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?