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, May 28, 2012

Sci-Fried Theater: THE INHABITED ISLAND (2008/2009)

Like a good western, good science fiction should be rife with allegories and metaphors, transcending the basic standards of the genre, but providing visceral entertainment at the same time. In other words, it should deliver the thrills, but also subtly explore some intellectual themes. In the realm of science fiction literature, brothers Boris and Arkadiy Strugatskiy are undisputed masters of their craft. Like other science fiction masters, say Philip K. Dick, the adaptations of their thought-provoking works of alternate realities run the gamut from the stunning to the silly, but the beauty of their works is that no matter how silly the adaptation, they are always compelling in some way due to the brilliance of the source material.

Set in the year 2157, Earth has evolved to be peaceful, prosperous and healthy. So healthy in fact that everybody is genetically superior; physically beautiful, strong, and err, bullet proof. Humans heal so quickly that unless they are shot in the head, they are essentially unkillable by firearms. Damn, Leatherface would have a field day in this new era. One van of teenagers would last him for months!

Prettyboy Earth dude Maxim (Vasiliy Stepanov) accidentally crashes his intergalactic graduation present on a desert planet and after running into some wolf-ape creatures is captured by a filthy nomad, Zef (Sergey Garmash), and handed over to a military camp in exchange for a can of meat. The military camp is an outpost for a country that is perpetually at war and uses sonic towers to transmit a mind control energy wave at specific hours of the day that causes the mass public to fervently praise their totalitarian leaders. More importantly, it causes painful epileptic seizures in a small minority who are labeled degenerates and traitors and are then tortured, executed, or forced into military service for cannon fodder. The catch is that the ruling elite, a cloistered group of section heads called The Unknown Fathers, are actually degenerates themselves. While they live in luxury, plotting wars and engaging in personal politics, the people live in tiny little apartments watching television programming that is a transmission of the imaginings of insane minds. At one point Maxim is floated in a bacta tank - err, I mean some sort of amniotic fluid filled glass container, and his brain recordings are of a giant lizard attacking some biohazard suited guys that look like they escaped from a Bruno Mattei film.

When Maxim is being hauled in a prison transport back to the city, one of the transmission towers is attacked, pinning one of the guards, Guy (Pyotr Fyodorov). Maxim saves him and is given his new name, Mak Sim, when Guy loses something in translation. The Unknown Fathers realize that this tall, grinning savage who appears to be perfect for a part in POINT BREAK 2, has untapped potential as a pawn in their never-ending war games. Mak finally has enough of this, breaks out and saves the virtue of a cute waitress, Rada (Yuliya Snigir), from what appears to be an escapee from a Tim Burton set. The back alley fight between Mak and a gang that has seemingly modeled themselves after rejected Mortal Kombat fighters is the movie's first and biggest stumbling block. Rehashed MATRIX-lite fight scenes that we've seen done a million times since 1999 and that, quite frankly, causes the enthusiasm level to drop faster than a Facebook share.

As it turns out Rada is coincidentally Guy's sister and this allows for some bonding that leads to Guy talking Mak into joining the military where he gets an inside view of the cruelty of the Fathers. After refusign to execute the "dissidents" who include resistance fighter Zef, Mak is left for dead. Of course since he can't be killed by body shots, he uses this presumption of death as cover to try to organize a rebellion with the grudging help of Guy, who still is reasonably certain that everything is fine and there is nothing to see here.

Yuliya Snigir's talents laid bare

Got all that? My favorite synopsis was from a guy on a message board who said that the film was "a Russian PITCH BLACK". Whaaaaa?? I think that is the one sci-fi film it doesn't borrow from, but more on that later. Spread out over two installments, the first feature runs close to two hours and is essentially the first two acts, leaving the final film to be a massive 80 minute third act, which means the second film is almost wall to wall action. Even with over three hours of running time, this film is clearly trying to pack in way too much of the book to make a coherent film with the time alloted. I understand the epic scope that the filmmakers were going for, but it actually may have played better cut down to a two and a half hour single movie, or if you are going to do two movies, flesh it out to two full 120 minute films. When epic works are pared down for cinematic adaptation the screenwriter is going to have to pick and choose what is important to the telling of the story and what can be omitted. Here, it feels like a shotgun approach with scenes popping up that feel completely unconnected to the story, as if the screenwriters had favorite bits that they didn't want to cut and just sort of stuffed them in edgewise.

For example: While trying to figure out how he's going to get his revolution in gear, Mak asks Guy if he believes in The White Submarine. Mak says he believes it exists and he will find it. Why? Not a clue. What for? No idea either. They stumble across the (presumably) legendary white sub without much effort and while Guy freaks out (as usual) about it being contaminated and "weird", Mak goes inside to explore. He finds a working radio, what appears to be human experiments and a bridge that has monitors running war atrocity footage. They then leave the sub and get back to their main objective. I get the point of the scene (I think), that soldiers are conditioned for war, but this point is made many, many times through the film already and it doesn't seem to serve much purpose in the film. It's cool, but I would guess that it was probably much more integral and made a lot more sense in the book. Another bit shows that Mak can lay his hands on the degenerates, stopping the seizures. This is a quick bit that, again, I'm sure had much more relevance in the book. Purists may disagree, but it could have been left out entirely and made for a less cluttered film that could have been a good, solid 2.5 hours.

Directed by the son of famous, award-winning film director Sergey Bondarchuk, Fedor Bondarchuk starterd his directorial career with the big-budget, highly controversial 2005 Afganistan war movie 9TH COMPANY. While I haven't seen the film, it was considered controversial due to it being rather Oliver Stone-ish and glossing over facts from the Russian invasion in the '80s, and cranking up the drama quotient. THE INHABITED ISLAND also has similar issues. It reminds me a bit of Schwarzenegger's TOTAL RECALL (1990), it's a great story slathered in molten velveeta.

Turning Point: The Fall of Good Gaming
The city itself is a fully realized world, layered with detail that verges on BLADE RUNNER-esque. It's all pretty impressive looking, but somehow has a sense of sameness. The city is a bit like METROPOLIS (1927), BRAZIL (1985) and that disappointing video game TURNING POINT: FALL OF LIBERTY (2008) which envisioned the Nazi's occupying America in big Nazi blimps (sorry, airships). Nothing evokes BRAZIL quite like the interrogation sequence where Zev is encased in a body suit that is then pumped full of scalding steam. Some of the steam-punk design not only echoes BRAZIL, but feels a bit like CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (1995) as well. The baroque quarters and formal dress of the ruling class are simply stunningly detailed, but are somehow reminiscent of DUNE (1984). There's a car chase that feels like it is lifted right out of TOTAL RECALL (1990), a character who looks like THE FIFTH ELEMENT's Zorg (Gary Oldman) created a mini-me, and so on. As richly visual as it is, if you've seen any science-fiction films from the past 30 years, chances are you will see something that will remind you of something else.

Boasting one of the largest budgets in recent Russian blockbuster history ($30 million), THE INHABITED ISLAND sets out, like previous Russian epics such as NIGHT WATCH (2004), to bring Russian cinema toe-to-toe with Hollywood. The cold war has turned into a cinematic rivalry, even if the US is blissfully unaware that anyone else is even trying to compete. Like the propaganda rhetoric of the old days, Russian film scholars proudly boast that they are beating the US at their own game. Unfortunately the reality of it is that in same year, 2008, we produced IRON MAN with state of the art CGI effects that make THE INHABITED ISLAND look like it was made in 1998. That is not to say that I am casually dismissing the technological achievements in the film, particularly with $30 million budget, which is a mere fraction of what it would have cost Hollywood to do the exact same thing. Nor am I dissing Russian pop-culture cinema. I really enjoyed D-DAY (2008), a massively entertaining almost scene-for-scene rip-off of Schwarzenegger's COMMANDO (1985), from 9TH COMPANY veteran, Mikhail Porechenkov. However, this perfectly illustrates the real issue with Slaviwood cinema...

Russian film scholars claim that American audiences just don't "get it". They claim that we think that the Russian soul is too foreign and strange, and this is why, even though they have special effects and action, that the films don't do well over here. I hate to break it too you, but that's just not true. Why do you think your arthouse films do well and your bubblegum films don't? Obviously your Russian soul isn't to blame, but more so the fact that we are really tired of seeing yet another fight scene badly pilfered from THE MATRIX. I loved the beginning of NIGHT WATCH, but you lost me completely when cars started driving on buildings and guys in sunglasses got into slo-mo, 360, superhuman martial arts fights, dodging fists and sliding backwards from super-punches. The Russian soul got a thick chocolately-flavored coating and a crunchy candy shell. The center is complex and intriguing, but the outside tastes like cheap crap that can be had better elsewhere. The sad thing is that if they dumped the carbon copy mentality, I believe they would be producing some of the world's finest genre cinema and Hollywood would be beating down their doors for the remake rights. Ironic, nyet?

While Bondarchuk may be spending too much time stealing ideas from Hollywood films, as an actor, his turn as one of the two rivalling Fathers, Prokuror, is one of the really good things about this film. All of the Fathers play politics, but Prokuror and Strannik (Aleksey Serebryakov) are the only ones who realize the potential of controlling Mak Sim in their own way. While Strannik wants to dissect him, Prokuror wants to use him as a pawn in his own power play. In order to do that he has Rada arrested, and tries to play the good cop/good cop game to get her to allow him to "help" Mak. It's a great sequence that not only shows off Bondarchuk's skill as an actor, but Yuliya Snigir's as well, since in the rest of the film she really isn't given much to do other than be flirty or scared.

One of my favorite scenes in the film has Mak Sim visiting a sorcerer who lives in a bat cave for advice at the behest of the mutants. The dialogue that they have happens late in the film, but adds quite a bit of depth in context:

Sorcerer: "Your reason is clouded by conscience and you are unable to distinguish true good from imagined good. Your conscience is spoiled. Reason must subdue it, overcome it."

Mak: "Conscience gives us ideals, which reason seeks a means to achieve."

Sorcerer: "Means never fit in within ideals. Then the ideas must be widened or conscience narrowed."

To me this scene is a great example of the limited grasp I have of Russian philosophy, but don't try to wrap your head around it, because the conversation only makes sense once you reach the end of the movie and you get one of those moments of clarity when everything comes together and it makes the groan-inducing MATRIX crap a little easier to brush aside.

Now that I've said all that, you know what? I actually really enjoyed THE INHABITED ISLAND for what it is. It certainly is not even remotely on the level of STALKER (1979) or DEAD MOUNTAINEER'S HOTEL (1979), but then again I didn't really expect it to be. Because of its source, it has a lot more going on than most and while it often feels like the plot is a total clusterfuck and you will eventually want to slap the grin off of Maxim's mug, it's still an entertaining, richly detailed sci-fi film with a some genuinely great moments.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The XXX-Factor: THE AVENGERS XXX (2012)

You might have heard of this little film called THE AVENGERS that is currently breaking box office records worldwide.  Grossing over $200 million in the U.S. during its opening weekend, THE AVENGERS is freakin’ huge.  Everyone knew it was going to be big, but I don’t know if anyone figured it would gross more in just over one week what the last HARRY POTTER film earned during its entire three month North American run.  One group that has to be pleased with this success is adult entertainment company Vivid Entertainment. Hot of the success of STAR WARS XXX, Vivid again teamed with Axel Braun, the premiere adult porn spoof maker, to produce a XXX parody that will ride the coattails (cape tails?) of its popular big budget counterpart.  Vivid is basically like the mockbuster studio The Asylum if you replace really crappy looking CGI with sex scenes.

THE AVENGERS gets off to an ambitious start with a long pan of the Nevada desert as Dr. David Banner (Corey Matthews) awakens wearing only his trademark torn jeans.  Location filming in a porn movie?  Yowza!  News reports fill us in that he got into a big brawl with Abomination in Las Vegas. We then cut to the headquarters (the porn staple of an empty warehouse) of The Avengers.  Nick Fury (Lexington Steele) says that S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to get together a team of superheroes.  Damn, who leaked the plot of the big budget AVENGERS? Anyway, currently present are Hawkeye (Eric Masterson), Scarlet Witch (Danni Cole), Ms. Marvel (Lexi Swallow) and Spider-Woman (Jenna Presley).  Iron Man (Dale DaBone) then joins them.  Bonus nerd points if you know which one of those characters isn’t a real Marvel superhero.  Boom!  Gotacha, they’re all from the Marvel universe.  If you knew that, I feel bad for you, son.  I got 99 problems but a comic addiction ain’t one.  Hit me.  Ouch. Anyway, the heroes start quarreling until the Scarlet Witch cancels all of their vocal patterns and storms off.  Iron Man flies off to the desert to try to snag the Incredible Hulk, not noticing that Spider-Man is hanging around watching his every move.

Meanwhile, Hawkeye goes looking for Scarlet Witch, but runs into Natasha aka Black Widow (Brooklyn Lee).  Admiring her tight outfit, Hawkeye makes the move and they proceed to get it on in the film’s first sex scene.  That is how you do it, Joss Whedon you tease!

After this spirited superhero sex session, Iron Man locates Banner but he is now full on the Hulk (Jordan Lee) in the desert and tries to convince him to join the team. Somehow Stark’s plan to do this is by shooting him with a laser. Anyway, Hulk does take too kindly too it and punches Iron Man across the desert, where he crashes in probably the film’s best effects work. Sadly, if you rented this hoping for some XXX Hulk action, you will be sorely disappointed as the jolly green giant’s role ends here.  “Don’t make me horny. You wouldn’t like me when I’m horny” will just have to wait for another day.

Back at Avengers headquarters, Nick Fury is excited about the prospect of his plan working and his assistant Sharon Carter (Phoenix Marie) notices this.  We then get our first great porn dialogue bit with the following exchange.

Carter: “You’re really excited about this aren’t you?”
Fury: “I am.”
Carter:  “We should do something about that.”

And that something just happens to be a helping of one-on-one sexual healing in the film’s second sex scene.

When this scene ends, we immediately cut to Scarlet Witch practicing some of her magic on some flying targets.  Ms. Marvel admires her work and then her body as we jump immediately into our third sex scene as our two female superheroes experience some Sappho sensations.  Damn, this movie so many people stripping out of their tight superhero costumes that I thought I was in the bathroom at Comic-Con.  Oh jeez, now I have that visual in my head.

Anyway, after that we get another set up for a sex scene as Thor (Brendon Miller) is visited by She-Hulk (Chyna).  Damn, Braun is playing fast and loose with his superheroes here cuz there ain’t no She-Hulk (or Spider-man for that matter) in the big screen THE AVENGERS.  Of course, who in their right mind would turn down the casting of former WWE wrestler Chyna for the role?  This is something she is perfect for.  She-Hulk apologizes for the behavior of her cousin (damn, someone did their homework) and Thor rages about how he would never succumb to the Hulk.  “We’ll find out,” She-Hulk says and we dive headfirst into sex scene number 5.


When that wraps up, everyone reconvenes at headquarters and I realize the movie only has 20 minutes left.  Holy crap, have we even gotten to any plot here.  I mean, are there villains? And am I seriously complaining about lack of plot in a porn movie?  I guess I won’t find out as we get the film’s final sex scene between Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel.  He seems insecure in his standing in the group (“So this isn’t about Thor is it? Because, seriously, if it is I’m going to like hurl in my mask”) and Marvel assures him she is only interested in tingling his Spidey senses.

After their energetic romp, the team convenes once again and Fury tells them they are going to Antarctica.  Why?  They are going to retrieve Captain America out of the ice.  We see America’s hero frozen in ice and then…credits!  Wait, what?  Did I just get the freakin’ porn equivalent of “to be continued…” laid on me?  Why you sneaky, porn spoofing bastards.

Sadly, THE AVENGERS XXX doesn’t seem to be aiming as high and comes off more like just an excuse to have the iconic characters getting it on while half in and out of their famous costumes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that is ultimately the point of porn spoofs, but director Braun has done much better than this.  I guess I got really spoiled by Braun’s STAR WARS spoof as that one followed the film note-for-note and actually did some funny spins on the material. The high point of comedy here is Spider-Man giving Hawkeye the finger during a catty argument.  Now I’m not asking for some scene-for-scene remake where you risk life and limb by sneaking a stolen script past Marvel security, but, damn, give me something.  The plot is so shallow that the “non-sex version” offered with in the 2-disc set runs a laughable 16 minutes and 19 seconds.  And characters such as the Hulk and Iron Man, major players in the theatrical film, are only afterthoughts here with a couple of scenes each.  Seriously, no Iron Man sex scene?  That’s just wrong.  Of course there is still plenty of sex on display.  All of the performers are attractive and seem enthusiastic in their roles.  Amazingly enough, 90% of them are actually decent as far as acting goes too.  Only one performer gives a bad performance *cough*Scarlet Witch*cough* so, by that standard, it is just like THE AVENGERS *cough*Scarlett Johansson*cough*.

It is a shame the film focused so little on the storyline aspect as the production is another well handled affair.  Vivid knows where to put their money and it is grateful to see the biggest special effects in a porn aren’t the women.  The CGI for Iron Man is actually really well done and the film actually has a few bits that outshine the aforementioned CGI sluts The Asylum. Of course, you won’t be mistaking anything seen here with the stuff from the big screen.  Here’s a test, guess which still below is the floating air station from the X-rated film and which one is from the $250 million dollar movie.

If you got that test wrong, it is time to get your eyes checked.  If you're reading this, get your head checked out too.

THE AVENGERS XXX deleted scene
"Hammer me! Hammer me! Hammer me!"
One of the odder things about this flick is that Jenna Presley was cast as Spider-Woman but she doesn’t have a sex scene.  That wasn’t always the case as she originally had a scene with original Thor (Evan Stone, in the old school Thor costume) that ended up on the cutting room floor (it is featured as an extra).  You know your acting must suck if you are cut out of a porn film.  Sad.  Seriously, this was to accommodate one of the more notable things about this film in the casting of Chyna as She-Hulk.  While she did the sex tape thing a few years ago, she officially signed with Vivid last year to star in features for them.  I’ve got to say, it is a bit of a casting coup as I’m sure that will bring lots of attention, they once again fail to capitalize on it by not having her throw down with anyone.  Yes, you get to see her do the nasty in all of its glory, but I want a fight scene too dammit!  Oddly, Chyna keeps on her top during her entire sex scene, but you can see her topless as she gets painted green in the special features.  Since I’m sure a billion of our hits will be from “Chyna topless She-Hulk” I’ll offer you this gift.  You’re welcome.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The "Never Got Made" Files #72: SEA OF SIN (1991/1993)

Sincerity and a go-for-broke attitude in low budget filmmaking will get you a long way with us.  Case in point: the film WINTERBEAST (1991).  Director Christopher Thies knew the odds were stacked against him when working with such a low budget, so he managed to throw everything into his picture.  It features demons, stop-motion monsters, zombies, nudity, clown masks, ever-changing mustaches, and more.  While it will never be confused with a horror great, WINTERBEAST displayed enough creativity and “what in the world?” charm that we couldn’t help but like and admire it here at Video Junkie.

I contacted Thies on a completely unrelated matter and, after revealing my penchant for unfinished films, he informed me that he had his own “never got made” skeleton in his closet titled SEA OF SIN, a horror flick about killer mermaids.  Color me interested.  The project was supposed to be Thies’ sophomore feature, but never got finished.  It also holds the distinction of being the only project we’ve covered so far that never got made…twice!  “The project had a couple of false starts,” Thies explained via e-mail. “We almost started shooting in 1991, but eventually shooting ended up taking place in late September and October of 1993.”

Michael Anderson reacts to
the film's cancellation
Regarding the first attempt, Thies explains that SEA OF SIN was a significantly larger production than his debut.  “The initial production in 1991 was budgeted around $300,000,” he reveals. “We had an investor the first go-round who was a venture capitalist. I was working in a video store as we were making WINTERBEAST and I had a friend and co-worker who had a lot of the same interests and taste in movies as I did – Larry Aufiero. He wasn’t involved in WINTERBEAST at all. His sister Dorothy had just finished up working as production manager for the TV show MONSTERS and was interested in producing – so we all got together and they liked the script so decided to make SEA OF SIN with them producing and me directing. Before shooting began the funds fell though- either the stock market tanked or the investor finally got a look at WINTERBEAST, but that ended the first version.”  It is a shame too as Thies discloses that the group had cast Michael J. Anderson, best known as the diminutive “Man from Another Place” in TWIN PEAKS, as the magician in the film.

John Waterhouse's
A Mermaid
So what exactly was SEA OF SIN about?  The script – co-written by Thies, Kevin Maguire and Delia Huse – focused on a killer mermaids coming from the sea and descending upon a seaside town in New England.  Lovecraft would be proud.  “The story revolved around a seaside amusement area,” Thies explains, “and a mysterious mother and two daughters who come to town with a drunken magician to perform at one of the bars. They end up being a family of killer mermaids and the magician is their human hostage. They’ve actually come to town to sacrifice 7 victims (one for each of the seas) so Poseidon will rise from the sea and impregnate them to carry on the race. He does arrive at the end and runs amok at the town’s “Miss Neptune” contest killing and maiming and carrying one of the mermaids off into the ocean.”

It was a wild subject, no doubt, and mermaids – long used in scary maritime folklore – have rarely been used as the subject for horror films (Curtis Harrington’s NIGHT TIDE being the most famous example).  So where did Thies exactly draw his inspiration for this idea?  The answer might surprise you. “The Bermuda Triangle,” he states.  “Not the actual place, but an old amusement park ride at an oceanfront amusement park [Paragon Park] in Hull, Massachusetts. The whole place was torn down in the 80s but I went there a lot as a kid. They had what was originally an ‘Old Mill’ dark ride where the current would carry these boats through pitch black tunnels past a few black lit animated fiberglass dioramas. In the mid 70s they changed the theme from a jungle cruise to the Bermuda Triangle. They had these great set pieces of mermaids and King Neptune tormenting drowning sailors that were really amazing.”

The Bermuda Triangle ride at Paragon Park:

Joe Pallister as Martin
With belief in his concept, Thies decided to give production another go a few years later. He eschewed attempts to gain funding in Hollywood, something they had tried with WINTERBEAST to no avail. “Two years later we started again with Larry and me funding it ourselves,” he explains, “by that point he owned a video store and I was working in insurance.”  While the budget was significantly less ($30,000) than their first attempt, Thies and company still maintained a professional attitude.  They started by casting actors down in New York.  PLAYGIRL centerfold staple and 1993's "Man of the Year" Joe Pallister was a cast as Martin, the Coast Guard member who must combat the sisters, and Dina Dillon and Alexandra Adi were cast as the good and evil mermaid sisters, respectively.  And while Thies had separated from his WINTERBEAST producer Mark Frizzell on this project, a few of that film’s alumni helped on this new production.  “Bill MacLeod, who played Dick Sargent in WINTERBEAST, was the key grip. And Kevin Maguire, who was the bartender at the Wild Goose Lodge, was going to play a street preacher at the beach,” he explains.  Could we also see a return of everyone’s favorite WINTERBEAST villain, the super strange Sheldon?  “I wrote a part for Bob Harlow, who played Sheldon, but by the time we started production, he was nowhere to be found.”

So production began anew in the fall of 1993.  Shooting on 16mm film, the production has established a shooting schedule of 15 days. Actors were bused up from New York to the Boston area and shooting began at an amusement park in the Salisbury, Massachusetts area. Unfortunately, the production began to quickly fall behind.  “I think we shot a total of about 6 days,” Thies confesses.  “We were falling behind schedule more each day, but the goal was to complete the exteriors around the beach before the cold weather set in and then go to interiors.”

Ultimately, only 20% of the live action footage was shot.  Not only was Thies dealing with the pressures of directing a film, he also had to deal with a low budget director’s worst nemesis – a disgruntled spouse!  “I can tell you that my wife at the time was not happy with the whole idea,” he amusingly reveals.  “It didn't help that on the fist day of shooting she came up to the location and some drunk checking into the motel we were all staying at forgot to put his truck in park and it rolled down the hill and smashed the back of her brand new car. I remember later that night we were shooting at a beachfront arcade and she was parked across the street glaring at me from her dented car.”

Director Thies (in black) on location

Dina Dillon as
The Good Mermaid
Eventually the project collapsed under the combination of the weight of its own ambitiousness and a lack of funds.  Money dried up to the point that the producers couldn’t even get the processed footage out of the lab.  It is a shame too as Thies promises the script offered some truly one-of-a-kind onscreen mayhem that, given the madness displayed in WINTERBEAST, would have given the horror genre some true firsts.  As examples of the craziness, he mentions a scripted scene where the evil mermaid sister, Marina, zaps onto a Navy sub and turns the crew members “into piles of flopping fish.” There is also this wild scene from the film’s finale where Martin chases Marina through the amusement park with a trident.  “He chases her through the amusement park at night and ends up at the top of a waterslide, where she beheads the attendant with a garrote and her and Martin and the head all end up sliding to the bottom in a battle to the death. In the pool at the bottom she turns into her mermaid form and he kills her while the other swimmers run for it.”

It was in the creatures that SEA OF SIN, like all good monsters movies, was going to shine.  “Steve Fiorilla, who worked on WINTERBEAST, had designed some great mermaid creatures,” Thies reveals, “that I wanted to do in stop-motion.  Each one was a different sea creature- one a crab, one an octopus, etc.” Here is his lone surviving design:

As evidenced by the above drawing, the mermaid monsters were truly unique.  Alas, the killer mermaids drowned in a sea of debt, rather than a sea of blood.  It is too bad as Thies liked the look of the footage he saw that did come out of the lab.  Today, the project is lost and Thies owns none of the footage.

What wasn’t lost in the process though was determination and Thies eventually did get his sophomore feature off the ground.  Reteaming with WINTERBEAST producer and friend Frizzell, Thies recently shot another nautical themed horror film called HOOKED.  “Mark called me out of the blue about 5 years ago,” he discloses. “He was good enough to track me down and it wasn't long before we decided to self-release the WINTERBEAST DVD and launch into a new project.  Not because it made sense, but just because that's what we love to do. I had written a number of scripts in that time and HOOKED was the first one I showed him. He called it JAWS meets PSYCHO meets PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE. It had plenty of animation and we've added more along the way. It was incredibly over-ambitious, but I think we've pulled it off.”

Telling the story of a man who begins to chew on the inhabitants of a fishing town courtesy of some shark teeth dentures, HOOKED delivers on the weird and wild promise previously seen in SEA OF SIN.  Any chance it could have a killer mermaid in the mix? “There is a mermaid in HOOKED,” Thies reveals, “but she is an aquarium toy that comes to life and talks to the main character when he’s hallucinating. Other than that, it’s a different kind of film altogether.”