Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

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

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Obscure Oddities: To HELLFIRE and Back!

“If you have a story that seems worth telling, and you think you can tell it worthily, then the thing for you to do is to tell it”
                                    – Dashiell Hammett

The film HELLFIRE entered my life like my old girlfriends – namely, it caught me unaware, slapped me in the face and screamed, “Pay attention to me!”  This happened via a full page advertisement (see left) that appeared in an American Film Market issue of Variety in February 1986.  I first spied the ad in 2008 and was instantly intrigued by the subtle combination of sci-fi and exploitation.  Oh, and the naked girl.  A quick cross reference of the actors listed brought up the info that it had been re-titled PRIMAL SCREAM and put out by Magnum Home Video in 1987.  Thanks to the power of eBay, I soon had a copy.

My initial viewing of it left me mystified.  While the plot was a tad confusing (“I hope I never have to sit on a bench in a court to weed out who is who and what was going on,” director William J. Murray amusingly confessed), there was much to admire about the film.  Although low budget, it was ambitious in nearly every department despite being made outside of Hollywood.  The screenplay was filled with twists and turns as sharp as the dialogue as futuristic private eye Corby McHale (Kenneth McGregor) tries to figure out what is going on with a new killer fuel codenamed Hellfire.  Matching the ambitious nature of the script, the director provided plenty of visual style in assembling his grimy future.  So it shocked me to find out that Murray had made just one lone feature and, like a victim of Hellfire, seemingly vaporized.

A halfhearted investigation to find Murray began but Google always lead me either to a Christian minister or everyone’s favorite Ghostbuster.  The trail picked up earlier this year (5 years later!) when internet sleuth Bill Picard noticed a new credit on Murray’s IMDb page.  Yes, my own version of Corby McHale had cracked the case for me.  After some emails through acquaintances, I did indeed reach the William J. Murray I was looking for this past summer.  Not only was he more than willing to talk about the film, he was also still in touch with Keith Reamer, the film’s editor and major player in the making of the movie.  And almost serendipitously, he informed me that my timing was near perfect as this fall marked the 30th anniversary of the beginning of filming of HELLFIRE.  So this, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of how one ambitious young man and a group of friends learned to make and release a feature film, their cinematic trial by (hell)fire.

William Murray was born in Northfield, New Jersey in the late 1950s.  Like any healthy kid growing up in the 1960s, Murray developed a sci-fi and horror film addiction.  His pusher went by a name familiar to thousands of kids: Forrest J. Ackerman. Yes, it was the old “Famous Monsters of Filmland” that got his creative juices flowing and it was Murray’s cousin Michael who provided the initial dose. “He subscribed to it before I subscribed to it,” Murray reveals. “He lived in Philly and I lived down near Atlantic City.  We’d visit each other in the summers and he had some early issues.  We saw that kids were getting their parents’ 8mm cameras and making movies.”

Murray was soon joining the ranks of his fellow Famous Monsters filmmaking brethren, focusing his eye on a Keystone 8mm camera with a triple lens configuration that a local photographer had for sale for $35. “I can remember saving money like crazy when I was 12 or 13 and then that was it, we were off,” he recalls.  “We did a thing called MONSTER RAMPAGE, which was a ten minute Godzilla movie. Then we did a sci-fi thing called T-MINUS 24 HOURS, which had a revolving cast.”  As he grew older, the film projects grew in size and scope, including an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND which featured future THE SIMPSONS producer David Mirkin as the lead vampire.

By the time college rolled around, Murray had found his passion and looked to a future in filmmaking. Initial plans to attend school in New York were dashed due to an illness in the family and he instead enrolled in Bucks County Community College located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  The school suited Murray fine as it had a healthy film program and he eventually met two men –Richard Heierling and Thom Parkin – with whom he would begin a collaborative relationship.  Like John Carpenter and Don Dohler before him, Murray didn’t just aim high he literally reached for the stars with his debut, by choosing to do an adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s classic sci-fi novel RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA.  “This was crazily enough the year STAR WARS (1977) came out,” he says. “So science fiction was everything in the fucking world at that point.”

“We were doing it in such a rinky dink way,” Murray explains of his first major film project. “We partnered and bought two Bolex cameras – an electric one for synch [sound] and wind up one to do single frame for special effects.  I would say we achieved maybe two thirds of it. We wrote a script and built the sets and the models.  I still have all the black and white stuff. It was shot in reversal.  We didn’t know what we were doing, but some of it looked really great.  And we put enough together to actually convince someone to say, ‘Wow, you really know what you are doing. Where can we take this further?’  And that was the idea.”

Also in the late ‘70s, Murray entered in the exhibition end of movies. He started working at the Tilton Theatres that he used to frequent as a kid and through an unfortunate circumstance (the manager died of heart attack while on vacation) ended up becoming the manager.  A few years later, Murray and some friends leased an empty theater and opened Stage Door Cinema, an art house theater that specialized in foreign and cult films. Unbeknownst to Murray at the time, the avenue of theatrical exhibition would be fortuitous to the genesis of HELLFIRE.

Around the same time, Murray met a fellow film enthusiast by the name of Keith Reamer, who would also be instrumental to the film’s production and eventually be HELLFIRE’s editor.  “He was just getting out of the University of Bridgeport at that time,” he explains.  “We found a lot of things in common.  We kept hanging out.  I showed him my stuff, he showed me his stuff.”

Eventually the two men decided to give feature filmmaking a try. Their initial projects were more exploitative in nature – Reamer wrote a film called BODY COUNT and Murray penned a teen horror film titled BOARDWALK BLOOD.  “That was something we kind of whipped together really quickly,” Murray explains.  “It is something that would never get done now because it opened with basically a theater massacre in one of the boardwalk theaters in Ocean City. We thought we’ll have a guy and he’ll shoot up the place and it’ll be cool.”

Reamer, who had a decidedly bigger interest in horror/exploitation cinema than Murray, was helpful in getting a meeting with New York’s first family of fringe filmmaking – the Mishkins. The duo headed into the city to meet with William Mishkin.  “He was exactly what you would expect an incredibly marginal, drive-in film producing guy to be like,” Murray reveals of Mishkin, who reigned supreme in a cluttered two room office.  “We were encouraged and let down.  He said ‘I’ve got to see what you can do. I need to see something finished and if you can get through all the hurdles that would be something.’ We were just not going to take no for an answer.”

The rejection led Murray and Reamer to drop the horror film idea and instead concentrate on a sci-fi detective project that Murray had been concurrently developing with friends.  This story turned out to be HELLFIRE.  With a budget of less than $400, Murray shot a 5 minute teaser in 16mm that would be used to interest potential investors in 1981.  Actor Steve Emhe was enlisted to essay the lead detective Corby McHale.  “We just did some action scenes and added some narration,” Murray reveals about the short.

Incredibly, a financing opportunity soon fell into Murray’s lap, or I should say lobby, in 1982.  “I actually had a guy who was putting video games into the lobby of the theater,” Murray explains. “We got to talking one day and I said, ‘Well, I’m originally a filmmaker’ and he said, ‘Oh, I’d love to see your work.’  He was putting in video games, not the top notch ones, but he was making some money.   He was from Philadelphia and he would come down and service them and we would get to talking.  He eventually asked, ‘What have you done?’”

The video game entrepreneur in question turned out to be Howard Foulkrod, the man who would eventually finance HELLFIRE.  Murray showed Foulkrod the HELLFIRE short along with bits of RAMA, which was enough to convince the Pennsylvania native to back these first-time filmmakers.  Things fell into place quickly after that.  “I got a hold of Keith and said, ‘We need a crew.  We need this and that.  We’re going to get funded,’” Murray says. “And then we just started whipping it together in the fall of 1982 and early 1983.  Keith pulled in a couple of people from the University of Bridgeport.  I even got my cousin, the one who got me interested in filmmaking, involved.”  

In terms of the crew, a wide variety of young local talent was recruited. Robert Zeier worked as a set designer for a theater company in West Point, New Jersey and was hired to do the film’s art direction. His wife, Francesca Chay, supplied the costumes (“We had to tame [her designs] down at every notion,” Murray says).  Dennis Peters was recruited to be the director of photography and Dan Karlok and Stan Mendoza as gaffers; Karlok eventually would take over the DP position.  And David Swift was given the Assistant Director title.

Assembling the script was a collaborative effort between Murray, Di Pietro, and Dan Smeddy, although Murray is only given credit on the final film.  “Yeah, oh boy, lucky me,” he jokes.  While BLADE RUNNER (1982) is often listed as an influence in reviews online, the concept actually predated the Ridley Scott film.  The group, however, did actually draw inspiration from another fictional detective – Harry Orwell.  “I was a huge HARRY O fan as was Dave Di Petrio,” Murray reveals of the cranky television detective played by David Janssen.  “The show had just gone off the air.”

With filming slated for the fall of 1983, Murray and his associates set about casting their film. “We put an ad in Backstage and rented a studio for two hours in New York City to see who will work for next to nothing,” he discloses.  “That’s where Ken came from.  That’s where Joe White, who is Nicky Fingers, came from. That’s where Jon Maurice, who played the police chief and was the nicest guy in the world, came from.”  When it came to the big haired femme fatale, only Murray’s own native New Jersey could provide such talent. “[Julie Miller], the woman who is the crazy blonde, came from there.  She was a revue star over in Atlantic City and she wanted anything to be in a movie. She did it for free.”

Perhaps the biggest name in the film is also the most surprising.  AD Swift managed to track down ‘50s and ‘60s character actor Mickey Shaughnessy.  Having starred opposite Elvis in JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957) and John Wayne in NORTH TO ALASKA (1960), Shaughnessy came out of retirement to play local bookie Charlie Waxman.  It would prove to be his final film role as he passed away shortly after filming.  

Free was the optimum word as the film began production for five weeks in the fall of 1983.  Any and all resources were exploited, such as grabbing some aerial shots when it became known that a projectionist who worked for Murray had a pilot’s license or using Foulkrod’s house for a location. According to Reamer, the crew would meet every morning at Murray’s mother’s house for day old pastries and slept four-to-a-room at his own parent’s house. Locations such as the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey were secured for no fee.  A majority of the crew worked on pay deferments, but everyone gave their all according to Murray.  “We said if we’re going to do this, we’re going to really try and do it,” he says.  “We’re going to throw everything in.  Every department needs to chuck it all in and see what happens.  It wasn’t a great A-level thing or great indie film or anything like that.  It was a genre piece and doing what we think we can do with it with effects and our surrounding resources.”

Continuity shot to maintain big hair:

The ability to get stuff on the cheap also allowed the filmmakers to add some futuristic production value with the inclusion of the tiny LiteStar cars featured in the film.  “Those guys were actually trying to produce them,” Murray reveals of the prototype futuristic cars showcased in his film.  “We had two of them.  They’re real. They had motorcycle engines and would ride on the road.”

The LiteStar car:

The initial shoot proved to be particularly challenging for the neophyte filmmakers.  In addition to organizing problems, it was physically grueling as the crew had to lug the heavy 35mm equipment from location to location.  Murray’s biggest problem, however, was in front of his behemoth of a camera.  Lead Kenneth McGregor proved to be a pain in the debuting helmer’s side, even going so far as to almost create a mutiny among the cast.  “He knew his position. He knew he was the star,” Murray reveals.  “So he was able to exert a certain amount of influence.  He’d do whatever he wanted to do and he’s constantly leaning on people like ‘hey, can you lend me twenty bucks.’  Of course, he was stuck in Atlantic City for weeks.  You take New Yorkers out of their natural element and you put them in a place as boring as 1980s Atlantic City and they’ll go out of their fucking minds.”

The cast & crew on location:

Now, both men are sympathetic to the lead actor’s plight.  “Thinking back, I can only think how clueless we were,” Reamer explains, “to expect these people to give up their lives, work in South Jersey for 5 weeks and get not a dime for a cup of coffee! Ken was completely right to hold us hostage, we got the message and we did the right thing. It took an ass like Ken to make a stand for the rest of the very nice, more submissive cast.”

An amusing anecdote, however, from the time of film did provide Murray with a bit of karmic justice for McGregor’s insubordination.  “We scheduled to do a daytime alley shot with Corby running with a gun drawn,” he explains.  “Before long somebody sees this white guy with a gun standing around and calls the cops.  They got Ken.  They grabbed him, threw him in the car.  Then they come and ask who is in charge.  I said ‘I guess I am’ and they threw me in the car.  I get in the car with Ken and he just fumed the whole time.  They took us to see the police commissioner and it is his last day on the job.  He’s drinking in his office and saying, ‘I love it when movies come to town.’  We lost a whole half a day, but managed to keep Ken out of jail.  The whole time I’m thinking, ‘Do not get into character here.  Don’t be going all method on these guys.’”

Director Murray on the set:

With filming completed just before Christmas 1983, Murray and company then spent 1984 getting the film into shape. They did 10 days of pick up shots and completed the FX and miniature work with long time friend David DiPietro from the early 8mm days with Murray’s cousin, while Reamer toiled away tirelessly on cutting his first feature.  Post-production was a long and arduous process that saw Foulkrod’s initial investment of $75,000 double.  Reamer credits the first-time producer as one of the main reasons the film got finished.  “He had a lot of money tied up, and he had no experience, but he brought a certain discipline to the project that helped us along,” he reveals.  “I am not completely sure the film would have ever been finished - at least finished by the year 1985 - without a Howard on board.”

Keith Reamer editing (or eating) HELLFIRE:

Instrumental to the post-production process was the guidance of long-time exploitation veteran Jerald Intrator.  Well into his 60s by the time he worked on HELLFIRE, Intrator had a long history in the low budget field.  He directed the Bettie Page burlesque classic STRIPORAMA (1953) and the Meg Myles sexploitation vehicle SATAN IN HIGH HEELS (1962).  He also famously imported (and added new footage to) titles such as THE CURIOUS DR. HUMPP (1969) and NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1969). This would prove to be his final picture and the logo of his company Unistar graces the opening of the film.

By 1985, the film was done and they decided to shop it around.  They opted to put the film in the hands of Walter Manley Productions.  “We thought about this early on that we need to get an agent,” Murray explains of the decision process. “We all got a secondary education on how things get done.  They wanted to take the project on and it was a perfect fit for them.  It was a little better than some of their stuff and probably a little bit worse than some of their stuff.”

It was through Manley’s company that the film was sold worldwide with deals in the UK, Germany, Netherlands and Australia.  Although the film did end up going directly to video in the United States via the aforementioned Magnum, it was initially picked up with hopes of theatrical distribution by Florin Creative.  “The US distribution rights were picked up by Steve Florin, who ran a chain of theaters in New York state,” Reamer discloses. “Florin was brought to the project by indie-producer Jerald Intrator.”  It was Florin who was responsible ultimately for the title change from HELLFIRE to the less-descriptive, but equally grabbing PRIMAL SCREAM. At the end of the day, the producer got his money back and everyone got paid.  Anyone who’s read our pieces on independent filmmakers here on Video Junkie knows this is a very rare thing.

Believe it or not, the filmmakers didn’t have any sort of premiere for the cast and crew, though producer Foulkrod did go to Cannes to oversee its selling.  Murray got his chance to see it theatrically when he flew to the West Coast to catch a screening at the AFM.  With childhood buddy / ‘Simpsons’ Producer David Mirkin in tow, he was able to catch it on the big screen.

AFM screening:

Once the film got to market, Murray was exhausted and returned to his theatre job.  While he does still own a 35mm print of the film, he has long since lost track of who now owns the rights.  Bijouflix DVD announced the film in 2009 (for which underground auteur Damon Packard cut a trailer), but it never came to fruition. “At this point I’m totally unaware of who owns the rights to it,” he says candidly.  “It is the son that walked out the door that doesn’t come back.  You’re just glad he’s gone. That was a long time ago and that thing has kind of slipped away.”

Damon Packard trailer for PRIMAL SCREAM:

Variety review, May 14, 1986
(click to enlarge)

Murray didn’t lose the filmmaking bug though.  In 1991, he mounted his sophomore feature titled MILE ZERO. Despite having a sci-fi sounding title, this film was a complete 180 from his debut, a character drama inspired by the works of Hal Hartley that saw him reunite with DP Karlok.  “That was a tiny little character driven film,” he explains, “about a young woman who works at greenhouse in a small seaside town and is a cartoonist by want and desire.  She runs into a guy who is cute and turns out he is deaf.  That is about 85% finished.” While the film remains unfinished, the ever resourceful Murray is thinking of using the footage in one of the music videos he directs.  For the last five years, Murray has established himself as a freelance director /editor / videographer in New York City.

In the end, HELLFIRE emerged not only as a film, but as a great example of the low budget, outsider cinema where a group of creative people pool together. It also proved to be a valuable launching pad many of the people who worked on the film.  “It was a very big start for everybody,” Murray says.  “Other people were slowly getting into the industry. Everybody in that picture has worked in the industry almost exclusively.”  

DP Dennis Peters would go on to lens many other features and recently completed his own directorial debut, the thriller I’M NOT ADAM (2014); Stan Mendoza worked as a location manager for dozen of Hollywood movies in New York City; Dan Karlok continued gaffer and camera work and also moved into the director’s chair, directing episodes of LAW & ORDER and receiving a Grammy nomination for the documentary ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL: THE MAKING OF “RIDE WITH BOB.”; David Swift continued to work as an electrician in the film industry; and Reamer would have a flourishing and diverse editing career climbing from PLUTONIUM BABY (1987) to the Sundance titles as I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996) and AMREEKA (2009).  “My experience with HELLFIRE was invaluable, and unforgettable,” Reamer adds. “In many ways, it made the rest of my career possible and I will always cherish its existence.”

HELLFIRE 30th Anniversary Reunion (left to right): 
David Swift, Stan Mendoza, Keith Reamer, Dan Karlok, William Murray

When asked about his feelings on HELLFIRE some 30 years after it began, Murray is levelheaded about the final product. “I guess there are a couple of moments where I still feel pretty good about certain things,” he says.  “It was really grasping for something that was just so far out of reach.  What you can do with so little and try to get so much out of it. It was a bunch of kids in their 20s.  And they didn’t strike gold like some people did, but our heart was in it.  I still have warmth about the whole thing.”

Many thanks to William Murray and Keith Reamer for their assistance in bringing this piece together.  To see Mr. Murray’s music video work, click here; to learn more about Mr. Reamer’s continued work as an editor, click here.  Also, thanks to EB Hughes and the tenacious Bill Picard for their help in locating the key player in this story. And, of course, Tom for saying, "You need to watch it again!"

 Alternate PRIMAL SCREAM poster:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Gweilo Dojo: TWIN DRAGON ENCOUNTER (1986)

How did I miss this one back in the day? This crazy Canuck kickboxing classic is so absurdly entertaining for so little money that even David Prior would have to doff his cap.

A couple of real life, blow-dried, porn-'stached, black belt, kickboxing sensei twins (Michael and Martin McNamara) play a couple of blow-dried, porn-'stached, black belt, kickboxing sensei twins name Mike and Mark who decide to leave the "Tw n Dragons" (sic) dojo and head out to their private island (!) with their girlfriends for a vacation. Of course they can't even get to the island without running into trouble. After leaving work, the brothers decide to meet each other at the beach after dark to solidify their plans. One of them (honestly, I am not sure which one) randomly parks his van in the dark in order to read a newspaper. Suddenly he hears screams coming from a nearby park and runs over to find some "scum" harassing a girl and her dog. We know they are scum because the twin dragon keeps trying to get their attention by yelling "Hey scum! Hey scum!" and out of nowhere the other twin shows up to help kick butt. The best part though is the main scum who seems to be attacking the girl, not so he can rape or kill her, but so he can hold her down and caress her face! Damn, that the problem with Canadians, they can't even properly assault innocent females. They can, however, assault innocent dogs, as our scum dude quickly snatches up the girl's dog when confronted by the twins! Not the dog! Oh he's a bad man.

As if this wasn't enough to set up the main plot, the guys with their girls in tow stop at a greasy spoon. Of course the boys have to prove their machismo by flirting with the waitress who playfully prods them by accusing them of being wild with the girls. To which one twin, oozing with sex appeal, quips "Girls? We don't see any girls. Just a couple of guys in drag!" In addition to being smoother than a glass of Kessler and a Barry White record, these guys just broke the fourth wall. How? Well, we know damn sure that this is a work of fiction because any real woman would give those losers a swift kick in the prairie oysters after a comment like that! Since this shockingly doesn't cause any trouble whatsoever, the truckers at the next table decide it's on them to stir up some action hurling viscous insults like "you better drink your milk and cookies boy, so you grow up big and strong" and "I drive a Mac truck, maybe I'll drive you!"

With priceless lines like those, I don't even care about the fights. This is fortunate because while the brothers may be legit badasses, they cannot choreograph a fight scene to save their lives. To compensate for this all of the fight footage, barring a few moments near the beginning and end, is in comical slow-motion. Still, once the truckers are laid out, we get one of the twins making their exit with the line "Confucius say: When fighting truckers, nail the suckers." Was Confucius drunk when he said that?

These guys would rather be sawing logs...
While unloading their stuff, a group of fatigue-clad hosers in a boat with the words "People's Private Army" crudely painted on the side, decide to hassle the girls and call the brothers kids! Why does everyone do that? After another slo-mo fight scene, the cigar-chewing, peroxide mohawked leader Jake (B. Bob - who?) declares war on the brothers! Well, at a later date anyway. Word has it that every year Jake leads a group of weekend commandos out to the area to hassle the locals and any time someone stands up to him, they disappear! Sounds like a job for the Twin Drago- uhhh, no, they really don't care. It takes gripping canoe confrontation and the reprehensible theft of their promotional poster ("our poster's gone!") which Jake takes back to his camp and kicks a hole in (after a failed attempt), to get their dander up. Even worse after repeated threats by Jake the guys decide that they should go off and do man stuff, leaving the girls behind, not once, not twice, but three times ("there's the water, go swim")! When Jake kidnaps the girls, the knuckleheads decide that the girls must be playing a joke on them. Says one of the twins "I bet right now they're in the bushes laughing and giggling waiting for us to do something stupid." Uhhh, that won't take long.

It is really amazing that these guys have any friends at all, and quite frankly, they probably wouldn't even care. Twins are weird. Their idea of funny consists of beating up some friends of their friend Frank who is teaching them how to poach game on the island. After beating the hunters into unconsciousness, they steal one of each of their shoes.  If that wasn't hilarious enough, after leaving their girlfriends alone at night after death threats have been levied against them, they decide to sneak up and scare the shit out of them while they toast marshmallows, shivering by a campfire. Maybe they are guys in drag. Clearly the brothers don't want to get laid here. In order to make it up to the girls, they bust out the big surprise that they had been promising for the entire trip. In addition to being what seems to be the initiators of the rather brief "kickboxing twins" fad of the late '80s and early '90s, apparently they inspired the creation of "Duck Dynasty" too, as the big surprise turns out to be a small blind built in a tree. These guys must have off shore bank accounts and dicks the size of telephone phone poles to keep these ladies from dumping them faster than Taco Bell goes through a college student.

Eventually the twins get geared up for war. Fortunately they packed their camo karate gis with matching bandannas and set out to take down Jake and his possee, in slow motion.

Canada is known for its hilarious comic talent such as Dan Akroyd, Bob and Doug McKenzie, Rob Ford... but the McNamara brothers take themselves deadly serious, even when they are trying (I say "trying") to be funny. Of course this is a good thing as this is one of the funniest movies I've seen in a long time. Not only is it peppered with amazing dialogue, but it also sports a spectacular opening sequence and theme song by a man that puts the "butt" in "buttrock" that plays out like a mashup of NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA (1985) meets MIAMI CONNECTION (1987). With lyrics like "after every night comes another day, after every day comes another night" the track insists that you have to "Fight! Fight for the right to fight!" If this doesn't turn you into a giggling mess on your sofa, you are reading the wrong blog.

To their credit, the brothers have been hugely influential on the sport of kickboxing and quite possibly inspired the classic 1987 video game Double Dragon. The brothers unsuccessful sued Jackie Chan over his completely unrelated 1992 film TWIN DRAGONS, while completely ignoring the only vaguely more similar 1991 Jean Claude Van Damme vehicle DOUBLE IMPACT. TWIN DRAGON ENCOUNTER was successful enough to pave the way for a sequel, DRAGON HUNT (1990), in which Jake returns to ruin yet another vacation, and a quasi-documentary about oppressive martial arts regulations that the twins (I swear I'm not making this up) have refused to release as a protest to the obstructive laws that the film is protesting! Yeah, tell me that isn't genius.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Backwoods Bastards: INBRED (2011)

If you were on the scene back in the early '90s you would have no doubt seen, or at least heard of, Alex Chandon. After creating quite a buzz with his admittedly derivative, but no less entertaining splatter shorts BAD KARMA (1991) and DRILLBIT (1992) Chandon got his shot at a DTV feature film and for some reason went for an intentionally over-campy, quasi-meta spoof of '70s sci-fi/fantasy soft-core films with PERVIRELLA (1997). This led to his career having a sudden case of extreme death... until 2001 when Chandon managed to get the widely hated (again) CRADLE OF FEAR released direct to DVD. Honestly, I couldn't be bothered with CRADLE, but for some reason seeing his name pop up another 10 years later with INBRED I had to look. I only have myself to blame.

A couple of social workers (James Doherty and Jo Hartley) take some juvenile delinquents out to the country to an abandoned cottage where they will be doing team exercises as part of their rehab. Of course as soon as the bus is in motion, the cliches start rolling in fast and furious. The house is a complete wreck, the locals are all weirdo hicks, the beer tastes like piss, the town has a dark secret and things are about to get very nasty. The locals, as it turns out are a bunch of inbred nutters that capture wayward travelers and put them in a raggedy vaudeville show run by the abusive town patriarch Jim (Seamus O'Neill) in blackface. Sure they like to eat human flesh (though this is never shown), but they like a good evening's entertainment too. Not a bad premise by any means.

Chandon spends almost an hour setting the stage, so to speak, for a hybrid of 2000 MANIACS (1964) meets HOSTEL (2005). In addition to trying to mimic the intentional comedy of MANIACS, he tries to stretch the suspense for what he we are assuming to be a particularly vile torture show, only to completely back off at the last minute. This may be because in his heart Chandon wants this to be a dark comedy, but it ends up feeling like he's pulling his punches. For instance one of the boys is dressed up as a girl and nailed down spread-eagle on the floor while Jim's son dresses up like a scarecrow with a large carrot protruding from his pelvis. It seems as if something unbelievably nasty is about to do happen, then after shoving a CG asparagus slowly up his victim's nose (don't ask, I don't know either), a couple of maidens lead a horse in. At this point I start thinking that this is going to be some sort of brutal Joe D'Amato homage. After lingering over the screaming and wailing victim, the horse steps on the side of the kids head and it's over. I'm not saying that I particularly wanted to see the kid get raped by a hillbilly or a horse, I'm just saying that Chandon likes to get the audience all worked up by implying that some extreme nastiness is en route and then decides to play it safe.

That is not to say INBRED isn't gory, it definitely is. Plenty of CG and latex is slung about with wild abandon, but in this day and age, (as much as I hate to say it) it takes more than a CG exploding head to make a movie interesting, and quite frankly, unless you are doing CG and latex like ADAM CHAPLIN (2010), just stick with the latex please. Some of the gags are pretty impressive, but we've seen Chandon deliver bucketloads of practical effects in the past. I wish the lure of the CG siren wasn't so too difficult to resist. Even so, it's the lack of originality and the weak attempts at comedy that cause INBRED to falter.

While the film, for the most part, looks great and is technically proficient, O'Neill and low-rent regular Hartley seem to be delivering performances that belong in a much worthier film. There are many little moments where the film seems to break away, seeming turning into something interesting, only to quickly drop right back into moments that feel like we've seen them many times before in many other films. For instance, when it comes to the introduction of the village, Chandon does a pretty good job of making them creepy in a humorous way, but feels the need to "pay homage" to the classic pub scene from AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).

Even worse, Chandon starts out on the right foot. The opening sequence is an 1800s period piece with a woodcutter who turns his axe on his employer. I was actually caught off guard by this, and while it is rather cheap looking, I thought it was a really refreshing concept. Seriously, nobody does low-rent period flicks anymore, unless they are doing some over-wrought '70s camp vehicle. I was enjoying it, until they pull out and show that it is just some old video nasty that the boys on the bus are laughing at while watching on their smartphone. The joke is on me, I guess. This is probably Chandon's best feature to date, so I figure at this rate by 2035 we will probably get a pretty good movie out of him. Or maybe he'll finish that period slasher flick. I was kind of enjoying that.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Prison Prescription: WRATH OF THE CROWS (2013)

Probably one of the most underrated auteurs in modern horror, Ivan Zuccon is a name that a surprising amount of horror fans are not familiar with. In spite of a thirteen year career making incredibly dark, disturbingly gory and unapologetically abstruse movies, several of which are loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft stories, Zuccon really does seem to be the definition of a "cult director". It seems that his choice of medium, digital video, is probably to blame as much as the fact that it seems like you have to be Anglo to be hot property in horror these days. His latest SOV production, WRATH OF THE CROWS, again does not seek out mainstream acceptance, but seems to be gathering a significant amount of attention.

Set almost entirely in a squalid, draconian prison, a group of inmates are subjected to regular beatings and cruel, deadly games by their fascist military captors. When a new inmate (Tiffany Shepis) is given a cell in the middle of the long-term cons, the gory mind-games take a new twist. That is pretty much all I can say about the plot without passing out spoilers like razor-blade apples on Halloween night. This outing, the latest from Zuccon, is about as twisty a horror-thriller as you could possibly ask for.

 Michael Segal (left) Ivan Zuccon (right)
Normally when you think "SOV" you think about a massive amount of efforts clogging our "Cinemasochism" section. Made with a couple of friends for no money and pimped-out like an alleged virgin in a white slavery ring. Crap metaphors aside, what I mean to say is that nine times out of ten, the marketing is the best part of the experience. I hate to bring up CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988) again, but that great box cover concealing the barely watchable movie, is the epitome of the SOV horror film. Where CANNIBAL CAMPOUT and it's ilk are sloppy, lazy and cheap, Zuccon's SOV films are wildly creative, stunningly atmospheric and well thought-out.

The cast of WRATH includes Zuccon regulars Michael Segal, Matteo Tosi, Emanuele Cerman, Debbie Rochon, and Brian Fortune who is particularly good as a lucid psychopath, incarcerated for the murders of christian saints (in an effort to save the world, of course). The characters do a great job feeling each other out, suspicious that one of them might be working for their sadistic jailers. While Rochon continues to impress, for me Shepis is the weakest link here as the only cast member who aims for a camp performance. She's licking her lips and swinging her hips in a black leather teddy as if she's in a ROCKY HORROR revival. Some folks will no doubt enjoy it, but I wish she could have dialed it back to match the subtler essays of the rest of the cast, but then again that seems to be her stock in trade.

I am not a fan of the "torture porn / home invasion" genres, but Ivan Zuccon's BAD BRAINS (2006) took those genre staples and turned them into something completely unexpected with a layer of surreal depth like nothing I've ever seen before. Much like BAD BRAINS, WRATH OF THE CROWS sets you up to think that you are headed into the realm of the tied-and-tortured subgenre, but flips it on its ear and not just once. Actually, that probably is my single gripe about the film. Zuccon may pull the rug out from under the viewer once too often and one of the twists is telegraphed very early on. Minor quibbles aside, in a time where self-absorbed hacks like Ti West, Drew Goddard, and f'ing Eli Roth are having their names thrown around as "exciting new talent", Ivan Zuccon is the real deal. West, Goddard nor f'ing Roth could ever in their wildest dreams make films as gripping, horrific, imaginative and complex as Ivan Zuccon, and yet the fanboys still champion them because they have massive budgets, twee actors and rip-off old (hence stupid) films. Pssshhhhaw, I say!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Strung Out on Slashers: APPOINTMENT WITH FEAR (1985)

Had he not been killed in a terrorist attack, I would have started this review saying that Moustapha Akkad was the luckiest guy in the world.  After all, this Syrian film financier had fortune on his side when producer Irwin Yablans told him they should hire this kid named John Carpenter for their film THE BABYSITTER MURDERS. The rest, as they say, is history.  Although he had directed desert dramas before and after producing the resulting HALLOWEEN (1978), Akkad’s name would be forever linked to the slasher that started it all. I’m sure he couldn’t have been happier with that as each HALLOWEEN sequel made him richer and richer with nothing more than an “Executive Producer” credit.  That success, however, did not stop him from trying to capture lightning in a bottle again when he produced the ‘80s slasher APPOINTMENT WITH FEAR (1985).

“From the man who brought you HALLOWEEN…” scream the posters and video boxes for APPOINTMENT WITH FEAR.  As if that weren’t strong enough to sway customers, the biggest image accompanying that text is a huge knife.  It all smacks potential viewers across the face with its less than subtle “this is a slasher” iconography.  Hell, that is the reason I bought the VHS last month – I just wanted to dig into a vintage ‘80s slasher film.  So imagine my surprise when I actually watched the film. Is it a slasher?  Yes.  Scantily clad young, high school girls do get stalked in a remote location by a killer with a knife.  But it is also one of the most positively surreal horror films I’ve ever seen.  This film is so damn weird, I thought I might be related to it.  Don’t believe me? Well, just keep reading.

The film opens with Detective Kowalski (Douglas Rowe) on a stakeout watching a station wagon, which is driven off in a hurry by a woman with her baby.  A mysterious man (Garrick Dowhen) in a white van is soon following the lady. She decides the best course of action is to pull over and sit on some random person’s porch after hiding her baby in the bushes.  The mystery man comes up to her, stabs her to death and then leaves.  Witnessing this across the way are friends Carol (Michele Little) and Heather (Kerry Remsen), who is doing an interpretive dance for an old man’s birthday. What?  Anyway, Heather acts in a perfectly sensible manner by deciding she will keep the baby the woman told her to save and sneaks it home in a picnic basket.  Somehow her baby brother drowning when she was a kid is the root for all of this and mom seems to think she is just randomly babysitting. Totally stable girl, as evidenced by her makeup application.

“But you said this was weird,” I hear you cry.  Okay, let’s get to it.  Carol and Heather are planning a weekend graduation party with pals Samantha (Pamela Bach, who would marry David Hasselhoff after this) and Ruth (Debi Sue Voorhees) at an isolated condo in the desert.  Naturally, Heather is sneaking her new baby along too.  Oh, also along for the ride is Norman (Danny Dayton), the bum who lives in the back of Carol’s car. What!?!  Yes, like all high school teen girls, Carol hauls around a bum that she keeps like a pet in the back of her truck.  Did I forget to mention that Carol’s main hobby is eavesdropping on people with her long-range microphone? Like I said, she’s just your average teen girl. Meanwhile, Kowalski is going nuts over this case.  You see, the guy he saw driving the white van was a dude he locked up long ago. Not only that, when he goes to visit him in an insane asylum, he finds out the perp tried to escape the night before and has been in a coma ever since, so he ain’t going nowhere.

Kowalski’s investigation leads him to spiritualist Miss Cleo (Kathi Gibbs), who nonchalantly informs him that the guy he is looking for is really Attis, King of the Woods.  In order to extend his life for another year, he must murder his own kid and he has been telepathically leaving his comatose body in order to find and murder this child. How did he get like this? Hell if I know!  I don’t think the filmmakers knew either.  It is just established and that’s that.  Kowalski continues investigating and wonders if only he knew where this kid was at – wait – he remembers the girls at the crime scene and just knows that Heather took him. Kowalski decides the best way to find the girls is by hassling their friends Cowboy (Vincent Barbour) and Bobby (Michael Wyle), who drives around town with a dummy in the sidecar of his motorcycle.  You know, like all teen boys.  Soon everyone is at the sleek house in the desert and it is a battle to protect the baby from the ever materializing Attis.

Man, words can’t begin to describe how strange this flick is. If I had to compare it to something, I would say it is HALLOWEEN mixed with PATRICK and THE GUARDIAN (but before it was even made).  But such a rote description won’t give you any impression of just what an oddball film this is. It is like Akkad sat down co-writer/director Ramzi Thomas (who later had his named removed and replaced with the Alan Smithee credit) and said, “Thisa John Carpenter.  He makea too much sense. I wanna HALLOWEEN but witha less sense.” I’m not sure why my written Syrian accent comes off sounding like an Italian one. Anyway, this thing is totally bizarre.  I knew I was in for something special early on when I heard this conversation between the old man and old woman during Heather’s dance for him.

Old man: “It’s too early for a party. I never heard of a birthday party so early before in my whole life.”
Old woman: “Stop complaining, you old goat. You’re up and around at 4am every morning.”
Old man: “Well, whose birthday is it anyway?”
Old woman: “Yours! Now shut up and watch Heather.”
Old man: “What is she doing?”
Old woman: “She’s trying to get out of the jar.”
Old man: “Why the hell is she in the jar anyway?”

There is just so much like that going on in this film that makes it so weird.  For example, in the final showdown, how do you think Attis manages to draw the kids out of the house?  Does he set the house on fire?  No.  Does he fill it with all kinds of snakes you can find in the desert?  No. Attis ain’t no fool. He gets them to come out of the house by having 6 dancers materialize in the driveway and have them dance around a maypole.  Duh! Unfortunately, Attis didn’t think ahead because this maypole is exactly what brings about his demise as Carol impales him with it and he explodes into a bunch of leaves.  That is the logic-defying logic contained within this film.  It is the kind of film world where, yes, it is totally normal for a teen girl to want to keep a baby she finds.  It is the world where, yes, it is totally normal for a cop to chase a kid on motorcycle and when they get stopped at a train crossing, the kid goes up and asks the cop if he can teach him how to blow smoke rings.  It is the kind of film where a recurring motif is Kowalski accidentally setting his car on fire with cigarettes.  Where a killer can make his spirit exit his body and materialize anywhere, but he still needs a van to drive around in.  What the hell is going on here?  I don’t know.  I don’t think the director and writers knew either. Whatever it is, I’m happy to have seen it as APPOINTMENT WITH FEAR is truly odd enough to be memorable.

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.