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February 1, 2019

Static Age #2

Nolan Wood (Scott Bakula) in The Invaders (1995).
Welcome to my ‘anything goes’ column’s 2nd installment, and please allow to  me to talk a little bit abound abandoned writing projects. Since my return to Cinema Head Cheese, a few people asked me if I’d bring back my Column of the Dead. Yes, this project is not abandoned, and it will continue on, as I look forward to share my further thoughts on zombie cinema, but just not yet, because right now I would like to focus on Static Age and A Binge too Far, both of whom have become bi-monthly columns, because Secondhand Smut has run its course. So far, during my writing career (if you could call it that) the only project I abandoned was a feature article on modern Greek porn. I just wasn’t interested enough on the subject.

The Invaders (1995) poster.
This Static Age’s spotlight goes to The Invaders (1995) which is a little-seen update of the same-titled TV series from 1967. I don’t know why I decided to watch this first rather than the original, but the 1960s show will also be featured in this column at some point in the future. This 1990s version consists of two lengthy episodes (each of feature length basically) and they are about Nolan Wood (Scott Bakula), an ex-convict and supposed mental patient who tries to prevent the end of the world which will be conducted by aliens disguised as humans. Mediocre at best, this two-part TV event was directed by Paul Shapiro and it is rarely suspenseful.

I also managed to catch up with the following recent shows…

While at ten episodes only, the 3rd season of Salem (2014 – 2017) is certainly short, it is not really sweet, as the witch-hunts have delved into boredom and resort to random violence and irrelevant creep outburst to keep the audiences’ interest; they failed to do so and the series got canceled. Jennifer Lynch directs a couple of episodes and Marilyn Manson provides with a few extended cameos, as well as with the titles song.

Peaky Blinders - Season 2, R2 BD box art.
In the 3rd season of Peaky Blinders (2013 – present) the same-named Birmingham gang led by Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) tries to become legit, and to a certain extent it manages so, but bad habits die hard, like tough gangsters. It is impressive though that because we spend so much time with the gangster we start liking them and caring about them, as it becomes clear that there are no good or bad guys here.

The 1st (and luckily the sole) season of Damien (2016) is easily this decade’s most boring series, and the less said about it the better.

The 2nd season of The Returned (2012 – 2015) proved to be the un-dead’s final offering (at least from France) and although it is not really weak, it is indeed very slow. It is also unfortunate that its back and forth in time editing will confuse many viewers. However, its original concept proves enough for casual high-end drama watchers to stick with it until the end. It will certainly appeal more to French art-house audiences, rather than fans of universal horror.

The 2nd season of Narcos (2015 – present) starts where the previous one had left, namely with Columbian drug cartel boss Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) on the run from both several police forces as well as army ones, after he escaped from the prison he had built for himself.

In the Flesh - Season 2, R2 DVD box art.
In the 2nd season of In the Flesh (2013 – 2014) things seemed to somehow settled down, with most of the Partially Diseased (i.e. cured zombies)  now rehabilitated and accepted back into the society of the living, and the H.V.F. (the Human Volunteer Force, a paramilitary organization that used to kill the undead) pretty much dissolved. But it is now the British state and its rampant bureaucracy that is the living dead’s bigger issue, and for that they form a communist-like organization the purpose of which is resistance; however, the widespread group may have ties with a walking dead organization that is peddling some blue pills that can turn the zombies back into rabid monster and prey for blood. This is much scarier than the first season, but it is also more boring, and at 6 episodes long it outstays its welcome. And anyway, I know that you always wanted to see gay male zombies, and here’s your chance.

Creator Aaron Martin’s 1st season of Slasher (2016 – present) is an homage (at least plot-wise) to, well, you guessed it, slasher movies, and it is about a hot young brunette who moves to the house that her parents were murdered on a Halloween night many years ago, while she was still in her mother’s womb, and still managed to survive. Now she’s the talk of the town, and so is her boyfriend who quickly becomes the local newspaper’s editor-in-chief, but the idyllic rural setting is doomed, because a copycat killer (we are quite sure about this because the original killer is in prison and quite talkative) wreaked havoc with a series of violent killings, although it is a shame that when these are about to get nasty, the series cut to blank. This is too politically correct for its own good, from the interracial lead couple to the comic relief gay one, which is not exactly how you do proper horror series, yet it is watchable enough. Still, I can’t stop laughing at the killer, because frankly, he resembles a black condom. All episodes directed by Craig David Wallace.

The Deuce - Season 1, R1 BD box art.
Set in 1970s New York, the 1st season of The Deuce (2017 – present) created by George Pelecanos and David Simon is about the wonderful world of the gritty yesteryear that includes pornography, drugs, prostitution, grindhouses, exploitation films, and all around great aesthetics. Featuring full frontal nudity from both sexes, and the best-written dialogues that you will ever come across in television, this one is a winner. The series are well-thought and tons of attention is given both to its real story’s accuracy as well as the details in wardrobe and set design. It is not too far-fetched to say that what we have here is the best show in the history of the medium. A great show about the most interesting subject of recent pop culture history, its only weakness being that it doesn’t have too much of a plot, but it works greatly even as a showcase of an amazing time and place.

The Australian-set 1st season of Wolf Creek (2016 – present) is about local serial killer Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) who is roaming the countryside roads in search of new victims, which he proceeds on to kill in several imaginative ways, that most of the time work due to expert special effects staging. Based on the same-titled films, this is possibly the best series to ever come from Down Under and they deserve their place in the horror pantheon. This is how 1970s homages should be done; no tongue in cheek stuff, just raw violence.

People wandering around, talking to each other, while the living dead remain in the background more harmless than ever before. The 4th season of Fear the Walking Dead (2015 – present) is featuring the survivors of the previous season and introduces some new characters, but more importantly many connections are made with the people of that other show of which this is a spin-off. The concept is tired and at 16 episodes (most of them directed by Michael E. Satrazemis) this is a long a tedious run. The franchise had lost steam long ago.

Channel Zero - Season 1, BD box art.
I wouldn’t know, but a Creepypasta is are photos, videos etc. that circulate the world wide web in order to scare people for the brief seconds that teenagers with short attention span will spare for that purpose. The 1st season of Channel Zero (2016 – present) is based on one such occurrence (and the subsequent seasons are based on similar others, but I’ll leave those for the next installments of this column), the Candle Cove in particular, and while the end result is not exactly a masterpiece, it is one creepy fuck! It couldn’t be different though, considering horror legends Don Mancini and Max Landis are serving as executive producers.

The 1st season of Doctor Who (2005 – present) is, you guessed it, about the adventures of the titular humorous good alien (Christopher Eccleston) and his gorgeous assistant Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) who together will have to fight all sorts of enemies whilst managing time travel and other inconveniences. The CGI here are obviously not the best that could have been (and rightfully many fans of the old show – soon to be reviewed by the present column – have questioned their necessity) but the show is nonetheless fun and enjoyable. ‘The End of the World’ episode is particularly creepy with those mobile mannequins. ‘The Unquiet Dead’ episode is quite effective and it is featuring an evil grandma as well as zombies. The ‘Aliens of London’ and ‘World War Three’ episodes are about an invasion by farting alien pigs (yes, you read that right). The ‘Dalek’ episode is the first one in which we see a Dalek, one with feelings at that. ‘The Long Game’ is featuring Simon Pegg (no introduction needed). The ‘Bad Wolf’ episode finds eponymous alien and his alliances as members of popular reality television shows from the era, and as such it is the lowest point in the series.

Gotham - Season 4, R1 BD box art.
The 4th season of Gotham (2014 – present) finds arch villain Penguin (the ever-excellent Robin Lord Taylor) issuing licenses to crime for the gangsters he wishes to collaborate with. Amazingly the police doesn’t do much about it because this action apparently helped the crime rate reach all-time lows. Only commissioner James Gordon (the returning Ben McKenzie) has objections but it seems that not even his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) is willing to fight this war. What’s more a series of crimes appear to be the doings on The Scarecrow, but could this be? In the meanwhile, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) grow up in order to become two crucial elements to the plot, albeit by different sides of the law. Rich, dark, and stylish, this is among the best works to ever be adapted by a DC comic book for the screen of any size. Things get even more violent when mid-season  gruesome villain Professor Pyg (Michael Cerveris) makes an appearance and forces cold-blood murder and cannibalism into the city. Towards the season’s end the Joker (an excellent Cameron Monaghan) and Mr. Freeze (Nathan Darrow) bring terror to the city as well. Look out for ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson’s Airplane, ‘I Wanna be your Dog’ by The Stooges, and ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ by the Misfits.

The Terror - Season 1, R1 BD box art.
Executive produced by Ridley Scott (yes, he too got involved with television) and based upon a novel by Dan Simmons, the 1st season of The Terror (2018 – present) is set in 1848 and it is about two shiploads of people that get lost in the middle of Northwest Passage’s nowhere where they will have to face the menace of a demonic polar bear. Although nowhere near my taste, this is unique and ambiguous, and a winner from AMC.

In the 1st season of Castle Rock (2018 – present), set in the titular small fictional town, a series of strange events (that involve everything, from suicide to murder) seem to connect several townsfolk in a very complicated mystery that goes back and forth in time (as does the confusing editing). Based upon the popular novel by Stephen King (although it seems that all his work is popular nowadays), this was executive produced by J.J. Abrams (yes, he too got involved with television), and it is no light watching material, as it demands your total attention if your intent is to understand what’s going on in this creepy little world. Lookout for the Misfits’ ‘Hybrid Moments’ on the soundtrack. Interesting imagery for most of the time, but ultimately a boring show.

The X Files - Season 11, R1 BD box art.
The 11th season of The X Files (1993 – 2018) has F.B.I. agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) looking for their son, before bad guy Cancer Man (William B. Davis) can get to him, in a plot that involves the future (or the lack of thereof) of the world as we know it. But this is only part of the mythology of the final season of the legendary series created by Chris Carter, as you will also get to see a few standalone episodes that are quite good too. However, at this stage the whole thing may be a bit too 1990s (some of the dialogue that is uttered by the main cast is unintentionally hilarious) and it seems like it has no place in modern television; therefore it came as no surprise when the ratings dropped and the show was cancelled.

Creator Charlie Brooker’s 1st season of Black Mirror (2011 – present) caught me by surprise as it is really one of the most original sci-fi shows we’ve seen in ages. Opting to go with an anthology format, this series basically prows on our fear of technology and how things may get out of hand when too much of it is involved. I’m occasionally technophobic and I was scared shitless. This U.K. production is serving us a mere 6 episodes, but those are lengthy and quite well developed, so none should complain. ‘The National Anthem’ finds Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) lured into fucking a pig in national and international television in order for Princess Susannah (Lydia Wilson) to be released by her captors; it is an odd demand to say the least.

But I also managed to catch up with a few mainstream films as well…

Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War (2018) directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, finds the titular bunch of superheroes against their greatest enemy so far, namely supreme intergalactic baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin), whose motives are believable (and therefore making him an interesting antagonist) but they still have to wipe out millions of people. The end of the world is at stake here, and this is featuring the darkest ending in the history of superhero movies. At 2 and a half hours long, this is a tad bit too long, but the endless battles and supreme special effects will keep your interest throughout.

Destination Wedding (2018) DVD box art.
I’m not sure how it came to my attention or why I decided to watch it, but I totally enjoyed director Tibor Takacs’ Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996). The film is about the adventures of the titular young lady (Melissa Joan Hart) who on the one hand seeks true love and on the other to enable her witch powers. I liked this romance comedy so much that I can picture me already taking a look at the same-titled series and reviewing them for a future installment of this very column.

Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder may be the most attractive middle-aged people on earth right now, but not that, nor their chemistry could save writer/director Victor Levin’s Destination Wedding (2018), a boring romantic comedy (about the troubled lead couple falling in love) which is essentially about two people talking to each other for an exhausting 90 minutes.

In My Baby’s Daddy (2004) childhood friend’s Lonnie (Eddie Griffin), Dominic (Michael Imperioli), and G (Anthony Anderson) are about to become parents they have to overcome some issues with their girlfriends Rolonda (Paula Jai Parker), Nia (Joanna Bacalso), and XiXi (the beautiful Bai Ling). Directed by Cheryl Dunye, this not funny at all, and it is full of fart jokes, overacting, and racial stereotypes.

Deadpool 2 (2018) R1 BD box art.
Deadpool 2 (2018) is featuring the adventures of the titular superhero (returning Ryan Raynolds) who fails as an X-Men trainee (due to his R-rated swearing and employing of lethal violence which is against the sensibilities of that PG-13 group) and has to form his own X-Force (which is basically an assemble of ass-clowns, including Brad Pitt) in order to fight crime. Wild and unpretentious, director David Leitch’s film may be Marvel’s most entertaining sequel to date.

In Focus (2015) two professional thieves and crooks, Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) and Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) develop a liking for each other, but life separates them. They will meet again three years later in Buenos Aires, where they seemingly work on the same project (albeit via different approaches). Will they be able to put aside the lies, the job, and the millions and reconnect? Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.

Director Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is the titular character’s (Alden Ehrenreich) origin film, and a very boring one at that. Every time I have to deal with a Hollywood product I become more and more nostalgic of 1970s minimalist genre cinema. I may mature one day and quit giving big budget films even the slightest of chances, because frankly, they don’t deserve any.

I don’t like what Hollywood does now, and I don’t like what Hollywood was doing in the old times either, therefore it didn’t surprise me that I fell asleep during director John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962). I know, blasphemy, right?

The First Purge (2018) R1 BD box art.
Blumhouse Production’s The First Purge (2018) directed by Gerard McMurray is the prequel to The Purge (2013 – present) franchise and it finds the controversial political party the New Founding Fathers of America gaining power for the first time, and conducting a social experiment (again, for the first time) in Staten Island where its citizens will have the right to purge, meaning to participate in any criminal activity they would like to, within a time window of 12 hours. The people seem a bit hesitant to the project (the protests against are many and by everyone, from activists to gangsters) but they are lured by the $5,000 reward, which seems like a lot of money during an era of economic crisis. James DeMonaco’s screenplay moves forward quickly (and the MTV-like editing of Jim Page helps as well), but this is just another origin story that proves that usually those are not necessary. Plus, the whole idea of presenting the action through the African-Americans’ point of view comes a bit awkward and biased. The end result is boring, and a lengthy shootout in the finale doesn’t add up much. It may alienate fans of the franchise, but to be fair it doesn’t do so much damage as to prevent me from catching up with the same-titled TV series, which – yes – you will read all about in this column soon.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) BD box art.
Director J.A. Bayona’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) finds separated couple Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) joining forces in order to go back to the Jurassic Park and save the lives of the remaining dinosaurs from the erupting volcano. Things go from bad to worse when the interests of a military group that works under the aegis of seedy animal traffickers. You will sure see plenty of CGI dinosaur action here (actual set-pieces that you have never seen before, that had me thinking that this tactic does not differ too much from the exploitation films of the drive-ins and grindhouses days), but great drama is achieved at several moments as well. An overall enjoyable blockbuster.

Scott Lang a.k.a. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Hope Van Dyne a.k.a. Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) join forces once again in order to complete a new mission set by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) which will find them against deadly foe Ava a.k.a. Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). Director Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) though is mostly concerned with the family troubles of the super-heroic duo, which results in a quite sympathetic romantic comedic affair, and as such it is welcome, albeit a tad too long at almost 2 hours. Impressive CGI work and a Stan Lee cameo are the order of the day.

BlacKkKlansman (2018) R1 BD box art.
Director Spike Lee just made his finest joint (as he likes calling his films) with BlacKkKlansman (2018) which is based on the true story of black cop Ron Stallworth (an excellent performance by John David Washington) who managed to infiltrate both the Black Power movement and the KKK. It may be 135 minutes long but the storytelling and the editing are so quick that you’ll never know how time passed with this overall enjoyable experience that at the same time manages to raise several serious questions mainly in regards to racism then and now.

Director Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) bored me senseless.

In The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018), recently orphaned young boy Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) is kind of adopted by his magician goofy uncle Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black) and together they will try to prevent the end of the world by locating the powerful titular object. Tedious, boring, and unimaginative, director Eli Roth’s first attempt to make a family-friendly politically correct film (his filmography has been so far littered by exploitation film homages with notorious right wing agendas) is a miss that everyone will forget quickly. This one sent me to sleep.

Director Ruben Fleischer’s Venom (2018), Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) gets infected by an parasite and becomes the titular entity, basically a monster in a jelly black suit that is hungry for human flesh. Will he be able to turn this appetite towards bad guys only? Will we be able to make it through another boring Marvel Studios film?

Halloween (2018) R1 BD box art.
Halloween (2018), directed by David Gordon Green (who also penned the screenplay, with Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride) is set 40 years after the events of Halloween (1978), and finds Michael Myers (Nick Castle) escaping the mental institution he was held at and spreading terror in Haddonfield once again. However, this time Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is waiting for him, trained, armed, and dangerous. Produced by Bill Block and Jason Blum (under the aegis of genre film powerhouse Blumhouse Productions), this created so much buzz that I was expecting to see a masterpiece. But although the film is nowhere near a masterpiece, it is way better than any of the sequels and remakes we’ve seen in the last four decades, and as such it is destined to become a modern classic. One strange fact is that although the film opts mostly for atmosphere (the new score by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies works in spades) the body count is higher than ever – I just don’t get it how the filmmakers managed to achieve such perfect balance. Brilliant to say the least, this is one you should not miss.

Best Worst Movie (2009) has earned good reviews all around and it was well received by most fans of documentaries on movies, and it even received a kind of wide release (at least compared to other similar outings), but let’s examine it a bit further, now that almost a decade has passed since its initial release. First of all, it is not a documentary on Troll 2 (1990) nor its making (or any of its aspects, such as background information on its inception), it is rather a documentary on the legacy of that particular movie. Yes, you read that right, its legacy. However, even within the annals of cult movie fandom, Troll 2 is no Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), nor is it Deep Throat (1972), meaning it is simply not that interesting; I would go as far as calling it simply “passable”. And certainly its legacy is not such that it would guarantee a magazine article, much less an entire documentary. Said documentary is desperately trying to showcase this supposed legacy, but it fails flat, as twenty screenings (packed with laughing hipsters) across the U.S. and a few autograph stands in second grade film conventions don’t necessarily translate into something legendary. However, this (the fact that writer/director Michael Paul Stephenson is trying to make chicken shit look like chicken salad) is not the film’s biggest crime. That would be its title and its supposed meaning. What the hell is a Best Worst Movie? A movie is something that is produced for people to be enjoyed by and buy tickets and popcorn. There are the critics of course, or the fans, that write reviews about films, or academic analyses, or history researches, and then these are compared and interesting things such as studies and books come out of all that work. And then, there are the “millennials” (not all of them are guilty, it must be said, but many are) that simply compare and rate movies as if they are some kind of stock market assets. I blame for this the meaningless rating options of IMBb and Rotten Tomatoes (I have visited the latter website only once in my life, and being immensely disgusted and appalled by its nature I promised to never return). And that’s how Troll 2 ended up considered by many hipsters the Best Worst Movie in some short of mathematical way. Now that the hipster judges came up with the verdict that Troll 2 is indeed the Best Worst Movie (which says a lot about how many films they don’t see) it was inevitable that a documentary would be made out of its legacy (which, in terms of ethos, is kind of the documentary equivalent of the faux-grindhouse movies that litter the market). So far so good, but Troll 2 is also not a phenomenon, and even Lloyd Kaufman can generate more attendance on a bad day of a Troma film festival anywhere in the world. What’s more, TROLL 2 is not historically outstanding by any means, as it came out during the decline of the Italian exploitation film industry, and I can come up with at least fifty similar movies from that era of decadence. Still, all these are minor flaws compared to the point of view that the doc opts for, when it sadly tries to portray director Claudio Fragasso as a delusional idiot who supposedly thinks that he made a masterpiece against the acting personnel’s (a bunch of nobodies) views that they are somehow above such crap. Well, let me tell you that Claudio Fragasso is responsible for some of the most memorable Italian horror screenplays from the 1980s, including Hell Of The Living Dead (1980) and Rats: Nights Of Terror (1984), and one thing he is not is an idiot or incapable, while poking fun at films is what definitely makes you appear as stupid – from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988 – 1999) to the present day ridicule screenings, making yourself appear above independent exploitation movies is simply idiotic. However, having said that, and much to the doc’s advocacy, it is simply interesting watching someone exploiting the exploiters (i.e. an Italian hack [and I use this word with all the love that I have]). What is an uninteresting, is the endless amount of footage that we see that is about all sorts of irrelevant stuff (for example an array of information of what minor cast members are doing with their everyday lives in the present day – much is made out of actor George Hardy’s career as a dentist, and actress Margo Prey’s admittedly touching battle with mental illness), which at the same time is what makes the doc kind of unconventional in its approach. And as such – are you ready for this? – it is outstanding, and something that must be experienced at least once.

13 Cameras (2015) R1 DVD box art.
In 13 Cameras (2015) 27 year old yuppie Ryan (PJ McCabe) is married to 30 year old (referred as an ‘older lady’ at some point, oh dear...) Claire (Brianne Moncrief) and they are expecting a baby; however, they seem to be going through a marriage crisis, and he becomes involved in an extramarital affair with his assistant (referred as a Baywatch [1989 – 2001] model and her big mammals are mentioned as well) Hannah (Sarah Baldwin). Ryan’s best friend Paul (the film’s producer Jim Cummings) does not approve of his friend’s secret relationship (and is going mad when he becomes involved in a cover-up) and so he tells the situation to his girlfriend Audry (Heidi Niedermeyer) who in turn tells Claire, in typical soap-opera fashion. But, you should ignore all that, as the lead couple has a greater problem than Hannah parading naked in their home: Their landlord (Neville Archambault) is a creepy old dude (if anything, the casting of this part is beyond excellent) who has secretly set up 13 cameras (hence the title) inside their house, including one inside the toilet bowl! Who in the hell does shit like that (no pun intended)? Well, apparently a lot of people, as early on in the film we are informed – via a title card – that more than 8.000 people were watched last year in their homes without their knowledge, and 30.000.000 surveillance cameras were sold only in the last decade. It is obviously a very scary concept (that of the invasion of your privacy, which for obvious reasons is even more scary to women), and writer/director Victor Zarcoff in his debut is setting things up interestingly enough in the beginning (the theme of characters talking to each other without knowing who is listening), although later (and for commercial reasons I suspect) another path is taken and the focus goes to the perverted landlord, essentially turning this into a The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011), only without the gore. With material like this the line between scary and ridiculous is really thin, but most of the stuff here works, and the film is an overall entertaining experience.

Bates Motel (1987). In case you didn’t knew, Norman Bates (here appearing briefly and played by Kurt Paul) had a friend, namely Alex West (Bud Cort) with whom they were roommates at a clinic for the mentally unstable. Now that Norman died an inheritance is being held and he left his few belongings to some people he knew, and he left the legendary motel to the recently released from the asylum Alex. Alex finds the Bates Motel in awful condition, but nonetheless he wants to honor his only friend and start running it again. The problem is that this is the 1980s and loans mostly go to mega-sharks that want to build big condos and Alex is faced with skepticism in his attempt to run a small business. The film mostly works as a commentary on the era’s capitalist prosperity. Alex even finds a couple of friends in the face of Willie (the always gorgeous Lori Petty) who was squatting the motel before the new owner came along, and Henry Watson (Moses Gunn) who knew the Bates family. But is there mother Bates’ ghost at large threatening to kill anyone who is trespassing? You’ll have to see for yourself if you’d like to find out, as my reviews are spoiler-free. Many think that Anthony Perkins tried to boycott the film, but as far as I can tell, he only commented on how awful it was, and you can’t blame him for that. This of course is a TV spin-off the Psycho franchise’s first run (1960 – 1990) and as that it is surprising that it is as bad as it is. Sure, it was written and directed sans inspiration by Richard Rothstein, but things could have turned out better if they weren’t so much ‘by the book’. The TV-movie under review was produced by George Linder and Ken Topolsky  and was essentially conceived a TV-series pilot. It was broadcasted on the 5th of July 1987 on the NBC network, but the low ratings of its first airing forced the powers that be decided to not move on with it. Its VHS copy was a holy grail amongst collectors of all things Psycho, but the movie was recently released on DVD by Universal.

In Shut In (2015) Anna Rook (TV actress Beth Riesgraf) is suffering from agoraphobia and her only frequent contact is seemingly innocent delivery boy Dan Cooper (Rory Culkin), who knows that she keeps a big chunk of money in her luxurious house. So, Dan’s friend Vance (Joshua Mikel), his brother J.P. Henson (Jack Kesy), and their friend Conrad (Timothy T. McKinney) break into her house in order to steal the loot. Since they didn’t knew that she can’t possibly leave the house, and since they thought that she’d attend a funeral, they were expecting her to not be there, however, she is, and they capture her, and must now decide what to do with her, now that she has seen their faces and knows their names. But there is a turnaround that they didn’t see coming. Intruders (as the film under review is now called), aside from an animal cruelty scene (albeit of the staged kind), is a really interesting film and it benefits heavily from a screenplay by T.J. Cimfel and David White which is clever and contains a few unexpected twists. This is an overall satisfying experience from director Adam Schindler.

Sorority Row (2009) R1 BD box art.
Sorority Row (2009) kicks off with a lengthy steady-cam one-shot that if it was part of an Aleksandr Sokurov film art-house circles would still be talking about it, but because it is in a slasher film, it is Tuesday. Director Stewart Hendler and director of photography Ken Seng put together one of the most fascinating opening shots in ‘00s film history, and the rest of the film (at this technical level at least) is masterful, with state of the art cinematography. This is how you should make a slasher film, although calling this a slasher film may be a bit unfair, since there are too many twists in the screenplay  and the whole thing is actually constructed more as a whodunit. Set in the Rosman University, The House on Sorority Row (as was the working title), finds Megan (TV-star Audrina Patridge) ending up murdered with a tire iron by Garrett (Matt O'Leary) in a prank that she arranged with her sorority sisters Cassidy (Briana Evigan), Jessica (Leah Pipes), Ellie (Rumer Willis), Claire (Jamie Chung), and Chugs (Margo Harshman). After a little bit of hesitation the lot of them decides to get rid of the body, and keep the event a secret. The problem is that a year later, the incident’s survivors are being stalked and killed one by one by a hooded killer with an awesomely adjusted tire iron. Sure, the whole thing screams I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), but this being a remake of The House On Sorority Row (1983) you can’t press charges for plagiarism. The film’s biggest fault is that it is essentially a length montage of party sequences with interludes of murder scenes, so much that it made me wonder how on earth the filmmakers broke down the script and grouped the scenes and how they managed to tell what they were shooting one day and what the other. Other than that this is a very sexy film, and an R-rated one at that, in which college girl nudity is provided generously. Solidarity (as was the fake title under which the film under review was shipped to theatres in order for secrecy to be kept) was produced by Darrin Holender and Mike Karz on a $12.5 million budget and it grossed more than $27.2 million, making it essentially a success at the box-office, if not so much with the critics. The original soundtrack was composed by Lucian Piane, but the film is also full of songs by popular artists such as Shwayze and a CD was released on the E1 label.

The Girl in the Photographs (2015) is set in the small town of Spearfish, this film is about Colleen (Claudia Lee) who is working in a supermarket, and recently she received a photograph of a dead girl. She is reporting the event to Sheriff Porter (TV star Mitch Pileggi) and Deputy Daniels (Toby Levins) but as they say they can’t do much as long as there is no body, and as far as they can tell the whole thing could be fake and part of an art movement. Next thing she knows is she is approached by L.A. photographer Peter Hemmings (Kal Penn) and his motley crew [among them three models, one of them his girlfriend Rose (TV star Miranda Rae Mayo)], and asked to work with them. She soon starts to develop a romantic interest towards the photographer’s assistant (Kenny Wormald). However, people get kidnapped, the dead bodies keep piling up and pictures of their corpses are taken. Although this is as Scream (1996) as they come, it is much updated for the modern times and the performers seem to be texting each other all the time, and what’s more every time someone is texting, the text appears on screen; so much for meta-horror. Surprisingly, the screenplay  manages to build convincing characters. This being R-rated material some welcome nudity is provided too. This is mainly known for being the last film that Wes Craven executive produced  prior to his 30th of August 2015 death, and although I am a big fan of the films that he was directing, I was never too much convinced of the other stuff that he used to attach his name to, aside the always decent remakes of his own films. It premiered at Toronto International Film Festival 2015, followed by a limited theatrical release, and is now almost unnoticed on DVD, which says a lot about the future of physical media .

Hospital Massacre (1981) The film kicks off with a prologue set in 1961 and as it is common when working on such budgets, the filmmakers prove unable to convincingly take us back in time (read: it looks like 1981). In this introduction, young kid Harold (Billy Jayne) leaves a Valentine’s Day card to young girl Susan (Elizabeth Hoy), which is then ridiculed by her friend Dave (one-timer Michael Romano), who is shortly afterwards killed by – presumably – an angry Harold (there was no one else there). Cut to 1980, and Susan (now played by Barbi Benton) is visiting a hospital to pick up some routine tests’ results, but things appear to not go too well (in serious manner as it is said by the hospital doctors and nurses) and she has to remain inside for observation. It doesn’t help that she’s smoking frantically inside the hospital, although it is beautiful to have this film as a time-capsule to a more permissive era. Even the ever-conservative 1980s were more liberal than what we live now. Now, the problem is that people are killed left and right in the hospital and the female lead is hunted, for no other reason than this being a slasher film and one of the many set in a hospital at that, not to mention that it also takes place on Valentine’s Day, so it shouldn’t be too hard to guess who the killer is. But you are obviously not here for detective work, as this is a slasher and not a giallo. I presume that you are here for the kills, and admittedly these are decent most of the time, although they go only as far as the budget permits. Joe Quinlivan who handled them had just previously done Without Warning (1980) and went on to even bigger gigs, but there are one scene too many here where the camera could have stayed on at the gore, yet it didn’t, obviously due to money restrains. Still, it was enough for UK’s BBFC to cut the film heavily in order to be classified as releasable. But, to be honest with you, I feel really bad discussing such aspects, because the click-bait websites’ gore-scores and boob-sightings counts are what have made these films impossible to defend. And, yes, there is nudity here, but please, try and focus to the film’s subtext which is really about exposure and abuse in the hands of strangers when you need them at most, namely hospital staff when you are ill. This is a Golan-Globus Productions film, released by Cannon Film Distributors. X-Ray (as the film under review is mostly known) has many faults, including the unbelievably high amount of false alarms, but it is overall masterfully directed by Boaz Davidson who also wrote the story, that Marc Behm turned into a screenplay.

In The Deadly Spawn (1983) a meteor is crashing on earth and it brings with it a hideous alien life which is slaughtering innocent human beings. Set mostly in a house in which a family is trapped, this is too much like Night Of The Living Dead (1968) in structure, but one of its many interesting spins are the young boy’s (Hildebrandt) obsession with all things genre cinema (a fun game that you can play with your friends whilst watching this film is trying to identify the several classic film posters that are hanging on the house’s walls), essentially being a monster kid, something that sends him straight for a psychoanalysis session with his psychiatrist uncle (John Schmerling), which is something we can all relate to. Return of the Alien's Deadly Spawn (as the film under review was also released in some territories, mainly to confuse fans of Alien [1979]) can be enjoyed by those who like early-‘80s no-budget aesthetics , or casual monster movie fans, or even gore hounds because there is plenty of red herrings here as well. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to, because it was one of those rare occasions where I watched the trailer beforehand and many of the spectacular scenes were spoiled. Stay clear from as much promotional material as you can, and you should have a great time with it. The screenplay was written by Douglas McKeown (who also directed) with additional dialogue by Tim Sullivan, based on a story by Douglas McKeown, Ted A. Bohus, and associate producer and special effects director John Dods.. It was shot on 16mm (1.33:1 is indeed its original aspect ratio) by cinematographer Harvey M. Birnbaum, and it was blown-up to 35mm later for theatrical distribution purposes. I always wanted to score the Greek VHS tape of this one, but I failed to, so I had to settle for a disc. Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor (1990) was distributed in many sections of the Asian market as The Deadly Spawn 2: The Metamorphosis, and it is not an official sequel, despite being produced by Ted Bohus. However, I wanted to review it (in sidebar fashion) as an accompanying piece, but I did not manage to track down a copy in time.

The Mutilator (1984) R1 BD box art.
In The Mutilator (1984), Ed (Trace Cooper) is a young boy and whilst playing with one of his dad’s (Jack Chatham) guns (as all good kids do in pro-guns homes) he shoots his mother (Pamela Weddle Cooper, who is also credited in the film as a wardrobe assistant, a credit she shared with Linda Harpe Joyner, who in turn was also the assistant production secretary), which is an event that completely destroys the relationship between the two men. This whole sequence is very perverted and very creepy indeed, but the problem with such low-budget films is that flashback scenes don’t really work, because the era is not accurately depicted, and it so seems that everything was shot on the same year, as it was the case in real life. Years have passed and dad invites son for a brief visit at his condo that will combine work with vacation, and son (now played by Matt Mitler) not only accepts the offer but brings his friends (including one-timers Bill Hitchcock, Connie Rogers, Morey Lampley, and Ruth Martinez) with him as well. And this being a slasher movie, they only do that in order to get slaughtered by the maniac father who is delivering the goods with a selection of very extreme kills. The film was released in two versions, an extreme unrated one (which is not to be confused with the ‘extreme’ version released in the UK which is cut), and a briefly safer R-rated one. Other than that, this is absolutely standard slasher fare with some humor [there is an exceptional scene in which one of the teenagers is reading a “10% discount to senior citizens” sign in a convenience store to which he reacts by saying to the attendant (Fred Tillery) that the sign discriminates him as a youngster and a law student no less, and after some arguing, convinces him to buy two six-packs for the 10% discount to be applied, leaving the store happy, and the attendant explaining to his wife (Jenny Grice) how once again a teenager was fooled into buying two six-packs of beer instead of one and actually begged for it] and some welcome nudity (provided by Frances Raines). All the excitement though is at the beginning and at the end, whilst in the middle not much happens, but you’ll manage to survive it.

Megan is Missing (2011) DVD box art.
In Megan is Missing (2011), Megan Stewart (Rachel Quinn) is a 14 year old student who excels in school, both because she is a great student and because she is popular amongst the other students. On the other hand her best friend Amy Herman (Amber Perkins) is a 13 year old student who is not very popular and her co-students make fun of her (she is considered a dorky outsider), so much that it doesn’t sit well with them that Megan is hanging out with her. Megan being the ever popular she is invited to a fellow student’s party, who of course doesn’t want Amy to come along, but accepts because Megan said that without Amy she doesn’t come either. A big deal is made of this particular party and I was expecting to see something really amazing, yet all I saw was a dark house in which popular girls had to pay $10 to get in for some reason. Once in there we saw many teenagers (none of them looking as young as a teenager anyway) getting fucked in a variety of ways, be it by excessive use of alcohol, drugs, sex, and bad music, or a combinations of the above. The way the passé screenplay by Michael Goi (who also directed, edited and co-produced ) has set the background of the two main characters is simplicity in itself. Amy is the virgin, and Megan is the slut, whose dad ran away and had to live with her mom and stepfather who abused her. The outcome is that she turned into a sexually promiscuous young lady who is hiding her depression behind a seemingly endless line of boys. The film spends the vast majority of its first half with the two girls discussing their sexuality, and these conversations often become so explicit that along with the fact that the duo is underage it makes you wonder what is the agenda behind all this. However, the line of boys in itself is not enough for Megan, and she and Amy keep on looking for a cure to their loneliness online. This is when they come across one Josh (Dean Waite), who is surfing the internet chat rooms, and whose webcam supposedly does not work (his dog chewed it he says) and sends the girl a picture in which he is supposedly an attractive 17 year old surfer (of sea waves, not megabytes). It turns out that after a little bit of chatting Megan agrees to see Josh in a party. Although they were both there they never met because Josh never came upfront and just spent four hours secretly looking at Megan, the creepy fuck! The next day Megan is angry with him but he passes the entire incident as being part of some sort of charming shyness of his. Megan and Josh soon agree to meet up again, but at his persistency without Amy. This is when Megan goes missing, and after a while and once it is apparent that she didn’t simply made a teenage runaway gag, a huge operation is set by the police and the media, that includes the cheesy My Child is Missing TV show (in which another, randomly mentioned story, includes the disappearance of a boy because his parents were watching television!). In a weird twist of events, a few days later, Amy goes missing as well! Everything here is presented by supposed real footage from the girls’ cell phone cameras and webcams, or the aforementioned TV show, but things are never believable both because the footage doesn’t look real and because the performances are too obviously by professional actors (their young age must have played a huge part in this I believe, as it is difficult to duplicate reality when you don’t have the experience – I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the acting is bad, but it simply doesn’t work). This may not be ‘cinema’ in the traditional term of the word, but it is an achievement (I just don’t know what else to call it) that will test your limits, especially when you will see pictures of the missing girl in bondage. Your patience will be tested as well, when you will spend the last 20 minutes of the film in the abductor’s dungeon in which a series of atrocities are performed, including a lengthy and believable rape sequence; 10 of said minutes consist of a one-shot in which he is burying one of the girls alive and she goes on a monologue which is an exercise in depression. The fact that all of that comes with no musical soundtrack had me thinking what have I gotten myself into? Megan (and Amy) may be missing, but you should definitely not miss this one.

Finally, I also enriched my bookshelf with the following additions…

Kat Ellinger’s All the Colours of Sergio Martino (2018, Arrow Books) is a small but very informative book, which was excellently as an introduction to the works of the Italian eponymous master of exploitation film.

Roberto Curti’s Diabolika: Supercriminals, Superheroes and the Comic Book Universe in Italian Cinema follows the usual and beloved template of Midnight Marquee Press, wherein a long introduction on the subject matter (here comic books adapted in Italian cinema and such assorted goodies) is followed by myriad of lengthy, informative, and entertaining reviews that will satisfy the ones in the know and enlighten the newbies. As such it is an outstanding tome which brings new light to a cinematic history that nobody has researched so thoroughly before. And if all that wasn’t enough, you also get a bonus appendix, in which the Turkish superhero movies are discussed as well. This is quite possibly this year’s most important book on genre film. Congrats to all involved!

My interest in adult films is all about the 1968 – 1988 era when porn films resembled real movies with actual screenplays and they were shot on film, but if only for encyclopedic reasons I decided to read Anthony Petkovich’s The X Factory: Inside the American Hardcore Film Industry (1997, Headpress), which is all about the 1990s scene. Consisting of several interviews with key people from behind as well as in front of the camera, it is an excellent read, even if only about a mildly interesting subject.

David J. Moore’s extensive and exhaustive World Gone Wild: A Survivor’s Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies (2014, Schiffer) contains a brief introduction on the post-apocalypse genre, which is mainly focusing on categorizing it (the author indeed spends a lot of the book’s pages on categorizing this and that), and then a massive amount of capsule reviews (we are talking about 430 fully-colored slick big pages, with small font writing, making this one of the most essential recent coffee-table books) that are sometimes accompanied by interviews with members of their cast and crews. The effort works mainly as an encyclopedia and as such it is very welcome. The only problem being that their author clearly hates zombie movies, which is something that stands as an obstacle to his work.

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