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 26, 2011

Halloween Havoc: A WET DREAM ON ELM STREET (2011)

It wouldn’t be our annual Halloween Havoc celebration if we didn’t have a porn review thrown in. Last year’s SAW: A PORN PARODY review became one of our most read reviews (shocker!). Actually, I should probably say it was our most viewed review since I don't think anyone was actually reading the text.  Anyway, it proved to us that the old adage of “sex sells” is true and we’re always looking to lower our standards.  Uh, I mean, give the public what it wants.  With porn parodies all the rage now, you knew it was only a matter of time before cinema’s favorite razor-glove wielding serial killer, Freddy Kruger, would get his own send up.  After all, nothing says sexy quite like a burnt guy boning babes.

A WET DREAM ON ELM STREET opens with – surprise – a sex scene.  A young couple (Jennifer White and Chris Johnson) are in bed and get it on for 20 minutes.  Post-sex, the girl rolls over to complement her partner and discovers Freddy (Anthony Rosano) in her bed.  No joke, we then get one of the most intentionally funny lines I’ve ever heard in a porno.  Looking at the burnt man laying next to her, the girl gets excited and exclaims, “Oh my God! You’re Edward James Olmos.  I can’t believe it.  I’m such a huge fan.”  That actually got me to laugh out loud, while questioning the history of screenwriting in porn.  Freddy is pissed for never being mistaken for a burnt Brad Pitt while the girl seems to take a liking to his glove that sports four silver vibrators.  And we are off!

The main “plot” then kicks off as we cut to a 2 year high school reunion (on a classroom set that I may or may not have seen before).  The attendance is pretty low as only three girls – Betty (Sophie Dee), Kami (Gracie Glam) and Denise (Charley Chase) – have shown up.  The reason for the poor turnout, as their teacher (Tommy Pistol) relays, is that most of the students were in smile-cracking Pleasure Comas due to “constant rubbing of their genitalia.” Seems it was all the work of dream demon Freddy, a former shyster sex toy salesman.  The kids’ parents turned on him because of his high-priced, low-quality products (“He sold me a Fleshlight. It was actually a flashlight,” says the teacher) and this resulted in a lynching in which Freddy was burned from the waist up (ha!) and had vibrators melted to his hand.  So, just don’t fall asleep and you won’t have to deal with the sleep sex stalker.

At home, Betty figures she has a surefire way to stay awake – good ol’ porn on her iPad.  She starts to watch the classic DEAD MAN FUCKING, but is shocked to see Freddy is playing the title character. He gets it on with a female prison guard (Giselle Leon), resulting in something  your brain wishes it never saw - Freddy Kruger fucking! This scene also offers us one of the film’s more clever exchanges.

Guard: Hi, Jason.
Freddy: It’s fuckin’ Freddy!
Guard: Whatever.

Scared that Freddy is invading their dreams, the girls return to the classroom (MY GOD this production budget) where their teacher says if they think hard enough, they will find Freddy’s weakness. He then produces a 4-vibrator glove he got from a dream that Freddy was in (“It wasn’t gay”) and says they can use this to thwart the Fredster. How?  By having Kami do a solo scene with the glove on, of course!  This backfires as she fucks herself into a Pleasure Coma.  Betty decides to head home, while Denise figures it is best to stay alone (“If I learned anything from horror movies, it’s that the psychotic fictional horror villain never goes for the hot girl in a room that’s dark when she’s all alone and most vulnerable.”). After hearing moans coming from her text book, Denise opens it to find she is having sex inside it.  Uh oh, she’s asleep and soon finds herself dreaming of getting it on with the teacher (“Do you wanna bang?” he asks) in the film’s fourth sex scene.

Okay, with two girls pleasured into unconsciousness, I guess this leaves Betty as the film’s heroine.  Angered due to her lack of sleep, she purposely goes to the land of slumber in order to combat Freddy (“I can’t take this anymore.  I need some fuckin’ sleep. Freddy, I’m coming for you.”).  Naturally, the nightmare nookie-man shows up and they proceed to get it on.  After another hot-n-heavy session, Freddy tries to snag his latest victim, but this Betty is a smart one.  At some point during their sex session, she took the batteries out of Freddy’s vibrators and squashed his pulsating powers.  Tada! She wakes up safe and sound on her couch, but find outs that she indeed did have a wet dream on Elm Street after checking her panties. The end.  

Wes Craven is actually not dead yet (well, maybe artistically), but I’d advise him to start spinning in circles now because he will be doing it eternally in his grave with an X-rated take on his iconic A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984). Actually, the man should feel honored that the porn industry actually gave him the distinction of giving a damn when it came to sodomizing his most famous film. Producers of porn spoofs are always looking for a cheap way out by only delivering a clever title, but this Tom Byron Production actually strives for something better.  Canadian (Ooooooh, Canada) Lee Roy Meyers appears to be the go-to guy when it comes to porn parodies and he proved his devotion to his craft earlier this year with a live-action XXX THE SIMPSONS parody with people actually painted yellow.  So it should come as no surprise that this production actually went through the trouble of having a real Freddy facsimile.  The make-up is actually pretty good and wisely draws upon classic Freddy and not that ill-advised ELM STREET remake.  Yes, I really just wrote a sentence commending a porn production on the aesthetic choices of their latex effects.  I do, however, have to deduct points for not including a play on the classic Freddy rhyme song.  C’mon, I thought of “one, two, Freddy’s cumming on you” in two seconds here.

Also surprising is a fairly game cast. Now I know they are all DTF, but some of the performances are bordering on good. Tommy Pistol is actually really funny as the know-it-all teacher and his funny delivery almost made me forget about his poor choices when it came to tattoos…almost.  The girls are also all fine in their roles and, of course, they’re hot.  Out of all the girls, I’d say Giselle Leon had the best scene as there is just something about her that is hot. Naturally, the star of the show is Anthony Rosano as the wet dream maniac and he delivers when it comes to a Robert Englund imitation (the make up, hat and sweater obviously help).  Porn scholars would be angered if I didn’t mention that this is actually the second porn film to sport this title as the original A WET DREAM ON ELM STREET came out on video in 1988.  While I’m not sure if this counts as an actual remake (a porn first?), I’m sure they are both similar in that they included a Freddy-esque character and lots of nekkid folks.  As it stands, the 2011 ELM STREET might just be the best horror porn parody to date.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween Havoc: DEATHMOON (1978)

Dammit Bruce! Look man, you made that cool little flick, SIMON KING OF THE WITCHES, back in ’71, and I’ve been giving you breaks ever since. C’mon now, I know you can do it buddy, I have confidence in you, don’t let me down… Awwww, fuck!

Bruce Kessler is man responsible for one episode of every single damn TV show made from 1966 to 1997. Including stuff like “Kolchak”, “CHiPs”, “The Fall Guy”, “MacGuyver” and even five episodes of “Renegade”. He also made a few features and TV movies. SIMON KING OF THE WITCHES was his crowning achievement to be sure. You had Andrew Prine as a laid-back “modern” spellcaster who lives in a stormdrain and uses his magic to hustle rich folks and in a very strange and awkward scene help a teenage boy with his… uhhhh… priapism. This is why I always see his name and say “oh cool! A Bruce Kessler flick”, but since I’ve seen a few of his other films, really, deep down, I know, there will be nothing cool about it.

Executive business guy (I don’t think they ever really mention what exactly he does other than make “business deals”), Jason Palmer (Robert Foxworth), wakes up in a panic every night after having a nightmare about a South seas pagan ritual, complete with leering tiki, that is broken up by the local missionaries. He visits his doctor, who’s professional opinion is “don’t worry about it! Especially if you can’t remember what it was all about.” The doc writes him a prescription and when Jason opens it, surprisingly it is totally legible and reads “take a vacation”. Brother, I sure hope you aren’t working off your deductible.

On the way out of the doctor’s office, Jason runs across a travel poster for Hawaii. Beaches, sun-sets, hot chicks in grass skirts and… the evil tiki face from Jason’s nightmares! Who hired that ad agency? So that clinches it, Jason is off to Hawaii for some much needed rest and relaxation. Rolling into his erm… “luxury” accommodations, Jason sees – you got it, that same crazy tiki head! What are the odds? Man, they must sucker in all the tourists with that one.

Hey, now that we’re in Hawaii, it’s time to lay on the Don Ho kitsch, right? No way, sucker! It’s time for cheap, cheap, cheap padding out of the monofilamental plot. Jason walks around the hotel grounds in a long-sleeve red hoodie and what appears to be baby blue BVDs (wtf?), he flirts with stewardesses who are looking to put the “lay” in layover. He eyes the ladies, the ladies eye him, and the reviewer starts to nod off. Looking to inject some sort of excitement into this banal tranquility, writer George Schenck introduces a subplot about the hotel detective and resident stud, Rick (Joe Penny), who is hot on the trail of a hotel thief. Or rather cold on the trail, since he doesn’t have a freakin’ clue who it is and spends most of his time providing his “services” for the perpetually horny stewardesses, who have the room next to Jason. Of course you can't really blame him, who would suspect that the hotel thief is the 6'2" 300lb cigar smoker who can sprint like Jesse Owens?

Luxury accommodation provided by CBS
Jason, on the prowl in more ways than one, romances a corporate VP, Barbara (Diane May), of some unspecified industry, and amazingly continues to find him a hot commodity, in spite of his constant panic attacks that cause him to disappear into the night. In another amazing coincidence, this apparently is a special Hawaiian lunar cycle that includes a full week of full moons! Oddly, Jason’s new BFF doesn’t even make the connection that the guy she’s mooning over always seems to have a panicky disappearing act right before someone is brutally murdered at the hotel. I should take a moment to point out that we know they are brutally murdered because the police tell us that the victim was “torn apart” and they’ve seen nothing like it since “those shark attacks last year” while standing next to a perfectly intact corpse, in a completely bloodless crime scene! Actually the best dialogue is in a totally incidental cut-away in which a teen-age boy and girl are walking along the beach and the girl mopes “I'll never enjoy myself with all those fish swimming around in there.” Obviously this is the kind of girl you want to take to a parking lot.

As it turns out, Jason’s great grandfather was a missionary ‘round these parts, who put the almighty kaibosh on a pagan wolf-thing ritual that involved a lot of dancing, drumming, and really not much else. Dancing and drumming? Yep, they’re sinners and sinners need to be smited, right? Mid-smite, the missionary is cursed by the presumably evil host of the evening’s festivities. We know this because while roaming about the island in their rented VW Thing (seriously, that’s what you rent when you are on vacation?), they find an old church and in the church find a photograph of Jason’s grandfather, the sinner-smiter himself, on display in a glass case! Both Jason and Barb are completely blasé about the whole thing, registering not even the slightest bit of surprise. In addition to that, the live show that the hotel is putting on is the very same forbidden ritual! According to the programme at all of the tables, the ritual is the dance of the Ileoha-Kaputiki (wasn’t that a Mario Brothers character?) and it has never been performed since the late 1800’s when the participants were attacked by a group of missionaries. The programme goes on to say (no joke) that a curse was placed on the “descendants of the defilers!” Jason and Barb? Still not impressed.

As one would expect from a TV movie shot in on location in Kaua'i, Jason and Barbara do a lot of sight-seeing while the plot winds down to its predictable conclusion. The downside is that this is merely padding a story that could easily fill a 30 minute slot. The even downer side is that Kessler and company do almost absolutely nothing to exploit their locations and the setting. Everything is shot very tight and static. A close shot of Jason and Barb enjoying a sunset. A close shot of Jason and Barb on a beach. There’s only one big panoramic shot, and that is of a highway in the middle of someplace green! I’m guessing that they assumed everyone would be watching on a 13-inch, analog CRT TV, that may well have been black & white (ours was until the ‘80s rolled around), but still that’s no excuse not to wallow in some tiki lounge acts or hell, how about some more of that native superstition hooey that you were promising to throw at us? The closest we get to it is a bit where Jason and Barb go to a ramshackle village (which surprisingly gives us a brief glimpse of the real Hawaii) and visits an antique shop in which the proprietor couldn’t give less of a shit about the stuff he’s selling and snidely condescends about the native beliefs. When Jason and Barb leave, Jason asks why she didn’t buy anything and Barb says “all those Hawaiian souvenirs are made in the Philippines.” How fast do you think the tourism board put a stop payment on that check to the producers?

DEATHMOON could have, and probably should have, been made into an episode of “The Loveboat” or even “Fantasy Island”. We have the usual cast of TV actors, doing a basic TV show job in their parts. Joe Penny is no Jack Lord, that’s for sure. He literally runs into the wolfman while chasing down the hotel thief and it takes him another day and another murder to think that maybe, possibly, perhaps, that wolf guy might actually be the one tearing up the guests! What a crazy idea! He, of course, tells this to the cop on the case (Dolph Sweet doing a fine job as usual), and to back this up tells him that the local witch verified his theory (which goes over like a fart in church). Debralee Scott is the main nympho skygirl and really should have stuck to “Match Game”, though there is nothing wrong with her performance in a thinly scripted bit part. The golden turkey would have to go to Diane May whose style of acting is demonstrated by packing in as many facial expressions into a single reaction as possible. Subtle she is not. In spite of that, the most heinous thing about this movie, aside from the only action in the film being jaws wagging, is the world’s most nerve-shredding musical score by veteran TV composer Paul Chihara. Chihara is a man who started his career rather promisingly with DEATH RACE 2000 (1975), before a meteoric descent into mediocrity. The score for DEATHMOON is like a combination of JAWS (1975), overlaid with piercing, screeching synth that can only be described as a combination of nails on a chalkboard and a cat being eviscerated. I was ready to throw something at my speakers before the opening credits were over, and I still had another 80 minutes to go!

So Mr. Kessler, it has come to this. I’m sorry, but I can see now that SIMON KING OF THE WITCHES was a fluke and you are sir are no longer welcome in my home. Well, at least until I find a copy of the short lived “Freebie and the Bean” TV series… dammit.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Halloween Havoc: THE WEREWOLF REBORN! (1998)

We love us some Charles Band productions here at Video Junkie, but even we will admit the man has produced more crap than great stuff.  By the late 1990s, his once mighty indie Full Moon Entertainment was suffering an eerily similar fate as Band’s earlier Empire Pictures.  Thanks to some shady dealings, Paramount severed their distribution relationship in 1994 and Full Moon went ultra-cheap on their productions after that.  We’re talking hiring J.R. Bookwalter cheap.  Anyway, things kept chugging along as Band sent filmmaker after filmmaker over to Romania to shoot stuff on frayed shoe-string budgets.

Of course, Band was still extremely cognizant of direct-to-video trends.  Having had great success with his family-oriented label Moonbeam Entertainment, Band attempted to mix two of his most popular sellers (kids and horror movies) into one product.  The fact that the R.L. Stine GOOSEBUMPS TV series was getting great ratings and doing gangbusters business on video surely had nothing to do with this, right?   So Band and company decided to do FILMONSTERS (sic), a series of just under an hour live-action films that would re-imagine cinema’s famous movie monsters of the past for modern kids.  What could possibly go right?

THE WEREWOLF REBORN was one of the initial outings of the series (it premiered on video on October 20, 1998, alongside its companion piece FRANKENSTEIN REBORN).  14-year-old Eleanore Crane (Ashley Lyn Cafagna) arrives solo in a Romanian town to stay with her uncle, Peter (Robin Downes). The locals turn a post-cold war shoulder to her when they find out she is related to Peter.  And Peter isn’t too thrilled to see her show up on his doorstep either, claiming her sent her father a letter telling her not to come.  Unable to get her out of his hair, Peter reluctantly lets her stay in his HOARDERS-esque mansion.  But he locks her in her room with only a Snickers bar because tonight is a full moon and Peter just happens to be a werewolf.  The local inspector (Len Lesser, a long way from SEINFELD) will have none of this nonsense, even when Eleanore says she saw Peter’s bullet wounds self-heal.  Peter is locked up and, sure enough, he turns into a werewolf and breaks out.  Eleanore has got this though as some local gypsies have given her a gun with silver bullets.

This is pretty straightforward stuff – girl shows up, uncle turns into werewolf, girl kills uncle, the end.  Then again, would you really expect more from a werewolf film aimed at pre-teens with a 45-minute running time?  The biggest surprise is that the film is competently made, thanks most likely to perpetually suffering indie director Jeff Burr.  I can’t imagine how depressing this must have been to make for him (the rent is too damn high, indeed), but he still manages to muster up a few cool shots.  The werewolf is a bit goofy though, looking like those plastic surgery ladies with big cheekbones and thick jaws.  But the effects are still better than anything from HOWLING III – V, so I can’t cry.  There is a really sad wolf-to-man morph effect during Peter’s death that would normally have me howling foul, but I just saw THE HOWLING: NEW MOON RISING last week.  I guess about the only redeeming thing about the film is that it was actually shot in Romania, so it obviously has the authentic Eastern European look.

What is really funny is the level Band went to make this look like a GOOSEBUMPS video. Seriously, look at the cover above and then look at this randomly selected GOOSEBUMPS VHS cover.  Notice anything similar?

Sadly, the knock off attempts didn’t prove to be the tapes to turn the struggling Full Moon around.  Damn those fickle kids and their discerning tastes!  Band initially announced other titles in this proposed 12 film (!) FILMONSTERS series with villains like Dracula and The Mummy, but they never got made.  While we have no verification of this, we like to think the legal department at Universal probably smacked them down.  Either that or Band couldn’t pony up the money to make the other entries.  The reason you choose to believe will reveal the depth of your Band-dom fandom.  What is really funny is Band later paired this up with its Frankenstein cohort for a re-release in 2005 as FRANKENSTEIN AND THE WEREWOLF REBORN!  Charles Band, George Lucas wannabe.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Halloween Havoc: WILD COUNTRY (2005)

In a market where actors are getting younger and younger and producers embarrassingly show how out of touch they are, desperate to pander to their barely cognizant target audience, it’s refreshing to see someone do the youth horror thing without it being gimmicky. In addition, how often to you see any movies, much less a horror movie come out of Scotland? Granted I’d probably see more if I were, oh, say, living in Scotland, but still, my point stands.

Opening in a hospital room teen mom Kelly (Samantha Shields) is delivering her baby which will be given up for adoption. After telling the consoling priest, Father Steve (Peter Capaldi), to “get the hell out”, we figure she’s due for some life lessons. Sure enough, the very next scene has Kelly along with fellow chums David (Kevin Quinn), Louise (Nicola Muldoon), and Mark (Jamie Quinn) off in the parish short bus with Father Steve at the wheel. As they drive through the country Father Steve tells them a story about this very area being home to the (real) Scottish legend of Sawney Bean. Bean as the story goes was a family man, who kept his kin well fed on the flesh of wayward travelers. Having had enough, the villagers got out their torches and pitchforks, raided Bean’s home slaughtering his family and dragging Bean back to the village. The villagers burned Bean alive and some witnesses claim to have seen Bean gnawing on his own charred arm. The thing is, some believe that a few of the inbred grandchildren esacaped and are still out there somewhere. Well shit-howdy! We have THE MOORS HAVE EYES going here, I’m totally down for that. See; I’m easy! Inbred cannibal killers in the moors of Scotland? Bring it!

Faster than you can say something about a witch project, the kids are dropped off in the middle of nowhere with maps and bedrolls and told to make their way to an inn several miles off. I’m not familiar with Scottish parish field-trips, but I’m beginning to think Father Steve is a bit of a prick. At this point I have to say I was a bit fired up. They got the hook right in me. The cast is rock solid in their parts and there are no grating MTV teen stereotypes, no canned comic relief, plus Scottish moors, inbred cannibals, and because of the marketing I know that there is a werewolf involved somewhere too. And this, my fiends, is where things start to go to pieces.

Kelly’s ex-boyfriend, and father of their child, Lee (Martin Compston), shows up to add some drama to the mix. After running across a creepy shepherd who Lee chases off with a switchblade (hey, where’d you get that?), the group decides to make camp. Of course there are beers passed around and Kelly decides to go off alone to answer the call of nature. Yeah, it's a major cliche, but I can deal with that old saw if you have something else to offer. While doing her business, Kelly realizes that Mr. Creepy Shepherd Dude is watching her water the vegetation. Suddenly, just when you think she is about to end up in a cannibal campout, a large hairy beast rips out the shepherd's throat and drags him off into the darkness. Hmmm… ok, so much for a subplot about inbred cannibal freaks. Hey, ya know that Father Steve seemed to be casting a shadow, maybe there will be an interesting subplot about him... Or not.

After spending a lot of time running from the shambling beast, the kids stumble across a castle containing human remains, including bits of our buddy the shepherd, and a crying baby. Kelly’s maternal instincts kick in and she takes the baby, rescuing it from it's presumed horrible fate. Essentially, the rest of the movie is Kelly and Lee, and baby makes three, running scared while the other friends are picked off one by one. But what about the cannibals? Nope, you get nothing. That was just a set-up to throw you off the scent, or maybe they are the wolf-thingies. The movie doesn't even bother to hint in that direction, so who knows? The real killer is supposed to be a wolf and while it seems that the HOWLING sequels were unwise to refrain from showing their raison d’etres, here they give the creature a lot of exposure and perhaps they really shouldn’t have. I hate to kick special effects head Dave Bonneywell (who worked on KILLER TONGUE [1996] and the 2010 CLASH OF THE TITANS remake) in the teeth here. I realize the budget was very low, and I know it actually isn’t called a wolf anywhere in the script, but it does in fact look like a giant, shambling possum. Granted, I grew up near the hills and I’ve had more than one run-in with a possum in the middle of the night and truth be told their naked, toothy grins scare the shit out of me, but giant rubber ones in movies? Not so much. The saddest thing here is that the gore effects are flat-out stunning. They are all physical, no digital crap, properly lit, very detailed and could go toe-to-toe with anything out of a mega-buck Hollywood production.

The other major disappointment is that after going to lengths to ensure that the characters were real (though, inconceivably, out of five teenagers only one has a cell phone), that the acting was on an even keel, and the story was nicely set up, we are delivered a blend of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) meets AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981), except with less plot than either one! Father Steve, who could have provided a subplot, shows up again at the end of the movie to provide a somewhat comic comeuppance that completely goes against the grain of what has come before it. Matter of fact the whole ending (which includes a twist that I won’t spoil, but you can see coming a country mile off) seems as if it was written and shot by another crew. The surprisingly film-like shot-on-video production looks great and is well shot in all respects. However the last 15 minutes of the movie features a shakey-cam chase with lots of video bleed indicating that there were some significant reshoots done quickly with inferior equipment. I wouldn't be surprised if those reshoots weren't due to a re-written ending, perhaps at the behest of some financial backers. Then again, that ending probably sounded much better on paper.

WILD COUNTRY could have been (and still for the most part, is) the antithesis of THE HOWLING REBORN (2011). It plays everything straight and unpretentious, the dialogue is realistic, the attacks are gruesome and there are some genuinely effective moments. Because of this, all of the blunders writer-director Craig Strachan makes in this, his freshman effort, become even more dissapointing. It is a teen film (there are four adults briefly seen in the movie, none of whom are role-models), but done without the Hollywood cynicism. Not something you see very often.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Halloween Havoc: THE HOWLING: REBORN (2011)

Despite Clive Turner giving the werewolves of the HOWLING films a seemingly terminal case of fleas and mange with the life-questioning seventh entry, the series lived to howl at the moon another day (or night) thanks to some enterprising producers. The horror genre had changed a lot since HOWLING VII rotted video store shelves – SCREAM gave audiences neo-slasher geek chic; the remake train left Hollywood, destination everywhere; and millions of teenage girls fell in love with high school vampires and werewolves of the TWILIGHT saga. The not-so-fine folks at Moonstone Entertainment felt the time was right to resurrect the beast with all of those elements. So the werewolf was pulled from its grave, thoroughly groomed and spruced up for this remake – oh, sorry – reboot the HOWLING series.

The story opens with a pregnant woman (Ivana Milicevic) being stalked and killed by a werewolf in New York City. Cut to 18 years later and Will Kidman (Landon Liboiron), her grown son, is getting ready to graduate from high school. His life sucks because he is bullied, unsure of himself and pining for the girl of his dreams, Eliana (Lindsey Shaw). We know all of this thanks to his whining voice over. After a wild night at a high school dance where he thinks he was chased by a werewolf, Will begins to notice changes. He can see better without the need of his glasses (SPIDER-MAN who?) and he takes out his bully nemesis Roland (Niels Schneider) in a fistfight. He asks his horror nerd friend about werewolves and, sure enough, Will is exhibiting the signs (his cut wrist heals itself). Virgin Will is going to be getting some tail alright – his own! Things go from bad to worse when love struck Will and Eliana get trapped in their high tech school and stalked by Will’s returning mom, who is building an army of werewolves to take on the world. Thanks mom for ruining my special day and making it about you!

“You staring at my girl, Harry Potter?”

Having revisited the previous HOWLING sequels over the past week, I’m quite unsure what to think about THE HOWLING: REBORN. It is certainly a slicker production than anything from part III forward. At the same time, it is probably worse than any of the other HOWLING sequels (well, save part VII) because the film is trying so hard to be something else. I can just see writer-director Joe Nimziki pitching this to the producers. “Imagine this - it will be like THE HOWLING meets TWILIGHT with some SPIDER-MAN high school drama thrown it,” he certainly said. And with those two film series raking in billions, I’m sure the producers slobbered up like Pavlov’s dogs. Unfortunately, Nimziki and crew didn’t seem to understand the ultimate HOWLING tenant – just because you include the elements that made something else successful, it doesn’t mean you will be.

Oddly enough, the film’s opening credits boldly claim this film is based on the book The Howling II by Gary Brandner. Even though I haven’t read that book, a quick read of the synopsis shows that is about as factual as Sarah Palin being a Mensa member. Like the other sequels, there are werewolves and that is about it. There are a few in jokes (a character says they will be at Brandner’s Pub; Nimziki includes his own name as an author of a lycanthrope book), but Nimziki’s script offers very little in terms of actual scares or drama. Will is constantly spouting lines like, “You know what we do? We let moments pass, opportunities pass, our lives pass.” And I just about died when his final voice over offers “we’re always at our most monstrous when we ignore our humanity.” Really? You went with that. How much do you want to bet Nimziki wrote that line and then thought “damn, I nailed it” to himself? Of course, this is a guy who wrote a bully getting his ass beat in the toilet by a nerd and then deciding to pull out his gun post-beat down when he wakes up.

Like I have said this past week though, crappy scripting can always be forgiven if we get some damn cool werewolf action. Yet again, when it comes down to the werewolves, we get cheated. Most of the beast action occurs in the film’s last ten minutes. Despite obviously having a budget to make some decent creatures, the filmmakers never give the audience a great look at them thanks to some chaotic camerawork that would make Michael Bay clutch his seat and scream “turn it off” like he is George C. Scott in HARDCORE (1979). When will they learn that jerky camera work doesn’t translate to super fast-action? I think what I saw of them that they looked cool. The finale – where Will convinces now werewolf Eliana to change back – is the only time we get a good look at a costume.

One of the most annoying things about THE HOWLING: REBORN is how aggressive it is with the “dis is for da kidz” intention. The werewolf gang has the annoying crossbred demographic that seem to haunt every modern flick. I’m actually shocked there wasn’t a scene of them riding motorcycles or driving souped up cars. It is laughable, like they had a target audience check list. There is also an unhealthy amount of texting on display. One entire scene has our two young leads courtship extending to a classroom scene where they text each other from ten feet away. Perhaps the most offensive bit has the horror geek go off on Hollywood for casting adults in horror movies (“That’s what studios get for casting geezers in their lead roles. If I want to see people in their forties, I’ll just go home and look at my parents.”). “Yeah, take that you stupid old movies,” says the totally slick, pandering new movie made by old geezers probably in their 40s.

So, the journey ends here…for now. In the end, HOWLING VIII is just like all the other werewolf sequels, just with a finer coat. Yeah, I called it HOWLING VIII just to piss off the producers. Here’s how I would rank the sequels from best to worst.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Halloween Havoc: HOWLING VI (1991) and THE HOWLING: NEW MOON RISING (1995)

In just five short years, producer Steven Lane had pumped out four HOWLING sequels with each successive one getting cheaper and cheaper. One would think that would be a bad sign for the sixth entry, but a small miracle occurred in the HOWLING universe. The producers returned to the United States and – gasp – actually waited a few years to properly develop a film that features more than just a werewolf costume in the shadows. The end result is HOWLING VI: THE FREAKS, a marked improvement over the previous sequels in nearly every department. While the end result still has some problems, it is interesting to see some filmmakers try to restore a bit of bite to the howling (it didn’t last long, trust me).

Following a prologue of a young girl being murdered by a mysterious beast, Brit Ian Richards (Brendan Hughes) wanders into the dying drought-town of Canton Bluff. Initially hassled by the sheriff for being a stranger ‘round these parts, Richards soon endears himself to the community by helping Reverend Dewey (Jered Barclay) restore his church. He even starts a relationship with Elizabeth (Michele Matheson), the reverend’s daughter. All of this stranger’s new life ends when R.B. Harker (Bruce Payne) and his carnival World of Wonders roll into town. You see, Richards just happens to be a werewolf and, once his hairy secret is revealed, he is captured by Harker in order to be displayed among his freaks including three-armed Toones (Deep Roy) and Winston Salem the Alligator Boy (Sean Sullivan). Of course, everyone has their secrets and Richards and Harker are no exception. Seems Richards wanted to be caught by Harker to enact some personal revenge and Harker – like all bosses – just happens to be a blood sucking vampire.

This is by far the best HOWLING sequel. Now before I get lynched for that statement, I should explain that it in no way reaches the level of the original THE HOWLING. It is the best of the sequels, which is like singling out the smartest person in a group of dumb people. Debuting director Hope Perello got her start at Charles Band’s Empire Pictures and perhaps this exploitation upbringing bestowed upon her the importance of actually showing the monsters. It was either that or just plain logic. Neophyte screenwriter Kevin Rock also ups the ante by making the werewolf a sympathetic figure (something only briefly attempted in the first and third films). In addition, Rock provides a worthy adversary with Harker’s vampire character. Thankfully, both leads are well trained enough to pull it off. The script still has some major problems. The romantic subplot between werewolf Richards and the preacher’s daughter seems to go nowhere and the town’s folks don’t seem too disturbed to have a werewolf in their midst. Even funnier is a werewolf falling asleep and forgetting a full moon, only to wake up in a panic.

Perhaps the biggest asset to the film is the make-up effects. After HOWLING V’s disappointing “werewolf gets 10 seconds screen time” swindle, the filmmakers put a little bit of faith back in the FX. Two groups, Todd Masters Company and Steve Johnson’s FX, worked on this one and their work is top notch for a low budget production. Johnson’s team handled the werewolf and vampire stuff and it is the best of the sequels. Yes, we actually get a werewolf transformation this time! Another nice touch is they have the werewolf walking on leg extensions, creating a more canine look. Perhaps the most impressive work in the film is the design of vampire Harker. Resembling a sunburned Barlow (of SALEM’S LOT), it is one of the more original vampire designs of the 1990s and Perello holds it off screen for the proper amount of time. The final vampire disintegration and alligator boy are also very well done.

You have to admire the producers for actually attempting something with a slight up tick in quality. They really didn’t have to and the extra effort is appreciated. The producers even got a little cute by having HOWLING V’s werewolf Mary Lou (Elizabeth Shé) pop up in a cameo. She can be seen during the carnival’s werewolf show when Harker is doing his carny spiel on the crowd (“he could even be your son” he says as they cut to her). They even bring her back for HOWLING VII (more on that later). Producer Lane was obviously pleased with the results and was giddy at the prospect of direct sequel HOWLING VII when he spoke to Gorezone in 1991. Screenwriter Rock originally wrote a continuous follow up which would follow the exploits of werewolf Ian and his alligator boy pal as they travel through Romania (ah, back to Eastern Europe I see). However, LIVE Home Video squashed the idea and it would be several years before the eventual HOWLING VII came to life at the hands of series regular Clive Turner (HOWLING IV & V). And that was a very, very bad thing.

“I hope you really present this film in a positive light. It is really, completely, utterly unique.” – writer-producer-director-actor-singer Clive Turner to Fangoria

With HOWLING VI establishing some lycanthropic capital with horror fans, it seemed like the series was on the upswing. Well, not so fast there, mister. LIVE Home Video squashed the idea of a direct follow-up and then decided the best cost-cutting measure would be to do an entry that used footage from the previous films. That is always a great sign of quality if you ask me. Even worse, they handed the creative reigns over to Aussie Clive Turner, who had co-written, co-produced and co-starred in parts IV and V. With the relatively good part VI pissing on his territory, Turner set about to do what any filmmaker would do – he burned the series to the ground with a HOWLING entry so bad that it killed the profitable direct-to-video series.

The story revolves around Ted Smith (Turner) coming to Pioneertown, CA, Land of the Linedance. He quickly secures a job (by walking into a bar) and becomes real tight with the yokels who have names like Pappy. About the same time he arrives, someone (or something) starts chewing up some of the locals. Naturally, they suspect a werewolf and you can guess who the main suspect is. Not so hot on the heels of this werewolf are Inspector Kester (John Ramsden) and occult investigating priest Father John (Jack Huff). This deadly duo likes to sit around and talk about what is going on. Seems Ted Smith is the lone survivor of the HOWLING V castle massacre (even though Turner’s character in that was named Ray Price) and werewolf villainess Mary Lou might have possessed someone in town. Country music montage follows country music montage until the true identity of the werewolf is revealed, resulting in one of the worst werewolf films ever made.

Technically I shouldn’t even refer to this as a werewolf movie as the creature doesn’t appear until the last 5 minutes of the film. Think about that: a werewolf movie without a werewolf. What a concept. Even worse are the morphing effects on display during the monster’s scant 30 second screen time. I challenge you to find me a worse werewolf transformation on a film that came out on a major label (New Line Home Video slummed for this one). Seriously, look at this CGI on display. No joke, there is better computer animation work in the two studio logos that open the film.

Even funnier is Turner’s attempt to do some werewolf-o-vision ala WOLFEN. He slathers the screen with red to the point that you can’t tell what his happening 90% of the time. Turner was raving to Fangoria about how awesome this process would look. Wow, the man is easily thrilled. $50 to anyone who can tell me what is happening in this framegrab/Rorschach test:

Perhaps the worst thing with this sequel is that Turner tries to connect the unrelated parts IV, V and VI all together (via the priest’s talks with the cop). Now I’m not going to complain about attempts to bring some sort of chronology to this disjointed series, but at least try to do it right. I could have done a better job of connecting BAMBI (1942) to DEBBIE DOES DALLAS (1978). The major villain they are looking for is Mary Lou, and they did bring back original actress Elizabeth Shé. However, according to Fangoria, her scene was cut out (really!) so they go for a “she is hiding because a werewolf can possess someone” mystery storyline. Huh? The lead cop even throws in a tape of HOWLING VI to show her cameo and describes it as “home video footage shot at the carnival.” Wow, apparently someone shot their home video footage on film. Ugh. Even more bizarre is Turner brings back Marie Adams (Romy Windsor) from HOWLING IV and he actually gives her screen time so she can recount her story. It gives him a chance to show even more footage to pad out his running time. In total, about 10 minutes of footage from the other films is used.

The fact that the script is a disjointed mess is actually the least of its problems. The screenplay features perhaps the worst table talk ever committed to paper. Turner fancies himself a bit of a funnyman and nearly every line he has is some joke or bad pun. Here is how he wins over the odd assortment of characters at the bar during his first scene.

Jim the Bartender: Come right from Australia?
Ted: Right, but I flew most of the way.
Brock: Are your arms tired?
Ted: Only when I flap them.
Jim the Bartender: That could give you arm-ritis.
Ted: That’s alright. I just had a bout of (grabs hip) hip-atitis.
Jim the Bartender: Yeah, a little bit further down your leg you might get knee-monia.
Brock: Hell, I’d be more worried about small cocks.
Ted: Well, I’m pretty luck there. I’ve already had dick-theria.

Jesus, make it stop! I mentally stopped aging at 15-years-old and even I find that dialogue embarrassing. I did, however, get a laugh out of the priest telling the story of HOWLING V to the cop and saying of Turner’s character, “Ted, the only Australian, became the fall guy.” Yeah, because when times get tough, I always blame the Australian.

Truthfully, all of those things seem petty when you realize that nearly every major character in this film is either shown singing or dancing to a nauseating country song. No joke, there are fourteen (!) different country music montages over this films 89 minute running time. How can you not be riveted by songs like “Nobody Tells Amy What to Do” and “Prescription Beer” on the soundtrack? Turner, who now sports a beard and fancies himself a cowboy, goes balls out in trying to secure that coveted “werewolf movie fans who love line dancing” demographic. No joke, there are three (!) separate instances of line dancing on screen. I believe that is a criminal offense. At the end of the day, the only impressive things about this HOWLING entry is that they managed to put the “The” back in the title and avoid using a roman numeral. It tarnished the series forever and it would be a full 15 years before anyone tired to do anything HOWLING related.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Halloween Havoc: HOWLING IV (1988) and HOWLING V (1989)

14-year-old me on HOWLING IV: “Okay, Philippe Mora is gone, that is a good sign. And Fangoria did a profile on FX guy Steve Johnson and the werewolf stills looked pretty awesome. And what’s this? They signed John Hough to direct? Damn, he’s done some good films including THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE. The series could be getting back into shape here.”

36-year-old me: “You freakin’ dumbass.”

With all the accuracy of a full moon on the lunar calendar, the HOWLING series reared its head just a year later with a fourth entry. Despite the artistic damage done by HOWLING III, the film proved to a home video success and ensured at least one more sequel. The producers were howling all the way to the bank. Things definitely changed for the furry films though as, outside of panning reviews, Fangoria didn’t cover the films at all and theatrical prospects in the US disappeared. Yup, HOWLING IV was the first to go direct-to-video and the series has remained there ever since.

Best selling author Marie Adams (Romy Windsor) has a nervous breakdown after she starts seeing things like blood running from her eyes, ghost nuns, and werewolf heads leaping out of a grill flame. Her doctor suggests she take a break and Marie’s husband Richard (Michael T. Weiss) books a secluded cabin in the woods for some much needed R&R. The couple decides to visit the nearby town on Drago, where they meet an odd assortment of townies including seductive shop keeper Eleanor (Lamya Derval). Unfortunately, this little getaway has done little to calm Marie’s mind as she still sees visions of this mysterious nun and hears an odd howling every night. The stress drives her husband away, resulting in him having an affair with Eleanor. Meanwhile, Marie has befriended avid fan Janice Hatch (Susanne Severeid), who might know more about Drago’s town secret history and this mysterious nun than she is letting on.

Bearing the subtitle THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE, HOWLING IV is certainly an odd little film. Believe it or not, it is more of a straight adaptation of Gary Brandner’s original novel, which goes to show you how much Dante, Sayles and company spruced up the source material. To be honest, the only thing I could recall from my initial viewing of this film 23 years ago was a scene where a guy melted. And there is a reason that was my only dim recollection because it is probably the only interesting thing that happens in this snoozefest. It isn’t until an hour into this 90 minute flick that we get a glimpse of a werewolf (for about 2 seconds) and the aforementioned meltdown doesn’t happen until the 80 minute mark. And while Johnson’s team did supply a cool looking final beast, the audience barely gets a glimpse of it during the finale as Hough shows hidden by fire in rapid cuts. Feast your eyes as these are about a good a shots as you get in the movie:

To be fair, HOWLING IV was a bit of a troubled production. Filming started with co-screenwriter Clive Turner in the director’s chair. Filming was halted for a while before Harry Allan Towers swooped in to resurrect the production. You know you’ve got problems when Towers is saving your ass. Anyway, John Hough came in on extremely short notice and resumed filming in South Africa, which the production does a great job of disguising as rural California. Still, that can’t make up for the film’s complete lack of action for nearly 90% of its running time. The script is also a mess with bits like Richard, responding to Marie mentioning the howling, saying, “You’re probably just hearing the animal in me.” Ooof. There is also a ridiculous late act revelation where a character figures out the nun’s warning of “we’re all in fear” really means “werewolves in here.” Ooof again. A complete lack of blood during the werewolf attacks also hurts. On the bright side, you could probably start a drinking game where everyone chugs any time a character says the word howling. I’m glad I don’t drink.

“HOWLING V? Isn’t that the one where a lot of people run
around in a castle and nothing happens?” – Joe Dante

Dante, director of the original THE HOWLING, was pretty spot on when he gave that quote to Gorezone in 1991. Vitalized by video receipts, the HOWLING producers felt no reason to slow down their goldmine. This resulted in the shortest gap between sequels with HOWLING IV debuting on video November 1, 1988 and HOWLING V: THE REBIRTH hitting shelves just over six months later on May 9, 1989. This quick turnaround brought about some severe cost cutting as the filmmakers headed to Hungary to shoot their latest monster movie.

HOWLING V opens in 1489 in a castle strewn with dead folks in Budapest. Seems everyone is committing suicide to end a family curse, but – wouldn’t ya know it – a baby is heard crying just as the last couple are offing themselves. “We died in vain,” screams the husband, unaware of the films THE REBIRTH subtitle. Cut to 500 years later in a modern day Budapest hotel where a group of nine strangers are gathering. Seems they have all been invited to a castle opening by Count Istvan (Philip Davis). Now who or what this castle opening is for is never explained, but, c’mon, how can anyone resist a castle opening. The group of nine little Indians, er, random strangers include: Prof. Dawson (Nigel Triffitt), who is interested that the castle has no recorded history; pop star Gail Cameron (Stephanie Faulkner), who is recovering from a breakdown; photographer David Gillispie (Ben Cole); struggling American actress Mary Lou (Elizabeth Shé, no doubt typecast); successful European actress Anna (Mary Stavin); Aussie Ray Price (co-writer and producer Clive Turner, always with a drink in hand); tennis pro (!) Jonathan Lane (Mark Sivertsen); Richard Hamilton (William Shockley, hoping someone runs a John Glover look-a-like contest), resident rich Yuppie asshole; and Dr. Catherine Peake (Victoria Catlin), resident bitch who is also seeing cheating Richard. Got all that? Good because you will be quizzed later. Anyway, it is weird because, as the characters soon find out, they were all orphans and all bear the same triangular birthmark. Oh, and one of them is a werewolf.

In case you haven’t been keeping track, this is one globe hopping horror series as HOWLING V marks the fifth country the series has been produced in. I don’t want to falsely accuse anyone, but it seems odd no sovereign nations want the company back.

HOWLING II: Czechoslovakia & USA
HOWLING III: Australia
HOWLING IV: South Africa
HOWLING V: Hungary

Is there some kind of U.N. resolution against these films? It wouldn’t shock me. Heading to Eastern Europe can only mean one thing, the producers were looking to go ultra-cheap and indeed this is the most threadbare of the HOWLING sequels up to this point.

Like HOWLING IV, this was also a troubled production. Original director Michael Fischa (DEATH SPA) was fired three days into production and first AD Neal Sundström was promoted to the job with six hours notice. To be fair, this is a pretty good looking film that benefits greatly from the scenery in its host country. Also, the castle and underground tunnel sets are well done and there is some decent cinematography and lighting. Regardless of behind-the-scenes turmoil, you can’t deliver much with this Agatha Christie-lite script. The mystery is no surprise because one character is left alone to rest in a bed for a majority of the action. Gee, I wonder who the werewolf is. More puzzling is how this character manages to keep their clothes intact, despite turning into a werewolf every ten minutes or so. There is a very weak attempt to connect this to the rest of the series with an “it all started here” bit, but it is never fully capitalized on. The filmmakers’ stinginess also carried over to the werewolf effects as the same costume from part IV is used here. You actually get a better look at it on the cover than you do in the actual film. In a testament to how little the producers cared, this entry marks the first HOWLING film to feature no onscreen werewolf transformation. Hey, they’re setting records, baby.