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!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Halloween Havoc: WATCHERS 3 & 4 (1994/1998)

WATCHERS III (1994): Here we are with the second WATCHERS sequel and after the half-assed Part II, this entry may be seriously strapped for cash, but I have to say, it is a hell of a lot more fun. Again, it's not a sequel, but (in another modern euphemism) a "re-imagining" of the source material. This time out it seems like first time screenwriter Michael Palmer (whose only other writing credit is the following year's missed opportunity CARNOSAUR 2) was given very few directives and had fun writing it. Just like CARNOSAUR 2 pillaged ALIENS for inspiration, WATCHERS III is a mash-up of DIRTY HALF-DOZEN and PREDATOR, but unlike CAROSAUR 2, it actually manages to be fun.

A secret ops chopper dumps a couple of "medical aid" crates over a section of war-torn South America and subsequently gets shot down by the enemy (who are never identified). The crates bust open and, yes, a golden retriever and a (new!) psychotic and deranged monster leap out into the jungle, clearly pleased to find that they don't have to escape from a burning lab this time. While the dog finds a native boy to pointlessly pair up with (contractual obligation?), the monster (created by BASKET CASE's Gabe Bartalos) decides to slaughter everyone in the area, including our own secret ops guys. Seeing as how this situation would be a paperwork nightmare, the top brass decides that the best way to quickly and quietly take care of this clandestine kerfuffle is to release a half-a-dozen ex-military badasses from Levenworth, including chess-playing, ball-buster Ferguson (Wings Hauser) who will lead the mission. How the military obtains their release and offers them pardons on the down low is never even hinted at, but it doesn't matter, they are angry, disenfranchised soldiers with high-power firearms and there's a monster that needs killing. Oo-rah!

Of course once our misfit brigade (or in this case, squad) is on the ground, they suddenly realize that they are not fighting an army, but something far worse... their commander back at the base! While the first two films tried to keep their  on-screen bloodshed to a minimum to avoid alienating the mainstream crowd, director Jeremy Stanford, (whose third and final DTV feature was 2006s TRANTASIA, a film about transgendered Vegas showgirls - no, I did not just make that up), and writer Palmer have no delusions about who the target audience is for this outing and give us plenty of gasoline explosions, tough-guy dialogue, machine-gunning of vegetation and gory monster mayhem. In true exploitation fashion, they decide to crank up a few of the finer points. PREDATOR gave us the scene where the soldiers find bodies in trees stripped of skin, whereas WATCHERS III gives us a scene where they find bodies in trees torn to pieces with entrails slopping over branches. That works for me! Not to mention the fact that they are smart enough to include one of my favorite "trappings" of the sub-genre: the deadly jungle trap. Generally these involve lots of wooden spikes attached to a log, a boulder, or a lattice, springing out of nowhere to impale a disposable cast member. A jungle movie without a jungle trap is no movie at all in my book.

There are some nice riffs on the established obligatory scenes set in place by the first films (and presumably the novel which I haven't read in 20 years). One of the main staples of the series is a scene in which our hero discovers Einstein's powers of intelligent thought and desperately tries to convince others of this fact. Here it is pretty damn amusing given the fact that in this case it is Wings Hauser in the middle of the Peruvian jungle ranting manically to a bunch of convicts about a golden retriever that can write in English with a stick. For some reason, they ain't buyin' it. Also, while the monster is supposed to be a kindred spirit of Frankenstein's monster; a sympathetic creature created against its will, confused and struggling with its own identity (so, a teenager), Stanford and Palmer are content with down-playing the schmaltz and heady intents and even toss out the beast's obsession with poking out eyes. It's just a flesh-ripping, tooth-gnashing terror that likes killing folks and hell, isn't that what it's all about anyway?

WATCHERS REBORN (1998):  During the life cycle of a given series, there's always a point at which the producers say "oh, the hell with it" and hand the reigns over to an effects guy who desperately wants to direct. For Fox's THE FLY series, it was early on when they handed THE FLY II (1989) to the talented Chris Walas who promptly killed it. Both the franchise and his career. On the flip side of the coin the HELLRAISER series reached that point with the fourth entry, Kevin Yagher's HELLRAISER IV: BLOODLINE (1996), which is notorious for the fact that the film was taken out of his hands and massively reedited and reshot before it was released. So is the case with WATCHERS REBORN. The "hell with it" mentality, I mean. Not the reshooting bit.

Holy shit! The lab is on fire... again! Damn, you'd think they'd implement better safety features. Once again, the prized experiments flee the disaster, but this time our angry, psychotic monster-thing decides to tear the place up a bit first, then move on to the local zoo, where he vents his frustration on some animals - hey, hey, not like that. He just kills them, presumably because he's mad about being neither man nor beast. Since the zoo killings are not able to be kept quiet (like the exploding research facility), local homicide detectives, Murphy (a subdued Mark Hamill) and Brody (a hilariously mis-cast Gary Collins), find themselves puzzling over the violent deaths of the animals and a security guard (who has his eye removed in graphic detail). The coroner (Lou Rawls) is no help as he does not feel it is his job to establish the cause of death.

Also at the crime scene is the project lead, Grace (Lisa Wilcox), masquerading as the zoo doctor, and of course Einstein, who later goes home with Brody and tries to warn him of the danger of a giant, hairy, pissed off, genetically modified killing machine that is about to rip his guts out, by tearing the word "danger" out of a magazine. Thanks buddy, that's a great help. I thought this dog was supposed to be smart? He could have just pulled up a review of WATCHERS III on the internet. Of course that could lead to confusion as well, as Brody might think that Wings Hauser was after him.

While Murphy agonizes over the death of his partner, Special Agent Lem Johnson (vein-poping Stephen Macht, this time around) is running a covert cover-up op that basically consists of kicking Hamill's ass, killing witnesses in broad daylight and leaving the messes for the local authorities to clean up. After a near miss with the monster, Johnson has one of the best lines in the movie when he chews out his staff, yelling "don't tell me we're going on a duck hunt, when the woods are full of bears!" Kind of a batshit crazy thing to say, but you have to admit, it's a fair point.

Nursing both wounds, Murphy takes the dog back home with a bucket of fried chicken and gravy and here we have the best "revelation" scene in the series. In an attempt to communicate with Murphy, Einstein dips his paw in the gravy and spells out his name on a newspaper. I am not positive, but I'm reasonably certain, this is the only time in history that the name "Einstein" has been written out using a roux-based sauce.

This revelation leads to the teaming of the project lead, Grace, who comes clean on the experiment, while Murphy opens up and talks about how he watched his wife and daughter die in a fire and was powerless to save them. Grace then admits to certain flaws in the design of her creature and the possibility that some brain-surgery to remove lesions may have had some unpleasant side effects. Uh huh, "design flaws". At one point Murphy and Grace get into it on this and have the following exchange:
Murphy: "I don't need a lecture on compassion from a woman that's been genetically engineering the ultimate killing machine!"
Grace: "And in wartime, would you rather have the outsider fighting in hand-to-hand combat, or your own son?"
Oooooh snaps! Shit got real, yo! Yep, screenwriter Sean Dash (who also penned the 1995 Sam Jones, Matthais Huges, Eric Lee epic ENTER THE SHOOTFIGHTER), decides that not only is he going to write the most plot-intensive entry in the series, but he's going to throw in some emotional complexity including a scene in which the creature clearly only wants to be loved and basically says so. This will either tug at your heart-strings or if you are cynical bastards like us, it'll make you laugh your ass off.

Directed by one of my favorite FX guys in the business, John Carl Buechler (who personally gave me a burning look of pure hatred when I mispronounced his name at a Fango show back in '91), in my opinion this is easily the best in the series. It is a nice looking production with plenty of locations, better than average acting and plenty of throw-away gore gags. There is a lot of genuine fun to be had (Hamill shockingly refuses to ham it up), but there are also moments of hilarious quirkiness. For example, after being run off the road by the beast who is fended off by slapping his hand, Grace decides she will only confide in Murphy if he will blow up her truck and lie to the cops about the reason she was attacked. Sure, sounds like a deal! Another great bit is when a psychotically cheerful, dog-loving liquor store owner (Kane Hodder) is completely unimpressed by a mess of black-suited guys with heavy firepower jumping out of their blacked out Lincolns that are blocking his parking lot. Even better is the fact that after jumping out of the cars with their hardware one of Lem's rather aged agents balks about shooting witnesses. Lem reprimands him, "they're both privy to the fact that a government experiment has backfired and is killing civilians. That kind of information is not fit for public consumption." Uhhh, Lem? You just yelled that in the middle of a public area. For some inexplicable reason, there is a small sub-plot about a couple who are running a bar, being pushed around by the mob. For another inexplicable reason, the Outsider decides to save them. Plus, it's kind of funny seeing Luke Skywalker finally get some action from someone who isn't his sister.

In spite of the fact that this is yet another rehash - err, I mean a re-adaptation of the source material - the film uses clips from the previous three entries during the opening credits. Why this is, I have no idea. Maybe it's for those who haven't watched the entire series over consecutive nights so that they can have their memory refreshed and fully appreciate how much fun this one is.

Oh, and just in case you ever meet the man, a word of advice. It's pronounced "BEEK-ler".

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.