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, September 13, 2011

Theatrical Trip: CREATURE (2011)

Just when I thought it was safe to go back to the theater…

Earlier this year I regaled you with the tale of how DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (2010) bombed in 18th place its opening weekend.  I was immediately drawn to it like a chick to a bad boy. “Nothing can top that abysmal opening,” I said confidently.  And then came along CREATURE.  I only found out about this swamp monster flick a week or so before it came out thanks to some annoying flash ads on horror news sites.  “Okay,” I thought, “they are probably getting this in a few hundreds theaters.” Nope, The Bubble Factory managed to get this bad boy into over 1,500 theaters.  It still didn’t interest me though as the trailer made it look like every other bad modern horror movie.

But then something magical happened: the weekend box office figures came out. CREATURE had broken box office records…well, the bad kind of box office records.  The film came in 29th place this past weekend.  It bombed so bad that had it up as the lead news story for a bit on Monday, September 12.  How bad were the numbers?  The film raked in a measly $327,000 over the weekend with a per screen average of $217.  As the Yahoo article imaginatively put it, that amount “is about what one row of moviegoers spent on popcorn for the last HARRY POTTER movie.”  It was officially the worst wide opening for a movie EVER!  Once again my bad movie junkie craving kicked in and soon I was off to see if CREATURE really does have teeth.  Like I’ve always said, it will make a good story for the grandkids. Whose grandkids? I still haven’t figured out.

CREATURE opens with a bang with a scene of a woman stripping down and going skinny dipping in the swamp.  An unseen monster then takes a bite out of her while she splashes around in the water.  Well, at least I know debuting director Fred Andrews has seen JAWS (1975).  Actually he one ups Spielberg by having the victim crawl out of the water and the camera cranes up to reveal she has no legs.  BAM! CREATURE does have teeth and this is fixing to be good. What I didn’t know that Andrews was working opposite of the idea of saving the best for last.  Like many films before it, the film proper gets rolling with a six twentysomethings out to have a good time.  We have siblings Oscar (Dillon Casey) and Karen (Lauren Schneider), Randy the Marine (Aaron Hill) and his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Fuller), and Randy’s sister Emily (Serinda Swan) and her new boyfriend Niles (Mehcad Brooks), an ex-Navy Seal.  Traveling through the back roads of Louisiana on their way to the Big Easy, the group stops at a gas station (“We ain’t got no gas”) run by Chopper (Sid Haig).  Oscar is immediately entranced by a cheapjack display on the local monster legend Lock-Jaw and the creepy locals tell him of the nearby house belonging to the man-monster.

With some quick convincing, he gets the group to agree to check out the old house associated with the legend (“You know I love this kind of shit,” opines Karen).  On the way, Oscar fills them in on the story of Lock-Jaw and let’s just say it ain’t the trismus kind (thank you, Wikipedia).  Seems back in the 19th century swamp living Grimley (Daniel Bernhardt…yes, the guy from the BLOODSPORT sequels) was the last of his line and all set to bear a child with his kid sister.  Ewww.  But the incestuous “I do” got postponed when the bride was eaten by an albino alligator.  So, as the legend has it, Grimley tracked this beast to its underground cave and killed it.  Distraught, he remained in this grotto and gorged himself on the human flesh lying about.  Somehow this transformed into a half-man, half-alligator.

Anyway, the kids make it to Grimley’s old house and, well, they don’t do anything there.  They get scared off by some birds and no one actually goes into the house. Along the way Oscar is bitten by some spiders but no one seems to care (despite the huge welts on his arms).  The group decides to camp there for the night and you know what that means – campfire drinking, pot smoking and, hey look, Niles the Navy Seal brought his guitar (in one of the film’s major disappointments, he never plays a tune). However, things aren’t as serene as they seem. First off, there is this hulking monster out there in the swamp.  Second, is that – ah, screw it, I’m going to ruin a big plot twist here so skip the next line if you don’t want to know – Oscar and Karen are actually Chopper’s kids and have led the other folks out here to be sacrifices in a ritual for Mr. Monster Grimely.

To steal a line from my DYLAN DOG review, there isn’t really a lot to say about this film.  So let’s start off with the good. There is that opening scene and…hmmm…I think that is about it.  Okay, I take that back as I also thought the acting was good by pretty much the entire cast.  Dillon Casey and Lauren Schneider actually did their turns well and the incestuous relationship is actually pretty disturbing thanks to an onscreen handjob scene.  Amanda Fuller, previous seen giving an excellent performance in the ultra-grim RED, WHITE & BLUE (2010), is also good in her supporting role.  And Mehcad Brooks is fine in his role as the hero who has to go mano-a-clawo with the monster, even if the script does him no favors.  It was also refreshing that the filmmakers avoided all talk of cell phones, got some nudity in there (I’m easy) and didn’t work in some lame movie reference dialogue (aka the Tarantino Effect). Also on the plus side, at least the filmmakers didn’t jump on the lame post-conversion 3-D horror craze.  I’m forever thankful as the last thing I need to see is Sid Haig’s big belly swinging at me off the screen.

Of course, for every step forward there are two steps back.  The set up is so generic that I had to make sure I wasn’t watching VENOM (2005) or HATCHET (2006) again. Gee, another “kids in the swamps of Louisiana” movie.  Director and co-writer Andrews seems to have cataloged what he thinks every modern horror movie needs (monster, teens, inbred rednecks, torture scene, pot) and checked them off one by one. While the image of Sid Haig in a wifebeater might still give Rob Zombie a boner, it has been done to death.  Even worse are the braindead moments littered throughout the script.  My favorite was Niles being shot in the leg with a shotgun and then bolting like his name was Usain in the very same scene.  And he just keeps on running like nothing happened to him. Also equally unspectacular is the titular star.  A horror movie can live or die by its monster and if you’re going to name your film CREATURE, you better deliver on that promise.  The creature here is pretty lame, looking like the bastard lovechild of comedian Rondell Sheridan and the monster from THE TERROR WITHIN (1989) if it had hit they gym.

The design is doubly disappointing when you know that Andrews spent most of his film career as a production designer. I’m also sad to report that the creature goes down pretty easily and, worst of all, it happens off screen!  Seriously, Andrews has survivors Niles and Emily get swallowed into a sinkhole with my boy Creature and then Niles emerges with its jaw in his hand.  I guess if the Navy Seals got Osama Bin Laden then Grimley was no sweat.  In a final funny bit, the duo throw the jawbone, literally their only evidence the creature existed, onto the roadside for an armadillo to eat.

My shame!
So is CREATURE really deserving of the dubious distinction of being the worst wide release box office bomb of all-time?  Not really.  It certainly isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen in the theaters.  But it also doesn’t deserve to be released in 1,500 theaters.  With horror distribution getting choked to death a little bit more each day, it is sad to see something so utterly mundane get out to the public (even if they didn’t watch it).  Really good horror films have struggled to hit screens so watching this unspooling on screens is downright painful. Chances are the $30 bucks the producers culled from the 6 people in our theater (although I don’t think one guy paid) aren’t paving the way for CREATURE II: BAYOU BLOODBATH.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The "Never Got Made" Files #68: THE ANGER (1984)

I documented the history of the unmade anthology BLOODY PULP (1982) a few weeks back, but little did I know that I would inadvertently have another unfinished film project fall into my lap.  While researching PULP, I decided to look up information on New York-based special effects artists and found profiles on Tom Lauten and Jennifer Aspinall in Fangoria issues #40 and #43, respectively. While finding info on PULP proved to be unsuccessful, I noticed both articles mentioned an unfinished UK production called THE ANGER.  One of the sole clues about the film’s construction was that it was produced by one Mike Lee. “Hmmm,” I thought, “the BLOODY PULP guys later worked with Michael Lee on TWISTED SOULS (aka SPOOKIES). I wonder if it is the same guy.”  A quick inquisitive email asked PULP co-creators Thomas Doran and Frank Farel if they knew anything about the mysterious THE ANGER. My hunch paid off big time as Doran responded, “How do you know about this?!!!” and Farel added, “Know anything about THE ANGER? I should say we do!”  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it jolted this junkie.

Before we get into the details, let’s back up a bit and give some history.  Producer Michael Lee earned his initial success in the entertainment industry by creating the British video label VIPCO (Video Instant Picture Company) in 1979.  Riding the wave of the VHS craze, Lee proved to be very successful by distributing lurid titles such as THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1978) and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) on the fledgling format.  Helping double his success was the rise of the “video nasty” phenomenon, a modern day witch hunt of violent films on video by the U.K. government co-facilitated by the tabloid press.  Why bother dealing with real problems when you have imaginary killers to blame?  And, after all, we know most of the world’s problems are a caused by the filmmaking of Ulli Lommel (THE BOOGEYMAN) anyway.  The resulting furor made Lee a wealthy man and, before the hard times hit (Video Recordings Act 1984), he made the age old mistake of thinking that success at selling a product equates to being equally successful at making that product.
Thus was the genesis of THE ANGER.  Hoping to cash in on the market that had treated his bank account so well, Lee sought to produce a horror movie in his home country.  The film went before the cameras in November 1983, but shut down completely about halfway through filming in December.   Very little info is known of the film.  In fact, below is literally all the ink you will find on THE ANGER on this great big globe from the FX artist profiles.

                Fangoria 40:                                               Fangoria 43:     

So exactly how does a trio of filmmakers from New York (Thomas Doran, Frank Farel, and Brendan Faulkner) get involved with a shelved project languishing across the pond? As the old saying goes, the way of the world is meeting people through other people.  Producer Lee contacted the group via FX artist Arnold Gargiulo, who had previously worked on their short HELLSPAWN.  The purpose of contacting new filmmakers was to recruit them to possibly salvage the project.  “After we met Michael Lee, Tom Doran traveled to the UK for the purpose of evaluating the footage completed,” Farel elaborates, “and determining whether Tom, Brendan and I might be interested in taking it over. Tom's decision: it was a total disaster, not worth the cost of salvaging. I've seen some of the footage and can't say I disagree.”

So was it really that bad?  According to Doran, it was.  While the filmmakers outside of Lee remain unknown, bits of the plot of THE ANGER remain alive via memory.  According to Doran, the film was set in America and involved a young married couple buying a house in New England.  Providing a window into the muddled nature of the production, even this minor detail was apparently mishandled.  “I remember the guy saying and falling to his knees. Something like: ‘Honey, I found a house - in New England!’ Wife: ‘New England? How can we afford a house in New England?’” Doran recalls.  “Huh? The writer, or one of them, who was Canadian, I guess didn't realize that New England encompasses 6 freaking states - with a zillion towns of all sizes and levels of prosperity. It made no sense.”

It looks like producer Lee at least had some business savvy as THE ANGER appears to have been riffing on the popular haunted house subgenre evidenced by box office hits such as THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979) and POLTERGEIST (1982).  “They go live in the house and strange things happen,” Doran remembers. “There's a stuffed ape toy that comes alive. There's a monstrous face in an oven that eats someone and spits them out - truly hilarious.”  Yeah, Lee was definitely getting his POLTERGEIST freak on, but he was no Steven Spielberg.  While the filmmakers were definitely trying to ape (pun most definitely intended) 1982’s top horror hit, the end results delivered more unintentional comedy than horror according to Doran.  “The husband gets hit in the head with a GIANT meat cleaver,” Doran recalls with amusement.  “He goes into a room, screams, and then stumbles out with this freaking giant thing stuck in his head! The blade was like 8.5 x 11 inches. I was dying.”

In the end, the 40 minutes of roughly edited material screened for Doran proved to be a pointless rescue.  “It wasn't worth it,” Doran says, “I mean, here I was turning down the chance to direct. But, the footage was laughably bad; one actress I remember was good, but not the others that I saw, but it's hard to say without seeing it all cut together really. There was going to be no way to match locations, etc., so it really wasn't a good proposition - even if the footage was great to begin with.”  Ultimately, Doran and his co-collaborators convinced Lee that starting from scratch was a better idea and TWISTED SOULS (aka SPOOKIES) was born.  Lee, however, wasn’t above saving some dollars…uh…pounds and one of Lauten’s mechanical effects from THE ANGER lived to see another film.  “If you look at that mechanical head,” Doran mentions, “you'll see where the Snake Demon idea [from TWISTED SOULS] came from.”

Filmmaker Thomas Doran wasn’t the only one who had his blood boiled by THE ANGER.  Preeminent genre journalist Philip Nutman, Fangoria’s British correspondent, was actually on set for some of the filming and he was kind enough to let us pick his brain for the (thankfully) hazy memories.  “It was my first ever set visit for Fango,” Nutman reveals via e-mail, “I think I was 20-years-old.”  Like the young soldiers often sent to fight wars on the frontlines, he soon found himself – what is it they say – knee deep in the shit on this ultra-low budget production.  “The production couldn't afford a real studio,” he recalls, “The day I was there, I think it was some old house they rented, which had a space they'd turned into a make-shift non-soundstage.”  

A graphic throat wound effect
courtesy of Aspinall
Plot and production details remain foggy with him as well, although Nutman does remember the ineptness on display by the mystery director.  “I have a vague recollection the director's name was John (something) and he might have been one of the founders of Vipco. He couldn't direct his way out of a wet paper bag. He may have been one of the ‘so-called’ writers.  The script, according to Lauten, was terrible.”  Doran’s description of the aforementioned screened footage proves Nutman right and, no doubt, wet paper bags used to house neophyte directors were relieved worldwide.  And it was this greenness that ultimately led to the film being shelved.  “Basically, stupidity and no money,” sums up Nutman on the project’s death.

Alas, the set visit wasn’t a total bust as Nutman does have one vivid memory from the shoot. “The only ‘actress’ I recall was the body double for the female lead, who sat around talking to me naked all day,” he remembers.  So at least we can know producer Michael Lee had some knowledge of what sold and attracted audiences.  “The nude body double, who was Scottish, took a liking to me,” he confides, “and asked me to give her a ride home, which I did. I then spent several hours at her apartment watching TV with her and her cute younger sisters. Maybe she wanted to shag a rather shy, cute 20-year-old lad -- or was trying to set me up with one of her sisters. I'll never know, because I was too shy!  Many years later, I discovered, the body double was actually one of the leading performers in the British underground hardcore porn movie business!”  In the end, Fangoria was able to publish very few words on the failed project in the profiles on the New York-based FX artist Lauten and Aspinall.  But both articles did allow for some of their superior make-up befitting a better film to be shown.  Here are some of their creature effects (Aspinall's on the left, Lauten's on the right):

As of this writing, footage from THE ANGER has never been released in any format and seen by less than a dozen folks. Mostly likely it ended up being a nice tax write off for producer Lee and sits rotting in a vault (or garbage dump) somewhere.  The original cast and crew remain a mystery to this day, probably much to their relief.

Author note: I did try to contact both Lauten and Aspinall for their thoughts on THE ANGER, but never heard back from either of them.  To be honest, I don’t blame them as it was a long time ago and both of them have moved on to award-winning make-up careers.  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Listomania!: Will's August 2011 viewings

Hey, I’m totally going to steal…uh, I mean, contribute to Tom’s Listomania idea.  Just to give some old favorites and new exposures some love, even if it isn’t 1,500 words.  Here are some flicks I watched in August (the good ones are in no particular order as they all rocked).  Let’s get the rough stuff out of the way first with the “Why? Why? WHY???” award going to…

JOHN CARPENTER’S THE WARD (2010) – John Carpenter is my favorite director and I think his period of films from 1974 to 1988 is pretty much unrivaled in modern genre filmmaking.  So, naturally, it began to sting when his efforts started to slide.  His last theatrical feature, GHOSTS OF MARS (2001), was a decade ago and the only thing done in between were two terrible episodes of MASTERS OF HORROR and lots of interviews where he basically said, “Just give me my fuckin’ paycheck while you remake my films.”  Well, this is the end of the line with Carpenter doing a work-for-hire gig on this thoroughly unexceptional film. Inexplicably set in the 1960s (there is no reason for it to be), the film focuses on Kristen (Amber Heard), who is sentenced to the titular location after trying to burn down a house.  Also in this ward are four other girls with various mental issues.  Oh, and there is a ghost with long black hair (straight out of a 90s Japanese horror flick) out to kill them all.  I can’t begin to tell you how average this film is.  One the plus side, it is well shot and all the female leads are good.  However, had Carpenter's name not been on the credits, you would never know he had made this.  It could have been swapped with any AfterDark or FrightFest title and you couldn’t tell the difference.  It is like Carpenter has been taken over by someone else.  A great man from Carpenter’s past once asked, “If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know it was really me?”  One way would be to have any hints of style or mood that Carpenter is known for, none of which is on display here.  How sad is it that the man who made HALLOWEEN is now aping the pulse-flattening work of kids today and I have to endure it TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!  On the plus side, he still hasn't reached the depths Argento has plummeted to.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s move onto the good stuff.

PSYCHO II (1983) – Can you believe my mom took my friend and me to see this when I was just 8-years-old? Thanks mom!  Despite the protests of Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is released from a mental institution after 23 years and moves back to managing his motel. Along the way he picks up a roommate in Mary (Meg Tilly), but things start to get ugly real fast. Norman starts getting calls from his "mother" and she is leaving threatening notes telling him to "get that slut out of his house." I honestly can't think of a better crafted horror sequel than this. Writer Tom Holland creates an incredible mystery that not only is thrilling, but carries on the logical progression of time between the two films. Even more astonishing is he is able to also create a modern "body count" picture within these confines, effectively letting Universal have the best of both worlds. Director Richard Franklin actually befriended Hitchcock in the 1970s, so he knows better than to try and copy any of the first film's memorable moments. He is a master of suspense though and this movie has some great set ups (including one that is still ripped off today) and a classic finale. This is helped greatly by an excellent Jerry Goldsmith score and ace camerawork by Dean Cundy.  The cast is perfect all around with Perkins doing an exceptional job as the still-crazy-after-all-these-years Norman.

TROLLHUNTER (2010) - Three college-age journalist kids secretly follow a guy named Hans (Otto Jespersen), who they believe is illegally poaching bears in the Norwegian mountains after some tourists are killed. The title tells you what he is really after. Yes, trolls are real and Hans it he only guy in the country employed by TSS (Troll Security Service) to keep the monsters in check if they leave their designated homes. Watched this last night and really enjoyed it. As much as I can't stand "found footage" shaky-cam stuff, this did a really clever spin on it with the story and pulls it off amazingly. Seriously, the troll effects are stunning and director André Øvredal films each sighting in a unique way that gives the best impact. This was all accomplished on a budget of $3 million, embarrassing Hollywood and even folks like SyFy for their "we can't do anything decent for that amount" low standards. One of the more interesting aspects is when Hans complains about his job and the bureaucracy of TSS to the camera crew. The film also has some really funny dark comedy bits. The end is a bit of a letdown, but you know it is coming since this opens with the standard "we found this mystery footage" crawl. Sadly, the director has quickly sold his soul and is now working on a big budget Hollywood remake.  Why?

THE LAST OF THE KNUCKLEMEN (1979) – This Aussie flick is an adaptation of a play that focuses on a group of several men working at a isolated mining company. They are all burnouts or misfits who sit around to drink, play cards and gamble away their little savings. Self-appointed leader is Pansy (Michael Preston, who is probably sitting and waiting for Mick Jagger bio pic to be greenlit) who is constantly butting heads with everyone, most notably knuckleman Tarzan (Gerard Kennedy). A knuckleman is pretty much a foreman who also has license to whoop anybody's ass if they get out of line. Intrigue arrives when young Tom (Peter Hehir) comes on the job and he may or may not be the infamous "Karate Bandit." This is really good stuff and one of the more unique examples of Ozploitation male bonding I've seen. The writing is very sharp and director Tim Burstall showcases some glorious deserted locations. The acting is great from everyone, but if the film belongs to anyone it is Kennedy as the gruff but likable physical enforcer. He is the last of the hardmen and delivers his lines with the appropriate vigor ("5 minutes after you walk down that road, I won't even remember you were alive, Pansy. That's how much I care about you!"). Also with Michael Caton, Michael Duffield, Steve Bisley (of MAD MAX and THE CHAIN REACTION), and Steve Rackman (Donk from the CROCODILE DUNDEE films).

DEAD MOUTAINEER’S HOTEL (1979) – Tom reviewed this one earlier here and I agree with everything he said.  This is definitely some moody sci-fi stuff and easily the best film I’ve seen from Estonia.  Okay, it’s the only film I’ve seen from there.  I think.  The mystery is suitably compelling and the location is really stunning (think a Motel 8 version of The Overlook from THE SHINING).  I really liked the lead actor Uldis Pucitis as he reminded me of Jerry Cotton actor George Nader.  There is also a really good electronic score and this haunting song by Sven Grünberg.  Definitely the best Estonian synthesizer rock I’ve heard…you know the rest.

Finally, the winner of the “I would have hated this in 1996, but enjoyed it now” award goes to:

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1996) - Before Roger Corman sold his soul to SyFy for a buck and an executive producer credit, he sold it to Showtime a decade earlier with their "Roger Corman presents" series. This involved throwing some of his new New Concorde flicks on the cable channel as exclusive premieres. Also involved were remakes of some Corman-produced classics including PIRANHA, NOT OF THIS EARTH (again), A BUCKET OF BLOOD (with Anthony Michael Hall!), THE WASP WOMAN, and this. Fisherman Wade Parker (Robert Carradine) finds being a single father of a 16-year-old (Danielle Weeks) hellbent on dating environmentalist Matt (Robert Walker) isn't the worst thing in the world when genetically mutated monsters start attacking folks. After his daughter is snatched, Wade must team up with Matt and scientist Dr. Drake (Emma Samms, a long way from DYNASTY) to stop the beasts.

I was hoping this would be different enough from the original that I could pretend it was the never-delivered HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP 2: THE NEXT GENERATION. Alas, I can't do that because Corman manages to outcheap himself by reusing lots of footage from the original (the carnival climax from the first film is shown almost in its entirety). Had I seen this when it originally aired, I would have hated it. Even watching it now it is only so-so due to its general cheapness (get a load at the bar set; and it appears they only made two monster suits). But it is amazing what godawful SyFy and Asylum flicks will do to your B-movie sensibilities. The HUMANOIDS remake is gory and features nudity (strangely, the US DVD cuts all of this out), so I am somewhat satisfied. And the cast actually gives a damn. Well, with one small exception. Walker, previously seen in CLUELESS (1995), gives one of the worst performances I've seen in a while. Seriously, this kid is awful with his constant shouting of nearly every line. Director Jeff Yonis cut his teeth in the Corman factory on one of the many BLOODFIST sequels and keeps the action moving fast enough. Look for Clint Howard, an unrecognizable Season Hubley and Bert Remsen in small supporting roles.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Listomania!: Thomas' August 2011

We watch a ridiculous amount of movies here at VJ. Most of these films never get a write up in these pages, so we thought it would be fun to post the Top 10 most noteworthy hits and misses of our month of video mainlining. The coulda-beens that we decided not to bother with giving full reviews for one reason or another.

ROAD HOUSE 2 (2006): We all know Aussies make awesome movies in Oz, but take them to Hollywood and Sampson loses his hair, or just goes completely batshit crazy like that one dude who made that Christ movie. I know what you're thinkin', "it's a DTV sequel to ROAD HOUSE, and you thought this would be good, why?" C'mon, now, you got Richard Norton (with what appears to be someone else's face) and more importantly, William Ragsdale cast as a bouncer! Yes! A bouncer, actually the head bouncer! A few amusing moments, but this is one rough HOUSE, desperately trying to be an Isaac Florentine film, but epic failing by fudging all the fight scenes with rapid edits of close-ups of body parts. Almost feels like watching porn in fast forward. So yeah, director Scott Ziehl (also responsible for the Sci-Fi Channel's '91 non-remake EARTH VS. THE SPIDER), can now be added to the Aussie Wiki under "Exception to the Rule".

MOONRUNNERS (1975): It's amazing that this template for "The Dukes of Hazard" has still yet to see the light of day on DVD. Is Waylon Jennings' estate holding out or something? The plot has a couple of shine-runnin' cousins, Grady (James Mitchum) and Bobby Lee (Kiel Martin), helpin' out their bible-thumpin' Uncle Jesse when the owner of the Boar's Nest decides that their friendly rivalry should take a mean turn. This really has everything that you could want from a '70s back-woods car-chase flick, 'ceptun mebbey sum nekkid wimmuns and o' course the good ol' General Lee.

THEY'RE A WEIRD MOB (1966): My obsession with Aussie cinema has gotten to the point where I'm starting to do some serious digging. So maybe my idea of buried treasure ain't for everyone, but for my money this '60s classic (that is reviled by the hoity-toity), is well worth the price of admission. After arriving in Oz, Italian immigrant Nino (Walter Chiari) finds that his cousin has disappeared leaving a mountain of debt in his wake. So Nino does what all good Italian's do, rolls up his sleeves and dives in head first. Getting a job in landscaping and learning the way to King's Bloody Cross and the subtle etiquette of Australian drinking rituals. Dated, sure, but some of it is flat-out hilarious. More than a little un-PC, and that's half of it's charm, if you ask me. And in case you ever wondered, yes, the Pope is a deigo.

MALCOLM (1986): If RAINMAN had Colin Friels, John Hargreaves and was about armed robbery, model trains and robots, it would have been a damn sight better in my humble opinion. This was a sleeper hit in the US back in the day, and it's easy to see why. Since it's an Aussie film, it sidesteps a lot of the Hollywood trappings and creates a rather safe, quirky comedy about a mentally handicapped man (Friels) who is obsessed with building machinery, from model trains to a car that splits in half. To solve his money issues, he takes some advice from a neighbor and rents a room in his house... to an ex-con (Hargreaves) who is looking for another score. Pretty tame stuff compared to our usual fixes here at VJ, but hey, it's Aussie, so it's good!

HEATWAVE (1979): It's amazing what Aussies are capable of before being assimilated by the Hollywood machine. Phillip Noyce. Yes, he is Australian. Sure, he's now running top Hollywood celebs around a green screen, but there was a time, yes, even before the 1989 Zatoichi reworking, BLIND FURY (which, for the record, I really like), that Noyce made some really interesting movies down under. Actually, a lot of movies down under. This is more of a drama than a thriller, but flat-out refuses to explain the mystery as would a Hollywood film and lets the audience piece it together, right down to the end credits. Sort of a SILKWOOD kinda thing, but not really. An architect (Richard Moir) involved in building a new super-modern apartment complex for the wealthy gets involved with an activist (Judy Davis) who is fighting to save the tenants from being forcibly evicted from their homes that stand in the way of this new building. When a tabloid journalist who is helping to spearhead the rebellion disappears, things start to get ugly. The use of Sydney during a brutal Christmas heatwave is brilliant in and of itself. The movie is flawed and Davis is a bit too shrill to be believable as anyone's love interest, but it's still worth checking out, if for no other reason than to see how un-Hollywood Noyce was at one time.

THE FALLING (1987): I remember not liking this much back in the day under the rather misleading title ALIEN PREDATOR. Still not the best movie ever, but widescreen and uncut makes it strangely compelling. Three friends (Dennis Christopher, Martin Hewitt and Lynn-Holly Johnson) go on a Winnebago trip through Spain only to find themselves broken down in a strange little town that is the site of an extra-terrestrial experiment that goes surprisingly well and is quite safe. You buyin' that? No, of couse not. The scientist in control of the experiment lets it loose to infest itself in people's heads turing them into zombie-like psychos who eventually succumb to the parasite when it explodes from their faces in a big, chunky mess. Yep, that's the complelling part. Well, that and I remember Lynn-Holly Johnson being kind of attractive back in the day and now that my youth is behind me and I'm just a middle-age perve, damn, she's fucking hot! *ahem* Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah... expect some typical '80s teen hijinx and Johnson, sadly, stays extremely over-dressed throughout the film, but I dunno, for some reason, like a lot of crap from the '80s, I enjoyed it a lot more in retrospect.

The only on-screen bit of
nastiness in the entire film
YOU WILL DIE AT MIDNIGHT (1986): Nobody does. Mediocre giallo and far, far from Lame-berto's best, but then again, miles from his worst. Even uncut, it's teetering on PG-13 fare and the twist ending is not in the least bit interesting. A cop (Leonardo Treviglio) in the middle of a traditional Italian discussion of matrimony, attempts to kill his wife for cheating on him, he stops short and walks out, only to have an unseen assassin walk in behind him and stab his wife to death with an ice pick. After going into hiding, the detective on the case (a bearded Gianni Garko), spends an awful lot of time stressing about finding his pipe while his offices are being relocated. Oh, and he checks into the murders which are starting to pile up. But those can wait. Where did that pipe get to? Gianpaolo Saccarola pops up and stretches his thespian legs as a none-too-bright suspect in the slaying of a librarian. The murders are barely on screen and the rest of the film can't prop itself up, but some folks on the IMDb think this is a keeper, so what the hell do I know?

THE LAST OF THE KNUCKLEMEN (1979): Damn near got testosterone poisoning from this Aussie classic. Great cast, played with so much gritty machismo that you can almost smell the stale sweat and warm beer. A fistful of men work the mines in the middle of the Aussie wasteland, living in a tin shack and occasionally throwing down cash in arranged fights. Based on a play, but don't let that stop you, this sweaty drama (yeah, I said it, it's a drama) from the legendary Tim Burstall (who amazingly never embarrassed himself in Hollywood) boasts a great cast including Gerard Kennedy, Mike Preston and Steve Bisley, gritty dialogue and tons of great moments that would never, ever be handled in the same fashion in Hollywood.

END PLAY (1976): They don't make this type of murder-thriller any more, not even in Oz. No opportunity for CG effects I guess. Damn, I'm turning into a cranky old man. Tim Burstall goes all in with this nifty thriller that draws inspiration from Hitchcock's seedier works (why are Aussies always the best at that sort of thing?) and, at the time, modernized parlor-room murder thrillers like SLEUTH (1972). Though there is no comic relief to be found here, this is a vicious little pug. I can't say too much about this as not knowing what is going to happen next is key, but John Waters (no, not that one) and George Mallaby star as unusually close step-brothers who are somehow involved with murdered hitchhikers in a rural town. Excellent acting and neat little twists overshadow the fact that modern cinema nerds will probably be able to piece together the twist before it is revealed, but getting there is pretty damned entertaining.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND DR. WATSON, PART ONE: ACQUAINTANCE (1979): First of a series of 11 Russian TV movies that ran from 1979 to 1986. In addition to the fact that they may be the best straight forward adaptations of the stories (if not totally verbatim), the casting is quite good with Vasili Livanov turning in a fine performance as Sherlock Holmes, but Vitali Solomin damn near stealing the show as what is unequivocally the best reading of the Doctor Watson character. None of this wallflower-with-whiskers characterization here. Watson is a sharp ex-military man who may not reach the heights of deductive reasoning as Holmes, but is no bumbling half-wit. In addition to great casting, the sets appear to be lived-in and worn, adding a sense of reality that is rarely seen in Holmes adaptations which invariably present Victorian England as a very clean, freshly pained environment. Add an excellent score (who knew Russians were good at music?) and interesting, occasional, use of hand-held cameras and you have something that completely blows away the incredibly overrated Jeremy Brett piffle.

DAMNATUS: THE ENEMY WITHIN (2008): Hmmmm… maybe there is a reason Games Workshop doesn't want this movie seen. Haven't had this much fun since Albert Pyun's ADRENALIN. Well meaning Huan Vu (who brought us the far more entertaining and only slightly less convoluted Lovecraft adaptation, THE COLOR), clearly worked his ass off making this low-budget, SOV action-horror effort set in the Warhammer 40K universe. Boasting a relentlessly complicated plotline that can be easily stripped down to the simple fact that it is an underground bug-hunt. A group of marines (really? The ALIENS cliche, in this day and age?) are recruited to trudge through some sub-terranean passages in pursuit of some heretics who are trying to summon a massive demon that will threaten all life as we know it. I really hate to beat Vu up about it because he does accomplish a lot on what is obviously very little resources. Even at it's worst, for an amateur German effort, it's head and shoulders above Timo Rose and Andreas Bethman, but even at a scant 80 minutes (10 of which is credits), it is a long, slow slog. I don't know much about Warhammer 40K, but what I have seen had power armor and space orcs and stuff. None of that is here, but there are lots of long winded speeches in the vein of TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE, which is the modern excuse to pad out the running time and replace the action that the SOV filmmaker can't afford. The tons of W40K details that are packed in here will appeal to people whose idea of a fun Saturday night is sitting around discussing the intricacies of the W40K timeline, but for everyone else it's like washing back a handful of Sominex with a bottle of Nyquil.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Non-fiction Fix: Hal Needham's STUNTMAN!

Thanks to a visit from Hurricane Irene, we didn't have power for 4 days. To a Video Junkie, that is pure hell and like being forced against your will into rehab. To ease the pain, I opened up one of these strange contraptions called books. Yes, we actually read books from time to time, although it seems we never stray too far from our comfort zone and stick to books about movies (with the occasional horror novel here or there).

Anyway, what better way to pass the time than to read the autobiography of famed stuntman/director Hal Needham.  As we mention in our review of DEATH CAR ON THE FREEWAY (1979), we are fans of the man and his contributions to motion picture history. Needham is quite the raconteur and the books 296-pages fly by rather quickly.  He starts by talking about his early life growing up in Arkansas, where his step-father was a sharecropper during the Great Depression.  It is truly a different world that most of us could never fathom (outhouses, yuck!).  After that he jumps into his family moving to the big city, him getting a job as a tree trimmer (which helped him greatly in Hollywood) and his eventual joining of the military as a Airborne Ranger.  All of his stories are fun reads and told in a very frank and funny manner.

Of course, the majority of the book is built around his move to Hollywood and the career choice that would eventually make him famous.  Needham details the first film he worked on (THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS) and how he got his first big break on the TV show HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, where his tree climbing abilities got him the job of doubling star Richard Boone.  He also mentions working on a show called RIVERBOAT starring Darren McGavin, where he first encountered a young actor by the name of Burt Reynolds. This led to a great relationships both professionally and personally (Needham even lived in Burt's guest house for years after a divorce).  There are tons of great stories about working with the likes of Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Burt.  And lots of great behind-the-scenes anecdotes about how the business works (and doesn't work).  For example, there is a totally insane story about Needham going over to Europe to be the stunt coordinator on THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN (1969) and having to flee the country when the pesky Russians actually invade Czechoslovakia in real life.  There is even a wild story about his real-life encounter with the Skid Row Slasher.

The book does a have a few problems though, most significantly in its lack of details about Needham's directing career.  He is apt to emphasize his hits more than his misses.  MEGAFORCE, his biggest bomb, gets only one mention, while the aforementioned DEATH CAR ON THE FREEWAY and everything post-MEGAFORCE get no mentions at all.  I guess he was not "man enough" to talk about MEGAFORCE for its fans (sorry Tom).  He also jumps all over the place in terms of periods of his life.  Also, there are some sections on his NASCAR history where I started to tune out as that really isn't my thing.  Of course, these are only minor quibbles.  If you are looking for a lively read about a time in Hollywood when real people actually drove cars during stunts (his wreck planning for John Wayne's McQ is terrifying), this is definitely a must-read.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Lovecraft Legacy: THE COLOR (2010)

If you've never visited Craig Mullins' stellar Lovecraft blog, now is the time to do it! Lots of info on Lovecraft projects of all kinds including regular updates on what projects Guillermo Del Toro is incredibly excited about and will subsequently abandon. It is also home to a VJ review of the latest adaptation of "The Colour Out of Space", Huan Vu's DIE FARBE!

Full Review of DIE FARBE on Unfilmable.Com

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cinemasochism: THE FOX AFFAIR (1978)

I had never heard of THE FOX AFFAIR until a few years ago when I got a package full of old Box Office magazines.  The bible for film exhibitors, Box Office was seen by nearly every theater owner so getting your filmed noticed was top priority. And if your little production company had the cash, you could easily get your film on the cover.  This led to some great colorful spreads featuring low budget films like THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975), Earl Owensby’s DARK SUNDAY (1976), X-rated INSIDE JENNIFER WELLES (1977) and nearly every Crown International release.  So seeing the New York lensed indie like THE FOX AFFAIR on the cover wasn’t unusual, but the eye-catching art was certainly intriguing.  Girl in white dress? Check.  Kung-fu fight? Check.  Helicopter? Check.  Guy with gun? Check. Exploding car? Check.  Parking meter?  Uh, check. And, believe it or not, the parking meter is the most central thing to the plot in that collage.

THE FOX AFFAIR centers on two stylin', profilin', limousine riding, helicopter flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin' n' dealin' son of a guns (whoo!) named Rogers (Robert Bosco) and Anders (Yuri Alexis). The film opens with them ripping off a “business” partner in Hong Kong (I kid you not: they use stock footage of HK and then film them outside a shop in Chinatown in NYC to try and create continuity).  Our boys fly back into New York and return to their main vocation, which seems to be procuring nubile young girls for rich old German horndog Wolfgang Van Boren (Steve Lincoln).  They test the goods by looking at the girls undress via a two-way mirror in a boutique the guys might own (it is never clear in the film).  In return for their services, Van Boren will give them a great stock tip and they will make bundles of money. Shit, these guys are living the life.

Trouble enters when a hitman from Hong Kong arrives to settle the score our dodgy duo thought they left 8,000 miles away.  They know he means business because he leaves behind a note that says, “Hong Kong boss man does not be take for fool.” HA!  If they can procure $2,000,000, they should be able to buy their way out of this mess. Making matters worse, Van Boren wants to get his freak on again. Enter Felicity Fox (Kathryn Dodd).  She is a homely parking meter maid who is giving our boys a ticket outside the boutique.  Rogers senses her potential and soon begins wining and dining her in the high life.  She proves to be a keeper because not only is she sexy, this police academy trained parking attendant knows kung fu and fights off the Hong Kong assassin (who screams, “Next time you are dead” when he runs out of the apartment in defeat).  Of course, they have groomed her for Van Boren and that totally bums Rogers out as he starts falling in love with her (after literally two scenes). In the meantime, our two guys hatch a plot to extort Van Boren by telling his younger (and freakier) wife about his affairs.  Not that is matters as she loves playing horsey with the gardener and chef.  Anyway, their price is $2,000,000! Why you clever bastards.  What they don’t count on is Felicity getting wind of their plan (via their two-way mirror) and spoiling it for everyone.

So how could a film feature all the cool stuff I described on the poster earlier and still suck?  Yes, everything on that poster is in the film so it isn’t false advertising. But it is a case of mind manipulation because viewers will no doubt cook up 500 billion better scenarios for the items feature.  Take the helicopter for example.  In the context of the poster, I’m expecting a helicopter chase.  Hell, if I may be so bold, I might even expect a thrown grenade from the helicopter is the reason that car is blowing up.  Nope, we just get one scene of a helicopter landing and these lead guys getting out. Damn it!  I’m always curious how these types of films get made. Producer-director Fereidun G. Jorjani has a name that screams out money laundering and he was one-and-done when it came to feature films.  He would later make the documentary THE STORY OF ISLAM, which I’m sure has more action than this.  He does get one thing right in that he features some nudity in this film (even if Rogers and Felicity’s big love scene is botched by darker-than-dark photography).  That is about the only highlight.  Actually, I take that back.  There is one weird bit in a spa where our guys hang out with a bunch of naked chicks and some bodybuilder.  The muscleman’s dialogue about his workouts while a girl feels his bicep is the film’s highlight

Guy: “Feel it. You have to push tight, you have to push tight. That’s it. You got it, push tight on that muscle.  It’s getting bigger all of the time.  You know how I got this muscle bigger?”
Girl: “Tell me.”
Guy: “Eating a lot of high protein foods.  I ate three chickens last night.”
Girl: “Very impressive.”

Yup, that is the highpoint of the film for me.  The rest is lots and lots of talking with occasional visits to a pumping disco (which looks like the inside of a steak house) every few scenes.  Damn, now I totally want '70s steak with disco music.

THE FOX AFFAIR was originally available on VHS from Saturn Video. I never picked it up, but was still able to see it on VHS. How so? Well because the Code Red DVD release of it (on a double feature with DELIVER US FROM EVIL) is obviously taken off a VHS tape. How do I know?  Because several times throughout the film the image jitters from side to side and I recognize that as a VHS problem.  Ah, good ol’ Code Red. Regardless, I’m actually thankful they put this out as I was able to pick it up cheap and finally confirm that sometimes the things left unknown are better that way.

Box Office review, May 1978: 

Monday, August 22, 2011


What happened to Spain? There was a time where Spain turned out some superb genre cinema. Sure there was the post-Franco cinematic revolution of the ’70s where the likes of Jose Larraz, Jorge Grau and some guy named Jacinto Molina were gleefully trampling the dictator’s censorship laws, while crafting great films on a bankroll smaller than John Travolta’s coke money. We also entered a period of re-invention in the ‘90s. While Hollywood eagerly started their downward descent of self-cannibalization, the Spanish film industry picked up the slack with Jaume Balagueró and Alex de la Iglacia breaking into the international market with films that proudly declared that Generissimo Francisco Franco was still dead. For some reason this forward momentum encountered the same disease that it seems all film industries the world over succumb to. “The Hollywood Syndrome.”

The Hollywood Syndrome occurs when a film industry has a some breakaway hits that go global and provide an influx of cash. What to do? Well, that’s obvious, we need to get more projects just like the hits rolling immediately! The problem is, we need some guidance on how to make these profitable movies and who better to look to in such cases than the Americans. Just like McDonald’s proves on a daily basis, just because it makes money, doesn’t mean it’s any good. And so the industry gets watered down with cheap clichés and a lack of originality that made the films that started it all so successful in the first place.

One of the more promising things that we’ve been hearing about coming out of Spain in recent years is the VALDEMAR INHERITANCE films. Generating all the excitement is the fact that it is, as it turns out (very) loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shunned House. Just as loosely as Lucio Fulci’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), but without the atmosphere, the shocks, the creativity, and really everything else that makes it a classic horror film.

The first film, released in 2010, sets up a reasonably intriguing, though somewhat well-used premise. An antiques/real-estate appraiser by the name of Orquicia was sent to the old Valdemar estate to check it out and evaluate the contents. The Valdemar estate is one of Spain’s only Victorian mansions and the estate agent figures it could be worth a fortune in antiques alone. Problem is, Orquicia hasn’t been heard from since he was dispatched some weeks ago. Hey, maybe he ran off with all of the contents and is now lounging on a beach somewhere. Certain that this could be the case (obviously nothing bad ever happens to people who visit presumably uninhabited Victorian mansions), the agent dispatches another appraiser, Louisa (Silvia Abascal), to go check it out.

Louisa, heads out to the mansion and pokes around in the dark and dusty dwelling until she finds a room that seems just a bit strange. In this room is a gurney with a plastic sheet over it. Of course, she pulls the sheet back only to find Orquicia’s mangled corpse and something shambling towards her. She is then “rescued” only to find herself locked in a room by some odd, bug-collecting persons. Now the agents boss (who rides around with a Cthulhu-head cane) decides to hire someone to find the two appraisers. After the appraiser gets himself chewed a new asshole by his Luis Cypher-wannbe boss Maximilian (Eusebio Poncela), he decides that he and his secretary should go too! But what is the deal with this house, anyway? Cue flashback to the origins on the Valdemar family.

This flashback is quite literally the entirety of the film. We learn that Lasaro Valdemar (Daniele Liotti) and his wife, Leonor (Laia Marull), are charlatans who bilk rich idiots out of their family money by providing phony séances and photographing them. Though writer-director José Luis Alemán ensures that you have some sympathy for them when things get ugly, by having them use their ill-gotten gains to pay for the welfare of orphaned children. No, that sound you heard wasn’t a Lurker at the Threshhold, that was just me groaning. After being imprisoned when he refused to be blackmailed by a seedy journalist threatening to expose him, the only person who can save him is Alistair Crowley (Francisco Maestre) who concocts a scheme to get him out of the slams on the condition that Lasaro will perform a real séance with him for his special guests (who include Lizzy Borden, Bram Stoker, etc). Things don’t go quite as planned, the end.

Yes, I said “the end”. No, really. That’s it. But what happened to Louisa? What about the other appraiser? The estate agent and his secretary? Sorry, you got nothin’ for ya. Or if you saw it on video, you get a quick 20 second preview of the next film complete with CG Chthulhu and a year-long wait for the next film.

No wonder it didn’t get released here. Audiences would have rioted. The opening set up was decent (though completely unoriginal), but the flashback (aka the entire movie), was decent at best. Ham-handed, uninspired and over-long at worst. It felt like someone got wrapped up in their own ego and didn’t realize the flashback needed to be just that; a flashback. A film can set up a sequel, but it needs to have some sort of self-contained story arc within itself instead of just being half of a film, and an overly dry one at that. There’s a little bit of CG monster action at the end, but other than that don’t expect a single drop of anything horror (other than Louisa’s discovery of Orquicia’s corpse in the beginning) and it’s nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before and a thousand times better. Adding insult to injury, Spain’s patriarch of the horror film, Paul Naschy, is confined to an almost wordless role as the Valdemar butler. Naschy could have easy been cast as Crowley and brought a great sinister presence to the role instead of Maestre, who’s obvious, one-note performance doesn’t do anything to help carry the rather flat story.

The sequel (or rather, the second half of the movie), THE FORBIDDEN SHADOW, was released a year later in 2011 and manages to correct a couple of the glaring issues with the first half, but introduces many more. Now all of the subplots are interwoven which makes them feel less uninspired than they really are. The main thrust of the plot is that all of the characters are kidnapped by the strange bug-collecting guy (who now, no longer does that), Damaso (José Luis Torrijo) and the caretaker, Santiago (Santi Prego). This happens straight away, after the opening sequence in which a bicycling Howard Philips Lovecraft (Luis Zahera) warns Lazaro about the dangers of Lazaro’s new favorite obsession, the Necronomicon. While Lovecraft often wrote that merely seeing one page could turn a lesser man’s brain inside out, Lazaro has been pouring over it for weeks and seems no less the worse for wear, complete with every strand of his immaculately blow-dried coiffeur in place. The only thing that gives a clue to the unimaginable madness within Valdemar are the cuffs of his shirt which are worn and dirty. This causes Jervas (Paul Naschy again desperately trying to rise above the table scraps he’s been handed) to beg for his return to sanity to no avail.

As you would expect, Lovecraft is the life of the party.

Back in the present day, everyone gets kidnapped and wake up in a “torture room” wearing festival masks (for no apparent reason), they panic and argue and you might get the impression you SAW this movie before. Before you get all excited the “torture room” is well lit with a comfy bed and not a speck of the old red-stuff to be found. But no matter, we’re going to run off head-long into more clichés! Yay, clichés! Drawing “inspiration” from other films such as THE DESCENT (2005) and (of all things) TOURIST TRAP (1979), the film plays out without actually employing any shocks or even conjuring any sense of dread. No miasma of terror, not even a spooky. Hell, there aren't even any gristly demises! That’s right, even though we have a cast of cookie-cutter characters, with one really uninspired exception, none of them are killed off or driven mad or really do anything except bicker with each other and try to escape their captors. And if you are looking for something more than TV-show acting chops, you are out of luck on that front too. The only moment that really does work is a scene where the deranged Santiago is wracked with distraught over the decapitation of one of his mannequins, who he believes to be a real woman. These little snatches of actual goodness are few and far between with most of the plot-points being not only ridiculously far fetched (how exactly do you abduct six hundred and sixty-six people from the same patch of woods without raising a single eyebrow?), but many are so predictable that you'll know exactly what is going to happen 20-30 minutes before the filmmakers jump out from behind the sofa and yell “surprise!”

At first I was a little peeved that Lovecraft’s name is proudly displayed in the credits and in the promotion while Alemán instead decides to pilfer from other sources. Lovecraft’s work is rich with material that can be translated to film, there is no need to ineptly ape SAW (2004) or anything else for that matter. On the other hand, we have seen some very entertaining films in the past that use Lovecraft as a mere springboard for some inspired lunacy. The aforementioned HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is a great example. It really doesn't have a whole lot to do with Lovecraft at all, but if you had to quantify the one thing that makes Lovecraft Lovecraftian, it would be atmosphere and HOUSE has it by the gallon. Even if it only has the barest of Lovecrafts trappings. Unfortunately for us, Alemán manages to conjure some up some chiaroscuro, but makes sure that it is well used for dialogue scenes and little else. The underground caverns are also remarkably well lit. It must have taken days to set up the lighting and... oh, wait, they're CGI. Never mind.

In addition to being blandly presented, the paltry few scenes that are supposed to have shocks are done without any subtlety or style. The zombie-like creature that was summoned during the séance in the beginning (or in the first film) is shown well lit and openly and for so long that the viewer has plenty of time to notice the flaws in the make-up (seriously, with all their abundant use of cheap CG, you’d think they could have made it look like something other than a guy in a mask). On the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s no spoiler to say that Cthulhu makes an appearance at the end (it is featured predominantly in the trailers, posters, and press material), and the way he (it?) is presented, it looks more fit for a video game than anything else. Like the zombie/demon creature, the over-exposure and the constant head-shots with the monster roaring spittle into the camera cheapens the whole effect and left me pining for the subtlety of THE CALL OF CTHULHU (2005) which pulled off, not only the whole Lovecraft thing, but summoned the great elder god from his eternal resting place beneath the sea with stunning results for a fraction of the budget and far fewer resources. As if that wasn’t enough, there are some moments in the end which might get a snicker or two out of the audience. If the fact that Cthulhu’s scale in relation to a human seems to slide drastically from shot to shot doesn’t get you, maybe the completely laughable botched human sacrifice scene will. Not that you won’t see that plot twist (like the rest) coming from miles away.

Just like everyone else, I am sucker when it comes to director’s cuts and extended versions of movies; more is better, right? I love seeing the stuff that the studio cut out of movies to bring down the running time so they can squeeze an extra screening into theater bookings, or an extended cut of some film that some philistine producers butchered to try to make the movie they wanted. This is a completely different animal. This is essentially a three hour movie that really should have been cut down to say, 120 minutes at most. The story arc starts in one place, wanders almost randomly around, forgetting to focus on the Lovecraft that brought them to the dance, gets sidetracked with ideas that probably should have been left out in the screenwriting process and finally ends up in some serious Eldritch fromage that would have been hokey if it had been in a video game. Matter of fact, the Xbox "Call of Cthulhu" video game offered up far more fleshcrawling Lovecraftian entertainment than this could ever hope to. The blasé delivery and numerous pointless subplots make this something that obsessive completists will want to check out, but otherwise is proof that like Franco, Spanish horror is still dead.