Monday, August 24, 2015

LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY'S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (2014) Blu-ray Review



Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) d. David Gregory (USA)

Having heard enough disastrous reports about 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, I successfully avoided watching it for nearly a decade. After all, there were enough GOOD horror movies that I still hadn’t seen; why would I want to waste my time sitting through the bombs? But eventually my curiosity – or more accurately, my insufferable completism – led me to Blockbuster one sweltering summer day to experience the cinematic trainwreck firsthand. Below is my 2004 capsule review:


Monday, August 17, 2015

CUB (aka WELP) (2014) Blu-ray Review



Cub (aka Welp) (2014) d. Jonas Govaerts (Belgium)

A group of Antwerp cub scouts head off for an outing in the Ardennes mountains (Wallonia, the southeast section of Belgium, along the French border), with their two leaders: the kindly Kris “Akela” (Titus de Voogdt) and his younger, rougher sidekick Peter “Baloo” (Stef Aerts). As with any assembly of lads, there are alliances and enemies, but “special project” Sam (Maurice Luijten) – a boy with a vaguely alluded-to dark past – is the clear outcast of the bunch; teased and antagonized, with only Kris, the gentle Dries (Louis Lemmens), and kindly and attractive camp cook Jasmijn (Evelien Bosmans) in his corner. To exacerbate matters, Sam catches sight of what he believes to be campfire story figure “Kai,” a feral lycanthrope-like youth residing in the woods, preying upon interlopers. Is the legend real, or is Sam’s overactive imagination – as his fellow scouts believe – leading to madness? More importantly, who’s setting all the intricate mechanical (and lethal) booby-traps in the woods?


Saturday, August 8, 2015

THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991) Blu-ray Review



The People Under the Stairs (1991) d. Wes Craven (USA)

Ambition is an admirable trait in a filmmaker. Despite having logged more artistic misses than hits in his four-decade career, Wes Craven could be accused of many things, but playing it safe is not one of them. Even with his films that don't work, he exhibits limitless imagination; the issue seems to be that he has trouble organizing (especially with the efforts he is credited with writing) and lets his ambitious ideas lead him into areas where narrative coherence and tonal consistency become secondary to indulging every idea that pops into his head. A few more drafts of the screenplay for The People Under the Stairs might have yielded a more cohesive final product, but would it have been as interesting?


Thursday, August 6, 2015

RECKLESS (aka BLOEDLINK) (2104) DVD review



Reckless (aka Bloedlink) (2014) d. Joram Lursen (Netherlands)

Ex-cons Victor (Tygo Gernandt) and Rico (Marwan Kenzari) have a plan: kidnap rich Mr. Temming’s daughter Laura (Sarah Chronis), hold her for a 4 million Euro ransom, and escape scot free. They’ve calculated every detail, including soundproofing a vacant apartment, buying multiple changes of clothes, disposable cell phones, untraceable vehicles, and so forth. Their victim is strong, but they are stronger and they've thought through every step. Bag her, get her in the van, tie her to the bed, strip her naked, take photos with today's newspaper, and email the thumb drives to her dad with their demands. But as the long day turns into night into the next day, tangled emotional webs come into play, with loyalties shifting and smashing and crumbling away.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD (2014) Blu-ray Review



Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014) d. Kiah Roache-Turner (Australia)

Barry (Jay Gallagher) is trying to make his way across the Australian Outback to find his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradley) after the zombie apocalypse begins. Along the way Barry meets up with other survivors including Benny (Lenny Burchill) and Frank (Keith Agius), and they discover that whatever has caused the apocalypse has also caused all flammable liquids to become completely inert. However, it has also made the blood of the zombies into a combustible fuel that can replace gasoline in a car. The men rig up a system to drain zombies and keep their truck running, but find their solution is not quite as simple as they think. Meanwhile Brooke is captured and experimented on by a disco-dancing mad scientist (Berynn Schwerdt) trying to determine why some people seem immune to the zombie "virus." His experiments give Brooke strange new powers, but will they be enough to keep her alive?


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

GHOST TOWN (1988) Blu-ray Review



Ghost Town (1988) d. Richard Governor (USA)

On the outskirts of Riverton County, AZ, handsome quick-draw expert deputy Langley (Frank Luz) gets a call that local bad girl Katie (Catherine Hickland) has fled the altar and headed out into the desert. But when her car turns up missing its driver (played out in a fine spectral dust storm kidnapping sequence), it’s up to Langley to track her down, which he ultimately does in a desolate, literal ghost town run by malevolent gunslinger Devlin (Jimmie F. Skaggs). Seems Katie bears a striking resemblance to the dark one’s former barkeep flame Rose, and Devlin isn’t giving her up without a fight. The haunted netherworld’s residents’ souls hang in the balance – and it’s mighty hard to kill what’s already dead.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I, MADMAN (1989) Blu-ray Review



I, Madman (1989) d. Tibor Takács (USA)

This is a very good time to be a fan of genre/exploitation cinema, which is ironic considering how grim things looked even just a few years ago. DVD sales have been on the decline for years and Blu-ray hasn't fared any better, and it seemed the death of physical media would be upon us any day. But several home video imprints have appeared on the scene giving long-overdue releases to some fan favorites and lost gems alike. Scream Factory has particularly been on a winning streak with their slate of horror releases, and their latest Blu-ray offering finally brings a cult favorite home in the presentation it deserves.


Monday, July 20, 2015

CELLAR DWELLER (1988) / CATACOMBS (1988) Blu-ray Reviews



Cellar Dweller (1988) d. John Carl Buechler (USA)
Catacombs (1988) d. David Schmoeller (USA)

Yet another double pack from Shout! Factory, although unlike their recent, head-scratching pairing of The Outing and The Godsend, at least the two films in question bear the common thread of having been produced by Charles Band’s Empire Pictures during its twilight (aka bankruptcy) era. An amiable monster movie and a convoluted possession tale make for unlikely bedfellows, especially with the muddled and occasionally slapdash storylines and characters that mark both pictures, and the results are as decidedly mixed as one might imagine.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

HOWLING II (1985) Blu-ray Review



Howling II (1985) d. Philippe Mora (USA/UK)

Certain movies are so misguided that they nearly defy description. Howling II (aka Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf and Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch), while not technically an experimental film, feels like it started as an attempt to fuse art-house sensibilities to a cash-in sequel. While the director, Philippe Mora, is far from a hack, he had neither the chops nor the budget to pull off the goofy, pretentious tone and style he apparently intended. The results go beyond terrible to a circle of filmmaking Hell so staggeringly bone-headed that my brain physically hurt by time the last werewolf bit the dust.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

DARK SUMMER (2015) Blu-ray Review



Dark Summer (2015) d. Paul Solet (USA)

17-year-old Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) is placed under house arrest for cyber-stalking his lovely if unstable classmate Mona Wilson (Grace Phipps). Despite receiving the severe and sardonic ground rules from his severe and sardonic corrections officer (a slumming Peter Stormare), which involve no online presence whatsoever, Daniel (who is, naturally, a super cyber hacker) arranges to have his best buds Kevin (Maestro Harrell) and Abby (Stella Maeve) sneak into the house and provide him with all the tech equipment he needs to surf undetected like the Great Kahuna. Of course, he can’t resist checking up on his would-be gal pal, and, wouldn’t you know it, said contact tips her over the cliff and she blows her brains out live on Skype chat. But this isn’t the last Daniel’s heard from Mona, as her malevolent spirit begins to make its presence known... in the house from which he cannot escape lest his shiny ankle bracelet alert the authorities.


Monday, July 13, 2015

ALIEN OUTPOST (2014) Blu-ray Review



Alien Outpost (2014) d. Jabbar Raisani (UK)

Blending sci-fi genre trappings with the rowdy macho camaraderie of soldiers has been a popular mix since James Cameron basically defined the style with Aliens in 1986. There have been a number of knock-offs both big-budget and no-budget since, although it’s rare that anyone gets anywhere near the perfect balance of Cameron’s action/sci-fi masterpiece. Similarly, the number of found footage films has grown exponentially in the last several years as producers constantly look for cheaper ways to get movies in front of audiences to maximize profits. One film that brought something of a new take to this style was Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 in 2009, and while its mix of found footage and faux documentary was well-received, there have been few attempts to replicate its style and structure. The recent UK film Alien Outpost (aka Outpost 37), directed by Raisani, seeks to meld the gritty “realistic” approach of District 9 with the character dynamics of military sci-fi to mostly positive effect.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

ROBOT JOX (1990) Blu-ray Review



Robot Jox (1990) d. Stuart Gordon (USA)

Can a film be both derivative and ahead of its time? Drawing from Hasbro’s popular line of Transformers toys, Japanese kaiju and anime, and Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds TV series, Robot Jox is an entertaining grab bag of influences and styles that, even if it never quite gels into a consistent tone, emerges as an enjoyable cinematic Frankenstein’s Monster, lurching back and forth across the line separating satire from silly, but noble sincerity. It’s also more fun and cohesive than any of Michael Bay’s wretched Transformers flicks and serves as an obvious forerunner to Guillermo Del Toro’s very similar Pacific Rim.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (2014) Blu-ray Review



The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) d. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (USA)

One of the smarter and genuinely worthwhile remakes to come along in recent memory, this updating of the 1976 Charles B. Pierce drive-in stalwart manages to both acknowledge and incorporate its predecessor, using the original 1946 murders and the docudrama they inspired as the springboard for an entirely new spate of slayings in modern day Texarkana. Following a Halloween-night screening of Pierce’s film, local gal Jami (Addison Timlin) sees her boyfriend (Spencer Treat Clark) brutally butchered before her eyes by none other than the gunny-sacked “Phantom Killer,” who then releases her to spread the word that he has returned... and that more blood will soon be shed.


Friday, July 10, 2015

THE OUTING (1987) / THE GODSEND (1980) Blu-ray Reviews



The Outing (aka The Lamp) (1987) d. Tom Daley (USA)
The Godsend (1980) d. Gabrielle Beaumont (UK)

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know Shout! Factory’s specialty arm Scream Factory has been making a name for itself among horror fans over the last few years, giving many genre films their first Blu-ray and/or DVD releases, ranging from big-name franchises to obscure gems. Some of the latter have found their way onto double feature discs, most of which have an overt theme in common: the recent double feature of Italian “haunted house” films GhostHouse and Witchery, or the “nature’s revenge” discs of Food of the Gods / Frogs and Empire of the Ants / Jaws of Satan. This month’s S!F double feature, however, pairs two films, The Outing and The Godsend, that appear to have nothing in common whatsoever thematically, tonally, or otherwise.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

PIT STOP, STRAY CAT ROCK and CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES Blu-ray Reviews



If there’s one thing I recognize from exploring the horror genre over the past 15 years, subjecting myself to everything from the slickest Hollywood remake to the barest-of-bones backyard indie feature, it’s that my appreciation and/or tolerance for weird and wild cinema has deepened and grown. Where once poor dubbing, acting, or penniless production value would have instantly turned me off of a film, I now find myself able to gaze into the abyss for hours at a time; similarly, bizarre aesthetics and unconventional narratives are no longer received with frustration, but with the excitement of a new, fresh taste for my cinematic palate. Not to say I love everything I encounter, but these days, I’m far more likely to remember and appreciate that which is foreign to my sensibilities as opposed to any highly processed computer-generated, star-powered multiplex fare.


Monday, July 6, 2015

CONTAMINATION (1980) Blu-ray Review



Contamination (aka Alien Contamination) (1980) d. Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates) (Italy)

One of the more flamboyant examples of ’80s Italian rip-offs, director/co-writer Cozzi borrows heavily from Ridley Scott’s Alien but then literally explodes in directions you’d hardly think possible. When a mysterious ship comes floating into a New York harbor, a group of investigators headed up by Col. Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) and NYPD Lt. Tony Aris (Marino Mase) discover a crew that has been turned to a bloody mess and a cargo hold filled with strange pulsating eggs… much like the strange pulsating eggs soon discovered in a NYC warehouse. At this point, a previous space expedition to Mars is revealed, headed up by astronauts Hubbard (Ian McCulloch) and Hamilton (Siegfried Rauch), which also involved some alien eggs, and we’re off to the races, a trail that will lead us all the way down to a Colombian coffee plantation run by Perla de la Cruz (Gisela Hahn), who is growing a very strange crop indeed.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001) Blu-ray Review



The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) d. Takashi Miike (Japan)

Former shoe salesman Masao Katakuri (Kenji Sawada) purchases a bed & breakfast in a remote hiking area in the shadow of Mt. Fuji where a new road is planned to be built and moves his father (Tetsuro Tanba), wife Terue (Keiko Matsuzaka), son Masayuki (Shinji Takeda), daughter Shizue (Naomi Nishida), and granddaughter Yurie (Tamaki Miyazaki) to assist in the running of the vacation establishment. Guests rarely appear, and when they do, they tend to wind up expired in the morning. As they say, friends help you move, but real friends help you move bodies, and as the death toll rises, the dysfunctional family learns to put aside their petty differences and discover the true meaning of joy and unconditional love.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

GHOSTHOUSE (1988) and WITCHERY (1988) Blu-ray Review



GhostHouse (1988) d. Umberto Lenzi (as Humphrey Humbert) (Italy)
Witchery (1988) d. Fabrizio Laurenti (as Martin Newlin) (Italy)

When Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and Evil Dead II were released in Italy, they came out under the foreign titles of La Casa and La Casa II. Considering this is the same country that had the enterprising notion of coming up with a movie called Zombi 2 as an unofficial sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (released locally as Zombi), you can probably guess what happened next. Yep, notorious exploitation artist Joe D’Amato decided to produce a couple quick (and completely unrelated) haunted house flicks and put them out as La Casa 3 and La Casa 4 in an attempt to separate suckers from their hard-earned lira. Imagine their surprise when instead of Bruce Campbell, moviegoers found themselves face-to-face with a bunch of no-name Italian actors for the first and the comedy team of Linda Blair and David Hasselhoff (in between Knight Rider and Baywatch TV gigs at the time) for the second!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

HORSEHEAD (2014) Blu-ray Review



Horsehead (2014) d. (France)

Estranged from her mother (Catriona MacColl) for many years, Jessica (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux) is called home for her grandmother’s wake. The reception is chilly to say the least, made all the more so by the young university student being placed in the room adjacent to her late relative’s corpse, but her current professor and beau sees this as an opportunity to confront some long-standing emotional issues. You see, Jessica hasn’t had a peaceful night’s sleep in many years, haunted by nightmares featuring an enormous, malevolent horse-headed figure bedecked in long robes with clawed digits clutching an enormous papal staff. As a disciple of oneirology – the study of dreams – Jessica has identified the symbolism of her equine phantom as that of a ferryman, poised to travel back and forth between the realm of the living and dead. In slumber, she is now visited by the spirit of her grandmother Rose (Gala Besson), young and frightened, seeking help from the gathering darkness....

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

DOG SOLDIERS (2002) Blu-ray Review



Dog Soldiers (2002) d. Neil Marshall (UK)

Dispatched to the Scottish Highlands, a half-dozen soldiers find their special training maneuver exercises interrupted by a S.O.S. signal flare. Upon arrival at the distress site, they discover the sole remaining member of a Special Ops team, Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham), raving and bleeding profusely. Moments later, the team is besieged by mysterious, snarling assailants that decimate one of their number and leave their leader, Sgt. Harry G. Wells (Sean Pertwee), grievously wounded. Their panicked retreat under the command of Pvt. Cooper (Kevin McKidd) leads to a chance encounter with a local woman, Megan (Emma Cleasby), who helps them escape to a secluded cabin in the woods. Low on ammo and facing periodic but increasingly effective attacks, the pinned-down troops must use their every resource to combat the lycanthropic menace until the full moon sets.