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!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Listomania: Thomas' Tormented Tales of 2013

Holy crap! Is it 2014 already? '13 lived up to its numeral for me personally, but on the movie front, there was a lot of good stuff. Mostly because I lived quite a bit of it in the past. Yep, I am that guy. The one who cranks Deep Purple, drives a 1970 Superbird, has an Olympia Beer sign in his home and still thinks that MAGNUM FORCE (1973) is one of the best cop movies ever made. Ok, so I don't actually really own a Superbird, but the rest of it is sadly true.

This was the "Year of the Re-Visit" for me. I binge-watched virtual careers and entire series' of films (or at least most of them). Part of this due to the discovery that older films, even the production-starved ones, when treated with care can look absolutely breathtaking in HD on a giant flat-panel TV. Films that are intensely visual like say, an old Argento film, have that intensity magnified almost like seeing it in the theater. Sometimes new things are pretty awesome.

Total Movies Watched:
413 (for those keeping score at home, that is a whopping 110 more movies than last year)

Total Theatrical Movies:
4 (one more than last year! Clearly Hollywood is making progress... or their marketing departments are.)

WORLD WAR Z (2013): Utterly monotonous, plotless tripe that barely qualifies as a zombie movie in spite of a few scenes with hundreds of zombies on screen at once. It certainly isn't a horror movie, it's not even remotely an action movie, it's laughably undramatic and obvious, so what is this? It's a mess, that's what it is. The much publicized production difficulties and a script that was torn apart during production much like Captain Rhodes at the end of a legit zombie flick, makes this the most uninspired, overhyped and relentlessly apologized-for snoozefest in recent memory. Brad Pitt runs from continent to continent acting worried and pining for his sad family (awwwwww!)... oh yeah, and he escapes from zombies once or twice. The entire film boils down to the final scenes in which a bunch of white guys are terrorized by a single black woman in an empty building. If you've seen the trailer, you have literally seen everything this movie has to offer. To add insult to injury, the hasty, post production 3D conversion was, of course, only a ploy to sucker in people who have never seen a real 3D movie and don't know they are getting completely ripped off. Come to think of it, they've probably never seen a real zombie movie either.

IRON MAN 3 (2013): If asked which movie of 2013 I hated more than WORLD WAR Z, it would have to be IRON MAN 3. WWZ was like unflavored jello. Completely bland, but not too difficult to choke down. IM3 on the other hand was like chewing on dogshit flavored thumbtacks. This is the first IRON MAN film I've bothered to see in the theater and I'd say it was a complete waste of $20 and two and a half hours of my life, except for the fact that I do enjoy movie theater popcorn. While I found the first one enjoyable in a pandering jingoistic sort of way, part 2 wasted the talents of one of Hollywood's most entertaining loons and went the ALIENS (1986) route of "if we make it louder, bigger and dumber, it will be better!" So what do we have this time out?
Let's go over the cliche check-list to make sure we have everything:
Witty married-couple arguments? Check!
Precocious kid? Check!
Trite, canned drama? Check!
Longest, most painfully unfunny "fanboy" scene ever? Check!
Lots of poorly executed terrorist drama? Check!
Lots of comic "acting" from Favreau? Check!
No action for interminable stretches at a time? Check!
Minimal action, minimal Iron Man, maximum cringing comedy? Check and double check!
My reaction to IM3
I think it's obvious Shane Black didn't really want to make an Iron Man movie, but apparently it was the only job he could get. His apathy towards the title character even has him executing the majority of the movie, including the final (haven't we seen this before?) action scene without Iron Man! Just Downey and Cheadle running around with 9 mils like they saw LAST BOYSCOUT one too many times. The whole Mandarin thing is played for laughs, having nothing to do with the comics, and Ben Kingsley's performance is, I guess fine, but the character is awful. We have the inspired casting of Bill Sadler and Miguel Ferrer as the President and Vice President, but they have literally nothing to do other than stand around looking like guppies at feeding time. There were several points during the first hour where I almost walked out, but kept thinking "we gotta get some action here soon". Then they have a quick, weak action scene with some villains in suits and it's back to plodding through grating comedy and drama that would touch the hearts of the kind of people who re-post sparkly gifs on Facebook.
Add crap 2D to 3D conversion and this was a miserable waste of over 2 hours and $20.

GRAVITY (2013): This movie has so much hype behind it that any praise I give it will ring hollow, but this is the perfect Hollywood film. Ironically, it was made so remotely that Hollywood wasn't able to WORLD WAR Z it (my new euphemism for wrecking a movie by committee). It's a full 90 minutes of nail-biting tension that jumps into the fray where most Hollywood movies would be after 45 minutes of dry, hackneyed character set-up. Like many great movies of the '70s, it takes a few minutes for the car to get cranked up to the top of the hill before sending the audience flying down the first drop on the roller-coaster. As much as I've hated movies made with far less than 90% CG, this is CG done right. Never did I actually feel like I was watching a CG movie, matter of fact I was quite shocked to see that damn near everything except the actors was made in a computer. The movie worked so well that I even forgave it for being a 3D conversion. To be fair, since it was all done in a computer, you couldn't really shoot legit 3D anyway. Easily the best Hollywood film I've seen in years and definitely the best thing I've seen in the cinema in recent memory. I love a good space thriller, hopefully this paves the way for some solid imitators. Oh, Bruno Mattei, if only you were still with us.

RIDDICK (2013): First off, I am not a fan of Vin Diesel by any means. I find him annoying and cheesy and I don't like his movies. That said, I saw PITCH BLACK (2000) in the theater with one Jon "Correctly" Kitley and got a kick out of it. Was it a masterpiece? No, but it was fun for what it was and Vin Diesel's aping of Clint Eastwood is tolerable at worst. CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK (2004) was an odd, misfired sequel that decided the stoic survivalist should play second-fiddle to a tedious '80s-ish sci-fi Dungeons & Dragons plot about a bunch of whispery goth dudes in armor that worship a religion about death. Oh and it's a halfway decent prison break movie too. David Twohy will always have points in my book for CRITTERS 2 (1988), and I was itching to go to the movies and get out of the heat, so RIDDICK it was. Damned if this wasn't the most entertaining genre flick I've seen in the theater in years (GRAVITY doesn't count since it's a mainstream film).
As much as Twohy was vocal about not wanting to rehash the first film, he found himself compelled to do it after everyone on the planet rightfully bitched about part 2. Once again, he inserts the character of Riddick into an '80s throwback, but this time it works. Essentially a throwing the mostly metaphorical "spaghetti western on a parched alien planet" theme of the first film into sharp relief, Riddick must survive in a Harry Harrison-esqe Death World, while attempting to cut a band of bounty hunters off at the knees, before they do the same to him. The bounty hunters are holed up in a small outpost and are not even aware of the deadly storm that is about to rain down on them all. ...And I don't mean Riddick. This impending doom device works to add a sense of urgency to the stand-off and keeps things from dragging. Occasionally feeling like it was pulled straight out of an '80s Charles Band film, RIDDICK sports some excellent art direction with western visuals and Twohy's fantastic eye for detailed, lived-in sets, props and vehicles. Even if the movie is let down by a rather by-the-numbers finale, it's still way more fun than it has any right to be.

The First Film of 2013:
HAMILTON 2 - BUT NOT IF IT COMES TO YOUR DAUGHTER (2012): As the (unintentional) tradition dictates, the new year must be started off with a highly anticipated sequel. Unfortunately this hasty follow-up to the previous year's surprisingly good original turned out to be stunningly bad. How bad? It had the world-class super spy rescuing a cat who is stuck in a tree. Damn near chewed my finger nails to the bone over that excitement.

The Last Film of 2013:
NINJA II (2013): A full four years after Issac Florentine absolutely gutted us with the hotly anticipated non-action film NINJA (2009), he returns to amend his wrongs with one of the most action-packed fight-fests this side of DRUNKEN MASTER II (1994). Florentine serves up a bubbling fondue pot of fromage with nearly every martial arts cliche imaginable skewered for dipping. Sure the scriptwriting is staggeringly bone-headed even for a Florentine film, but honestly, how many times have you sat through a '70s kung fu movie for the plot? Absolutely loaded to the breaking point with ridiculous excuses for eye-poppingly choreographed fight scenes that could go toe to toe with an HK production, we also get Kane Kosugi, son of the legendary Sho, showing off his father's legacy. My only gripe is that Florentine, aside from a fantastic opening sequence, still doesn't seem to want to put ninjas in his ninja movie. I realize that Scott Atkins is going to need his face time, but how about some evil ninjas for him to decimate? I don't think that's too much to ask. I'll be expecting that in part 3, Florentine, just so you know.

The Biggest Surprise of 2013:
It's a tie between GRAVITY (2013) and RIDDICK (2013). The edge goes to RIDDICK as I was not even remotely expecting to like it as much as I did, but at the same time I was expecting a lot of plasticine Hollywood drama out of GRAVITY and was rather shocked to find it absent. Two big surprises in one year out of my local multiplex. Pretty amazing.

The Biggest Disappointment of 2013:
THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR (2013): Just in case you live off the grid, this special is a feature-length psuedo-wrap-up of Matt Smith's tenure and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the show. I figured for the milestone of 50 years they'd do something impressive on an epic scale. Unfortunately it was just more of Steven Moffat's non-event writing with lackluster 3D. Moffat has seemed absent minded over the last couple of years, probably due to having his hand in just about every damn show on the BBC. His scripts have been about characters who talk really intensely about how really, very, extremely important everything thing is accompanied by a lot of running around, ultimately leading to absolutely nothing. As if that wasn't annoying enough, every single episode has his painfully artificial "poignant" moments that make 12 year old girls cry.
This special is more of the same and sports a completely wasted bit part for Tom Baker, who has been my hero since childbirth. Even worse, websites like run gushing articles about how profound and touching it was. Ugh! It was a jumbled, cliched mess with no real plotline that Moffat scrached out on the back of a bar napkin while on break from his gruelingly insipid series SHERLOCK (in which a young metro-sexual Holmes solves crimes via his cellphone - really).
I don't know if you know who Maffat is, but he's a BBC writer who used to write episodes for various genre shows. His single episodes used to be really good, until he did a groundbreakingly fantastic episode for David Tenant's "Doctor Who" titled "Blink". That was the episode that turned DW into this giant juggernaut here in the US.
The BBC was so happy with him for the breakthrough success of the new doctor that they decided to simply hand the show over to him and greenlit pretty much any other projects that his grubby little heart desired. So he took over producing and scripting every single episode of DW and it was cool at first, but suddenly he decided that since he had complete control, he could have the doctor making left-wing political speeches and defending the rights of homosexual aliens (not even kidding). DW doesn't need political soapboxing. If you want to insert a subtle message, great. Club us over the head with it and then skip out on any real plot? Hell no. He also decided that there had to be a completely manufactured "sad" moment in every episode where someone dies (slowly) and all of the cast members gather around and sob for a bare minimum of 10 minutes. Then he started producing and writing SHERLOCK and other shows and his writing got sloppy to the point of having episodes that made no sense and had nothing happening in them, but were pretending to be setting up future episodes in which he would figure out some sort of half-assed explanation. This last season, other writers stepped in which made it better, but he clearly is no longer interested in DW and needs to go away. Or as Bernard Brook-Partridge said of The Sex Pistols "I would like to see somebody dig a very, very large, exceedingly deep hole and drop the whole bloody lot down it." *ahem* Ok, I'm better now.

The Best TV Show Watched for the First Time in 2013:
This wasn't much of a challenge, but there were a lot of good nominees in this category. The British cop classic "Sweeney" spin-off "Minder" and the British quasi-adaptation of Douglas Adams' "Dirk Gentley's Holistic Detective Agency" were strong runner's up, but there is one thing to rule them all...
EERIE INDIANA (1991-92): Big props out to Will for recommending this show. When this came out I was so busy watching HK action movies and offending every eligible single woman in the pathetic San Jose bar scene, that I didn't really have any time for a TV show. Much less a kid's TV show. What a mistake that was.
Sort of like BILL & TED meets "The X-Files"... sort of. The family is hyper-normal, but the town is weird, and nobody notices the weirdness except for two boys, Marshall Teller (Omri Katz) and Simon Holmes (Justin Shenkarow). As Teller narrates in the opening credits, "Elvis lives on my paper-route... Bigfoot eats out of my trash..." it's just not like New Jersey.
Boasting an amazingly eclectic sense of humor (particularly for a kid's show) the series features the likes of John Astin, Henry Gibson, Dick Miller, Ray Walston, Julius Harris, Archie Hahn, Matt Frewer, Joe Dante, Claude Akins, Michael J. Pollard, Mark Blankfield, Tom Everett, Paul Sand, and Danielle Harris (look out for pre-fame Denise Richards, Nikki Cox and Tobey Maguire as well)! All of this awesomeness packed into 19 22-minute incredibly creative segments. In one episode the original owner (John Astin) of the local diner/store, The World of Stuff, agrees to help the guys with a little problem, saying "ok boys, let's go bag this werewolf... then I'm going to take a shot at this 'Warren Commission' thing." No 11 year old kid is going to get that joke, which makes it even funnier. It's sad that it only lasted one season, it was just too cool to live. Oh yeah, there's a second season that got made titled "Eerie Indiana: The Other Dimension", but the new cast and lack of cool celeb bit roles are definitely a let-down.

The Best Birthday Present of 2013:
Shockingly, it's not the Xbox One that came completely out of left field. It's a copy of the now utterly unobtainable director's cut DVD of TITAN FIND (1985)! Remastered in it's correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio with the original title and even a few interviews. Sadly this release got caught up in a legal entanglement that may take years to sort out. One of these days I should send Will something nice for his birthday instead of junk food and junk movies.

The Coolest Actor That I Never Realized was Awesome in 2013:
Mr. Fugitive himself, David Janssen. How have I lived all of these years without appreciating this guy? After watching THE GOLDEN GATE MURDERS (1979) and ending up completely obsessed with bagels and lox (ok, more obsessed than usual), Will, who has been a founding member of the Janssen fanclub for decades, turned me on to the "Harry O" pilot films which are nothing short of amazing. Particularly good is the second pilot, "Such Dust as Dreams are Made of" which co-starred a young Martin Sheen as the punk who put a disabling bullet in Harry and now needs his help. Margot Kidder and Sal Mineo also show up as a far too young love interest and a drug-dealing hood, respectively.

Pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese, lox, red onion, tomato, cucumber and capers.

Most Movies Watched in One Month:
January held the record with a total of 48 movies. The highlights (and lowlights) of the month can be found here in Listomania: Thomas' January Jetsam of 2013.

Least Movies Watched in One Month:
June sported a disgraceful total of 16 films. In those 16 films, I watched both WORLD WAR Z and THIS AIN'T JAWS XXX, so maybe you can't blame me for completely giving up on cinema for a while. The highlight of that month has to be the special edition blu-ray of one of my favorite animated movies:
ROCK & RULE (1983): Essentially a post-apocalyptic amalgamation of Don Bluth and HEAVY METAL (1981) in which Earth has been re-populated by human/animal hybrid mutants. When an aging rocker named Mok seduces a young singer with the help of high-tech drugs, it's up to her boyfriend and bandmates to rescue her and put a stop to Mok's plans to summon a world-eating demon from the bowels of hell. Not only is the film startlingly original, but it is surprisingly well scripted. It may take a few viewings, but there is a point where you will realize that almost nothing in the movie would be made the same today. Then you realize that it would never even get financed in today's market.
A dark, menacing-but-funny, post-apocalyptic film in which animals have mutated with humans and an aging rock star kidnaps a young singer to help him summon a demon to destroy humanity as an act of revenge for his declining popularity? No freaking way in hell that pitch meeting would end on an up note. The amount of work that went into the film is just stunning. I mean they did enough work to make two movies over the span of five years in production and some of the tricks that they used to make many scenes work are so incredibly labor intensive that you may not even appreciate them unless you watch the outstanding extras on the disc. Plus, I love the fact that their completely fictional 1983 aging rocker looks exactly like about three different real-life 2013 aging rockers.

Check out a separate post for the De Hart Attack Awards Top 12 Best of 2013!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thomas' De Hart Attack Awards for 2013

Top Dozen Favorite First Time Viewings in 2013:
Welcome to the first annual De Hart Attack awards. This a way to honor the movies that I saw for the first time in 2013 that became instant favorites. There were so many that I had to pare down the list to just the top 12 most memorable.

THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN (1975): Best Matt Cimber movie ever.

DEMON OF THE ISLAND (1983): Creepy, weird French technophobe horror.

METAL HURLANT CHRONICLES (2012): It was like a long movie, it counts.

CORALINE (2009): Not even remotely comparable to NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, thankfully. A great movie made better with outstanding use of 3D.

ADAM CHAPLIN (2011): Someone call a doctor, I need my jaw reattached!

MACHO CALLAHAN (1970): Gritty, mean and dirty western with a fantastic cast and some neat twists.

GRAVITY (2013): The impending 3D blu-ray will be mine.

THE TAKE (1974): Amazingly cool and off-beat Billy Dee Williams cop flick that doesn't go where you think it will.

THE MASTER DEMON (1991): With a cast of Eric Lee, Sid Campbell, and Gerald Okamura, this is the Paul Kyriazi film that Paul Kyriazi never made!

THE WORLD OF YOR (1983): The extended TV version is really an amazing thing and my New Year's resolution is to actually finish my epic write-up of it, come what may, here to stay.

ACTION USA (1989): This movie totally lives up to it's name.

THE SPIRITS OF JUPITER (1985): Fun, low-budget, regional indy film that throws in every genre staple it can get its hands on.

(Dis)Honorable Mention: GETEVEN (1993) So you think you've seen self-indulgent vanity projects, have you? You ain't seen nothin' till you've seen L.A. lawyer John De Hart's attempt to set himself up as a singing, fucking, fighting action-star badass. A humiliating embarrassment for all concerned and mandatory viewing for hecklers like us.

Worst Film Viewed in 2013:
I would say JOHN CARTER (2012), but it is without a doubt HALLOWEEN (2007). Just a gawdawful movie, no matter how you slice it. Yes, I know you are looking at me with your "duh" face, but I kept seeing these posts on that damn internet thing saying how mindblowingly awesome it was. Not that I believed the slavering fan-boys and Rob Zombie apologists, but I just wanted to know what it was that divided people into camps. Now I know and I'm not a better man for it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Listomania: Will's 2013 Cavalcade of Cinematic Carnage

Well, we have another year down in the Video Junkie record books.  My total was 289, down from last year's total of 344. “Hell, this boy ain’t living up to his name,” I hear you cry.  232 of those films were ones I had never seen before and 57 were revisits.

First film seen in 2013: SILENT NIGHT (2012)
Last film seen in 2013: THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD (1978)
Films seen in theaters: 5 (all time low for me)
Best film seen theatrically: GRAVITY (2013)
Worst film seen theatrically: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)
Biggest surprises in 2013: ANTIVIRAL (2012), CURSE OF CHUCKY (2013) and DREDD (2012)
Biggest disappointment in 2013: COSMOPOLIS (2012)
Oldest film seen: MAD LOVE (1935)

Video Junkie Moment of the Year:

Damn, as much as I’d like to crow about my “Never Got Made” entries again, I think our best moment this year was getting a copy of the still unreleased NINJA BUSTERS (1984) from director Paul Kyriazi (technically we got it in 2012, but wrote it up this year), who was incredible gracious and accommodating.  If you haven’t read it, you should!  Not only was it exciting to see, but it was a reminder that there are plenty of unreleased/unfinished films out there so we’ll keep searching.

Video Junkie “What were we thinking?” Moment of the Year:

I regret noth-zing!  Haha, there wasn’t much I could conjure up that made me feel too bad this year.  Yeah, I did another insane theatrical-versus-television comparison (AIRPORT ’79) that makes me a hit among the ladies, but I properly spaced out my work on it so it wasn’t too painful.  The only thing I can think of is an impromptu David Janssen fest in September that suddenly ended with Tom and me eating bagels and lox on separate ends of the country.  And people say we are impressionable.

Most in one month:
October: 36
Least in one month:
September: 17 (too busy eating bagels?)

Films watched more than once:
-GRAVITY (2013) - twice
-THE LOVE BUTCHER (1975) - twice
-DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973) - twice

Directors most watched (individual films):

-Armand Mastroianni (9)
-Don Coscarelli (4)
-John Eyres (4)
-Sam Firstenberg (3)
-Curtis Harrington (3)
-Tobe Hooper (3)
-Gary Jones (3)
-Ivan Zuccon (3)

Best films that I saw for the first time in 2013:

-DREDD (2012)
-GRAVITY (2013)

Worst films that I saw for the first time in 2013:

-MAMA (2012)

Best “the kind of cinema I live for” I saw for the first time in 2013:

-BLOOD BEAT (1983) (Tom's capsule review)
-HOUSEBOAT HORROR (1989) (Tom's review) 
-GETEVEN (1993)
-ADAM CHAPLIN (2011) (Tom's review)

Yes, I watched THE ASTROLOGER and THE VISITOR in the same year and lived to tell the tale.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Aus Deutschland mit Scheisse: ROBIN HOOD - GHOSTS OF SHERWOOD (2012)

The legendary tale of "Robyn Hode" originated in the middle ages and is presumed to have been derived from a minstrel ballad. Hood's story was simply about a farmer who was an expert swordsman, archer and outlaw. None of this giving to the poor after stealing from the rich stuff. Presumably, being a yeoman of the middle ages, he needed the gold that he stole to buy food or other such extravagances. Over time, his story changed considerably. At one point he was a deposed nobleman fighting to regain his title, and in modern times, he led a group of cutthroat supporting characters known, presumably ironically, as "The Merry Men" against a corrupt law enforcement official.

This legend has been retold and retooled so many times over the centuries that in the present era, we've had a Disney animated film, (ROBIN HOOD, 1963), a breathy romance (ROBIN AND MARIAN, 1976), a Kevin Costner action/comedy (ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, 1991) and a cringe-inducing Mel Brook's send up (ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS, 1993). Of course there are also the questionable comedies ROBIN-B-HOOD (2006) with Jackie Chan and a baby, and ROBBIN' IN DA HOOD (2009), set in the projects, but we aren't going to even go there. No sir, we've got smaller fish to fry.

The filmmakers seem to have
interrupted the lamest Ren Fair ever.
After all that shuffling around, where can a fledgling movie maker take the concept? Horror of course! For those audience members who have thinking "damn, what the legend of Robin Hood needs is a satanic/witchcraft/zombie angle" this movie is for you! For those audience members with any sort of discriminating taste, it's not.

The opening credit sequence is a Doris Wishman-like montage of shots of the forest, soldiers riding on horseback in the forest and soldiers getting killed in the forest. The voice over has the soldiers interrogating a woman who is in the forest. What this has to do with the film proper, I'm not sure, but it's the only bit of action we are going to see for a very long time.

Don't miss the riveting Laundry Scene!
During what I think is supposed to be a different fight, Robin Hood (Martin Thon) attempts to save Marian (Ramona Kuen) with his mad archery skillz. His shot flies wide of the mark and Marion must hack at her attacker with a sword. As it turns out, the girl he has uhhhh... "rescued" is the cousin of the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham (Tom Savini, whose acting is so bad, he can't even put the "ham" in "Nottingham"). Of course this trifling matter of blood relations causes a bit of a tiff between the two which is quickly settled when Marian admits that she herself is no fan of the man. Why? Because he cheated on his wife while she was on her deathbed miles away. Fair enough, he definitely qualifies as a douchebag. Now that the little matter of the Sheriff is settled, we need to spend another 5 minutes arguing about where to spend the night. Marian wants to make camp in the forest, so she can bury the dead in the morning and Robin just wants to get her back to his place. Yeaaaaaah baby! Nothing happens.

Robin introduces her to his commune of woodland dwelling folks and when Marian questions the whole thing, Robin drags out his soapbox and launches into the most long-winded discussion of class and community since Friedrich Engels decided to dabble in socio-political commentary. "We share everything." Robin insists. "No one man is better than the other. The community provides for the individual and the individual for the community." Honestly I am amazed that Marian was able to stay awake through this prattling, pretentious drivel, but I put it down to the jagged rocks that the actors were sitting on.

After discovering that this man of the land has a massive stash of gold and jewels, Marian throws a fit and Robin then has to launch into a speech about his theories of the redistribution of wealth and his own particular version of trickle down economics. Finally convinced, Marian decides that she should help Robin's cause by helping him infiltrate the Sheriff's castle. "But," she says, "leave the bow and arrow behind. I do not want you to accidentally shoot me while trying to protect me." Wah, wah, waaaaaaah! Yes, in addition to relentless bickering, this film fancies it has a sense of humor. God help us.

Now on to the action! Or not. First we have to have yet another lengthy, bickering discussion between Robin, Marian, Friar Tuck (Kai Borchardt) and Will Scarlet (Dennis Zachmann) about greed, the wealthy, the poor and, again, the redistribution of wealth as they trudge to the castle. Once there they must have a lengthy argument about how they are going to get into the castle. Shouldn't they have planned this out before leaving? I guess there is a reason the king's men are hip to Mr. Hood's game. He's not exactly a master tactician, is he? After much dispute it is decided that they will take potions that will temporarily turn them into different, yet equally awful, actors. This will be their disguise, so that the guards won't recognize them. Brilliant, right? All goes according to plan, except for the fact that even though Maid Marian looks like a completely different person, everyone at the castle recognizes her as Maid Marian! Even her cousin the Sheriff acts as if nothing is wrong.

Of course even with all of the crafty planning and their magic disguises, they simply charge into the Sheriff's chambers, steal some jewelry and run out only to get caught by the castle guards. The best part of this plan is where faux Will is supposed to tie up faux Marian and throws down the rope in frustration screaming "it doesn't work!" Too many moving parts, apparently. Err... isn't there supposed to be something about ghosts in forests, or something? Never mind, we have a "funny" argument in the market where Friar Tuck steals some produce and puts it on the middle-eastern seller's table in order to start a massive argument that leads to what appears as if it's going to be a Bud Spencer-esque brawl, but would have probably taken too much effort to choreograph, so they simply have Tuck run away.

After watching the guards kill Tuck and Scarlet, Robin escapes only to be shot down by a castle archer that is such a crack shot that he nails Robin dead-on twice, from the castle tower and through the trees in the forest. Perhaps the movie should have been about that guy.

A witch in the forest brings Robin mostly back to life. Apparently he wasn't quite dead yet. The only catch is that to finalize his return to the land of the living, he must give her his soul in three years. Of course this leads to yet another argument with Robin getting all pissed off about the deal. To be fair there are scenes in which Robin isn't acting like such a little bitch, but there are a few. Mainly because he isn't in them. Robin talks the witch into sweetening the deal by allowing him to bring his dead friends back to the witch so that she can give them a potion of "undead" and bring them back to life. The catch here is that they cannot have been dead past "one rotation of the sun" or they will return to life as vampires. Since they were killed this same day Robin will have to hurry because he clearly has no idea that a) the sun rotates or b) that it takes 24 days to rotate, not 24 hours. Oddly the filmmakers didn't seem to know this either. To aid him, she gives him a potion of strength and a potion that will turn his greatest weakness into his greatest asset. Oh, and she'll make him a magic bow and arrow set. Robin remains unimpressed.

Robin quickly retrieves his dead chums, randomly attacks two travelers on the road for no apparent reason and finally squares off with a black knight guarding a bridge who he defeats by simply grabbing him and falling in the water. The witch revives the chums, who find this to be a great time to enter a lengthy discussion about the relative merits of heaven and hell. Will, finding his time in hell enjoyable, tells a "hilarious" anecdote about killing a husband who caught him having an affair with his wife. Oh, good times! Upon returning to the camp we get a joyous re-union followed by a montage of Robin and Marian sleeping, hugging, kissing and enjoying a fire, set to a love ballad so cheesy it would make Michael Bolton cringe. Oh my christ, is this movie still going?

You'd think the filmmakers would be running out of steam, but no. Shot on digital video by Oliver Krekel, one of the seemingly endless horde of Tutonic no-budget videomakers with minimal cash and middling ambition. Krekel's 2007 effort was a 61 minute remake/sequel to John Carpenter's THE FOG, titled FOG 2: REVENGE OF THE EXECUTED. Reportedly the scant 61 minute running time didn't make the movie any less arduous and apparently Krekel felt that making ROBIN HOOD longer would make it better. And brother, lemme tell ya, it is a long, hard slog to the closing credits.

No! Not the laundry!
Robin finally fesses up to Marian that he sold his soul for the lives of his friends. Marian furious that Robin let her fall in love with him (ain't that just like a woman?), marches over to the witch's forest headquarters. Cue another argument! Meanwhile The Sheriff, righteously pissed off about being ripped off, sends out his troops to slaughter Robin and everyone in his camp. Robin Hood is filled with arrows... again. Yes, I get it, it's supposed to be irony. *groan* If the Sheriff knows where the camp is, why didn't he attack them sooner, since he was supposed to be desperately hunting Robin in the first place? I should probably point out that there is another half hour of this movie to go.

Little John (Kane Hodder) pops up out of thin air and joins up with Maid Marian who decides the best plan of action is to go to the witches hut and force her to give up all of her potions of undead so that they can bring Robin and his Merry clan back to life again. Needless to say... this leads to an argument. Then the witch is killed and the duo steal all of her potions. Of course they don't follow the mis-represented rules of the rotation of the sun and everyone revives as zombies (in spite of the fact that the witch distinctly said "vampires"). Said in my best Harrison Ford voice: "Zombies... why did it have to be zombies?" Of course, before reviving the lot, the pair have an argument with some thieves who are looting Robin's treasure! Little John and Maid Marian then have to escape the zombies with the magic potions that they've stolen. Just to give you an idea of how the climax goes down, there is a point where they are comically experimenting with potions such as a "Potion of Exploding Rocks", in which they pour the liquid over a stone and then huck it like a grenade. Pretty exciting stuff considering we've just sat through over ninety freakin' minutes of bitching, pissing and moaning in the middle of the German woods.

As ridiculous as the idea of a Robin Hood horror film is, I am totally down for it. No premise is too outlandish for me to buy into, really and the poster totally sells this concept. Unfortunately I don't know what movie the poster is advertising, but this movie sure as hell ain't it. Not only are there are no ghostly skeletal archers, there aren't any ghosts in it! Oh, ok, so it's metaphorically speaking, right? Ok, fine, there is still no excuse for doing something that amounts to a horribly acted BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) minus the found footage and the vague stabs at horror. There's not much gore, except at the beginning and end and no nudity whatsoever. As much as I hate to say it, I'll take an Andreas Bethmann flick over this non-event any day of the week. Hell, even Timo Rose has the decency, nay, the compassion, to make his torturously dull outings fall shy of the 90 minute mark.

How the director got people to watch his movies
What is it saying when Kane Hodder is far and away the best actor in this movie? I'm not saying his acting is in anyway good, I'm saying that his performance is the best thing the movie has going for it. Matter of fact the cast is so utterly awful that his presence makes the last half hour almost seem vaguely fun. Yeah, chew on that one for a while.

(spoilers ahead) The ending has the pair finally using a potion that traps the zombies in the forest and misleading the Sheriff and his men into going into the woods, after which we get the much needed end credits. Which run for a few seconds, then abruptly stop so we can see an incredibly long "epilogue" scene in which Little John explains to a person in the stockade what exactly happened after the end credits started! Aaaaaaaggghhhh!! Make it end! Make it end!

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Gweilo Dojo: NINJA: SHADOW OF A TEAR (2013)

Let’s not beat around the bonsai: We love ninja movies here at Video Junkie.  I dream of a day when I can have Richard Harrison screaming “ninnnnnjjjjjjjjjja!” as a ringtone and Tom is always contemplating a full back Sho Kosugi tattoo.  Growing up in the ‘80s, ninjas were part of our everyday viewing life, thanks mostly to the Chuck Norris vehicle THE OCTAGON (1980) and nearly half the catalog of The Cannon Group.  The masked assassins were on our screens and hiding in the dark recesses of our minds.

With ninjas on the brain, you can no doubt understand that the announcement back in 2008 that director Isaac Florentine, currently the best action director going, was going to make a ninja film hit us like a throwing star to the chest. Even better, he was going to reteam with Scott Adkins, currently the best action star going, for this journey into the land of ninjitsu.  Holy shinobi, this was gonna rule.  Unfortunately, by the time NINJA (2009) arrived, our hopes were a bit dashed.  Sadly, Florentine took some major missteps with this project.  He abandoned his trademark fluid shooting style for action scenes in favor of a heavily edited “crash-zoom-morph” style that was more distracting than anything.  It did a disservice to the film’s main selling point, the martial arts skill of leading man Adkins.  Fans complained and, thankfully, Florentine and Adkins listened.  The team rebounded quickly with the excellent UNDISPUTED III: REDEMPTION (2010).  And now they are back with a NINJA sequel that throws a flash of powder in the eyes of fans, making the problems with the first film disappear.

NINJA: SHADOW OF A TEAR picks up after the events of the events of the first film back in Japan. Casey (Scott Adkins) is living a peaceful life and running a dojo with his wife Namiko (Mika Hijii), who has just told him that she is pregnant. Uh oh. You know in an action movie that means one has a big target on their back and she is dead before the 11 minute mark. Casey believes the culprits were a pair of thugs who tried to rob him and, having recognized a distinct kicking style in his earlier brawl with them, becomes an ass kicking Sam Spade.  This involves him heading to a dojo and whooping the asses of 5 dudes.  He quickly finds the pair and brutally exacts his revenge upon them. When I say brutal, I’m not kidding as he chops one dude's hand clean off.

Needing a bit of a respite (and getting the hell out of dodge), Casey heads to Thailand to stay with family friend Nakabara (Kane Kosugi), who runs a marital arts school and antiques business.  While there, Casey loses his cool during a sparring session and, unable to put the death of his wife behind him, proceeds to go out and get plastered among the locals.  Bad news for the locals as booze plus lightning fast reflexes ends in lots of busted heads from this drunken master.

Goro gives new meaning to
the old ball and chain
Back at the school, Casey opts to atone for his behavior by picking fruit but a kind student takes his place.  Minutes later this poor kid is dead and, even worse, is sporting wounds similar to those Namiko had around her neck. When Casey brings this up, it leads Nakabara to tell the story of Goro (Shun Sugata). During World War II, a squadron of ninjas was sent into Burma by Japan.  The leaders were Namiko's dad, Nakabara's dad and Goro's brother. When Goro’s brother went off the deep end, he was killed by the two dads and his younger brother swore his revenge.  Now a big time drug dealer, Goro is living up to his promise with his barbwire studded chain weapon. Naturally, Casey decides to head into the jungles of now Myramar to get his revenge.  Not only does Nakabara give him a map, but he also tells him where a cache of ninja gear is buried in the jungle.  Game on!

Chances are if you are watching something called NINJA: SHADOW OF A TEAR, you aren’t looking for DOWNTON ABBY style dramatics. And, to be fair, the plot of this action sequel isn’t going to win any awards. Like White’s earlier UNDISPUTED sequel scripts, the scenario is riddled with martial arts movie clich├ęs (the only thing that doesn't happen is Casey being thrown into a tournament) to the point that you feel he and Florentine are paying homage to the classics from the ‘80s without feeling the need to mock them.  (You get that sense of respect also with the casting of Kane Kosugi, son of the legendary ‘80s ninja star Sho Kosugi.  Kane is not only an excellent fighter, but he acquits himself well as an actor.)  And, honestly, the film could have the plotline of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981) and I’d be happy as long as it has fantastic fight scenes like the ones on display here. Ten minutes can't go by in this film without some brutal brawl taking place and I think this sets the bar for the number of fights in a Florentine film (thirteen in total). Choreographer Tim Man lives up to his surname as there are some beautiful moves on display. He plays Goro's right hand man and his showdown with Adkins is the highlight for me. The fight was so good that I had to watch it twice so I could see every intricate move.  Honestly, his work is a beautiful ballet of brutality where people miss and get hurt, creating a storyline within the fight itself. Thankfully, Florentine also captures it to maximum effect.  There are lots of long take shots going on here so that you can see all the moves and Florentine films it all with fluid motion.  The end result is probably Florentine's best action film so far.  Yes, we may only be three days into 2014, but I have a sneaking suspicion NINJA: SHADOW OF A TEAR is already going to be the best action film I see this year.

The obligatory Scott "Boyka" Adkins 
topless/shirtless shots to ensure our blog gets hits:

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December to Dismember: SILENT NIGHT, ZOMBIE NIGHT (2009)

If the 11-year-old William S. Wilson ever heard me say this, he wouldn’t believe it and probably cry.  Anyway, here it goes: I’m sick to death of zombie movies.  Yes, the genre I ate up as a kid now causes my gag reflex to go off at the slightest hint of the z-word. Post 28 DAYS LATER (2002), the DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) remake, and SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), the subgenre has exploded thanks to mainstream stuff like ZOMBIELAND (2009) and THE WALKING DEAD (2010).  It seems like every damn person is making a zombie movie. Hell, zombie boss George Romero is about to see his DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) remade for the second (!) time in a decade and even he is apparently only allowed to make movies about flesh-eaters now.  Yes, I’m asking Romero to stop making zombie movies.  The new millennium is strange.

That is not to say that the resurgence hasn’t provided the opportunity for some good films – I’ve enjoyed stuff like [REC] (2007), DEADGIRL (2008) and PONTYPOOL (2009) – but the good ones are few and far between the shuffling brain dead masses.  Sorry, my 11-year-old self, but I’m skipping RESIDENT EVIL part 75 and you wouldn’t catch me renting something called ZOMBIEZ (2005) under a pseudonym.  But didn’t you just review a shot-on-video German piece of crap called ZOMBIE: THE RESURRECTION (1998) I hear you ask.  Hey, that’s…uh…different.  Anyway, my point is I think I manage maybe one or two gutmunchers a year now and it takes something special to get me to watch it.  Hey, SILENT NIGHT, ZOMBIE NIGHT (2009) is set around Christmas and we’ve got a “December to Dismember” quota to fill.  Does that say Vernon Wells on the cover?  Sold!

The film wastes no time getting right to the action as police officers Frank Talbot (Jack Forcinito) and Nash Jackson (Andy Hopper) respond to a 911 call about a dispute between neighbors where someone got bit. Before arriving at the house, it is established there is some tension between Frank and Nash with the latter informing his partner he has scheduled for a transfer.  Once at the scene, the cops encounter a man in a wheelchair who says his neighbor’s daughter bit him.  They investigate and are quickly pounced upon by a blood-soaked girl, who proceeds to clamp her teeth onto Nash’s boot.  Frank fires to get the girl off and succeeds in doing that and blowing his partner’s toe off. (Note my amazing ability to refrain from “and this little piggy…” jokes.)  Meanwhile, Frank’s estranged wife Sarah (Nadine Stenovitch) has been suffering a zombie attack of her own.  The two cops drive to Nash’s place to get some shelter and Frank is surprised to find Sarah there.  Uh oh, tension! They perform a quick surgery to stop the bleeding on Nash’s foot and soon begin to start assessing their situation.

The state of affairs looks grim.  It appears the brain dead skeletal folks looking to feast on the flesh of the innocent are shuffling the streets of Los Angeles.  Isn’t that just regular L.A.?  Oh, these folks are the dead returning to life and feasting on the living.  Frank quickly identifies that there seem to be two kinds of zombies shuffling around – slow ones and fast one that will even prey on their own kind.  With Nash zonked out, Frank and Sarah take some time to talk about their marital issues (I’m not sure why we never see them try to turn on a TV or radio).  The clever Frank soon discovers that he can walk freely among the living dead by using hunting masking spray.  He heads out into the night to try and find more food rations and ends up in the house of Jeffrey Hannigan (Lew Temple), who has holed up in the attic with his unconscious son.  Meanwhile, back at the apartment, Nash has woken up and decides the best course of events is to get drunk with Sarah.  Bad move as he drunkenly tells her that he loves her. Perhaps realizing that was a bad move (zombie apocalypse love traversing is tough, man), Nash heads out to find Frank.  Once he reaches Jeffrey’s house, Nash is accidentally shot in the head by Frank, who thought he was a zombie.  Frank returns home to Sarah and tells her about what happened. What he doesn’t know is that Nash survived and is now being taken care of by Jeffrey.  Meanwhile, a ragtag group calling itself the Los Angeles National Preparedness League (LANPL?) shows up and their members (including Vernon Wells and Felissa Rose) explain what has been learned about the two different zombie contingents.  They also convince Frank and Sarah that they will take them to safety at the Burbank airport.

SILENT NIGHT, ZOMBIE NIGHT won’t be replacing any of the Romero undead classics any time soon. However, I’ll give writer-director Sean Cain decent marks for his attempts to do something a little bit different with the film. The theme of people struggling with personal problems during mass chaos extends from Romero’s efforts, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen a full blown love triangle in Romero’s zombielands.  I liked that Cain focused on the emotional elements, although some viewers might find it a bit soap opera-like. There is actually one scene in the attic where Jeffrey talks about Christmas morning (SPOILER: The unconscious son by his side is actually dead after his father had to shoot him) that plays really well.  There is also something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a zombie film before where one of the living dead seems to be reacting in pain to having lost some fingers and yells out in agony as Nash keeps chopping at him.  I also like that Cain introduces some depth into the outbreak (Speeders apparently have something wrapped around their brainstems), but never gives us the full answer.  After all, why would anyone know the cause right away? Also, the film has a great ending. Stuff like this makes me appreciate the film.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to all of this. While Cain has a well-done script and surprisingly great actors to pull it off, he doesn’t appear to have the funds. Trying to create the chaos imagined on the page when you only have 9 or 10 zombies shuffling around hurts.  Also, it doesn’t help that the streets are lined with rows of nicely parked cars.  It hardly conveys the chaos of what the City of Angels would look like with millions of infected and, as we are told, only “a few thousand” survivors.  It pains me that someone like Uwe Boll can get $7 million to crap out HOUSE OF THE DEAD (2003), while these guys struggle with what I assume is less than the estimated $100,000 budget listed on IMDb.  It is doubly disappointing because Cain relies mostly on practical effects for the zombies and the requisite bloody headshots (there are some CGI gun shots and hits) and anybody who does that gets my vote of confidence.  All in all, there is a lot of admirable effort here both in front of and behind the camera.  I just wish they had more funds to capture their zombie apocalypse vision.

Friday, December 27, 2013

December to Dismember: TALES OF THE THIRD DIMENSION (1984)

Even though Christmas has now passed us by, we’re going to keep talking about some flicks centered on the holiday.  Why?  Because we break the rules like Bud Spencer breaks heads. And we’d feel like we cheated you if we didn’t cover one of the most deranged flicks about Christmas ever to be made.

Earl Owensby has always been on our short (long) list of subjects to cover.  A true renaissance man, Owensby is a seemingly larger-than-life North Carolina figure whose rise to fame seems like it could only have taken place in the 1970s.  A successful businessman, Owensby decided one day to chuck it all and pursue his childhood dream of making movies. The story goes that he saw the smash-hit WALKING TALL (1973), thought, “I could do that” and was soon on his way.  He purchased land in his native Shelby, North Carolina and built a huge studio completely self sufficient from Hollywood.  Naturally, he cast himself as the star of nearly every film that came out of there.

Sadly, most cinephiles will know Owensby for the film WOLFMAN (1979), a werewolf film seemingly only made due to capitalize on the hirsute Owensby.  But his filmography is filled with fun and exciting Southern Fried action flicks.  Tom initially turned me onto the man by sending me a copy of his stunt (and food fight) filled DEATH DRIVER (1977).  A quick succession of CHALLENGE (1974), MANHUNTER (1975), DARK SUNDAY (1976), and BUCKSTONE COUNTY PRISON (1978) followed and I was hooked.  By the time the ‘80s rolled around, Owensby had jumped on the resurgent 3-D fad with titles like DOGS OF HELL (1982) and HIT THE ROAD RUNNING (1983).  One of the last three dimensional features he produced was the horror anthology TALES OF THE THIRD DIMENSION (1984) and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t have a segment that is easily one of the most demented Christmas things I’ve ever seen.

TALES is hosted by a Rod Serling sounding skeleton who calls himself Igor (even though his tombstone says Clyde Jones on it).  Igor has three wisecracking vultures to his right who are supposed to be the Three Stooges and two other vultures to his left who are supposed to be Laurel and Hardy.  Don’t ask. The first two stories are rather mundane.  “Young Blood” is about a vampire couple living in a spooky mansion that adopts a boy with a secret of his own.  “The Guardians” is about two greedy grave robbers who end up getting their just desserts in some damp catacombs.  It isn’t until the final segment that the crazy comes to town.  Take a gander at that poster above.  What is that in the upper right hand corner?  Is that an old lady in a wheelchair pointing a shotgun at some kids by a Christmas tree?  It gets crazier, trust me.

“Visions of Sugar Plums” is the third and final segment in the film and it completely redeems any of the unexciting events beforehand.  The story centers on Dennis (Neal Powell) and Susy (Katy O’Toole), two youngsters who are dropped off at the home of their Grandma (Helene Tryon) for the holidays. Roughly a minute into the segment you’ll get an idea of how subversive this is going to be when Dennis tells his dad as they are driving to Grandma’s house that he was too cheap to take them on vacation with them to Hawaii.  Dad’s response is to pull off his own belt while driving and whoop his son while screaming, “You better get into the Christmas spirit or I’m going to burn your little butt!”  Eventually the parents drop the kids off with overly-kissy Grandma before peeling out. WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) this ain’t.

The trio settle down in the home and do normal Christmas things like setting up the tree and playing with toys.  However (insert dramatic music cue), things start to go south on December 21st when we see Grandma discovering she has no more pills in her bottles.  The next day, she starts exhibiting some odd behavior at the breakfast table. She overfills each child’s bowl with oatmeal and then starts giving some to Grandpa. Problem is Grandpa ain’t there and has been dead for years.  If that didn’t let the kids know she was off her rocker, the next scene does as they spy her in the bedroom just spinning around in circles in her electric wheelchair. December 23rd picks up with the kids back in normal holiday events as they are making cookies with Grandma.  But she starts going off when Susy asks if Santa is bringing toys.  “Toys? Ha!” Grandma shouts before spitting on the floor.  She then keeps rolling her dough, smashes a bug with her rolling pin and then eats it.  That night in their beds Susy asks, “You notice Grandma has been acting a little funny lately?”  Just wait, Susy.

Christmas Eve is when it all goes down. The day starts with Grandma making Susy some hot chocolate.  As she puts the powdered mix box back on the table, we see that it is actually rat poison! Grandma coaxes Susy into drinking some and asks the young child, “How ‘bout them Cowboys?”  Oh shit, this lady is really crazy.  Problem is, Grandma accidentally drank the wrong cup and is now hacking up a storm. Obviously concerned, the kids call the airline to see if their parents’ plane has landed as they are scheduled to come back Xmas eve. Grandma gets on the phone and, when the kids are put on hold, impersonates the airline rep and tells the kids the plane crashed in the mountains and everyone died.  I’m not kidding.  In reality, the plane has been delayed by 5 hours. This gives Grandma opportunity to offer Dennis a toaster while he is taking a bath (!) and to recite a screwed up version of “Twas the Night before Christmas” poem (modified lines include “the children were nestled snug in their beds, while horrible tumors grew in their heads”; is this the David Cronenberg version?).  Her poem ends lovingly though with Grandma describing how she bashes Santa’s head in with a brick.  Again, I am not kidding.

The finale finally kicks into gear as the kids are asleep and Dennis gets up to go to the bathroom.  He then sneaks into the kitchen to get something to eat and discovers their cat dead in the freezer and made into kind of a cat holiday ham. Grandma catches him in the kitchen and says it is bad to snack between meals and he must be punished. What is her preferred method of punishment?  A blast from a shotgun! Yes, Grandma whips out the ol’ 12 gauge and points it right at Dennis’ head.  He escapes by throwing flour in her face and goes to hide in the closet.  Grandma, meanwhile, decides to put a colander on her head (!!!) and goes upstairs and points the shotgun at sleeping Susy’s head.  Susy wakes up and high tails it out of there, while psycho Grandma discovered the gun wasn’t loaded.  See, the kids were never in any real harm, the filmmakers beam.  Oh wait, she just found the ammo.  Gun-toting grandma eventually finds both kids hiding in a bedroom and blasts the head off a teddy bear. This makes way for a montage set to “Jingle Bells” as Grandma blasts holes in everything.  Meanwhile, the parents have arrived back.  They make it all the way to the house, only to realize they forgot the presents for the kids at the airport and drive back. Somehow they miss the kids pounding on the window screaming for help.  These poor kids are eventually trapped by Grandma by the Christmas tree as comes at them with a hedge trimmer.  Just as she is about to slice them into bits, the machine turns off.  Grandma turns around at the sound of a “ho, ho, ho” to find…wait for it…Santa Claus standing there. Obviously not a fan of the mentally imbalanced, Santa magically sends Grandma’s wheelchair back to the chimney and shoots her up it into the night.  The parents, driving back to the airport, see the airborne corpse and go, “Aw, look, a shooting star!”  Santa then laughs and heads off into the night.  Fa la la la la la la la la!

It might seem odd to write up just one segment of an anthology, but this totally deserves the recognition.  Not only is “Visions of Sugar Plums” one of the most insane stories we’ve ever seen, but it might be the most demented 30 minutes ever to lay waste to the Christmas season.  This is not hyperbole.  Outside of Jorg Buttgeriet doing A VERY NEKROMANTIK CHRISTMAS, I can’t think of anything darker dealing with the holidays. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980) and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)? Eh, you just have a killer Santa.  Nothing tops a Grandma off her meds deciding to blow away her grandchildren on Christmas Eve when it comes to demented holiday horrors.  The director credited to this segment is one Tom Durham, who hasn’t done anything else. Maybe it is a pseudonym, or maybe he realized he made a masterpiece and did the cinematic equivalent of dropping the mic and walking off stage arms outstretched?  I just spent over 900 words describing this segment to you and even I know I am not accurately describing the insanity that unfolds onscreen.  I can still remember when I first watched this and how my jaw just kept dropping with each successive crazy moment.  By the time I got to Santa shooting Grandma out of the chimney, I had dentist in China working on my teeth because my jaw dropped so far.  I can’t even begin to imagine what was going through the filmmakers mind when they made this.  It was shot in 1983, so it was pre-SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT hullabaloo, so the idea that they were openly courting controversy is out the window (or chimney, if you prefer).  In my research, there is no evidence this ever got to theaters (although the Alamo Drafthouse did secure a non-3-D 35mm print of it to show). I’d hope that it did at least play some dates in California and that some poor, misguided families paid to see this in the theater.  I can only imagine the conversations afterward. Anyway, “Visions of Sugar Plums” is not only an anthology saver, but a certifiable Christmas classic ‘round these parts.  Watch it or we’ll send a shotgun wielding Granny your way.