Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Listomania!: Will's September 2011 Viewings

Damn, another month gone already?  I was able to cram in 26 flicks during September, which isn’t too bad.  The number breaks down as follows: 20 DVDs (I include DVD-Rs in that), 2 VHS, 2 streaming online, 1 laserdisc and 1 venture outside to the theater.  It was, per usual, a collection of the good, the bad and the ugly.  The biggest question is what does it say about movie watching when the best thing I saw all month was released in 1985?  Of course, I need to get the bad out of the way quickly.  Consider this first one a huge warning *inserts sounds of Public Emergency Announcement*

GEORGE A. ROMERO PRESENTS DEADTIME STORIES vol. 2 (2011) – Fearless friend Mark Tinta warned the public about volume one of this direct-to-video anthology series back in July of this year.  Did I listen?  No, of course not! Horror fans never listen.  Honestly, I knew this would be low budget, but I went in with the hope that I could get at least a semi-decent episode to bring back that old TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE or MONSTERS vibe.  Nope, not even close.  What I got was a complete amateur hour (and a half) from filmmakers who should know better.  What we get here are three stories introduced by Romero.  Matt Walsh directs "The Gorge," where three spelunkers get trapped in a cave. They are stuck for 27 days before two of them decide it is time to eat a bit of the wounded one. Jeff Monahan directs "On Sabbath Hill,” about an uptight college professor who impregnates a student. After she commits suicide (in front of the whole class), he starts to see visions of her. Finally there is "Dust" directed by DEATH SPA helmer Michael Fischa, where a experimental lab security guard steals some dust from Mars after a doc tells him it might cure his wife's cancer. It does indeed and she turns into a nympho. But when she reverts back to her ill state, he needs more.

Good GAWD!  This is some rough stuff.  First, you have these awful stories where you can guess the twist about 2 minutes into each segment.  Gee, the guy who stole the miracle Mars dust lives next to a cemetery…I wonder what will happen?  Second, I’ve seen better production values on made-for-Youtube shorts.  Monahan and Walsh have been in the business for years, yet they still manage to look like complete amateurs.  The worst sting comes from Fischa.  That guy has actually made an entertaining exploitation flick (the glorious DEATH SPA) so he has literally no excuse.  Finally, there are the Romero segments.  The filmmakers cut between two different recording sessions where he is wearing completely different clothes and looks to be just sitting in his living room.  No set up and zero atmosphere.  The segments are introduced with generic, “You ready to get scared?” lines and are followed with some bad pun.  This was a Pittsburgh-shot production so I know they probably pulled on Romero’s heartstrings there to get him to do this.  It is just embarrassing stuff.  Think of me as your personal Crazy Ralph (the town loony from FRIDAY THE 13th), “If you go anywhere near this title, you’re doomed.  You’re all doomed!”

ASSASSINATION GAMES (2011) – I’m secretly a Van Damme fan, but even I can’t keep up with all of his direct-to-video outings.  I knew about this one because Scott Adkins was involved and I dig his work.  Sadly, this is just as disappointing as their previous teaming on THE SHEPARD (2008).

Two corrupt Interpol cops decide to clean house and get rid of Roland Flint (Scott Adkins), a retired assassin who knows the dirt on them but is in hiding with his incapacitated wife (Bianca Van Varenberg, Van Damme's daughter). They have the gangster who raped Flint's wife released as to draw him out for one last job. But things get complicated when another assassin, Vincent Brazil (Jean-Claude Van Damme), also takes the $1 million contract. Gee, I wonder if these two will learn to respect each other and work together to achieve their mutual goal. This is just another tired entry in Van Damme's filmography. I guess it is better than some of his most recent work, but we are still dealing with a cliché ridden mess. Are we really still doing the "two assassins confront each other with guns pointed at their faces" shot in 2011? And are we still doing the "assassin with the heart of gold" routine? And are we still doing the "cultured assassin" practice (VD listens to classical music and plays chess and the violin)? The film benefits from the addition of DTV staple Scott Adkins and the two leads have a good rapport onscreen. Unfortunately, director Ernie Barbarash has no idea how to shoot a fight scene and Adkins' considerable talents are wasted. Barbarash also turns in one of the ugliest pictures I've seen in a long time. He thinks he adds style by completely bleeding the film of any color, resulting in something that looks like the sepia toned retro-western gag photos you get at an amusement park. Seriously, look at this:

The DVD box says color on it, but that isn't what you are getting. The finale is filmed in normal colors, making me surmise Barbarash thinks he is displaying the cold world the assassins work in until they "do good" and things are suddenly colorful. Well, it doesn't work at all.

DEATH BY DIALOGUE (1988) - Perhaps the world's only possessed script movie? Cary (Lenny Delducca) and four of his friends (including A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3's Ken "Kincaid" Sagoes) go to visit his crippled Uncle Ive, who lives on a sprawling ranch that used to be a movie location in the 1950s. Trouble starts when Shelly (Kelly Sullivan) finds an old script for a film titled VICTIM 67. The kids start getting offed and the script title and plot line keeps changing with each victim. So how did the script get possessed? Seems an ancient tribe the Uncle was friendly with in South America had put the soul of a nosy reporter they killed into an ancient urn and it got loose on a film set in the 1950s and entered a script. Makes perfect sense, right?

This little horror flick was from City Lights, the earlier company from PM Entertainment producers Joseph Merhi and Richard Pepin. It is like a lot of their early stuff, flatly shot but with enough technical sheen to put it above most horror muck. Director Tom DeWier is primarily a stuntman in Hollywood and gets a few cool stunt bits in here, including a girl being blown out of a barn mid-sex. The film's biggest attribute is its M.S.U. (Makin' Shit Up) quality like when one victim wanders into the woods only to see an 80s metal band jamming out before they make his head explode with a guitar to the cranium. Co-star Sagoes must have hated his agent, thinking, "This is the best you could do for me after ELM STREET 3?" Even worse, the filmmakers have him dress exactly the same as his earlier, popular character so audience know he is "the kid who survived A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3" (as the VHS box proudly proclaims).

Two reasons to watch EVIL TOONS
EVIL TOONS (1992) - Roxanne (porn star Madison Stone), Jan (porn star Barbara Dare), Terry (Suzanne Ager), and nerdy Megan (Monique Gabrielle) are hired by Burt (Dick Miller) to spend a weekend cleaning up an old house. You know Megan is the nerdy one because she wears glasses. Anyway, they are delivered a Necronomicon looking book by Gideon Fisk (David Carradine) and, after an incantation is read aloud, a cartoon wolf creature springs forth and starts killing folks. Leave it to Fred Olen Ray to call his film EVIL TOONS, yet only have one cartoon in it with only roughly a minute of animated footage to boot. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT this ain't. This is deliberately goofy stuff and it serves its purpose (topless scenes) for its 82 minutes. The funniest bits are nearly all from Miller, including a scene where he DOESN'T want to get it on with his horny wife (Michelle Bauer). Carradine probably only shot one day on this for drug money and Ray hilariously cuts to reaction shots of him to make you think he is just chilling outside. See David Carradine slink behind a tree! Helping beef up the "name" factor is Arte Johnson as a perv neighbor. It is filmed at that same recognizable house where Ray also did TEENAGE EXORCIST and SPIRITS. Wynorski also did SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE II there.

THE CURIOUS DR. HUMPP (1969) - A reporter and a detective try to figure out who is behind a series of kidnappings of young couples making out. Their only clue is a hulking monster seen around town picking up girls and pharmacy orders (oddly, no one freaks out about when they see it). The man behind the mysterious abductions is Dr. Humpp, a mad scientist who is hellbent on turning humans into "veritable sex machines" to increase physical and mental performance. Wait, why is he a bad guy? Well, he also has the talking brain of an old Italian doctor in a bottle and uses fluid from his prisoners' libido (huh?) to keep himself young. This softcore T&A horror flick from Argentina is curious indeed. If you took out all the sex scenes, you might have a 25 minute movie. Lots and lots of shots of naked bodies (the first real line of dialogue isn't until about 12 minutes in). This import does have some really nice B&W photography though and you'll be surprised at how expertly dubbed it is.

And finally, the best movie I saw in all of September 2011…

THE LOST EMPIRE (1985) – Tom previously reviewed this one of the blog here, but I feel it deserves another mention because it is that damn good.  Three bosomy babes go undercover to the island of Dr. Sin Do (Angus Scrimm) to find out why Angel's cop brother was murdered by some ninja looking dudes. The diabolical doctor holds a martial arts tournament, but it also using his conquests for slaves to be sold while staying young by drinking their blood. Oh, and he is also looking to gain world power by combining the ancient Eyes of the Avatar stones, one of which just happens to be in Angel's purse. This was director Jim Wynorski's directing debut and it is delight from start to finish. It is incredibly pulpy and definitely has its tongue-in-cheek. The most surprising thing here is all three female leads (Melanie Vincz as Angel, Raven De La Croix as Whitestar, Angela Aames as Heather) are actually really funny in their roles, showing they were on the same page as Wynorski. Of course, seeing as this is Wynorski, you know that the screen will be covered in busty babes who get topless. Hell, his opening shot is a James Bond-style scope that pans across a pair of boobs! He doesn't disappoint and Russ Meyer would be proud. It is such a strong debut for Wynorski that it saddens me that he basically stopped giving a damn 10 years later and now just cranks out generic action and T&A messes. Co-starring Paul Coufos as love interest Rick, Robert Tessier as evil sidekick Koro, and Blackie Dammett (aka Anthony Keidis' pop) as a corrupt cop.

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