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!

Thursday, May 4, 2017


Okay, so when we last left Jack Hunter (Ivan Sergei), he had completely failed in his mission to secure one half of the “Eye of the Star of Heaven” and it fell into the hands of his mentor-turned-enemy Littmann (Thure Riefenstein). So to recap part one - Hunter failed on a museum heist, failed to save his boss Professor Schaffer, failed to save his new contact Ali in Syria, and failed on his main mission. Man, this guy has failed so much that he’d be perfect to be President of the United States right now.

Anyway, onto part two - JACK HUNTER AND THE QUEST FOR AKEN… ARKHEN… ARKHAM ASYLUM… AKHENATEN’S TOMB. Okay, Tom, I get it now. I get the unpronounceable entry. Oh wait, I’m typing this. As the show opens, Hunter is kidnapped and taken to a place with a black bag over his head. Turns out this is how the NSA gets people to their headquarters so they don’t know where it is. Is this really necessary? Given Hunter’s aforementioned failures, I’m sure him remembering directions isn’t something they needed to worry about. Anyway, as Tom mentioned previously, meek little Liz (Susan Ward), the professor’s assistant, is actually a take-no-crap NSA government leader. How do the filmmakers establish this? She pulls her hair back tight! And how do we know this is the NSA? Because they are in a room with monitors everywhere and there are lots of white folks typing fast on computers...wait, I’m doing that I NSA?

Liz tells Hunter that Littmann is working for a Russian mafioso named Vladmir Petrovsky (Teoman Kumbaracibasi) and he needs to skedaddle to Egypt to beat him to finding the “Eye of the Star,” the second piece of the relic. Apparently there is an obelisk in Egypt that can help him find it and the best way to provide him cover is to reunite him with Nadia (Joanne Kelly) and Tariq (Mario Bassil). Wait...I can understand bringing back Nadia, who has a history with ancient treasures, but Tariq the taxi cab driver? Uh, okay. Anything to shoehorn in that comedic relief. Once in Egypt, they go to visit archaeologist (and old Hunter flame) Lena Halstorm (Alaina Huffman), Said (Tuncel Kurtiz, looking like the Turkish G. Gordon Liddy) and his assistant Eyhab (Alper Kul). Somehow I think Eyhab might be a traitor. I’m not sure what gave it away...hmmm, maybe this facial hair design?

The obelisk is a long, black foot long pillar with writing on it and Nadia displays her knowledge by saying, “It seems like it was meant to fit into something.” They run some tests (as one astute IMDb user mentioned: “Whilst in the museum, and Jack is examining the obelisk, he asks if it has been carbon dated. Carbon dating is only valid for organic materials - the obelisk is clearly made of stone and could not be carbon dated.” - thank you science nerd Jack Hunter fan) and Jack begins to decipher a location. He then places that location on a current map of Egypt and...hey, didn’t he do the same thing in part one? Before you can say Belloq, Littmann shows up and there is a big shootout. The foursome of Hunter, Nadia, Tariq and Lena escape, but not before the duplicitous Eyhab reports them as having stolen the artifact. Jack and his crew make it to a passenger boat, but a bunch of random baddies catch up and fisticuffs ensue. This allows for a great scene where Tariq subdues a bad guy by showering him with a fire extinguisher and all of the passengers erupt in applause. You know, just like in real life.

Anyway, Jack and crew escape on a little boat and make it up river to the desert they need to be at (apparently Egypt is a really small country). They make it to some cursed ruins where Jack inserts the obelisk (hey, Nadia was right!) and deciphers the next location to head to. This means traveling through the “Valley of Death,” which naturally gives them little problem. The next day they head to the next site and start their journey by - how else - picking up a ride with a random guy. Rule #1 by the writers of this series: If the protagonists are stuck somewhere, there is always some random Arab guy willing to help out. This poor dude gets more than he bargained for as soon his truck is besieged by more random heavies and Jack has to take command for a desert highway chase. Once they make it to town, they fall into the hands of Col. Mustafa (Sinan Tuzcu), a West Point educated military man. He plans to turn them over to the authorities until he finds out about their quest for Akhenaten’s tomb. Naturally, he senses a chance for..wait for it...a promotion! Guess ethics wasn’t a big on the curriculum at West Point. Naturally, under the pressure of a gun and his friends held hostage, Jack leads them the next location but the group soon encounter the Midian soldiers, a group sworn to protect the tomb. After deciphering the location of the tomb, Hunter uses the ensuing chaos to jump off a cliff (perhaps his most Indiana Jones-esque moment of this episode) and go free his friends. But when he arrives at the jail he finds out that punk Littmann and his friends. How did he know they were there? Seems ol’ flame Lena was a turncoat too and proof positive that you can’t trust women with short hair. So, of course, we are headed back to the tomb.

Apologies if the review above sounds a lot like Tom’s first review, but these movies are almost identical in their layout. I say almost because there is one major difference between the two. You see, when they reach the Egyptian tomb at the end here (spoiler alert for anyone who might watch these) they find the sarcophagus empty of any treasure. Yes, you got that right, Hunter not only fails this time, but in the immortal words of Ted White, “You’ll get nothing and like it!” Well, he does get a Roman coin, which, of course, will be his next clue to lead him on his next journey. Yes, this entire journey from beginning to end was done for absolutely nothing. It was literally 90 minutes of misdirection and filler to lead to the concluding part 3. I would have expected more from a production that delivers a wanted poster that looks like this:

Seriously? No height, weight, eye color? Just a name and pic of him in his costume? Very crazy as someone might arrest Harrison Ford. Or at the very least David Keith. And no phone number? What are you supposed to do if you see him? Shout real loud? That said, the producers get a lot of great location work in Turkey (standing in for Egypt) and this might be most action packed entry since we get three shootouts and one car chase. Best of all, the movie never bored me and there were no CGI sandstorm. Oh and Alaina Huffman - looking a bit like Charlize Theron - was hot as hell. Jeez, unpronounceable title aside, I really lucked out with this entry. As a great man once said, “Still, it's better than sitting through INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008) which came out the same year.” Of course, let’s see how that man feels after he watches the third and final part when the producers suddenly run out of money...

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


The SyFy Network has carved a nice niche in cheap, indifferently made TV exploitation movies that pretty much pass us by without even causing a blip on the radar. While sometimes their rip-offs of JAWS rip-offs look appealing, why would I watch something cynically made with bad CG when I can reach into a box and pull out Enzo G. Castellari's THE LAST JAWS (1981) or J.P. Simon's THE RIFT (1990)? Because of this it's no surprise to find that we completely missed this Indiana Jones inspired mini-series. Now, in our exhaustive search for cinematic relics, we don our fedoras and whip out this trilogy.

In a private French museum, a thief in a balaclava and sunglasses (!?) sneaks in and attempts to take a picture of a large cuneiform tablet, but ends up just stealing the damn thing after bumbling that whole "sneaking" thing.

Of course we find out that the thief is Jack Hunter (Ivan Sergei) who is a way too young and way too beardless (no, the stubble thing doesn't count) to be an anthropologist, which I guess is why he was stealing antiquities instead of digging them up. Hunter, back in Los Angeles, takes the tablet to his friend and mentor Professor Schaffer (Sean Lawlor) who needs to switch to decaff and has spent his entire career trying to discover the hiding place of a mythical staff that could be used as a powerful weapon. Never mind the the ancient Syrian civilization was in reality pillaged and burned to the ground by foreign raiders, which begs the question, why didn't they just use their super-staff of badassery to blow up all of the ships before they even landed? Yeah, never mind that, Schaffer is convinced that it is hidden somewhere in the ruins and gets royally pissed off when Jack says that he's going on a trip to Florida and doesn't want to go find something that doesn't exist. That night Schaffer is murdered while deciphering the tablet and creating a map, of course this means one thing! Jack isn't going to Florida.

Stepping off the plane, all gussied up in his snap-brim fedora and regulation khakis, he meets Nadia (Joanne Kelly), half of his liaison with the Syrian antiquities department. As one would expect they immediately clash when Nadia rips into Jack accusing him of being nothing but a glorified thief, which from what we've seen so far is pretty much nail on head. The pair grumpily take off to meet Ali (Muhammed Cangoren), the second, and presumably less temperamental of the pair, but while trying to pick up a scroll that he has left in a shop, Jack and Nadia are attacked and chased all over an open-air market replete with fruit vendors. At one point they even fall right into the middle of a wedding. Apparently watching them destroy the stocked buffet table is supposed to be funny. There is nothing funny about this. If it was me, those two wouldn't have even made it out of the parking lot.

After getting news that Ali has been killed in a car accident, Jack, Nadia and their goof-ball, comic relief driver Tariq (Mario Naim Bassil) head out to the mountains to search for the treasure themselves. Unfortunately there is nothing Jack can possess that Littman cannot take away. Littman (Thure Riefenstein) is a rival archaeologist, and Jack's former mentor, who is so bad that not only does he dress in black, but has henchmen that dress in black and they all drive vehicles that are black. Bad, I tells ya! Additionally, he wants that Ugarit treasure and will kill anyone who gets in his way. Even his own men. He must be bitter about the fact that he looks like Alan Rickman and Packtrick Swayze's long lost love child. Really, it's pretty mesmerizing at times. Additionally, Jack is being tracked by Schaffer's assistant Liz (Susan Ward), who is in fact the head of the NSA who is spending billions of tax payer dollars to monitor the movements of a guy that steals historical relics, while doing absolutely nothing about it.

Along the way, Jack, Nadia and Tariq are chased, ambushed, shot at, kidnapped and have a very nice meal with some random guy who lives in a tent in the middle of the desert with about four, of what appear to be, motherless children. No, that's not creepy at all. Of course in the end they do find the staff and several cheap CG moments including the dreaded CG sandstorm. Honestly, that is pretty much the most groan inducing CG effect you can pull and yet for some reason everybody wants to do it. "You know what this movie needs? A sandstorm!" See? That doesn't even sound good on paper!

I believe that SyFy's target audience is people who are looking for something cheesy to watch on a rainy afternoon and have never seen any of the films that they are cribbing notes from. Not content to lift the premise and some set-pieces from the Indiana Jones films, the writers filch partial bits of dialogue too. In one scene Jack is running hell bent away from several attackers while screaming "start the jeep!" which mimics the scene in the beginning of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) where Indy is running away from attackers screaming "start the plane!" Just when you think they are ripping off the tarantula sequence, except here with scorpions, Jack merely flicks them off of his jacket and presses on. I was really expecting to find out where Forrestal cashed in, but I guess that would have been too obvious.

This somewhat lazy aping makes it all the more surprising that the series writers, Steven Jones, Kevin Moore, Michael Palmieri and George Shamieh, actually did a little anthropological homework using the setting of the very real Ugarit city state that dated from about 6000 BC to about 1200 BC. Now known as Ras Shamra, the city was a major coastal trading city, located directly across the Mediterranean from Alashiya (now known a Cypress). It's not too far of a stretch to imagine an ancient relic being hidden somewhere in the area. Well, except for the whole bit where the city gets looted and burned to the ground, but it's a good idea anyway.

The film was actually shot in Turkey for the most part, but the filmmakers go out of their way to paint an extremely nice picture of Syria, complimenting their food, hospitality and stunning landscape. The cynical side of me rolls its eyes at the obvious meddling by local tourism and film boards who want to make sure that the Americans don't portray all Syrians as psychotic baby killers. The less-cynical side of me thinks that it really does in fact look like a great place to visit and it makes the current atrocities in Syria even more gutwrenching. Sorry, I don't have a punchline here, check back with me in about 20 years.

Jack Hunter's first of three adventures doesn't even try to offer anything remotely original, but at the same time it is pretty benign for a modern TV movie. Honestly, considering the source, it should definitely hurt more, but it doesn't (completely) insult the audience's intelligence. If I was a 10 year old kid who never saw any of the Indy movies, I'd think it was mindblowing. Since I'm not a 10 year old kid and I have seen way too many Indy movies legit and rip-offs, it's kind of mildly entertaining. Still, it's better than sitting through INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008) which came out the same year. It's like the producers knew that the world needed an Indy fix and whatever they came up with would be better than the real thing.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Dr. Jones I Presume: Don't Call it a Comeback...

Marion Ravenwood: You're not the man I knew ten years ago. 
Indiana Jones: It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage. 

Hard to believe, but it has been nearly seven years since “Dr. Jones, I Presume,” our groundbreaking coverage of the cinematic rip offs of Indiana Jones. Were we the first to cover some of these films? No. But were we the first to include RAIDERS OF THE MAGIC IVORY (1988) with pics of a drunken James Mitchum? You’re goddamn right! And guess what? A few people even actually read our write ups that ranged from kids cartoons to X-rated parodies to Tom unearthing every copy of KING SOLOMON’S MINES ever made. We tried to be as exhaustive as possible, but even back then we knew a few things slipped through the cracks of our whips. So we always knew we’d be back for as second (short) round to mop up the strays.

Haha, who am I kidding? As Tom likes to say, my muse is a fluttering thing and it sure fluttered into action this past February. Like thoughts of INDIANA JONES IV, it started innocently enough but soon spiraled out of control. You see, Tom sent an innocuous little email that said only, “A true test of my love of Indiana Jones rip-offs” and had a link to the JACK HUNTER trilogy on Amazon. What the heck? How could an entire trilogy of Indiana Jones-lite make it surreptitiously to the shelves past our highly trained noses? That day (February 22, 2017) might be a day we both soon regret as I said, “Man, you sound like you are getting the itch to do a follow up on our Indiana Jones coverage.” Y’all know about the itch and soon our fates were sealed like the Well of Souls (ah, boo yourself!) as we were feverishly compiling a list of Jonesploitation for part deux: INDIANA JUNKIE AND THE TEMPLE OF BOX OFFICE RECEIPTS!

Sequels are always tough and, to be honest, we might have gotten a little rusty as we’ve slacked on the blog in the last couple of years. Hell, it has been four years (!!!) since our last big theme week (the glorious look at EXTRA LARGE starring Bud Spencer, RIP). But life got in the way and soon we were updating the blog less and less (naturally, this lack of productivity can only be deduced to the assumption that Tom and I must have been in jail, as Indiana Bonehead Steven Millan theorized[online in a group{where he posts his crazy thoughts}]). Nope, like Harrison Ford, we just got older and lazier...and crashed a few private one-man planes. But we decided to whip things back into shape and over the last few months dug up a bunch of other Indiana Jones wannabe relics that deserve (or maybe don’t deserve) the attention of our readers. Do we have readers? Do people still read? Naturally, we’ll be starting off with the JACK HUNTER trilogy since that is what got the itch going. Then we are going to jump all over the map with efforts from the UK to Australia to India to Turkey (that last country’s name might be the most appropriate for this overview). And, yes, you pervs we will be covering some porn too. Don’t worry, plenty of framegrabs. We’ll leave no ancient video stone unturned as we get the band back together and start up our first sequel theme week all these years later. Hey, it worked out great with INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008), right? Wait, better not answer that one…

Will: How did I get roped into this?
Tom: Don't worry, everything is fine.

Monday, April 17, 2017


JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA (1997): The '90s were a rough time. Rock music neutered itself by going unplugged, infomercials replaced old movies on late night TV and entertainment producers didn't know what the hell to do with these men-in-tights properties in the same way that they haven't for generations. Ok, that last part is not totally true. There are a few bright spots, but this is not one of them.

Directed by Félix Enríquez Alcalá and an uncredited Lewis Teague for CBS as a pilot for a series, this re-interpretation of the comic books doesn't even hit the level of camp.
The pilot introduces a stable of classic DC comicbook characters including, The Flash (Kenny Johnston), Green Lantern (Matthew Settle), The Atom (John Kassir), and Fire (Michelle Hurd) through situational comedy (Lantern has girlfriend troubles, Flash can't hold down a job, Atom dismayed that he is not sexy, etc) and even worse, '90s-style interview segments. Comic highlights include a running joke (yeah, yeah, "booooo") about The Flash losing jobs because he is too fast. At one point he moves into Lantern and Atom's apartment and whips up a massive meal to show his gratitude. He then eats everything at lightning speed and lets out a loud belch. Where's the laugh track, I ask you?

The plot of this pilot is to introduce Ice (of "Fire and Ice") to the team. While working at an extremely well-funded weather research company run by Dr. Eno (Miguel Ferrer), mousy meteor-maid Tori Olafsdotter (Kim Oja) discovers some odd goings on down in the research lab. While investigating, she knocks a bottled water onto something glowy in a suitcase. This gives her power to turn water to ice which suddenly puts her on the radar of Martian Manhunter (David Ogden Stiers... yes, David Ogden Stiers). Meanwhile an urban terrorist, The Weather Man, who wraps silver sheets around his face to make himself like like a middle-Eastern terrorist with bad fashion sense, is threatening to engulf Metro City in an apocalypse of bad weather. No, really. Who could this crazy Weather Man be? Well, if you read the opening credits you already know, but suffice to say it is the last person these boneheaded heroes expect.

In addition to the fact that the producers desperately try to avoid using any special effects, the costumes are... unfortunate. Fire's way of hiding her identity is to streak some green make-up under her eyes. This completely and utterly fools everyone, including a 20-year old nerd who is desperately in love with her, but of course learns a life lesson and finds a girl suitable for his age. The Flash, ironically can barely move in his costume, and everyone with a mask seems to have developed massive brow-ridges and cheek bones making them look like some bizarre extras from DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). It's an interesting historical piece if you are really into comic book adaptations, but other than that it's an embarrassment for all concerned.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween Havoc: AMITYVILLE DOLLHOUSE (1996)

It may not have reached the dizzying heights of insanity that followed in the wake of THE EXORCIST (1973), but THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979) had a major impact on public consciousness and pop culture. In 1974 a drug user and nephew of a Mafia capo, Ronald DeFeo Jr., allegedly took a lever-action rife and shot and killed his entire family of six in their sleep. The murders were the talk of the nation, not just because of the nature of the crime, but there were numerous elements of the case that didn't add up. DeFeo changed his story several times, with many inaccuracies every time, and investigators couldn't understand how one man could shoot six people in a large house without waking any of them up. When he went to trial DeFeo tried to plead insanity but failed to convince a court that he was anything other than an anti-social drug addict and is currently still serving time in Green Haven prison, which according to Google is open 24 hours a day!

In 1977, Jay Anson, a writer of hundreds of television behind-the-scenes featurettes promoting feature films, wrote a fictionalized story based on George and Kathleen Lutz's questionable account of their alleged supernatural experiences. After the family moved into the infamous 112 Ocean Avenue house one month after DeFeo was convicted, according to the Lutz's, they and their three children were terrorized by an unseen demonic presence, forcing them to leave the home 28 days later. During that time, the Lutz's had paranormal and spiritual experts visit the house to verify the evil. One such person was in fact a priest who claimed that the strange things that happened in the story were true. The book was an instant best seller and has sold over 10 million copies. The facts behind the case, the nature of the stories and the people involved were a source of conflicting information and controversy, not to mention tangled legal suits to and from the Lutz's and those calling it a hoax. Forty years later, we still don't know exactly what happened during either case, but that hasn't stopped people from continuing to speculate or to use it as a spawning ground for a number of other books and movies.

The film version of the Lutz story, or at least the account of their experiences by way of the fictional book, released in 1979 to massive success. How much success? Aside from being in every periodical and in the conversations of most of the country, the film that cost $4.7 million, returned nearly double its budget on its opening weekend. That alone is what Hollywood execs fantasize about in private moments, but even better it went on to gross $87 million. To put it in perspective, in today's dollars that would be like a film budgeted at $16 million grossing $300 million. Staggering numbers, particularly considering that big studio films that gross that kind of money these days are made for around $100 million. A Hollywood exec would happily eat his own grandmother for those kind of numbers.

In 1982 the highly controversial AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION was released to a rather financially lackluster reception. Based on the book MURDER IN AMITYVILLE by parapsychologist Hans Holzer, it told what purported to be a factual account of the DeFeo killings complete with physical and mental abuse, rape and incest. Whether you are a fan of the film or not, it provided the tipping point that sent the film series into a spiral of exaggerated sensationalism. Personally I don't think that's a bad thing at all. The second sequel, AMITYVILLE 3-D (1983), chucked all of the attempts at realism out the window and just went for straight-up bubblegum horror lovingly presented in the best medium that bubblegum horror ever knew, 3D. I saw it in the theater when it came out and have a very soft spot for it. Some philistine wrote a review of it here. This was the last AMITYVILLE film to be released theatrically.

AMITYVILLE: THE EVIL ESCAPES (1989) was based on the novel by John G. Jones, author of numerous Amityville fiction and "non-fiction" books. Made for NBC TV, it was the first film to use Jones' popular (at least to him) concept that the evil could manifest itself in bits of furniture. For some reason Patty Duke stars as a single mother who is given a lamp from the DeFeo house as a gift. Things don't go so well and it's a pretty rough slog to the end. Contrary to the video poster art, the 112 Ocean Ave house is nowhere to be found in the movie. Part 5 was the direct to video effort THE AMITYVILLE CURSE (1990) which, while based on Hans Holzer's prequel novel of the same name, tells the utterly fictional tale of the cause of the house's curse. Strangely, it has these events, although alleged to be happening to the people who owned the house before the DeFeo's, taking place in a completely different house! I guess they figured that no one would notice, much like Universal thinking that John Williams' hugely successful theme for JAWS wouldn't be missed by anyone.

AMITYVILLE: IT'S ABOUT TIME (1992), directed by TICKS (1993) maestro Tony Randel, from yet another John G. Jones novel, completely gave up the pretension of being a proper AMITYVILLE sequel and went back to Jones' beloved furniture theme. This one featured a clock from the DeFeo home being sold off to some unsuspecting couple who discovers that the clock is cursed and can actually turn their living room into a medieval dungeon. Actually, I know people who would pay good money for that.

Is there anything scarier than an evil clock? How about... an evil mirror! AMITYVILLE: A NEW GENERATION (1993) purports that the evil has now found a home in a dressing mirror. Why a mirror? Because it reflected the image of one of the DeFeo murders. No, seriously, that's what it is. Directed by John Murlowski, who went on to pretty much end Terry "Hulk" Hogan's leading man movie career with SANTA WITH MUSCLES (1996), this is arguably the low point of the series. While the charms of these sequels are admittedly dubious, this is a grind to get through and halted the series for three years. The series picked up again, this time with quite possibly the most ridiculous contrivance of any horror sequel ever, AMITYVILLE: DOLLHOUSE.

Divorced and now Brady Bunched dad, Bill Martin (Robin Thomas), decides to build a new house for his newly extended family of five on the scorched earth of a home that had been burned to the ground by one of the previous residents after killing his family. Things have been reinvented so many times during this series that, well, why not? It's not like there is any consistency with the original story anyway. Testimonies and details changed many times over the years, but the one thing that was factual is that there was a house on 112 Ocean Avenue that the DeFeo's and the Lutz's both lived in. But whatever, might as well throw that one out too. Untouched by the fire is a small, dilapidated, padlocked shed that Bill decided to keep but never even bothered to look into until after he moves his brood into the new house. Sort of a vermin infested housewarming surprise, as it were. As it turns out the shed is filled with some pretty weird junk, including large insects that have been framed for display and a old Dutch colonial dollhouse that looks just like... Yep, apparently due to the economy, the Evil was downsized out of the 112 Ocean house and has had to make due with a replica doll house. I'm kind of feeling a little sorry for it actually. "GET OUT! Oh, wait, you can't get in because I'm so small. Dammit!"

Shortly after this discovery, strange things start happening in the new house. While Bill is demoing the gas fireplace (that was apparently the only thing left from the old house after the fire) for his new wife Claire (Starr Andreeff), the flames shoot up into the chimney. The couple laugh about it, but they wouldn't have been if they knew what happened after they left the room - the flames go out by themselves! I know, scary right? We even get a suspense sequence in which Bill thinks that there is a home invader in the house because he sees his own shoes sticking out from behind a wall. Uhhh, yeah. At this point you will probably start rethinking your choices of evening entertainment, but trust me, it gets, let's say "better".

For her birthday, Bill has bought his 10 year old daughter Jessie (Rachel Duncan) a new bicycle and wouldn't you know it, the dollhouse, who you know is up to no good when its bedroom lights start glowing, makes the truck in the garage run over it. Naturally Bill is at a loss to replace it and decides to dust off the dollhouse and make that her present. Jessie being the most saccharinely precocious child in movie history, is delighted.

Clearly when you are a great force of evil, humiliated by being trapped in a dollhouse, you are going to need to get creative. So as soon as the dollhouse is in Jessie's possession shit starts to go down. Duchebag oldest son, Todd (Allen Cutler), accidentally kills dweeby stepbrother Jimmy's (Jarrett Lennon) pet mouse after it crawls under the dollhouse bed and suddenly turns into a giant rodent under Jessie's real bed. Jimmy is so upset by this and the fact that he has a step-family at all, that he has a nightmare that his dead father has returned from the dead and wants Jimmy to... kill Bill (alright, alright, I apologize).

Todd's girlfriend Dana (Lisa Robin Kelly) thinks, like all girls do, that the filthy old shed that packed with dirt, rust and bugs would be a great place to get stuffed and mounted. Apparently the dollhouse finds illicit sex offensive, which is odd since the church has had a firm, upstanding opinion that sex is bad, umkay, so one would think that a demonic entity would be all for some rough shag. Apparently, the coupling is so offensive that the dollhouse causes a minor earthquake in the shed which leads to a framed bug returning to life and burrowing into Todd's ear. It ain't much, but it is one of the most sphincter-clenching sequences as you are likely to witness in the entire series. See, I told you it got better. In this one scene alone we get boobs, rubber insects and aural penetration. Yeah, it doesn't take much for an Amityville sequel to make me happy.

As the family falls apart faster than Chris Christie's presidential campaign we find out that Jimmy's nightmares of his undead, homicidal old man are not in fact nightmares as his father keeps reappearing in progressive states of decomposition. We also get a hippy/biker aunt and uncle who run an occult bookstore and are sure that they can come up with something to stop the evil. Or create more of it as they find out that one of the dolls in the dollhouse is nothing more than a facade for a nasty giant wasp. What wasps have to do with the price of beer in Bakersfield is unknown, but hey, it sure looks cool.

One of my favorite bits is when Todd is about to get some action with Dana and goes to get "some drinks" while she warms herself by the (evil) fireplace. Considering the fact that Todd is a hormonally charged teenager and his girlfriend is ready and willing, you'd think he'd run into the kitchen pour a couple glasses of whatever floor polish he could get his hands on and be in his skivvies by the time he made it back to the couch. For some reason, Todd decides this is the perfect time to get his mixology on and decides to make a couple of elaborate frozen margaritas complete with salt-rimmed cocktail glasses. All the while the fireplace is lurking, just waiting to make its move! No spoilers, but lets just say, if Todd was a normal teenage guy, his girlfriend would have been safe. He only has himself to blame.

Written by first timer Joshua Michael Stern, who has gone on to a spotty, eclectic career that has lead up to him writing the new Epix series GRAVES (2016), a comedy about an ex-president and his ambitious wife that clearly is aiming for a "ripped from the headlines" political satire, that is not being well received. Perhaps, he should have just gone for another Ammity sequel. After producing all of the Amityville sequels starting with THE EVIL ESCAPES, Steve White pulls double duty as director here. White is certainly competent in that department, featuring many nice camera angles and an excellent, if totally gratuitous, one-take tracking shot where the camera rotates in the middle of the dining table as characters come and go. It's hard to describe, but it's actually really impressive. Interestingly it was White's first and last directorial credit, which makes one wonder if there was another director originally slated. In spite of these guys both being first timers, and admittedly not highbrow fare, they manage to pull it off better than many serial offenders that littered the video store shelves at the time.

While the first act is a bit slow, DOLLHOUSE, with it's ridiculous, latex-heavy final hour is easily the best sequel since AMITYVILLE 3-D. It may not be saying much, but look what happened in recent years. Someone got the bright idea to start up a new series of films with a 2005 remake of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR starring Ryan "Fart Joke" Reynolds in the lead. That's just wrong. Like worse than ketchup on a hot dog wrong. What about the unofficial sequels that followed, you ask? There aren't any. Nope. Never happened and you can't tell me otherwise.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Halloween Havoc: THE PUMPKIN KARVER (2006)

Jeez, has it really been 6 months since my last blog post (“Yes, it has,” says Tom)? Life, as they say, has a way of getting in the way. Well, my apologies but I know I wasn’t sorely missed. This will all be rectified with a glorious Halloween themed write up with a what will surely be a top notch film called...THE PUMPKIN KARVER? Goddammit, Wilson, will you ever learn?

The film opens with siblings Jonathan (Michael Zara) and Lynn (Amy Weber) preparing for a night of fun on Halloween. For Lynn this involves going to a party with her boyfriend and for Jonathan it involves carving up some pumpkins. This kid is wild, I tell ya. Said boyfriend Alec (David J. Wright) arrives in a costume that involves him putting stick-on devil horns on his head. Alec, however, is also a wild man and this is showcased by him showing Lynn he is sneaking a beer into the party. Yup, just one beer and it is imported. WILD MAN! Alec is a bit of a bully though as he sprays the pumpkin carving Jonathan with his beer, stabs the pumpkin with a knife and then burps in Jonathan’s face. Have you ever seen such cruelty?

Alec splits while Lynn goes to get ready for the party (bonus info: her costume is a slutty Native American). While alone in her room, a creeper in a pumpkin headed costume sneaks in and begins to attack her. At first she thinks it is wild man Alec doing a prank, but then things turn violent. Hearing the screams, Jonathan runs to her aid and goes O.J. Simpson on the intruder’s ass. Bad news because it turns out it really was Alec and now he is lying dead in a pool of his own blood. Hey, burping has consequences.

Cut to a year later and the kids (along with their single mom, who is never shown) are living in a new town called Carver. Apparently this small town (population 666 says the town sign...oh boy) is known for its pumpkin patches. Yes, what better way to help Jonathan to get over his trauma then moving to a place where he is surrounded by reminders of his accidental killing? Lynn, who is apparently taking the death of her boyfriend better than Jonathan, says to Jonathan of his guilt: “You have to let go or you’re going to drive yourself crazy.” Her idea to rectify things is to attend a Halloween party out in the boonies where there will be a pumpkin carving contest. Actually, she believes in sexual healing and has lined up for Jonathan to meet up with Tammy (Minka Kelly). Yes, nothing will make you forget your mental problems than hanging out with a girl. Especially a girl with a jealous ex-boyfriend named Lance (David Austin). On the way to the party they meet Old Man Wickett (Terrence Evans), the landowner where the party will be held and requisite doom ‘n gloom crazy guy. He is apparently cranky because there are no good pumpkin carvers around (later in the film he disrupts the pumpkin carving contest and exclaims, “Ah, crap! Ain’t none of ya damn carvers.”) Naturally once at the party things start going down - Jonathan starts having visions of the ol’ pumpkin head costume and random party goers start getting carved up.

Argh! Why did I do this to myself? I guess once you’ve exploited all the good Halloween themed movies (HALLOWEEN, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, FLESHEATER, ERNEST SCARED STUPID) that you have to start scraping the bottom. And honestly, it is hard to come up with anything positive to say about THE PUMPKIN KARVER. Well, it was shot on film so it has that going for it. It also has...uh...let me see...color! Yep, got that color everywhere. And it has...uh...hmmm...sound. Yep, you can hear stuff. Unfortunately, this isn’t a film coming out in the 1920s. Director and co-writer Robert Mann fills the film with such boring characters spouting boring dialogue that the ones that are supposed to be comedy relief (two stoners named Bonedaddy and Spinner) make you want to kill yourself. Take for example the scene where our Beavis and Butthead wannabes moon Jonathan and Tammy and her reaction is the poorly delivered line, “They’re so weird, but I love it.”

It is a shame because the crew went out of their way to make the farm where the Halloween party takes place look spooky. And there is a nice twist at the end that deserves a better execution. Of course, director Mann is the kind of filmmaker who has a ten paragraph long IMDb bio that you know before you reach the end was written by Robert Mann (spoiler: it was). It is a film so mundane and by-the-numbers that the band featured in it (The Dust Poets) take a stage name (Divine Chaos). Yep, they didn’t push to plug their band in the one line of dialogue where they say, “We’re Divine Chaos!” Perhaps the most interesting thing is that co-star Minka Kelly went on to snag the major network show FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS the same year this came out. With her carved face adorning the cover (looking like a Juggalo on a three day Faygo bender) I’m willing to bet that much like The Dust Poets, she wishes she had taken a pseudonym and could carve this off her IMDb page.