Thursday, May 21, 2015
Frogs (1972) d. George McCowan (USA)
From American International’s executive-producing team of Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson comes this highly entertaining low-budget schlockfest, raiding the entire reptile house (in addition to the titular croakers) to provide the creepy crawly chills. Riding on the earth-friendly movement of the early ’70s, screenwriters Robert Blees and Robert Hutchison whip up a tongue-in-cheek cautionary tale of embittered critters rising up against grouchy millionaire Jason Crockett’s (Ray Milland) pesticide-ridden swampy island estate. When rugged environmentalist photographer Pickett Smith (Sam Elliott, in an early, mustache-free film appearance) stumbles into Grampa Crockett’s annual Fourth of July family celebration, the stage is set for a muggy, buggy good time.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
The Food of the Gods (1976) d. Bert I. Gordon (USA)
Following an avalanche of late ’50s films featuring oversized beasties – six in two years, including Beginning of the End, The Cyclops, The Amazing Colossal Man, and Earth vs. the Spider – writer-producer-director-special effects artist Gordon (aka “Mr. B.I.G.”) moved away from the subgenre he had helped create, expanding his oeuvre to include ghost stories, action thrillers, and sex comedies. But the 1970s’ ecological horror boom combined with the Jaws-inspired “animals attack” movement proved too alluring to pass up; when longtime producer and American International honcho Samuel Z. Arkoff approached in 1975, inquiring if he had any new projects, Gordon thought immediately of a certain book by H.G. Wells, one upon which he had already riffed with his 1965 romp, Village of the Giants. As he says on Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray release, “I remembered the giant rats in The Food of the Gods and instantly I knew we had a picture.”
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Society (1989) d. Brian Yuzna (USA)
Despite being one of the most popular kids in school and from one of the most affluent families in Beverly Hills, Bill (Billy Warlock) never feels like he fits in. His parents (Charles Lucia, Connie Danese), his sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings), his hot cheerleader girlfriend Shauna (Heidi Kozak), and his shrink (Ben Slack) all assure him he’s perfectly normal, but after Jenny’s ex-boyfriend (Tim Bartell) shows up with a mysterious audio recording of Bill’s family discussing abnormal practices in association with her upcoming "coming-out" ceremony, suspicions escalate. As resident teenage dream Clarissa (Devin DeVasquez) zeroes in on Bill, intent on luring him into her web, the situation grows more tangled, culminating in a climax quite literally beyond anyone’s imagination.
Monday, May 18, 2015
Stigmata (1999) d. Rupert Wainwright (USA)
When a statue of the Virgin Mary begins to cry tears of warm, red blood following a Brazilian priest’s death, Vatican investigator Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) is assigned to validate the miracle. When the priest’s rosary beads find their way into the possession of sexy, young (and atheist) urbanite Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette), she begins to exhibit the first of the Five Wounds of Christ, bleeding from her wrists, ankles, and forehead. Problem is, only the most devout capital-B Believers are supposed to possess the stigmata, so Kiernan is sent to Pittsburgh to “investigate” (i.e. disprove) the incidents.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Extraterrestrial (2014) d. The Vicious Brothers (Canada)
Tasked with taking a few snapshots to put her parents’ summer cabin on the market, April (Brittany Allen) is surprised to learn that her boyfriend Kyle (Freddie Stroma) has invited a group of his friends (Melanie Papalia, Jesse Moss, Anja Savcic) to join them for a weekend bash. Their bacchanal is interrupted by a blazing streak of fire in the sky which explodes in the woods nearby. The group venture out to the crash site where they discover the remnants of an honest-to-Scully U.F.O. … and the big-eyed, spindly-limbed former occupants haven’t exactly come in peace or seeking Reese’s Pieces.
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Mad Max (1979) d. George Miller (Australia)
Eager to avenge the death of their fallen comrade, the Nightrider (Vincent Gil), a vicious and bloodthirsty motorcycle gang targets select officers within the battered and bruised police force of the not-too-distant future; soon, war is being waged, with smoking rubber and growling engines the weapons of choice, and civilians and family members the spoils. Leading “the bronze” is Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), a young man concerned that he is becoming the very thing he beholds – a murderous, lawless thug. But when the gang’s savage leader The Toecutter (a breathtaking high-wire turn by Hugh Keays-Byrne) sets his sights on Max’s wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and their child, the blood-soaked asphalt stage is set for a duel to the death.
Friday, May 1, 2015
The Big, The Trouble, and The Little China (2015) d. Meagan Piccochi (USA)
(NOTE: I know I don't usually review stage productions here, and especially since this isn't even technically a horror play, you might be asking, "What the What, AC?" Answer: Just chill, kids. A little cultchah ain't gonna hurtcha. Much.)
Already in prime John Carpenter mode from three, count 'em, three viewings of Escape from New York whilst burning through Shout! Factory's new two-disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray last week, I was delighted when a fellow Windy City thespian reached out to let me know that New Millennium Theatre (purveyors of such manic masterpieces as Hack/Slash: Stagefright, The Texas Chainsaw Musical, Manos: Rock Opera of Fate, and Boomstick) was ready to unleash their latest mash-up of cult classics.
Monday, April 27, 2015
I first became aware of Jeff Burr the same way many fans did, noticing his name pop up time and again as the unofficial “king of horror sequels.” Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Stepfather II. Puppetmaster 4. Puppetmaster 5. Pumpkinhead II. But if you cast your gaze (and IMDb browser) back to the beginning, you will arrive at a curious little item known as From a Whisper to a Scream aka The Offspring (1987), which represents Burr’s first official feature, co-written with C. Courtney Joyner (Prison, Class of 1999) and producer Darin Scott (Tales from the Hood, Menace II Society). It’s a charmingly twisted anthology piece about a charmingly twisted Tennessee burg – with a wraparound featuring Susan Tyrrell and the Crown Prince of Horror Himself, Vincent Price – making its Blu-ray debut this week courtesy of Shout! Factory.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Escape from New York (1981) d. John Carpenter (USA)
As the second of their two-picture deal with Avco-Embassy (following The Fog), producer Debra Hill and writer/director Carpenter set their eye on realizing a sci-fi/action script he had written in the mid-’70s, with the entire island of Manhattan having been turned into a maximum security prison with a 50-foot detainment wall built around its perimeter. Into this scenario Carpenter and co-screenwriter Nick Castle (who had played “The Shape” in 1978’s breakout Halloween) dropped ruthless and charismatic mercenary Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) and a wild, do-or-die plot about rescuing the President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) after Air Force One is hijacked and crash-landed in the Big Apple. On a budget of $6 million (substantial, but still smallish for the project’s ambitious scale), the creative team – with special nods to production designer Joe Alves, cinematographer Dean Cundey, and one of the coolest ensemble casts EVER – emerged with a critical and box office hit . . . and an all-time iconic character in “Call me Snake” Plissken.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Ghoulies II (1988) d. Albert Band (USA)
In the traveling Hardin Carnival, the Satan’s Den haunted ride is facing financial issues, and money-hungry Philip Hardin (J. Downing) is ready to cut bait, much to the disappointment of washed-up boozehound magician Ned aka The Great Fausto (screen veteran Royal Dano) and his nephew Larry (Damon Martin). But when four of the titular creatures, which we saw escaping the isolated mansion at the end of the first film, take refuge amidst the mechanical mummies and monsters inside of the Den, things get a lot more lively . . . and deadly!
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Ghoulies (1985) d. Luca Bercovici (USA)
Unapologetically juvenile with a paper-thin plot, entertainment value for this early Empire Pictures effort will depend entirely on one’s palate for cheesy effects and lusty overacting. Jonathan Graves (Peter Liapis) and his girlfriend Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan) move into the old family mansion inherited from his Satan-worshiping pop (rock singer-turned-actor Michael Des Barres). Upon taking up residence, and stumbling upon a tome of ancient spells and a family grave, he finds himself compelled to summon a myriad of latex beasties into this world (designed by creature man extraordinaire John Carl Buechler) and unleash them upon his circle of friends in a decidedly murky basement ritual.
Monday, April 20, 2015
The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999) d. Katt Shea (USA)
Attempting a sequel to Brian De Palma’s sensational screen version of Stephen King’s breakthrough novel is a pretty thankless gig, but screenwriter Rafael Moreu’s approach is so clumsy one can only wonder what the rejected ideas looked like. In the town next door, another odd duck female adolescent, Rachel (Emily Bergl), experiences the rise of telekinetic powers coinciding with her sexual maturity, and wouldn’t you know it, her mom (J. Smith-Cameron) is a Christian loony-toon just like Piper Laurie in the 1976 film. (I’m not sure if the “rage” of the title is supposed to be a riff on “Rache” – I’m going to ignore it so I don’t have to slap anyone.)
Sunday, April 19, 2015
Carrie (2002) d. David Carson (USA)
This made-for-TV effort manages to surprise and occasionally surpass viewer expectations, especially for Stephen King fans who wanted to see more of the slim source material's events onscreen. With an expanded time frame to work in, screenwriter Bryan Fuller revives the author’s flashback framing, with David Keith’s doughnut-loving detective questioning survivors and suspected perpetrators of the now-infamous prom night inferno. Through their memories and testimony, a portrait is drawn of shy social outcast Carrie White (Angela Bettis), her sexual (and telekinetic) awakening, and the havoc wrought in its wake.
Monday, April 13, 2015
From his directorial debut in 1971 to his most recent exploits on the SyFy Channel, Mark L. Lester has covered a lot of cinematic ground. Even if you don’t recognize the name right off, you know the movies: Roller Boogie, Class of 1984 (and its pseudo-sequel Class of 1999), Firestarter, Commando, Showdown in Little Tokyo. He’s worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Drew Barrymore, Linda Blair, George C. Scott, Pam Grier, Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, and countless others. Somehow, through it all, he’s managed to keep his sense of humor and perspective, remaining an incredibly affable and accessible gent.
On the eve of Shout! Factory’s release of the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of Class of 1984, Lester took a brief time out from his crazy schedule to chat about juvenile delinquents, killer androids, fiery catapults, and the dream team of McDowell and McDowall.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Class of 1984 (1982) d. Mark L. Lester (Canada)
Andrew Norris (Perry King), vibrant young music teacher and expectant father, leaves his sleepy Nebraska assignment for the big (unnamed) city, and immediately finds himself in the middle of a war between students and faculty. Of course, it's not the entire student body that's gone bad, just a quintet of bad apples spoiling the bunch, radiating bad karma, intimidation, disdain for order, and violent tendencies in their vicious, entitled wake. Their leader, the charismatic Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten), is the worst of the bunch, knowing which strings to pull, which loopholes to use. When Norris pushes for change from his fellow educators, he's met with rueful glances or flat-out "go along to get along" directives. (His closest friend, Terry Corrigan (Roddy McDowall) packs a pistol, a flask of whiskey, and a protective armor of apathy to get through the day and isn't afraid to use any of them should the occasion call for it.) Through a series of harrowing personal attacks, the conflict between Stegman and Norris escalates past the point of detention or a trip to the principal's office - this time, the report cards will be written in blood.
Saturday, April 11, 2015
The Babadook (2014) d. Jennifer Kent (Australia)
Troubled widow Amelia (Isolation’s Essie Davis) wrestles with her own mental and emotional stability as well as that of her seven-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a struggle exacerbated by a malevolent presence invoked by the appearance of a mysterious children’s book. This well-crafted tale of haunting secrets and psychological breakdown nearly does itself a disservice by amping up the chills so superlatively during its opening act that the climax - which would stand proudly under normal circumstances - barely manages to keep pace.
Friday, April 10, 2015
Auteur (2014) d. Cameron Romero (USA)
Filmmaker Jack Humphreys (B.J. Hendricks), looking to make a mark in Tinseltown, seizes his opportunity when a renowned horror director, Charlie Buckwald (Ian Hutton), suddenly vanishes with the only copy of his latest feature, Demonic. As Jack interviews the film's former cast and crew for what he hopes will be his calling card documentary, the mystery deepens; seems Charlie was messing with strange voodoo indeed, and the movie - and its female lead (Madeline Merritt) - may now be infused with something truly unholy.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
The Sins of Dracula (2014) d. Richard Griffin (USA)
Meet Billy (Jamie Dufault). He’s a good boy. Like, a really good boy. We know this because Billy sings in the church choir, has nightly prayer meetings with his parents, and his idea of passionate coupling is a chaste smooch with his uber-patient girlfriend Shannon (Sarah Nicklin). But when Shannon, hoping to expand his circle of friends beyond the pew perchers, lures Billy to a local community theater’s auditions (for Godspell, so it’s okay, right?), she unwittingly exposes him not only to his first encounter with drug addicts, homosexuals, and RPG fangirls, but also to . . . SATAN! Okay, not really Satan, but the next best/worst thing in the form of the Prince of Darkness himself, Dracula (a curiously top-billed Michael Thurber, although perhaps not so curious when one notes that he’s appeared in nearly all of director Griffin’s efforts to date).
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Having devoted a full review to the lone full-on horror outing in the mix – the supremely tawdry and sleazy witch-hunting epic Mark of the Devil – the focus for this installment will be the remainder of Arrow Video’first wave of U.S. releases, an eclectic grouping of the black-and-white Japanese crime thriller Massacre Gun, that same country’s half Samurai gang/half ghost revenge yarn Blind Woman’s Curse, and the Lee Van Cleef spaghetti western Day of Anger. Released by MVD Entertainment Group, each marks out a very distinct corner, both aesthetically and narratively – the kind of exotic buffet courageous cineastes hunger for and revel in discovering.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Mark of the Devil (1970) d. Michael Armstrong (West Germany)
In a small rural township, fear and hatred spread as accusations of witchcraft and devilry fly like so many sparks from a raging bonfire. Of course, any place where Justice wears a face such as that of the wicked Albino (Reggie Nalder), any citizen one might fear for his/her soul. However, upon the arrival of Lord Cumberland’s attachés, in the persons of Count Christian von Meruh (Udo Kier) and Jeff Wilkens (Herbert Fux), it seems that sanity may reign once again when they rescue the beautiful Vanessa (Olivera Vuco) from Albino’s cruel and unlawful clutches. Christian and Vanessa share a brief romance, only to have their love crushed under the unwavering foot of Cumberland (Herbert Lom). Seems our all-powerful witchfinder has a problem with the ladies, or rather with his limp willy’s lack of response to them, and is prepared to stretch, bleed, and burn every last buxon lass in recompense. Will Christian be able to stand up to him without being called a servant of Satan himself?