Tuesday, July 28, 2015
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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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 (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
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 (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) 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) 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) 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) 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.
Monday, June 22, 2015
Let Us Prey (2014) d. Brian O’Malley (UK/Ireland)
Her first night in the sleepy burg to which she’s been reassigned, Constable Rachel Heggie (Pollyanna McIntosh) arrives just in time to witness a hit-and-run accident in the street; as she approaches to arrest the perpetrator (Brian Vernel), it quickly becomes apparent that the victim has somehow disappeared. She brings the young hoodlum to the police station regardless, encountering a none-too-welcoming committee in the form of staff sergeant Macready (Douglas Russell) and his two on-duty comrades in blue, the emotionally entwined Warnock (Bryan Larkin) and Mundie (Hannah Stanbridge). Our hit-and-run punching bag is ultimately discovered and recovered, sporting a superficial wound to the forehead and a decided unwillingness to chat about his identity or purpose. After the local twitchy sawbones is nearly driven mad by the very presence of the stranger, Macready locks the nameless bearded gent in the cells to keep company with his vehicular assailant, a wife-beating schoolteacher, and the now-bonkers doc. The night is off to a grand start, and as the clock ticks down toward midnight, things only get weirder and wilder as each of the inhabitants – on both sides of the bars – find their deepest, darkest secrets laid bare by the man in Cell Six....
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Tentacles (1977) d. Ovidio G. Assonitis (Italy/USA)
A drunk old fisherman and a 10-month-old infant both go mysteriously missing in separate incidents in the same week near Solana Beach, a seaside tourist community, later turning up completely drained of fluids (including the bone marrow). Investigative reporter Ned Turner (John Huston) smells a story in the offing, suspecting a connection to moneybags developer Mr. Whitehead (Henry Fonda) and his Trojan Construction company’s underwater tunnel project off the coast. In an effort to find out what could be causing the deaths, Turner seeks out the assistance of renowned marine biologist Will Gleason (Bo Hopkins), presently stationed at a Sea World-type outfit training killer whales. Gleason theorizes that it could be a giant octopus, up in arms (cue rimshot) over Trojan’s disturbance of the ocean floor fauna. But will they be able to stop the grotesque grabber before the summer’s big tourist event (a massive sailboat race) or will the suckers get suckered?
Monday, June 15, 2015
Reptilicus (1961) d. Sidney W. Pink (Denmark/USA)
A copper drilling expedition “somewhere in the forbidding tundra mountains of Lapland, above the Arctic Circle” unearths the bloody remains of a prehistoric organism. The massive frozen fossil is brought to Copenhagen for study, but when it is accidentally thawed out, the scientific collective is amazed to discover that the drill wound is beginning to heal itself. In other words, the slab of flesh is alive! The eggheads theorize the creature is akin to a starfish, and that from its severed limb it will regrow an entirely new organism. So they do what anyone would do: Name it “Reptilicus,” build a big tank, toss it in, and wait to see what it grows up to be. Unfortunately, the results are a green-skinned, acid-spewing dragonian menace that proceeds to break out of its institutional fetters, bobbing and weaving its way across the Danish countryside.
Saturday, June 13, 2015
Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (1967) d. Jack Hill (USA)
Horror fans only familiar with Sid Haig from his millennial Rob Zombie flicks or with Lon Chaney, Jr. from his hairy heyday of The Wolf Man should do themselves the favor of experiencing these two genre legends toward the beginning and end of their respective careers. Writer/director Hill’s fascinating blend of macabre humor and bizarre chills revolves around the Merrye family, stricken with a “progressive age regression” disease that leads to childlike behavior and cannibalism. (This was Hill’s first credited feature directing gig, even though it didn’t come out for several years after principal photography had wrapped in 1964.)
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989) d. Michael A. Simpson (USA)
The second sequel to 1983’s Sleepaway Camp – shot back to back with its immediate predecessor (reviewed here) – sees Angela (Pamela Springsteen back again) bumping off a trampy NYC chick with a garbage truck in order to take her place at an experimental outfit where rich and poor teenagers attempt to discover common (camp)ground. If you’re thinking that Camp New Horizons’ “experience in sharing” probably won’t work out so hot, you’re on the right track. But it serves as the ideal setting for Angela to do what she does best, i.e. thin “immoral” teenagers from the herd, which is what we came here for.