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!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Havoc: Dueling HALLOWEEN porn parodies

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.


Like millions of Americans in the ‘70s and ‘80s, my family spent precious hours of our lives every year watching the most inane tripe American television had to offer. They were called “Holiday Specials”. I’m sure it sounded like a good idea when they were invented. “Hey, let’s have some one-shot seasonal programming with some of our biggest stars telling jokes, singing, dancing, and participating in lethal blood-sports!” Ok, so that last one was mine. I can't tell you how desperately I wanted to see Bob Hope slam a steel sphere in Shari Lewis’ face ala-ROLLERBALL. But I digress.

For some reason holiday specials managed to draw in millions of viewers with no-budget productions of hastily-written, cringe-inducing scripts, usually shot on a soundstage in Burbank, frequently live in order to pull in the cynical crowd (me), who were hoping that someone will flub their lines. As if that would make the agony of canned scripts and shameless mugging worthwhile.

In 1989 the two-bit upstart Fox decided they were going to produce their own Halloween special! Rebelling against the status quo, they decided they would (wisely) ditch the song and dance stuff and (unwisely) take their cue from WGN’s notorious “Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault” (1986). I can hear the discussion: “A two hour special shot live in Transylvania, hosted by… hmmmm… Bela Logosi! No, wait, he’s dead. Klaus Kinski! No, too much insurance. We need someone who is linked to the character, easy to manage and is a total man-whore. George Hamilton!” Seriously, I cannot imagine how he could have read the script without blushing? Of course, he may have and we just don’t know because of his perpetual bronze glow. Even Geraldo Rivera would have turned his shrub-adorned nostrils up at this.

Boldly announced with more gravitas than a Presidential inauguration, the first ten minutes shows that the script is thinner than Kate Moss on a hunger strike. Says the announcer:
“We will… Walk where the real Dracula walked! Meet men and women who have followed in his blood-sucking footsteps! Open coffins closed for centuries… LIVE!”
Wait, Dracula’s feet sucked blood?

Cut to a stage director who looks and sounds exactly like a female version of Latka from “Taxi”, George Hamilton is nowhere to be found! George has apparently gotten very lost on his way from the make-up trailer to Solomon’s Tower and ended up in the local pub. Was this written for Oliver Reed? Of course, the locals ice over as soon as Hamilton mentions his destination and warn him not to go there, while Geoge makes awkward references to his (at that point) 10 year-old success in LOVE AT FIRST BITE. After taking a coach to the set and pretending to flub his lines and be nervous about the fact that they are live, the announcer comes back to let us know that he wasn’t finished telling us what we would see tonight!

“We will… Meet Vlad the Impaler – the real life Dracula. Torturer, sadist and murderer of over 100,000 men, women and children, but to many people he is still a national hero. We’ll walk the original English cobblestones where Bram Stoker brought Dracula to life and discover one of the most valuble manuscripts in all of literature, hidden for years in an ordinary Pennsylvania barn! We’ll go back in time, 500 years and hear the chilling tale of Elizabeth Bathory, the fiendish countess who sacrificed 650 virgins for the sole purpose of bathing in their blood!” And the announcer doesn’t stop there. “Noreen Dresser is an American folklorist with a mission; to find out why Dracula has become a national obsession.” Plus we get to learn about a modern vampire sighting in an English cemetery with “scores of witnesses” who “authorities believe… were telling the truth!”

To be fair, the narrator doesn’t lie, they do cover all of that, uhhhh… “fascinating” ground. Much of it is Hamilton camping it up while talking to alleged “experts”, one of whom, Romanian scholar and diplomat Radu Florescu, claims to be a direct descendant of Vlad Tepes. A sample of the insightful exchange about Vlad Tepes while walking up a flight of stairs:
Florescu: “Many artists came to paint him. They painted him here.”
Hamilton: “They painted his body?”
Florescu: “No. They painted him fully clothed.”
After Florescu rambles on about the beauty of the Carpathians, Hamilton looks straight in the camera and says “frankly, when I’m planning my next vacation, I doubt Transylvania will the be at the top of my list.” It definitely won’t be by the end of this special because I’m pretty sure after another hour of grossly insulting Romania, you might end up in a reenactment of Vlad’s favorite pastime.

As you would expect from Fox Television, ol’ Gorge does his best to shed his glamorous image and be the ugliest American possible. During one segment he is invited to dinner, which he demurs sneering “I’ve never been a fan of stewed goat”. George, if you only had a fucking clue in that pretty little head of yours. Stewed goat is delicious. Like lamb, except without the gaminess. During a staged “Point / Counterpoint” style discussion of whether Vlad was a Romanian hero or a bloodthirsty dictator, Hamilton sits down to a meal based on Harker’s Hungarian meals in Stoker’s novel. When I was a teenager reading the novel, all of the descriptions of the exotic food really stuck with me and to this day Chicken Paprikash is one of my favorite things to make at home. Of course George looks at the table with distain and after a forkful of Robber Steak, makes disgusted faces and is on the verge of spitting out his food and when told that it was Jonathan Harker’s last meal, Hamilton quips “I can see why now”. Can someone from craft services please get Mr. Hamilton some real food, like a Big Mac?

Weird Al?
Another wonderful bit of gruel is a taped segment with Noreen Dresser, an author who is alleged to be on a “mission: to find out why Daracula has become a national obsession”. Oh, this should be good. According to Ms. Dresser, 27% of those polled believe vampires are real! What a shocking statistic! Unbelievable, in this day and age. Yeah, but if you pay attention, you’ll discover that the pollees were a small group of students from her local highschool! Well at least there is some credible research behind her theories. Noreen also goes on to blame vampire TV shows like “The Munsters” (yes, you read that right) and states that the vampire is “almost a classic Halloween figure”. Uhhh, Noreen, can you explain to me how it is not a classic Halloween icon? My favorite bit of insight is her discussion of why women like Dracula. According to statistics, women complain of a lack of foreplay in their lives and vampires “are all foreplay”. She goes on to say “vampires take women with elegance and style… it’s never a violent act.” Presumably aside from the whole laceration of the main artery and subsequent death from the resulting bloodloss. No, not violent at all.

We also get to meet Bernard Davies, the chairman of The Dracula Society and the stiffest cue-card reader in TV history. Davies blathers on, mostly feeding Hamilton set-ups for his badly written and badly delivered one liners.
Davies: “for it’s time, ‘Dracula’ was the ultimate in horror.”
Hamilton: “except he wore a cape, not a hockey mask.”
Oh jeeeeeezus, make it stop! Davies also provides voice-over narration for a taped reenactment of Bram Stoker’s manuscript for “The Un-Dead” being discovered by some Amish in a barn. Still more lifeless segments include a voice-over talking about Elizabeth Bathory while showing clips from Hammer’s COUNTESS DRACULA (1971). Better still we start getting some allegedy true incidents, such as one at London’s Highgate Cemetery, where a vampire was said to be found. Basically the story is that an investigator of rumors found a fresher than expected corpse in an unaccounted for coffin in a tomb and wrote a hyperbole filled account of it. The investigators embellishments included the corpses eyes glowing red, that it had blood on it’s teeth and that the tomb was walled up with cement mixed with garlic. To which Hamilton quips “cement mixed with garlic? Sounds like the pizza I had last night! Ha!” Even worse, when it is revealed that it is believed that the vampire still walks the cemetery because the investigator didn’t drive a stake through the corpse’s heart, Davies says “no stake, you see.” To which Hamilton comes back with “mis-stake!!” Are you feeling my pain yet? I know you are.

As if all that wasn’t enough, we get more of Noreen who claims to have investigated and infiltrated and discovered that vampires live amongst us! Yes, the people we meet every day could be vampires! Apparently Noreen has something against airline hostesses, as she singles them out as prime suspects. This goes against the grain of popular mythology, as I always thought they were supposed to be lawyers. Anyway, Noreen not only claims to have befriended some real life vampires, but interviews these losers who claim (under anonymity) to be a vampire and a “donor”. The girl, Pam, likes to stab people’s fingers with needles and suck the blood off of them. What? Seriously? That’s it? Apparently it’s enough to send ol’ George into a tizzy, running off to get stakes and garlic and call his agent to get him out.

When he’s not patronizing the educated and stroking the crack-pots, George runs around crying about the lousy job: “Easy gig, my agent said. Be over before you know it, he said, I wonder what he’s got lined up for me next? …Live from Cherenobyl, is the reactor really cooled off? George Hamilton finds out live!”

As gruelingly painful as it is to watch, there is one interesting thing. The producers lend an air of respectability to laughable, half-baked theories passed off as fact, and portray Romanians as simpletons and peasants and mocking their beliefs, country and food with sniggering arrogance. This foreshadows the same brand of xenophobia and disinformation that Fox has now made their trademark on their “news” shows. Other than that, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything funny, interesting or cool.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween Havoc: THE LAST FRANKENSTEIN (1991)

The Japanese have always had a sort of disconnect with western mythology. It’s understandable, but for the most part the classic monsters of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Jewel of the Seven Stars and European legends of lycanthropes, are treated as amusing fodder for children and icons of comedy. On occasion they are handled with grave seriousness with great results (Michio Yamamoto’s excellent DRACULA series from the ‘70s). More often than not, it’s a goofy, cheesy mess that appeals strictly to the Japanese and uber-nerdy J-Fans.

Suicide has always been a popular Japanese pastime and, since they were never invaded by the Spanish and forced to worship Christ at sword-point, they consider it nothing to be ashamed of. Matter of fact, it’s a noble way to go. In present day a new theology has sprung up called Shino-Kiyo and the white-faced leader professes that suicide is the way to take control of your life and everyone must embrace the right to kill themselves. During a demonstration, an over excited TV reporter asks passersby what they think about suicide. A teenage girl responds, “it seems really popular, but I don’t want to try it”.

Caught up in this is an anatomy professor, Sarusawa (Akira Emoto) whose wife committed suicide five years earlier and whose teenage daughter, Mai (Aya Otabe), developed psychic powers soon after. During a meeting (in which one professor smacks himself on the head with a paddle while laughing uproariously), the university professors decide that this suicide epidemic is actually a virus that attacks the brain and takes 3-5 years to incubate. During the discussion of the virus, Sarusawa speaks up:
Sarusawa: “It is possible that I am already infected with this disease.”
(pregnant pause while other professors stare)
Angry professor: “Don’t bring personal problems to this meeting!”
Sarusawa: “Sorry.”

The dean of the university (who keeps live chickens on his desk) enlists Sarusawa to go seek out rogue scientist Dr. Aleo (Yoshio Harada), who is supposed to be looking into the problem. As it turns out, Aleo could care less about the virus and in fact wants the human race to die off so that his “supermen” can re-populate the planet. His new race is going to be created from two re-animated corpses. How is he going to re-animate them? Lightning and electrodes? Too old fashioned! A glowing green serum injected into the brainstem? It’s been done! Nope, his master stroke to rule the world depends on kidnapping Mai to have her use her psychic powers to bring them back to life. So, wait… this self-acclaimed genius isn’t actually going to do anything? He’s just going to use someone else’s psychic power? Not really all that much of a scientist, is he?

Once the superman and his bride are up and re-animated, Aleo demands that they have sex, immediately! This, of course, doesn’t work and leads to the next hour of the movie, in which Aleo tries to get the two to have sex (one way is to force them to watch porn), Sarusawa preaches the need to teach them love, everyone is sexually frustrated, eventually goes mad and... well, you can see where this is heading. There are other diversions as well. For some reason the cultists are locked in a room of Aleo's house. There's a wacky, cartoon-style boxing match between Sarusawa and Aleo's hunchbacked assistant Harou (Naomasa Musaka). There's the preserved baby that Aleo is so fond of. The superman is obsessed with the sea and in long, long, sequences contemplates the sea and howls at it. One of the episodes (chapters?) is an interview with the superman in which he gives slow, cryptic answers to the cryptic questions of an off screen interviewer. One of the better moments has the bride reading an anatomy book and being sexually aroused by the illustrated cross-section of the male intestinal tract and genitalia.

Based on the play of the same name, writer-director Takeshi Kawamura tells the already disjointed story in multiple segments, each headed by a title card, giving the film a more episodic feel that it would have already had. There are fragments of bizarre inspiration, such as a bit where Mai goes into a comatose state and the doctor informs Sarusawa that it is because she forgot how to use her brain. In this state she levitates a cream-colored coffee cup out of a window and drops it to the ground, shattering it. This coincides with a woman in a cream-colored suit plummeting to her death, drawing a visual metaphor to the smashed cup and the smashed corpse. There is one other sequence that alludes to Mai being the cause of the suicides, but nothing else comes of this and the idea is simply dropped like so many others. Another interesting sequence has Aleo and Harou going into the city to kidnap Mai out of the hospital. Everyone in the city is frozen in time while Aleo and Harou walk through the streets and the hospital. This shows how effective Kawamura can be at creating a surreal atmosphere when he wants to, but unfortunately he chooses to diffuse that cool dream-like state with intentional camp by having Harou ham it up, pulling faces and badly trying to disguise himself as a nurse.

I like to think I am pretty open to experimental filmmaking. I really enjoy and seek out films that are desperately bizarre and surreal. Andrzej Zulawski’s POSSESSION (1981) is a mind-liquefyingly strange movie that manages to be a work of genius using the same techniques. Characters display extremes of emotion, a deliberate absence of music to heighten the unnerving scenes, long takes with minimal dialogue, out of the ordinary events go unexplained, picturesque visual imagery is held a little too long, etc. Here the problem is probably due more to my culture than anything else. The strangeness in THE LAST FRANKENSTEIN is quintessentially Japanese, which is fine until you send in the clowns. The Japanese, due to centuries of cultural demands for appropriate public behavior, embrace comedy that involves extreme reactions, extreme facial expressions, social faux pas and lots and lots of screaming. Oh, and slapstick comedy is always popular. Is there anything funnier than hunchback getting kicked in the nuts? Oh and yes, for the record, I do realize the Italians famously beat them to the…erm… punch (kick?) in Umberto Lenzi’s ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH (1976), but that was just one ill-advised moment out of a solid film and this is one lame gag out of a movie filled with as many lame gags as interesting concepts. For instance, Aleo’s wife is a mentally retarded cripple who loudly slurps soup at the dinner table (yes, this is played for laughs). More hilarity ensues when a fly lands on her forehead and Aleo swats it with a riding crop, causing her to pull a face and scream loudly for what is seconds, but seems like minutes. Funny stuff right? Or how about the hunchback (with a two foot-tall hump) who cackles maniacally screams things like “buenos noches” and gets into a pro-wrestling style fight with the “superman”?

The wacky comedy is pretty much the nail in the coffin for this one, for me anyway. Someone like Kiyoshi Kurosawa could have taken that same script, stripped the comedy out of it and turned it into a brilliant piece of hauntingly surreal cinema. Instead we have a scatter-gun approach that throws out a mess of sophisticated ideas, interspersed with unsophisticated comedy that sort of rambles along until it hits a wall. This is the first, last and only (so far) film from Takeshi Kawamura and while I can’t say I’d be interested in watching the film again, if he made something else, I’d probably have to check it out. In spite of the folks you see ranting about this being the second coming, that, I'm afraid, is about as much of a recommendation as it is going to get out of me.

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.