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, 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.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Halloween Havoc: HOUSEBOAT HORROR (1989)

Much like the Swedes, the Aussies ain't much for horror. They make excellent nail-biting thrillers, some of which court similar themes as the venerable horror film, but when it comes to pouring it straight-up, they do it with a trembling hand. Like the gin-soaked TV comedians of yesteryear, some times a trembling hand is all it takes to make for an entertaining evening. As one particular cemetery caretaker said in 1986, "some folks have a strange idea of a good time."

Relying on the tried and true "rock stars in peril" theme, the movie opens with three travelers driving to Lake Infinity (Lake Eildon) to work on a music video for the glam-rock band Young Rooney (not to be confused with the modern L.A. hipster band "Rooney"). The moderately annoying trio pick up a bubbly hitchhiker who is going to visit her boyfriend who is waiting for her at his campsite in the forest next to the lake. Next thing you know, our hitchhiker has found her camping sweetie covered in blood and is attacked by someone wielding a kuri machete. That's right, if Jason still haunts you, you're not alone!

After all parties converge on the lake, they board the houseboat and set to partying. Says one of the girls to one of the guys "the only thing you are going to get into me is booze!" Yep, that sounds exactly the way I remember my teenage camping trips.

Right away you know this is a rowdy bunch as the director, Evans (movie, TV and videogame veteran Alan Dale), decides to drive right next to his PA slash ambulatory bed warmer, on a two lane road while talking on massive cell phones that look like they were picked up at a military surplus store. Of course no band worth their salt is going to be out done by the director, no sir! Young Rooney, certainly act the first part of their name, with loud, over-the-top "wacky" hi-jinx such as a band member who makes the old "suckerface" on a glass window and later is pulled off the roof and falls into a chair. To show the verbal side of their tomfoolery, we get a quick insert of one side of a conversation: "...those guys are so mono-theistic, if Plato was there then, he would have said exactly what I did: 'the theory of relativity, the theory of forms, the continuum concept, Aldous Huxley is The Partridge Family, pan-dimensional!'" Uhhh... right. Well, you certainly can't accuse the script of being underwritten.

Of course no slasher movie worth its salt or otherwise is complete without a Prophet of Doom (aka "The Crazy Ralph"). Here the unnamed Ranger (Lewis Porter), in a righteous furor over the incredibly irritating, and not long for this world, ocker who has been hacking at trees with an axe for no reason other than he's "practicing!" If he was one of the band members his hacking would indeed be considered "practice". Says the Ranger, "I don't like to see the scenic wonderlands buggered up!" it's not just the trees, but he's not too happy about having film people down in these parts. As a decade or so ago, there was a terrible set fire in which a boy was badly burned, so they are definitely NOT to go to the northern part of the lake! Of course, as soon as the ranger leaves they bugger off for the northern part of the lake while the boys party like... well, wannbe rockstars... and the girls hang out in the living room playing Trivial Pursuit.

Those wild and crazy guys!

After arriving at the northern part of the lake things start kicking into a gear that I had no idea this movie possessed. One by two, our burned killer hacks and slashes his way through an amazing number of cast members with a jaw-dropping smorgasboard of shockingly professional gore effects. In addition to the feature film quality splatter, we get lots of amusingly odd moments. For instance there is the obligatory shooting-a-music-video scene in which Young Rooney totally rocking out while dressed like Ratt to a song that sounds like Dire Straights. There's a bit where a girl is taking a shower and suddenly the curtain whips back, there's a scream and we pull back to see it was another nude girl who just wanted to let her know that she's waiting to use the shower. Typical girl stuff. Speaking of random nudity, there's a scene where one of the band members is smoking something he rolled himself and sees a rather unattractive woman (a local stripper) glumly walking naked in and out of the lake. He looks at his roll-your-own and says "I've gotta stop smoking these mushrooms!" Pause. "This isn't a mushroom!" Draw your own conclusions, my friends, I'm fresh out of hypotheses.

In one bit they have yet another "homage" to a certain 1982 slasher film in which a couple of the crew discover an abandoned barn and... wait for it... say "what a great location!" before being killed off in separate areas of the barn. It's actually a pretty well executed sequence and I have to say, I've never seen anyone killed with horseshoes in a slasher film before. Another scene, in which a topless girl is stabbed repeatedly from under a bunk bed, is actually brutally effective because of the acting. The movie even boasts a plot convenience that involves throwing a brick cell phone in the lake, which is a serious cash outlay for an '80s shot-on-video horror flick. Seriously, watch a Donald Farmer or Jon McBride movie and tell me they anything close to that display of opulence. Hell these guys even do a burn-suit gag with a not-very-high fall! Sure the movie may have hambone acting and may be ridiculously over-written, but they show more ambition than a dozen of these SOV clunkers.

The late writer-director-producer Ollie Martin, a TV writer and DJ, whose dreamchild HOUSEBOAT HORROR was, was fired after three days by the executive producer Greg Petherick. TV director Kendal Flanagan was brought on board, so to speak, and apparently he is the one we can thank for delivering the goods in the second half of the movie. Also, the editor went and shot all the second unit work, leading to a rather patchy movie with seemingly random scenes spliced in here and there and a lack of cohesiveness in spite of lots of camera set-ups and a lot of script. Even so, this ends up way too entertaining and well made to even qualify for any "Worst Movie" award. Bad movie? Oh unquestionably, but the Christopher Lewis' and the Wally Koz's of this world have nothing to fear from HOUSEBOAT HORROR.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Halloween Havoc: VAMPIRE COP (1990)

If there is anything film producers love to do, it is kill two birds with one stone.  How else can you explain the plethora of horror films that have a cop as the title character?  We’ve had the MANIAC COP series, the PSYCHO COP series, and the SCANNER COP films. Hell, I’m shocked HIGHWAY TO HELL (1991) wasn’t called HELLCOP and the werewolf cop film FULL ECLIPSE (1993) wasn’t called WEREWOLF COP.  You can almost hear the giddy producers saying, “We have a horror film and an action film! The best of both worlds.” To be honest, I’m surprised it took forever for a vampire cop to appear on the scene with the TV series FOREVER KNIGHT (1989-1996).  What doesn’t surprise me is that a low budget filmmaker was on the concept faster than Tom on an Aussie post-apocalypse action movie.  So who was this enterprising and capitalizing filmmaker?  Donald Farmer.  Goddamnit!

If you haven’t figured it out yet, VAMPIRE COP is about a vampire who is a cop (or, if you prefer, a cop who is a vampire).  We’re never told how he got this way.  We are just given vampire cop and told to deal with it.  The film opens in a club where a “Hot Bods” contest is going down while some of the whitest boy dancing ever is caught on film.  The club owner chooses two girls to go back to his hotel room for a night of action, but is soon interrupted by their former pimp Hans Geiger (Terence Jenkins).  He kills one girl and then takes the other back into his fold.  Meanwhile, in a completely unrelated bit intercut with this, Traci (Morrow Faye) is picked up by the side of the road by a guy named Joey who tries to put the moves on her.  By putting the moves, I mean he demands, “Shut the mouth and drop the pants.”  This doesn’t end well for him as Vampire Cop shows up and chomps him on the neck with his big fang-y teeth.  So Vampire Cop is like the real life McGruff as he is taking a bite out of crime.

At least Vampire Cop uses deodorant:

In reality, Vampire Cop is one William Lucas (Ed Cannon) and, you guessed it, he works the night shift.  He just happens to be on his way to an undercover sting to bust…you guessed it again…Geiger!  Not only is Geiger an unscrupulous pimp, he is also the city’s most unscrupulous drug dealer. Apparently busts are new to Lucas and his partner as they sit around and gab while the undercover officer in the motel room is being outed and shot by Geiger and his right hand man Kurt. Protocol is again breached as our two cops follow the guys to a warehouse sans backup and then Lucas’ partner is killed. Naturally, his response is to vamp up and kill Kurt while Geiger gets away.  Investigating the unusual crime reports (not every day you have people turn up bitten) is TV reporter Melanie Roberts (Melissa Moore), who now has Vampire Cop witness Traci living with her. Melanie’s investigative techniques involve just walking into Vampire Cop’s house unannounced while he hangs upside down in the closet (read into that all you want). Anyway, as expected, they get involved and soon are in bed.  Quickly after that they are all pawns in Geiger’s ridiculous attempts to clear his name and take over the city.

You figure if I am going to lower my standards with VAMPYRE (1990) that it only seems fitting that I continue to lower them (and bring further shame upon my family name) by checking out another film from the same company, Panorama Films. The fact that I willingly watched another film by Donald Farmer after seeing SAVAGE VENGEANCE (1993) should let you know how far I am willing to go to one up Tom in our unofficial “I saw a worse movie than you” Halloween Havoc competition. Shockingly, VAMPIRE COP offered a few surprises for this viewer still smarting from his first Farmer viewing.  The biggest one is that this movie is actually shot on film, which is a huge leap from the shot-on-video VENGEANCE (which was made in the ‘80s but unreleased until the ‘90s).  Now some might see that as offering salt as opposed to lemon juice on a fresh wound, but in the land of Farmer that is a big freakin’ deal.  A huge freakin’ deal. The film also offers some decent acting, especially from female lead Moore.  And Mal Arnold (yes, Fuad Ramses from BLOOD FEAST [1963] himself) plays a Lieutenant who gets properly chopped up.  There is also plenty of gratuitous nudity.  I guess it helps when the first thoughts of your female cast everyday aren’t “I need to get out of here” (google “Camille Keaton” + SAVAGE VENGEANCE for more info on that).  There is also a vampire meltdown at the end that is almost decent.  Again, a huge freakin’ deal in a Farmer film.

Of course, using film stock is only going to go so far and will merely present Farmer’s ineptness with a nicer sheen.  Would you believe a film called VAMPIRE COP never has the titular character in a cop uniform? I guess VAMPIRE UNDERCOVER COP just didn’t have that ring to it.  And the closest he gets to a cop car is some second unit footage of a car driving around the city with its lights on.  I mentioned in the VAMPYRE review how producers must love the vampire concept because all you need are fangs, blood and a cape. Well, all we get are fangs and blood here as Cannon growls wide-eyed into the camera. It also doesn’t help that Farmer writes Lucas as the dumbest cop alive. Seriously, he makes Sgt. John “Turkey” Turquoise from HOLLYWOOD COP (1987) seem like Sherlock Holmes or Dirty Harry. Vampire Cop goes everywhere sans back up and falls for the oldest trick in the book when two of Geiger’s ladies of the night call him and say, “We want to get away from him.  Come help us.”  And how do you write a movie in the ‘80s about a vampire cop and not have some goofy one liners? Farmer’s script actually introduces an interesting concept (Geiger wants to make his cohorts all vampires) but that comes literally within the last 10 minutes, so it is never given time to develop.  Farmer also can’t resist giving himself a small role as well and his acting in the finale – which rips off the ending of THE HOWLING – would make Tarantino go, “This dude is a bad actor.” In the end, VAMPIRE COP is only recommended for folks trying to one up their friends in the bad movie sweepstakes.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Halloween Havoc: BLEEDER (1983)

"Helvete, kan svenskarna inte vara betrodd med fasa!" That's what you would have heard me yelling... if I knew Swedish. Aside from, if I'm generous, a handful of notable exceptions, you can't trust the Swedes when it comes to horror movies. When they do hit the nail on the proverbial head it can be life-changing. Films such as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) and BLOOD TRACKS (1985) are classics of the genre that stand the test of time. Other than that it seems like their horror movies are made by people who have never seen one, but heard about them from a friend. A friend who was half-crocked on hard cider and distracted by the girl two seats down.

In a pre-credit sequence to convey the horror to come, a couple of tweens are slogging through the snow to get to a cottage. They have to get to the cottage soon because they are horny. Along the way they discover a bedsheet with a cross painted on it, topped by a skull with the word "death" written in the snow with black paint. The girl is totally freaked out by this (I guess she has never seen THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT) and the guy thinks it's hilarious. Upon stumbling across a large abandoned mansion, the guy decides to run around in the house and clowning about in one of the windows, his hormonal hyper-activity blunted by the opportunity to act like an 8 year old hopped up on Mountain Dew. Right before this, he tells the girl the story of the house, how a little boy was sick with a "blood disease" which drove his mother insane. She tried to drown them both, but succeeded in only killing herself. For no apparently reason, this guy's dad saved the boy from drowning. Of course, at this point we found out the house isn't actually abandoned, and the solitary resident, a guy who pushes a pram and went to the Anthropophagus School of Beauty grabs him and pulls him away from the window. Cue screams. The end.

Oh damn, that was just the pre-title sequence! We still have another hour to get through. Great. Ok, where to start? After the titles the movie picks up three months later with an all female glam-rock band called the "Rock Cats" are throwing a concert for oh, tens of people. Yeah! Rock and roll! Concerts! Fans! Tour buses! Well, a couple of gigs, a couple of fans (I counted three who cheered) and not so much a bus as a van that promptly breaks down. Sheesh, these guys make Bad News look like fucking Slayer!

Because these girls live the rock star life, they go from gig to gig through the epic, snow-covered wastes of Sweden dressed in their stage uniforms. As luck (or the producer) would have it, no one can find the keys to the trailer where the band has their street clothes, so they'll have to walk to the nearest village looking like they are ready to rock! Along the way they find an abandoned farm house with attached barn that they totally love because it would be perfect for rehearsals. I'm sure this is what every rock band begs their manager for. "Dude! We like totally need an abandoned barn with years dry, frozen animal shit, mold, rodents and plenty of dirt and straw. And none of that hay shit! I have allergies."

These girls sure know how to attract a crowd!

While investigating the house they discover a pram (dun dun duuuuuhhh) with a baby skull in it and some blood splashed on the floor. Cue freak out and the interruption of an unplugged rendition of Creedence Clearwater's "Bad Moon Rising" (I guess someone just saw AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON). This pretty much establishes the pattern of the film. The girls walk and walk and walk, and the girls talk and talk and talk ("my father was chased up a tree by a moose once") until they get to another abandoned dwelling with something creepy in it, then freak out, run away, and go back to walking and talking. At one point cast members do start getting killed off by the pram-pushing nutter who acts like he's doing a live-action rendition of Looney Tunes' Tasmanian Devil; limbs flying, tongue wagging and goofy grins a plenty. Intercut with these somnia-inducing antics is a subplot about a braided-tail haircut mink hunter in a canoe who is following the girl from our pre-title sequence, while talking to the forest ranger on a two-way radio. No good comes of that either. So dull is this outing, it makes CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988) seem like PHANTASM II (1988). Like real snow it'll numb you into a state of catatonia that will make anything you watch after it seem like a transcendental acid trip of intense complexity and mind-blowing action. Even the title is a misnomer as nobody does, except for I'm guessing the killer, though it's hard to tell if he's bleeding or simply misused a ketchup bottle.

Look into the face of terror!

I have to give BLEEDER points for presumably being one of the first DTV SOV slasher films on the market. BOARDINGHOUSE (1982) pre-dated it and SLEDGEHAMMER (1983) came out the same year, so that must count for something, right? Yeah, it would if I didn't have to subtract several million points for epically failing to deliver even the most basic of cheap bloodletting. No dull knife with a blood tube along the back, no rit dye and karo syrup splashed across walls, not even the old gag where an item is cut in half and attached to a metal band so that it goes around the actors body and looks like it's impaling them. All the kills are off screen, except for old maniacs-have-super-human-strength neck-breaking bit. In one scene our AnthopoTaz chases after a girl with a knife and then tosses it away before attacking her! The bloodiest the filmmakers ever get is a shot of one of the girls lying on the ground with a trickle of blood painted on the corner of her mouth. Oh, and forget nudity, that ain't happening at all. So what is left? Well, there are plenty of shots of the girls walking away from the camera in very tight pants.

What's interesting is that this was something of a big deal when it came out, being the first of its kind. It is well remembered by Swedish junk cinema fans because of the nostalgia factor, and presumably the very tight pants. The interesting part is that it almost is a template for Mats Helge's priceless slasher film BLOOD TRACKS, which takes all of the same ingredients and produces a righteous feast of boobs, gore, rock, and general insanity where BLEEDER's writer-director Hans Hatwig gives us a wish sandwich. We get the basic idea, but wish there was something in it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Halloween Havoc: VAMPYRE (1990)

Since I took on Dr. Frankenstein and his creation last week in a double feature review, it seems only appropriate that I tackle vampires this week.  Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein story, Bram Stoker’s classic Gothic novel about bloodsucking has given plenty of filmmakers a launching pad over the last 100+ years of filmmaking.  They must love this set up even more because all you really need are some cheap fangs, a bottle of stage blood and a cape. Hell, sometimes we only get one of the three plus a cocked eyebrow and the director is good to go.  Today let’s examine one low budget vampire flick that was hoping to put the bite on viewers.

VAMPYRE lets you know it is serious right off the bat by opening with a quote from “A Dream Within a Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe.  These guys are scholars of horror’s written word…or they saw John Carpenter’s THE FOG (1980).  The film proper opens with a young boy wandering around the forest as a voiceover mentions his name is David Gray.  He is accosted by his vampire young sister, who he stakes, and then a vampire lady who should be working in Government as she puts the “bust” in filibuster.  He kills her with a wooden cross to the chest.  We then cut to the Village of Courtempierre, where Dr. Dreyer (John Brent) is counseling vampire queen Marguerite Chopin (Cathy Seyler) about the afterlife of vampires or something. Meanwhile, a mob of angry villagers (well, if you can call three guys a mob) are, naturally, angry because their children are missing.  They ain’t gonna take this no more and storm over to the church where the vampires are and…gently knock on the door!  The doc’s assistant Justin (James Flynn) tells them he isn’t in so they kidnap him and chop off his left leg.  Then grown up David Gray (Randy Scott Rolzer, looking and sounding like a young Mitt Romney) shows up and plants a flimsy cross in the ground to keep the vampires at bay.  Gray tells one guy he will show up when they need him most but only when it is at its worst (“Once the seed has been planted, evil must be allowed to fester and grow.  Only when it has reached its full height can it be cut down again,” he says).  What they hell is going on here?  I have no idea.

“May I tell you about The Book of Mormon?”

An onscreen title informs us it is ten year later and we see some vampire followers holding a sacrifice to bring Marguerite back to life.  Now they chant her name and the blood from their victim raises someone from the ground and it turns out to be…a topless girl in a cape (Elizabeth Carstens).  Definitely not Marguerite. WTF!?!  Anyway, they storm the village and attack everyone.  It sounds like it is time for David Gray to live up to his promise.  Back at Chez Gray, he is lying in a field and his spirit leaves his body.  He wanders into the woods and makes out with cape girl before she kisses him, only to push a snake into his mouth. Damn, Freud would love this dream. Gray makes his way to the village and immediately decides to…rent a room at the local tavern and go to bed.  No rush, Mr. Gray.  The next day Gray is confronted by one of the fathers from the opening, who repeats “she must not die” while handing him a package that says “to be opened upon my death.”  Gee, I wonder what will happen to him.  Yep, he gets shot in the face by one-legged Justin and dies, an event which allows Gray to meet the old man’s daughters Gisele (Marilyn Semerad) and the infected Leone (Joan Kosby).  I guess Gray is supposed to save them. He opens pop’s package and it contains a book with gems like “vampires suck young blood to prolong their shadowy existence.”  Gee, thanks for the hot tip.  Anyway, Gray wanders around doing nothing (Gisele is kidnapped by vampires under his watch) while the village doctor still continues his practice (apparently his true nature is supposed to be hidden, but I can’t see how as he was the only doc in town).  Finally, a dude tells Gray that maybe killing the main vampire will break this vampire spell.  Ya think?

If the set up of VAMPYRE sounds oddly familiar to you, that is because director Bruce G. Hallenbeck is ripping off Carl Dreyer’s VAMPYR (1932).  Truth be told, this new version is almost a remake as Hallenbeck steals everything from Courtempierre to the basic plot set up. But the end result has all of the artistic impact as I would if I decided to record some covers of The Beatles.  Hallenbeck, who is well-known for his books on Hammer horror and vampires, can’t seem to muster enough of that knowledge when it comes to making a good film.  This thing is a mess from script to execution.  Viewers will be left scratching their heads as to just what the hell is going on.  It wasn’t until 15 minutes into the film that I realized this was supposed to be set during a period setting. It doesn’t help that several characters early on are wearing modern blue jeans (see pic above) and that Gray walks around dressed like a 1950s accountant.  I guess the costume designer – if there was one – called in sick.  Viewers are also left completely on their own to figure out who the characters are.  Hell, it wasn’t until an end credit that I found out the random girl in the cape is known simply as “Girl in the Cape.”

“Girl in the Cape” lives up to her billing:

The ultimate insanity though comes in Hallenbeck’s keeping track of day and night.  No joke, scenes unfold in full daylight while characters say, “Don’t retire until dawn comes.” People hold candles while looking out windows into bright sunshine. Characters enter a building in daytime, but then have it nighttime outside the windows once inside.  I’m not sure if they just never got around to filtering the day-for-night scenes, but it is insane.  Doubly insane when you realize the film is about vampires. You know, those nocturnal creatures that can’t stand daylight.  I have a feeling if asked about all of the errors Hallenbeck would simply reply that the film works with dream logic.  “Why doesn’t your film make a lick of sense,” I ask.  “Dream logic, my boy, dream logic,” he replies.  It is a shame too because the film (made for only $20,000 according to the IMDb) does have some good things going for it. It is shot on film, which is always a plus, and Hallenbeck even pulls off some artistic shots.  The film's biggest asset is the shooting location of Eastfield Village, a reconstruction of a 18th/19th century village in East Nassau, New York.  It is a very cool location worthy of a film that could have perfectly capitalized on its natural spookiness. Unfortunately, VAMPYRE isn’t that film.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Halloween Havoc: SHADOWS RUN BLACK (1986)

There is an urban myth that we humans only use 10-20% of our brains. Scientists use 65% of their brains laughing about this alleged fact, 20% being annoyed by it, while the other 15% tries to figure out why this act of hilarity would cause one's buttocks to detach (true story, I read it on the internet). There are many scientific reasons that those men and women of long beards and labcoats have given to prove how mindless this myth is, but I have my own: I forget which movies I have watched over time. Not all of them, just a lot of them.

Clearly the brain has a certain amount of cabinets in the File Room (located next to the Microfiche Oblongata). You can put whatever you want in there, but after a while, some stuff has got to be junked in whole or mostly in part. My memory of seeing NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA (1985) in a raucous Manhattan theater takes up half a drawer, so something needed to go. The name of the first girl who allowed me to slide into home base? Not a freakin' clue.

When Will sent me an e-mail asking me if I had seen SHADOWS RUN BLACK, I was pretty sure I had seen it, twice in fact. I just couldn't remember a damn thing about it. Obviously I needed to update my files. The plot outline for that great novel I was going to write? Gone. Now I remember what I forgot about this movie: it's not very memorable.

Back in '86 you could damn near release anything horror related on VHS. Video rental shops (remember those? I do. My brother's birthday? Nope.) couldn't jam them out fast enough and really all you needed to do was have someone vaguely menacing in the promo art and you were set! Following this train of thought, we have career editor Howard Heard's first and last directorial effort. A small town is in the midst of a rash of killings by an unknown predator who has been dubbed "The Black Angel". Legendary cop Rydell King (William J. Kulzer, who also produced) has a chip on his shoulder because years ago he tracked down his daughter's kidnapper/killer, and comes on board to help out by completely taking over the case, yelling at potential witnesses and generally flying off the handle at every opportunity.

After the killer takes out a couple up in a mountain cabin with a wrench and a car-hood (both off camera), the cops haul in a college prostitute/junkie named Lee (Terry Congie), who looks so healthy and clean-scrubbed, she'd make soccer moms envious. King is convinced that she knows who the killer is because the killer has been targeting members of her circle of college-girl hooker/druggies! After King gets through giving her the Joe Friday routine, Lee finally gets to go back home... to her birthday party! This is exactly the kind of birthday party I think of when I think "junkie/hooker", complete with magician (John "Magic" Wright) and his stand-up bass playing assistant.

Lee (who suddenly has a completely different hairstyle) helps out with a card-trick involving a deck of tarot cards. Of course the card she picks is the death card! As if that wasn't bad enough, her boyfriend Jimmy (Kevin Costner) is behaving like a drunken asshole. So much of a douchebag is Jimmy, that he actually wants to stay and watch the lamest magic show ever, rather than go skinny dipping with Lee. Naturally after stripping down and swimming around in the buff, our black clad killer shows up and strangles her to death. Now who is the number one suspect? The boyfriend of course!

The press, apparently unaware that the killer already has a nick-name, declares him the "Co-Ed Strangler", in spite of the fact that only one of his victims has been strangled and King is now so frothed up about the killings and finding Jimmy that he is in danger of mussing his hairpiece.

This sort of leads us to the main plot (30 minutes into the film), a girl named Judy who lives with her psychotically protective, older brother Morgan (Shea Porter) and his wife is being stalked by the Black Angel / Co-Ed Strangler. Clearly the killer is a fan of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), as when he calls Judy up all he can think of to say is "I'm coming to get you, Judy." In reaction to this Morgan flips out and beats up Judy's wimpy, allegedly black boyfriend because he's "dangerous". This is a fumbling attempt at making the audience think that there is another possibility for the identity of the killer, as is the scene where Morgan's wife has an affair with his co-worker. Of course, it's so clumsily done you won't even realize that it's an attempt at a red herring until it is suggested out loud at the end of the movie!

The rest of the movie is essentially scene after scene of badly acted, pointless conversations with references made to the laughably absurd prostitution/drug ring, interspersed with some of the most amazingly gratuitous nudity ever presented in a slasher film. No joke, if there was a Golden Bush Award, this movie would totally score. The killer has an amazing ability to show up as soon as one of the girls on his list has removed their clothes. Whether it's because they are about to or have finished with seemingly innocuous sex with their significant other, or just because a women steps out of the shower to go downstairs completely naked to find out why their roommate isn't answering them, he's more punctual than a Berlin train. Also, making coffee is apparently something best to be avoided while in a state of complete undress when you are trying to avoid a killer. Not that any of these girls seem in any way concerned for about the madman that is slaughtering all of their friends! There is so much full-frontal female nudity that it is rather easy to forget what exactly what kind of film you are watching. It almost feels like one of those '60s nudie thrillers like Harold Lea's THE FAT BLACK PUSSYCAT (1963), which has roughly the same plot, if you can call it that.

Made in 1981 and unreleased until 1986 when Kostner was just about to become a big Hollywood name with THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987), the murders are incredibly tame and usually off-screen and it doesn't take a lick of brainpower to figure out who the killer is well before we hit the halfway mark. It is truly amazing that this was made by someone who made their living as an editor. In addition to staggeringly wooden performances, rock-bottom production values, cinematography that makes 35mm look like Super16, the movie looks like it was cobbled together using every scrap of footage that was shot, whether it makes any sense or not. There are huge lapses of continuity, leaving us with a movie could be cut from 88 minutes down to 28 minutes and it wouldn't make any less sense. We don't even find out what the killer's motivation was! We find out who the killer is, but we are left to come up with our own explanations as to why the murders actually happened!

So now you're saying "but is this movie worth my valuable time to watch?" If the screengrabs can't answer that question, I've got nothing for you.