Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

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

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The XXX-Factor: Sybil Danning in Playboy, August 1983

One of the great things about Blogspot are the "traffic sources" stats on what search items brings readers to our blog.  Running a close third behind Boyka (Scott Adkins' buff villain-turned-hero in the UNDISPUTED sequels) and Linda Blair (a certain OUI pictorial pops up) is 80s action/b-movie cult queen Sybil Danning.  It is almost like sex sells or something.  Danning is definitely a favorite around these parts and, like most folks, we got introduced to her through her Sybil Danning's Adventure Videos.  She was like the Elvira of the action scene, introducing some great (and not-so-great) movies with terrible puns and incredible skimpy outfits.  We were in love.  As if a hot lady and z-grade action weren't enough, Danning also had her own acting career and the Austria-born actress had no qualms getting nude.  Hell, she even refined the art of being nude without being nude.

Anyway, long story short, we obviously weren't the only ones smitten with Miss Danning's charms and we're doing this post to satiate all of the like minded folks typed "Sybil Danning + nude + Playboy" into Google every five minutes.  Below is her spread for Hugh Hefner's seminal nudie mag that appeared in August 1983.  And for you Tom types out there, we've also included the text from the article about her.  It begins with her kicking out her boyfriend (yay!) and then talking about some of her films (she even bags on Lou Ferrigno).  Fans of "never got made" stuff will be interested in reading about BLACK DIAMOND, her planned female James Bond film.  It never got before cameras, although a comic book of it did get released.  Behold the power of Danning (click to enlarge, but try not to break your computer screen)!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Strung Out on Slashers: BERSERKER (1987)

It’s that time of the year again. The weather gets crisp, the leaves are falling and our sofas get even more comfortable. The smell of fir trees and roasted meats; exotic spices and fresh-baked sweets makes our thoughts turn to a subject that is near and dear to our hearts here at VJHQ… yes, it’s time to stoke the Yule logs, whip up a hot beverage and settle in for some really bad slasher movies.

Back in the day when this hit video the box copy did its job and sucked me in with promises of a Viking warrior on a blood-soaked rampage, cutting swath through the scum of the western world… pot-smoking promiscuous teens. Holy shit! This could be the greatest movie ever! Or not.

Opening with a prologue set (as we are informed by a title card) in the 10th century, the front of a Viking longship hits a fog shrouded beach and after a long pause to observe clouds of mist float past the camera, what appears to be a reject from a Man-o-War cover-band audition, in a wolf mask, jumps off the boat. Cut to what we presume is present day (did the title guy fall asleep already?) and a couple, clearly eligible for the silverhair discount at Denny’s, are savagely attacked by what appears to be a bear. You can’t really tell as it is all POV shots with the paw from a cheap bear costume gently wiped across the faces of the victims leaving a smear of blood. Hey, it could get better, right?

Yes, in case you are keeping track, that was two prologues. We finally arrive at the main plot; a group of unsurprisingly obnoxious teens (surprisingly not ethnically diverse), loaded down with beer and pot and books (!), head up to an old camping ground with some of the shittiest cabins you can imagine. When one of the plot conveniences revolves around the renters of one of the cabins not actually staying in the cabin, but preferring to sleep in their tent, it is actually really easy to accept. The camp grounds are run by one “Pappy” Nyquist (George “Buck” Flower in a rare non-transient role), an Amish-bearded old salt with a Swedish accent. Pappy is cousin to the local Sherriff (trash movie veteran John Goff), and spends most of his free time reading books about Viking mythology. One of the tomes is actually the same as the one that the nerd teen, Larry (Rodney Montague, no really), is reading aloud on the trip up to the cabin. The book tells the history of the Viking berserkers, who were cannibals, kept on chains and in cages, and outfitted in wolf skins and wolf masks that they would use to tear up their victims. After the berserkers died it is said that their spirit remains on this earth and will possess its descendants. It is believed that the Vikings landed on US shores and this very patch of woodlands is where their ancestors still live to this day…
Ok, ok, we get it already! Someone’s gonna git possessed by a berserker and shit’s gonna go down! Awesome, bring it!

Or, maybe we’ll just wander around in the woods, hang out in the cabin and bitch, piss and moan about every goddamn thing under the everlovin’ sun. Mostly though, it’s just the obnoxious tool Josh (Greg Dawson) who tells his heart-wrenching tale of how his dad was an asshole who was obsessed with his job, left his mom, but when they came up to the cabin he was, like, totally cool n’ stuff. It’s no surprise that he is the only dude flying solo on this camping trip, as his eloquent mastery of the sublime art of humor is demonstrated frequently. When Larry brings books on the camping trip, Josh leans over to Larry’s girlfriend, Kathy (Valerie Sheldon), and says “does he read to you while you hump? What are ya gonna do? Teach Smokey the Bear to read?” He also tells the group about how the woods are dangerous as a little girl was found “all tore up” in a river. The authorities decided that it was due to the rocks in the river, in spite of the recent bear warning. Oh yeah, that’s great, thanks for bringing us up here Josh!

Naturally all this is a set-up for the impending attacks, but first we need to hit some of the important highlights from the ‘80s Slasher Movie Checklist. The highlight of this pawful of clich├ęs grueling montage with the “teens” goofing off to an awe-inspiringly cheesy rock tune “Cool Dude”. Since words cannot do this justice, here’s the video:

And yes, we ticked off another one on the list, the skinny dipping scene in which the writer-director Jeff Richard decides he is a rebel filmmaker who is going to buck the system by having the girl start to take off her clothes and then decide not to. Hmmmmm… Let’s see, Jeff doesn’t want to see boobs, but does want to see two men greased up and stripped to the waist grappling and rolling around on the ground. Uhhh, Jeff? Is there something you would like to share with the group?


When we finally hit number 14 on Kasey Kasem’s top ‘80s Slasher Hits (which as we all know is the girl going off to go pee while camping at night), the perpetually giggling Mike (Joseph Alan Johnson) and Shelly (Beth Toussaint) go look for our pee-girl, Kristi, and decide to just have sex in the woods. I was a teenager once, I can totally see that. Apparently Mike and Shelly, in spite of having the quietest sex ever, are completely oblivious to Kristi’s screams, as she is mauled by what appears to be a bear. So now at the hour plus mark, we get to the attacks, but is it a possessed kin of a Viking warrior, or is it a bear?! Ummmm, yeah, what? We get the big Viking set-up and now Richard is desperately trying to make us think that a killer bear is stalking the woods.

Even after giving us the first prologue and our exciting premise of possession, Richard spends a lot of time trying to suggest that it’s a bear who is running around the woods attacking people and that there is in fact no berserker as the title would suggest! Nope, it’s a bear and we are going to move forward with that until the end in which… surprise! It actually is a berserker! Gosh, I bet they won’t see that coming, what a surprise that will be! Jeff, come here so I can smack you. At this point we discover that the bear was actually chasing the berserker who runs in out of nowhere and bum-rushes the bear like he’s some buffed out Leslie Nielson. Our epic throwdown between berserker and bear turns into a trainer and a bear playing cut with the berserker wrasslin' a dude in a Spencer's Halloween costume. Even better, as soon as the bear starts to get the upper... uhh, paw, our berserker tucks his tail between his legs and runs off into the forest howling for his momma!

Best cabin... EVAR!!
Twenty years later I am sucked in (again) by the premise and the promise of a Viking berserker bustin’ all Jason Voorhees on some nitwit campers and twenty years later I get to feel the same disappointment all over again. That is not to say that there aren’t any points of interest along the way. Josh is totally obsessed with staying at the same cabin that he stayed at while growing up. He makes a big deal about it, damn near throws down with ol' Pappy when he can't get it and generally will not shut the fuck up about it. Once they get there, you can see why... Mike, once he stops giggling, is a runaway freight train of social incompetence. When he hops on an ATV to go get the sheriff, he tells a terrified Kathy that she has to stay at the cabin. Why? Because “I can drive faster with less weight!” Hoooboy, Mike, I’d rather take my chances with the berserker!

As long as your expectations are very, very low and your pain threshold is very, very high, you might get out of this one alive. All others beware, unless you are a "Cool Dude".

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cheap Plug Dept.: I Dig Your Blog

We interrupt this blogging for a special announcement...

The kind Dr. AC, M.D. (Medical Deviant) of HORROR 101 has bestowed an "I Dig Your Blog" award upon us and we can't thank him enough.  If you don't know this medical marvel's work, head on over and check out his blog with some great reviews in his Fool's Views section.  The Doc will forever have our admiration (poor guy) for having watched 115 movies in October alone!

There are some rules to the award though.  Wait a sec, he's making us work?  Grrrrr.  Okay, here we go:

1) Gratefully accept this award. (Done)
2) Link to the person you received it from. (Done)
3) Post 3 interesting facts about yourself. (See below)
4) Pass this award around to at least 5 blogs you dig. (See below)
5) Notify said 5 bloggers (Done)

Damn, interesting facts about ourselves?  Well, since there are two of us here, you lucky readers will get 6 interesting facts.

Interesting facts about Tom:

1. Believes that if god truly existed, bacon would grow on trees. 

2. Studied film, journalism and culinary arts and then discovered that nobody would pay for reviews of movies about food. 
3. Is the one man who has bought a copy of Penthouse just for the articles.

Interesting facts about Will:

1. Despite being a film addict, has never seen THE GODFATHER.

2. The first R-rated movie he saw in the theater was ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.  
3. Once found a copy of Penthouse on the street and wondered who tore all the articles out.

Okay, 5 blogs that we dig:

1. By John Charles - While new to blogspot, Mr. Charles has been a internet presence for over a decade with his (now defunct) Hong Kong Digital.  He bravely stepped back into blogging this past year and we are always excited to see what he is reviewing next.

2. The Dead Next Door: A Field Guide to Regional Horror Films - Jeez, could they have come up with a title to appeal to me more?  Always throwing up trailers for some of the best from this sub-genre.  And they will forever be champs for find a LIFE story on a teen Tobe Hooper making FRANKENSTEIN.

3. The Horn Section - I found Hal Horn's blog via his posts on Mobius and he runs a great "why the hell isn't this on DVD yet" film series.  Great fun reads that covers a wide range from Burt Reynold's PATERNITY to DARKTOWN STRUTTERS.

4. Fist of B-List - Any blog that has the dad from NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER screaming in their banner is amazing by my standards.  Covering the direct-to-video action market, you'll get hilarious reviews covering everything from Gary Daniels to Sean Donahue.

5. Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot - MCKEE!!!  Most folks will know Marty McKee for his Mobian God status.  He also runs this blog where he covers everything from old published reviews for stuff like 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (poor guy) to new reviews of stuff like Charles Napier's THE NIGHT STALKER (lucky guy).We won't hold the fact that he saw SCREAM 4 against him.

So check all them bad boys out as they have the VJ seal of approval!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Gweilo Dojo: MIAMI CONNECTION (1987)

If you grew up in the US in the 1980s, escaping exposure to the television series MIAMI VICE was pretty damn hard.  The adventures of Crocket (Don Johnson) and Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) set standards – for better or worse – in both the entertainment and lay person fashion industry. People were showing up to work with 5 day stubble on purpose after, no doubt, spending a weekend jamming to Jan Hammer’s MIAMI VICE theme in the clubs.  While too young to fully indulge in the MIAMI VICE inspired nightlife, I am grateful to the show for inspiring the team behind the glorious NINJA TURF (1985) to make the equally glorious MIAMI CONNECTION (1987). It is the kind of cinema we live for here at Video Junkie – a film full of some many laughable “holeeeeey shit!” moments that it easily secured a spot on our “best film EVER” lists.

MIAMI CONNECTION opens with a big cocaine deal going down that is interrupted by some ninjas who ride around on loud motorcycles.  Hmmmm, I don’t think they know how ninjas are supposed to act.  Anyway, ninja leader Yashito (Si Y Jo) takes his haul to a club to sell to epically bearded Jeff (William Eagle, if that is your real name).  Jeff, however, gets perturbed when Dragon Sound – the club’s house band offering “the new dimension in rock and roll” – takes the stage.  Seems his sister Jane (Kathy Collier) has joined the band and, oh lordy, she kisses band member John (Vincent Hirsh) on stage, which makes Jeff angry and uneasy.  Think about that for a second.  A guy who is in a club to conduct a major cocaine deal is pissed his sister is in a band and kissing a guy.  That about sums up the craziness on display here in MIAMI CONNECTION.

Jane and John meet up on the campus of the University of Central Florida while she is in her computer class.  Here is another classic bit that had me rolling – the computer teacher asks the class to applaud the University’s computer team for coming in fourth place in an international programming contest. What?  Do these filmmakers know they control the product onscreen? What is to prevent them from putting the University in first place?  Talk about aiming low. Anyway, our lovebirds walk around the campus and Jane tells John about her overprotective brother who hangs around with shady people.  Oh damn, guess who just rolled up in his red convertible with a whole group of shady looking people?  Jeff decks John while Jane watches helplessly (that sounds like a nurse rhyme).  The boys from Dragon Sound show up to offer their boy some support and, when they drive away, John says, “If Jane wasn’t there I would have kicked his ass.”  Yeah, sure, pal.

Meanwhile, the band that Dragon Sound apparently replaced is pissed and shows up at the club to demand their jobs back.  Not a good move as the club owner apparently knows martial arts too and beats down the group.  The causes the scorned singer to contact Jeff about getting rid of Dragon Sound, a task the begrudged brother is more than up for. After this is where one of my favorite bits of the film happens.  Jim (Maurice Smith, who may or may not be the MMA and kickboxing legend) tells Mark (Y.K. Kim) and his other band mates that he has been looking for his father.  Here’s how it breaks to them in the movie. Keep in mind this is the very first time the film ever mentions all five of the band members are orphans.

So can you see why – as McDonald’s would say – we’re loving it? And the Oscar goes too...Maurice Smith!

Of course, abandonment issues are the least of Dragon Sound’s worries now as they are confronted by the other band with a gang of thugs in the middle of the street.  Mark tries to soothe the scene by saying, “Listen to me. I don’t want any trouble. I get the job from agent. Don’t bother us.”  That goes over real well (perhaps they didn’t understand Mark’s thiiiiick accent?) and soon a huge brawl breaks out over the streets. Naturally, since Dragon Sound are also Tae Kwon Do experts (did I forget to mention that?), they whoop everyone’s ass and Jeff is forced to resort to kidnapping.  His gang snatches Tom (Angelo Janotti) from Dragon Sound (rule #1 in music industry kidnappings: always go for the John Oates look-a-like).  This results in a showdown at an abandoned warehouse, which culminates in gang leader Jeff being killed.  For some reason Jane doesn’t seem to care much, but Yashito takes this shit real personal when he hears his “brother” (what?) has been killed. He and his ninjas suit up to get rid of Dragon Sound once and for all.  The ninjas confront them in broad daylight and their timing couldn’t have been worse as they were just driving Jim to the airport to meet his long-lost father.  Someone will have to pay.

In case you are wondering how Jim took the news of finding his father, here you go:

His last exclamation of “Oh my God” is exactly how I sounded when I finished this movie for the first time.  Hell that is how I sounded after the first 10 minutes, which had me quickly sending Tom an email saying, “Watch this film ASAP!” Hiding behind the completely mystifying, postcard looking box art (see above) is the type of film we live for – completely wrongheaded in every way, yet vastly entertaining as a result of that.  How can you not die laughing at bits like geeky Yashito hanging out with some all too real bikers while a song called “Tough Guy” blasts on the soundtrack?  I honestly had a real tough time deciding which clips to upload as nearly every scene is hilarious.  And the dialogue is nearly every scene is priceless.  For example, check out the two cops who show up too late to break up a brawl at a train yard.  

Cop #1: Where did everybody go?
Cop #2: I don’t know.
Cop #1: Looks like another gang.
Cop #2: Ah, we need to get these gangs out of central Florida anyway.
Cop #1: That’s true.
Cop #2: Let’s get out of here.

You also have to love the completely random shifts in tone.  Like Park’s NINJA TURF and AMERICAN CHINATOWN, things can go from jokey to serious and vice versa in a split second.  There is a great bit where a ninja underling tells Yashito about the final attack.  His response is to cut off the head of bearer of bad news and then laugh maniacally. And I love the dudes they find to be in the gangs in these films.  We get all shapes and sizes, from the rotund to the rail thin Kid Rock look-a-like.  Their depiction of US gangs is so bad that I’d almost thought this was a Hong Kong film.  Oh damn, did I forget to mention that Dragon Sound plays several songs?  They pepper such hits as “Friends” (lyrics: "Friends through eternity, loyalty, honesty/We'll stay together through thick or thin/Friends forever, we’ll be together/We're on top because we plan to win.") with an on stage display of bad martial arts.

So MIAMI CONNECTION is pretty much a blast from start to finish of its 83 minute running time.  It is a shame that Park only made a few of these movies. Seriously, if I had the $250 million dollar budget of a TRANSFORMERS film, I’d spend $249 million on a time machine just so I could go back to the 1980s and give director Richard Park a million dollars to make a couple more action movies.  Oh, and I’d totally go to the club with my stubble and neon t-shirt under a white sport coat to scope on the 80s chicks.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The "Never Got Made" Files #70: PSYCHO II: THE RETURN OF NORMAN BATES (1981)

It goes without saying that Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960) needs no introduction.  Not only is it one of the cinema’s most well-known horror films, it is also one of the most culturally significant films of all-time.  Films students still study the effective editing execution displayed in the legendary shower scene some 50 years after the fact.  And mention that you plan to stay at the Bates Motel with mother and chances are 9 out of 10 people will know what you are talking about.  In 1992 it was the second horror film (behind James Whales’ FRANKENSTEIN [1931] in 1991) to be deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress when it was placed in the National Film Registry.

In addition to worldwide success both in the public consciousness and at the box office, PSYCHO is unique in that it is one of the few films in history to receive a direct sequel 20 plus years later, resulting in a brand new and successful horror franchise.  The sequel PSYCHO II debuted almost 23 years to the day after the original film and proved to be a box office success. Subsequent sequel films (PSYCHO III hitting theaters in July 1986 and PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING debuting on cable in November 1990), sequel novels (Psycho II and Psycho House, both by original author Robert Bloch), a television pilot BATES MOTEL (1987) and the ill-advised 1998 remake by Gus Van Sant proved the undying popularity of Norman Bates.  Lost in the PSYCHO history, however, is an earlier sequel attempt that existed before all of those. Before Bloch or Universal dreamt up the further adventures of America’s favorite madman, two enterprising screenwriters came up with the idea first.

In the world of PSYCHO trivia, PSYCHO II: THE RETURN OF NORMAN BATES is a ghost that barely exists.  Outside of a one-page article in Cinefantastique and a mention in Starburst (obviously culling their info from the former), mentions of the project in the genre press are as hard to find as one of Norman’s victims at the bottom of the swamp.  It was the original Cinefantastique article by Kyle Counts published in early 1982 that piqued my interest.  As written by Counts, the project – then simply titled THE RETURN OF NORMAN – came off as nothing but a knock off attempt by a couple of Hollywood neophytes to cash-in on Universal’s impending sequel.  The reality, however, couldn’t be further from the truth.  Using the magic of the internet, I was able to contact co-writer Michael January (thank goodness for unique names) about the project. Gracious beyond all means, Mr. January took time to go through his files and give me his end of how he tried to reopen the Bates Motel for business.

In the late 1970s, new-to-Hollywood Michael January met Gary Travis at a party.  “Gary was a contract player for 20th Century Fox (when they had such things) seen on the DANIEL BOONE TV series,” January explains via e-mail.  “He had turned independent producer-director by the time I met him and had made 3 smallish independent films. Rather lost to posterity, but one starring Jeffrey Hunter, and another with Alan Hale Jr.” Both men hit it off when it came to discussing movies, namely Alfred Hitchcock and their favorite film of his, NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959).  The duo soon began collaborating on screenplays to some success.  “The first screenplay I wrote with Gary had come in 3rd in a horror movie script contest, which was a very new idea then, and had gotten very good reaction for some industry folk and some investor interest,” January reveals. “Our second script, also a horror piece, a killer in a sorority house story was optioned by an independent company.”

The cinematic inspiration would soon be in the news as Alfred Hitchcock passed away in April 1980 at the age of 80.  It was around this time that Travis began to wonder why no one had done a sequel to PSYCHO, one of the most successful horror films on record.  “I agreed to write a sequel script to PSYCHO with Gary,” January discloses, “with the thought we had pretty much had one place to take it, live or die.” With the horror market in another boom period thanks to films like John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) and the recently released FRIDAY THE 13th (1980), the screenwriting duo set out to update the world on the further exploits of Norman Bates.  Their initial story for the sequel was registered with the Writer’s Guild of America in August 1980 and the first draft of the screenplay was registered a few months later in October 1980.

Like the eventual sequel that Universal produced, the screenwriters wisely chose to treat the decades since the original as “real time” in their follow-up.  “There is a fire at the mental institution and Norman Bates is presumed dead, his remains are identified by teeth,” January reveals of their sequel. (Interestingly, Bloch would use a similar plot device in his unrelated Psycho II novel a few years later.)  “Lila Crane buys the motel to exorcize her demons and refurbishes it,” he continues, “But people who come to stay, some drawn by its notorious history, begin to disappear. Actually, Norman has escaped and taken up residence in a hidden cave behind fruit cellar beneath the old house where he’s re-taken up his taxidermy hobby.”  Also interesting is that the script – like the eventual PSYCHO II – introduced Lila Crane’s daughter having a pivotal role in the proceedings.  And Travis and January had some clever casting concepts for their sequel. “We intended for Jamie Lee Curtis [real life daughter to original PSYCHO victim Janet Leigh] to play Vera Miles’ daughter who comes to visit from college and meets Norman, mistaking him for the man her mother told her she’s has been seeing.”  And the character Lila would be seeing would be a psychologist, a new role written for Martin Balsam, PSYCHO’s ill-fated private eye.

With script in hand, Travis and January went about to drum up interest in the sequel.  Their first plan of attack was to attract the original PSYCHO players.  “Vera Miles was in town doing a play,” January says. “I went and approached her. She was very nice and I gave her the script. She got back to us that she liked it very much and agreed to do it. She was pretty much the main character.”  A similar process occurred where they got the script to New York-based Martin Balsam, who was in town shooting a film, and he also agreed to do the film. Of course, the biggest casting coup would have to come in grabbing the interest of the titular character. “We knew that Anthony Perkins was interested in directing,” January divulges.  “We got the script to him and suggested he could direct it.”  The appeal of getting behind the camera (something Perkins would eventually do on PSYCHO III) indeed seized the actor’s interest and he too attached himself to the project.

With an appealing film package in their grasp, Travis and January set about setting up production via their Picture Striking Company.  “With three stars agreeing to do the film, we also attached a major line producer, C.O. “Doc” Erickson (CHINATOWN, BLADE RUNNER),” January recalls.  “I’ll mention those names because they’re in the press article. We had a top Hollywood entertainment attorney submit the project to a production executive at Universal. Now, here’s where it gets interesting.”  Indeed, after a fast-and-furious period of courting stars, the team presented their film proposal to Universal in the fall of 1980. After that – silence.

Six months later, the team finally heard back from Universal Feature-Production Vice-President Verna Fields, who moved the film up the production chain, indicating the company would be interested in taking another trip to the shower.  Hollywood then did what Hollywood does best – it clogged the production path with endless discussions between agents and executives that dragged on for months.  “From some of the letters I have, the discussions with our agent and the studio were bogged down,” January tells of the negotiation process. “Tony Perkins called Gary wanting to know what was happening. Gary was frustrated and began to think of trying to take the project elsewhere and asked Mr. Perkins how he would feel about that.  Apparently he was ‘delighted,’ having had unhappy dealings Universal’s ‘Black Tower of Torture’ on other occasions.” Meanwhile, blurbs about the PSYCHO sequel with its all-star reunion cast appeared in entertainment columns on both coasts in August 1981.

New York Post & LA Times blurbs 
on PSYCHO sequel circa 1981 (click to enlarge):

"Is this my agent?"
Eventually, that is what the writers chose to do as they explored the option of taking the project to another studio in the fall of 1981. “Paramount seemed a prospect because of [Erickson’s] strong relationship there,” January reveals. “20th Century-Fox expressed an interest in picking up the project for distribution. But neither would step up with money for a turnaround or rights acquisition.”  And there was the issue of using a well-known studio character property outside the confines of the studio.  “Now, is where THE RETURN OF NORMAN comes in,” January explains of their attempt to reframe the screenplay outside of the PSYCHO world.  “This had been going on for almost a year. With Universal stalling and only straight distribution from another studio on the table, options were growing thin. There were some independent financing sources interested and Gary believed we could make the movie independently - or maybe press Universal into a deal by threatening to do so. No longer the copyright trademark character ‘Norman Bates,’ but a generic ‘Norman’ serial killer with our story plot. I was dubious. Getting a studio level budget and making a distribution deal with another studio with a generic haunted motel movie even with Anthony Perkins was not very likely.”

Cinefantastique follow-up
on the project's demise
While activity on the RETURN OF NORMAN (alternately called RETURN OF THE PSYCHO) project picked up in the summer of 1982, the financing never came through. However, the biggest blow to the project was Universal announcing their PSYCHO II project with Perkins now signed to play the lead.  And while the Cinefantastique piece implies (mostly via quotes from Robert Bloch) that the screenwriters were in trouble with Universal’s legal department, the only real difficulty came from using some images synonymous with PSYCHO.  “I think we did eventually did get a formal ‘cease and desist’ letter from the Universal legal department in regards to a RETURN OF THE PSYCHO press release with some ‘borrowed’ art work,” January recalls, “but by this time, the match was pretty much played.”

Ultimately, the project was abandoned with January and Travis going on to other screenwriting projects and then January going out on his own as a solo screenwriter. While not the most comforting outcome, both men did receive confirmation that their initial idea of a PSYCHO sequel was a valid endeavor as the eventual Universal sequel was a success.  It is a lesson and story heard often in Hollywood and January hopes to write a book about the harrowing tale of execs, agents and studio deals that would drive anyone mad.  And, after all, we all go a little bit mad sometimes, right?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Satanic Panic: THE INCUBUS (1982)

There are some movies that I can watch now and think "damn, I actually liked that back in the day" or "damn, this is great, I can't believe I didn't like this back in the day", but every now and then a movie comes along that makes us say "holy shit! I can't believe I watched that back in the day and never batted an eyelash!" INCUBUS was a staple of the early days of HBO and home video and I had seen it plenty of times, but twenty years later, good christ this movie is fucking twisted! If Steinem didn't keel over from COUNTRY CUTIES, this would definitely do it.

A small New England town suddenly finds themselves in the middle of a rash of brutal rape-murders. The victims are mostly young girls, one of whom is attacked while taking care of business in the ladies room, and all of them are violated by such a large phallus that it rips them apart and leaves massive amounts of semen in the victim (no, seriously, that is the plot). John Cassavetes, apparently weary of winning awards, plays a local surgeon, Dr. Sam Cordell, who helps the police investigate the murders and worries about his teenage daughter... with whom he has relationship so awkward that it seems like he married a much younger woman until later in the movie when it is made clear. Awkward as in the opening scene where his daughter Jenny (Erin Flannery) leaves the bathroom door open and steps out of the shower, buck nekkid, and he must take a moment to compose himself. What the hell? There are other weird scenes which are definitely not father-daughter relationship stuff, and perhaps this was originally intended to be a red-herring to make the audience think that perhaps he is the rapist. Perhaps.

You see, the composition of the shot implies the distance between father and daughter and
the previously obscured realization of Cordell's daughter blossoming into womanhood.
ummmm... anyone buyin' that?

Complications arise when Jenny's boyfriend Tim (Duncan McIntosh), starts freaking out, claiming to have dreams about the murdered girls concurrent with their brutal demises. Of course, being a learned man of science, Dr. Cordell jumps right on this and damn near busts out the torches and the pitchforks himself, while the villagers think him a bit nutty and go about their business. Yes, for some reason, in spite of a string of brutal murders of innocent women in a small town, as from a few people, for some reason the town doesn't seem terribly bothered by it. The local library/torture museum (I didn't stutter, you heard me) still stays open late, providing a perfect opportunity for an attack, as does the strangest rock gig I've ever seen. For some reason one of the attacks is cross-cut with a rather flamboyant performance of the band Samson, who old-school rockers will recognize as Bruce Dickinson's pre-Iron Maiden outfit. I never had the chance to see Samson play a club gig, but I'm pretty damn sure they didn't do laser-light performance art complete with a dry-humping couple in front of what appears to be a high-school auditorium of slightly bored pubescent teens! What the hell? This leads me to wonder just who they were trying to market this film to. Graphic sexual violence that makes even leathery trash movie veterans like me a bit uncomfortable, a cast that appeals to guys in tweed jackets, and a band aimed at '80s teenagers. I suspect even the producers had no idea where they were going with this.

Attempting to be a slasher flick, a supernatural horror outing and a gritty crime drama outing all rolled into a far slicker-than-it-has-any-right-to-be package, the rapes are violent and bloody and are followed by graphic discussions of how the victims had their uteri torn apart and were filled with an extraordinary amount of red semen. In addition to this, once great director John Hough, who gave us classics like DIRTY MARY AND CRAZY LARRY (1974) and LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) (and went on to help Clive Turner clog video stores everywhere with HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE), shows a genuinely creepy obsession with vaginal bloodletting. Hough has either has got a gallon of blood in the crotch area of the tape outline at the crime scene, or he’s zooming into bleeding crotches that are pumping blood everywhere. Even Jess Franco would draw the line there. Based on Ray Russell's 1976 novel of the same name, the lead character was changed from an anthropologist turned supernatural investigator (Indiana Bones?), but for the most part the core of the story is still the same. A rampaging demon with a huge dick attacking young girls. Ray must have been working through some relationship issues at this point in his life.

There are so many bizarre things in this movie, but one of my favorites is Cassavettes insisting on delivering serious, graphic dialogue with a weird Mona-Lisa-esque smile. Not to mention the scenes in which he tries to question a surviving victim in the hospital and repeatedly calls her “tough guy” in a really creepy, patronizing sort of way. And then there is the ending... phew! They definitely don't make 'em like this anymore.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Popular opinion casts Ed Wood’s sci-fi non-epic PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) as the worst movie ever made, but it is actually far from it.  Sure, the film is inept and hokey, but it also has an endearing quality to it.  Plus, Vampira is hot.  I could whip out 50 movies in a second that I’ve seen that are worse than it.  And first on the tip of my tongue would be a film that tries to forge a close kinship with PLAN 9.  Behold BRAIN ROBBERS FROM OUTER SPACE (2004), a shot-on-video unofficial sequel to cinema’s most recognized turkey.  Not only does it attempt to be a 45-years-too-late follow-up, but the filmmakers managed to snag one of the co-stars of the original PLAN 9 to be star in this pseudo-sequel.  Yup, my good buddy Conrad Brooks is in this.  Even though my doctor told me to space out my Brooks viewings to once every six months, I’m breaking the rules and jumping on this cinematic grenade.

BRAIN ROBBERS opens with Detective Gustavo Perez in a hospital bed and telling a woman his wild story.  He rambles on about lizard-men Illuminati from the Dog Star Sirius before settling into our main story that takes place in Hillsborough, Florida.  A group of men out fishing spot a UFO and decide the best thing to do is contact Officer Jamey (Brooks) about it because he has some history with extraterrestrials.  This really shakes up Jamey’s world as he is living with his daughter and granddaughter and the highlight of his day is having kids leave flaming bags of dog crap on his porch.  Jamey and the men return to the area where they saw the UFO and they discover a black circle burnt into the ground and a small cylinder in the middle of it.  Naturally, they bag this strange piece of machinery in order to take it to some scientist friends for examination.

We then meet Evelyn (Lara Stewart) and her goth twin sister Lilith (Stewart again). Evelyn goes to visit a professor about her tarot card term paper, but all they get is the teacher telling Lilith about the mythical origin of her name.  Meanwhile, Jamey and Ted (Raymond Couto) take the strange cylinder to a neurosurgeon friend, who analyzes it in his Sheldrich Morphogenic Matrix Scanner. Hey, is that a STAR TREK joke?  Anyway, they find out that inside the container are brains.  Jamey then takes it down to the police department, but the cop he takes it to isn’t interested in it.  While at the station, Jamey sees Domino (Jose Ortega), a guy who was busted for smoking a joint.  With some smooth talking (that we never hear), Jamey gets him released.  Once outside, they part ways but not before they meet Officer Mary (Raye Ramsey), an old flame of Domino’s.  She asks if he is still seeing Lilith (alright, things are connecting) and he is.  Lilith and Evelyn return to Evelyn’s home where her drunken husband Russo Romero (Duran Anderson) gets so fed up that he goes to his job as a gravedigger in the cemetery.

Are you still with me?  Okay, we finally meet some aliens that are living in an abandoned house.  They are led by Morphia (Alex Michaels; yes, a dude in drag), who orders her top man-in-black Criswell (Joseph Miller) to get the cylinder back.  This proves troublesome as Criswell and an underling visit Ted, but it just breaks down into a shouting match with old man Criswell threatening to “blow his fuckin’ balls off.”  Okay, now Lilith has pissed Domino off because she won’t go to a concert with him and instead decides to hang out in the cemetery with two stoner friends (one of whom is named Butt Wipe).  This is the wrong move as they are abducted by the aliens and Lilith is transformed into a zombie via a hallucinogenic serpentine ritual (do what?).  Upset at her underlings’ failings, Morphia decides to take matters into her own hands.  She seduces/kills Ted and also turns him into a zombie.  Then she visits Jamey by pretending to be “an FBI agent from the X-Files.”  She finds the cylinder under the couch and splits.  Fade out, the end.  Oh damn, that is just the end of disc 1?  That’s right, this sumbitch runs 210 minutes.  I’m in so much trouble.

Disc 2 opens with a redneck family getting attacked and turned into zombies. Obviously Domino is worried his goth girlfriend hasn’t come home and he recruits her sister Evelyn to go looking for her.  They look where everyone looks for a missing person – by going to an office building that has a Virgin Mary reflection in its glass (true life story from Clearwater, Florida) and then hitting a carnival at Chaos Park where the tarot reader Evelyn’s professor mentioned is at. Naturally the psychic has bad news for them and then we get a random scene of Lobster Boy (real life Lobster Boy Grady Stiles) attacking some woman.  Damn it, my fingers hurt. Anyway, Det. Perez finally enters the picture as he is outside Domino’s place looking for drug connections (after all, he was busted smoking a joint).  Domino and the detective are both hypnotized by the men in black and Domino is taken back to a torture chamber in the house.  Also there is Butt Wipe, who Domino recognizes by his voice, and Morphia enters to torture them.  This results in my favorite exchange of the movie.

Butt Wipe: Why can’t I see?
Morphia: Because you don’t have any eyes.
Butt Wipe: Don’t have any eyes?
Morphia: No.
Butt Wipe (pauses): Why?

It is here that Morphia spells out the film's tenuous PLAN 9 connection.  Seems the invaders back in the 1950s were her grandparents and she wants to not only continue their mission, but also get even with Officer Jamey.  Oh yeah, Officer Jamey, remember him?  He teams up with Officer Mary and they battle a bunch of zombies in the park.  Morphia tries to seduce Domino, but Lilith snaps out of it because ain’t nobody touching her man, girlfriend.  Domino escapes and meets Evelyn in the woods, but she has become a zombie because she was killed by Ted.  Domino finally reunites with Officers Jamey and Mary and they look up into the sky to cheer the bombers (cue stock footage) attacking the UFO.  This lively trio then celebrates by going to a hotel and sipping drinks by the pool.  Our story ends with two fat kids dumping buckets of water on Conrad Brooks’ head.  Back in “real time,” Det. Perez has wrapped up his story and the audience sees the interviewer is Lilith. *cue “dah, dah, dahhhhh” music* He is then taken to the loony bin in the world’s longest dragging down the hallway sequence every put on film, er, video.

Normally I’m not a fan of reviews that just summarize the movie’s plot but, damn it, I’ve got to show something for the three and a half hours I spent watching this (over four hours if you include the “making of” stuff).  And, honestly, there isn’t much else going on in this labor of misguided love.  Director Garland Hewlett spent ten years (!) making this bomb and, no joke, the film’s opening logo for his Subatomic Productions reads, “No, we don’t make bombs!”  Are you serious? You’re just making this too easy for me. You make bombs bigger than Timothy McVeigh and friends.  Hewlett bypasses such industry standards as sound, set design, camera work and lighting.  Screw that, we spent all our money on Conrad Brooks. I guess I should always be wary of movies that tell me I need to adjust my brainwaves before viewing.  No doubt Hewlett would hide behind that claim that the overall badness was intentional, like hero Ed Wood, Jr. (to whom the film is dedicated), but I’m calling BS on that one.

And even if true, at least Wood had the common courtesy to get us in and out in 80 minutes. This miniseries of pain is three and a half hours long.  This thing is so bad that at times it became strangely hypnotic to me.  Take this scene where Criswell visits Ted (who I’m pretty sure is legit drunk in this clip):

That Criswell guy actually cracks me up and it is sad to note that the film opening with a dedication in his memory. Even funnier than a cursing grandpa are the film’s incredible continuity gaffes.  No joke, Domino goes from having long hair in the police station to short hair outside of it.  And there is a bit where Lara Stewart is obviously several months pregnant, which inexplicably leads to both characters she is playing being pregnant in a few scenes but no one mentions it. Again, I suspect director Hewlett probably says these errors are intentional in keeping with the terrible Ed Wood tradition, but I wouldn’t believe him as far as I could throw Conrad Brooks.  And speaking of Connie, I know I give him a hard time for his films, but he is actually the best actor on display here.  I’d also say Stewart gives a commendable performance since she had to essay two completely different roles.  She also supplies the film’s lone nudity. Well, if you don’t count the number of times Brooks is topless.

Good nudity :-)
Bad nudity :-(

I will admit there is one legit moment where I laughed out loud (intentionally) during this cavalcade of cinematic cheese. When the woman is being attacked by Lobster Boy, she runs to a house and pleads for help.  A woman inside leaps up off the couch and yells out the window, “Go away! Don’t bother us, we’re watching The Simpsons.”  D’oh!  While I never want to disparage indie filmmakers, this is some seriously rough stuff here.  I think it may have even cracked the top ten worst films I’ve ever seen.  But can I really hold it against Hewlett when one of the extras on the DVD is his 9 minute discourse on the positive effects of psychedelics helping one free themselves from the confines of our media masters?  I suspected there were some brain dead folks behind the camera and that proves it.  There were some brain robbers loose in Florida alright and I think they stole a bit from me after watching this.