Maniac (1934)

APRIL 30, 2008


“Once a ham, always a ham.”

A fantastic line from a fantast- well, from a movie.

But hey, can you go really wrong with a 1930’s era, COMPLETELY non-Code-following production called Maniac? Well, yes. You can go wrong with a lot of things. Luckily, this odd little (very little – the running time is shorter than that of the studio edit of Les Cousins Dangereux) movie more or less delivers it’s non promise of a maniac and visuals that are quite frankly pretty shocking for the era.

What does it deliver, besides odd dialogue about luncheon meat? For starters, and to quote Mike Starr: “Tits!”. Yes, despite being, you know, old, this movie has lots of nudity (the full title was Sex Maniac), which was a surprise to me not just because I thought such things were outlawed back then, but also because, as it is a budget pack movie, I was watching it at work, and had to quickly minimize the window before my co-workers saw (one of them was watching FOX news at the time, so I doubt whatever bullshit they were airing was any less graphic, but still). The whole point of the budget pack is to allow me to watch movies at work when I don’t have time to watch one at home (tonight I am seeing Speed Racer, and then punching out whoever assorted Liberty City denizens tell me to), due to the fact that they “definitely” don’t have not-work-safe things like nudity or graphic gore. What’s next, drug use and on-screen murder?

Well Maniac has those too. The story concerns a doctor who is killed by his assistant while they are attempting to revive dead tissue (pretty much the modus operandi for all mad scientists. Just once I want to see a mad scientist whose primary objective is to cure anosmia). For reasons that never quite make sense, the assistant then disguises himself as the doctor and continues the work. He was an older man – why not just say he died? Or Even still, why disguise yourself at all when you constantly have to explain where the “assistant” went anyway? Stupid mad scientists!

The most unique aspect of the film is that it continually presents us title cards providing us very stripped down (and now outdated) facts about paranoia, manic-depressives, etc. They pop up every 5-10 minutes and deliver info that isn’t quite relevant to what is on screen (he’s not manic depressive, he’s just a fucking loon, and terrible criminal mastermind to boot!). The scientist also occasionally freaks out, and we see the terrible visions in his mind – all of which happen to be footage from films such as Fritz Lang’s Siegfried. It reminded me of a “self portrait” I had to do in film school – the camera zoomed into my eye and you saw my “brain”, which consisted entirely bunch of clips from Fletch and Armageddon, plus snippets of bad rock ballads about broken hearts. Good stuff.

And star of Demon Knight.

Oh and the doctor pops a cat’s eyeball out for some reason. The director goes to great lengths to ensure the audience that it’s not a real cat (the one he squeezes in close-up is orange, despite the fact that it is a black cat that he captures), but still, it’s hardly the light fare I am used to for any film that cost me 40 cents.

If anyone has a copy of this movie on its own DVD, I am curious – is the title card quite obviously a still from the movie with the title imposed with computer based technology (i.e. Avid title tool)? Because it’s really jarring as presented here, and I am wondering what the deal is on that.

What say you?


Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf (1985)

APRIL 29, 2008


I had to make a tough decision when choosing today’s movie. With a newly purchased copy of GTAIV in my hands, I really didn’t want to stop playing in order to watch my 500th horror movie in a row (give or take). So I thought about it, and decided that the film I watched had to be something I probably wouldn’t like anyway, rather than unfairly “waste” a good movie on a day when I would be watching the clock more than the film. So really, is there any better candidate than Howling II? Let’s look at the facts – I didn’t like the original very much; Christopher Lee, the film’s STAR, considers it the worst film he’s ever done (even after he made Attack of the Clones); and it’s been almost universally derided by everyone else for the past 20 years or so. In fact, in all of my life, I’ve only encountered one man who liked it, and this sod also likes, well, Attack of the Clones. So I figured it was a safe bet, and it’s reasonably running time ensured it wouldn’t be too long before I was back punching hookers in the face and running over cops. Not to mention - more time to play GTAIV.

To be honest, the film wasn’t exactly a train wreck. Well, it WAS, but in a mostly enjoyable way. It took a while, but eventually the nonsensical storyline, haphazard directing/editing, abysmally awkward scene transitions, and just plain cheapness of the film sort of won me over. It’s impossible to hate a film in which we get a clock wipe to a scene of three werewolves (two women one man) engaging in a ménage a trois, while the man makes this wonderful, almost melancholy musical howl. Then they checker wipe to a midget or something.

Yes, wipes. It’s as if the editor just got the Avid “transition” package (and a time machine, I guess, since Avids weren’t around then) and was determined to use each and every one of them in the film, regardless of sense. And you really can’t blame him for such proclivities, as few scenes in the film ever really connect to the ones before or after them (from either a visual or storytelling standpoint). For example, at one point our bland hero and blander heroine check into a hotel. He asks for two rooms, and is visibly angry that they have to share one. And yet, 12 or so seconds later, she asks him for a hug and he goes right into some good ol’ “against the wall” fucking. Why’d you want two rooms if you could hardly wait for the bellhop to leave before engaging in the film’s only non-werewolf based sex scene? The whole movie is like a cinematic non sequitur.

For a sequel in which not a single cast or crew member returned (Dee Wallace’s corpse is played by a woman who couldn’t look less like Dee Wallace if she tried), it actually does a decent job of retaining the original’s themes. “Werewolf as cult”, bestiality, boring dialogue scenes... they’re all here, just as they were in Joe Dante’s original. The only major difference is the pitiful effects. Whereas Rob Bottin’s work in the original continues to impress, this shit couldn’t even have been admirable in 1985. At one point you can pretty much see where the wolf arm ended on the human performer, and there are no full-blown transformation scenes either (we just see close-ups of things like arms and back hair). A mid 80s horror movie where the makeup effects are the WORST thing about it? This movie’s puzzling nature never ceases!

What say you?


Son Of Frankenstein (1939)

APRIL 28, 2008


In the still-underrated Gods and Monsters, Ian McKellan, playing Bride of Frankenstein director James Whale, refers to the directors of the Frankenstein films that followed Bride as “hacks”. It’s a funny line and all, but I would hope no one else would, like me, assume for the next 9 years that the next film, Son Of Frankenstein, wasn’t as worthy a piece as a result. Because, in reality, Son is a damn good movie, if a bit slow.

The reason it feels slow is probably because the movie is like a half hour longer than most of the other films of the era (indeed – the only longer Universal monster movie is the Spanish version of Dracula). But it’s also a bit lacking in action during the middle, and could definitely have used another scene or two of Frankie just going apeshit. This one clearly had a big budget and good effects guys – the scene where he destroys a lab is top notch, probably the biggest action spectacle seen in a horror movie at the time it was released.

Otherwise it’s one of the best I’ve seen from the period. Adding Lugosi was a nice touch, and it worked beautifully. I didn’t even know he was in the film until the other day, when a buddy of mine was expressing his amusement over a song that used audio samples from the film, particularly of Lugosi saying “ they say!” over and over. This random anecdote was enough to put aside my increasingly dull Horror Classics set for the day and dig into my Universal Monster collections, so you KNOW it was funny.

Lugosi also plays the film’s score in a few scenes. It’s hilarious – you hear music, and think it’s the score, but then they cut to Lugosi, sitting in a window, playing a horn/flute/whatever.

It’s also a fare more suspenseful film than the others, in my opinion. The last third of the film deals with everyone coming at Frankenstein’s son from every angle – the cop who thinks he’s a murderer, the townsfolk who think he created a murderer, and the Monster, of course, who is seeking revenge against him. Add in a kid in peril and lots of Expressionistic-lite elements (the staircase, for example) and you got yourself a highly engaging movie.

Lionel Atwill also appears in the film, which isn’t really a big surprise. He appears to be in just about every horror movie made during the 30s. Sort of the Bill Moseley of his day.

I should also note, because someone will bitch if I don’t, that this is the last time Karloff played the Monster in this particular Frankenstein series. Bummer.

What say you?


The Dead Pit (1989)

APRIL 27, 2008


Brett Leonard is one of those directors who has somehow made a decent enough name for himself for a bunch of movies that aren’t very good. Lawnmower Man (his director’s cut version, anyway) is probably the only one that’s worth a 2nd view; otherwise if you have missed Hideaway, Virtuosity, Feed, or his first film, The Dead Pit, you’re not missing out on a goddamn thing.

Pit is slightly better than the others, however, due to its occasional low-budget charm, good locale, and a fun finale. Still, it’s a borderline chore to get to that 3rd act, as almost nothing happens other than a Dolph-ish Nazi ghoul occasionally killing folks. We are literally an hour in before any legit zombie action begins. Hell, even the goddamn credits are endless – I think we are about 10 minutes in before the final card appears. There are also several pointlessly long shots (someone leaves a shot and we hold on a blank wall for an additional 5 seconds) that help make the film feel slower than it already is.

Another thing that severely cripples the film is Cheryl Lawson, as the lead. She is, quite frankly, the worst actress ever assigned to carry a film. She moans or cries nearly every line she has, and can’t even pull off a good delivery on simple things like “Nice to meet you”. It’s astonishing that she was the best they could do; even on a low budget you would think that ANYONE would be able to be convincing at least once or twice during the film, but no such luck with her. And since there’s really only one other prominent cast member (a Nick Chinlund-y hardass), it’s a major issue.

Still though, once the hospital becomes overrun with zombies it improves, with some nice makeup gags and a much more lively pace. However, again, since there are really only two people on the “hero” side, it’s sort of lacking any real suspense or thrills, since we know they will be OK until the very end at least. And I like that it’s the rare zombie film in which there’s no open ending hinting at an apocalypse; other than the standard “one left” final scare, the zombies are entirely wiped out by the film’s best invention – a toppled water tower that has been blessed by a nun (for some reason holy water kills zombies in this movie. Whatever.).

This one is coming on DVD in a month or two, but I really can’t see myself ever wanting to watch it again. And they basically admitted at the screening that they plan to double dip, so don’t buy the single disc when it comes out, there’s a two disc on the way.

What say you?


Splatter Disco (2007)

APRIL 26, 2008


Maybe it’s just me. I thought I had a pretty broad sense of humor, and that it doesn’t take much to make me laugh – I giggle when someone says “sandwich” for Christ’s sake. But I didn’t laugh a single time during Splatter Disco, which is a big problem when the filmmakers were more concerned with jokes and humor than they were making a slasher movie. Christ, there are more musical numbers than kill scenes.

At first I thought it would be an amazing movie – a tongue-in-cheek slasher set at a fetish club? There are myriad possibilities for humor! Hell, who doesn’t want to see a Furrie get his/her animal head cut off, played for laughs? But for whatever reason, it simply doesn’t work. Ever. At all. In fact, on an entertainment level, this may be one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. It’s technically proficient (ugly digital video aside) and all that, but at no point during the entire film would I say I was having “fun” or “enjoying myself”.

Here’s an example of why the humor doesn’t work. At one point, this nerdy dude is fighting a jock douchebag type guy. Some guy goes to stop it, and Ken Foree stops him from stopping them. “Let them fight” he says. Someone asks Foree if he wants the kid to fight to prove himself, and Foree is like “No, I have 100 bucks on this!”. Ignoring the fact that Foree somehow found the time to bet on an impromptu street fight, it’s just a generic joke we’ve seen a bunch of times in other movies. But that’s fine-ish. What kills it is that after the fight is over (the nerd wins), Foree starts crying. The SAME GUY asks if he’s crying because the guy triumphed and became a man, and Foree is like “No, I lost 100 bucks!” That’s the same fucking joke! Which wasn’t funny to begin with! With the same two people!!! Christ!

Most of the humor is Police Academy-esque, albeit dumbed down and more obvious. As for the slasher scenes, they are entirely without suspense or buildup, though reasonably gory. And I kind of like how many folks are left standing at the end of the film – even if it meant an almost total lack of kills, it gave the ending a hint of originality not often possible in a slasher film. And it's nice to see Providence, RI used in a horror movie (for real I mean - Stuck took place there but was filmed in Canada).

And I should note that I was one of the few people in the screening that wasn’t laughing (actually I was one of the few people to stay for the entire movie – I saw a lot of walk outs and no one who came in late bothered to stay much longer). They might have all been cast/crew or friends, but hey, at least they seemed to be entertained. I would have walked out myself, but then I’d have to watch something else for the day. So I pressed on, just for YOU!

In closing, I’d like to note that this is the 100th slasher movie watched for Horror Movie A Day (including non canon reviews and October Extras). Hurrah, I guess.

What say you?


The Pit (1981)

APRIL 25, 2008


As I’ve said ones of times, the nice thing about Horror Movie A Day is that my complete lack of discernible criteria for choosing what I watch results in my finding not only a film I never would have watched otherwise, but possibly had never heard of at all (will one of the grammar police make sure that’s verbally correct? It looks wrong.). Such is the case with The Pit, a film that was recommended by Charmuh but I had forgotten about until a few weeks ago when I was rummaging through the cheap DVDs at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. There’s a zombie movie with Horshack on the flip-side of the disc – if that’s half as good as this movie, then it will be among the finest purchases I have ever made. And keep in mind, just last week I bought a chocolate pie.

A few months back I reviewed a film called Freaky Farley, a lovable, if uneven, independent oddity that featured a guy claiming that monsters lived in the woods. The funniest part of the movie was the reveal that the monsters were in fact, real. There’s a similar aspect to this film – our creepy killer kid claims that something called Trollogs live in a giant pit in the woods. About 20 or so minutes into the film, he goes to talk to them, and sure enough, there are four or five hairy goblin things in there. It’s fucking hilarious. Another, sadly unexplored odd aspect to the plot is that his teddy bear is alive as well. At one point, we see the bear’s head move, but this idea is never addressed again. According to the IMDb, the monsters were always intended to be a figment of the kid’s imagination, but this was changed during production. I think it’s all for the better – the movie wouldn’t be nearly as charmingly insane if the kid was just, well, insane.

Another hilarious thing about the movie is that you can’t really blame Jamie for tossing folks into a pit. As the film begins, he simply goes to talk to an older kid, and the dude punches him right in the face. A neighbor girl is so mean to him it makes Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown look sort of sweet and kind, and an old lady calls him a freak for no reason whatsoever. Sure, the kid is a bit off, but these people are downright vicious. Kick their ass, Jamie! Also, it has a really odd sense of what women can or can’t do. The babysitter picks up a knife after Jamie offers to get it. When he gets mad, she explains “Women are capable of a lot more these days.” Later, when someone claims that they can’t spell very well, she replies “Who can?” I can, you dumb broad!

It’s also a genuinely creepy movie at times. Jamie falls in love with his babysitter, which leads to a scene where he convinces her to bathe him. In addition to the fact that she washes his back for like 10 minutes straight (it’s fucking clean, woman!), at one point during this lengthy wash Jamie alludes to his mother molesting him while she bathes him. Also, he just watches her sleep at one point, and she’s barely concerned. This creepiness carries over to the production itself – again, according to the IMDb, the director’s wife didn’t allow him to film any of the nude scenes, except for the ones with his own daughter. Uh....

And this is the first thing we see in the film. Not even a production logo flashes by before we are subjected to a terrifying clown cake.

The only thing I didn’t like about the movie is that Jamie disappears for like 20 minutes straight during the film’s 3rd act. He’s the best part of the movie (the not-exactly Oscar caliber acting of Sammy Snyders helps immensely), so to have him MIA for so long definitely blunts the film’s impact. He re-surfaces in time for a delightfully mean-spirited ending though, so not all is lost.

Granted, the film is rather obscure (the fact that almost everyone involved never made another film again doesn’t help), but even with that, I was amazed to discover how little known it was even among horror nerds. I kept asking folks about it at the Fangoria convention today, and the only guy I spoke to who knew what I was talking about was an Anchor Bay rep – and they are the ones who distributed the damn thing! I believe it’s still in print (my copy was new, not used), so it shouldn’t be that hard to find. For the love of talking Teddy Bears and clown cakes, I urge you to seek it out and watch it. Christ, just look at the poster (in the Amazon link)! How can you NOT love this movie already???

What say you?


Stuck (2007)

APRIL 24, 2008


Why can’t Carpenter follow Stuart Gordon’s lead? After dabbling with big budget, more studio friendly movies, Gordon retreated back into the world of independent cinema, resulting in a very strong output over the past 10 years. The latest is Stuck, and while it has a few problems, it’s the exact type of film I want to see from the legends of the 70s and 80s – a small film that maximizes its potential, rather than high concept garbage that falls flat (you heard me, Ghosts of Mars).

And the concept is a great one – Mena Suvari accidentally hits Steven Rea with her car, and rather than take him to a hospital, she leaves him bleeding and impaled around the waist area, through her windshield. The film is basically just Rea trying to escape and Suvari trying to hide him while she figures out what to do. Most of the film takes place in Suvari’s house/garage, and the cast is pretty compact as well. It allows Gordon to more or less fully flesh out an idea, rather than shoot for the sky and fall flat.

Hell, this would work even better had Gordon gone even SMALLER, particularly, for a Masters of Horror episode. While it’s hardly a long film (85 minutes maybe?), it does get a bit repetitive in the middle, particularly when Suvari’s friend shows up and she has to convince the girl that she simply hit a deer. The black humor doesn’t work as well here (it feels like a sitcom) and it’s just another complication when there are already several. Wiping this chunk (actually, the entire character, who is annoying throughout) out of the film would have improved it immensely, in my opinion.

I also would have liked to have seen a verbal showdown between Rea and Suvari. He’s a homeless guy, and she makes her living taking care of old folks at a nursing home (why someone who’s so good at her job that she is due for a promotion can’t even bother to bring a hurt man some water is another unexplored avenue, but not really an issue). Even if just a brief one, I think a full-blown conversation between the two (instead of brief exchanges, usually consisting of only a single line or two), would be one of the film’s best scenes.

Otherwise, it’s a solid suspense flick. Rea is fantastic, as always, and a scene where he attempts to remove a broken windshield wiper from his belly is a nice, bloody, cringe-worthy setpiece. The scene culminates with Rea making a phone call to 911, and having to deal with none other than Jeffrey Combs (voice only) as the world’s most impatient 911 operator. In fact, there are a lot of jokes at the expense of bureaucracy and “the system”, which got quite a few laughs out of me. And the finale is a surprisingly bloody and violent one, with everyone more or less getting their just desserts in a crowd-pleasing fashion.

This one is going into limited release, if you happen to live nearby you should check it out, if for nothing else other than to reassure yourself that the guys who made the films we grew up on still know how to make an effective film when they want to.

What say you?


Loch Ness Terror (2007)

APRIL 23, 2008


"Sci-Fi Original Movie" isn’t a television show, is it? Like, I understand why House is the exact same thing every week (albeit awesome), but I can’t quite understand why all of these Sci-Fi original monster movies follow such an exact template, especially considering it’s a story outline no one likes anyway. Sharing more than just a few plot elements with the abysmal Lake Placid 2, Loch Ness Terror (it aired as Beyond Loch Ness, as if that makes any goddamn difference at all) is not much better; inching above LP2 due to two whole good effects and a hotter girl.

And I want to make sure I am assigning blame correctly – was Emmerich’s Godzilla the first monster movie to introduce the concept of a bunch of baby (title character)s to terrorize our group while the big baddie just sort of took a smoke break or something? Like, I know in Jaws they didn’t have to fight baby sharks, and the truck in Duel didn’t pull over for a bit and let a Corsica chase Dennis Weaver for a bit. Because it’s really an awful concept, and never used for even the slightest good. Cloverfield is a minor exception – because they were wise to use baby Slushos in a scene in which the real monster could not have appeared, and then more or less forget about them. Needless to explain – when the baby “Nessies” show up in this movie, I more or less checked out.

It’s even more of a problem in these movies than in Emmerich’s, because at least his LOOKED good (ish). The VFX guys once again blow their wad in the first scene or two, so by the time the babies show up, the budget is clearly gone, and they look like shit, on top of not being particularly threatening to begin with due to their size in relation to their mother (who also looks fake). Like I said, there are a few good effects (a step up from the “good effect free” LP2), but none of them are in shots of the monster attacking (save for a few close-ups in which rubber monsters were clearly used).

A big part of why the effects look so bad is that no one bothers to have the fake things interact with the real world. The monster’s head comes up or goes back into the water, and no water is displaced. It walks around on loose soil and leaves no footprints. The design itself isn’t too bad, and the compositing is above average for the most part, but this giant goof renders their efforts more or less moot. Effects Without Effect – sounds like a bad emo band, no? On that note, the color timing is also terrible – the opening scene has about four different color temperatures. Whenever I go to a test screening, the crowd is reminded that the film isn’t finished and thus the color timing might be off – I have never once seen it as bad in an unfinished film as it is in this allegedly complete movie.

There’s also a problem of putting the monster in places where he couldn’t logically fit. In that same opening setpiece, he apparently swims up to a foot or so off the shore in order to retrieve an egg, but not as much as a scale on his back breaks the surface of the water. Later, he walks around the dense forest without knocking over any trees (or making any noise at all, for that matter – he’s a borderline slasher in these scenes). Come on now.

And back to LP2 – some of the plot similarities are a bit too close for comfort. Quick, which movie am I talking about – some kids, including a foreign girl, go camping in the woods, and two of them are killed almost immediately. The others, one of whom is the son of the sheriff and pines after a girl who’s with another guy (who is eventually killed without any real concern), narrowly escape a few times before finding refuge in a tree. Christ. Again, they should have just combined the best parts (script, cast, crew, effects) and made one decent (if generic) monster movie with a bigger than usual budget, rather than spread the already lacking funds across two movies that both suck.

This tickled me – it’s odd to see credits with abbreviations anyway in a feature film (way to rise above your television roots!), but why is this one girl given a bonus “E”?

The badass in the movie is kind of unique. He plays a rogue cryptozoologist who dresses like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western, but he’s also incredibly nice. He expresses genuine interest in our Jake Gylenhaal-y lead (he’s the sheriff’s son), what his plans are, what his family is like, etc. Also, he has a penchant for reminding people that he is a cryptozoologist – I think the word pops up more than most of the character’s names. Furthermore, he’s played by the guy from Sleepwalkers, which means he is the speaker of one of my favorite lines in all of movie history: “Stop looking at me... stop looking at me you FUCKING CAT!”

If you’ve never seen a Sci-Fi original “Monster in the water” movie, you could do worse, but not much better. The only benefit to seeing it on DVD (the making of featurette is abnormally dull) instead of on the network is the lack of commercials. Otherwise, if you missed it on Sci-Fi, just wait for the next one to air.

What say you?


The Beast Of Yucca Flats (1961)

APRIL 22, 2008


Really, what else do you need to know?

My favorite all time episode of MST3k is Red Zone Cuba, an incomprehensible action movie about robbers, treasure, Castro, prisoners, hobos... I’ve seen it probably a dozen times and still don’t have the slightest clue as to what the hell is going on at any given time. It’s also hilarious, with many of my favorite sayings coming directly from Mike and the ‘bots comments (if you’ve never heard me randomly sing “Drink Night Train, go to the basketball game; throw up under the bleachers...” – you just don’t know me, man). So I had immediately checked out the episode The Skydivers, which was another film by the same guys – Coleman Francis and Anthony Cordoza. The episode sucked. Disheartened, I opted not to watch their treatment of the 3rd Francis/Cordoza masterpiece; The Beast Of Yucca Flats, until I had seen the movie itself, figuring I could tell whether or not it would make for a good episode based on how funny it was without them.

And let me tell you – this movie doesn’t even need the guys on the Satellite of Love. I was laughing my ass off almost nonstop. It’s also gotta be a ridiculously short episode – the movie only runs 54 minutes! Was this acceptable back in the 60s? I feel gypped if I see a movie under 80 minutes, let alone one under 60. Christ, some episodes of Star Trek run longer than that!

And yet, it’s a padded film. There’s an opening scene that has absolute zero connection to the film (it’s a woman being killed by a guy who’s allegedly Tor Johnson, but she’s in a house and he spends the entire film in the empty desert), a lengthy North by Northwest wannabe sequence that results in the death of a guy looking for his two kids, etc. There is also an attempt to make the plot look more complicated than it is, with the narrator rambling on and on about things that ultimately have no real bearing on the film itself.

Speaking of the narrator, he doesn’t narrate so much as he just sort of says things that sound interesting. Everything he says would begin and end with ellipsis if his dialogue was written. My favorite is early on, when he says “Yucca Flats... the A bomb... secret data... the first rocket to the moon....” in succession, as we see guys in a car drive around and shoot (pfft, I mean, wave guns) at some other guys. It’s beautiful. Even his dialogue is padded, as he offers no-shitteries such as “Vacation time... people travel east, west, north, or south...” for no reason whatsoever. And in what may be the most useless line of dialogue ever recorded until Vampires came along, Francis tells us that it’s “110 in the shade... and no shade.” How profound.

At least the narrator has a reason for being a disembodied voice. Francis shot the film without sound, and rather than try to sync stuff, he just had everyone talk off camera. I don’t think there’s a single shot in the film of someone talking where you can see their mouth. Some scenes include speakers that are never actually seen, which results in more than one occasion where you might be tempted to think that the characters are all insane, talking to non-existent people.

Hilariously, the transfer is one of the best I’ve seen yet on the Horror Classics set. Picture quality is crisp, the sound detail isn’t muddled, etc. And the end credits, seen at the beginning of the film (they scroll up! Opening credits don’t do that!) are all perfectly legible. Then again, since it’s not even a full length film, I guess they had more disk space to work with on the DVD. Sucks to be you, filmmakers who put effort into their stories and came up with 75 minutes or so of material! Enjoy your blocky, washed out image! Coleman and I will be up in a biplane, firing at random people in the desert and laughing all the way to the bank!

What say you?


Last House In The Woods (2006)

APRIL 21, 2008


Last week I knocked on Lake Dead for being a derivative movie that offered nothing new to the genre. Well I could say the same thing for Last House In The Woods (aka Il Bosco Fuori), which is essentially Last House On The Left meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. But unlike Dead, it has that certain je ne sais quoi that made it worth my while. Also, I really wish it was a French movie (it actually FEELS French, at least in the first half), instead of an Italian one, so that my clichéd use of French would be even more fitting. C’est la vie.

One of those certain “something”s was a first for me. In all the years I have been watching horror movies, I have never come as close to gagging as I did at the sight of a particular makeup effect near the end of the film. I’m the most desensitized sod in the world when it comes to gore and the like, but I legit had to take a few deep breaths and stop eating my Healthy Choice meat loaf dinner for a minute or two. I won’t spoil it, but it involves a giant tumor-ish growth on one of the bad guy’s necks, and the good guy’s mouth. Watch at your own risks!

The score by Filippo Barbieri and Federico Bruno is also fantastic. I actually sat and listened to the end credits so I could enjoy the theme until the very end. I say listened because the credits were in Italian and thus I couldn’t read them. There is one exception, however – the opening credits are all “unanacional” and “rigatoni” or whatever, but when it comes to the effects, it’s in plain English: “Visual Effects and Digital Grading by (Tony Luigi whatever.)”. Do the Italians not have a word for “Grading”?

Another thing about the music that tickled me was the sad music that plays when a certain character dies. Ordinarily, this is fine – but the guy is a goddamn thief and rapist! Early on, three guys are driving around, getting stoned and looking to get laid. They come across our heroine and her boyfriend, and do what any stoned Italian punks in a horror movie would do – beat the guy unconscious and rape the girl. And this is where the Last House comparison comes in, though it’s a bit reversed – the three end up coming to her rescue. You see, the real villains are a family of backwoods rejects, led by a guy who looks eerily like Feast producer Mike Leahy. And this was where the Leatherface comparisons came in. In fact, the film worked better when our antagonists are just two parents and their creepy cannibal son. But then two typical movie redneck mutant guys are introduced, and the movie loses some steam. In the end, everyone is soaked in blood and dismembered (though not necessarily dead), so it’s all good.

The direction/cinematography leaves a bit to be desired, however. For whatever reason, Gabriele Albanesi (director) and Giovanni Cavallini (cinematographer) opt to use constant zooms – fast or slow, in or out, doesn’t matter. It looks like High Tension: The Soap Opera. Sometimes it works well, particularly to invoke that sort of 1970’s feel, but other times it’s just annoying. Everything in moderation!

(Except the gore.)

I watched this on a screener; it’s been playing festivals around the world (including the US) since 2006. Not sure if/when it is ever coming out here, but if it comes to your area, I’d check it out. It doesn’t really break new ground on the survival genre, but, like Doomsday, it’s a “greatest hits” done right, and would probably be a blast with a “Grindhouse” style crowd.

What say you?


Satan's Skin (1971)

APRIL 20, 2008


Oh, bless you, Joe Dante. I had never even HEARD of Satan’s Skin (aka Blood on Satan’s Claw) until you added it into your festival, and honestly, if it wasn’t paired with Horror Express (yay!) I probably would have skipped it. Not a big fan of devil type horror movies, and I had never heard of anyone in the cast or crew, so I figured it would just be some dull oddity. Well it’s certainly an oddity, but it’s VERY far from dull.

The storytelling is very loose, something that was a bit strange but eventually won me over. For example, the film begins with a dude visiting his uncle to introduce him to his fiancée. The film follows the young couple for the first 15 minutes or so, and then once we have met a few other folks, they have seemingly served their purpose. The girl is never heard from again, and the guy just sort of gets phased out, to the point where the last time we see him he’s basically an extra in a scene. Later, five of the townsfolk are chasing one of the suspected cult members, a scene that comes out of nowhere. You might occasionally get a bit confused, but in the end it all more or less makes sense (at least in an interior logic sort of way – we ARE talking about a movie in which people begin growing parts of the devil on their person).

I should also point out that the film has a rather unpleasant “teen on teen” rape scene. By that point I was having a grand old time with the loony movie, but that sort of sucked the fun out of it for a while. It gets back on track, however, when the film’s actual hero suddenly realizes he has a goat leg.

The finale has some of the strangest editing I’ve ever seen. The town judge is swinging a sickle, and it suddenly freeze frames. Is it over? Nope, it cuts to the intended victims, who begin to run... and then it freeze frames. What the hell? It’s not like they are using a clever edit to hide the violence (none of them are killed), it’s just there for the hell of it. Very strange. It also contains Yvonne Paul, one of the hottest women I've ever seen, dancing nude and brandishing a knife.

Anchor Bay released this one (under the Blood on Satan’s Claw title) but only in Region 2, so it should be relatively easy to find if you're not in America. It's also been released on VHS, whatever that is. If you can watch it though, I highly recommend it – it’s like Children of the Corn meets Wicker Man, something I mean in the most positive way possible. Hopefully a stateside release will be coming along promptly. Like tomorrow.

Like I said earlier, it screened with Horror Express, a film that I really enjoyed when I watched it, despite being a god-awful transfer. Unfortunately, the print they showed wasn’t much better – it was scratched to hell, and each reel had a different color timing to it (one was too red, the next one looked right, then the next one was too yellow...). Still, a damn fine film that is also largely overlooked. Support strange 70s horror!

What say you?


Audition (1999)

APRIL 19, 2008


Since I believe the day I was born, people have been telling me to watch Audition (aka Ôdishon), saying "You'll love it!", "It's the most fucked up movie ever!" and things along those lines. What no one DID tell me is that it is in fact an incredibly boring movie, one that's not very well-filmed to boot, with all of the horror confined to a 10 minute chunk near the end of the film (save for a random shot of a bag throwing itself across the room about halfway through).

Afterwards I was told that that was the point of the movie - to lull you into boredom so that the torture stuff was all the more shocking and hard to watch. Well, fine, but that's not a movie. That's an exercise. Maybe it would work in 1999, on an audience who didn't even know it was a horror movie, but a movie that can only work under very specific circumstances isn't something I can particularly recommend, even if I HAD watched it under said circumstances. You know, Memento hinges on a gimmick as well, but it's still a well-crafted, highly enjoyable film to watch a 2nd or 3rd time.

And this isn't a complaint, but more of a warning to anyone who hasn't seen it yet and feels compelled to do so after reading this review: the torture really ain't all that disturbing. She cuts off his foot and sticks a few needles in his body (and eyes - the most cringe-worthy part of the entire sequence is when she "flicks" the needles protruding from his ocular region), and that's about it. Her frequent repeating of "Kittykittykitty" (misspelled Japanese for "Deeper, deeper") is more chilling than anything she's actually doing, and a decade later, it's almost kind of funny that the film had to be cut for an R rating; the stuff in the R-rated Saw films is far more graphic and disturbing. So if you're looking to be TRULY disturbed, you probably won't find it here if you've kept up with your modern "torture porn".

One thing I did like is how they filled in back-story via a hallucination that the main guy suffers as he is passing out from a drugged drink. It's one of those "is this real or completely imagined" type sequences, and it's probably the highlight of the film. More stuff like that and the film would have been great, but since it's more or less an experimental piece, it would nullify his attempt.

I'm glad the movie has its fans, and I do wish I could go back and watch it completely un-prepared for what I was about to see. But I can't say that even then I'd be particularly amazed by it, because intentional or not, the fact remains that 95% of the movie is lifeless and dull (and since it's not in English, I don't even have the option of "just listening" to it while I work on a Sudoku or something). I didn't see Psycho until the mid 90s; I didn't see Exorcist until 2000 (thankfully, it was the original version, not the 2000 "Version You Wish You Never Saw" or whatever the fuck it was called), etc., and I was still able to enjoy those films immensely, despite the "outdated" feel of certain sequences and the fact that I had already seen the dozens of movies that ripped those films off in subsequent years. And in Psycho's case, the comparison is incredibly apt, as the big "thrill" of that film for a first time audience was seeing its heroine killed 1/3 of the way through - something I already knew! But it still worked, because the performances, the technical aspects, the story, etc. were almost or just as compelling. That's how you do it!

I've only seen one other Miike film - his Masters of Horror (Imprint), which I really liked, due to Billy Drago's insane performance, the truly upsetting imagery (fetuses + river = ew), and the fact that it was half as long as Audition. Knowing that, which of his movies would you, dear reader, think I might enjoy? I assume not all of his films are the equivalent of an inverse pop quiz.

What say you?


Underworld: Evolution (2006)

APRIL 18, 2008


Dear Len Wiseman,

I like you. I really do. You seem like a chill dude, and you stole Kate Beckinsale from that Lucian dude from the first movie (and then on top of that, didn't resurrect him for this one). That’s fucking awesome. Also, you use practical effects as much as possible, another thing I truly admire And while my anger with Live Free or Die Hard is legendary (to... me), none of my problems concerned your direction. But after watching Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, I have a simple suggestion to make: STOP FUCKING WRITING YOUR MOVIES.

You see sir, one of the few movies I ever gave up watching was the original Underworld. I put it in, and after like 40 minutes I was just like “I have better things to do.” I forget what I did instead, though. A few days later I “watched” the rest, merely putting it on while I read a Fango or something. It was certainly a visually interesting movie, but the plot was just incomprehensible and the werewolves and vampires just kept fucking shooting each other instead of using their goddamn fangs and claws. So needless to say, watching the sequel was not high on my list of priorities; even with this whole Horror Movie A Day thing, the only reason I decided to rent it was because I wanted to use my Blu-Ray player, and U:R was the only horror movie on Blu Ray (at Blockbuster) that qualified.

And to give you credit, you cut back on the gunplay. The first sequence is grand, as werewolves tear dudes up, vampires bite, etc. Of course, it’s set in like 1208 or something, so the automatic weapons had no choice but to sit the scene out, but it's still appreciated. And even in the modern day stuff, it seems there is much more monster action than “guys who happen to be monsters shooting each other in the dark” action. However, the story continues to be needlessly convoluted. At some points I felt I needed to diagram the relationships between all of the characters in order to keep them straight. This is essentially a monster movie, can’t things be a bit simplified? The whole concept is kind of stupid to begin with, so I can’t help but keep my brain mostly turned off. In short, I don’t want to think really hard about why exactly a giant bat guy is tearing off some other dude’s head in a “monastery-slash-opium den”.

And what is with your obsession with hockey puck shaped objects? The keys, the bombs, the family heirloom things... they all look the same. Try a triangle, or maybe a hexagon.

Also, and again, this isn’t really your fault, but when the MPAA rating description comes up before a Kate Beckinsale movie begins, and promises nudity... let’s just say you’re just setting the viewers of your movie up for massive disappointment. Because, as you know, the nudity stems from a scene with some Romanian no-name heroin chick while Kate has a PG-13 love scene with that Felicity dude. That's just cold-hearted, man.

Speaking of that scene, how do you film something like that?

Enclosed in this letter is a picture that includes the colors red, yellow, and orange. I have labeled each one so you know which one is which. If you’re feeling adventurous, try to use one or maybe even all of these colors in your next film and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, you can always reshoot the scene in your trademark blue, dark blue, black, and dark black.

I did not listen to your commentary track as of yet – it’s tough to get me to watch a commentary on Blu Ray, because I usually do commentaries at work. When I’m at home, there are so many other things begging for my attention (other movies, games, my wife who hates your wife) that it’s asking a lot for me to sit there and listen to a guy talk about a movie I didn’t really like all that much to begin with (though I did like it more than the original – it seemed better paced and the action was improved, plus, again: less guns). I did, however, watch the hour and 15 min of making of stuff, and see that quite a lot of work went into the film. Still, it tickled me to note that the documentary was broken up into 6 different areas of production, and not a single one concerned the story/writing. Also that you are half-lit in all of your shots - did you have a black eye or something?

Like I said, visually I think you’re great. If Live Free... wasn’t a completely misguided sequel to my favorite action franchise, and just a Bruce Willis action movie, I’d be singing your praises to high heaven. But you’re not a writer. Hopefully your next film will match your skills as a director with a well written script, and you can eventually put these baffling movies behind you.

And if not, well, you can always bang your wife, and I can’t, so you still win anyway.

What say you?


Frankenfish (2004)

APRIL 17, 2008


Ah, expectations. With a title like Frankenfish, I was expected a Sci-Fi original, and a lot of corny one-liners, bad effects, military guys... the standard SFO package. And with “FROM THE DIRECTOR OF SPAWN!” proudly displayed on the cover, I was expecting unwatchable crap. So I was surprised to find that the movie was pretty decent, with the good ultimately outweighing the bad. Hurrah!

First the bad. No one set out to re-invent the wheel here, which is fine, but still, the structure is a bit too basic. I would have liked a plot complication or two somewhere in there. Also, the would-be lead actress is terrible. None of them are going to win any Saturn Awards, but the rest were believable and reasonably personable. This broad belongs in the “Tara Reid as a Scientist” casting hall of fame; she looks like a stripper but she’s supposed to be a Fish and Wildlife Expert. Sure. Also, they hired the great Mark Boone Junior to play one of the resident “bad guys”, but failed to do anything with him (he doesn’t even get a good death scene!). On the plus side, the creepy Asian dude from Prison Break (season 2) was in it as well.

Otherwise, not too shabby at all. The effects are pretty impressive, and seem to be mainly practical. There are a few blunders in the CG heavy finale (that “blood” is ridiculous) but by then I was already more than impressed by the level of care and actual effort put into what should be the movie’s strong suit, unlike say Lake Placid 2, which didn’t have a single good effect in the entire goddamn movie (other than John Schneider’s hair, which had to have been achieved through digital means). The kills are also great: beheadings, legs torn off, etc.

Which leads me to another “plus” – this movie kills almost everyone! I mentioned the would-be lead female (the one on the cover); she gets half her head blown off halfway through! Also, the kindly New Orleans voodoo woman gets it a few minutes later. Wooo! Kill em all! Again, since I was expecting a Sci-Fi movie, I sure as hell wasn’t expecting such nasty kills (or the occasional boob shot, or profanity, both of which the film also happily contained).

It’s also, quite simply, a well made film. I hate to sound like a broken record*, but it’s worth re-mentioning: when the crew puts effort into the movie, it pays off, resulting in a movie that is considerably better than one might expect from the umpteenth “Terror in the Water” movie. When everyone goes through the motions, doing the bare minimum to achieve a usable piece of film footage, the movie turns out even worse. In Frankenfish’s case, it’s definitely a case of the former – pacing, production value, (most of) the effects, etc. are all solid, and thus the film’s weak spots are easily overlooked.

The DVD package is worth mentioning too. In addition to basically spoiling the “sort of” surprise in the movie (that there’s more than one Frankenfish), the menus are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. From the main menu, when you select scene selection, it scrolls through the trailers/setup menus as well, sort of like the Windows Vista “choose your window” screen. And this came out 2 years before that godawful OS!

All in all, worth a watch. The fact that the trailer before the movie begins is for Anacondas was a good sign (another movie much better than I expected it to be). It’s not as goofy as the title is, but in the end, that’s probably for the better (since the occasional “funny” lines from the stripper expert are pretty bad).

What say you?

*I used to play, and sing, the Refreshments' song "Broken Record" over and over in my car, and my good friend Jeff claimed that the song alone gave him a headache. He's a fool, it's a great song/album. Just thought I'd mention that.


Black House (2007)

APRIL 16, 2008


One of the, I dunno, four good things about doing Horror Movie A Day is since I occasionally get movies to review without asking for them, I have a completely blank slate with which to watch it. Such is the case with Black House (aka Geomeun Jip), which I had never heard of, didn’t know the plot, not even what kind of horror movie it was. The cover suggested some sort of Saw/Texas Chainsaw type film, and the tagline just suggests complete crap ("The Address Where DEATH Lives"), but that was (thankfully) not the case.

Since it’s new, I won’t spoil anything, other than to say that it’s about an insurance investigator unknowingly getting into some disturbing shit. If I had I known the twist that occurs halfway through, the film probably wouldn’t have been as enjoyable. Not that it’s terrible surprising, but the film is carefully constructed, constantly building on what you know (or think you know). It’s also well paced, and for a change, fairly short for an Asian film (100 minutes, as opposed to the usual “thisclose to two hours” ones I usually watch). In fact, it could even be a bit longer; the deleted scenes are almost all worthwhile and could only be cut from the film for length (there is no commentary or any sort of marker that explains where the scenes would be in the film, though it’s not too difficult to figure out for the most part). There’s a subplot about a crowded elevator that perfectly encapsulates the lead’s attitude at the beginning of the film vs. what he is like at the end.

And it makes total sense! At no point during the entire film did I go “What the FUCK is going on!?”, or have to consult the IMDb synopsis to understand what I was seeing; truly a unique experience for an Asian horror film. On that note, I do suggest paying close attention to the names of supporting characters when they are introduced, as they are mentioned more often than they are shown, especially in the film’s final act.

It’s also nice to see a more rural area in one of these movies. A lot of them take place in urban locales, but the titular house seems to be in Korea’s version of northern Maine. And the hero isn’t a woman, also fairly rare. He’s a guy named Juno (though he's not pregnant, and there's a good reason for him not speaking simple English), and he’s sort of like the guy in 13 Games Of Death, a mild-mannered office drone who gets in way over his head just trying to do the right thing. The actor, Hwang Jung-Min, is quite good, as is the beautiful Yu Sun as the woman he attempts to help.

Music, also good. Direction, quite good (I loved the long shots in the final rooftop battle – as opposed to American horror movies in which the camera is seemingly just thrown onto the actors as they fight, resulting in a completely confusing scene). So do I have anything bad to say? Not really. There seems to be a translation error when it comes to discussing how much the insurance policies are worth – the child who dies at the beginning of the film is supposedly worth 30 million??? Normally it wouldn’t be a problem, but it is here (to explain why would be spoiler-ish – let’s just say that the person receiving the money almost instantly needs more, which is ridiculous. Even I couldn’t blow 30 mil in 2 days).

Also, there’s a scene where the hero needs to be told what a psychopath is. “Ever heard of psychopaths?” a cop asks him, and he’s like “nope.” Now, maybe Koreans are just less nuts than we batshit Americans, but it still seems a bit odd that a grown man would be completely baffled as to what a psycho was. It’s just an excuse to lay the groundwork for something that will be important later, so I wish they could have come up with something a bit less silly.

All in all, a solid thriller that proves that the Asian horror world is not all ghosts inside your electronics (the irony being that movies like this are far better than the Ju-Ons and Ringus that are primarily associated with the Eastern genre output. Sigh). It’s based on a book, I plan to get it if it has been translated into English. If not, I will get the audiobook. Those have subtitles, right?

What say you?


Mortuary (2005)

APRIL 15, 2008


In retrospect, it’s kind of a good thing that Tobe Hooper made a real lot of crap in the 80s and especially the 90s. Because it forever lowered my expectations for his newer films, and then I happily enjoy them. It worked for Toolbox Murders, and now it worked again for Mortuary (which has the same writers – maybe it’s just them. His Dance of the Dead MoH is the worst thing he, or anyone else, has ever made). It’s no Chain Saw or Poltergeist, but it’s enjoyable, which is more than I can say for anything Carpenter has done since 1996.

Old reports on Bloody-Disgusting say that this film is supposed to be set in Arkham, Massachusetts, but I don’t see that mentioned anywhere. In fact, on the DVD, the making-of shows a scene where they have to redo a line because the script is no longer set in Pomona, CA (where it was filmed). So I dunno where the hell its supposed to be, but it’s certainly not Massachusetts (there is still some Lovecraftian influence in the film – mainly a quote on one of the tombs). And I was also a bit puzzled by the setting, as the kid complains that they are in the middle of nowhere, but it’s clearly just a Los Angeles suburb.

Speaking of the kid (Dan Byrd - who incidentally starred in a remake of Hooper's Salem's Lot), he, the hot female co-star, and the town real estate guy have the absolute most annoying voices ever heard in a film. Byrd sounds like he’s talking in his sleep, and practically sings half of his lines; the girl sounds like a damn frog, and real estate guy just laughs like Dr. Hibbert almost nonstop. Luckily he’s not around much (this is NOT another real estate horror movie, hurrah!).

On that note, it actually took me a while to figure out WHAT kind of horror movie this was. Slasher? Zombie? Witch? It’s a slow burn, and that’s kind of why I liked it. There’s nothing wrong with taking your time and developing character, setting atmosphere, all that good stuff that is often skipped over (especially in DTV movies). On the commentary, it’s revealed that a PG-13 was considered, and honestly, the trimming it would take to make this a reality would hardly be damaging; the film would still work without the occasional gore or F bomb. Besides, any movie with the line “Together we can stop graveyard babies!” is automatically at least OK. The eventual menace is pretty unique – this sort of wiry sludge stuff (it looks like a spider’s leg) that sort of zombifies you. And there’s a really cool side effect – everyone just repeats one of the last things they said when they were alive.

It’s also kind of a downer. Just about everyone dies, and other than a few requisite punk kids, they’re all nice, good people. As I pointed out in the Lake Dead review, when they only kill off the people who do something bad, the movie automatically loses the possibility of suspense.

The only real bummer is that the ending is pretty effects heavy, and the effects aren’t very good. It’s one thing when bad effects are just the order of the day, but when they more or less “save them” for the finale, they should be a lot better than what is shown here. Hilariously, on the commentary track, Hooper points out “those are CGI rocks”, as if there was any doubt.

The commentary is otherwise pretty good; Hooper’s interesting to listen to, and he talks about a lot of the production troubles (CA was hit with the worst rain in 50 years during production – sinking sets and the like) and other nuts and bolts stuff. They shower a bit too much praise on the average acting, but that’s OK. Speaking of the actors – the bully I mentioned before is played by Bug Hall! Fucking Alfalfa from the terrible 1994 Little Rascals movie! Sweet!

There is also a decent enough, and lengthy, making-of documentary. It covers a lot of the same ground, but instead of Hooper praising the actors, we see a lot of the actors and crew gushing about Hooper. Everyone loves everyone, yay! There’s also a hilarious bit of Adam Gierasch, one of the writers, getting lunch while in his corpse makeup.

Give it a watch. It’s nothing particularly amazing or anything, but it’s solid, old school (except for the CG) slow-burn horror.

What say you?


The Sadist (1963)

APRIL 14, 2008


I may be wrong (I often am, even when pointing out that I am often wrong), but I believe The Sadist may be the very first “Folks break down en route to something and run afoul of a psychotic killer” movie. Granted, it’s partially taken from reality (mainly the Charles Starkweather case), but the hallmarks of the sub-genre are all on display: the broken down car, the escape attempts, the cops showing up and nosing around, etc.

Unlike most of those movies, or, all of them, this one has an ace up its sleeve: Arch Hall Jr. If you’re unfamiliar with the lad, you’re missing out on 12% of all that is good in the world. He doesn’t act so much as he just sort of sneers and laughs (just look at the cover art!), and he often comes off more like a mentally handicapped kid playing guns than a sadistic killer. Still, he is quite effective, because he’s just so batshit and without remorse (nowadays, our killers always seem to have good qualities). It’s a phenomenal thing to watch, and luckily he’s on screen for almost the entire film.

And this IS a “film”. Not only is it one of the few in history to take place in real time (and pulls it off better than many of the other films that have tried it, such as Nick of Time, Johnny Depp’s sole attempt playing a normal guy in a normal action thriller movie), but it’s also wonderfully shot by a guy named William Zsigmond. Not familiar with the name? Well it’s a pseudonym (or really bizarre misspelling) of Vilmos Zsigmond, the legendary cinematographer who has gone on to considerably classier things, such as Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Deliverance (and, for some goddamn reason, Jersey Girl). It’s to his credit that a movie with almost nothing happening, set almost exclusively on a patch of dirt in front of a gas station, with only five people, seems as alive and exciting as it does. Sure, it gets a little draggy near the end (the chase between Hall and one of the victims goes on forever), but otherwise, it’s an amazing achievement for such a small, obviously low budgeted movie.

Our hero, Ed (Richard Stiles) is also a delight. Early on, he delivers a howler – “I don’t want to shock you, but I don’t want to get my shirt dirty”, which he tells our heroine as he takes off his overly dressy shirt while he fixes the car. He’s wearing the tightest wifebeater known to man, and it’s obviously a bit cold during the filming of a few scenes. Really weird. He’s also incredibly inept and immune to, you know, DOING anything. There’s a bit where he goads Hall into firing off his last bullet, and then just stands there while a weaponless Hall grabs another clip and reloads. Fucking putz. This scene comes after one that had me rolling, as Ed tries to figure out just how many bullets Hall has left. He knows four shots have been fired, but then he just starts basically making shit up to account for the others, figuring “he probably shot someone else too!” and the like.

His ineptness continues to the very end of the film. Running from Hall, he tries to jump on a ledge that’s about 2 feet off the ground, and fails. He falls to the ground, then gets up and charges at Hall, who calmly empties a clip into the poor sod’s chest. Why the fuck didn’t you do that BEFORE, dumbass? The other guy in the movie is more intelligent, but he buys it early on, after a rather heartbreaking scene where Hall tears up the guy’s baseball tickets (they are heading for a Dodger game). I have a real weak spot for scenes like that, and the fact that the guy actually CRIES as Hall tears them up doesn’t help. It’s almost as bad as when someone loses their dog in a movie. Poor guy, it was probably the highlight of his year! Let him go to the damn game, Hall!

My sadness was equaled by my delight, however, when two cops show up. They are the most laid back cops in film history, as evidenced when they find a clip on the ground. “Hey, someone lost the clip to their .45.” one says, almost forlornly, before resuming his soda without any thought that just MAYBE the rather odd looking guy with a story full of holes might be up to no good.

In my notes, which were written on a napkin with a 2cm pen that protrudes from my Swiss Army knife, I have written what looks like “Faders”. No idea.

Anyway, it’s a solid little thriller, refreshingly chilling (as dumb as he was, I really didn’t expect Ed to get killed), and holds up well despite all of the films to come along since that have a similar premise. The print was also quite good (little scratchy in parts, nothing too bothersome), which was a relief – the movie is more or less public domain (it’s on the upcoming 4th budget pack – Tales of Terror!), which usually results in terrible prints. It also had a fantastic trailer reel attached, including one for a movie called The Wild Roots Of Love. This trailer may be the finest ever cut together, and I wish it was on Youtube or whatever so I could share it with you, but alas.

What say you?


Lake Dead (2007)

APRIL 13, 2008


A buddy of mine was angry that I liked Doomsday despite the fact that it had zero originality to it (other than the sort of original idea of spending 40 million dollars to recreate a bunch of sequences from older movies and fashion some semblance of a story out of it). The lack of originality didn’t bother me too much, because I was having a blast watching it. The characters were fun, the locales were interesting, it had good makeup gags, etc. Entertainment for entertainment’s sake is perfectly fine every now and then. However, I cannot give Lake Dead the same leeway, because while it also doesn't have a single original idea that I could find, it failed to get the whole “fun” part right either (to be fair, they didn't seem to be intending it that way).

Ripping off Wrong Turn, Mother’s Day, Devil’s Rejects, Bloodlines (possibly – this came along after but who the hell saw Bloodlines?), and Motel Hell for pretty much its entire running time, Lake is technically proficient and reasonably well-paced, but the characters are completely terrible, the makeup is pretty much all (bad) CG, and the setting is Motel Hell, again. Both films were shot at Sable Ranch in California, and it was obvious to me from the goddamn gravel outside of the motel our characters have “inherited” that it was the same exact place. Recycling a locale is one thing when it’s an entirely different type of movie (the Griswolds, the Murtaughs, and the Monster Squad family all live on the same street, for example), but when the movie shares a few plot similarities with another one shot in the same goddamn house, it’s a bit distracting/annoying.

The film also contains one of the most idiotic plot contrivances I’ve ever seen in a movie. The girls inherit a motel when their grandfather dies, and at the funeral they tell their estranged father they are heading up there to see it. “Don’t go there!” he yells. “Please!” They say “no” and go anyway. Maybe, I dunno, tell your fucking CHILDREN that the place is run by their redneck uncle and grandmother, who plan on using the girls for breeding and/or just plain ol’ killing? He obviously knows this (he lied about their grandfather ever being alive at all, in order to 'protect' them), and yet waits a day to bother really doing anything about it. Also, for the plot to work, the girls can never question why they only have one set of grandparents (who/where the mother is – who the fuck knows, the movie exists in a world where such things aren’t important, despite the fact that almost every character in the movie is related).

Speaking of, the characters are poorly introduced. At the funeral, a blond girl is seen with our lead (also a blonde). The next time we see her, she is talking to the lead’s boyfriend. He’s telling her to hurry up and get ready so they can all go check out the motel, alluding to the fact that it’s her motel too. So we can just assume that the two girls are sisters, but the movie never explains this until about halfway through. But why is her possibly future brother-in-law the one to call her up? Do you call up your future in-laws and berate them for being late?

There’s also a third sister, thankfully not another blonde. But she IS the least pleasant character I’ve ever seen in a film (including those who aren’t “good guys”). She swears constantly for no reason, gets angry at pretty much everything anyone says to her, etc. Luckily she is the first to go, but still, the movie never quite recovers from spending most of the first 15 minutes of its running time on a character who should be instantly killed.

This brings me to another gripe: the movie’s complete lack of a mean streak. It’s like the girl is just a bitch only to ‘justify’ her death a few minutes later. The other victims are also jerks (another irritable bitch, a slut, and a guy who cheats on the irritable bitch with the slut); all of the ‘nice’ people survive. Come on! If screenwriter Daniel Couglin wrote Wrong Turn, Jeremy Sisto’s character would have survived, because he was a nice guy who cared about others. This just voids suspense – we know who will be safe just because they haven’t broken the lie/cheat/steal rules of movie heroics.

As for anything resembling fun, like Wrong Turn 2 or most of the other movies I mentioned? There is ONE sort of joke in the entire movie, and it made me retch:

Girl: “Why do I love you so much?”
Guy: “Probably because I put you in my top 8.”

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? The irony is, all of these vapid no-name actors look EXACTLY like the people who are pictured in fake spam profiles. “Hi, I’m new to Hollywood and my first “break” is starring in Lake Dead. I liked your profile pic and see that you like Shocker. Click my profile and watch my boring movie!”

Other than that, the only other thing that got me to chuckle was the final line, spoken by the “finally doing something to stop his daughters from being raped by their uncle” dad, who shoots his brother in the head and says “THAT’S how you fuck family!” Nothing like a good joke to lighten the mood, even at the expense of his children’s psychological terror (not to mention the years of therapy they will endure now that they realize that their father is also their brother, or whatever – again, who the fuck their mother is wasn’t a concern). Dickhead.

The original Wrong Turn worked because it was the first “no humor, no bullshit” survival horror movie in ages when it was released. The story broke no new ground, but it was a successful throwback to 70s horror in the dawning age of PG-13 horror, with good performances, effects, and even a decent level of suspense to boot. But now, Lake Dead does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself from the others of the past few years. In 2007, you gotta be fun or do something original. Doing neither is just pointless.

What say you?


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