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June 18, 2021

Dark House (2014) Movie Review

If you can believe it, sometimes I’m more leery of modern horror than ‘vintage’. I know, unheard of, right? But every now and again, I like to live dangerously. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes not. In this case…um, yes?

(WARNING: I do spoil movies because I have no self-control. So if you haven’t seen this, stop reading, go watch the movie, then come back.)

Dark House is about Nick DiSanto. When he was eight years old, his mother committed herself to an asylum. The main reason is because when Nick touches people, he can see their death. Not just a regular death, though. It has to be something sooper bad, like being chopped up by an axe murder or something. I guess that was a little stressful on mom.

And now, here we are, on Nick’s 23rd birthday, and he gets a call from the asylum. In all these years, his mother has never wanted to see him – or anyone, for that matter – but today she specifically requested a visit from her long-abandoned son. Naturally, she’s a bit scared to look at him (guilt, fear, take your pick) but once she makes that connection, she tells Nick that his father isn’t dead; yes, I’ve known who he is all along; he’s coming for you.

Nick’s a bit pissed, as you might imagine, and grabs her, demanding the truth. He sees her horrible death – she’s on fire – before her warning turns into babbling and Nick just wants the fuck out. His roommate is waiting outside the asylum so they can go party and drink and celebrate Nick’s birthday. Nick wants to drink away his problems anyway, so let’s go.

He meets Eve, who will soon become his best gal. When he touches her, he doesn’t have the violent visions of death. Well, that’s convenient. So they hang out, talk about life, the crazy coincidences with the number 23 (gee, I wonder if that’s going to come back at all…), deal with some assholes who want to really know if Nick can see their deaths, blah blah. Commence the lovey-dovies, she gets pregnant, and they’re happy. UNTIL…

We get a quick scene with mom as she talks to the voice in her vent. Yeah, she’s crazy. The voice is angry, though, because she didn’t give Nick the 4-1-1 on HIM (the voice) so he (the voice) sets mom on fire, which in turn, burns the whole asylum down. Eight months later, Nick gets a call from a judge about his mother’s will. Nick didn’t even know she had one, but he discovers that she had the deed to a house that is now his. But the weirdest part (aside from the judge talking to the voice in his vent after Nick leaves) is that Nick has been drawing a particular house his whole life, thinking it was just something he imagined. Turns out the house he now owns is the house from his imagination – or memory. It MUST have a clue about his dad.

Now Nick, Eve (eight months pregnant, btdubs), and roomie, Ryan, head out to find this house in the backwater town of Rivers End. That house he’s searching for is a bit of a local legend. It’s known as Wormwood and was washed away in the Black Water Flood 23 years ago (hey, 23 again…). With the help of some rando land surveyors, Kris, Sam, and Lilith, they actually find the house intact.

Yes, that’s impossible but nevertheless, here we are.

Not only is the house still intact, but a man, Seth, has been there for years, “working” on it. So get the fuck out. Though he lets Nick come in for a bit, explaining that God brought the flood to get rid of this house and Seth’s been trying to tear it down ever since. Then he tosses Nick out and says never return. Cue the three creepy loping guys carrying hatchets that chase everyone off the property. Unfortunately, Sam is killed, Kris is nearly killed, and Lilith is being all weird with Eve.

GET OFF MY LAWN, YOU DAMN KIDS!

This is when things start taking a sideways path, folks.

The group goes back to town for help but it’s completely empty. At least, it LOOKS empty to them, even though the place is bustling with activity. Only one person can actually see the group as they’re searching for aid, Lucky, one of the townsfolk that goes AND TALKS TO A VOICE IN A FUCKING VENT.

Next thing we know, the group is back at the house, even though they drove 30 miles away from it. They’ve got to take shelter inside for the night and then figure out what to do in the morning. Seth and the Lopers are outside watching the house but he instructs them to stay put. They’ll know when to go back inside.

Wait, what?

Nick dreams about a hidden door in the house, as well as his mom in the vent who tells Nick she’s trapped, just like his father. He needs to release them both – go open the cellar! And yep, when he wakes up, he goes in search of that door. Chris seems awfully helpful about getting that door open, too. Each time they open it though, the Lopers come to life and charge the house. But once they close the door, the Lopers just stand still. So the group weaves their way through them, hoping to go find their car, and GTFO.

Unfortunately, they get separated. Nick and Ryan find Sam’s body and discover he’s not quite…human. Lilith and Eve find the car and hide, but Lilith ain’t so human either. Luckily, Seth shows up and kills Lilith because she was going to EAT EVE’S BABY.

And now we finally find out what the hell is going on – literally. Lilith, Sammael (Sam), and Kristoff (Kris) are all demons of hell. Their purpose was to destroy the baby, get Nick into the house to open the cellar, and invite his dad (which we assume is Satan) into the living realm. But it could only be done by Satan’s human son during his 23rd year of life (there’s that pesky 23 again). Seth has been trying to destroy the house since the flood. The Lopers are actually God’s Gargoyles (that’s what Kristoff calls them) and working for Seth.

Kris and Nick meet up and, yep, Nick ends up in the house and…Eve and Ryan find him covered in blood with an axe sticking out of his back. Oh don’t worry, he’s still alive. The other two try to convince him to leave, but Nick’s mad that everyone tried to stop him, and his dad. Little tussle ensues and Eve wakes up in the hospital, after having given birth to a son. Seth saved her ass and told her it’s time for her to forget Nick and move on.

Four years later, Eve’s son is at the kitchen table, drawing the same house Nick drew his whole life, while listening to a voice COMING OUT OF THE FUCKING VENT.

Nope, nope, nope, fucking nope. 

Lots to unpack here…

Look, this story is nothing new. It’s not particularly original or inventive or groundbreaking. Throughout my notes, I called a lot of the big twists or reveals because, as a horror lover, I’ve seen and read this trope dozens of times. The hints scattered throughout the movie are giant sourdough loaves. But that doesn’t make the movie less enjoyable.

The main characters are believable and grounded in reality, as much as they can be in a ‘bring Satan to the world’ film. Even the minor characters, no matter how short their screen time, are necessary pieces of the overall puzzle and I can’t imagine how the story would have worked without them.

The acting is fantastic. Tobin Bell plays Seth and he’s probably the most likeable, even when you don’t know his true purpose until later. He has great presence on screen, a perfect choice for Seth. Lacy Anzelc played Lilith and from the get-go, she’s ‘off’, you know? She played the demon with such subtlety. You didn’t know why she got under your skin; she just did. Ethan S. Smith as Samael came off as this meek, bumbling dork but in reality, Samael is an assassin for Hell, so he needed to cover up his true purpose. Zach Ward as Kristoff was the demon that can create illusions – like the empty town, driving in circles, etc. So all their confusion was his doing. How cool is that? Also, I adore Zach Ward.



The music was great through the whole movie. It was used particularly well for building tension. There were a few times the pacing lagged, but the music helped bring it back on track. Editing, cinematography, production, direction, makeup, set design, and wardrobe were all great. I loved the look of the Gargoyles. We never got to see their faces and the way they loped through their attack scenes was so creepy. They were one of my favorite things in the film. Them and the 1950s Cadillac that Ryan drove.



With all the good, there has to be some bad. Like I said before, the story is a well-known trope. The devil has a son and needs him to bring hell on earth is not new. So, for me, it was easy to figure out what was going on relatively early. And I never know what the fuck is happening in movies so when I can figure it out, that’s bad.

A lot of elements in the storytelling were OBVIOUSLY used as double meanings or foreshadowing. Even some of the simple names and terms were elbow nudges to the testicles about what was going on. The whole bar scene discussion about the number 23; calling the house Wormwood; Lilith’s name; etc. Now maybe, if you’re not that familiar with the Bible or Christianity or the tv show, Supernatural, none of this would trigger any bells for you. But I am – I attended catholic school for eleven, and four of Lutheran college. I was named after a nun, for crying out loud. Lots of predictability here.

While the rest of production was great, the sound was terrible. And the worst kind of terrible: quiet dialogue and EAR BLEEDING DECIBLES FOR THE SOUND EFFECTS. I can forgive a lot of stuff in films if I’m entertained and not checking my watch all the time, but not crap audio balance.

Also, I was checking my watch from time to time. The pacing is uneven and the story drags in several places.

I have to say, overall, that this is an enjoyable film. Despite its flaws, the good outweighs a lot of the bad. I almost want to go back and watch again just to see if there are any other clues I may have missed (doubtful, but I’m not perfect).

2.5 hatchets (out of 5)




 


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June 3, 2021

Black Roses (1988) Movie Review

You know, most of the time I try to find films that are kinda trash. Partly because they’re fun to shred, and partly because I think the people who patronize this site like the “less polished” side of film. Every now and again, though, I find a movie that is crap but manages to be entertaining at the same time. This is such a movie.

Black Roses is about a bunch of demons who have disguised themselves as a rock n roll band in order to hypnotize the public.

That’s it. That’s the only description I’ve been able to find. I have a feeling the demons want more than just to make people cluck like chickens against their wills. Don’t worry. I’ll break it down a bit more for you.

(I WILL SPOIL IT SO IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT, STOP HERE. GO WATCH. COME BACK. READ ON.)

We know right from the start that this band is comprised of demons. The opening scene shows them performing at some concert venue IN demon form! When the cops come to arrest them, the audience bursts out of the arena, already transformed into demons, and wreak havoc. I mean, I’m assuming they do because that scene ends abruptly and the title screens roll.

Next thing we know, two Lamborghinis roll into the quiet little hamlet of Mill Basin. Damian (not kidding) throws the Devil Horns to his crew and they start hanging up flyers about the band playing a few concerts in town. Naturally, this God-fearing community doesn’t want the Satan music corrupting their children.


But the Mayor supports it. Remember how rock n roll used to be demonized when we were youngsters? Besides, the school board approved it so your little committee can’t really do squat here. So the parents sit in on the concert, and are relived to hear the soft rock strains coming from the Black Roses. Certainly, these 60 seconds we’ve heard are just like the rest of their music. Let’s vamoose.

I bet you can guess what happens after the adults leave, eh?

The next day, the kids are all kinda zonked out. The cool teacher, Mr. Moorhouse, assumes it’s because they were up late for the concert. But when the kids’ behavior keeps getting worse, and they attend every Black Roses performance, and then people start DYING, Mr. Moorhouse thinks something hinky is going on. And the rock band is responsible.

He takes matters into his own hands and plans to burn the stage down. You know, while the band is playing and the auditorium is filled with kids. But whatever gets the job done, amiright? He actually succeeds in setting the demons on fire and the kids escape, stumbling out into the night with no memory of what they’ve been up to the past two days (fighting, being disrespectful, having the sex, killing their parents, etc.).

*sigh* It’s over. Mill Basin beat the Devil out of town.

Or did it? Lucky for us, Mr. Moorhouse and the Mayor are sitting down to the news just as the entertainment broadcast comes on. Seems Black Roses has booked a bunch of shows in NY and a trip to tour the UK.

dundunDUUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNNNNN

 

All right. Let’s get the bad out of the way.

Some of the acting is terrible. Mostly the high school kids, and some of the adults. But it’s a small movie filmed somewhere in Canada. This shouldn’t be a shock.

The demon makeup/monsters were actually more cute than scary. My personal favorite was the one that came out of one character’s home speaker and pulls the dad back through it (played by Vincent Pastore, whom you may remember from a little show called The Sopranos). Damian’s demon form looked more like baby Godzilla, and Julie – teacher’s pet resident goody-goody – her demon form looks like it popped straight out of a children’s comic book.

They were like adult sized Muppets.

Is there something in my teeth?

The music was rather bland for rock n roll. Very generic 80s hair metal. Honestly, I wanted to hear Damian’s rousing calls to the Devil speeches more than their music. Also, when Mr. Moorhouse ran around trying to save the town and the kids, the music sounded like something that would backing up Captain America or the Greatest American Hero. We love a good superhero, don’t we?

There’s not a lot of special effects going on. A few practical, prosthetic closeups during a couple transformations. But only one time did we get a long POV for Julie as she transforms, and they used that weird glowing purple swirling light effect that is very dated, and very 80s. Made the scene cheesier than it should have been, especially when her final form was only seen from the stomach up. I’m guessing they had the demon rolling around on some kind of wheeled contraption and ran out of money before they could hide or disguise it under a full demon body.

There were a couple of fight scenes with Mr. Moorhouse – one with Juliedemon and one with the Black Roses on stage. The punch sound effect was laughable; the weapons Moorhouse picked up to fight Julie were unintentionally hilarious (a tennis racket, tennis ball, eventually stakes her with a broken table leg). Then when he’s in the auditorium, he LITERALLY threw Julie (in human form) into the audience, like it’s some kind of active mosh pit, before swinging his fists or a giant gong mallet at Damian.

To be fair, the fight criticisms I have are also highly enjoyable. Though I don’t think they meant to make those scenes funny, it’s hard to believe that the writer wasn’t throwing in a little levity to break up the dark direction in which a bunch of kids were spiraling.

For the good acting, you shouldn’t be surprised as there were some familiar faces among the adults: Ken Swofford (tons of TV work, The Andromeda Strain), Julie Adams (Creature from the Black Lagoon), John Martin (tons of TV work). While the story does seem to center more on the kids and the rock band, John (Mr. Moorhouse) carries the majority of this film. And he does a wonderful job on those strong, broad shoulders...if only every school had one of him. *rowr*

OMG, Mr. Moorhouse's mustache power is more than I can handle!

The kills were mostly quick or off screen. But the two Julie committed were pretty fucking hard-core. She bashed her stepfather’s head in with a giant ashtray (her stepdad played by Paul Kelman, he of My Bloody Valentine fame); she murdered Mr. Moorhouse’s ex-girlfriend by sawing through her neck with a hunting knife. We got nice and close and personal on that one.

I honestly think the writer did a decent job of establishing characters. It’s easy to get pulled into how quickly the children turned on the adults. Black Roses was only in town for two days before the shit hit the fan, but since their demons, it made logical sense they wanted evil to spread quickly. And I appreciated the speedy timeline so we don’t have to wait around for the children to start changing. Mr. Moorhouse, who sees the kids every day, figures out the truth long before anyone else, and you are just as easily frustrated as he when he can’t get the Mayor to back him up.

I did enjoy the story. In Black Roses, there is LITERAL evil spreading thought the town. It’s not a bunch of bible thumping white folk whose panties have twisted in knots over PERCEIVED evil.

It’s like Footloose got fingered by The Devil’s Advocate.

One of my favorite lines comes after the Juliedemon/Mr. Moorhouse fight. He’s sitting on his kitchen floor, exhausted, the Juliedemon corpse next to him. He simply breathes out, “Fuck”, to end the scene.

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Mr. Moorhouse.

Unintentionally funny, but entertaining, little slice of 80s horror.


3 hatchets (out of 5)




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June 1, 2021

Static Age #16: Police Squad! (1982)

Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin in Police Squad! (1982)





This Static Age’s spotlight goes to Police Squad! (1982), starring (the previously serious actor) Leslie Nielsen as the buffoon detective Frank Drebin, assigned to several cases that he solves with plenty of weirdness. This police procedure drama satire proved so popular that an entire film franchise ensued (this will also be covered, in a future installment of A Binge too Far) and indeed the series had me laughing so hard that my belly was hurting. ‘A Substantial Gift (The Broken Promise)’ has Sally (Kathryn Leigh Scott) shooting two men dead at point blank, but as she tells the police a different story, it is now up to Frank to crack the case. ‘Ring of Fear’ (A Dangerous Assignment)’ directed by Joe Dante finds Frank against wise guys that fix boxing games. ‘The Butler Did It (A Bird in the Hand)’ is about a mysterious kidnapping. ‘Revenge and Remorse (The Guilty Alibi)’ is about a series of bombings. ‘Rendezvous at Big Gulch (Terror in the Neighborhood)’ is about a crime organization that is bullying small business owners. ‘Testimony of Evil (Dead Men Don’t Laugh)’ directed by Joe Dante and starring Dick Miller finds Drebin trying to tackle a drug-pushing operation.

 

And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent series…

 

Penny Dreadful - Season 2
The 2st season of Penny Dreadful (2014 – 2016) provides us with further adventures of the supernatural kind for the dark team that consists of explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), gun expert Ethan Chandler (the show’s American casting touch Josh Hartnett), Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), and medium Vanessa Ives (Eva Green). Aside from the eerie material (however chaotic the mix-up of so many legendary characters), the series also provide some very interesting thoughts on homosexuality and acceptance, as well as feminism and religion. In particular, the mid-season romance arc between Dorian Grey (Reeve Carney) and beautiful transvestite Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp) is a bold queer statement in itself. Featuring imagery so disturbing that in the 1980s wouldn’t attract the star cast that it did nowadays, this proves how much times have changed and it comes highly recommended.

 

The 3rd season of Fargo (2014 – present), created by Noah Hawley, is about two brothers (both played by this installment’s star Ewan McGregor), one a rich businessman and the other a poor parole officer in love with a gorgeous hooker (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), they both get involved with the wrong people and have to deal with local organized crime’s goons. What we get once again is Cohen brothers aesthetics in the snow and a perfect blend of grimness and humor (very David Lynch-like). Some subplots seem to be going nowhere (one could only get away with such ambiguities in post-2000 television), yet they are all somewhat connected.

 

The 2nd season of Marvel’s Luke Cage (2016 – 2018) finds the titular superhero (Mike Colter) enjoying the acceptance of the Black community that he gained the last time around, going as far as having his own app, and occasionally roughing up bad guys in Harlem that has become really easy on him. That is until he finds his equal in the form of Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), a villain so ruthless that he goes as far as to behead his enemies. This final season suffers from a slow start, but it picks up later when it becomes a gang war epic.

 

And now, please allow me to speak a word or two about a recent mainstream film…

 

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)
Warner Bros.’ Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) directed by Adam Wingard finds the two titular mega-monsters fighting against each other due to a conspiracy generated by an evil corporation, but as the battle ensues several more monsters enter the picture, and believe me, this is a big picture; made on an estimated $200 million budget this could be nothing less. A spectacle like no other with breathtaking action scenes and spectacular CGI, it succeeds because it also respectful of the spirit of Toho’s kaiju classics. Do not miss it.

 

And finally, I enriched my bookshelf with the following additions: Sheridan Le Fanu’s influential lesbian vampire classic Carmilla (1872); Thomas De Quincey’s intense drugs and philosophy apotheosis Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings (2013, Oxford University Press); and Matt Ruff’s excellent road story of real and unreal terrors Lovecraft Country (2018, Picador).


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May 28, 2021

The Playgirls and the Vampire (1963) Movie Review

Well, I guess it’s only proper that I get back to finding total crap to review for you all. But I’m not sure if I found it. I’m very conflicted about this next movie.

The Playgirls and the Vampire is a smashing film about five showgirls, their manager, and piano player who get stranded on the backroads during a storm on their way to the next gig. They can’t turn around and go back to their old hotel – not paying your bill can get you in suds with the owners, right? So it’s only logical to ignore the sound advice of a local and take the road that leads to the foreboding castle off in the hills, having to drive over a rickety-ass bridge to get there, too. The people in the castle will just have to let them stay the night, if not longer.

I guess uninvited guests make the rules for individual homeowners…

They arrive at a locked gate but one of the girls, Vera, instinctively knows to try a little side gate that opens for them. Hmm. That’s curious. Oh well. Good for us, right ladies? They force their way into the castle (not literally, but they don’t allow the groundskeeper to turn them away and the housekeeper begrudgingly lets them inside).

The Count Gabor Kernassy wants to kick them out but once he sees Vera, he immediately changes his mind and gives them shelter for the night. BUT DON’T WANDER THE HALLS OR SNOOP INTO ANYTHING, MMMKAY?

You can probably guess how that’s gonna go.

After the Count creepily spies on Vera through her bedroom window, they have a nice heart to heart chat. He’s drawn to her, and she to him, and he must know more about here. BUT MAKE SURE YOU LEAVE FIRST THING IN THE AM ‘CAUSE YOU IN DANGER.

The best laid plans to do just that aside, one of the girls is found dead the following morning. She must have gone wandering (like she was warned NOT to do), lost her footing, and fallen to her death. While the gardener and housekeeper have a weird argument about burying her ASAP, the Count informs them they can’t leave or call the authorities about the accident because the bridge washed out in the rising river waters.

Now that they’re stuck at the castle, much to their manager’s frugal delight, might as well rehearse for the next show. Vera is too upset and takes a rest instead. And by rest, I mean she wanders around the castle where she eventually discovers a portrait of a Kernassy ancestor. And she looks nearly identical to Vera!

She and the Count have another heart to heart – about the Kernassy family curse, how it ruined that ancestor, Margherita, blahdeeblah. And despite his fear for her safety, the Count and Vera make out. She’s now refreshed for some dance rehearsal. 

*l’amour*

Don't move. There's a spider on the ceiling...

That night, Vera hears another creeper around her window and when she investigates, she comes across the burial site of the former showgirl. And guess what? It’s empty! WTF? The Count stares at her and when she calls out to him, he Homer Simpson’s his way into some bushes and disappears. The next morning she seeks out the Count to demand an explanation and discovers his secret laboratory. While he’s gob smacked that she actually saw him last night, he explains that during the day things are cool. But at night, she must lock herself in her room and never come out, even if he calls to her from the other side. She can’t trust anything or anyone at night!

You’re all asking ‘why’ right now, aren’t you? Don’t worry. We’re getting to the exposition dump now.

Apparently, this Kernassy curse is born of blood – it drives the family line into darkness, into vampirism. Vera’s friend was murdered, so he dug up her body. He’s been conducting experiments to rid his family of this awful affliction so no one else will get hurt. BUT DON’T TELL ANYONE, MMMKAY? It’s our little secret.

Finally, the river waters subside and another bridge is available so the ladies and gentlemen can get the hell out of dodge in the morning. Which is good because the murdered showgirl showed up in the manager’s room last night and freaked him the fuck out. While everyone thinks he had a nightmare, Vera experiences a little freaky-deaky evening herself.

Someone who looks exactly like the Count attacks her – as a vampire! But she finds herself in bed, the housekeeper explaining she was feverish all night. It was all just a nightmare. After you rest, you can leave. Once packed, Vera runs into the count and, naturally, the nightmare resurfaces and she runs away from him.

Only to run into him again on the other side of the castle. But this count is pale, and has fangs, and IS A VAMPIRE! Ooooh, that’s not the count. It’s his ancestor who is a vampire. He’s the one who attacked and killed the other showgirl because he thought she was Vera (she was wearing Vera’s coat at the time). Seems Vera looks like his long-dead wife, so he plans to make HER a vampire and be with him forever.

Make sense?

The Count just can’t kill the guy. That’s why he’s been working on finding a cure for the Kernassy Kurse ™. Unfortunately, the other guy wants none of that and they fight to the death. The Count defeats his ancestor, surprisingly, and now there’s nothing keeping him tied to the crumbly old castle. He can tie up a few loose ends and meet up with Vera where they can be together.

*aaand scene*

 

Mourning underwear is just that - UNDERwear, you trollop.

While I can’t say this is a good film, I can’t definitively say it’s bad, either. It had a bit of both worlds going on so it came out somewhere in the *shrug* category.

I have to admit, the opening shot of the film is gorgeous. It’s simple – a slow pan from a small high window, where light is streaming through, down through an underground crypt and settling on a tomb. Suddenly, the lid slides back a bit, then a bit more, until a hand slowly reaches out and feels its way over the stone. If the film were in color, that opening sequence would have been more lackluster. I can’t explain why, but that’s just what I think.

The music is fantastic, but it strangely doesn’t fit the movie. Where you’d think there should be more subtle tones, it blares out. Where it should be sweeping and dramatic, the music seems more fitting for a Keystone Cops chase scene. It’s very odd.

There is enough character development for the viewer to become somewhat invested in what they do, or what happens to them. But mostly I didn’t really care, because the majority of the characters are supposed to be shallow or buffoonish. We understand the showgirl victim is vain and rather superficial, but then we don’t care that she’s murdered. The manager is a cheap-ass bumbling idiot, so when he’s in danger, we just yawn and wait for the conflict to end.

Does that make sense?

It was also pretty obvious that the reason the characters are showgirls is for, at some point, the women to dance around and strip – which is exactly what happens a little before the halfway point. I’m not sure where they got the girl to do the solo strip but she had to have been blackmailing someone in the production. It was the most lackadaisical, boring, non-sexy strip tease I’ve ever seen. Not that I have a ton of experience in that department, but I appreciate the female figure and am not offended by nudity or titillation. I just felt a bit awkward, and mostly bored, during this scene.

I did appreciate the chemistry between the Count and Vera, as conflicted as it was (the Count kept warning Vera away because his family sucks but they just can’t stop making out). Walter Brandi was the superior actor to Lyla Rocco. I’m sure the English dubbing didn’t help her, but she kept looking off screen as she spoke, like she was reading cue cards or something.

Quite a bit of predictability with the characters and the story – EXCEPT for the twist at the end, with the vampire reveal. I honestly didn’t see that coming and it was quite refreshing to be surprised. Again, Walter Brandi played both parts well so you could feel the two different characters, not just one guy switching suits. Unfortunately, when the vampire is killed, the ‘special effects’ used for his decay and destruction are just awful. Very cartoonish, and the transitions were choppy.

So overall, the film has ups and downs, good and bad. It’s not great, but I ended up enjoying it more than I thought. I wouldn’t say it’s a must-see film, but if you like vampires, Italians, and black and white movies from the 60s, why not check it out?

 

2.5 hatchets (out of 5)




 

 

 

 

 


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May 20, 2021

Starcrash (1979) Movie Review

I mean, I knew there were a lot of Star Wars rip off films. Can’t really blame them. Gotta get those dolla dolla bills, y’all. But when they come out with a completely jumbled train wreck, you have to wonder who was smoking what when the project was greenlit. (Green lit? Green lighted? Greenlighted? WHO THE FUCK APPROVED THIS BULLSHIT?)

SPOILERS AHOY – because I just cannot give a summary of this film. You need to know the details before you go in on your own.

The 1979 sci-fantasy disaster known as Starcrash, tell us the story of an outlaw smuggler, Han So…I mean, Stella Star and her alien companion, Chew…uh, Akton. After witnessing Stella’s piloting prowess and the navigating wunderkind partner, Akton, Princess L…shit, I mean the Emperor of the Galaxy (Christopher MOTHER FUCKING Plummer – yeah, that’s right) recruits them for a top-secret mission. The evil Darth…gods dammit. The evil Count Zarth Arn has created a new weapon that could destroy the universe. The last Imperial mission failed to find it, or the planet it’s hidden on (that’s no moon…). So Stella and Akton must find both, destroy the weapon, and rescue the Emperor’s only son.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Where the hell is Cap’n Mal and his merry band of smugglers?

Aside from the main Imperial ship, two shuttles escaped before it crashed somewhere unknown. Stella, Akton, and their new partners, ELLE and Chief Thor (both working for The Emp), begin to scour the galaxy for the remains of any Imperial ships. But only Stella and ELLE actually do any of the leg work.

The first pod they find yields nothing, except the opportunity to be captured by the Amazon warrior women (who weren’t really all that Amazonian, but okay). Their queen has a beef with The Emp, I think, and wants to kill Stella and ELLE. Guilt by association, I suppose. She fails and it’s over, and Stella and ELLE go back to their ship to keep looking for Imperial wreckage.

Wait, WHY THE HELL WERE THEY EVEN IN THIS? The Amazons served absolutely no purpose. Oh, wait. It was just to show off the stop animation effects of the Queen’s Goliath guardian – a giant silver, sword-wielding monstrosity with bewbs. Got it.

Moving on.

The next search brings them to the icy planet of Hoth…I mean, just some random inhospitable really, really cold planet. While Stella and ELLE find only corpses, we find out Thor is a traitor and he tries to kill Akton, and strand Stella and ELLE on the planet where everything freezes instantly the moment the sun goes down. Fortunately for our heroes, Akton can see the future so he already knew Thor was a dick. He thwarts his plan, saves his friends on the surface, and they’re off again!

They find the crash site of the 2nd Imperial escape pod. After a bunch of cavemen parkour their way on the scene, capturing Stella and plan to…I don’t know, honestly. Luckily, we don’t have to find out because a golden masked stranger saves her! It’s Simon, the sole survivor of the pod crash and attack on the Imperial ship (I bet you can’t guess who this guy also is….it’s cool, take a minute to think about it).

They also discover that Count Zarth Arn has hidden his weapon on this very planet! How fortuitous for them. We’re so lucky, too, that Akton can explain what every piece of machinery is/does as they walk through the facility.

Before they can destroy it, the Count shows up and tell us all his evil plan – to trap the Emperor into coming to get his only son, Simon (SURPRISE), and when he does, the Count will blow everything up, leaving the galaxy open for the taking. Here, enjoy some more stop motion animation as my robot guards make sure you stay put while I leave to go kill people. Though Akton tries to kill the robots, his arm gets slashed at the last minute and he must now accept his fate, which is to die (from a flesh wound?) and fade away.

Huh?

Spy vs. Spy, SciFi Division

Now, the Emperor doesn’t get to be the boss if he’s an idiot, right? He wouldn’t show up without a plan. Nerds. He’s going to stop the flow of time so they can escape – but they only get three minutes. So let’s keep speechifying for a bit before we all skedaddle. The only thing left to do is catch up to Zarth Arn’s ship (which looks like a giant clawed fist, I shit you not) and destroy it before he can employ the weapon.

But we’re not powerful enough. How can we ever achieve our goal? Stop whining, Simon. By piloting a floating city at him, you silly goose. It’s called Starcrash (roll credits), a 4th dimensional attack. If they can reenter space at just the right moment, the impact of surprise will be so overwhelming that the Count can’t hold out.

Stella – use your awesome piloting skills; ELLE – you go with her. Me and Simon will wait here on the Imperial ship while you do all the work. Cool? Cool. So Stella points the floating city, loaded down with explosives, toward the Count’s ship. She and ELLE fly out the window at the last second and space swim back to the Imperial ship.

And this actually works. The evil Count has been defeated, and the galaxy saved.


Fuck right the fuck off, you pack of liars.

The blatant Star Wars rip off aside (sure, sure, it could all be a coincidence, as Cozzi insists Starcrash was written and designed BEFORE Star Wars premiered, sure, sure, and the laser sword Akton wields is absolutely not a light saber), this is a ridiculous movie. As a buddy of mine put it, “it’s an entertaining mess.” Yes, as bad as it is, it definitely has some entertainment value.

Let me break down the bad first, though. The acting, while you might expect better, is total shit. It could be because the overdubbing was so completely awful. I know this was filmed in Italy, directed by no other than Luigi Cozzi, so you know there were non-English speakers in here. But even the folks we know speak English (Caroline Munroe, Marjoe Gortner, David Hasselhoff, Joe Spinelli), it looks like they’re saying something completely alien as the words and the lip movements absolutely do not synch.

I’m not sure if it’s cheaper to redub in post instead of having top notch audio during the actual filming. You folks out there who are reading this and make movies/made movies, clue a girl in. Because I just don’t understand why this is so shitty.

Oooh! Who goosed me?


The special effects are…certainly special. And by that I mean they took the short bus to the studio. Granted, this was 1979 and sorely lacking the sophistication of today’s computer programs. I’m also going out on a limb to say the budget here was sub-basement level compared to George Lucas (a paltry $4 million compared to $11 million). But when you watch this AFTER Star Wars, you definitely feel let down by the effects. I mean, the laser guns actually make “pew pew” noises.

And that’s just the space scenes.

The stop motion technique, used for the Count’s metal guards and the Amazon Queen’s giant, was definitely not unique to this film (early, early development has been around since the 1800s). But the incorporation of the live actors, with some major discrepancies in colors and clarity between the two, proved a stumbling block to believability.

Pretty much this whole film looked like Star Wars and Clash of the Titans spent the weekend going speedballs together before giving birth to Starcrash.

The other drawback is the pacing. It drags a lot through the film because it’s overstuffed with too many fight scenes, getting captured, space ‘scenery’, meeting races/aliens that don’t serve the story, a lot of exposition dumps, and several characters that explain everything that’s going on. This could have been a 60-minute film instead of 90.

All of that makes this a terrible movie. HOWEVER, because there are some things that are just fun or funny, it makes the move watchable. Maybe not more than once, but you should be able to get through it for these few aspects: 

1.    Christopher MOTHER FUCKING Plummer. He is the exception to every rule here. The man didn’t need this gig; the man was not desperate for funds or work. In an interview, he said he only took the job because he could travel to Italy for free, but that didn’t make his performance any less spectacular. He fills every role he takes on with grace, dignity, and commanding presence. Even the cheesy speech the Emperor gives at the very end, as he breaks the 4th wall a couple times, gave me goosebumps. His limited screen time is everything right and good with the world.


How YOU doin?


2.    Though all the overdubbing makes its difficult to get a good feel for each character, Joe Spinelli and Marjoe Gortner as the Evil Count and Akton, respectively, bring manic life to their parts. Its too bad the film was overdubbed because I would have loved to hear their natural voices shout out their lines.

3.    John Barry wrote, arranged, and conducted the original music used in the film. If someone with Barry’s talent doesn’t give this movie some street cred, I’m not sure what else would. Besides Christopher MOTHER FUCKING Plummer. The crappy story and effects do not drag John down; he lifts the movie up to a level it doesn’t deserve. So if you enjoy original soundtrack music, you’ll dig this.

4.    There was one scene where I literally had to pause the film to make sure I didn’t miss anything while I laughed for a full minute. When the Imperial soldiers go to fight Count Zarth Arn’s army, they launch themselves across open space in gold torpedoes, which bust through the enemy ship’s windows and bounce across the floor, before popping open to deliver the Imperial troops (about 2 men per capsule). I’m not kidding. THAT was their delivery system. If you don't believe me, just watch the trailer below.

While these few things do make the experience of Starcrash somewhat enjoyable, and allows us to sit back in awe of the craptacular disaster as it unfolds, I can’t say you should run right out and find it. If you come across it, sure! Give it a watch. You’ll have some fun. Then you can tuck the experience away in your sock drawer and move on to bigger and better things.

2 hatchets (out of 5) – 1 full hatchet just for Christopher MOTHER FUCKING Plummer alone.

 

 


 

 

 


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May 14, 2021

The Sentinel (1977) Movie Review


I just wrote up a movie review for my website, comparing the OG and remake of The Wicker Man. But I honestly need to review this film for CHC. I watched it two days ago and I can’t get it out of my head!

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)

The Sentinel is about highly successful fashion model, Alison. She’s been living with her boyfriend, Michael, for a while now. But with her father’s death, and just wanting to prove she can “do it on her own”, she needs to get her own apartment. She finds the perfect place – fully furnished and at a cheap price. But after moving in, her bizarre neighbors act inappropriately and make tons of noise, preventing Alison from getting any sleep. That and the horrifying visions she’s having of her dead father as well as her past suicide attempts, are putting her on a very sharp edge. When she complains to the landlady, Alison is told that the only other occupant in the apartment building is a blind priest on the top floor.

Um, what?

As Michael helps her probe into the mystery, Detective Gatz is also investigating. Gatz worked on Michael’s late wife’s “accident” years prior, and doesn’t trust Michael as far as he can throw him, especially when some old business associates of his turn up dead. After Alison is found covered in blood, claiming to have stabbed her dead father, Gatz starts digging. The neighbors Alison has described are actually all former criminals. As in DEAD criminals.

Um, what?

As Alison turns back to the church for moral and emotional support, Michael does more digging on the blind priest upstairs. The answer to the mystery becomes quite clear: the apartment building houses the gate to Hell. The church has installed a guardian, or sentinel, to watch over it and make sure the damned cannot escape. Alison is the next in line to take over as sentry. That is if she can resist the tortures, torments, and temptations of the damned who want her to join them, leaving the gate unguarded. Can she resist? Will she take her place and keep the world safe from Hell?

Has anyone seen my keys?

Holy crap, what a ride.

For some reason, I kept mixing this movie up with The Keep, which I saw years ago. Then after reading the description for The Sentinel, I realized I never watched it before. And just looking at the cast, I jumped on this faster than a crack whore on a free rock.

Some people only had a scene or two, maybe a couple of lines, but just check out these names: Chris Sarandon, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldbloom, Burgess Meredith, John Carradine, Jose Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Beverly D’Angelo, Jerry Orbach…and the list goes on! I don’t think I’ve ever seen this big a collection of talent – old school and new – all in one movie. Burgess is absolute unsettling perfection; Eli Wallach proves a great smart-ass, determined cop; Beverly D’Angelo comes off (no pun intended – watch the movie, you’ll know what I mean) creepy af and she doesn’t speak once.

I loved the apartment building itself. Looks like an old mansion/estate that was converted into apartments. The dark wood, oriental rugs, brick exterior almost felt like a character in its own right. It reminded my of where I used to live in Chicago years ago, and I imagine all major cities have buildings like this one. It felt homey, but claustrophobic at the same time. But every location worked well, from Alison’s photo shoots, to her family’s home, and the city scenes. Even being shot in the 70s, which left the print with that grittier look, and the dated fashions of the time, didn’t pull me out or distract me from the action.

Before Grumpy Cat, there was Jezebel.

I loved the story. You could have picked this film up and plopped it down in any decade and it would still work. Based on the novel by Jeffrey Convitz, I love the idea that Hell is *RIGHT THERE* and sometimes there’s only a gauze of a barrier to keep the damned out of our world. Though I am a bit confused how the blind priest’s mere presence keeps the gate closed, but since he was old and dying, I think that’s why the souls were acting up once Alison arrived. However, I shouldn’t have counted him out because his actions right at the end of the film are what saved the world, and Alison.

The finale reminded me a lot of 1932’s Freaks. Apparently the casting assistants combed several carnivals and freak shows to find people to play the majority of the damned souls that squeaked out of Hell to overwhelm Alison. Not to disparage anyone with any kind of genetic malformation or disorder, but some of the people they found were absolutely terrifying to look at.

Despite a little pacing issue (it does drag a smidge in the middle), this is a great film and deserves as much love as we can throw at it.

 

4.5 hatchets  (out of 5)

 

 


 


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May 6, 2021

Don't Panic (1988) Movie Review


I did not specifically seek out another bonkers kind of film. And while last week’s review centered on a movie that did crazy VERY well, this week’s choice is…uh…just read on to see what I’m talking about.

Don’t Panic is the story of Michael. He and his mom had to move from the US to Mexico City for his dad’s work. Sure, things are pretty different there but he’s doing well in school, has a crush in the works, and has a nice circle of friends. Mom’s struggling a little. Since dad is away all the time for work, the bottle seems to be her only comfort.

For Michael’s 17th birthday, his friends surprise him with a Ouija board and wouldn’t it be so much fun to play with it? Spoiler Alert: the answer is NO. Despite some promise to never play with one again, he folds to peer pressure. His best bud, Tony, summons Virgil. He tells everyone it’s just a ghost but Michael knows better – it’s the Devil!

Naturally, nothing happens while they’re playing with the board. But as soon as everyone leaves, without closing the supernatural door they just opened (do you want demons? BECAUSE THAT’S HOW YOU GET DEMONS), weird shit starts to happen.

The next day, Michael is late for school and in Mexico City, you can’t attend classes if you’re tardy. Too bad, so sad. Turns out, his crush, Alexandra, was also late so they spend a wonderful 1980’s montage day of feeding the ducks, going on a paddle boat, getting balloons, going to an amusement park, and everything two young people in love like to do.

Of course, Michael needs to consult with his best bro, Tony, to figure out how to tell Alex how much he likes her. Tony says the only thing he can do is give her the Magic Rose  As long as love exists between the two of them, the bloom will never wither. Daawww, that’s actually some sweet advice coming from such a fucktard.

Just as things seems to be going swell, Michael starts having nightmares. But they aren’t just simple nightmares. They’re visions, and they eventually transfer to the waking world. He’s seeing his friends being murdered, stabbed to death with some kind of ceremonial dagger. And to top it off, he sees his best gal getting a little too chummy with the school douchebag, John. But she assures him that John is just a smart ass, that’s why he acts that way. She loves only Michael.

Hooray for love!

I'm looking for the plot. Has anyone seen it?

Anyhoo…back to the movie. Not only is Michael having visions about his friends, some kind of weird face keeps pushing out of the static on the TV to say Michael can prevent the tragedies. Despite all his efforts, though, Michael can’t seem to stop any of the murders. It doesn’t help that his mom won’t listen to anything he says and is convinced he’s nuts, and gets the local psychiatrist to pump him full of drugs.

(SPOILERS AHOY) Michael finally finds out that the face in the TV is Tony! Virgil has possessed his body and is killing everyone. All Michael has to do is find that damned dagger and kill Virgil. With a little help from Douchebag John and Alexandra, and the one person in Mexico City that believes Michael is not crazy (a cop, of all people), Virgil is finally defeated and Tony is set free. Unfortunately, Michael dies from the strain of battle. Apparently being suspended in the air by telekinesis takes all the stuffing out of a healthy 17-year-old.

BUT FEAR NOT! At his graveside funeral, Alexandra throws a now wilted rose onto Michael’s casket and it instantly becomes full and beautiful again. She smiles to the heavens, knowing Michael still loves her even in death.

Wait, what?


I realized as I was trying to type up the summary, I could have kept describing the tons of minutia in the film because honestly, about eighty of the ninety minutes feels useless. “Kids summon a demon and it possesses one of their bodies to go on a killing spree.” That’s it. That’s the story. But all this other crap (the first love, Daddy’s constant absence, the visions, Michael’s dinosaur pajamas) does this film absolutely NO favors.

I’m not sure why Shudder described the writer/director, Rubén Galindo Jr., as the King of Mexican Gore because he’s got maybe 3-4 horror movies to his name. Granted, I haven’t seen those films so maybe they’re swimming in human offal. But there wasn’t that much gore going on here. Yeah, lots of blood and some stringy slime-spit from Tony at the end. However, a Herschell Gordon Lewis film this is not.

The acting is gods awful. It’s either completely over the top or non-existent. It doesn’t help that the ADR or overdubbing is terrible. But thankfully Michael narrates the opening of the film because who wants to actually show his backstory when he can just tell us, amirite? Throw in a lot of overly dramatic and cheesy music, and you’ve got yourself a movie.

Moooom, why do people treat me like a baby!?

While we do get some development of Michael, his mom, and the family dynamic, most of the characters are just there to die. I suppose Tony is given more than a shallow puddle’s worth of depth with the whole rose romantic advice, and I do feel bad for him once he’s possessed. But we never get more backstory on the whole ‘never play with a Ouija’ again which really could have made Tony’s character more interesting.

There were character actions that had me scratching my head. When Michael was having waking visions, he couldn’t actually see his surroundings – just the visions. So I’m not sure why he was running full-tilt boogie, and weaving side to side, down sets of stairs or through hospital corridors. He tripped and stumbled more than the slut victim from a Friday the 13th movie. But he could leap through a window, that could only be accessed if he stood on a couch next to it, with laser precision. When Michael gets another vision at Alex’s house, he pulls out the gun John gave him earlier (don’t worry about it) and starts blasting, shooting up everything in the room EVEN THOUGH HE CAN’T SEE. And why do people keep getting in John’s car through the windows instead of opening the doors? Does they think they’re in Hazard County, for cripes sake?

I just…

And while there are a lot more things I disliked about this movie, I can recognize some awesome, too. The special effects are all practical, which is my favorite. The blood looks great; the wounds have little noticeable latex edging; when John gets the dagger from under the chin to the roof of his mouth, you get to see the blade inside his mouth. Very cool effect. The makeup for Tony as he slowly ages and rots (didn’t realize possession did that, but okay) was fantastic. By the end, it doesn’t even look like makeup anymore but a part of the actor.

Unfortunately, that’s about it. There so much going on here that’s ridiculous, or idiotic, or just lacking direction. For an eighties completist, sure. Check it out if you have the time, especially if you need a good laugh. Otherwise, I’d say leave it in the past and move on with your life.

1 hatchet (out of 5)

 


 


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