Tuesday, May 26, 2015

ISLAND OF DEATH (1976) Blu-ray Review

Island of Death (1976) d. Nico Mastorakis (Greece)

This glorious masterpiece of prurient behavior gleefully dances across every line of good taste laid out by polite society, then goes further. Incest, public telephone booth sex, adultery, homosexuality, murder, rape, bestiality... and that’s just in the first 20 minutes! For another 80, we follow the exploits of a sociopathic American Christopher (Robert Behling) and his Brit “wife” Celia(Jane Lyle) as they work their way through the populace of the small Greek isle of Mykonos, doling out their own special brand of morality and punishment. Mastorakis juxtaposes jaw-dropping onscreen events with gorgeous locales, all set to a groovy soundtrack courtesy of Nikos Lavranos and repeatedly punctuated by the catchy vocal tunes “Do You Love Me Like I Love You” and “Destination”. With golden showers, drug use, and death by makeshift blowtorch, samurai sword, bulldozer blades, and DIY crucifixion, it's a parade of sleaze well worth the time for fans who’ve seen it all.

Monday, May 25, 2015

LONG WEEKEND (1978) Blu-ray Review

Long Weekend (1978) d. Colin Eggleston (Australia)

“A bickering young couple’s weekend at an isolated beach resort turns into a nightmarish struggle between Man and Nature.” With that description, and considering the time-stamp and the genre, one might be forgiven for expecting another run-of-the-mill “When Animals Attack” flick, full of egregiously over-the-top warnings of how the human species has run its course as top of the food chain, thanks to centuries of ecological abuse and neglect. While American ex-pat screenwriter Everett de Roche (Patrick, Razorback) isn’t adverse to hammering home the point on occasion through scenes of reckless use of weaponry and thoughtless littering, the casually caustic behavior seems somehow more authentic than, say, Frogs’ opening credits shots of beer cans floating in the Florida swamps. Rather than broadly drawn clichés, with our top-billed hero providing the requisite liberal voice of reason, Roche’s bipedal characters are fragile, careless, bullying, insecure, and genuinely confused as to how their choices led them here. In other words, human.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981) d. Walerian Borowczyk (France/West Germany)

A young girl is violently bludgeoned to death in a dead-end alley. A few blocks away, the opulent festivities surrounding the engagement of rebellious scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) and vibrant debutante Fanny Osbourne (Marino Pierro) are in full swing. In attendance are a decorated war hero (Patrick Magee), his intemperate daughter, the esteemed Dr. Lanyon (Howard Vernon), and the betrothed’s respective and respected mothers. Religion also has a place at the table, in the form of Reverend Guest (Clement Harari), who vocally opposes Jekyll’s notions of “transcendental medicine.” The news of the murdered youth casts a pall upon the happy occasion, but soon the bloodshed touches the moneyed inhabitants inside, sweeping through the upper crust like (and often with) a sharp blade, and always when the young doc just happens to be out of the room….

Saturday, May 23, 2015

JAWS OF SATAN (1981) Blu-ray Review

Jaws of Satan (1981) d. Bob Claver (USA)

By the late '70s, there wasn’t a movie fan around who hadn’t seen the two “instant classic” horror flicks Jaws and The Exorcist. Similarly, there wasn’t a thriving and/or conniving independent film producer who hadn’t contemplated cutting off a slice of that sweet, sweet exploitation gold, as countless "animals attack" and "demonic possession" flicks followed the suit (and, quite often, the script) of their Oscar-winning Hollywood forerunners. But what screenwriter Gerry Holland (working from a story idea by James Callaway) came up with was nothing short of pure genius: Why not combine the two into a killer creature feature where the beasts are driven to murder by The Beast Himself!

Friday, May 22, 2015

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977) Blu-ray Review

Empire of the Ants (1977) d. Bert I. Gordon (USA)

A random batch of civilians charters a short boat trip to investigate and potentially invest in time-shares for Dreamland Estates, a soon-to-be-opening beachside resort. Meanwhile, just up the shore, a discarded but clearly labeled barrel of RADIOACTIVE WASTE (heedlessly cast overboard during the opening credits) has washed up and been picnicked upon by the titular insects, causing them to balloon to enormous size. Seizing their moment, the giant bugs lay waste to their former antagonists as payback for all the stomping and magnifying stunts throughout the ages....

Thursday, May 21, 2015

FROGS (1972) Blu-ray Review

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) Blu-ray Review

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) Blu-ray Review

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) Blu-ray Review

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) Blu-ray Review

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) Blu-ray Review

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

Interview with FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM director Jeff Burr!!!

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) Blu-ray Review

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) Blu-ray Review

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) Blu-ray Review

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) Blu-ray Review

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) Blu-ray Review

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

Interview with CLASS OF 1984 director Mark L. Lester!!!

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) Blu-ray Review

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.