Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Have you seen this yet? Awesome! AMC has put up FX man Greg Nicotero's short that is a loving tribute to the Universal monsters. The premise is that the monsters of Universal's heyday were real and only one talent agency could handle them all. Well, except for the Alligator People. They are no longer represented by UMTA. Ha!  Just in time for Halloween!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Halloween Havoc: DEATH MASK (1998)

Wading through shot-on-video crap like DEATH ROW DINER or HILLBILLY MONSTER can have an adverse effect on your viewing habits (and mental health). Films that would normally drive you into fits of video rage suddenly seem positively glowing in comparison. They shot on film?  My God, these guys are amazing! They included some gore and nudity?  Genius!  It’s pretty simple – when you eat shit sandwiches for so long, even a McDonalds hamburger will start to look appealing after a while.

The benefiter of my cinemasochistic ways over the past two weeks is director Steve Latshaw.  The Florida-based Latshaw made two of the worst films I saw within the last few years in DARK UNIVERSE (1993) and BIOHAZARD: THE ALIEN FORCE (1995). Both were so mind-numbingly boring and, in the case of BIOHAZARD, he squandered the talent of VJ fave Christopher Mitchum.  If you cast Chris in a movie, you damn well better make sure you give me some Lanky White Guy Fu! Despite hating these two films, I found Latshaw’s DEATH MASK (1998) in my Netflix queue and subsequently my mailbox.

The film centers on Wilbur (James Best), a carnival worker who runs an unpopular oddity attraction.  It is so out of favor that the prissy local newspaper art critic (see pic) laughs at him. Nooooooo!  To make matters worse, Wilbur isn’t popular with the ladies as his face was scarred by his clown father putting his face to a hot plate and his only friend is dancer Angel (Linnea Quigley).  She is dating carnival owner Guido (decidedly non-Italian John Nutten), who has just given Wilbur a week to pack his stuff and leave. When Angel pleads with Guido to keep her friend around, he gives Wilbur the humiliating job of The Geek (since the previous one just died of a heart attack on the job).

Because the script said so, Wilbur and Angel go to visit an old voodoo swamp woman and Wilbur asks for the ability to carve something really beautiful.  Wait a sec…you have this woman who can fulfill your any desire and that is what you ask for?  She grants him the wish and gives him a block of wood from a sacred tree where he grandmother was burned alive.  Nice.  In exchange, she requests her grandmother's skull, which Wilbur just happens to have on display in his collection. Can you guess what Guido is going to smash the next time we see him?  Anyway, Wilbur carves a white mask out of the log and everyone becomes enamored with it.  But this is a death mask carved from the darkest recesses of his mind, so the transfixed end up dying shortly after they see it.

This is bad news, right?  Well, not for Wilbur, who decides the best course of action with his new found power is to head to the local whorehouse while dressed like the Unabomber.  With great power comes great horniness, I guess?  When all the ladies refuse to make it with him and he is bounced from the place, he sneaks back in to kill his regular girl who mocked him.  Way to show them, pal!  The next night he heads to the local dive bar and sees the cheating Guido, who also mocks Wilbur.  You are so dead, son.  Wilbur is too far gone at this point, even killing a redneck in the parking lot after he calls him “waffle face.”  Wilbur follows the couple back to her place where he uses the mask to make her shoot Guido and then herself.  By this point, the cops are wise and they locate Wilbur – who can’t get the mask off his face – in a churchyard.  Angel is along for the ride and holds Wilbur as he lies dying.  “How did you get the mask off,” she asks.  “I prayed,” Wilbur says. The end.

Yes, I totally understand!
As I said before, this is a film that benefitted from following some hellacious viewings.  Had I watched this after something good, the carving knives would be out.  But it gets a pass this time, thanks to such trivial elements as nudity, bad acting and a cat fight.  Best, known mostly for his role as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, also provided the script for this and it is surprisingly decent.  I mean, would you have expected a morality play horror flick from him?  Me neither.  Best, Quigley and Nutten are all also good in their roles. Not so much for the rest of the cast.

Your humble reviewer, post-viewing
That is not to say this is some wonderful production as Latshaw offers flat work and some truly odd directorial choices.  For example, the pre-credits sequence inexplicably shows you everything that will happen in the movie.  Yes, you see the death of all the characters and major events.  I guess he wants it to be a tease to hook the viewer, but you are shooting yourself in the foot when you show a major character biting the dust. Of course, you can’t expect much from a filmmaker who shows a shot of an empty ride spinning but dubs in the sound of crowd screaming. Like I have said over and over in this review, this is not a good film by any means.  But somehow it manages to come off that way thanks to some real cinematic swill seen before it.  When you can make a Steve Latshaw movie look good, you know you are one sucky filmmaker.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


As a wise man once said “Porn send ups are tricky because 85% of the time you will only get a semi-clever send up title attached to a film that opts not to spoof its namesake in the least.” So very true. Setting out to (e)rectify that grave error is former stand-up comic turned porn star and now writer-director Jonathan Morgan.

While I don’t really follow the adult industry, I do know that 2005 was the year that the pendulum finally swung away from the relentless plotless extreme compilation videos and lavish productions like Private’s big budget PIRATES (2005) became huge hits. CAMP CUDDLY PINES POWERTOOL MASSACRE may not have broken the mainstream barrier as PIRATES did, but it still mounts an entertaining production that offers more than just a Ken and Barbie doing the horizontal hula. Even so, it does find itself stumbling over it’s own raison d'etre like the proverbial scream-queen being chased through the proverbial woods.

A group of 10th year college students are on their way to a Metallicide concert when they accidentally kill a hitchhiker, and their van breaks down near the woods where there is no cell phone coverage (of course!). As the resident video geek Rayford (Eric Masterson) says “on the plus side, at least we are surrounded by really dark, scary, spooky woods with bears in them and stuff.” As captain of the badminton team, Todd (Voodoo) makes the executive decision to split up, sending the girls (Stormy Daniels, Jessica Drake) into the company of a hillbilly “You’re Doomed” Guy (Mike Horner under a lot of rather impressive makeup) who fills them in… no, no, just on the back story! What were you thinking?

In 1958 in Illinois a boy in a clown mask kills his sister with an electric carving knife after watching her put an end to her boyfriends frustrations on the living room sofa. This boy, as it turns out, is the bastard son of one hundred maniacs, begotten when an orderly in an asylum for “the criminally insane and wayward strippers” is, ummm, gang-raped by a group of improbably hot chicks (are mental patients really allowed to have tongue studs?). On his 18th birthday, after years of electroshock therapy, the boy is released into society and gets a job as the caretaker of Camp Cuddly Pines. Flashback to 1985 (presumably still in Illinois), where a heavy breather in a clown mask watches two camp counselors make it on a bridge before killing them with an cordless drill. I know what you’re thinking, “cordless drill, naked campers, an X-rating... this has gotta be some crazy-gory shit!” Sorry. It’s not.  Some blood sprays on their faces as they scream, or rather attempt to, as the acting chops are in need of some serious honing, but don't expect anything in the way of latex effects or even a damn cut-out machete. Anyway, after being caught and freed by the courts on a technicality, the locals hunted the guy down and burned him alive (causing his clown mask to melt onto his face!). Too bad they don’t show that as a flashback!

Meanwhile Josh (Tommy Gunn) runs across a native American spirit guide who he’s concerned will eat his brains (“no idiot, that’s a zombie, I’m a spirit!”), but that is obviously not the part of his anatomy that she is looking to gobble. My big question is where did they get the condoms? And more importantly, do you really need a condom if you are going to have sex with a non-corporeal entity? And maybe... if that entity turns into a homicidal raccoon, are you then guilty of bestiality? These are the things that keep me awake at night. But I digress. The rest of the group re-unites and decides to wait in the cabins for the sheriff (Randy Spears) who the hillbilly called via his radio (says the blonde Kirsten: “why do you have a radio made of ham?”). While getting firewood Todd stumbles across a well (in the middle of the woods?). A creepy girl with long hair, eyeblack and white robe climbs out and well, you get the idea. I don’t remember the chick from THE RING having a hot bod, but hey, we never did get to see her naked. She could be totally smokin’ under that robe, you don’t know.

One by one the cast gets picked off, complete with recurring raccoon attacks, a melted-faced killer, more sex, groin humor and a twist ending.

Not content to spoof a whole host of popular horror offerings, including THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003), I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997), HALLOWEEN (1978), FRIDAY THE 13th (1980), A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), THE RING (2002), Morgan even steal bits of comedy from NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION (1983) and HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE (2004). At times it feels like it’s a little too derivative and trying way too hard to be a (I can’t believe I’m saying this) more tasteful equivalent of SCARY MOVIE (2000), but taken on it’s own terms, I have to say I enjoyed it more than anything the Wayan’s have made in the past decade. Not saying much, I know.

I don’t know whether it was because I had just watched the painfully unfunny CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988) or not, but some of the lines were pretty damn funny all things considered. Stormy Daniels plays her dumb-blonde routine with the uncannyness of a method actor, and Randy Spears completely steals the show as the local sheriff who he plays as sort of a bastard child of Bo Hopkins and John Wayne, perfectly satirizing the clichéd (but no less essential) redneck sheriff character found in countless horror films. Hell, you could have centered the movie around his character as Spears’ sense of comic timing and delivery actually had me laughing out loud. Intentional humor that is actually funny in a porno? Say what?! Seriously, if I was a legit producer of mainstream films, after seeing this, I’d be all over Randy Spears. …wait, that didn’t sound right.

Masterson and Voodoo get the
news that there won't be a sequel
On the down side the movie is every bit as long as it’s title, clocking in at a whopping 151minutes. It's almost as if Morgan is desperately throwing in as much stuff as possible, hoping that some of it will hit the mark. Even so it manages to zip by pretty quickly depending on how much you are enjoying the (in my opinion) bland sex scenes. And therein lies the crux of the problem. While this is easily one of the better porn horror parodies I’ve seen, it certainly doesn't hold a candle to classics like Nic Cramer’s A CLOCKWORK ORGY (1995) or THE PENETRATOR 2: GRUDGE DAY (1995). The problem is that it’s a horror-porn parody and it is neither very good as porn, nor very good as horror. The sex scenes are so incredibly formulaic that they were clichéd 20 years ago. The scenes are pretty much identical, only changing out the performers. Same acts, same positions, same finale, no creativity, no interesting camera angles, nothing but the basics. To be honest, I ended up fast forwarding through them which some people might feel defeats the purpose, but at least it cut down the running time.

On the horror end, you’d think that they might throw down some seriously crazy gore, or at least a little something more than a PG-rated horror flick would deliver. I mean, with a title with the words POWERTOOL MASSACRE, I think it’s fair to have some expectations. Hey, this is an “adults only” title, you can go nuts and there’s no one to stop you, not even Jack Valenti! Clearly they have some talented make-up people on hand as the prosthetic appliances for the hillbilly caretaker and the burned killer are really impressive and good enough for any Hollywood film. In spite of all that the only thing you are going to see during the attacks is some blood sprayed and splashed around. A gimmick used by low-budget (and MPAA-weary) filmmakers are “reveals”: a character is killed off camera and their corpse is found later so that the filmmakers don’t have to spend the money to do a gore effect. Here we have a few reveals at the end of the film, but it's just the actors with some blood splashed on them. One was supposed to have had a circular saw driven into his chest, but his corpse and shirt are strangely intact. In spite of the major pitfalls Morgan wrestles with, he manages to make a surprisingly entertaining flick that is worth a rental if nothing else.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Halloween Havoc: The "Never Got Made" Files #32 - #36

Given Hollyweird’s propensity to roll out a sequel to any horror film that made over $5.50, it is always surprising to hear about high profile follow-ups that got announced but never actually got made.  Today we’ll take a look at some of the products that never made it to market that will be sure to leave you with a great sense of whatcouldabeen.


I know what you are thinking – “CREEPSHOW 3 did get made in 2006!”  Well, those leech hacks at Taurus Entertainment don’t count.  I’m talking about a version made by the original folks involved.  Laurel Entertainment certainly had high hopes when they announced a slew of upcoming projects in 1987.  Squeezed in between adaptations of THE STAND and PET SEMATARY (both George Romero projects at Laurel before he split) was the simple announcement of CREEPSHOW 3 offering the tagline “the series continues..”  The film never got made, perhaps due to the poor box office of CREEPSHOW 2 around the same time.  From my understanding, the stories that were to be featured in this third entry ended up being used for Laurel's TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990), so you can think of that as the legit CREEPSHOW 3.


Producer Sean Cunningham knew a good profit when he saw one and I’m shocked it took him over a decade to attempt a sequel to the Wes Craven film that put him on the map.  A sequel (sometimes also called BEYOND THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) was announced in 1985 with Vestron offering the funding as the original LAST  HOUSE had been a huge video hit for them.  Director Danny Steinman, coming off FRIDAY THE 13th PART V, was chosen to direct.  Original star David Hess confirmed he was supposed to be in the sequel and it was going to be set at a summer camp (how original!).  Despite taking out full pages ads promising the sequel, Vestron never got it made.


Now here’s one that saw various variations over the years.  Bill Lustig’s seminal slasher MANIAC (1980) was a big enough hit that star Joe Spinell felt a sequel should be made.  An ill-advised move seeing as his character was killed at the end of the first one, but you gotta get that money.  Even more ill-advised given one script I read (from story by Spinell himself) that had him as a disco pumping DJ who attacks while on rollerskates (really!).

Perhaps the best know variation is Buddy Giovinazzo’s MANIAC 2: MR. ROBBIE.  This short was lensed in 1986 and featured Spinell as Mr. Robbie, a kid’s TV host who punishes the parents of abused kids (the plot bearing more than a striking resemblance to the Larry Brown’s 1975 horror flick THE PSYCHOPATH).  Buddy G. made the short available on extended copies of his AMERICAN NIGHTMARE (aka COMBAT SHOCK) for all to see.  Here is the video:

Manley Productions, Inc. ran ads for MANIAC II in Variety in 1988 and 1989.  We're not quite sure who was involved in the creative team at this point.

In quite possibly the worst timing ever, they ran a slick ad announcing the film as being in pre-production in the February 1989 American Film Market issue of the magazine (Spinell died in mid-January of that year).  I’m sure they had the ad printed and submitted just before Spinell’s passing.

Also before his death, Spinell was developing LONE STAR MANIAC with FX coordinator Tom Rainone.  According to what Rainone told me back at a Fango show in 1996, the script was to have Spinell haunting the Alamo and he (Rainone) was to direct the script he co-wrote with Spinell.  Sadly, Spinell died before this version (or any version) of MANIAC II could get made.

Now here is a real rarity sent into us by MANIAC historian Adam Beck.  This is one of several buttons that Spinell had personally made up while MANIAC II was in pre-production:

Despite Spinell's untimely passing, MPI continued to plug the sequel.  Here is an ad from the November 1989 mentioning the production:

Even a year after Spinell's death, MPI was still trying to get a MANIAC II off the ground.  In 1990 they advertised a MANIAC ROCK (aka MANIAC II) in Variety.  Uh, no.

Variety article on MPI 
w/a brief MANIAC II mention:


Director William Malone made his feature debut with the low budget shocker SCARED TO DEATH (1981).  The film wasn’t much, but it did boast a pretty cool looking monster and probably did enough business to warrant a sequel. Schlock producer Helen Sarlui (ATOR) ran this ad in April 1984 promising a Malone helmed sequel.  Despite the number of names listed, nearly all the credits don’t lead to real people outside of credited co-writer Robert Short.  Chances are the project died early as Malone went on to make CREATURE (1985).  Short is credited as the technical advisor on that one.  A proper sequel, SYNGENOR (1990), did appear a few years later but without Malone’s involvement.  


Now this one really brings tears to our eyes.  Wacky Spanish director Juan Piquer Simon will always have a place in our hearts for the amazing PIECES (1982).  He also delivered by far the world’s best toxic slug movie in SLUGS: THE MOVIE (1988), an adaptation of British horror author Shaun Hutson’s 1982 novel.  Simon ran the following ad in Variety promising a sequel, but, alas, it never arrived.  Hutson did do a sequel to his SLUGS book called BREEDING GROUND, which it appears it would have been based on.  So if you a glimpse of what the follow-up might have looked like, check that out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Halloween Havoc: CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988)

In high-level competitions between highly skilled athletes or artists, it’s not so much who wins, so much as who loses. The winner is the person who made the fewest mistakes. In the realm of scouring the basement level below the bottom of the barrel it is much the same, except in reverse. The awfulness of the movie is determined by the smallest details. So if there are a couple glimmering moments of entertainment, it may be elevated above the tooth-grinding tedium of the egregiously uneventful.

CANNIBAL CAMPOUT is one of those movies, much like the previously reviewed LUNCH MEAT (1987), that sucked me in back in the day. The lurid cover promised some random dude in a t-shirt ripping out a co-ed’s throat with his teeth with a campfire roaring in the background. On the other hand, it was a Camp Video release, so I knew it meant trouble. I rented it back in the late ‘80s and after watching it, couldn’t decide whether I wanted to throw it at the clerk or demand my money back, or both. I guess I can’t get any sympathy for sitting through this movie a second time but in the spirit of our Halloween cinematic self-flagellation, I did it. Can't say I'm a better man for it either. Granted it's got gore and nudity, so that sets it up a notch from somnia-inducing time-wasters like TERROR AT TENKILLER (1986), but not by a whole hell of a lot. Don’t let the hipster kids fool ya with their raving blurbs on IMDb, while there is a moment or two, most of the heavily padded 89 minutes are just painfully uninteresting.

Made with a home video camera, a few locals and a couple of cut-out machetes over a series of weekends, CANNIBAL CAMPOUT stumbles through a plot about a quartet of college “kids” who head out ot a campsite in Redston (while singing a folksong written for the film and flubbing the lyrics). A chubby “kid” in a Cro-Mags jacket (Ray Angelic) warns of impending doom by telling them that there was a massacre in them thar woods with the intent of scaring the crap out of them with his ill-fated friend. As it turns out, the Cro-Mags dude’s made-up story is true! Fortunately, as Jon tells his friends, there are four of them, so they will be perfectly safe, even though they weren’t smart enough to bring enough beverages to last the drive out to the site, much less the entire camping trip.

The group is accosted by a couple of Lincoln-driving yokels, one of whom looks like Ken Wahl (Gene Robbins) and the other (Richard Markus) is so skinny that he cannot walk or move. Clearly there is some medical issue here, so I can’t beat him up about it, but damn, he sure ain’t much of a villain. After the campers get away (by simply driving around the land-yacht roadblock), we get a black and white flashback as the alleged oakies reminisce about a particularly good kill. Why it’s in black and white, I have no idea as they appear to be exactly the same age and are even wearing the same clothes so it can’t be that long ago. After killing a topless girl, who should have probably kept her top on, (you will get really tired of seeing that damn cut-out machete), Gene licks the blade of the machete and says “mmmmm… just like momma used to make”. What? Your momma made machetes?

Most of the movie is the campers traipsing through the woods (or rather someone’s overgrown back yard), talking about how the well-lit woods are creepy (they aren’t), and worse, having long personal relationship conversations (reading lines off of cue cards) including a cringe inducing “I’m pregnant bit”. C’mon guys, I realize you are trying to make a “real” movie, but let’s be honest here: you have no costumes, no sets, no actors and no production values whatsoever. H.G. Lewis was in the same boat, but pulled it off by going straight for exploitation value. He had no pretensions about what he was doing and that made his films successful. Here even the much ballyhooed gore gets pretty redundant when it’s just lots of cut-aways to splashing red karo syrup and that damned cut-out machete.

In addition to the complete and total lack of production values, the “actors” stumble over the simplest of lines and apparently just don’t care to re-shoot the scenes to get them right. I understand the old exploitation hacks and masters would often shun retakes, but they were shooting on film! This is freakin’ video fer cryin’ out loud, it doesn’t cost you one thin dime to reset a scene where you are singing in a car or walking through the woods. If you don’t care about your movie, why should I? The alleged comedy isn’t even worth a groan. Lines like “you axed for it” and “leaf me alone” are just plain lame. That said, some of the idiocy is mildly amusing, such as a bit in which one of the guys says “I’m going to go check out some of these neat old cabins over there” and promptly walks off into the horizon which not only has nothing “neat”, but no freakin’ cabins, either!

Answering the question,
"what has this guy been smokin'?"
Starting out with an opening credit claiming it to be based on real events experienced by fictional characters, then moving into a lengthy shoe-tying and jogging sequence, this is a strictly amateur horror-comedy non-event that is too easy to bash. I’d love to give it props in a scant few areas, but it becomes really difficult to do that when the director and cast break their arms in interviews blathering on about what a seminal movie it was, how it was totally ahead of its time, how it was “the goriest movie ever” and how it featured moments that had “never been done in a horror movie before”. These people are totally fucking delusional. One of the things that they claim was never done before is a scene in which they kill a pregnant girl and dig into her stomach (or rather under her shirt) and pull out a piece of hotdog - err, I mean “fetus”, that they then take bites out of. It’s far less offensive than it sounds and doesn’t even lay a glove on the truly shocking fetus eating scene from Joe D’Amato’s immortal classic ANTHROPOPHAGUS (1980) that came out eight years previously! To add to the irritation factor, Markus claims to be this huge horror movie fan who has seen it all. I guess he’s got some brushing up to do. Then again, what do you expect from Jon McBride, a director of awful no-budget movies who states that “the reason I made CANNIBAL CAMPOUT was because I wanted to make a movie.” Yeah, that's a period at the end of that sentence. Thanks for that insight Jon.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Halloween Havoc: DEATH ROW DINER (1988)

We didn’t want it to be like this.  Honestly.  But our quest to review stuff that hasn’t been done to death (do you really need us to tell you THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is a classic?) has resulting in Video Junkie focusing on the worst of the worst.  And in the horror genre that usually means shot-on-video (SOV) productions that somehow managed to escape from their creators video players and get national releases.

Outside of the porno industry, the low budget horror filmmakers were foremost in utilizing the video revolution. The terrible BOARDING HOUSE (1982) is considered the first feature length horror film to use the burgeoning video medium and the floodgates were open. Soon enough the video store shelves were overflowing with poorly made SOV productions with promising titles like David Prior’s SLEDGEHAMMER (1983) and the aforementioned Bill Blair’s BLOOD CULT (1985), which had a selling point that it was made exclusively for the home video market (oh, lucky us). Personally, I lost my SOV virginity in 1990 with the Pericles Lewnes’ entertaining and obscenely gory REDNECK ZOMBIES (1987). It was all pretty much downhill from there.

DEATH ROW DINER opens in 1948 with imprisoned movie studio exec Otis Wilcox (John Content) heading to the electric chair after being framed for his wife’s murder.  His biggest beef, however, is that he hasn’t received his last meal and gets juiced while screaming “I’m hungry!” Fast forward 40 years and a low budget film crew is using the now defunct prison as a shooting location (isn’t that the same plot as the Lyle Alzado and Anthony Perkins starrer DESTROYER from the same year?).  Bill Weston (Jay Richardson), the director, is looking to exploit the fact that his lead lady and wife, Julia (Michelle Bauer), is the granddaughter of Otis.  She is sensitive to the fact and doesn’t take kindly to the subject matter.  The fact that she loathes Bill and is having an affair with the leading man also helps.

Naturally, a freak (they’re always freak) electrical storm brings the fried Otis back from the dead and he proceeds to kill the various crew members. First up is the electrical guy who gets zapped. Then he strangles a make up girl with some bodacious tatas (sadly they remain clothed, one of the film’s biggest weak points). Next up is the twitchy Elvis caterer, who dies from ingesting Otis’ noxious gas (really).  The guy playing Otis in the movie within the movie then gets zapped while sitting in the old electric chair.  Then a crew member playing ping pong gets the eyeballs smacked out of his head. Two more techies are killed by Otis before the film finally wraps up with him getting revenge on Weston with the help of his granddaughter.  Oh yeah, the sleazy Italian producer is killed in there at some point too.

Sorry if that all seems a bit rushed, but you can’t really say much about this 68-minute production. Otis dies --> Otis comes back 40 years later --> Otis kills --> the end.  This is by far the least offensive SOV piece I’ve endured as it tries to be an actual film, but that isn’t really saying much. Director B. Dennis Wood delivers a truly baffling product.  There are good performances from Richardson (always a pro) and Bauer.  And the little jabs at the z-grade movie industry are fun. At the very least it would have been a good snapshot of the 80s and low budget filmmaking.  Unfortunately, they used video, so it is a time capsule but in the worst way.

The production score points for featuring some decent make-up and lots of gore. Unfortunately, like I said, it is all SOV so the porn-like productions values let the effects down. Here’s Otis taking out a skateboarding film grip:  

Now try to imagine that exact same scene, only shot on film.  It probably would have been pretty fun, right? They did have some nice locations and it looks like they filmed on the same prison set that John Saxon and Fred Olen Ray used for ZOMBIE DEATH HOUSE (1987). The comedy is pretty abysmal for the most part.  I will admit I did get a kick out of the cursing film producer Tony Milano and found this exchange to be gold.

Techie: “You want to play some ping pong later?”
Milano: “You out of your fuckin’ mind?”

The biggest head scratcher is the complete lack of nudity.  This is really surprising because Michelle Bauer was more than willing to pop her top in other B-movie productions around the same time (and had done porn previous to this). Please don’t tell me Wood thought this was a “classy” production. I’m not kidding, had this been shot on film and included some nudity, I could see it being an endearing and maybe even entertaining film.  Not in a good kind of way, but along the lines of stuff like EVIL SPAWN (1987) or HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS (1988), something Richardson starred in the same year.  Yeah, I’m that easy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Halloween Havoc: HILLBILLY MONSTER (2003)

Not to sound like a bad movie elitist, but I hate running into fellow “movie buffs” who declare Ed Wood’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1958) to be the worst movie of all-time.  It usually tells me one very important thing: they haven’t truly seen a lot of movies.  To hold onto the banal belief that PLAN 9 is the nadir of cinema is like saying Jess Franco didn’t make a lot of movies or Nic Cage has nice hair.  It just ain’t true.  Moviedom is littered with thousands of films worse that Wood’s seminal work and if you dig deep enough you will find them.  Oddly enough, one of worst contributors to the cinematic gutter is Conrad Brooks, the only surviving cast member of Wood’s magnum opus.

A native of Maryland, Brooks headed to the West Coast in the late 1940s with his two brothers to make it big on the silver screen. Instead, they met up with Edward D. Wood, Jr. and starred in a short for him.  Legend has it they actually paid Wood to be in the film. Whatever the truth, Wood ended up casting Conrad in small roles in a total of 5 of his feature length presentations.  Following a period of nearly 25 years off the big screen, Brooks returned to the industry in the mid-80s with a vengeance.  He parlayed his minuscule claim to fame into roles in more no budget films and convention appearances. In the mid-90s Brooks figured it was time to cash in even harder by directing his own video features.  One such title is HILLBILLY MONSTER.

The “film” opens with burly freakshow owner Jake (Joe McCabe) and his walking stick/friend with a turtle mounted on it (he calls him Mr. Turtle) wandering around some fairgrounds (including a drive in with a marquee offering PLAN 9 starring Conrad Brooks and Bela Lugosi).  Apparently his star attraction (we are never shown the inside of the freakshow) is the Hillbilly Monster (Michael T. Burns), a half-man, half-ape offered to the show by its adoptive father Zeke (Bruce Lindsay, who is Redskin Hogette Porkchop in "real" life).  Around the 11 minute mark (which feels like years), the beast – who looks like a hunched over goth singer – escapes and heads into the woods.  This sends Jake into action as he gets Dirty Harry (Conrad Brooks) on the job and we get 15 minutes of him running all over the carnival, asking everyone if he has seen the monster as the same stolen carnival music loops over and over (listen for some Alice in Chains in the background too).

While in the woods, the monster gets his leg caught in a bear trap.  Luckily for him, the sanitarium of Dr. Love (George Romley) is nearby.  Yes, you read that right.  Dr. Love.  The good doc and his assistant Jennifer (Jennifer Wells) take care of mental patients who think they are Civil War generals or Mae West.  So a man-ape will fit right in.  They take the freak in, fix his leg in surgery (off screen) and decide to keep him.  Hillbilly forms some kind of bond with the gardener while working as the monster looks on and the same acoustic guitar drones endlessly.  But the bromance is short lived as the cops “got a tip” the monster might be here so the administrators release him back into the wild (with a plastic bag of bananas).  Zeke, who has been trying to defend the monster in the press, shows up at the sanitarium and is told his boy is gone.  “You did the right thing, doc” he says. The film then ends with Jake still searching for his prized possession in the woods.

Cow: No one will see this, right?
You know the only thing worse than guys in their 20s running around with a video camera and thinking they are film directors?  It is guys who do it in their 70s.  Words can’t describe how terrible this film is.  There is nothing of value on display here.  No deaths, no gore, no nudity, no nothing!  Technically the film is a total disaster.  I’m not kidding – I’ve seen amateur porn with better production values.  The videography (with the Beast actor himself credited as cameraman) is full of awkward pans, focus problems and strained framing. Audio wise, you get the standard wind blowing hard into the mic and sounds of people fiddling off camera.  At one point I think I even heard someone breathing heavy behind the camera.  The best, however, are the everyday folks at the carnival who always stare into the camera.  Brooks’ idea of permits was probably buying his crew tickets to the carnival (and probably haggling for his senior citizen discount).  Everyone glances into the camera as they walk by. Hell, in one scene some freakin’ cows stop grazing to stare into the camera!

Yes, you are really in a Conrad Brooks film
Equaling the shoddy production values is everything else in the film.  Filmed in the wilds of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, the filmmakers apparently sent out a casting call for the worst actors ever and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. I don't know what it is about the power of a video camera, but you get folks giving the most stilted dialog you can ever imagine.  I'm talking deer frozen in headlights, slowly pronouncing each syllable type madness on display.  You know something is wrong when your best actor is Conrad Brooks. How bad are these guys?  This bad (are they even speaking proper English?):

You also have to love the brain-dead gaffes like their sanitarium filled with mental patients (really a suburban house) with swords on the walls. Or the bit where Jake calls the sheriff and you can clearly see his phone is unplugged. The end with Jake wandering the woods sees him comment on the frozen river, only to have subsequent shots of the river flowing behind him. I’d love to declare that Brooks is some sort of film deconstructionist genius who is challenging the conventions of film. He’s not. He is just a really bad filmmaker. Sadly, he seems to crap on his benefactor as Brooks hides behind the pretext of his films being “in the >tradition of Ed Wood.” Believe it or not, this is actually the third part in a series of films Brooks made about a crazed caveman named Jan-Gel, who apparently had sex with an ape to produce the title monster. I definitely won’t be seeking out the first two as one IMDb user suggests this is an improvement upon the earlier ones. One can only imagine. The HILLBILLY MONSTER DVD actually has a “bonus” for Brooks “fans” as you also get his 30-minute short GRANDPARENTS FROM OUTER SPACE (aka OUT OF THIS WORLD). Conrad and Ruth Brooks star as two aliens who crash land on earth while looking for their runaway grand kids. They are welcomed into the home of a tiny horse jockey (!) but Conrad does a serious faux paus when he sucks all of the town's electricity through a wall socket (it is his source of food you see). Thankfully, the cops are on the job (!) and arrest the duo. While walking to the jail, the grandparents see their grand kids with a young hippie couple. When the cop decides to grab a soda, they split and track down the hippies (the dad was wearing a t-shirt advertising the apartment complex he lives in!). The family is reunited and the hippies drive them to the woods where they fly away in their ship. YAY! The film's biggest highlight is a cameo by Don Dohler staple George Stover.  The rest is so awful that you'll feel like kicking your dog afterwards. SEE Earth as an out of focus globe! SEE Brooks have a discussion with a horse! SEE Ruth Brooks eat a napkin! SEE yourself begin to question your sanity.  SEE your eyeballs melt at the sight of Conrad Brooks in a tight silver space suit!

Monday, October 11, 2010

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: RETRIBUTION (1987)

Pop quiz hotshot – who was the most prolific slasher of the 1980s?  Jason Voorhees?  Nope.  Freddy Kruger? Nah.  The killer with the biggest body count was the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), a non-profit regulatory body founded in the 1920s that killed indie filmmakers’ hopes every day.  The MPAA founded a ‘voluntary’ ratings system in the 1960s under Jack Valenti and they went on a rampage against any and all horror film in 1980s.  This was bad news for independent producers (the MPAA counted all major studios as “members”) because if you wanted your film advertised in papers and booked in lots of theaters, you needed an MPAA rating.

Horror fans heard lots of stories about the MPAA slicing films left and right. Usually in the pages of Fangoria you’d hear FX artists from the latest FRIDAY THE 13TH or ELM STREET flick bemoan the loss of their work.  But for every well-known example of truncation, there were probably ten more that fans never heard about.  One such case is the film RETRIBUTION, a low budget supernatural revenge flick.  Taurus Entertainment actually got this one into a few theaters in 1987 (back when horror flicks like this could hover in the bottom half of the Top 50 at the box office).  A theatrical run meant a rating and the filmmakers got one but at the cost of some relatively innocuous gore.

The film centers on George (Dennis Lipscomb), a starving artist who decides to end his life by jumping off his apartment building on Halloween night. As he lies dying in the street, George’s body receives the spirit of a man who shares his birthday and is killed at the exact same time (confused?).  He makes a full recovery and begins tackling his issues with psychiatrist Dr. Curtis (Leslie Wing).  He also begins seeing Angel (Suzanne Snyder), the hooker with a heart of gold who lives in the same building.  But George starts having bad dreams at night as he sees himself meeting and killing people he doesn’t know.  Yes, George is possessed by the spirit of the dead criminal and goes about murdering everyone who was involved in burning him alive (Freddy who?).  Of course, his psychiatrist Dr. Curtis (Leslie Wing) thinks he's crazy and Lt. Ashley (Hoyt Axton) thinks he is the killer.

This is a pretty solid horror flick that I liked even more watching it now than back in the 80s. Sure, it isn’t very original and you can practically hear the filmmakers whisper, "It is like ELM STREET, kids" (the burned villain even looks like Freddy), but writer-director Guy Magar does enough to make it stand apart.  There is some great camera work and interesting use of lighting. Magar cut his teeth on TV work and this was his first feature. He went on to do THE STEPFATHER III and one of the CHILDREN OF THE CORN sequels.  Poor Guy!  Lipscomb, looking like a nerdy Christopher Walken, is an interesting choice for a leading man and I like that casting.  The only misfire is a visit to one Doctor Rasta, a Rastafarian voodoo doctor. Oh, and lots of 80s neon. Was it really that prevalent?

Of course, we’re here to talk about the excised gore.  There are three major murder sequences and all of them are cut down for the US release.  The first one is the death of the floozy that George picks up in a bar.  After making her kitchen explode with his glowing green eyes, George forces the woman to plunge the knife she is brandishing into her stomach.  The uncut version features three extra shots in the quick montage.  One shows her finishing the cut across her belly while the other two a quick shots of her intestines spilling out.  Total extra time is marginal, but the sequence is much more effective.

The murder of the grease monkey in his garage is next and suffered the most egregious editing.  Possessed George forces the man to light a welding torch and cut his own right hand off with it.  In the R-rated cut, you see the beginning of the hand cutting and the film abruptly cuts to the man’s dog barking and George then psychically slamming the man against the wall on the garage’s far side.  How the hell did that guy get over there?  Well, in the uncut version you find out.  The man proceeds to cut off his own hand and there is a shot of him pulling the bloody stump off the worktable as the severed appendage lays there.

The man falls to his knees and crawls away from George, all the while holding his bloody stump.  He then makes it to the wall and climbs up it and George slams him.

In total, the sequence lasts roughly 42 seconds and pales in comparison to anything shown in the first 20 minutes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998).  Of course, we can’t have the kids watch a guy with no hand crawl on the ground.

After the guy gets to the wall, George gets into lift and pushes the cage against the man’s face.  In the cut version, you see it press against his face (first pic), his head start to collapse and then the ever reliable cut away to the dog barking. The uncut version continues the squashing as you see his head explode as it is crushed.  It is shown from two separate angles (forward and side), but oddly the effect is not too good as the guy’s head seems to explode with some white stuff rather than red gore.  Still, the MPAA just felt it was too much for the kids.  Did they forget they passed the famous head explosion in SCANNERS?

The final revenge murder is the guy killed in the meat packing plant.  George traps the guy inside a meat carcass and sends him down the conveyor belt to a giant saw.  In the censored version, the film abruptly cuts as the saw starts slicing into the meat.  The uncut version continues to follow the blade down the meat in close up as lots of blood sprays out. The scene is roughly 7 seconds longer and, believe it or not, that is a lot of time for some spraying blood.

So there you have the extra gore footage from RETRIBUTION.  It is laughable to think the MPAA found this so extreme. Then again, it was the 1980s and the group definitely had a moral agenda.  No kidding, you can turn on cable nowadays and see stuff ten times worse that got an R-rating (I’m looking at you RAMBO).  Unfortunately the bad news is that this uncut version of RETRIBUTION has only surfaced in German with no English options.