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 8, 2013

Satanic Panic: OMEN IV: THE AWAKENING (1991)

For this October, I felt a revisit of THE OMEN series on blu-ray was not only necessary, but mandatory. Most folks would not have a problem with this series put into the "Classic Horror" category, with even the second sequel rating high marks from critics and fans alike. It's surprising that with that popularity, we never got a late-'80s low-rent sequel with lots of splattery demises courtesy of Screaming Mad George. You know you'd rent that. Instead it took a full decade for a third sequel to be spawned.

Normally you'd think this sort of made-for-TV sequel would be too mediocre to even be worth mentioning, but this, the first attempt at kickstarting a Fox TV series was directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard and is about as legitimate a sequel as SCANNERS III (1991). Oh yeah, you heard me. Othenin-Girard, incase you don't remember, was the man who almost redeemed himself for HALLOWEEN 5 (1989) with NIGHT ANGEL (1990), a film that was butchered by the MPAA and has never seen the light of day in its uncut form.

In this sequel-slash-reboot a young, infertile couple Gene and Karen York (Michael Woods, Faye Grant) adopt a baby girl from a Catholic orphanage who know that the bloodline of the child runs back to the supreme evil Damien Thorn. Like good Christians, the nuns decide to keep that minor bit of information to themselves. Of course this comes at a price with an eclipse of the sun, crosses flipping upside-down and the younger nun taking a beating from the Mother Superior who suddenly has a heart attack as soon as the demon baby is out of sight. Whether or not this is due to the satanic evil of the child or just god's way of saying "what the hell are you people doing?" is not made clear.

Things get wonky right from the start as the new parents decide to throw a party to celebrate their newfound parenthood and make sure to invite the one black couple they know, who get plenty of random close-ups. This is presumably Fox's clumsy attempt to appeal to a target demographic. During the baby shower the hellish horror heightens to a fever pitch when mom goes to kiss baby Delia, and comes away with a scratched face! I will now pause so that you, the gentle reader, might catch your breath. Of course since this is an OMEN film, there must be a coincidental explanation for every act of unbridled evil. This situation is quickly explained away by the family doctor as a diaper pin malfunction. Then the filmmakers find themselves in the awkward position of having to explain why exactly they are using safety pins a good 30 years after the advent of self-adhesive, disposable diapers!

It's like writer Brian Taggert (also responsible for 1988s franchise-killer POLTERGEIST III) thought to himself "I have kids... what drives me crazy about them?" and decides that those things are pretty much as if Mr. Cypher is extending his crown of thorns around their tiny heads. This line of reasoning constantly gets Taggert writing himself into a corner until finally just having to cut away to another scene. Oh but I'm getting ahead of things. This movie starts out dumber than a sack of hammers then ramps up the loony with psychotic abandon. Stupid and crazy. That is what we here at VJ consider to be a successful film. Come to think of it, it sounds like my dating demographic.

Interestingly while Damien would completely lose his shit when he came within spitting distance of a church, Delia is totally cool with it until she gets dipped in the auga santa. Then, crosses fall upside-down and members of the clergy suffer heart attacks at the drop of a demonic chorus, but the terror doesn't end there! In one scene people (at a party AGAIN) react in utter horror when they find that one of Delia's Barbie dolls has bite marks in it that are about 1/8th of an inch deep! Oh yeah, we aren't fucking around here! This little brat is eeeeeevil! Better still, now in first grade, Delia finds herself at odds with a bully Jerome who steals her lunchbox, stomps on her PB and J and smacks her in the face! Oh heeeellz no! You did not just do that to the Princess of Darkness! Sure enough, Delia ain't having none of that crap and clobbers him in the face with her now empty lunchbox. Cue ominous chanting...

Of course this first-grade fracas causes Jerome's parents to completely fly off the handle and raise such a ruckus that Delia puts the whammy on Jerome's dad causing him to floor it out of their driveway into a truck that bloodlessly removes his head. Not content with simply smacking Jerome in the face and forcing him to spend the rest of his life fatherless, Delia decides that she's going to publicly challenge the vertigo afflicted Jerome to climb a ladder until he gets so scared that he pees his pants! Seriously, if that is not the epitome of infernal evil drawn up from the *ahem* bowels of hell, well I just don't know what is.

But wait, there's more! Delia's got a new nanny Jo (Ann Hearn), and she is a new age hippy who seems to know that eeeeevil lurks at the threshold. In one gutbusting scene, Jo shows Karen (who is starting to suspect that Delia is eeeeeevil) her new age hippy book. Jo opens up the book and starts cooing "it's the Book of Light... it's full of healing... and crystals..." Delia grabs the book and screams "...and stupid junk!" and throwing it to the floor. Holy crap, that kid is EEEEEEVIL! As if that wasn't shocking enough, horror of horrors, all of the nanny's "life crystals" have turned black! At this point I was so affected by this movie that I was on my knees invoking the lord. My prayer went something like "Holy jeezus! My sides are killing me!"

Not content to let that be the most absurd freaking thing in the film, the nanny takes a shower only to discover that someone has drawn an upside-down cross on her bathroom mirror! Her jaw slacks in abject terror and she realizes that she must take drastic measures! Like... a fair!

No, really. In order to get some more insight, she takes Delia to a new age fair to have her aura photographed. Seriously, I could not make this up. Of course Delia flips the fuck out (ummmm... yeah, that's actually totally understandable) and "accidentally" burns the entire fair to the ground. I'm sorry, but I think quite possibly the funniest thing I've ever seen in my wasted life is a new age hippy on fire running past a burning fair booth with a sign that reads "Aquarian Truth Center". That's just hilarious. And that isn't even the half of it! Karen hires a private eye (Michael Lerner) who uses clowns to run distraction ops, has visions of a zombie baby jeezus fetus and discovers some of the most ridiculous crap imaginable about the nun from the orphanage turning from prostitution into a cult leader in the midwest who dances with poisonous snakes. Whaaaa??

*This Paragraph Contains Spoilers* We also discover the fact that Delia is not the antichrist but her new baby brother iswhat?! We get some claptrap about the fact that Delia is carrying the seed of the antichrist which needed to be implanted into the embryo carried by Karen who suddenly finds herself pregnant. Remember what I said about Taggert writing himself into a corner? Case in point. Of course the doctor is one of them which may explain why nobody notices that the infernal infant has a huge "666" on the palm of his hand! Once mom discovers this, she understandably stabs the doctor and screams "that freak will never rule, 'cause I'm gonna kill him!" Lady, if more mothers were like you, the world would be a better place.

OMEN film series producer Harvey Bernhard had an idea for this to be the beginning of a new trilogy of TV movies. Needless to say, that didn't happen. Like many of Fox's ambitious TV movies, it was met with opinions ranging from apathy to hostility in spite of coming in fourth in the ratings for the first airing. I'm not sure why Gordon McGill's 1982 novel "The Omen IV: Armageddon" was not used as a basis for the TV movie, but I'm assuming that it basically came down to money. Fox wanted it cheap and while it is obvious that this film's budget is so low that it would make Roger Corman tear-up in pain, it's still a lot more fun than it should be. As hysterically ridiculous as Taggart's script is, Othenin-Girard actually does the best he can with it. The camera set-ups are professional with a nice eye for composition. He also tries to get the most spectacularly melodramatic acting out of his cast and when combined with the whack-job script, propel this stinker to a whole new level. I can't really say this isn't a waste of time, but I also can't say I didn't laugh my ass off for ninety minutes straight at some of the most preposterous and petty examples of satanic evil I've ever seen on film. I like to think of this as the prequel to SCANNERS III (1991) which shows Helena (Liliana Komorowska) as a child. Trust me, it totally works.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tales from the Snark Side: TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE (1987)

Anthologies always interested me as a kid.  Of course, anyone would be hooked on the format if the first anthology they saw was the legendary TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975).  I was certainly spoiled after that as I got to see other greats like TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and CREEPSHOW (1982), my favorite anthology of all-time.  There is nothing better than a well written story that packs a punch in a short timeframe. Unfortunately, the bad far outweighs the good in this subgenre.  Tom and I were just talking about how rolling the dice on an anthology is even riskier because there is a higher chance for screw ups with more than one story.  For every CREEPSHOW there are 10 more omnibus flicks that drive a good concept right off the cliff.  Today we’ll look at one that not only goes off the cliff, but keeps slamming your head against the ground when you land.

Chester N. Turner’s TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE (1987) has long been considered one of the rarest shot-on-video flicks around.  Turner had previously released the cult “classic” BLACK DEVIL DOLL FROM HELL (1984) and, thanks to feeling he wasn’t getting his fair share from distributors, he opted to self release his sophomore feature.  This resulted in an almost legendary status among VHS collectors as the film proved rarer to find than a good review of a Donald Jackson movie. Original tapes would pop up on eBay and sell for literally hundreds of dollars.  Well, as Mr. T would say, I pity the fool who paid top dollar for one of those cassettes as TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE is one of the worst of the worst.  How bad is it?  It makes 555 (1988) look like a work from Orson Welles.  Thankfully, Massacre Video recently released Turner’s works on DVD for a much more affordable price.  Did I say thankfully?  I meant to say, “Holy Jesus! Goddamn! Holy Jesus jumping Christmas shit!” (if you get that quote, you’re awesome) and I’m not saying that in a good way.

Ma just found out she is in 
a Chester N. Turner flick
“If you like your terror adult and strong, well come here, you can’t go wrong” cackles a high-pitched singer over the opening Casio-themed song in the film’s intro.  Damn, lying to your audience right off the bat, eh?  Well, to be fair, they have no idea what they are in store for at this point.  The “film” opens with a woman (Shirley L. Jones) in her kitchen cleaning up.  She tells her invisible son (!) Bobby to head into the family room and she will read him some stories.  He makes the book Tales from the Quadead Zone materialize in her lap and we dive right into our first story.  “Food for ?” tells the story of a poor, rural family that has eight members, but only enough food for 4 people on their table.  So they fight for it after dad rings a bell.  This real life hunger games always leaves some famished (apparently cutting the sandwiches in half is too much effort) and soon one of the boys at the table goes off and kills several folks at the table with a gun.  It continues until finally we are told (via onscreen titles) that everyone died at his hands except the parents, who entered the witness protection program.  The end.  WTF!?!  I think ol’ Chester must have tuned out when he was watching TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE or something.

Tale no. 2 is titled “The Brothers” and focuses on siblings Fred and Ted (Keefe L. Turner).  Fred was apparently the wealthy one and dad’s favorite, while Ted grew up to be a janitor.  The story begins with Ted and a friend breaking into a funeral home to steal the body of Fred, who recently died of a heart attack.  Ted’s goal is to get his revenge and humiliate his brother in death by not burying him in designer duds in the ornate mausoleum he had made, but by interring him in the basement while dressed in a clown suit.  Oh, you sure showed him!  Now doubt such an act will easily cover your years of psychological scarring.  What Ted didn’t count on is his brother’s soul (not to be confused with a soul brother) returning into his body and killing him while he digs the grave.  John Wayne Gacy would be proud.  End of the second story.  The third story isn’t actually from the Quadead Zone book as we just pick up with the mother as she freaks out after her husband Daryl comes home. Seems he doesn’t particularly like her habit thinking she is talking to their son who died three years ago (duh, duh, duhhhhhh!) and his only recourse is to beat her up.  She fights back and stabs him.  While she goes to comfort the invisible Bobby, the clinging-to-life Daryl calls 911.  The cops arrive and arrest her.  She asks if she can use the bathroom and goes in to slit her throat.  21 hours later, her ghost then returns to the house and is reunited with her son Bobby.  The end of story three and we mercifully close the Quadead Zone book.

Oh jeez, where do I start?  To paraphrase my favorite James Karen quote from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), “I have seen bad anthologies come and I have seen bad anthologies go.  But the worst one I ever saw just had to cap it all…”  I’ve made a non-living looking at some of the worst films of all-time, so much so that we have a thriving sub-label on the blog here called “cinemasochism.” So it means quite a bit when I say TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE is easily one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.  A friend recently asked me, “What makes it so bad?” and I had to think for a second before replying, “Everything!”  How awful is this film?  I seriously think they are using watered down ketchup for their blood.  From the special effects to the direction, it is almost pure torture for its scant running time.  For example, Turner has a fondness for having a blasting score that actually muffles out the dialogue in the film.  In “The Brothers” segment, he uses a vocal effect on the reanimated dead brother so that you can’t understand what he is saying.  Seriously, it sounds like the guy is saying his lines while trying to gargle water.  Matching the ineptness in the direction is the writing.  Turner’s stories are so flat that and devoid of any surprises that you’d swear they were written by a kid in middle school.  Turner mentions his love of TWILIGHT ZONE in the video interview on this DVD set (where he calls the show’s creator “Rod Sterling”), but he misses the most vital part of a successful anthology short – the twist ending.

The sad part is this film’s rarity coupled with the newfound cult of VHS has resulted in a renewed interest in Turner’s film.  Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful that Massacre Video took the time to track down Turner and release his films as it preserves them for future generations.  At the same time, I now feel bad for future generations.  I can’t help but wonder if the time would be better spent on something a little more worthy of the attention.  As for people who actually shelled out hundreds of dollars for a VHS of this film, let me leave this scene of Keefe Turner’s acting to sum up my feelings on that.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Tim Whitfield and Joe Patnaud
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and if the fan film is your yardstick, none are as flattered as the FRIDAY THE 13TH series. Sure, these days you can find fan films on any subject imaginable from 8mm Lego recreations of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) to high-end, high-concept re-inventions of properties that may have lapsed into fromage (see Kevin Tancharoen's 2010 micro-epic MORTAL KOMBAT: REBIRTH), but none more prolific than the almighty Jason Voorhees.

As much as we bitch about crappy, no-budget movies, you have to understand, it's not that we don't like them, it's that we are really pulling for them to succeed. With Hollywood being one massive compromise machine that uses a committee to beat all of the creativity out of any original undertaking, we look to the indies to provide some creative fun while the majors wallow in the formula tar pit. What bugs us is laziness. We love a solid work ethic. If you are going to make a movie with your tax refund check and a bunch of your friends, we are all for it, all we asks is that you put the effort into it. Don't slack. Don't come up with a great idea and then find out that it's too much effort to make it happen. I can go watch a Hustler "parody" video if I want that kind of disappointment.

In 2003 when the concept of a "fan film" was still wobbling on its freshly hatched legs, Massachusetts resident Joe Patnaud released his tribute to the franchise with FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE COLD HEART OF CRYSTAL LAKE.

Set in a wintery "off season" the short opens with a trio of hunters running through the woods. After splitting up, one hunter suddenly finds Jason Voorhees (dressed in winter camo for some reason) standing in front of him. Next thing he knows a knife is plunged into his forehead. One hunter runs back to the truck to get a machete (not a good idea) the other goes to help his friend (an even worse idea). Cut to... wait for it... a group of tweens are on a road-trip through the snow when all of a sudden their vehicle decides this would be the perfect place to cut out. As luck would have it, they have broken down literally a stone's throw away from the hunter's tent. One of the hunters is conveniently at the tent (he must have given up on helping his friend) and invites them inside as it is much "safer" inside. Seriously? I'm pretty sure a tent is the equivalent of a bowl that is filled with mac and cheese. It's simply a convenient receptacle for the hot, gooey contents.

Once inside, the alcohol comes out as does the hunter's story of how they are trying to bag the elusive Jason in-between Summer slaying sessions. When two of the guys go out to take a piss, the remaining guy and girl decide that since they have the tent to themselves, they should just start having sex! This guy must set land-speed records in the bedroom. I realize they've been drinking, but it doesn't take that long to take a leak in the snow. Of course, maddened by the smell of fun, likker and pheromones, Jason (Tim Whitfield) opens up a can of shank-ass on all considered.

As low-budget and amateur as it is (reportedly made for $250), COLD HEART actually brings up an interesting point. Why was Sean Cunningham more willing to make the logic leap of sending Jason into space rather than consider a mere change of seasons? I'd skip the camo jacket, but putting Jason in a winter environment is a simple, effective way of delivering the formula that audiences expect with nice "atmospheric" twist. There is a great movie in here somewhere. I imagine sort of a hybrid of GHOSTKEEPER (1982) and the Czech film WOLF'S HOLE (1987). I would love to see a scene where the "campers" are making a snowman only to find a semi-frozen Jason Voorhees inside.

Sadly, the feeling that it had been through the MPAA wringer is represented here by a lack of gory effects. To be fair, the few effects used are not bad for a fan film of that era, but I kind of cringe when the victim already has a red line on his head before the machete hits him. Besides, plenty of SOV efforts had been splashing the red stuff about long before 2003.

Patnaud would continue his meteorological themed reworkings of the FRIDAY mythos in 2009 with FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE STORM. At this point Patnaud had a few DTV feature film credits under his belt and THE STORM is a huge leap forward in terms of production values.

Opening up with two girls in bikinis kissing, the less attractive of the two, Sarah (Crystal Swarovski), runs off to swim in Crystal Lake while the brunette (Marie Joelyn), who seems to be non-plussed by her same-sex connection, runs off only to promptly have her neck snapped by Jason (Tim Whitfield, again). Assuming that she has been bailed on by her would-be lover, Sarah heads back home just in time for a massive rainstorm and her meathead admirer, Barry (Asa Holly), to show up. Sarah complains of her awful day while Barry puts the moves on her, blissfully unaware of the disinterest in the almighty phallus.

Meanwhile her sister is all dressed up with supposedly nowhere to go, but plans to sneak out in the arms of her own admirer. Then there is dad, the local sheriff (Dep Kirkland), who radiates more menace than our masked killer particularly when he turns to Sarah and Barry and says "you're both doomed!" before leaving for work. A simple "stay out of trouble" would have sufficed, I'm sure.

Once dad takes off to check in at work, the power goes out and Jason shows up to open up a can of chili con carnage (oh come on, it wasn't that bad). In one scene Barry is going to try his hand at seducing Sarah with a bottle of wine, the only problem is that he can't find the corkscrew. I bet Jason can help him with that! This brings us to the major problem I have with this short. Even the mis-casting of the lead character Sarah, this is really well made fan film. Joe has even thrown in some gore, except any fan worth his salt is going to recognize most of the kills are aped from classic moments in the series. Big fan of the sleeping bag scene in THE NEW BLOOD? Patnaud recreates it here. It seems a shame to not use your own imagination to put some excitement into your tribute. I mean, we all freely admit that without the creative kill scenes, with a few notable exceptions, the FRIDAY THE 13TH series ain't much to look at.

Also, I can imagine Kane Hodder flipping out over the odd breaks in Jason's character here. Just after impaling Barry with the corkscrew, Sarah yells "what the hell are you doing in there?" Cut back to Jason who quickly looks side to side, seemingly panicked that he might get caught with his hand in the entrail jar! Sorry, what? Jason shows fear? Hell no. Jason is fear. That said, Patnaud manages some excellent lighting and really delivers the atmosphere for a little SOV short. Too bad it never could be a low-budget feature film.

No, no... it's just the way he's holding the machete.

Interestingly Patnaud's partner in crime Tim Whitfield, who played Jason in both films, went on to write, direct and produce a seven episode webseries titled FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE OBSESSION in 2011, based on his own 1997 VHS shot short.

A lesbian lover's break up during a camp-out at Crystal Lake is broken up by Jason Voorhees who deliberately avoids Amy (Hannah Townsend) and proceeds to crush and tear off the head of her now very ex-lover. Of course we discover that it's all a dream and that Amy is actually a big FRIDAY fan (stop groaning). We know this because her walls are covered with FRIDAY movie posters and she spends her free time ogling the nudie pictures in the "Crystal Lake Memories" book.

The bulk of THE OBSESSION is cringe-inducing dialogue scenes such as the one where Amy meets some fellow hikers on the trail and one girl overshares about her friend's break-up prompting Amy to mention that she broke up with her girlfriend recently. Miss Overshare then says "'Girlfriend?' So you are a lesbian!" to which Amy's pithy comeback is a smug "yes, I do eat vagina." Oooooh-kaaaay then. It doesn't get any better than that with Amy's lesbianism taking center stage with long conversations, an entire episode devoted to her date with a straight girl Stephanie (Marie Joelyn) who has never even had any lesbian friends, not even in school. Confusing the issue of what exactly the title refers to, we get episode after episode of impassioned romantic exploration of the real life feelings and issues of new lesbian couples. Steph also has an abusive black boyfriend (Rydell Danzie who also directs a few episodes) who comes looking for his "property" and wants to turn that "fish eater" into a "sausage" eater. Hoo boy. I guess idiotic racial stereotypes are acceptable. Wait... wasn't this supposed to be about some guy who wears a hockey mask and kills campers?

At one point Amy's ex shows up to have sex with her straight male roommate Todd (Keith Christensen II), "just to piss [Amy] off". This seems to bring out the Jason in Amy and she strangles her ex and stabs her roommate who is merely playing "Teenage Frankenstein" on Rock Band. Of course this doesn't take place until the sixth episode where we get allegedly heterosexual couples saying more stupid shit about lesbianism, so of course they have to die, which leads us up to the climax that is not only lame but doesn't go anywhere other than a gotcha ending. I really don't get what Whitfield is trying to do with this series. His script seems to set up a main character that we are supposed to care about, but *SPOILER* in the end decides to have her kill several people while wearing a hockey mask before killing herself. I can't figure out what exactly Whitfield is trying to say and I honestly wonder if even he knows.

Shot on digital, the lesbian love is done with no nudity because that would be crassly exploitative and not the sensitive portrayal of same-sex love that the filmmakers wish to express. Also there is very little blood as that would undermine the heart-tugging pathos. Or it just requires too much work. It certainly doesn't seem to be an homage to the '80s film series that we all know and love. When you say "FRIDAY THE 13TH fan film series" the last thing I think of is long, drawn-out relationship drama scenes with feelings, crying, and lots of hugz. Before the LGBTQIAXYZ flag-wavers start freaking out, it's not just that it's a lesbian drama that has nothing to do with FRIDAY THE 13TH that gets under my skin, it's that it's a drama that has nothing to do with FRIDAY THE 13TH. Even if it were straight, it would still be incredibly annoying and pointless. Well, except for a bit where a gay actor is clearly not interested in kissing the busty girl that he is supposed to be in a straight relationship with. Sorry, but that was pretty damn funny.

Interestingly, Whitfield actually got Joe Patnaud to direct the first episode which pretty much follows Patnaud's style of Jason themed shorts, which is not a bad thing. As soon as Whitfield and Danzie take over though, I would have completely forgotten that I was watching a FRIDAY THE 13TH story except for the fact that it says so at the beginning of every episode and Harry Manfredini's iconic score is used in every scene except the ones that use songs from bands featured in the various films. Honestly, re-using the songs is not nearly as cool as Whitfield thinks it is, mainly due to the fact that he either just pastes the song over the action, completely undermining it, or constructs an entire scene of nothing (like playing a game of badminton in the middle of a small clearing) as some sort of filler, which is exactly what this series doesn't need. Patnaud's films ran about 15 minutes each, Whitfield's episodes run about 10 minutes each for about a 70 minute total running time. THE OBSESSION could easily be cut down to about 30-40 minutes and be all the better for it.

I can deal with the bad edits, the occasional camera bobble (particularly amusing when it happens during another tender hugging scene at the end) and the amateur actors trying their little hearts out, but the fact that Whitfield is so wide of the mark when it comes to what the attraction of a FRIDAY film is, you have to wonder why he bothered tying it in to begin with. Unless it's just a convenient way to get your name out there as a videomaker. If that is the case, Whitfield's tactic seems to have paid off as he has just released the first installment of his new series FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE PHANTOM OF CRYSTAL LAKE.

Oh geeze... Someone figured out how to use the "paintbrush" effects.

PHANTOM opens with a nightmare of Jason killing off some foo' Kelvin (Jay McLeod) who is trying to figure out an excuse not to get with the girl, Diana (Evan Marie Ruiz), and getting killed by Jason. After waking up we discover that Diana has an avid interest in Jason's legacy and is going on a camping trip to Crystal Lake to follow the trail of clues. Wannabe gangsta Kelvin decides to go along, just in case. They start with a cabin where we get a flashback of some hipster douchebag is banging some chubby druggie with fresh tats and Jason strangles the dude and electrocutes the girl. Well, at least it looks like a FRIDAY fan film and not a lesbian romantic drama this time around. Even so, with such a wealth of backstory, you'd think someone would crank out a Tancharoen-esque rebirth. Something that relishes in the creative aspect of the film series. Maybe the Germans can do it! Eh, but that's a story for another day.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween Havoc: OFFICIAL PSYCHO PARODY (2010)

There is nothing worse than film class theorizing and I endured my fair share of it while at college.  The idea that film directors could fill their works with allusions and motifs would often lead kids on wild rides of speculation.  99% of the time their hypothesis revolved around sex.  Murderer uses a knife? That’s sex. Eyeball sliced with a razor?  That’s sex. Main character writes with a pen? That’s sex. True story: I heard the greatest pulled-out-of-my-ass conjecture after a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960).  Naturally, it was about sex.  There is no doubt Hitchcock infused his film with perversion, but this particular student was looking in every celluloid nook and cranny for double meaning.  So it was truly a shock to me when they delivered this gem: “The main character is named Norman Bates.  He is the master of the house.  Master…Bates…MASTURBATES!”  No, just no.  And while they may have been way off base with that one (or a relative of Gus Van Sant), I’m sure that student will be delighted to know that their analysis finally fits a PSYCHO film with the inevitable XXX parody.

PSYCHO XXX opens with some decidedly PSYCHO looking credits backed by some decidedly non-Bernard Herrmann sounding music (more on that in a bit).  The film begins in black and white but quickly shifts to color as Marion Crane (Sara Sloane) and her lover Sam (Michael Vegas) are lying around in a hotel room.  Amazingly, the filmmakers don’t, uh, insert a sex scene here in their scenario.  Odd.  Anyway, Marion goes to her job and is soon excusing herself with a bagful of cash.  This drives the boss irate when he finds out. Ha, just kidding.  We just get a random threesome as the boss and his client get it on with another secretary (Katie Jordan).  Marion makes her way down the road with her stolen loot and decides to stop for the night at the Bates Motel.  The owner is a quirky guy named Norman (Ryan McClane) and we know he is an odd bird right off the bat as Marion spots him sporting a pair of women’s heels.

Regardless of Norman’s apparel, she decides to check in. After having a short dream of her boss spanking her for her transgression, Marion takes Norman up on his offer for some dinner.  Bad move as she overhears Norman and his mother arguing about crotch-less panties.  Once in Norman’s company, she remarks how she is impressed by his taxidermy skills.  He points out his prize is Jezebel, the old maid (literally) he has stuffed sitting in the corner.  Somehow knowing that Norman stuffs things gets Marion turned on and we get sex scene #2.  Post-coitus, Marion goes to her room and gets into – you guessed it – the shower.  It is here we get a recreation of one of cinema’s most famous kills and, uh, it sucks.  Seriously, the filmmakers really drop the ball here.

Meanwhile, a detective (Lee Stone) shows up to investigate Marion’s disappearance.  He quizzes Norman and notes he is wearing women’s panties.  He opts to spend the night at a hotel down the road.  It is here the private dick reveals he is anything but that as he gets it on with a girl (Kagney Linn Karter) in his room.  He’s never heard from again (yes, they refused to parody his famous death scene).  Naturally, this is where Sam and Marion’s sister Lila (Breanne Benson) make their journey to the infamous motel.  They don’t get far with Norman so they opt to visit the local Sheriff (Mark Wood), who gives them the back story on why Norman is so bent.  In flashback, we find out that Norman’s mother (Tabitha Stevens) was a domineering type who scolding him by saying, “Norman, you don’t have any fashion sense.”  The horror!  After the investigating duo leaves, the Sheriff gets it on with his wife (Francesca Le) while he wears high heels.  When Sam and Lila get back to motel, they head up to the family house to spy on Norman and discover he is in his parlor having a tea party with his stuffed mother and Marion (both played by the actors posing motionless)!  Such a shock to the system can only mean one thing – Sam and Lila head back to their room and have sex!  The film then ends with footage of mother from the past telling Norman something like life is fashion.  The end.  Seriously.

Master…Bates…MASTURBATES!  Oh sorry, I don’t know what came over me.  As you probably have guessed from my write up so far, this PSCYHO XXX parody is a dud.  Director Gary Orona previously got on our “nice” list with his spirited FRIDAY THE 13th XXX and HALLOWEEN XXX parodies, so it pains me to put him on the “naughty” (and not in a good way) list.  It is doubly painful because it is obvious he and his producer/wife Tabitha Stevens made great pains to be faithful to the material (in fact, the DVD offers a bonus B&W version of the film for purists).  A good cast is hired and everyone seemed committed to their roles.  The filmmakers keep it in a period setting and attempt to be faithful to the characters; somewhere during the middle though the film goes completely off the rails.  Hmmm, I wonder what point that could be.  Could it be their interpretation of the iconic shower scene?  Any parody of PSYCHO – normal or X-rated – is going to live and die on how the shower scene is done.  It is literally cinema’s most famous murder. Orona apes Hitchcock’s famous style a bit, but goofs it up more than one should.  First, it appears Norman is attacking her with a big black dildo.  We can’t tell because we’re never given a clear shot of it (yes, they avoid copying the famous “knife to belly” shot).  Even worse is the music.  How do you do this scene and not try to copy the “ree, ree, ree” violin screeches?  The music employed here sounds more like an '80s Richard Band score.  The only thing sadder than a poorly done PSYCHO shower scene imitation is someone complaining about the merits of one in a XXX parody like me.

Even worse is their commitment to the parody angle.  There are the seeds of good ideas (like everyone noticing Norman’s cross dressing), but they never seem to go far enough. The script only had one funny line (Norman saying to dead mother, “Mother, I’m going to have to disagree. Cher is sexy.”).  I get the feeling Orona and company were thinking, “Jeez, this is hard to parody” and just threw their arms up.  It shows as they pretty much just slap sex scenes with the famous characters on the screen.  Nowhere is this more apparent then the ending.  I say ending, but I should say the film really doesn’t have one.  You know that big confrontation where they find out Norman has been dressing up as his mother?  Well, I guess the PSYCHO DVD that Orona was using for his source material froze up because that is nowhere to be found here.  There is no final confrontation.  The film just ends after Lila and Sam have sex. Perhaps they were hoping for a PSYCHO II XXX parody, but three years later it hasn’t arrived and Orona has seemingly left the hardcore world.  It is a shame as few filmmakers in this genre opted to go – ahem – balls out when it comes to the porn parody like Orona previous did, so maybe he just got burned out?  Either way, the PSYCHO parody is kind of like Norman in the original Hitchcock film in that it never goes all the way.  In closing, the only real positive thing I can take away from PSYCHO XXX is that it is better than the Gus van Sant PSYCHO remake.  Also, Master…Bates…MASTURBATES!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The "Never Got Made" Files #101: SKINS (1988)

If you look up the word prolific in the dictionary, you’ll probably see a picture of the gentleman to the left, director Armand Mastroianni.  Since his feature debut HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE (1980), the New York native has worked non-stop in the film industry with 40+ features and a dozen television series on his filmography.  While readers of our blog will know him mostly for his horror efforts – the aforementioned HE KNOWS…, THE KILLING HOUR (1982), THE SUPERNATURALS (1986), and CAMERON’S CLOSET (1988) – he has worked in virtually every genre.  Like an old school craftsman, Mastroianni embraced change and enjoyed the challenge as he jumped from genre to genre.  In fact, it was a viewing of the action-revenge thriller DOUBLE REVENGE (1988) that initially got me on the hunt of SKINS.

Equaling the man’s abundant work is his generosity.  Within a day of my first contacting Mastroianni about SKINS, we were talking for hours about his career.  Within a week I had a package of nearly a dozen of his movies for me to watch.  So it came as no surprise when Armand was not only open to talking about SKINS, but that he was more than willing to help put me in touch with the pair of screenwriters, Ed Polgardy and Dale Schneck, he had worked with in developing this project.  It did, however, come as a surprise when I suddenly had a copy of the 25-year-old screenplay in my inbox.  Over the next few months, all three men were incredibly gracious with their time as they filled me in on their one-that-got-away.  So please join me below as I peel back the layers on the making (and non-making) of SKINS.

The first public announcement regarding SKINS came on December 10, 1986 with the following small blurb in Variety: “Dale Schneck, Edward Polgardy and Armand Mastroianni have scripted the horror feature "Skins," planned for filming by Heritage Entertainment with Mastroianni helming.”  The trio had actually met in 1982 when Mastroianni was told about Schneck and Polgardy by his agent and he found the duo hilarious.  Schneck had actually been Polgardy’s manager for a period, before they decided to start writing screenplays together.  Mastroianni found them to be a productive bunch and knew they would eventually write something together.

That opportunity presented itself shortly thereafter in the most unusual of places: TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. Mastroianni secured a directing gig on what would soon be one of the most beloved 1980s anthology shows, directing the third episode – “Pain Killer” starring Farley Granger – of the debut season.  “We actually started SKINS as a potential TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE episode,” Mastroianni explains. “I came to Ed and Dale and was chatting with them and said, ‘Jeez, why don’t we get together and write something for TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE?’ It started to generate this story.”

“We had some springboards that we came up with for TALES,” Polgardy concurs.  “There was one about a meat locker called ‘Cold Storage.’  And SKINS was one of those.  We had sent them into [TALES script consultant] Tom Allen and he got sick after that.  And we decided we didn’t want that one story to go without doing something with it.”

All three men agreed that their concept behind SKINS warranted further expansion.  Not only was it a fascinating premise (demons from inner earth that wear human skins to blend into society), but it proved to be the antithesis of what the horror genre had devolved into by the early ‘80s.  “All three of us wanted to make a high-concept horror story,” Schneck recalls, “something radically different from the FRIDAY THE 13th sort of kill-the-teenagers genre.  Our research uncovered a demonic creature with his mythic origins in the Middle Ages.  The creature historically was covered in sores and scabs, and went around in the shadows of society covered in animal skins, thus the title. We decided to resurrect that creature into contemporary life.”

“We wanted to go back to something of a more classic creature film,” Polgardy says.  The group retreated to the Pocono Mountains, where they bounced ideas and concepts off each other.  When they emerged they had a feature length horror script that took influence from sources as diverse as Don Siegel’s classic INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) to Stephen King’s novel SALEM’S LOT.  The screenplay sets the tone right away with a cover page that evocatively describes the history of their unique creatures, the Eurynomes.

SKINS script opening (click to enlarge) 
© Mastroianni, Polgardy, and Schneck (1988, 2013)

Writers Mastroianni, Schneck, and Polgardy
The action of SKINS takes place during October in the small New England town of Raubsville, where Chambers Furrier Warehouse – run by mysterious new resident David Chambers and his underling Charlie Jenkins – is one of the main employers.  Protagonists Doug Carpenter and Shelley Logan, two 20-something New Yorkers, find themselves stranded in the town when his car breaks down on the way to a friend’s wedding.  Engine trouble is soon the least of their worries though after they meet Casey Reynolds, an 11-year-old boy who tells the couple about monsters residing in his town. Initially skeptical, they soon start believing him and suspect the creatures – which wear fresh human skin as a disguise – have compromised everyone from the town doctor to the sheriff.  “The problem,” Schneck explains, “the human skins deteriorated, thus an insatiable appetite for a new skin.”

Working on SKINS gave Mastroianni a chance to indulge in his favorite pastime of playing with audiences’ emotions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the script’s opening where Jenkins picks up a young hitchhiker and begins literally sizing the boy up.  But not for his potential as a victim in the traditional sense, but for his valuable epidermis that he can offer to his master.  “You think this guy is a serial killer, picking up this kid,” Mastroianni reveals.  “And the kid starts feeling creeped out because the questions start getting personal.  He is
Mastroianni's tracks to terror
asking his size and everything. The kid’s thinking, ‘Oh shit, I’ve got to get out of here.’ And then it goes someplace else.  What I love in films is to take the audience in the direction they think they are going in and then give them a surprise.”

It also allowed the director an avenue to attempt to put up some previously thought of ideas onscreen, as displayed in the film’s penultimate chase scene that takes place at the town carnival.  “I’d come up with these set pieces in my head,” Mastroianni explains.  “I thought I’d love to do a sequence at the end where it’s on a roller coaster on fire. The first problem with being on a roller coaster is there is no way to get out because you’re strapped in your seat.  Most people are cringing because they are already afraid of the steep hills and all.  Now imagine if this creature were on the back of it, jumping from car to car towards them while the thing is on fire from all the electricity and stuff.”

Excerpts from the SKINS roller coaster scene 
© Mastroianni, Polgardy, and Schneck (1988, 2013)

“The thing I liked about SKINS,” Polgardy adds, “is that it had an incredible drive literally.  I mean, it started and it just had an incredible momentum that led to those last scenes in the movie.  You felt like you got on a rollercoaster in the story and you do get on a roller coaster at the end of the story.  We really had a lot of fun doing that.”

Smart Egg plugs SKINS in Variety circa 1988
Unfortunately, the ambitious nature of the script also proved to be instrumental in its downfall.  After a period at Heritage, the filmmakers took the project to Smart Egg Pictures, the company where Mastroianni had made CAMERON’S CLOSET (1988).  Re-teaming with CAMERON’S producer Luigi Cingolani, Mastroianni was given an initial budget of $2 million dollars to make the picture.  Despite doing some trims to the script, the team soon found the producer wanted to make more cost-cutting changes that were nonsensical.  “I remember Luigi wanted to make it in the desert at one point,” Polgardy divulges of the screenplay’s preproduction. “We were going crazy.”

“What the hell has that got to do with a furrier,” Mastroianni remembers wondering about the proposed decision to move the location from New England to the West Coast. Schneck agrees that New England, where fur trapping is much more prevalent, was the better place to place their action. “The whole idea of a creepy environment in the North was what we writers had always pictured,” he says.

Original SKINS ad:

The Man of the Writers' Nightmares
Polgardy also remembers Cingolani wanted the screenwriters to emulate more modern trends in horror; namely, a wisecracking serial killer currently burning up the box office. “All I remember is that Luigi constantly wanted our villain to be like Freddy Krueger,” he explains regarding the iconic character Smart Egg Pictures helped give birth to.  The screenplay, however, offers very little room for a Freddy-style villain and is thankfully bereft of any self effacing humor.  “You couldn’t have a Freddy Krueger [in our script],” Mastroianni contends. “Freddy was on his own all the time, he didn’t have a group following him or anything.”

Smart Egg advertised the film as part of their roster in February 1988, even going so far as to pencil in a July 1988 start date with a December 1988 delivery date for exhibitors (“They’re still waiting,” Mastroianni jokes). Preproduction, however, was fairly limited on the film.  Polgardy does recall that preliminary talks were done with special effects legends Tom Savini and Mark Shostrom to get their feel for the project.  Additionally, FX artist Bryan Moore did some groundwork design sketches for the creatures and even created a prototype of what a Eurynome would look like sans skin (see picture).  While no legit casting sessions were held, Polgardy remembers one big name being thrown around to play the main villain.  “They were considering David Bowie to play David Chambers,” he reveals. “We were looking at one key name and then some younger stars [in main roles].”

The SKINS crew:

Top Row (left to right): Schneck, Mastroianni, Eurynome prototype, Bryan Moore 
Bottom Row: Producer Luigi Cingolani, Polgardy

In the end, the project just proved to be too daunting for the amount of money the production was offering and Mastroianni felt it would ultimately do a disservice to their script.  “It became really apparent to us that we were going to make a much more compromised film.  It wasn’t going to be the film in that script because [Luigi] kept saying you can’t shoot this and you can’t shoot that,” he says. “It would have been a pale imitation of that.  Trust me, when we were about to start to shoot it, [the budget] would have dropped even more.”

Mastroianni was disappointed that he couldn’t get the project going and DOUBLE REVENGE proved to be his last project with Smart Egg.  He rebounded quickly though as he soon found himself in another world literally as he started work on the WAR OF THE WORLD television series.  As for the fledgling screenwriters, they were also let down by the turn of events.  “I think we were all very disappointed that we had come this far…then nothing,” Schneck says.

Perhaps the hardest hurt was Polgardy, who was just getting into show business at this time. “You have to understand, Armand had done a few movies,” he explains of his disappointment.  “I had never made a movie at that point.  I was a kid.  I told all my friends that it was being made.  So I had egg on my face after that one.”  Amusingly, Polgardy later became friends with screenwriter Brian Domonic Muir (CRITTERS), who was brought in to rewrite the SKINS screenplay by Smart Egg after the initial team’s tenure.  The disenchantment, however, did prove to be a creative impetus as Polgardy soon wrote the graphic novel FROM THE DARKNESS and it afforded him a career in the comic industry for 7 years.

Mastroianni & Polgardy, together again
Despite the film not being made, all three men have remained friends over the decades.  In fact, Mastroianni and Polgardy would later work together on the miniseries GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN (2005).  Even more recently, Polgardy co-produced Mastroianni’s thriller DARK DESIRE (2012).  Asked whether or not they think they could ply their SKINS today, all three men agree that it could be done. “We could do it today for $2 million,” Polgardy says.  “It has a real good narrative drive and you could do the creatures real good.”

“It is not time specific either,” Mastroianni adds.  “There is a lot of that story that I still feel very close to. I like the journey you go on watching it.  You have no idea what you are in store for.  You don’t know where this movie is going.”

Perhaps Schneck sums it up best with his thoughts on pumping some blood back into SKINS. “I do believe that the concept of stolen identities is even more relevant as a theme now than it was back in 1988,” he says. “I would still love to see Armand and Ed make this horror film into something very special.”