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!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reading is F'n Mental: John Russo's "Return of the Living Dead"

Warning: sometimes our eyes get tired of watching the CRT and we look at these strange little things called books.  Don’t worry, it won’t happen often.  This review has slight spoilers.  

Chances are you have heard of a little film called NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968).  Produced by Pittsburgh commercial house Latent Image as their first feature, the horror classic established both the career of director George Romero and zombie mythos/blueprint that is still going strong some 42 years later (witness cable TV’s recent hit THE WALKING DEAD from Frank Darabont).  Another benefactor of the film’s success has been co-scripter John Russo.  When it came time to sequelize the film years later, Romero and Russo had a parting of the ways and came to the agreement where - according to The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh - both men could make sequels but the yet unmade "RETURN couldn't be promoted as a sequel to NIGHT" (welcome to the world of American litigation!).  So while Romero went the cinematic route with DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), Russo opted to follow up the film in written form and produced the sequel novel Return of the Living Dead the same year.  One of them was more successful than the other…can you guess who?

The novel takes place 10 years after the first zombie outbreak, which was apparently a localized event on the East Coast and eventually contained.  The folks in the county that was one of the epicenters of the event are divided on precautions.  Sheriff McClelland, a carry over from the NOTLD film, takes the stubborn “we’ll deal with it if it happens again” approach while the more fanatical types insist on a ritual of “spiking” the dead by driving railroad ties into their heads to quell any attempt to return to life.  When a school bus full of children crashes, a group heads down to spike the dead but are interrupted by the sheriff before they can finish.  This results in the un-spiked dead returning to life in the morgue (it is never explained what causes the resurgence).  You would think they would be prepared for something like this, but they aren’t.

The bulk of the story centers on widower fanatic Bert Miller and his three daughters, Ann, Sue Ellen and pregnant Karen.  Unable to deal with her religious father during the beginning of the outbreak, Sue Ellen splits in the middle of the night.  Yes, she ain’t too bright.  When zombies attack their house and Bert is killed, Karen and Ann are forced to hide in an upstairs bedroom before they are rescued by a posse.  The eclectic group includes state troopers John Carter and Wade Connely, redneck chick Angel and deputized grease-ball Flack.  With them is Sue Ellen, who is now in a catatonic state.  The cops claim they rescued her while she was being attacked.  Also in tow they have two bound and gagged prisoners who the officers say are child molesters that they will use for “zombie feed” (Chris Hansen would be proud) in their attempt to get away.  The girls see this as odd behavior for law enforcement officials and, sure enough, things aren’t as they appear as Carter wants things done his way.  Things get worse as Sue Ellen’s boyfriend Billy arrives and Karen goes into labor while they are all trapped in a boarded up house that is surrounded by zombies.

Sound familiar?  Yeah, Russo is basically recreating the dynamics of NOTLD but with a few twists.  It works well in some cases as the author is able to pull a fast one on the reader due to their familiarity with the landmark film.  Russo does indeed pull some nice switches and you think things will go one way but then they don’t.  There is also a nice surprise about halfway through the novel.  On the downside, you will see the ending coming from a mile away.  Seriously, I was reading this and thinking, “C’mon, you’re not seriously going to do the exact same ending as NOTLD” and then he does.  The book also has serious problems in the logic department (after a zombie outbreak, no one in the government has taken precautions in case it happens again?).  This is actually the first fiction I’ve read by Russo and he is a pretty decent writer.  I’ll give him credit for having some fast-paced action scenes and some evocative descriptions of the zombie attacks. There are also a few oddball moments that I liked such as an encounter with some kids armed with bows and arrows.  It is one of those peculiar moments that you know would happen if the shit really went down and society collapsed.  Is it a classic horror book?  No.  Is it a fun zombie tale?  Yes.

Original published by Dale in 1978, Russo’s sequel novel has been pretty hard to come by in recent years. This was remedied last month as Kensington Fiction re-published Russo’s novelization of NOTLD and his sequel novel in the collection Undead.  Ah, yes, zombies are hot with the general public so you know Russo was going to chase that undead dollar.  Thankfully, each novel didn’t come with a vial of dirt from the NOTLD cemetery.  It is interesting to note that Russo was planning on making this book into a movie as well.  He sold the rights to producer Tom Fox in the late 70s and the film adaptation was scheduled to go before cameras in March 1981 with Russo as director/co-writer (alongside the pseudonymous sounding Edmondo Raphael) and NOTLD alum Russ “Johnny” Streiner as producer (see Variety ad below).  That adaptation of the film never got made for whatever reason. Perhaps Fox saw Russo’s directorial debut THE BOOBY HATCH (1976) and squashed that idea?  The project eventually got the services of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, who started from scratch and only retained Russo’s title.  Russo and Steiner saw producer credits on O’Bannon's eventual film.  To make matters even more confusing, Russo wrote the novelization of the film version.  So, yes, he wrote a novelization of film that has nothing to do with his novel which the film is “adapting,” enough craziness to make my brains explode.  Mmmm, brains.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sci-Fried Double Bill: WITHOUT WARNING (1980) and EVILS OF THE NIGHT (1985)

Steven Spielberg made extraterrestrials chic again with his CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977), but – despite some scary moments – they turned out to be the nice kind of aliens who just liked to abduct average middle-class people.  I ain’t having that. Thankfully, Don Dohler burst onto the scene with THE ALIEN FACTOR (1978) and reminded audiences of the 1950s edict that “aliens are the enemy” and provided plenty of working class folks to blast their shotguns at these galaxy invaders.  Now that’s more like it.  Two examples of AVR (Aliens Versus Rednecks) cinema are Greydon Clark’s WITHOUT WARNING (1980) and Mardi Rustam’s EVILS OF THE NIGHT (1985).

WITHOUT WARNING opens with a hunter (Cameron Mitchell) out on an excursion with his son.  After berating him for being a sissy cuz he reads books and stuff, Mitchell is attacked by some flying sucker monsters that dig into his skin.  And we are off!  Cut to a group of teens (including a young David Caruso in some criminally short shorts) heading up to the lake for some R&R.  They stop at a gas station and encounter county crazy “Sarge” (Martin Landau) and station owner Joe Taylor (Jack Palance).  Surprisingly, it is Taylor who gives the “you don’t want to go up there” speech and not the town loony.  Of course, Taylor just might have a screw loose as well given his ulterior motives involving the love of hunting.

Naturally, the teens don’t heed the warning and continue on. Greg (Christopher Nelson) and Sandy (Tarah Nutter) decide to go for a walk while Caruso macks on his lady, but are surprised their friends aren’t around when they return.  The go searching and eventually discover their melting bodies stored inside a watershed (along with the hunter, his son and a doomed Cub Scout leader).  The helpless teens run into town for aid and think they find it at a local bar. Sarge is excited to finally meet someone who believes his stories of these tiny alien things he’s been seeing, but the revelation quickly sends him off the deep end and he shoots the law enforcement that arrives.  Thanks pal.  Instead the kids inexplicably hook up with Taylor, who is thrilled because chasing a malevolent alien represents the ultimate predator-and-prey hunt.

In terms of RVA cinema, you can’t beat WITHOUT WARNING as it pretty much has it all. This was back when low budget flicks could corral some great actors and production crew on a tiny budget. You have some great unhinged performances by both Palance and Landau (they re-teamed on ALONE IN THE DARK) and there is some fine supporting work by Larry Storch, Ralph Meeker and Neville Brand (as the world’s bitterest bar patron). Additionally, director Clark got top-notch cinematography from John Carpenter regular Dean Cundey. Most importantly, the film didn’t skimp on the alien stuff and made sure to deliver the gory goods. The tiny flying flesh discs – designed by Greg Cannom – will actually gross you out with their suckers, tentacles and teeth. The bulbous headed evil alien is pretty cool too. A lot of people have pointed out the similarities between this and PREDATOR (1987) with the “alien on intergalactic hunt” plot. I don’t doubt screenwriter Shane Black saw this film and it is interesting that Kevin Peter Hall played the aliens in both films. I’ll take Jack Palance screaming “allllllllllllieeeeeennnn” any day over that dumbass Schwarzenegger though.

On the complete opposite side of the galaxy from WARNING in terms of quality is the alien invasion non-classic EVILS OF THE NIGHT.  This one opens with a spaceship landing in the woods and – wouldn’t you know it – there are some couples making out nearby.  The aliens grab them (offing one girl’s guy while she is taking it doggy style and she continues) and take their bodies to a hospital. There Dr. Kozmar (John Carradine), Dr. Zarma (Julie Newmar) and Cora (Tina Louise) explain that they are draining the bodies of blood because it allows their alien race to “survive for hundreds of years.”  One of the kidnapped kids tries to escape but gets zapped with a green laser to his nipple for his trouble.

We now meet our lead players via a lakeside montage set to the totally 80s “Boys Will Be Boys.”  Not only do we learn about who is dating who, but we also learn that chicks will think you are funny if you stuff seaweed in their bikinis…as long as you have hot abs. That night the group sits around a campfire before Ron and Nancy take off for some place more private.  Of course, that means they are totally going to get abducted by the aliens. Instead, they get taken by some guys in ski masks.  What the hell is going on here?  Ah, seems the aliens have learned to work with rednecks this time around and have recruited dimwitted auto mechanics Fred (Aldo Ray) and Kurt (Neville Brand) to bring them nubile young bodies in exchange for gold coins.  What will they do with their wealth?  Frank plans to go to Tahiti (“where the women are nude all day, every day”) while Kurt plans to buy a castle (“with nude maids”).  As the pop track said, boys will be boys.

This dynamically dumb duo didn’t count on this latest batch of kids being so darn pesky though.  Brian, Heather and Connie show up looking for their friends, but the mechanics say they saw them hitchhiking (“probably going to Reno”).  These kids aren’t easily fooled so they grease monkeys have no choice but to take them captive too.  The teens keep trying to escape and Connie gets drilled by Kurt for her attempt.  Meanwhile, Nancy escapes from the hospital and makes it to the gas station just after Heather killed Kurt.  She catches Fred trying to kill Heather so she sticks an air hose in his ear (no joke, blood shoots out his opposite ear).  This all breaks down into an extended stalk-n-slash style chase before the aliens split Earth and zap Fred from outer space for his troubles.  No nude Tahitian ladies for you, my friend.

If you are looking for z-grade aliens complete with silver jumpsuits and washed up actors from every medium, look no further than this one.  Director Rustam originally was a producer for Al Adamson and on films like PSYCHIC KILLER (1975) and Tobe Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE (1977).  Interestingly, he was also one of the producers on THE BAD BUNCH (1973), the first feature for WITHOUT WARNING’s Greydon Clark. So perhaps he saw Clark’s alien flick and thought, “I could do that.”  We’ll, he can’t. This definitely falls into the “so bad it’s good” category.  You have to laugh at how hard he tried to throw in every exploitive element. The gore is there and the nudity is aplenty.  In fact, porn stars Amber Lynn and Jerry Butler have a couple of unrelated scenes shoehorned in to up the nudity ante.   Unfortunately it just congeals into a mess rather than a coherent film.  Of course, what do you expect from a guy who actually put the Millennium Falcon on the poster for his film?  Take a gander:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Gotterdammerung Epics: SOLOMON KANE (2009)

Michael J. Bassett is one of those bubbly young filmmakers who talk endlessly of their love for genre films and can’t seem to translate that enthusiasm into anything that stands as a classic in it’s own right. Not like Danny “I’m the biggest ‘Judge Dredd’ fan ever” Cannon (yes, I’m still bitter), more like a Stephen Norrington Syndrome, or maybe a Paul W.S. Anderson Disease. They are successful in The System, unlike true visionaries like Richard Stanley and Mariano Baino who’s passion make them pariahs to the Hollywood Machine. Of course, in Stanley’s case, it may have also had something to do with him dropping acid on the set, but whatever, the point stands.

After Robert E. Howard was honored post-mortem by one of the finest testosterone-laden, blood and thunder fantasy films ever made in CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982), he was largely forgotten by everyone in Hollywood. Well, actually he was largely abandoned after everyone realized they could simply rip off CONAN. CONAN begat a sequel so bad, it even made me cringe, and I’m a guy who will cheerfully sit through the non-Joe D’Amato Ator film THE IRON WARRIOR (1987) on a semi-annual basis. In 1997 Mr. Howard would no longer be ignored as the decades of development hell finally ended and Howard’s grave was pissed on by TV director John Nicolella with KULL, in which Howard’s most violent and dark anti-hero was turned into a goofy, foppish nancyboy courtesy of Kevin Sorbo. The good news is nobody has seen fit to give Nicolella one red cent to direct a movie since. I guess there is justice in the world after all.

After firmly declaring the under-appreciated PATHFINDER as the sword movie of the decade, along comes SOLOMON KANE. I have to admit that I have never read the poems and stories, but I was a big fan of the comic book back in the day. I know, some Robert E. Howard fan I am. The comic-book incarnations, mainly THE SWORD OF SOLOMON KANE, featured six issues from ’85 to ’86, all but two of which are directly adapted from Howard’s stories and poems. The art was as pitch black as the narratives and told the story of a man who has left a life of blood-soaked piracy behind and became a puritan after discovering that Satan has designs on his soul and means to get it, sending his minions after him, while Solomon travels the earth, fighting the evils of the sixteenth century. Solomon’s world is dark, menacing and fraught with death, monsters and evil sorcery. There are no rays of light through the clouds, just darkness and evil magic.

On finding out about Bassett’s film version I was skeptical, really skeptical. Like, I'm thinking it’s going to be DOOM (2005) with a sword, kinda skeptical. Sure Bassett was better news than say Eli Roth (like Eli Roth would know who the hell Robert E. Howard was), but who would give him money to do a movie based on a story that has a guy in a buckle-hat fight evil with a couple of swords and a musket? And take it seriously. Amazingly, long-time genre producer Samuel Hadida did just that.

Set in the 1600s (rather than the 1500s), the film opens with Captain Kane (James Purefoy) cutting a swath through Turkish armies in Northern Africa to claim the legendary fortunes of local lord. After finally making his way into the castle, his bloody crew are pulled into mirrors by demons and Kane finds himself trapped in the throne room with the desiccated body of the lord and a fortune in treasure. As he reaches for the treasure, the room goes cold and a wraith appears informing Kane that his time has come and he is here to collect the devil’s due: Kane’s black and evil soul. Naturally Kane doesn’t go quietly and ends up throwing himself out of a tower window. Years later we find Kane has been living in a monastery and has devoted himself to doing penance for his crimes. Unfortunately the Abbot feels that the devil’s minions will soon find him and he must leave the monastery to find his destiny. Kane heads out on a path back to his ancestral home, a place where he accidentally killed his boorish brother (Samuel Roukin sporting hair extensions that make him look an awful lot like Ade Edmondson in BAD NEWS). After being found, left for dead, by a puritan family, he discovers that, as they say, a great evil is upon the land. A sorcerer living in one of the castles of the region uses a hulking brute with a leather mask to enslave the local populace and kill those who are too weak for war. Why? Well, we never really find out, but presumably it is the Devil setting a trap for Kane.

Solomon’s world here is every bit as bleak as it should be. The skies are perpetually dark and either snowing or pouring down rain, on every tree hangs a corpse, over every hill is death and ashes. More of a series of vignettes  than anything else for the first two acts, Purefoy is absolutely flawless as Solomon Kane. Brooding, angry and wracked with guilt over his life of bloodletting, he elevates this movie to a level that it would have never achieved otherwise. You could accuse him of a monodimensional performance, but like many classic rock and punk bands, they may only be giving us three chords, but those are three freakin’ badass chords! The cast is rounded out nicely by Pete Postlethwaite as the head of the puritan family that finds Kane, and who’s death is a catalyst for Kane’s path of vengeance, Max von Sydow as Kane's father, and Mackenzie Crook as a priest with his own way of dealing with the evil in the land.

Bassett’s first film DEATHWATCH (2002) was one of a handful of WWII themed horror films to be released around the same time and while it was well shot and reasonably entertaining, it suffered from a somewhat predictable script and a weak third act. SOLOMON KANE proves Bassett still needs to work on this to grow as a filmmaker. The film, while tremendously entertaining, still suffers from the exact same malady. It doesn’t take much thought to figure out exactly where this movie is headed once the foreshadowing has been laid down. In addition to being somewhat predictable there is a general sense that it’s been done before. You could make a case that Bassett is giving nods to the classics of the genre, such as the crucifixion scene where Kane pulls himself down from the cross in almost the exact same way Lee Horsley does in Albert Pyun’s masterpiece of the genre, THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER (1982). It would also be easy to make the case that he is pulling a Tarantino and simply using someone else’s creativity in place of his own. In addition, the evil sorcerer’s throne room in SOLOMON KANE features a “wall of souls” that mimics Xusia’s infamous sarcophagus in the very same Pyun classic. Hell, the guy who gathers a small army to help Kane raid the castle (Philip Winchester) actually looks a bit like Simon MacCorkindale here!

You had me at "firesuit swordfight"
Probably the most damning thing is that I think Michael J. Bassett must share my film collection as the plot line of SOLOMON KANE could be summed up as “two brothers, one presumed dead, meet again in battle. The thought dead brother is the masked henchman of an evil sorcerer who hides in a castle spreading evil throughout the land,” which is the exact plot synopsis for THE IRON WARRIOR! Granted the movies approach these themes from completely different angles, but that feeling of sameness nags throughout the film in part due to this comparison.

Additional stumbling include the weak character of the villainous sorcerer Malachi (an amazingly uninspired performance by the overrated and over-used Jason Flemyng) who doesn’t even appear until the final minutes of the film and does so with an obligatory CGI monster. This adds up to a real failing in the final act. Getting there, however, is a blast! Even with all of the negatives, this is a hell of a lot of fun and an easy contender (out of two) for best Sword & Sorcery film of the decade. Anyone with even a passing interest in the genre should definitely check it out. Unfortunately, a full year later after its release overseas, it still seems to be having some issues getting a distributor here in the US (apparently Lion’s Gate has toyed with the idea in their typically indecisive fashion). Hopefully someone will be smart enough to figure out that this is not another JONAH HEX and give it a proper theatrical push. They’ll definitely get my ten bucks.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cinemasochism: TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE (2010)

I would be the world’s worst banker ever.  How so? I would continue to issue credit to folks who screw up over and over.  Case in point: director Albert Pyun. He has made only two movies I would consider great (THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER [1982] and NEMESIS [1992]) and had a prolific period of entertaining b-films (1989-1994).  Starting with the horrific NEMESIS 2 (1995), however, Pyun decided to do the cinematic limbo and see how low he could go.  Virtually everything since then (save MEAN GUNS and OMEGA DOOM, both 1997) has been mind-blowingly awful.

Yet I stuck with the man based on two great films. “This next one will be the one where he gets his mojo back,” I kept saying to myself.  Countless Eastern Europe lensed action pictures starring rappers later and it was actually getting worse.  Then I saw INVASION (aka INFECTION), his one take alien invasion flick shot from a dash cam of a police cruiser. Seriously, that is an amazing idea.  With visions of the car driving over infected alien folks and smashing into things in my head, I was brought back to reality with a film that featuring nothing but a shot of the car driving over and over the same locations while a girl cried on the soundtrack. I officially tapped out in December 2007 and issued an A.P.B. (Albert Pyun Ban) in my vicinity.

“Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.” – Michael Corleone

So leave it to Pyun to announce he is doing a sequel to one of his classics after I wave the surrender flag.  THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER was Pyun’s first feature and also his most successful.  Released in the magical year of 1982 when the world was caught up in sword & sorcery frenzy (and beating CONAN THE BARBARIAN to theaters by a few weeks), the film went on to gross close to $40 million domestically.  Not bad for a neophyte director.  The tale of Talon (Lee Horsley) and his three-blade sword, SORCERER holds up to this day with great action and a bold sense of style.  If anything could kick start Pyun’s flatlined career, it would be returning to his roots…or maybe not.  Completed after years of delays and self non-distribution (a story unto itself), the sequel TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE finally saw legit release overseas and I was “lucky” enough to get the DVD from Thailand.

The film opens with text and images filling the audience in on the back story of half-sisters Princess Tanis (Melissa Ordway) and servant girl Kara (Victoria Maurette). Both were sired by the same father (presumably Talon), with Tanis’ mother being the Queen of Abelar and Kara’s mother being vampire sorceress Xia.  Dude gets around.  Now hold onto your hats as the film then opens with the ending of Kara being vanquished by a mysterious hooded man and then a “three weeks earlier” graphic.  The film proper starts with some treasure seekers opening the tomb of vampire queen Xia (Whitney Able), who quickly bites them all and then unleashes her newfound army on the capital of Abelar.  During the assault on the castle (all done off screen), Queen Ma’at (Jennifer Siebel Newsom), Tanis’ sister, breaks the news to Tanis about her real father (nice timing) and says she must travel to the outlaw city of Douras to find him so he can save the kingdom.  She hands her a scroll that will explain it all and a necklace her relative will also wear.  Meanwhile, slave girl Kara is trying to escape with guard Dernier. They are in love or something as evidenced by this head-scratcher he tells her: “My master is the son of a race.  But there is always a need for pretty servants and there is one against me as well.”  To paraphrase the great Jack Burton, I don’t even know what the hell that means!

Tanis gets away on a CGI boat (truly a sight to behold) but Xia causes it to explode.  She then informs Kara of her true nature and sends her on a mission to make sure the princess whose boat she just blew up is dead.  Why? Because “she will know and trust you when she is most vulnerable” (remember that line). Tanis did indeed survive as she washes ashore near Douras (that was easy) and heads into this wretched hive of scum and villainy. You know it is a rough town when she sees a guy getting punched in a corner.  Have you ever seen such cruelty?  She walks into the first bar she sees and, of course, finds her half-brother Aedan (Kevin Sorbo) cheating a hulking brute (ex-NFLer Matthew Willig). They get out of this conundrum with a few slices of their blades and she tells him she needs her help.  Of course, Han Solo, er, Aedan wants to know if there is a bounty and suggests they conscript their imprisoned half-sister Malia (Sarah Ann Schultz).  What?

So they get Malia out of jail (by talking) and Tanis breaks it all down.  Seems Xia will continue to kill until the next full moon when she will open the doorway to the Netherworld. This means an end to the human race.  After Aedan and Malia try to con her, they agree to help locate their father and Malia suggests half-sister Rajan (Janelle Giumarra) in the nearby Chiba village might know where he is. WHAT?  Another half-sister!?!  Daddy was a playa!  They quickly enlist drunkard Rajan as she craves more adventure and she demands they bring along her daughter Alana (Inbar Lavi). Are you still with me?  I need at this point to keep up.  So they head to Nobu village to locate their father, who is now apparently a fisherman.  All the while Kara has observed them from a distance while snarling and biting folks every now and then.  She informs Xia of the Nobu trip and they decide to abduct each family member when they are isolated.

Once in Nobu, the group wanders around and each one gets picked up by the vamps.  Tanis goes into a bar and sees randy old man (Lee Horesley, SORCERER’s Talon but not playing him here) surrounded by young girls before she is captured by Xia and Kara by walking into a hallway.  Hey, what happened to that whole “she will know and trust you when she is vulnerable” swerve they were planning?  Kara, who has suddenly become the boss, has a verbal confrontation with a man in a black cloak at the bar.  We then cut to the end with Kara having all the family members bound on a hill and demanding the father show up.  Is that, like, every episode of Maury?  She tortures Aedan a bit to make the father appear, which he does with his triple sword and he is the guy in the black cloak.  He kills the vampires and makes Kara vaporize before a “tales will continue” card pops up.  The end!

Where do I begin with this film?  I’ll start with the positives. First, it isn’t boring. Pyun has been guilty of making some excruciatingly dull flicks in the past 15 years so at least he didn’t do that. Second, all of the actors are actually pretty good.  Sorbo is very witty and his likable performance actually deserves to be in a better film.  The real surprise here is Victoria Maurette, who is quite good as the vampire slave-turned-boss. She also supplies the film’s only nudity.  The film’s digital photography is nice as well and there is some good use of color.  There is also…oh crap…that’s it for the good stuff, so now onto the bad. I’m not sure what the budget was on this thing (reportedly $1 million) but I have no idea where they spent it.  Pyun shoots on two sets and it is embarrassing.  The queen’s palace is literally three drapes hung on a wall!  This results in lots of medium shots and close up so we can’t see the sets.  I’m not kidding – I’ve seen porn films with better production values.  Get a load of the CGI in this sumbitch.  It is so bad that it looks like a Sega CD game circa 1991.  Don’t believe me?  Look at these pictures of the boat:

Second, this isn’t a movie, it is a short!  I had to laugh when the action comes to a sudden halt at 68 minutes in.  There is then a post-film tease of the sequel RED MOON and credits crawl that lasts 17 minutes to bring the film up to an acceptable feature length running time of 85 minutes.

And not only is the film a huge tease, but it is a bad one at that.  Would you believe me if I told you there wasn’t a single sword fight in this?  There isn’t. The fighting highlight is a guy getting part of his tongue cut off in a bar brawl (where it is eaten by one of Pyun’s beloved dogs). Yes, a sword & sorcery flick with no swordplay.  The fact that any level of sorcery (vampires staring at a glowing orb) makes it into the film might have just been an accident.  The script is so convoluted and messed up that I had to go through it a second time just to make sure everything made sense.  It makes the first ten minutes of HIGHLANDER II (1991) seem positively lucid in comparison.  If you are sequelizing your biggest hit (and fan favorite), at least attempt to do it right.  Why on earth would you do it so cheaply?  And why make it such an indecipherable mess in the plot department?  It is a total disservice to the original and only helps to further sully your reputation as an incompetent filmmaker (which Pyun is clearly not in some rare cases).

In his extended case of hucksterism, Pyun offered the DVD on his site for pre-order but then cancelled them all for fears of piracy.  I’m “thankful” he sold it overseas so I could see it and give the world a warning about how terrible this is. Lucas may have killed your childhood with the STAR WARS prequels, but Pyun has dug up your childhood’s corpse with this cash-grab sequel and pissed on it. He is now telling fans online that the U.S. version of TALES will be a different edit and feature a new 5 minute prologue that will explain everything about the father, who will be portrayed by a huge action star.  Val Kilmer? Christopher Lambert (who was advertised on posters)?  I’m sure it will be someone looking for a paycheck with little shame.  I have to laugh at the insane idea that somehow an additional back story scene will smooth out all the wrinkles in this mofo.  The only scheme crazier would be shooting a pseudo-sequel to STREETS OF FIRE (1984).  Oh, shit…Pyun did that too?  Damn.  Let me know when that hits video.

UPDATE: As you can see from the comments below, Pyun took our comments about TALES with good humor.  So much so that he gave us the background on the making of this project.  You can read about that at the Tales about TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE posting from January 2012.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween Havoc: FLESHEATER (1988)

The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival. And watching FLESHEATER, because it rocks. - Aristotle

The ancient Greeks knew what they were talking about. Bill Hinzman’s FLESHEATER (aka REVENGE OF THE LIVING ZOMBIES; ZOMBIE NOSH) is awesome.  If you don’t like this movie, than you are no friends of mine.  I first became aware of the film in 1989 when I saw an ad for it in Variety as REVENGE OF THE LIVING ZOMBIES (with only one dead guy to spare).  This movie must rock!  My teenage brain was also savvy enough at the time to recognize Bill Hinzman as the guy who played the original cemetery zombie in Romero’s classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, which had just celebrated its 20th anniversary.

It was in 1990 that I finally got a chance to rent it on video at the Farm Fresh supermarket (remember when they had video stores in them?).  The video box (again sporting only one zombie) promised the “original uncensored version” so I knew I was in store for a treat. Little did I know the fifty-plus director Hinzman was operating on the same level as a fourteen-year-old.  Working as a pseudo-sequel to George Romero’s original film, FLESHEATER follows the blueprint closely but adds all the things Romero truly wanted like nudity and over-the-top gore.  It was truly my id brought to life!

The plot is as simple as can be – a group of college kids are taking a hayride up to Spence’s Farm for a little Halloween campfire fun involving beer and making out.  Along the way their tractor passes a farmer in the woods pulling out a huge tree stump.  As the kids head to their destination, the farmer is able move the root ball and unearths a coffin underneath it in the process.  On top of it is a wax seal basically saying “do not open” or else.  He, naturally, pops the top and finds Flesheater (Hinzman) – if that is your real name – inside.  The zombie opens his eyes and takes a huge bite out of the poor guy’s throat.  Oh, it is on now!

Meanwhile, the kids – wearing more flannel than should be legally allowed and sporting generic names like Bob, Sally Ann, Eddie, Carrie, Ralph – are all enjoying their Iron City beer-laced heavy petting sessions.  Two of them head to the nearby barn to really get it on and are interrupted by my main man Flesheater.  He kills them and chows down on a human heart.  The resurrected dead farmer attacks the hayride driver and some of the kids catch him in the act.  They split and go to warn the others.  It is chaos from then on as the remaining kids make it to the abandoned farm house.  Sound familiar?   It gets better.  Eddie proves to be cinema’s most fair-weather friend ever as he refuses to let Bob and Sally Ann in after they have nailed one board to the door.  “Go find someplace else to hide” he tells them.  Harry from the original NOTLD would be impressed, kid.  Did I forget to mention there are windows covered in plastic that they could easily squeeze though?  This kid is hardcore.

Bob and Sally Ann decide to hide in the cellar of the house while the kids upstairs find a working phone.  They call 911 but the operator gives them crap since it is Halloween and all. Rule #1 when calling the cops during a zombie attack – lie your ass off!  Just say some crazed redneck attacked you, don’t say it was some kind of monster.  You are only opening yourself up for a witty retort from the operator like was it a “Gozilla-type or Frankenstein-type of monster?”  Not that it matters as the zombies and one of the girls bitten inside attack and the kids are quickly wiped out, paying for Eddie’s sins, no doubt.  Amazingly, the operator did send a cop car out that way (a cinema first) and he is besieged by the living dead.  From this point on, it is just a non-stop zombie jamboree as Flesheater and friends make it into the suburbs and kill anything that moves.  That ranges from little kids to nubile young ladies who just happen to be taking a shower.  And this zombie makes sure to rip off the girl's towel before biting here.  Yes, Hinzman is the man.

Believe it or not, this film is my Halloween staple that I watch every year.  Some folks pop in HALLOWEEN (the original, you pukes) or something else with the spirit of All Soul’s Day.  But this one has just endeared itself to me. For one thing, it actually takes place on Halloween so that is a huge bonus right off the bat.  Second, Hinzman really captures the fall look in rustic Pennsylvania locations. That really puts me in the mood.  Hey, that sounded wrong.  Also, how can you not love a film that delivers so much in the gore and nudity department?  Please don’t misinterpret my enthusiasm for this film as making it out to be some kind of classic along the lines of NOTLD, DAWN OF THE DEAD (the original, you punks) or RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.  It is not.  It is, however, a perfect example of a 80s horror movie that has no other motive than showing flesh – both torn and bare. He knew what sold and made sure to get as much of it as possible in his film.  You have to admire any zombie movie when the zombie attacks but always makes sure to lift up the girl's shirt before sticking his hand through her sternum.

"What Sheriff? We can't hear you!"
Hinzman knew he wouldn’t ever top NOTLD so he just did what would sell.  Namely, he exploited the hell out of it.  He cashed in on his iconic image as the world’s first flesheater and mimicked the original film right down to having NOTLD posse sniper Vince Survinski reprise his role as the guy who takes out innocent folk by mistake.  Damn, poor Vince.  The film is not going to suddenly replace NOTLD in the Library of Congress National Film Registry archives as something “culturally, historically or aesthetically important.”  However, it will get logged into the Video Junkie Archives for said reasons.  Now where is FLESHEATER II: THE RETURN OF FLESHEATER dammit!

Monday, November 1, 2010


Welcome to Hallomas, the day after Halloween (look it up, I'll wait). Eyes still bleary from your Halloween reverie? Post-sugar hangover (fermented or otherwise) got you down? Here’s your hair of the dog. The television equivalent of Clamato and Budweiser, served in a champagne coupe with pinky extended. It will either cure your hangover or make you vomit, one or the other. Either way, it’ll divert the pain.

“Hollywood is where you get up at noon, read the funnies, and if the sun’s not out, you go to dirty movies until cocktail time.” – Paul Lynde

Aired only once on October 29th 1976, then encased in lead and dropped to the bottom of Lake Erie, this sequin-encrusted trainwreck proves that Mr. Lynde was only as good as his writers, who should have done two things; written better jokes and not tried to shoe-horn Lynde into sketches that were written more with Bob Hope in mind. I say “in mind” because there’s no way in hell Mr. Palm Springs would touch this witch’s brew with a ten-foot golf club. That said, writer Howard Albrecht did in fact go on to write “Bob Hope’s All-Star Comedy Spectacular from Lake Tahoe” in 1977.

Starting out with a sketch that has Lynde allegedly comedically confused as to which holiday the special is for dressing up in various costumes and being interrupted by his glowering housekeeper (Margaret Hamilton), this segues to a monologue that is so painfully unfunny that even Lynde looks like he’s about to be ill. One of the bits is a story about how he was so fat his mother bought him a shower curtain for his Halloween costume. It didn’t fit. So mom let it out and he “went out as the Hindenburg. It was a disaster.” Pheeeew! Much like your monologue, my friend! As if the monologue wasn’t grueling enough, Lynde follows that up by performing a song and dance routine with dancers dressed up in devil outfits. The subject of the number? Those darn kids today! No joke. The chorus is “what’s the matter with kids today?” Presumably he is supposed to be a lovable curmudgeon and we are supposed to be amused by the perpetually plasticine smiles on the faces of Donnie and Marie Osmond as they trashcan him and blow him up. Really, I’m not making this up. I guess if you are really into gay camp and atrocious musical numbers, you might get a kick out of seeing Lynde stumble through this mess, otherwise you are in for a rough ride... erm... so to speak.

The wrap-around segment for the not-even-remotely Halloween themed sketches is a bit where Paul is stuck in a mansion with H.R. Puffinstuff’s Witchypoo (Billie Hayes) and his housekeeper who turns out to be the Wicked Witch of the West. They want him to do some PR work for them, claiming that witches have gotten a bad rap. In order to entice him into it, they have given Lynde three wishes that he can use at his discretion. Betty White shows up briefly as Miss Halloween 1976 and vanishes after finding out that her prize for winning the Miss Halloween competition is a date with Paul Lynde, not Paul Newman. Are your sides splitting yet?

Paul’s first wish is to be a “Rhinestone Trucker”. Dressed up like a combination of a milk man and Liberace, Lynde is Big Ruby Red who’s headed down to his favorite truckstop to marry the waitress, Kinky Pinky (Roz Kelly), at midnight. As it turns out, he’s not the only one. Rival trucker Long Haul Howard (Tim Conway) is also going to the same diner to marry the same girl at the same time. This leads to some comedy so grueling that it makes Jerry Lewis look like a subtle technician. Don’t believe me? How about Billy Barty as a “short order cook”? Need more convincing? Try this exchange on for size:

Big Ruby Red: “You can’t marry both of us, that’s bigamy!”
Kinky Pinky : “Big of you? That’s big of me!”
Big Ruby Red: “That’s what I said!”

When I was a kid I never realized that Paul Lynde was gay. He was just a funny guy with some colorful fashion sense. It took me well into my teens before I realized that he was driving down the other side of the road. I felt pretty stupid for not figuring that out any sooner, but not nearly as stupid as when I found out that his funny quips were written for him. Seriously? Those classic lines were not off the cuff? Damn, I are feeling so dumberer! Here it’s pretty obvious that Lynde desperately needs the Hollywood Squares writers as he reads his lines off of cue cards with all of the enthusiasm of someone suffering from an intestinal ailment.

After a trucker-themed musical number complete with an empty stage and two semi cabs, Lynde’s next wish is to be Rudolph Valentino-type. Faster than you can say “poof”, he’s in a tent (that leads directly out to a blank stage wall) with Florence Henderson, as Cecily Westinghouse, who he is trying to put the moves on. Paul Lynde trying to seduce Mrs. Brady is creepy enough, but when you add the jokes, (to quote Jonathan Harris) oh, the pain, the pain! For example:
Cecily Westinghouse: “Why are you wearing that earring?”
Sheik Lynde: “Because I am a very chic sheik.”

The witches must have really pissed him off, for the final wish Lynde wishes that the witches could go to a Hollywood disco, says Paul “I love a disco, it’s the only place you can hustle without getting arrested”. Damn. The ‘70s. Florence Henderson pops up and sings a lounge rendition of “That Old Black Magic” just in case you hadn’t cringed far enough back into your sofa. It should be noted that some band called “Kiss”, maybe you’ve heard of them, made their television debut on this special, complete with a short interview segment where Paul Stanley acts like an arrogant prick (figure that) while Paul Lynde makes really lame jokes about how they got their name from the phrase “kiss and make up”. They do “Detroit Rock City”, “Beth” and “King of the Nighttime World”, if you care. These bits almost made me remember a blurry era in which Kiss was actually fresh and original; long before the relentless merchandising, the appearances on WCW, before the midget cover band pimping Diet Dr. Pepper... Man, that was a long time ago. The Ramones are dead but Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley still walk the earth. It ain’t right.

To drive the proverbial stake directly into the heart of entertainment, this show ends with the big Hollywood disco set and a duet of “Disco Baby” by Roz Kelly and Lynde. I hate to say it, but if there is one thing worse than Lynde’s singing, it’s his dancing… or is it the other way around? I dunno, you tell me: