Saturday, October 31, 2015

31 Days of Gore: The Demons series

It's Halloween. I've reviewed more than thirty movies this month. This year's 31 Days of Gore comes to an end with three Italian horror films. Do they bring the gore? Read on to find out!

Demons (1985)

A bunch of strangers mysteriously receive tickets to the screening of an untitled movie. Shortly before it begins, a woman finds a mask in the lobby and tries it on, goofing around with her friends. When she takes it off she discovers the mask somehow cut her cheek. As we all know from watching too many movies like this, wounds are never so minor, especially in a film co-written by Dario Argento and directed by Mario Bava's son, Lamberto.

Later, one of the characters in the movie-within-the-movie finds a suspiciously familiar mask, puts it on, and cuts his cheek. It's not long before he turns into a demon, much to the disgust of the overly squeamish audience. Meanwhile, the woman who cut her cheek "in real life" goes to the theater's bathroom where she secretly begins to transform. Some time later her friend goes to check on her, discovers the woman is now a demon, gets chased into the off-limits area behind the theater's screen, and ends up getting herself brutally murdered. The demon tosses the body through the screen and—as so often happens in horror movies set inside theaters—the real horror comes tearing through the movie itself.

So meta.

a well-made but slightly overreaching analysis on movies within movies

The man who's apparently the boyfriend of both women (or a pimp... probably a pimp) doesn't seem too heartbroken when he discovers they've both turned into demons. In fact, he's the first person to announce, "Don't touch her!" and "We've gotta get outta here!" And guess what... he's the best character in the entire movie. Played by Bobby Rhodes, he's like the black Hugo Stiglitz (the real one from Nightmare City as opposed to the fictional one in Inglourious Basterds), kicking and switchblading his way through each obstacle the filmmakers throw at him. 

When the survivors are trapped on the balcony, Rhodes commands them to rip up the seats and use them to barricade the doors. When they find dead bodies among them, which can turn into demons at any minute, he forces his impromptu army to toss them over the side. Someone says some nonsense about respecting the dead, but Rhodes isn't fucking around. He's too experienced, too crafty for that. Do what he says and you just might survive the night.

A character like this should make it to the end of the picture, but... well, these movies don't always make sense. 

There's a reason the About Me section on this blog mentions my affinity for "characters who punch their problems in the face." Yes, I understand the appeal of realistically examining death and those it affects in slower paced media like Fear the Walking Dead and so on, but honestly, haven't we had enough of that lately? And is it ever as entertaining as a film like Demons? Isn't inconsequential violence just as artistically valid as the consequential stuff? I mean, for fuck's sake, where's the fantasy in having characters moping around funerals all the time?

Even before the trend to make genre fiction more like real life, most characters just didn't have a satisfying sense of agency. In horror films they'd almost always make one boneheaded decision after another while screaming their heads off. In Demons there are a few characters who'd be perfectly willing to do just that, but then there's always another character, like Rhodes, who's willing to step up, slap 'em across the face, and keep the pace of the movie moving.

And what a movie it is. The camera never cuts away from the good stuff, there are plenty of killings (and victims) to go around, and music from the likes of Billy Idol, Go West, and Mötley Crüe gives it all a fun yet aggressive tone. The climax is splatter-filled and frantic, and the glowing eyes of the demons are used to great effect throughout.

you have to love any movie which combines samurai swords with motorbikes

Movies like this are why so many horror hounds would sit through one crappy VHS after another: hoping to find a gem like this one. I was getting a little burnt out this month. This one made it worthwhile.

Click the "Read more" link below to read about the sequel.

Friday, October 30, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Tales of Halloween (2015)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

With Adrienne Barbeau, Lisa Marie, Stuart Gordon, Lin Shaye, Barbara Crampton, John Landis, Joe Dante, and a couple of Troma regulars, the cast of Tales of Halloween reads like the guest list at a mega-sized horror convention. Hell, that's not even everybody you'll recognize. My only complaint about the casting? Nobody gets any more screen-time than a handful of minutes.

Barbeau, riffing on her role in The Fog, probably gets the most time in this anthology. Her narration serves as the glue for the ten stories, the subject matter of which ranges from aliens to demons and psychopathic children. At worst, the stories in Tales of Halloween are pointless, but more often than not they're gleefully entertaining, not to mention funny. Even when the stories are pointless, they're never boring.

In the first segment, a child wonders why his joyless parents confiscate his candy haul every year. When he's supposed to be in bed, he sneaks out of his bedroom and discovers his parents perversely pigging out on the treats while he sleeps. That's when he decides to carve them up with a meat cleaver. In another segment, a couple of idiotic criminals kidnap the son of a wealthy man. When they call to make their demands, the father says, "Not interested," and hangs up on them.

What's admirable about Tales of Halloween is how seamless it all is. While I liked The ABC's of Death just a little bit more, that series was a quilted showcase for twenty-six different filmmakers whose wildly varying styles sometimes clashed with one another. Tales of Halloween, on the other hand, is a true collaboration, having actors from one segment walking through the background of the next.

If it's cartoonish black comedy you're looking for, Tales of Halloween brings it. It's already one of my favorite anthology films of all time. You could do a lot worse on a Friday night.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next (and last!) movie.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Head of the Family (1996)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

So if there's anything 31 Days of Gore taught me, it's this: I'm a much bigger fan of Full Moon movies than I was when I was a kid. Sure, I said I disliked Seedpeople when I saw it a couple weeks ago, but I somehow don't regret watching it, either, probably because it gave me exactly what I expected. And hell, maybe that's why I like Full Moon movies more often than not: I'm never expecting much from them.

Like I said when I reviewed Shrunken Heads, I had no intention of featuring any Full Moon movies this month, but once the seal was broken, I kept getting drawn back to a poster I had seen for Head of the Family. Just look at how awesome the title character is:

Tom Wilkerson really let himself go

I went into Head of the Family without the faintest clue as to what it was about, other than the knowledge the title was literal. I suggest you do the same if you're no stranger to Charles Band films, but I admit it's probably a harder sale for most viewers. Allow me to entice you...

Lance is the redneck owner of a small town cafe who's fallen in love with the beautiful wife of the meanest biker in town. Her name is Loretta and, in perfect B-movie dialogue, Lance describes his love for her like so: "It's like fucking a firecracker whenever I'm with her." Lance isn't very bright, Loretta isn't either, and her criminal husband is probably dumber than the both of them combined.

All this is to say nothing about the Stackpools, an alien-like family of weirdos. They consist of a giant man-child, a freak with bulging eyes, and an unnaturally endowed woman played by a real-life pornstar. Later in the film Lance stumbles upon the family's secret: the Stackpools actually include a fourth sibling, Myron, who's little more than an over-sized head in a wheelchair. Stranger still, Myron controls his quadruplet siblings with his telepathic mind.

Myron's also a mad scientist who longs to find a proportionate human body that can support his excess brain power. Like something out of a Roadrunner cartoon, the Stackpools barricade the highway with a sign that detours motorists directly to the front door of their mansion. Once there, the brute of the family knocks them out so that Myron can run human experiments in his basement.

So when Lance stumbles upon the family's dark secret, he decides to blackmail them. The deal is this: he won't turn them into the authorities as long as the family offs Loretta's husband. The head of the family reluctantly agrees. When Loretta's husband turns up missing as promised, she and Lance could live together happily ever after... or at least until Loretta tires of Lance and his cheating ways. Unfortunately, Lance gets greedy and tries to blackmail even more out of the Stackpools: an allowance of two thousand bucks a week.

This stuff isn't Shakespeare, but compared to a lot of the movies I've watched this month, the dialogue goes above and beyond bare minimum and the acting is as good as it has to be in a B movie... and maybe a little better at times. It's just a fun movie that I can only recommend to people who smile when they see a giant head rather than roll their eyes.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Tormented (2015)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

In Tormented (aka Berkshire County) a teenage girl named Kylie goes to school one day to discover the chad she reluctantly went down on at a costume party not only video taped the entire thing, but shared the video with all of her classmates. Although the boy said he and his girlfriend had broken up, it turns out they haven't (shocking, right?) and the girlfriend's more pissed at Kylie than her douchebag boyfriend.

The bullying doesn't stop at school. When Kylie gets home, it turns out even her mother blames Kylie for the video leaking. After all, this is a fairly generic horror movie: parents just don't understand.

So what does this subplot have to do with the rest of the movie? I'm not entirely sure. I guess it's about a bullied young girl having to choose between facing her fears or dying horribly, but Kylie's already been through too much by the time the movie brings in its horror elements. Having a family of masked psychos break into the house where she's babysitting a couple of kids seems needlessly cruel here. Maybe they were trying to make some kind of statement, but if that's the case it's little more than an after-school special tacked onto the beginning of a slasher film.

And I know teenagers are dumb (and even dumber in movies than they are in real life), but there's a part where Kylie gets a chance to get away. She's sitting behind the wheel of her car, keys in the ignition, when the 911 dispatcher tells her, "You're better off staying where you are." Kylie agrees before getting out of her car and going back into the house that's under assault by masked maniacs.

I'm not saying I was a smart teenager (I wasn't), but I know for a fact I would have groaned at that scene just as loudly as I did as an adult.

I think that's the biggest problem with Tormented: you've got fine direction, a really good actress, and competent filmmaking, but a silly script. This is basically You're Next Lite. There are a few surprises, a lot of boneheaded decisions, stupidly incompetent cops, and a twist ending which will surprise no one who's ever seen a slasher film before. Even so, I'd be interested to see what the director and some of the on-screen talent could do with a better story.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Dead Heat (1988)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

Yeah, I know. Dead Heat probably doesn't belong in 31 Days of Gore, but I felt like I hadn't featured enough movies with Vincent Price. And honestly, how bad could it be?

Dead Heat, which stars Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo, opens like any other 80s action-comedy which attempted to cash in on the success of 48 Hrs. and Lethal Weapon. The problem with all the copycats is they could never quite strike the balance between action and well-written humor that the real deals had. Despite this, Dead Heat attempts to throw another genre into the mix: horror.

You'd look just as bored if you were sharing a car ride with Joe Piscopo.

As goofy and clichéd as it is, Dead Heat opens with a fun energy that immediately drew me in... to an arm's distance, anyway. Williams and Piscopo are an odd couple of cops who can't seem to get fired even though they're constantly reprimanded for their "crazy stunts." In the beginning of the film they have a shootout with a couple of jewel thieves who just won't die until one steps on a grenade and Williams rams the other one with an unmarked car.

When Williams and Piscopo visit the bodies in an autopsy room, the medical examiner says the bodies have been on her table before. When the cops ask what she means by this, she replies, "They've already had autopsies." Their investigation leads the duo to a chemical plant, which is hiding a three-faced troll. The troll proves just as hard to kill as the jewel thieves in the earlier part of the movie.

Dana Carvey is looking pretty bad these days.

You know what? The makeup effects aren't bad. The movie itself is, and maybe this goes without saying, but it's a good bad movie as long as you like dumb action and terrible one-liners. Just be warned the filmmakers seem to think Joe Piscopo is a decent substitute for Eddie Murphy, but he's not... obviously.

Anyway, Treat Williams is gently killed and the medical examiner figures out how to resurrect him, Frankenstein-style. They soon discover Williams doesn't have a heartbeat and can't breathe although he appears to be in perfect health. Worse, Williams only has twelve hours to nail the bad guys, at which point he will decompose completely. Halfway through the movie a woman says, "You're hurt!" To which Williams deadpans, "Lady, I'm dead."

Just when you thought the jokes couldn't get any lower.

I don't hate Piscopo, even though he's not a very good actor, and I've always wondered why Treat Williams (playing a character named Roger Mortis... hardy-har-har) wasn't a bigger star than he was. So I'm not going to mark off points for the miscast leads, even if they do have the chemistry of video game NPCs. Vincent Price isn't in the film long, which is disappointing, but I suspect he was pretty unenthusiastic about horror movies considering this was his last one.

Dead Heat? More like Dead Meat!

So is Dead Heat worth a watch? Let's assume you're really hung over and you want to be entertained, but don't want to do too much thinking... if so, then Dead Heat is the film for you.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

Monday, October 26, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Feast (2005)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

I don't know why I followed the development of Feast on Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's Project Greenlight, but never actually watched the movie until now. In case you're unfamiliar with Project Greenlight, it was a reality TV show in which the contest-winners got to make a movie in the Hollywood system. The first two movies produced by Project Greenlight sucked so the producers decided to go for broke and make the third a horror film.

Feast would be great if the shots were a little longer and the director didn't try to be so damn cute. There's a lot of exhausting wink-wink, nudge-nudge bullshit in the beginning of the movie, in which the filmmakers flat-out warn you they're going to give you the unexpected. Unfortunately, when you're expecting the unexpected, and you get the unexpected, then you were expecting it all along, weren't you? If the film had lured us into believing it was a by-the-numbers horror film (You're Next comes to mind), the unexpected stuff would have been much sweeter, not to mention a lot less self-congratulatory.

Never mind all that. Everything else about this movie is great.

Here's the setup: there's a bar in the middle of nowhere. There's a ton of potential victims in said bar. It's just an average night until a blood-drenched man with a shotgun bursts through the door and warns the patrons they had better fortify the bar on the double.

It's not long before monsters arrive, draped in roadkill coats and cattle-skull masks. They're gnarly-lookin' beasts who'd just as soon yank your body through the slats in the window. In a misguided act of desperation, the characters attempt to stand their ground by dangling the monsters' dead baby from a stick. This, as it turns out, only angers the monsters further. Henry Rollins' character, who's described as "a poor man's Tony Robbins," later admits: "Yeah, that was a bad idea."

Most of these actors you'll either know by name or recognize from other movies. Not only is this the second movie I've written about in a row which features Clu Gulager, it was directed by his son, John Gulager. After a success like Feast, John might be relegated to horror productions for the rest of his life. I hope he's comfortable with that, because it's clear he was born to make films like this and I'm interested in what else he has up his sleeves.

Feast is a helluva ride. It was obviously inspired by only the best kinds of movies I wanted to feature in 31 Days of Gore. I'm glad I've finally seen it. I'm not sure I'm ready for the sequel, though, because it's a pretty exhausting movie.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

31 Days of Gore: From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

When a movie has Vincent Price, Clu Gulager, and Rosalind Cash, you don't need to do much deliberating. Just rent the damn thing. That's what I did.

Then I groaned when I realized it was an anthology film.

I'm not saying all anthology films suck, I'm just saying even the best ones tend to have at least one shitty entry. The first segment in From a Whisper to a Scream is pretty weak, and it cops out by cutting away seconds before showing us what we all really wanted to see. Nevertheless, the second story tops it. Of course, that's not exactly hard to do when you set the bar so low right out the gate.

These stories mostly adhere to the EC comics' rule: something terrible must happen to an innocent person, and by the end the instigator must get what they deserve, usually in some grand, ironic manner. It's a classic type of horror story, but there's not much room for suspense. From a Whisper to a Scream tries to deviate from the pattern every once and a while, but when it does the outcome just seems needlessly cruel.

The container story begins with the lethal injection of a deranged woman. A reporter who witnesses the execution later ends up at an old library cared for by Vincent Price. Price tells the reporter the town's haunted and he presents his case by showing the reporter four stories from various points in the town's history.

In the first story, Clu Gulager plays the part of a hallucinogenic old man who falls for an uninterested younger woman. In the second story, a gunshot victim played by Terry Kiser (Bernie from Weekend at Bernie's) ends up betraying the swamp-dwelling man who nursed him back to help. The third story is about a woman who falls in love with a glass-eating circus freak who's bound by voodoo to remain in the carnival for the rest of his life. Pretty standard stuff.

Then there's the fourth story. Like I said above, it's hard to play around with such a simple formula, but when you have a real piece of work like the evil protagonist in this story, you've got yourself a good throwback to Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt. This one reminds me of John Landis's entry to The Twilight Zone movie and that episode of Star Trek where they find a bunch of kids running everything.

In it, the insanely prolific actor Cameron Mitchell plays a Union sergeant who doesn't mind gunning down Confederates (or his own soldiers) even after he's learned the war's ended. He and his group of asshole soldiers end up captive in a town run by children. It's later explained—and this is kind of spoilerish—that the children's parents were massacred in the war so the kids decided to keep running things themselves and avenging their parents along the way. And when the children reveal the oft-discussed "magistrate" towards the end of the picture, it's wonderfully bizarre.

As a whole, From a Whisper to a Scream is a pretty solid rental, even if some of its elements are structurally weak. Vincent Price doesn't seem particularly enthused to be in it and three of the five stories aren't exactly good. But the story in the swamp and the one towards the end are technical and creative achievements.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Knock Knock (2015)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

chocolate with... sprinkles!

Keanu Reeves plays a forty-something architect whose family has gone on vacation without him so that he can focus on a project for his job. Later that night, a couple of young women show up on his doorstep, seduce him, then refuse to leave his home. When he threatens to call the cops, they giggle and say they've got a good story to tell: "You want to check her ID?" asks one of the women. "She's too young to have one."

From that point forward, Keanu's character is forced to take part in their sick games. After tying him to a bed, one of the women wears his daughter's clothes and rapes him while the other woman videotapes. At various points throughout the movie, Keanu gets the opportunity to make a run for it, but he chooses not to, hoping until the bitter end that he'll find some way to fix this problem and keep his wife from finding out about his infidelities.

I'd like to point out that I'm a fan of Keanu Reeves, who the internet seems to think is a joke. Not many movie stars would do a picture like this. Hell, most stars would have run the other way when offered The Matrix, especially after getting burned by the Johnny Mnemonic movie. Judging by some of the roles he's chosen to do, he's a genuine fan of genre films. Knock Knock is obviously not a movie he did just for the paycheck—the entire film budget was less than most movie star's salaries. It's a brave move to take a role like this and I'm sure his agent tried to talk him out of doing it.

Knock Knock is probably Eli Roth's best-looking film, but it's also the least entertaining. Maybe I would have liked it more if I had seen Death Game, which Roth apparently wanted to remake, but I missed the old Roth—the fun Roth—and he doesn't get up to his old tricks until right before the credits roll. There's actually a very funny bit towards the end involving Facebook. Had the rest of the movie been like that, I probably would have been able to recommend it.

My biggest complaint is the movie doesn't seem to have a message. When you subject viewers to this kind of humorless violence, you should either have a reason or make it entertaining. This is like Funny Games without the point. I've always enjoyed Eli Roth's films, but this one's a misfire. It's a shame, man. A downright shame.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

Friday, October 23, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Mark of the Devil (1970)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

this is a terrible "trailer," but so is the rest of the promotional material

There are those who will tell you Mark of the Devil is a proto-torture film along the lines of Saw and Hostel. I've even heard it compared to films like Cannibal Holocaust and Blood Feast. Those people are wrong. This is no more a simple torture film than Passion of the Christ. It's probably a lot less exploitative, too.

Mark of the Devil was certainly marketed as an exploitation film. The producers even drummed up publicity by having theaters pass out barf bags before showings. It was undeniably a cash-in on Vincent Price's Witchfinder General (a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm), which came out two years prior. Unfortunately, I think too many reviewers are remembering the hokey way Mark of the Devil was promoted rather than the film itself. Here's a movie that deserves a lot more credit than its reputation gets.

At the beginning of the movie, a man who's been accused of witchcraft has his fingers chopped off before he's tarred and feathered for the villagers' amusement. Moments later, two more accused witches are burned on the pyre. The blasé man responsible for hunting witches in the village is known as "the Albino," and business is booming until a traveling witch hunter arrives with his eager protege, played by Udo Kier.

Olivera Vuco and Udo Kier

The first time we see Kier's character is when he humiliates the Albino for falsely accusing a woman (Olivera Vuco) of witchcraft simply because she won't have sex with him. Naturally, Kier falls in love with the woman, which leads to one of the film's major conflicts: Kier's mentor also accuses this woman of witchcraft and temporarily convinces Kier he's going against God if he doesn't do the same. While Vuco's official indictment is prepared, which will make her torture legal, the other accused witches are burned, stretched, and mutilated in various ways until they fabricate confessions which name future victims.

This is a film which is full of memorable villains and beautiful antagonists. To see Kier this young (one of his first roles) clenches the fact he was born to be a movie star. I'm very surprised some of the supporting women in Mark of the Devil didn't go on to make dozens and dozens of movies like this. The photography is also masterful in its use of contrast, juxtaposing beautiful faces and images of horrific violence. If anything is a surefire sign this isn't a typical exploitation movie, it's the music, which isn't the ominously droning theme you'd expect from a movie with a title like "Mark of the Devil," but something softer, akin to Theme from a Summer Place. It's clear the music is meant to underline the tragic love story, not the senseless murders and torture.

If you ever thought I was too insensitive to the subjects exploited by the films featured on this blog, A) you're mistaken and B) here's one that automatically makes my blood boil: witch-hunting, both literally and figuratively, not to mention the kind of mob mentalities that fuel these senseless panics.

A lot of films about literal witch-hunting are metaphors for modern issues. Mark of the Devil, though, is literally about witch-hunting, which was a long chapter in human history which should never be forgotten, much less watered down by panning the camera away from the unspeakable violence "good people" committed in the name of dearly held beliefs. Despite any historical inaccuracies or technical problems it may have, Mark of the Devil is one of the most effective films about any subject, period.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Deranged (1974)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

Oh yay, yet another movie inspired by Ed Gein.

There's a good chance I've seen Deranged before and completely forgot it. That's because it's completely forgettable despite decent acting, better-than-average camerawork (for a movie like this), and a wonderfully odd séance, which involves a lonely widow pretending she's possessed by the spirit of her dead husband; his spirit, the woman claims, wants Cobb to "make her feel like a woman again."

That's the best part in the entire movie.

The movie opens with the following card: "The motion picture you are about to see is absolutely true." I've never believed a movie when it went out of its way to tell me it was a true story, but I believe it even less when it feels the need to add the word "absolutely." For added realism, the movie is hosted, 70s documentary style, by a man who claims he's a real life newspaper columnist.

Uh-huh. Sure.

The newsman's asides give the film a hokey Faces of Death feel, which is fun, but the filmmakers completely forget this character by the time they get to the second half, which drags like a tortoise in molasses. The first half of the film is actually promising. It's a quietly bizarre affair that somehow makes a sympathetic character out of Erza Cobb, the film's serial killer. Unfortunately, the only reason I didn't fall asleep during Deranged's second half is because I was hopped up on coffee.

Roberts Blossom, who's probably best known as the sweet old man in Home Alone, plays Cobb the serial killer. In an introductory scene it's made clear he loves his mother very much, so much so he's trying to feed her pea soup even though her nose is bleeding all over it. When she dies he's left heartbroken. A year later, he gets the brilliant idea to dig her up and take her back home. When the town sheriff pulls Cobb over with his mother in the passenger seat, the policeman mistakes the smell of a rotting corpse for alcohol on Cobb's breath... and lets Cobb drive home anyway.

"Do you know what the real meaning of Christmas is, Kevin?"

All is well for Cobb now that Mom's back at home—other than the fact her skin is deteriorating. Well, no matter. He'll just borrow skin from other women to keep her fresh. It's not long until Cobb himself is wearing the skin of his victims, baiting far more women than he really needs to complete his restoration project.

Like I said, I really enjoyed the first half of Deranged, but the second half is stretching the taffy a little too thin. I like good horror movies and I like bad ones, but mediocre is unforgivable with material as inherently deranged as this.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Manborg (2013)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

Here's a movie which was reportedly made for a little over $700 ($1,000 CAD according to Wikipedia). Yes, it's probably the cheapest looking movie I've reviewed all month, but it certainly doesn't look like they only spent $700 on it. I would have guessed the budget was at least twice that.

Manborg's influences include Star Wars, Robocop, Shadowrun, Mortal Kombat, DOOM, Hellraiser, and The Running Man, and that's only to name a few. The cyberpunk costumes are made out of spray-painted duct tape, plumbing parts, and a handful of communications electronics the producers likely found lying around thrift stores. The hovering robot which patrols the holding cells is obviously a modified action figure, animated with stop-motion, and the set designs utilize everything from CGI to cardboard and glue.

And guess what. Manborg is probably one of the funnest movies I've watched this year.

I've heard of Astron-6, the small production company behind Manborg and the Troma-distributed Father's Day, but this is the first movie I've seen from them. It reminds me of another ultra low budget spectacle called The Taint, which indicates a movement of poor moviegoers who are likely pissed off studios no longer make entertainment for adults.

Manborg opens with a hilariously cheap-looking war between humanity and Count Draculon, who's leading an army of mutated (or something) Nazis straight out of hell. The character who will later be resurrected into Manborg witnesses his brother's death mere moments before his own. When he wakes up, now a cyborg, he and a ragtag crew of misfits are forced to fight in a gladiator arena for hell's amusement.

The supporting characters include a Liu Kang knockoff, whose voice is dubbed by an obviously caucasian actor (a nice touch), a female kung-fu assassin, and an illiterate pseudo-Australian with a penchant for revolvers. There's a little too much mugging and winking for the camera, but that's a minor complaint because most of the movie is wisely deadpanned, which makes it feel a bit more authentic.

Hollywood isn't making movies like this. The exclusion of production value is a small price to play for something so incredibly kick-ass.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Terrorvision (1986)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

With a title like Terrorvision, a movie can really go either way, but you know it won't be mediocre. The very first shot is a close-up of the monster, which reminds me equally of Audrey II and the one-eyed creature from Pee-Wee's Playhouse. What we have here is a bonafide monster movie on our hands.

Reminiscent of Night of the Creeps, an alien civilization disposes of something which, naturally, finds its way to Earth. This is the prologue before the opening credits, which are accompanied by an 80s pop song designed specifically for the movie. It's not a particularly good song, but it hints Terrorvision is the kind of movie which doesn't take itself too seriously. The filmmakers obviously think you might as well go big or go home.

And they go big in such a way it's almost exhausting, but rarely boring. The acting is so over-the-top it goes well past the point of being funny, becomes downright stupid (and sometimes obnoxious), and somehow gets funny again. Its sitcom-quality sets frame the actors—many of who you'll recognize—in a way it's perfectly clear this is a boiling hot piss-take on suburban life in the eighties.

The Puttermans have just installed a satellite dish on the edge of their property. Home systems back then were the size of SETI dishes and were usually found in between above-ground pools and broken trampolines. Grampa thinks it's a radar dish; when the family channel-surfs to an old war movie, he shouts, "Troop movements!" and tightens his grip on the loaded gun which never leaves his side.

The Puttermans' little boy idolizes his nutty grandfather while the daughter is an MTV- and Cindy Lauper-obsessed mall punk. Mr. Putterman drives a Porche with the vanity plate MR. COOL and enthusiastically pursues the swinger lifestyle with his vain and conceited wife. While the couple is preparing to wife-swap, Mr. Putterman puts on his disco-flavored gold chains and complains that his daughter's new boyfriend "looks ridiculous."

Funny stuff.

What the Puttermans don't know is a monster, which is later described as an energy being, has made the new TV system its new home. Grampa and the little boy are the first to discover the terror in the television and waste no time arming themselves with the old man's collection of military-grade weapons, which are stockpiled in his vault-like bunker beneath a confederate flag. The monster begins picking victims off one by one and the movie doesn't go amiss until the extended parody of E.T. Don't worry, though: it won't be long until the monster flips out and starts killing again.

Terrorvision is a refreshingly fast-paced horror film which currently scores a 0% on the Rotten Tomatoes. Sure, it's stupid, but it's not stupid, if you know what I mean. I would guess very few directors could succeed at making something so oddball even if they tried—and most wouldn't want to. This movie is just too damn weird not to enjoy.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

Monday, October 19, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Tremors 5 (2015)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

First we lost Kevin Bacon. Then we lost Fred Ward. Then I stopped giving a shit. Fast forward several years later and Netflix recommends I watch Tremors 5. I thought, Hey, why not?

I'll tell you why not: Jamie Kennedy. As soon as I saw him put on a helmet so that his stunt double could ride around the opening credits on a motorcycle for five minutes I almost turned the fucking movie off. Here's an actor who sucks so bad, instead of trying to make better movies, he made a documentary to openly attack his critics. What a fucking crybaby.

You're probably thinking: Surely he's an expendable character, right? Surely no one thought they could replace Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward's chemistry with Michael Gross and Jamie Kennedy! Nope, Kennedy really is the supporting actor. Here's a character who says "dome" because he thinks it makes him cooler than just saying "head." The rest of the time you won't know if he's parodying famous movie lines or outright ripping them off. Either way it's not very funny.

Neither is the addition of piss humor. This movie seems to think piss is hilarious. Getting pissed on, drinking piss, singing deliriously while spreading piss all over your body. I guess these things could be funny, but they're not here. And while Michael Gross still seems genuine as Burt, the filmmakers think they can make us laugh simply by having him do little more than speak in military jargon. Are words like "rendezvous" really that funny? (Let me suggest Nick Offerman for the inevitable reboot. While we're dream-casting, let's have Kevin Bacon move to Ward's part. I've heard Bacon wants to be involved with a new Tremors anyway, so why not? It couldn't be any worse than this one.)

At best the movie is kind of entertaining and at worst it isn't bad enough to turn off. Considering it's free for anyone who has Netflix's streaming plan, the price is just about right. Never mind the setups early on are so obvious you'll figure out almost exactly how they'll be used in the resolution ("Hey, look! A phosphorous grenade!"), or that it's all too easy to guess which characters will live and which ones will die. And never mind there are scenes ripped straight out of Jurassic Park or the fact that guns don't seem to work against the monsters, but a couple of arrows do.

Honestly, I think the franchise derailed with the addition of shriekers and ass-blasters. I get that using graboids again would have made the sequels exactly like the original, and some of the solutions to the shriekers' thermal vision were fun in Tremors 2, but you just can't generate suspense when your antagonists are literally farting fire. And speaking of those creative solutions we liked so much (pole-vaulting to a truck, for one) there's nothing as fun as that in this movie.

I will say Tremors 5 probably has the best CGI I've ever seen in a straight-to-video movie and the camerawork is pretty impressive, too. Considering some of the other stuff I've recommended this month, I have a feeling I'm being a little too hard on it. I honestly don't know why I expected more. If you liked the last couple of films, you might have a good time with this one. At least until they reveal...

Eh, I won't spoil it. Best to let you throw popcorn at your TV, too.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Lifeforce (1985)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

What's strange about Lifeforce is I enjoyed the movie, but have little desire to talk about it this month. Maybe it doesn't belong in 31 Days of Gore despite the fact it certainly has some gory stuff in it and a ton of nudity. The thing is, none of that stuff is presented in an exploitative way. It may be even be the most tasteful, least gratuitous movie I've featured this month.

I know, I'm slipping. I'll try to do better tomorrow.

Sexuality aside, Lifeforce has more in common with modern blockbusters than it does with the horror film the trailers seemed to advertise. Which is probably why it bombed: the people it was intended for didn't know it was made for them and the people it was marketed to were probably expecting something a lot different from the guy who brought us Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It feels like a big budget alien invasion story with various shades of science fiction and horror.

This is serious stuff. And it's effective, too. The acting is good. The special effects are great. The Blu-Ray edition was worth the wait—and I did wait because the Netflix copy I got about a year ago was in 4:3 ratio and the Scream Factory edition is going for around fifty bucks on eBay. If the plot made just a little bit more sense (or any at all) it might have been considered a classic by now. It's just not very compelling when all the aliens want from us is mystical blue stuff that might as well be fairy dust.

A mission to Haley's Comet discovers a gigantic derelict spaceship (150 miles long) hidden in the corona. Once inside, the astronauts are shocked to discover two men and a woman preserved in see-through capsules. After transferring their bodies to their own ship, the human aliens are brought back to Earth for experimentation. Just as they begin to dissect the female specimen, she wakes up and sucks a scientist's life force right out of his body, leaving him a decayed shell of his former self. The beautiful woman escapes the facility in the nude, like that's not the kind of APB every cop in the country would scramble after.

While the main characters are trying to track the woman down, the corpse of the man she drained unexpectedly comes back to life and steals the life force of another victim. The scientists later discover that people who've been drained in such a manner always come back—via awesome animatronic effects—and if they, too, don't drain others of their life force they'll explode. It's essentially a zombie movie in which the infected don't crave brains and flesh, but the spiritual mumbo jumbo of others. London is the center of this pandemic so it won't be long until the military quarantines it and prepares to wipe it off the map with nuclear weapons. The aliens, however, have other plans for the inhabitants.

Like I said, it's a serious film. It's not even laughable in its attempts to be a serious film. Tobe Hooper has made something unique here, which makes it hurt all the more that he's still making movies like Djinn, which looks goddamned terrible. Considering movies are rarely made for adults anymore (I guess that's what TV's for these days), it's hard to imagine a time when movies with extroverted sexuality could get marketed to summer crowds. And if you ever wanted to see Patrick Stewart get possessed by an extremely feminine creature and subsequently make out with another man, here's the movie for you.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

31 Days of Gore: Seedpeople (1992)

It's October. Time to talk horror. This year I'm reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

um... HD?

So that you know where I'm coming from, I'm a big fan of The Puppet Masters (the Heinlein book, not so much the movie) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, (the original movie and the Donald Sutherland remake, not so much the book, but only because I never read it). I'm just wired to like "quiet invasion" stories, which might explain my lifelong affinity for They Live. There's something intrinsically spooky about the thought of having your identity stolen... or finding out the person you know better than anyone else is no longer said person.

great poster, bad movie

Seedpeople, a movie I've kind of wanted to see ever since I saw the full-page ad in the back of a Fangoria, says in the opening credits: Original Idea by Charles Band. Well, I'm not sure about "original," but if you're expecting anything other than a throwback to 50s monster movies with a hint of science fiction, you'll probably be disappointed.

You might be disappointed anyway. Movies like this are only as good as their mad scientist. This one was primed to be great—he's a kooky old drunk with UV lights strapped to his head and arms—but he's relegated to explaining the plot, which really isn't complicated enough to warrant as much dialogue as they give it.

Before we go any further, I just want to point out the greatest thing Seedpeople has to offer is the following line, spoken by a none-too bright farmer who's just stumbled upon an alien spore: "What in the ding-dong-heck-a-ma-doodle is that?" Yes, that may be the dumbest line in a movie ever. And I love it.

The film is set in a remote town called Comet Valley and, conveniently, there's a single bridge which leads in and out of the community. Even more convenient: it's about to be closed for maintenance for three days. The main character arrives just before they close it down. He's a geologist (or something like that) who's still in love with his ex-girlfriend who now runs a bed and breakfast. She's also dating the town sheriff, who hates the main character in a junior high drama kind of way. Which is to say nothing about the main character's childish advances on his old flame. He pursues her with a persistence that's downright creepy and laughable. He's a forty-something acting like a lovesick teenager.

and you thought tinfoil hats were crazy

All of this is explained in a flashback because, after the events that took place in Comet Valley, the hero is being interrogated by the government. Yes, it's another flashback movie. No, it's not any better than most of them. Yes, they'll go for the twist ending you're already expecting. The movie's so predictable, as soon as the lead female and the teenager become seedpeople, you'll know there's going to be a peaceful solution to the problem. No, I'm not giving everything away, but the remaining tricks up its sleeve are nothing special.

I've said before I'm a fan of Full Moon movies, but I just can't recommend this one. Although there's certainly plenty of cheese to enjoy, the movie itself is goddamned routine. But that's the great thing about horror movies: the bad ones remind you to cherish the rare ones. I've been picking so many winners this month, it was nice to have the opportunity to reset.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.