Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

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

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Havoc: WATCHERS 1 & 2 (1988/1990)

Back in the 1980s a funny-lookin' spud named Stephen King was... well, King. He was everywhere, you couldn't run, you couldn't hide, and even if you were completely were completely illiterate, you knew who he was because his nine-digit book sales pushed him so far out past the late-night nerd discussions of Ramsey Campbell, Jack Ketchum, and Skipp & Spector that people who not only didn't read horror novels, didn't read books and normally didn't watch horror movies at all, knew who Stephen King was. Because of the beautiful machinations of our capitalist society, what happens after they make an assload of money? They are flattered by imitators.

With his first novel, "Star Quest", published in 1968, calling him an imitator is kind of flippant, but it is interesting how his work read very similar to Mr. King's in the '80s and '90s and almost rivaled him in book sales. According to Mr. Koontz, he has sold 400 million books as of 2012, which is an interesting number as Mr. King has estimated his book sales at 350 million as of 2006 - kind of sounds like someone has a case of paperback envy. Either way, a few movies naturally came out of it, the only one to be a significant hit was WATCHERS. While it was a box office flop, when it hit video a year later it found it's audience and spawned three reasonably decent sequels. Mr. Koontz says he will never actually write a sequel to his most popular work, because "That novel was about change: about the difficulty of changing ourselves for the better, of letting go of our world view even when we recognize that it’s false; about the way that an encounter with the right person can suddenly change us forever when, as a solitary pursuit, change had seemed impossible". Ummm... yeah. That's exactly what I was going to say! Perhaps this is why the WATCHERS sequels are all simply re-adaptions of the book, or as some would say in modern lingo, a string of reboots... or maybe it was just easier.

WATCHERS (1988): You know the plot: a secret government contracted research facility goes kablooey and out of the flames run their prized experiment - a hyper-intelligent golden retriever that is psychically linked to a deranged killing machine that looks kind of like an orangutan. A pissed off orangutan. A psychotic and pissed off orangutan. This movie is like a drunk walking home at 2am. The balancing act between vomiting and euphoria is an almost literal metaphor of the two lead actors. On the one hand you have squeaky-voiced Corey Haim (during his Phyllis Diller hair phase) and the always-brilliant-even-when-the-script-gives-him-nothing-to-do Michael Ironside, who I firmly believe trumps Crown Royal as Canada's greatest export. The balance is a delicate one with Haim hamming it up, straining to deliver the most simplistic of dialogue while desperately trying to be cuter than his golden retriever co-star.

Just when the cuteness starts tickling the back of your throat and you are about to heave up those nuclear meltdown chicken wings that your equally drunken friends dared you to order, Michael Ironside's Lem pops back in and smooths everything out as a smiling psycho (what do you mean "again"?) with a badge whose mission is to terminate the project and anyone who knows about it. Terminating witnesses? Oh yes, that's a job for Ironside. The best bit of dialogue is when the Fed agent Cliff (Blu Mankuma) asks Lem about the monster: "How smart is it?" to which Lem's reply is, "How smart is a crazy person?" Huh? What, the hell are you talking about, man? Like every nutter on the street is Hannibal Lechter? There are plenty of rock stupid people who are nuttier than chinese chicken salad. Some of them are even outside of politics (shudder).

John Hess (who went on to direct the disappointing ALLIGATOR II: THE MUTATION in '91) does a fine job directing what appears to be a larger than average budget for a Roger Corman film. Even in the flush late-'80s, this is a pretty slick-looking effort with some nice production values. Joel Goldsmith, son of Jerry, provides an unmemorable, though occasionally annoying score that no doubt made dad proud. Interestingly, even though here in the US we were obsessed with King and, to a lesser extent, Koontz, the film was only given a limited release by Universal and didn't even break a million at the box office. Once it hit video, though, it was a blockbuster. As soon as it went sell-through, copies of that tape could be found everywhere. Presumably due to the cute, slobbering animal in the film (I meant the dog), the movie broke into the mainstream and even people who normally wouldn't bother with some rubber-suited monster movie, rabidly gobbled up this one. I'm guessing a lot of people watched it after making it home from the bar, at which point they may realize that Dean Koontz and G. Gordon Liddy were not only separated at birth, but provided the inspiration for WATCHERS. Could it be Koontz and Liddy were part of a top secret government research program in which a smart apple is linked to a total whackjob. Seriously, look at the pics and tell me which one is Koontz and which one is Liddy? See? Yeah, it all makes perfect sense now doesn't it?


WATCHERS II (1990): Ok, so after a couple years of renting the hell out of millions of copies of VHS tapes, being run constantly on cable and generally boosting the sales of Koontz' novels exponentially, Corman finally got off his butt to make a sequel. I don't know what he was waiting for, taking two whole years and all. All kidding aside, after seeing how low-rent they went with this one, you really will wonder why it took so long to get out. So we have a low-budget sequel... we need someone cheap... Hey! Let's get Marc Singer! Oh, this is going to be rough, isn't it?

When the feds (the incomparable Mary Warnov) cut the funding of a secret bio-weapons research facility, the director gets even by paying some bleeding heart (but none too bright) animal rights activists to set all the animals free, giving him the cover he needs to torch the place and kidnap his prized experiments: a psychically linked retriever and a mentally unbalanced killing machine that looks surprisingly like the alien killing machine from Corman's THE TERROR WITHIN (1989). Wait a second, it is the same monster! I don't know why I'm surprised by this. Like Rog has never reused anything from his movies.

Anyway, enter one Paul Ferguson, a marine who is handcuffed to a jeep in which two MPs are taking him to a presumably nearby brig via a road in the middle of freakin' nowhere in the dead of night. So he's a bad guy, I hear you cry? No, no, he only punched a superior officer and it was because of the totally understandable reason that "he was an asshole". Awwww, ok, so now we have some sort of creepy cute factor going on again. He's a lovable fuck up. You know what he needs? A dog. After narrowly avoiding running over the escaped dog, the beast jumps out from behind a hill, and kills the MPs. Before the beast can lay a claw on him, Paul and the dog are driving hell-bent for his ex-wife's house where he learns that the cops think he is responsible for the corpses. Apparently Ducky went on vacation and the NSCI team are able to see through his subtle ploy of making the soldiers appear as though they were mauled by giant claws, by using rocks and twigs.

Paul hits the road with dog in tow leaving a trail of corpses in his wake, including a promiscuous teenage couple who didn't realize that they were in a horror movie and being horny is a capitol offense. Along the way, he discovers that the dog is named Einstein, but seems unsure why, in spite of the fact that the dog can understand the English language and manages to get him to hook up with the lead scientist (Tracy Scoggins) via a rather elaborate game of charades. This time out the villain is pretty much the monster, though the crazy doctor that created it runs a bit of interference The best scene in the film is, hands down, an odd sequence in which the monster, dressed in jedi robes, decides to attack a convenience store run by a sikh in a wheelchair. After busting up a crippled ethnic minority, he proceeds to trash the place and chug some Budweiser (how much do you get for having your star monster drink the product?). Damn, this guy is like a date-rape away from being an '80s frat boy!

While the title does indeed say "II", implying that this would be a continuation of the story from the first film, it's actually a "reboot" (in the modern vernacular). I'm not sure why you'd want to start the story all over again, but they do and it's a reasonably serviceable film. Director Thierry Notz, who (surprise, surprise) made Corman a couple of bucks with THE TERROR WITHIN, doesn't make the film any better or worse than it actually is. It's not as awful as it could have been (though I've seen Singer in enough skimpy outfits, I could have done without the tidy-whitey scene), but it's not as good as it could have been either. Sort of like THE TERROR WITHIN, come to think of it.

Who will survive and what will be left of their budget? WATCHERS 3 & 4... Next!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween Havoc: EVIL HEAD (2012)

Believe it or not, I’m old enough to remember when people didn’t give a damn about Sam Raimi’s THE EVIL DEAD (1981).  Sure, it was a cult classic back in the early 80s, but you could search the globe back then and not find a single person with an EVIL DEAD tattoo. Two sequels (EVIL DEAD II and ARMY OF DARKNESS) and what seems like a hundred Anchor Bay DVD releases later, the EVIL DEAD series has virtually possessed horror fans through comics, toys, video games and more.  Go to any horror convention and you’ll find EVIL DEAD slapped on everything from t-shirts to shot glasses to – I’m not kidding – baby apparel.  And finding an EVIL DEAD tattoo nowadays is easier than locating a cursing redneck in a Rob Zombie film.  Hell, the world even now has EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL!   And a slick looking EVIL DEAD remake is coming out in 2013 that cost almost as much as the entire original films combined ($14 million for the remake versus $17 million for the trilogy).  As the old Virginia Slims ad campaign said, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Rising concurrently with the popularity of the EVIL DEAD franchise has been the mainstream acceptance of the alternative look (mostly regarding women) in the pornography industry. Believe it or not, there used to be a time when finding a lady covered in tattoos in a nudie mag was as rare as an original idea from Eli Roth.  Those ink-heavy ladies were secreted away in magazines like Outlaw Biker and the like (Tom knows, trust me).  Thankfully, conventions have changed over the years and fans no longer have to accept the silicone-enhanced Barbie-esque pushed by the industry.  Helping pave the way for this movement has been Burning Angel, an alternative-focused porn company founded by Joanna Angel in 2002.  With the alternative and horror scene intrinsically mixed, it was only a matter of time before these two copulated.  Burning Angel got their toes wet in the horror film parody scene with a pair of XXX shockers from director Doug Sakmann – RE-PENETRATOR in 2005 and THE XXXORCIST in 2006.  Plans were made to tackle the now hugely popular EVIL DEAD series around that time and a funny teaser appeared in 2010.  Then silence.  Luckily, the spoof finally got made this year and unleashed on DVD just in time for Halloween.

The film opens with a quartet of vacationers – Ash (Tommy Pistol), Linda (Joanna Angel), Scotty (Danny Wylde) and Shelly (Kleio) – arriving at that familiar isolated cabin in the woods (or soundstage in this case).  “I heard about it from my friend Sam,” says Ash referentially of the cabin.  As the group settles in, Ash bestows Linda with a locket that has pictures of them screwing inside.  “You sure know the way to woman’s heart,” she coos. “Yeah, through her vagina,” he hoots in his best Bruce Campbell impersonation. Okay, this is going to be fun.  No sooner are they settled do they find an old tape recorder and the Necronomicon.  They play the tape and hear the voice of the Professor (sad personal moment – I recognized it as Troma head Lloyd Kaufman’s voice before the end credits revealed it; yup, I’m good at porn minutia) who recites the “klaatu barada nikto” incantation that brings the unseen demonic evil alive.  Of course, we can’t have things jump off just yet as Ash, Linda and Scotty have a threesome where Linda proves to be more than open in their relationship.  Post-coitus, Shelly discovers them and this causes here to run out of the cabin and into the foggy woods. Here we a XXX recreation of the infamous tree rape scene from the original EVIL DEAD.  This is actually a bit disturbing as Shelly is possessed by literally being gangbanged by some tree branches in every place you can imagine.  It is something I’ve never seen before and I’m sure some Japanese businessman is giddy at the thought.

Anyway, Shelley returns to the cabin completely nude and her possessed side quickly emerges.  She knocks Ash unconscious and stabs Linda with a piece of bark she pulls out of her vagina (!), infecting her as well.  As she centers in on Scotty, we get a play on one of the most famous lines from the series.

Shelly: “I’ll swallow your soul.”
Scotty: “Really? Well, if you put it like that 
maybe I can make an exception.”

Sex scene #3 then gets underway as Scotty and Shelly go at it on the fireplace…and on the rocking chair…and on the living room floor (man, that sounds like a game of Clue). Again, another first as I’ve never seen a soulless demon get pounded hard like this (Ann Coulter in a debate on facts with Bill Maher comes close though).


After their spirited session, Shelly wants more (“Fuck us!”) but Scotty is spent.  He pays with his life as she takes a bite out of his neck and then leaves him a bloody mess on the floor.

Springing into action, Ash throws Shelly down in the fruit cellar and goes to comfort Linda.  She is possessed and gives him the classic “Hello lover!” line before deciding to do some girl-on-girl action with Shelly on the couch (how she got out of the cellar is never explained). Now here is where the film delivers perhaps its most clever moment.  Ash sits back watching this sapphotic action and decides to get in on the action.  He sneaks up behind Shelly and begins to finger her from behind only to have his hand get possessed.  That, my friends, is freakin’ funny and a feisty and well-informed way to work in the hand possession angle.

After taking a pounding at literally his own hand (naturally it grabs his balls), Ash is forced to part ways with his appendage via some chainsaw surgery.  He then grabs Shelly and sits her on the chainsaw before revving the thing up. Chalk that one up to another thing I’ve never seen before (and I’m shocked a German gore movie hasn’t done it yet).

Ash comforts the now human Linda and she is a bit pissed because during the melee she found an identical locket under the couch featuring him getting it on with another girl.  He delivers the “pillow talk” line from ARMY OF DARKNESS before using the classic “give me some sugar baby” quip in order to segue into the film’s next sex scene as Ash and Linda use the couch to get it on.  So for all you EVIL DEAD fans hoping to see a handless Ash slap a girl’s ass, your dreams have come true. Following their 20 minute plus session, Linda reverts to her demon form and Ash has only one option and decapitates her with the chainsaw.  He takes her out into the woods to bury her, but has to endure some threats from Linda’s severed head while digging.  His response is to ejaculate on her severed head (again, a porn first I believe and done for laughs, not shocks).  Making it back to the cabin, Ash goes delirious as everything in the room starts to laugh at him (I love that they got one of those singing deer heads).  He then looks outside and sees that not only Linda, but some of his other crazy ex-girlfriends (Dana DeArmond and Veruca James) have risen from their graves.  In a scene sure to excite Jorg Buttgereit, Ash heads out to the makeshift graveyard and gets it on with all three living dead girls.  When they finish, he says, “Now is that some evil head or what?” before giving them the ol’ chainsaw breakup.  The end.

It is no secret that the porn parody business is booming. However, the more of them I watch, the more I realize how the effectiveness of subgenre is kind of like a Peter North cumshot – it is all over the place (yeah, you laughed).  The bad ones end up being nothing more than glorified cosplay with iconic characters fucking, while the good ones actually make the effort to infuse their work with clever nods toward the source material. Thankfully, EVIL HEAD falls closer to the latter.  It is obvious that Sakmann is a horror fan and has an affinity for the original series.  Hell, in the behind-the-scenes featurette he shows off the Necronomicon tattooed on his arm (see, I told you it was easy to find those EVIL DEAD tattoos). He co-wrote the script with Joanna Angela (who also confesses her love of the series in the BTS) and it is infused with so many acknowledgements and tributes to the original films. Mostly the film is parodying EVIL DEAD 1 & 2, but they make sure to work in some of the iconic lines from ARMY OF DARKNESS.  Sakmann even managed to build a set that properly recreates the original location (in a high school theater production kind of way) and spent money on some effective demon FX.  As a director he even tries to visually recreate some of Raimi’s more iconic shots.  Don’t get too excited as we’re still working on video here, but it is the thought that counts.

Echoing Sakmann’s enthusiasm is a capable cast.  Without a doubt the star of the show is Tommy Pistol.  As the battered and bruised hero, he does an incredible job at bringing to life Bruce Campbell with a boner.  He obviously studied the role and has some of Campbell’s cadence and facial expressions down perfectly. The sequence where he is attacked by his own hand rivals the physicality displayed by his inspiration in EVIL DEAD II.  Special mention should also go to co-star Kleio.  She also appears to have also studied the source material as she has the twitchy mannerisms of a demonic Deadite down. Not to mention she also got molested by some trees and, according to the BTS doc, did her sex scenes almost completely blind thanks to her contact lenses.  Helen Keller would be proud (admit it, you laughed again).

Of course, there are a few things that will disappoint folks.  Personally, I was initially excited to hear of the casting of Dana DeArmond, one of porn’s funniest actresses, in the flick and kept assuming she was going to show up as the Professor’s daughter. Sadly, she just shows up as a horny zombie in the film’s final sex scene.  Yeah, you read that right – I’m the dude hoping a porn actress gets more dialogue in a film.  It is definitely a missed opportunity in my opinion.  Also, I felt the production passed on some other great opportunities.  I’m talking severed hand fingering action (did I just write that?). The aforementioned teaser that Burning Angel released in 2010 had a great bit where Linda’s severed head chomps on Ash’s crotch.  In a film filled with never-before-seen sexual situations, I’m a bit surprised they didn’t recreate this in the actual production.  After all, the world demands a severed head blowjob scene. Did I say world?  I meant that previously mentioned Japanese businessman pervert over in Tokyo.

Alas, those are minor quibbles on my end because I think the film did enough clever stuff to satisfy even the most die hard Deadite.  So instead of shelling out $20 for that limited collector’s edition EVIL DEAD lunchbox, send your money to Burning Angel as they did this one right.  Not only did they properly deliver a porn parody, but they did it with an infectious enthusiasm that could only come from real fans.  Now, where the hell did I put my tattoo gun?

Best game of Twister EVER!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween Havoc: THALE (2012)

When it comes to shot on video productions I am, as a general rule, not a fan. Part of it is the lack of atmosphere, another major part seems to be a lack of ambition in execution. It's as if the filmmakers feel that since they are not spending the money to buy filmstock and paying the lab fees to have it processed, then they don't really feel the pressing need to put forward the effort into creating something impressive. I mean, it's just video anyway, why bother getting all worked up about quality production values and that script thing? Who cares? Just get me a machete with a half-moon cut out of it. Some, like the wannabe American Swedish movie BLOOD RUNS COLD (2011), make some good attempts and ultimately fail, but once in a while something comes along that completely shakes the foundation of my little Anti-SOV belief system.

Two average schmoes who are working for the "No Shit" crime-scene cleaning service find themselves sopping up blood and bits in a remote, dilapidated house in the woods. Well, one of them, Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) is cleaning. The other, Elvis (Erlend Nervold), is retching in a bucket. We are never told what exactly their orders are, but we find out that they are not only cleaning up the mess, but are trying to find parts of another person. While digging around the house and unearthing bones, they discover a short tunnel leading to  underground rooms. In-spite of Leo's protests that they were told not to enter, Elvis breaks into the cellar and finds what appears to be some sort of makeshift lab with bizarre medical books, weird illustrations, strange machinery, a bathtub filled with milky water and a tape recorder. Leo, trying to maintain a level head and a short leash on his impetuous and vomitous friend, tells Elvis not to touch anything, but of course  Elvis just has to touch things and that's when things start spiraling downward.

While listening to some of the strange recordings, a naked woman connected to the strange machinery bursts from the bathtub, disoriented, starving and feral. Finding this whole series of events a bit disturbing Leo makes a phone call and is told to wait. This waiting game is where the filmmakers and actors really get to show us what they can do. Borrowing a few subtle cues from EVIL DEAD (1981) and recent torture porn movies, but without feeling like they've cribbed anything, writer-director Aleksander Nordaas creates an exceptionally solid little chiller that packs twists and excellent character moments into three small rooms. Maybe not the scariest movie you've ever seen, but then again, I'm not sure that Nordaas is even trying to create a horror film, in the traditional sense. If you haven't seen the trailer, or read anything about the movie and plan on seeing it, you should probably skip the next paragraph. This thale is in the telling. No major spoilers, but it's hard to even talk about this movie without a few minor ones.

The woman in the tub is in fact a bizarre medical experiment derived from the capture of a mythological woodland creature that is "different from her sisters". A wild animal in human form with a tale. As it turns out the unnamed owner of the house had captured her as a small girl and spent decades trying to domesticate her in the tiny cellar rooms, going even so far as to surgically remove one of her appendages. Most of this is told in highly stylized flashback that gives a weird, acid-trip atmosphere to the story that shows some really sophisticated technique on the part of Nordaas, who also edited the film. Contrasting with that, while stuck in the rooms, actors Skard and Nervold are given a lot of room to portray their characters through minimal dialogue. Sure, there are plenty of low-rent flicks that don't have a lot of dialogue, but this is different. The dialogue is sparing, but important and allows the actors to act through their eyes and facial expressions. You know, real acting. If I made it sound like MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981) in a crime scene, not to worry, the creep-factor slowly turns into outright nastiness as it gets closer to the finale. In addition to smart scripting, Nordaas has a really sharp eye for the visuals. Bathed in hues of green and yellow, with occasional splashes of red, Nordaas creates some very dramatic images that beautifully contrast with the lush colors of his somewhat surrealistic flashback sequences.

Loosely based on Norwegian mythology, Nordaas has crafted a smart, stylish little film with minimal resources and a talented cast and crew. The obligatory CG effects are very effective and used only in a few important places where mechanical effects would be far too labor intensive for such a small production. Nordaas wisely avoids the trap that many amateur movie makers fall into and thankfully at no point do we have to suffer through anything as irritating as CG breath effects. The last time I was blown away by a SOV movie was the Turkish thriller DRAGON TRAP (2010) and the "best of breed" Lovecraft opus WHISPERER IN DARKNESS (2011). This is a completely different animal compared to those two, but caught me off guard in a similar kind of way. Even in the first few minutes of the film, I did not expect it to be such a slow-burn, captivating actor's movie (and writer's movie and director's movie) that just so happens to be shot on video. Granted it's probably not saying much, since I not a big fan of modern, remake/plagerism-intensive horror filmmaking, but so far this is a strong contender for Best Horror Movie of 2012 in our annual recap.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The "Never Got Made" Files #88: BYRON'S EVIL (1972)

I’ve been doing so many of these multi-part “never got made” entries that it feels almost odd going back to the one film format.  However, this entry is rather special in my opinion so it deserves this treatment.  This is the furthest back I’ve gone to research a film (40 years!) and it is a project that I’m sure would have made an impact had it been made. Not only did it center on the Frankenstein mythos, one of the most enduring scenarios in the horror genre (see our look at other unmade Frankenstein projects here), but it was to feature one of the most captivating actors of that era.

Director-writer-historian Andrew Sinclair is a name that most horror fans won’t immediately recognize.  Born in 1935, Sinclair is more known for his dramatic efforts in literature, on stage and on the screen.  He authored over a dozen books – both fiction and non-fiction – before he made his film directorial debut with THE BREAKING OF BUMBO (1970), a semi-autobiographical comedy regarding National Service based on his novel of the same name.  As a follower of Welsh poet and author Dylan Thomas, Sinclair brought the writer’s acclaimed ADVENTURES IN THE SKIN TRADE to life on the English stage in the 1960s and later adapted Thomas’ dramatic play UNDER MILK WOOD into a feature film starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O’Toole in 1972.  With two diverse films to his credit, Sinclair opted to venture into the horror genre with his third feature, BYRON’S EVIL.

Literally all the press one can find on BYRON’S EVIL is this mention in the summer 1972 issue of Cinefantastique.

Okay, a film about the Frankenstein legend featuring Oliver Reed as both Lord Byron and Frankenstein’s monster?  This I have to know more about.  Thankfully, Sinclair is still with us and he was not only open to talking about the unmade film project from four decades ago, but maintained a sharp recollection of the events surrounding it.  A confessed digital Luddite, Sinclair generously corresponded over a series of letters to help fill in the gaps and save this intriguing project from disappearing from horror cinema history.

Like many filmgoers, Sinclair was exposed to the Universal adaptation of Mary Shelley’s literary classic and he was particularly impressed by the sequel.  “THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN by James Whale is the superlative early horror movie,” he writes, “the only one to approach Mary Shelley’s original fantasy.  The laboratory and the Karloff/Bride appearances have always haunted me.”  And while the Universal variation proved to be a worldwide success, its closeness to the source novel is arguable at best. And, up until this point, no one had done a cinematic biography regarding Mary Shelley and the writing of her novel.  It is here that Sinclair found the inspiration for his planned third film as he set about to write the screenplay for BYRON’S EVIL in the early 1970s. His idea was to juxtapose the real lives of the individuals associated with the novel in the early 19th century and scenes from the actual book.  “The plot was good,” he explains.  “All those around Lake Geneva – Byron, Shelley, Mary Shelley, Polidori – also played roles in Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN.  So we had little bits of scenes up to Byron’s and Shelley’s death, intercut with parallel Frankenstein scenes.  The script and the idea worked.”

Having finished his screenplay, Sinclair set about looking for a cast capable of filling the roles.  A journey to a film festival in Italy proved to be the right move in helping locate someone capable of bringing to life the title character/monster.  “I opened the Venice Film Festival in 1971 with my classic UNDER MILK WOOD,” he reveals, “and THE DEVILS caused a scandal.  I met Oliver Reed on the Lido and interested him in BYRON’S EVIL.”  Ken Russell’s religious horror film indeed caused controversy across the world and, as a result, lead Oliver Reed saw his stock rise considerably. Despite a growing reputation for his off screen antics, Reed was a consummate professional and, at the time, still had the handsome profile to pull a performance of George Gordon Byron off.  And as evidenced by his werewolf turn in Hammer’s THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961), he was more than capable of unleashing his inner beast.

With Reed attached, Sinclair set out to surround him with equally compelling supporting players.  For the dual role of Percy Shelley and Dr. Frankenstein, Sinclair sought a young actor he had worked with in the aforementioned SKIN TRADE stage adaptation in 1964. “David Hemmings was to play Shelley/Dr. Frankenstein,” he explains of his casting.  “I got his big role in BLOW-UP (1966) when he starred in my Dylan Thomas play ADVENTURES IN THE SKIN TRADE.”  In the pivotal role of Mary Shelley, Sinclair again chose someone he had worked with previously in a J. Lee Thompson film. “Anna Karina was to play Mary Shelley,” he discloses.  “She appeared through me with David Niven and Topol in my screen-written BEFORE WINTER COMES (1969).”

Despite having such a recognizable (and in-demand) cast, the production had trouble securing funding to move forward. Contrary to the Cinefantastique piece, filming never actually began.  Sinclair logically took the property to the home of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster.  “I took it to Danny Selznick at Universal,” he explains of his funding attempts, “but he backed off and turned the idea over to Christopher Isherwood, who did a bad television version. One is endlessly betrayed in this film business.” Indeed, Universal then produced FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY through its MCA Television line and it premiered in November 1973.*  While the telefilm doesn’t retain Sinclair’s idea of juxtaposition, it does decidedly mix fact with fiction regarding Mary Shelley and the events at Lake Geneva during the summer of 1816.

As a result, Sinclair abandoned the project and began concentrating on other films. He still managed to work with Reed as he quickly began his third feature as writer-director with BLUE BLOOD (1973), an adaptation of the novel by Alexander Thynne. Interestingly, Sinclair would later reunite with Reed and new co-star Orson Welles for another film project RIDER (1974), which would collapse after a week of actually filming in Athens, Greece.  (He promises to tell more on that story in the upcoming third volume on Orson Welles by Simon Callow.) Amusingly, Sinclair’s idea of filming the tale behind the Frankenstein story has proven to be popular over the years as the subject of several films.  One such film, GOTHIC (1986), was directed by Ken Russell, whose earlier film THE DEVILS brought Sinclair and Reed together on their Byron and Shelley project.  To quote Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, “Learn from my miseries, and do not seek to increase your own.”

*Note: Film director/historian Sam Irvin has done an incredibly detailed history of FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY in Little Shoppe of Horrors #38. In his exhaustive research, he shows that Hunt Stromberg, Jr., the miniseries' producer, had begun developing his Frankenstein project as early as 1970. So these projects were being developed concurrently.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Halloween Havoc: LITTLE DEVILS: THE BIRTH (1993)

New World Pictures certainly has a convoluted history.  Founded in 1970 by Gene and Roger Corman, the company was sold in 1983 to a group of investors. It was split into a whole bunch of sub-companies like New World International, New World Television and New World Video.  Anybody who was a horror fan in the 1980s knew their familiar logo that graced releases like THE STUFF (1985) and HELLRAISER (1987).  As quickly as the production company grew with features, it began to fall apart. By the time the 1990s rolled around, the company’s emphasis was more on television and less on features.  One of the last things they got rolling out via New World International as a feature was LITTLE DEVILS: THE BIRTH.  Just a few short years later, the company was gone.  Coincidence?

LITTLE DEVILS opens with Lionel (Wayne McNamara) going to a graveyard and scooping up some red goop from a pit inside a mausoleum. Seems Lionel is an amateur scientist and has been using this stuff to create the titular creatures. Why? We never know except that he says it took control of his brain. Back at his apartment he is saved from a violent loan shark by porn writer/fellow tenant Ed Reid (Marc Price), who forgoes his own royalty check to save Lionel one of his fingers. Yeah, the violent mobster type takes a second party endorsed check.  That’ll let you know what kind of film we’re dealing with here.  Anyway, these little hellions are loose within the apartment building and it causes all kinds of trouble for Ed, potential girlfriend Lynn (Nancy Valen), and friend Doc Clapton (Russ Tamblyn).  Of course, these little red devils are the least horrific thing Ed has to deal with as he must also avoid the advances of his horny, clean carpet obsessed landlady (Stella Stevens).

You know you are in trouble when the film you are watching features Skippy from FAMILY TIES as the hero and Stella Stevens providing most of the film’s T&A.  LITTLE DEVILS is obviously aping the GREMLINS (1984) mold, but it actually appears to be cashing in more on Charles Band’s successful direct-to-video feature SUBSPECIES (1991).  In fact, the monsters in this are dead ringers for the little creatures in that Ted Nicolaou flick, except they look like they are on steroids.

Don’t expect to get the narrative complexity of a Full Moon feature here though. Screenwriter-producer Elliot Stein can’t even be bothered to come up with an explanation as to what this bubbling red goo is.  I’m not kidding – Lionel is straight up asked what it is at one point and responds, “I have no idea.”  You couldn’t take 10 seconds to add a line of dialogue like “I stumbled upon a portal to hell” or something?  Then again, this writer’s idea of a proper deus ex machina is having the heroes find out that a citrus soda will cause the tiny monsters to melt.  No joke, the writer character hero has a sign on his wall that says, “It’s better to write crap than to shovel it.”  I can’t make this stuff up.

Matching Stein’s lack of ambition is director George Pavlou.   That name should ring a bell with horror fans as he did the world’s first Clive Barker adaptations in the 1980s with TRANSMUTATIONS (1985) and RAWHEAD REX (1986).  Those two films actually looked like real movies with (gasp!) occasional bits of atmosphere, so it is surprising to see such a sad display from Pavlou in his third feature.  Just check out the tomb set in the finale, which is clearly painted Styrofoam that is brightly lit as to bring out ever facet of its cheapness. If you can’t properly film a set, you know he isn’t going to get the FX right either.  The dolls used for the devils are decent looking, but never shot with any intention of making them look like anything other than FX props being pushed around on rods.  I guess I should be happy he did show them melting into piles of glop.  Every directorial miscue he could make here, he does. Love interest Lynn turns out to be a stripper, yet we never see her nude during her routine. Even more offensive, he never shows any of her co-workers strip down either.  A far cry from the man who once had a topless girl ripped from a camper van in RAWHEAD REX. Just like New World, Pavlou disappeared off the face of the Earth, well, the movie making scene after this.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

E-Mail Alerts!

Looks like Blogger finally made an e-mail alert widget!

Look on the right hand side for the "Email Alerts!" (yeah, I decided to give the new widget a really obvious name for once) and sign up!

Never miss another insufferably idiotic slasher movie or a slavering ode to the joys of cheap rip-offs! Or anything else that comes with an exclamation point!

Even Clint Howard is excited!