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Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween III: Season Of The Witch

I'm sick of people dismissing this movie. Apparently it's not part of the "canon" of Halloween movies. Canon arguments are for Star Trek and Star Wars- come on people! I'm convinced that most of the folks who say this is bad haven't even seen it or don't watch it because everyone they know says it's bad. Good thing I'm not a fucking teenager and know what to do in these situations right? While I go soothe my taste in movies, have a looksee at the trailer:

I also found this teaser trailer! I find the trailer interesting for its heavy emphasis on the witch mask featured in the film (there are three masks- a witch, a skull and a pumpkin all manufactured for the film  by Don Post who make AWESOME masks) as the pumpkin ultimately proves to be the titular mask in the movie. Don Post mass produced all three masks (the skull mask actually dates back to the 60's) to support the film. I really want the pumpkin, but they are quite rare and fetch a collectors price on the regular.

Have a look:

Sorry about the diversion, on to the plot...

Plot synopsis: A strange murder happens in the week before Halloween that gets Doctor Dan Challis (played by none other than super stud Tom Atkins) begin a private investigation. He teams up with the daughter of the murder victim Stacie and they follow the trail to the Silver Shamrock Novelty Company. Here they uncover a hideous scheme to murder children with their masks via a horrific Celtic ritual involving Stonehenge, a repetitive television commercial, and sheer downright assholeism. Can they stop the clock and save the children...?

I hear from quite a few folks (as I was starting to say above) who dismiss this movies as crap because "Mike Meyers isn't even in it". This isn't necessarily true because he shows up in a commercial for a television showing of the original Halloween in a bar early in the film. The reason he is not actively in the film is actually quite simple and far more interesting than naysayers will realize. John Carpenter (Director of the first film in the series and a producer/etcetera of Halloween II and III) wanted to start turning the Halloween series into a sort of Night Gallery style anthology series where each film would be a different story themed around the holiday (If you don't know what the show Night Gallery is, you might want to find out). Assumedly John Carpenter would have produced most if not all of them, and like II and III have his trusted crew and a few of his semi regular cast show up along the way. I really think it's a terrible shame this movie didn't connect with audiences the way I and II did, as that put the kibosh on the whole anthology idea.

I seriously don't see the problem, the movie (just like Halloween II) has Carpenter/Hill producing, Carpenter/Alan Howarth doing the soundtrack, the venerable Dean Cundey as director of photography, and Tommy Lee Wallace as the director. Many movie fans don't memorize names so this list doesn't mean a teaspoon of dogshit to them, but basically I am trying to point out that this movie is nuts and bolts a John Carpenter movie without him in the Director's chair. It has all the atmosphere (as I always say is a crucial and sadly absent quality from many new studio made horror films) and artistry of his films but trusted to his beloved crew.

I guess people just really like Michael Meyers. I mean sure he's creepy and the archetype for a lot of slasher movies that came later, but to drag that shit for another six movies and two (soon to be three) remakes? Sorry, it gets stale. What I like about anthology movies and series is that it's different every time. There will probably be clever nods and in jokes to other films in the series but each one would be a stand alone feature. I think Carpenter really went out on a limb to try and do something different here but the audience at the time just didn't get it. Like many of his films, it didn't seem to find an adoring audience until some years later with the advent of the home video cassette.

I honestly think this movie stands strong right beside the first two, just watch Halloween IV onwards and try to tell me THIS one is the worst, because I will point out just how foolish and uninformed of an opinion that is.

-Shit flows only one way.
-Last I checked that is downhill.
-The top of the hill was the third movie.

I mean really- they start introducing plot elements like secret cults and shit that help keep Michael safe. DUMB. He's way cooler as an anonymous nomad killing machine with no fear, pain or conscience who DIES AT THE END OF HALLOWEEN II. Continuing past that is boring, formulaic, and ultimately played out less than half an hour into Halloween IV. Having a fresh new horror movie about my personal favorite holiday (which a hideous cold ruined for me this year, thanks a lot) would have been way cooler. Can I really put it any more simpler than that?

No, not really.

Now, gather 'round and watch the magic pumpkin-

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Killing Cars

I bought this off a fella via a vhs collector facebook group a little while back. I'm not exactly sure what to think about it to be perfectly honest with you. The allure of seeing Jurgen Prochnow (better known to US audiences as the Captain in Das Bood or as Duke Leto Atreides in the 1984 theatrical version of Dune) in an industrial espionage thriller involving a bullshit looking super car was too strong to avoid. That and the packaging was a bit too much for my eye to turn away from without immediately coming back. Unlike last weeks review, this one did NOT live up to the box art.

As always, it's time for the trailer:

Now that you have seen this much, it's time to tell you what it is all about....or at least try I guess? Prochnow plays a wealthy dude named Ralph Korda. He's basically a TOTAL dickweed who doesn't give a shit about anything that doesn't advance his goals. He also doesn't appear to be very sensible as he is wearing sunglasses while night driving in the opening sequence. Basically he's perfecting a really lame and decidedly over futuristic looking vehicle called the "World Car" that will apparently solve all sorts of problems in the world. But auto barons, oil sheiks, and environmentalists stand in his way at every step...

This is a predictably yawn worthy plot, and I was bored multiple times. Seeing Prochnow run around looking like a sub budget Don Johnson with rolled up sport coat sleeves and an obnoxiously 80's office/apartment (because people thought big in the 80's, and these room is one and the same!) was the only thing that kept me barely interested because it looks so very off.  Perhaps the most jarring thing in this yarn is the complete moral ambivalence of Mr. Korda. He's designing a supposedly efficient car that uses fucking nuclear power. I dunno but last time I checked nuclear reactors fuck everybody's shit up when things go awry, am I right? Real safe shithead. I'm also pretty convinced that he simply gives up on the World Car at the end only because he knows that the auto industry will screw him over no matter what and that he can't make the money he wants because of that rather than a more lofty pro environmental epiphany. Basically this is a movie about a ruthless business jerk who stays that way the entire time- so I guess I can at the very least praise this film for getting that much right.

For such a cheesy movie the soundtrack actually isn't half bad. It's not half good either, but it's exactly the kind of "epic" new wavey trash one needs when watching something like this. I'll also give props for the beginning credits being blasted across the screen on a jumbotron type thing. That's right, the title in the trailer is straight from the opening credits! This film was made in West Germany (where it was released under the title "Blitz"), and as such has a cast of both English and German speaking actors. All you have to do is watch the lip flap on the rather run of the mill dubbing that was done for its international release. Far as I can tell Prochnow is the only actor who re dubbed his own voice as he is fluent in both languages.

I think a movie so aimless and bereft of a message (besides being a rich asshole is okay) could only come out of the mid 1980's. Materialism in extreme excess, awful clothes, ugly cars, and questionable hair cuts abound. I do wonder though if anything changes plotwise when it is watched with German audio, as pretty much any film loses bits in translation. That being said, I'm not curious enough to warrant trying to track a version down or even look around to see if it even exists. Some confusion for film aficionados may result from the surname of its director: Michael Verhoeven. PLEASE do not confuse him as some sort of relative of awesome Dutch powerhouse of a director Paul Verhoeven. Because they aren't related even a little bit. I fell for it without doing any research, so it's the very least I can do to help you avoid the same trap.

Quite mercifully there are no clips (at least that I could find) of this film available for view beyond the trailer. I think this is a good thing, because I'd rather you not waste any more time with this film than you absolutely have to. Next time I want a nap and can't quite find a way to settle myself down I think I'll stretch out on the couch with my blanket and put this on. It's definitely docile and otherwise flaccid enough of an espionage plot. Maybe it would make a good doorstop too. Use your imagination, unlike the people behind this film.

My verdict?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Vengeance Is Mine (Aka Sunday In The Country)

This is one of those movies you buy instantly based on the cover art alone without thinking about it. Most of the time it turns out total crap, but not this one oh no. Even a cursory glance will tell you this movie kicks ass, but I recommend taking a good long look. The manically angry visage of Ernest Borgnine brandishing a shotgun was simply too much for me to let it slip through my ultimately bewildered fingers. Unfortunately this is another one of those movies that has zero clips or even a trailer for it on the internet. If somebody would recommend a good A/V interface for a Mac to me I could have rectified this...

Have a look at the theatrical poster (One of several I have found pictures of, some better than other to be sure) in lieu of any other tidbits:

Plot synopsis: It's a sleepy Sunday morning out in the countryside of America. Farmers and their families are busy getting ready for church and all is quiet and peaceful. A carload of bank robbers from the city fresh off of a heist obviously gone awry murder an innocent couple, which later proves to have profound consequences when they try to hide out at a wayward farmhouse in their attempts to dodge the police. Unfortunately for these men, farmer Smith has his own very clear idea of how to interpret the law...

First things first, you probably noticed that the picture of my vhs copy and the movie poster feature very different titles (apparently it was also released under the rather enigmatic title of "Blood For Blood"). Considering the moral/ethical dilemas that take place in this film I feel the theatrical title is far more appropriate if for nothing else than its ultimately disarming nature. It's a pity the advertising wasn't equally different but if you confuse an audience too much they simply won't bother now will they? The main US theatrical poster unfortunately pointed out the rather light hearted title in order to attempt and draw more viewers.

Have a look:

I'm going to say this right now: this movie has pretty low production value. However enjoying exploitation/whatever films as I do I don't feel that this detracts from the film at all. The cast performs really well and quite naturally (the "crazy" robber is a bit over the top though) and the cinematography is actually pretty decent. The plot is well written enough to throw you for a loop repeatedly from start to finish. The wide open expanses and rolling hills of the country serve to both highlight and isolate all of the characters involved in a way city dwelling/suburban home invasion type drama can never really emulate. In the country neither party has anywhere to run to or hide and the stakes become that much higher. In other words the setting and atmosphere are of (in my opinion) seminal importance, much like the forest in my review of the film "Rituals" from earlier this year.

It's rather a surprise to find Ernest Borgnine starring in a flick like this one, but that was part of the appeal of why I wanted to see it. His character is an interesting one to say the least, being an aging farmer with very strict religious beliefs and worldview in the more relaxed and free thinking mid 70's. While his belief in looking after his own is indeed admirable, his bloodlust seems only further fueled by his dogmatic religious ideology as he quotes bible versus to justify pointing guns at criminals instead of calling the police as his poor young niece (who recently moved in with him while from college for the summer) begs him to to the point of hysteria. And to make matters worse his farmhand goes along with and defends his actions with total complicity. It seems the niece is the only character who really has her head screwed on straight and is viewing the world in a decent and rational manner.

I admit I am not entirely sure what this film is trying to say but I was reasonably entertained by what I saw enough to warrant repeated viewings for years to come (note: I have watched this at least four times in the three years I have owned it). It appears this film (not surprisingly) slipped under pretty much everyone's collective movie radar and I feel this movie deserves a little bit more credit. It's unfortunately another pretty decent movie of its era to fall into the inescapable depths of public domain. As such it is actually readily available on DVD and even vhs. Much like any public domain movie though the artwork fails to captivate anything near what the one pictured above manages to.

Here are a few of the examples I could find, some better than others...

The only release I have seen that is as visually eye catching as my Video Gems release is this one by none other than Paragon. These dudes are well regarded for their exceptional box art and this is no...well...exception. I apologize for the image quality but as I do not own this edition (I'm not some vhs collector scumbag that feels the need to own more than one edition of a damn movie on a single format) and the only high resolution image I could find was on a flickr page, so I had to knick this off of Amazon dot com:

This one is obviously a more bargain basement vhs offering. The graphic design is frankly quite aimless and doesn't actually appear to have a still from the movie anywhere on the cover. The picture on the right appears to be from the film "Emperor Of The North":

Here is one from Star Classics which has easily some of the worst airbrushed artwork I have ever seen. I'm not really sure what if anything to make of this particular edition:

This film has been available on DVD for a while now as well. Sometimes it's packaged as a double feature but is most commonly found on its own. Yet more insipid bargain basement graphic design. I wish these fellas would at least TRY for once in their lives. Again we are bombarded with images not necessarily from the film in question melded with lame countryside clipart:

So basically what I am trying to say is if you look hard enough this film is readily available. Being a rather obscure movie though it seems to just float on by with so much other flotsam and jetsam as litters many five dollar DVD bargain bins. If you see it lying about, I recommend giving it a watch- you might be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Return Of The Alien's Deadly Spawn (Aka The Deadly Spawn)

Let me start off by saying the obvious- this movie RIPS! It's pretty hard to find a good horror movie that also has capable young/teen actors, and this one shines above many. This film contains many or horror's necessary elements for success in a practically perfect formula. It also wins for having some of the very best big box art of any vhs currently in my collection. Complete with rental store stickers still in place, this thing is a true warrior from the front lines of yesteryear. Continental was pretty famous for having full cover photography on their tapes, and I think this is one of the best I've seen yet.

Give the trailer a watch:

Plot summary: A huge meteor crashes into the woods somewhere in New Jersey (You just gotta love ANY movie that involves catastrophic events occurring in New Jersey!). Out of the crater emerge gross, highly dangerous, and toothy flesh eating worms. Carnage ensues as the beasts grow and grow, making this rainy day a study session a few school friends will never forget...if they manage to survive. The plot is really that simple, for many more modern movie viewers it is too simple. But why mess about with a formula that works? It's the very simplicity of the story that makes it so damn entertaining in the first place.

The creature in this movie looks so awesome. Yes, the picture on the front of the box is of one of the actual ones used in the film. Note I say ONE OF because this film is actually full of really rad and really well done puppets of various sizes to show the different stages of the creature's development as well as all of the various offspring it and others like it presumably beget all over the countryside. Sometimes the creature only appears in silhouette and shadow courtesy of flashlights and a poorly lighted basement which is a simple technique I miss in newer films. All You have to do is put a flashlight behind the puppet and move its jaws while filming the wall. It looks great! I don't think I've ever seen a movie creature with such an ungodly array of sharp teeth coming out of its mouth before or since. You definitely do not want to rub up against one of these fellas in a poorly lit alleyway, as it will definitely tear you to shreds and then some.


THIS THING WILL EAT YOUR HUSBAND AND TEAR YOUR GOD DAMN FACE OFF! For being a rather low budgeted horror flick, they really pulled out the stops in getting bang for the buck as far as creature and gore effects are concerned and that clip is still the truth. Nothing is sacred from this fleet of killing machines and their blood lust. Not even a vegetarian luncheon of octogenarians. One minute they're fussing over a ceramic giraffe the next moment they are hobbling for their lives. Not too many horror movies have old people as victims and I give major props for the film makers for not being too shy to throw such an inevitable occurrence into what is already a malaise of sporadic carnage.

Yowzers! This movie is also pretty well cast. Even the schlockiest characters pull their own weight without mucking up the proceedings. As this is a sciency type movie, several of the older teen characters are science nerds who have science boners for each others science if you know what I mean. Serious, the smart science nerd girl is a super babe. We also have the duncey hick like buddy who's hoping to learn something before the big test coming up but his cromag brain will obviously never comprehend. My personal favorite character is the little brother who's a major horror movie buff and amateur special effects wiz who manages to save the day after spending hours locked in the basement with loads of these grosser than gross aliens. The script is actually pretty well written for a film of its budget. It has plenty of silly humor thrown in usually coming from the adults in the picture which shows that (unlike the horror nerd little bro who has shit figured out more than people realize cuz he's stone cold like that) they are all a bunch of sub par morons.

This movie has several titles. Some people get confused by this, so let me break them down to you so you can get down with the business. The original theatrical release title from 1983 was The Deadly Spawn. Makes sense right? I'm on the fence about which title I like more- as in the version on the vhs I have or simply the theatrical title. The one on the vhs box has its own flair when the image is present but the theatrical title is by and large much easier to say when in mixed company. As I am obviously very conflicted, I leave this choice up to you.

Well to confuse things this movie is also known as:

-Return Of The Alien's Deadly Spawn (as seen above)
-The Alien's Deadly Spawn
-Return Of The Deadly Spawn
-And in the UK, Return Of The Alien's: The Deadly Spawn

The list goes on and on......

The Region 1 DVD edition uses the original title, but all of the ones mentioning the word "alien" in the title were all done apparently to try and capitalize on the success of Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece ALIEN. As home affordable home video technology was still somewhat in its infancy this makes a great deal of sense, but to all of us who came later it's easy to mistake these for different movies when the subject comes up. The Region 1 DVD at least has a cool cover. While it's not as good as the truly glorious uncut big box you saw at the beginning of this review, it does hold its own as far as mostly lame DVD artwork is concerned. It also has a smattering of really cool extras like an alternate opening sequence and reportedly two audio commentaries. Wait...why don't I own this too just for those......!?!


When one does a google image search for vhs art for The Deadly Sawn, you really can't find one that's a dud. Practically EVERY release of it had art that RULES. The Japanese tape was even in widescreen with Japanese subtitles and English dialogue! No matter what edition you decide on, you really cannot lose. If you  give a decent search via internet you can also find the soundtrack on CD which was a serious surprise to me. It's not very often B grade movies get a decent soundtrack release on any format, so I think you/me/us/we ought to do ourselves a favor and go pick that up too.

If you like B grade horror that will still kick your ass then this is for YOU.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Abraxas: Guardian Of The Universe

This movie is the difference between shit and crap. However it somehow transcends how bad it is and goes from its intended interspacial action film plot line into a low class unintentional comedy. This is one of those movies everybody hears about or sees in a five dollar bin but leaves it be. While that is probably working out pretty well for most of you, this film is actually worth the time it takes to watch it. How can you argue with a sci fi action yarn shot in rural Canada featuring Jesse "The Body" Ventura running to and fro with a rat tail precariously dangling off the back of his scalp? As it was probably/thankfully only released on home video there does not appear to be any trailer for it so tough bickies friends. But I CAN show you the poster before it's time for plot synopsis.

Here goes:

Is that not a great looking poster or what!?! My friend Gale is obsessed with this movie (and it is thanks to him that I finally saw it after years of curiosity). It's pretty much one of his favorite films and he even owns a small UK vhs release poster for it that he keeps framed on his wall. With dedication like that how can I not give a shout out where and when it is due?

Apparently the plot has something to do with Abraxas (Jessie Ventura) and his 9,000 (Literally! His character is that old!) year old ass having to track down his former partner turned renegade Secundus (Played by Sven-Ole Thorson, who has a cameo in pretty much every Schwarzenegger movie from Conan The Barbarian onwards) as he runs amok on earth looking for this child he begat some years previous somewhere in the boonies of Ontario. In this child's brain (referred to as the co-mater, or as all the Canucks in the cast say it "kohmayder") lies the "anti life equation" which if unlocked gives the wielder the unlimited power of destruction beyond imagination. Only Abraxas can rescue the child and stop the impending wrath of the mighty Secundus...

Sounds simple/kitschy enough to work to me, and somehow it manages to by some force of magic we are seldom privy to in the vast and often lackluster annals of C minus level science fiction cinema. Lots and lots of completely ludicrous and/or completely awkward bullshit happens every few minutes here. I can't even begin to explain all of it, but with the aid of some helpful youtube clips minus any setup whatsoever I think you might be able to get the basic idea. Seriously this shit has to be seen to be believed....

Hang on, wow! Really? Yes. Jim Belushi also has a rather flaccid cameo as the school principle as a favor to his then wife who plays the female lead Sonia. He is of course prominently featured on the back of the box in a calculated effort to make someone believe that he has a far bigger part to play. Well, he doesn't. The purposefully set up and several times referenced would be romance between the sheriff and Sonia is not only completely abandoned for no reason whatsoever but is completely and illogically replaced by putting Abraxas in place as the love interest. I was completely flabbergasted to say the least because "The Body" ain't exactly a romantic lead when he's acting like a eunuch in a World Gym sweater. There was supposed to be a brief topless nude scene (most likely as Sonia gets out of the shower at one point, much to the confusion of Abraxas' boner) to get the film down to an R rating. Assumedly seeing some tits put this up to an X necessitating it's removal, what the fuck was wrong with the censors in the early 90's? It's low budget sci fi bullshit and we want to see at least one boob. Throw us a bone over here...

One (un)interesting tidbit for the truest of true film nerds is the appearance during the climactic fight between Abraxas and Secundus of the song "Strong As I Am" by the band The Prime Movers. This song appeared earlier (for the first and I thought only time cinematically) in Michael Mann's 1986 film Manhunter. Provided here are the respective scenes from each movie. You may notice that one looks slick and the other looks like an oil spill, but I bet The Prime Movers were stoked to get that ten bucks worth of royalties from this.

First up, the Abraxas scene:

Next, the song as it accompanies Manhunter:

See? I told you so. I know I don't have to ask which one you prefer, but back to the subject at hand. From what I understand this movie is basically public domain, because I don't think anybody had the balls after 1993 to renew the copyright. This movie is actually a masterpiece of trying to take itself seriously. It's maybe the closest non horror film I've seen made this far after the 70's that still manages to cling to the "I want to make a movie so bad but don't know anything about it but how hard can it be fuck it let's take out a loan from the bank and do this" exploito vibe/aesthetic. Seriously it blows my mind. You could probably engineer a drinking game over how many times a line is spoken containing the following: "answer box", "comater", or "anti-life equation" or a mix and match of all three. I guarantee you'll be completely wasted before the movie is halfway done depending upon your alcohol tolerance and whether or not you are using hard liquor to do so.

Or you could just shotgun a beer or so to this:

As I was saying, the public domain status of this film has lead to many different releases of it on DVD, pretty much all featuring pretty insipid box art. Here's a quick rouge's gallery for your viewing/judgement/ridiculing pleasure. The vhs releases all had some variation of the original poster art. The North American versions all seem to have the cropped image as on the review example, while the UK edition had the full art, replete with Sven-Ole's "I'm taking a huge painful shit" face just over Jesse's shoulder.

This DVD has the legit full poster art which was cropped for the US vhs releases. Looks pretty sick if you ask me. I'm into it:

And now on to more bargain basement covers of uncertain origin and artistic integrity...

Note how this one appears to simply be a poorly airbrushed image of Jesse that removes his oft seen mustache in order to make him look more like he does in the film. Also of note is another attempt at giving Jim Belushi top billing:

And another really excellent marketing strategy that makes it look almost exactly like the DVD cover of Total Recall. I really have to hand it to whoever did this one, except for the fact that Jesse has no damn mustache in the movie but this somehow makes this cover all the better when you really think about it:

According to the IMDB this movie was released on video in Japan in December of 1990, which is insane because it wasn't released in the US until like 1993. It also apparently had a brief US theatrical run (probably on as many screens as I can count on less than all of the fingers on one hand) in February of 1991 thereby making my earlier comment about it being direct to video redundant. I demand a screening of a legit celluloid print of this immediately. I think I've covered pretty much everything there is to cover at this point, which for a film this shitty is surprisingly a lot. As a parting shot I will leave you with a masterfully captured/edited to repeat DJ screw style slowed down clip of what my friend and I regard as THE titular scene in the film to be watched if nothing else.