Sunday, October 9, 2016

Halloween Havoc: MOLD! (2013) / THE MILDEW FROM THE PLANET XONADER (2015)

Because of our long-standing tradition of talking about low-rent amateur efforts, we have talked up Italian production company Necrostorm quite a bit. Following the release of the mind-liquefying post-nuke splatter epic ADAM CHAPLIN (2010), co-written, directed and produced by brothers Emanuele and Giulio De Santi, Emanuele ended up going his own way. This left Giulio, to began producing his own string of low-budget gorefests in the vein of the '80s German no-budget gore-met Andreas Schnaas. Like Schnaas, Giulio's solo efforts, such as TAETER CITY (2012) and HOTEL INFERNO (2013) have hit or miss aspects to them, but unlike Schnaas, manage some solid concepts and a plethora of innovative hybrid CGI/practical make-up effects. So innovative that other production companies have begun to borrow some of Necrostorm's ideas. See HARDCORE HENRY (2016) if you have any doubts.

After some success with their in house films, Necrostorm has decided to purchase other amateur efforts, re-editing and re-scoring them and most importantly adding additional effects. Unfortunately we were not able to get any information from Necrostorm about this other than their marketing hype. I'm guessing this is the old-school way to re-issue a movie that has run it's financial course, using a minimal investment and an entirely new promotional campaign. Al Adamson would be proud. MILDEW started life as an Arizona based, shot on digital movie in 2009, titled MOLD! After a lengthy production and a lengthier post, it was eventually released under that title in 2013. So far the only feature directed by Neil Meschino, MOLD! is a fun film with a couple of good make-up gags. According to Meschino, Necrostorm contacted him "out of the blue" at a point where the sales for MOLD! were starting to drop off. Meschino sold them the film and that was the last he heard of it.

Set for absolutely no apparent reason in 1984, a secret research facility has been working on a ecological warfare project for the US Army. The project is essentially a green mold that is an airborne agent that infects people on contact and causes them to melt into splattery goo ala STREET TRASH (1987), or turn into deranged zombies. What could possibly go wrong?

The corporate "head" Edison Carter (David Pringle in a direct reference to MAX HEADROOM) has organised a meeting between the project lead Dr. Kane (Rick Haymes), his scientists Roger (Lawrence George), Julia (Ardis Campbell), an Army colonel (Edward X. Young), who is known only as "Colonel"and Congressman Blankenship (James Murphy). Also included is Dave (Chris Gentile), a pompous jackass who believes that because electromagnetic waves are emitted by all creatures, his superior intellect should allow him to use his mind to move objects... like pencils. That's right,  he is the laziest pencil-pusher ever.

The meeting which seems to take place in what appears to be a maintenance room with nothing but a white buffet table sporting some Ritz crackers and what appears to be a bottle of Martinelli's, gets off to a rough start as apparently there is some debate about the hazards of a live demonstration. As it turns out the coked-up Congressman's hazmat suit had a hole in it and during a trip to the men's room discovers that a green fungus has begun to grow on his, err, congressional caucus. Don't you hate it when that happens?

Within minutes the congressman is overrun with green fuzz and a contamination lockdown goes into effect. The scientists must then try to figure out how to make sure they stay uninfected, trapped in the meeting room with the congressman's rapidly decaying body and figure out a means of escape. Of course the Colonel is mainly interested in yelling and finger-pointing, as you would expect. Meanwhile an assault team in protective gear are running around the complex gunning down anyone trying to escape the facility. As it turns out, Edison Carter (who shows up as a disembodied head on monitors) has decided that the best way to make sure this mold is as effective as he wants it to be is to use everyone in the facility as guinea pigs. Fuzzy, homicidal guinea pigs.

The film is more fun that you'd think at first glance. It is definitely a shot-on-weekends with a digital camera kind of thing and it takes place in a couple of rooms and a hallway, but for some reason it manages to surpass these drawbacks and deliver an entertaining 89 minutes. The cast is not going to win any awards, but are all competent actors, playing the scenes with straight conviction. The movie takes its premise seriously enough and avoids the lazy, winky, "we are making a stupid movie" pitfall that is pretty much de rigueur for a modern DTV genre movie.

While the movie is fun and surprisingly well shot, it's pretty light on the make-up effects, which is probably why Necrostorm picked it up. That, and I'm guessing it was cheap. The mid-movie set-piece, which should have been a big effects moment where one of the scientists' stomach swells up and explodes, takes place out of sight of the camera in MOLD! This is where Necrostorm wisely steps in. For that particular sequence De Santi used his mad digital/practical effects skills to show the scientists' torso blowing open in graphically gory detail. This sequence constructed almost entirely out of whole cloth, is practically seamless. You'd never know it wasn't part of the original film. Additionally some of the contaminated people now sprout hair out of their faces and run amok looking like a reject from a Samhain cover band. Why does it have different effects on different people? Like many things in Necrostorm's movies, your guess is as good as mine.

An early scene in MOLD! has a lab worker is freaked out by a mouse and droping a canister of the mold causing his to become contaminated. The scene is moved to the midpoint of MILDEW, and has quite a bit of new footage inserted showing the mice to mutate into flesh-rending mutants. When the mice go rabid and start tearing the lab tech up, his skull actually explodes out of his head, pushed out by one of the burrowing rodents. Some of this extra footage leads to some moments of bizarre incoherency, such as a bit near the end when one of the scientists is attacked by a zombie soldier, has his neck twisted and falls on his back. The zombie drags him (conveniently) back to the meeting room where he bangs on the door and Dave says "I think he severed my spinal cord". This is improbable at best, but in the MILDEW version, the source of his injury comes from one of the hair-faced mutants literally ripping his entire spine out of his back! Must have had something to do with the psychic powers.

Necrostorm also added an opening sequence and subplot that explains that the green fungus is something that was recovered from an alien space pod that crashed onto Earth. Additionally there is a black suited operative who seems to be working for a competing company to steal the mold with the help of his foul-mouthed wristband. Unfortunately this subplot (mostly shot in a single room isolated from the rest of them movie), is Necrostorm's biggest misstep. It confuses the otherwise simple plot and tries to inject a bit of juvenile humor to a mostly straightfaced production.

There is also some extensive re-editing, with some scenes altered to change the context. The shot of the congressman's senior member growing green funk is deleted, changing the scene to imply that it is the congressman's cocaine that is tainted (no pun intended). There is also an additional bit at the end of the film where some digital effects are used to show that Dave really did have pencil-wielding psychic powers after all. Something MOLD! showed to be a prank that he affected with a canister of compressed air.

Additionally, Nekrostorm darkened the image and toned down the color. While I'm really tired of seeing tinted or color-leeched movies, it is pretty inoffensive here. One of the best things that De Santi has added, that boosts his version, is adding in some new music by their in-house composer Razzaw. The original score is fine, but this added music echoes '80s synth, such as PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987) and THEY LIVE (1988). It is really quite good and substantially adds to the fun. I'd accuse Necrostorm of ripping off Carpenter, except for the fact that they do give him a credit at the end of the film. Nice to see that done in this era of ruthlessly uncredited "homages".

So in the end MILDEW is an interesting and fun version of MOLD! that makes a few missteps, but mostly adds to the charm of Meschino's original. It will be interesting to see what else Necrostorm acquires, but until then we will be waiting for HOTEL INFERNO II, which De Santi is claiming will rival professional studio films. It's a bold claim that will be hard to live up to, but regardless Necrostorm is rapidly growing into a solid player in the world of DTV horror films.

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