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July 2, 2021

Frankenstein vs Dracula (aka Assignment Terror) 1970 - Movie Review

There’s no way in hell I’m going to enjoy this movie to the point of singing its praises, or commending its production value, acting, makeup, f/x, plot, etc. There’s…just no fucking way.

Spoiler Alert I: I was right.

SPOILER ALERT II: I’m probably going to spoil plot lines and twists so if you haven’t seen it, stop reading, go watch the film, then come back.

Frankenstein vsDracula (aka Assignment Terror) is the most convoluted, ridiculous film I’ve watched in a while. Plot description on IMDB: After an alien convinces a werewolf, Dracula, Mummy, and Frankenstein’s monster (at least they got that right) to help him destroy the earth, all hell breaks loose.

And this is absolutely NOT the plot.

Well, it is and it isn’t. The basics are kinda there. What’s going on is a superior (in their minds) alien race is dying. They need to find a new planet. They decide on Earth but wouldn’t you know it, it’s filled with earthlings. So they plan to exploit mankind’s foolish superstitions and fears (you know, monsters and shit) in order to dominate them or destroy them completely.

Sure, they could blow up the entire human race with nukes, but they need the planet intact. Otherwise, they’ll have no place to colonize. Duh. And despite the fact they’ve already got a shit ton of agents and spies in place on Earth, the success of this particular mission will decide if they end up calling Earth home or they die out completely.

And you’re going with this whole scary monster thing, huh? Okay then…

The three main aliens working on this RIDICULOUS plan are Dr. Odo Warnoff (the most condescending of the trio), Dr. Maleva Kerstein, and Dr. Kerian. Because the aliens are soooo superior to humans, they don’t have to worry about becoming influenced by their puny fears and emotions. So the aliens are incarnated into existing human bodies. And since they know that beautiful women are like powerful magnets, they’ll use the buxom beauties to attract statesmen, scientists, and generals, then steal all their vital secrets.

I’m sure that’ll work out just great for you.

OMG! BTS is coming in concert next summer!

They find an actual vampire, werewolf, mummy, and Farancksalan’s monster (no, I’m not kidding). Their big plan is to use a mind control device on each one, turning them into willing slaves to the aliens, while the aliens use the monsters’ blood to create clones that will destroy mankind.

Fortunately for us Earthlings, the cops figure out what the hell is going on and thwart the alien takeover, after a few epic monster battles, of course. HUMANS: 1; ALIENS: 0

 

Normally I would delve into further details of the film, scene by scene. But honestly, I can’t be bothered. It’s not really worth anyone’s time to stare into the abysmal nature of this movie. But I can discuss a few elements.


  1. I really enjoyed Paul Naschy, who played – you guessed it – his iconic role as the werewolf, Waldemar Daninsky. He was the only monster given a fully developed backstory, and the years of Naschy playing this exact character backs it up. He’s really one of the few characters that the viewer can get behind and root for. Any completist Naschy fans out there will probably want to watch this, just for Waldemar.
  2. The makeup for the mummy is the best of all the monsters. Looks very realistic, and not just a bunch of latex and toilet paper mushed together to create the appearance of a desiccated corpse.
  3. There was slight character development with Inspector Tobermann. He takes on the brunt of the investigation, falls in love, starts to get overstressed with monster hallucinations, and gets to have all the human-on-monster fights in the film. He also had some fun banter with his boss. I’m not saying I gave a shit about anything he did, but at least the writer tried. Guess who the writer was? Paul Naschy. Hmmm, that could explain why the werewolf got so much play…

 

Beyond these few things, the movie was a pile of nonsensical idiocy. We never come back to the idea of beautiful women stealing secrets from powerful men; aliens hammer on the idea of how superior they are but become susceptible to human emotion and fuck up their mission, in a completely surprising and not predictable in any way turn of events; the high mucky mucks in the police force immediately believe the story of aliens using monsters to destroy the world. Naschy missed a huge opportunity to explore that aspect to create tension.

The music never fit any scene it was used in. The editing was choppy at best, migraine inducing at worst, and made transitions so muddled that I couldn’t be sure we had moved on to a brand-new scene until 30 seconds after the cut. Most of the special effect makeup was terrible, particularly for Fetasalad’s monster. It looks like someone put a hat box on his head and painted over it.

Here, watch me do my Dirty Harry impression.

I did like that Waldemar’s character had the most backstory, but some of it seems rather convenient just to be able to give credence to monsterkind in general by explaining how a high-ranking judge crossed paths with the werewolf years earlier. With that, and more intricate coincidences, made the rest of the monsters shallow and unimportant. But again, Naschy wrote the story and the screenplay.

By the time we reach the conclusion, complete with alien lab explosion, and our cop hero philosophizing out loud for the benefit of us all, the story has become so convoluted and overflowing with minutia, the viewer feels dissatisfied, empty, and probably pissed at losing 90 minutes of their life they can never get back.

1 hatchet (out of 5)

P.S. I don’t know why this was ever titled Frankenstein vs Dracula because 1) Dracula isn’t the vampire in this movie; and 2) the werewolf and Frank keep duking it out, for reasons unexplained.

 

 


 


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July 1, 2021

A Binge too Far #17: Horror Meltdown

Stunning image from Color Out of Space (2019)



 

Welcome back to the internet’s least popular film discussion blog! This time around we take a look on two horror goodies from 2019.

 

Reviews

 

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

 

Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark

Set in Small Town, America, during the time when Night Of The Living Dead (1968) still played drive-ins and Richard Nixon was running for president, this is about the struggles of the nerds (led by the peculiarly beautiful Zoe Margaret Colletti) against the jocks, but things become even worse for the protagonists when a haunted book cannot read by them but reads them instead, as in dictating their faiths that suffice to say are not that good.

 

It is no wonder that amidst the current Stephen King renaissance that spawned homages such as Stranger Things (2016 – ongoing) that a film like this would come to fruition, however its fault is that it is not that scary as per the title’s promise. However, the youths in producer Guillermo del Toro’s film are battling against a variety of monsters that include a scarecrow and the ghost witch (don’t expect an attractive gothic witch, the one her is grotesque) that initiated the aforementioned book, and all of them are stunning thanks to great work done both by the practical effects teams and the CGI ones; and there is even a rollercoaster-like haunted house in display as well, making this an entertaining opus, if not a highly recommended one. Directed by Andre Ovredal.

 

Color Out Of Space (2019)

 

Color Out of Space (2019)

Following “the operation” (i.e. mastectomy) his wife (Joely Richardson recently had, Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage, in the wake of a string of awesome movies that he recently did) takes her and their son Benny (Brendan Meyer, a young TV actor) and Wicca daughter (Madeleine Arthur, a gorgeous young actress that is mostly recognizable due to her television work) away from the city and to a secluded house and farm they just bought.

 

Their newly found life in the middle of nowhere seems to be dysfunctional but nothing out of the ordinary (they just seem like a family that recently left the city behind and trying to adapt to willing isolation); that is until a strangely colored meteorite (hence the title) is crashing on their backyard and with it bringing a number of consequences that at first seem to be coincidences, but soon it becomes apparent that something strange is going on as members of the family and the community start losing it and animals turn into mutant monsters.

 

Based upon H.P. Lovecraft’s The Color Out of Space (1927) short story, the screenplay by Richard Stanley (who also directed) and Scarlett Amaris, is offering poetic voice over (in the beginning and the end) and equally haunting dialogues (throughout the entire picture and by almost every member of the cast) that co-exist perfectly with the dreamy visuals, while tonally it echoes the sensibilities of classic sci-fi of the 1950s and pollution/infection cinema of the 1970s.

 

The protagonist family is surrounded by an air of tenderness, similar to what you usually see in 1980s movies and that generation’s ruling ethics, and it is all greatly disrupted by the collective hysteria and madness that is about to ensue. All of the above would be of great interest to most readers of this blog, but wait until you see the monsters! Mutated, disfigured, and transformed to uncanny forms by god knows what, these creatures are so otherworldly that one can’t help but imagine what Stuart Gordon or Brian Yuzna would do if they had them at their disposal. One thing is certain, this is one of the greatest Lovecraft adaptations ever, and not just story-wise, but in terms of mood and atmosphere as well.

 

The film’s pace is not conventional (the first act is particularly strange), and everything here has semiotic meaning, something blatantly so and sometimes disguised. It’s all brilliantly wrapped with cinematographer Steve Annis’ stunning and breath-taking color palette; we wouldn’t have it any other way with a title like that.

 

This was a difficult project for Stanley to get off the ground, as he was sort of unofficially blacklisted in Hollywood due to the massive box-office failure of The Island Of Dr. Moreau (1996). He really wanted to make the film though as he was obsessed with Lovecraft’s story since he was a kid when he first read it after being introduced to the legendary writer’s works by his mother. In turn, when his mother was dying he was reading this story in her deathbed. He managed to raise interest when he uploaded a trailer online in 2013, and SpectreVision announced their collaboration in 2015. By 2018 Nicolas Cage was on board and by 2019 ACE Pictures joined too, making principal photography able to begin. The end result premiered at 2019 Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness section when Nicolas Cage won the Creative Coalition’s Spotlight Initiative Award. Then a limited theatrical release followed, while now the film is available to stream and buy. Stanley went on record to say that this is only the first film of a Lovecraft adaptations trilogy that he is preparing. We say, bring it on!

 

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June 24, 2021

The Dark (2018) Movie Review

I’m kinda getting tired of taking a chance on an unknown movie and then liking it. I mean, this is Cinema Headcheese. I take pride in holding myself to a certain standard of crap and bitching about it.

Geez.

As I wasn’t planning to review this particular film, I didn’t take copious notes. That will help this to be a more spoiler-free review. The film is also from 2018, so it’s still relatively new and probably not on a lot of people’s radars.

The Dark is about two teenagers who bond and heal in the wake of traumatic experiences. Mina, after being killed by her mother’s molesting boyfriend, wakes as a zombie in the woods near her home. She must kill and eat humans to “survive”. Several years later, she crosses paths with a wanted criminal who trespasses into her territory, and promptly kills him. While searching the man’s car for goods, she discovers Alex, a teenage boy the man had kidnapped then blinded through torture.

As Mina takes Alex in tow, trying to find him food, shelter, and help, the two create a strong bond of friendship, each a healing force for the other. Though in order to keep Alex safe, blood’s gonna get spilled.

I actually don’t want to say more than that. I don’t want to break down the film scene by scene, like I usually do. I will comment on a few aspects, of course. Despite there being a lot of division among reviewers across the internet, I don’t think anyone can deny this film throws an emotional punch. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since I watched it.

About 80% of the film is carried by two people: Nadia Alexander and Toby Nichols, who play Mina and Alex respectively. The subject matter, zombie aspect aside, is very heavy and these two bore the brunt of it well. Using the zombie trope to explore and discuss issues like molestation, rape, kidnapping, torture, brain washing, and murder through the eyes of the teens that experienced these horrors is something I haven’t seen before. At least, not with this strong emotional connection. Even Mina’s zombie isn’t typical. She’s not a brainless, shambling, cloudy-eyed automaton. Aside from the killing and eating people, she could be a “normal” teenage girl.

Toby did a fantastic job of playing a teen who’d obviously been so traumatized, he was reluctant to go with Mina even after she told him his kidnapper was dead. He lived in fear that the man would come back for him or find his family and kill them. When we first encounter Alex, he’s in soiled clothes with burn scars over his eyes. But we didn’t need to see him go through that hell. Toby showed us plenty through his acting in the film. Same for Mina. We do get some flashbacks to give us an idea how she got to this zombified state, but Nadia shows us plenty without us having to witness her personal trauma.

There is no soundtrack. There is one simplistic song, “Mina’s Theme”, that plays a couple times. Or the kids hum a soft tune once or twice. But I think the lack of music made this a much more powerful film. That in conjunction with the cinematography created such a bleak and unforgiving world these kids had to live in.




Most of the film is dark, lighting-wise, I mean. I don’t know if that was a director’s choice to show that we each have darkness to contend with inside and out, or that the world is a dark place, hence the title of the film. Darkness can be different for everyone, and from some of the character development in this movie, I’d say the teens weren’t the only ones who had suffered at the hands of something dark and terrible.

The one main thing I didn’t like was the pacing. It did drag a bit, and some scenes went on a little too long. But only checking my watch once or twice during a 90-minute film is fairly good, so it wasn’t as bad as others I’ve watched in the past.

I did try to read up on a bunch of reviews because the ending is a little…huh? And after discovering NO ONE had any answers or theories out there, I realized that the writer may have left the ending a little vague so each viewer could interpret in their own way. I can’t really say what I think the ending means because it would give too much away. But it did give me hope for Alex’s recovery, and for Mina’s, too.

Is this a supernatural tale? Sure. Is it a human story? Absolutely. What it means for you will be different than what it means for me. And stories that keep me thinking, long after they’re over, are some of the most beautiful stories out there.

It’s on Amazon Prime if you’d like to check it out for yourself.

4 hatchets (out of 5)





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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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