excruciatingly long set up) all the while spouting off one liners that mostly just reference famous rock songs.

I was kind of enjoying the lax approach taken early on as SPM II is clearly as interested in humor as it is horror, but it got old pretty fast. This is not to say that there aren't inspired (though maybe unintentionally) funny moments. The raw chicken attack holds up nicely as do some of my new favorite song lyrics, "I just want to be your Tokyo convertible(?)." The horror aspect, on the other hand, is basically a complete failure. There is nothing charming or frightening about the killer. The movie actually got considerably worse once he finally showed up which is not an easily accomplished task for a slasher.

SPM II isn't shy about wearing its influences on its sleeve either. Aside from the fairly blatant A Nightmare on Elm Street comparisons during the dream sequences, a number of characters are named after horror notables (i.e. Officers Voorhees and Krueger) and even going so far as to rename the family whose home was invaded in the first one to 'The Cravens.' Really, if you are going to do this, I say go all out. Like, "Cindy, have you met our new neighbor, Ted Leatherface?," or "Maybe we should invite the new girl." "You mean, Suzy Creature from the Black Lagoon? I don't know, she has really unfortunate skin." Maybe that's just me. I do know it is probably not best to remind your viewers they could be watching a far superior slasher than your own.

And after all this, my favorite thing about SPM II is actually the back cover which prominently features an action shot from the film that is obviously the stunt double for the killer. It's a straight shot of his tumble over the edge of a building engulfed in flames complete with fire mask to protect his head and what is definitely not the tight ass leather outfit the killer sports the entire movie. Genius.