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!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

December to Dismember: BIKINI BLOODBATH CHRISTMAS (2009)

Oh come all ye faithful! Greetings and welcome to our annual “December to Dismember” event, where we chronicle the good, the bad, and the ugly of holiday horrors. Hard to believe it but this is our 7th year doing these and, as expected, things are getting pretty bleak. How bleak? No one has released a KRAMPUS film this year for Tom to devour! And Uncork’d didn’t put out a new THE ELF sequel. Yes, filmmakers got so tired of us ripping apart their dreadful opuses (dopsuses?) that they stopped making them! Initially we thought we wouldn’t have enough movies to fill out the month, but we soon found the further we went into the mine that there was still some cinematic coal to be unearthed. Up first is the deliciously titled BIKINI BLOODBATH CHRISTMAS. Damn, this coal mine canary is feeling faint already.

Right off the bat I was put into a compromising position as I didn’t realize this film was the third and final part of a series. Rather that cinemasochistically extend myself, I opted to read a couple reviews and watch the trailers of the earlier BIKINI BLOODBATH (2006) and BIKINI BLOODBATH CAR WASH (2008) to bring me up to speed. Thankfully, CHRISTMAS also has lead character Jenny (Rachael Robbins) give a brief sum up with flashback footage to her friends. Seems in the first one lesbian high school gym teacher Miss Johnson (Debbie Rochon) invited Jenny and her friends to a party and a catering chef went nuts and started slaughtering folks. The sequel had the girls in college and working at a bikini car wash. Trouble rears its head again when they have a slumber party and resurrect Chef Death during a seance. Hey, Tom, you doing hazard pay on this research stuff?


Onto part three, which opens with Miss Johnson comatose in the hospital. Damn, you know something is wrong with your film when Rochon opts to sit this one out (more on that later). Bummed by a comatose coach, Jenny and her friends, Sapphire and Sharon, head to the local cemetery (amusingly, the directors put the text “Cemetery” on the screen when they arrive) to deal with a rival female gang led by William Dafoe (Margaret Rose Champagne). They dare Jenny to touch Chef Death’s grave and, sure enough, he is resurrected and looking for more females to flambĂ©. Of course, resurrecting your long-dead tormentor takes a back seat to the world’s greatest horror - work! So the next day we see Jenny and her friends working in a bong shop for Mrs. Johnson (Dick Boland), the older sister of Miss Johnson. In one of the film’s more what-the-fuckness moments, the filmmakers also introduce two characters, Prince Colwyn (co-director Thomas Edward Seymour) and Rell the Cyclops (Philip Guerette), from KRULL (1983) who are trying to sell a glaive. Man, talk about a cult movie deep cut.

Anyway, it appears the shop has a rivalry with the local deli owned by Gina Davis (Phil Hall), who showcases his animosity by bringing them literal shit sandwiches. “You actually took the time to collect shit and make sandwiches,” Mrs. Johnson asks. “Mostly on weekends,” Davis replies.  The feud centers on both having rival Santas, who wrestle in a kiddie pool for the right for Xmas lap-turf. Damn, wasn’t there a slasher around? Oh yeah, Chef Death shows up and kills one of the girls in the bathroom. Poor actress Monique Dupree doesn’t even get her character introduced or a name before her death. The deli’s Santa then gets strangled with some Christmas lights in the bathroom. We quickly get our third death back at the hospital when the hospital administrator (Lloyd Kaufman) gets set on fire and blown out the window (more on that later as well). The busy Chef o’ Death then kills the bong shop Santa in his home with a hammer. Zombie Chef then steals the Santa suit, making him now Zombie Santa Chef Death. Naturally, all things lead to a party as Jenny and her friends go to a Christmas party held by Mrs. Johnson, whose idea of fun is bathing “her” feet in some eggnog. Things get tense when William Dafoe, Gina Davis and their underlings crash the party hoping to score with the nubile girls (“Nog and laid, my friends. Nog and laid!”). Also crashing the party is Chef Death, who at this point might be the most likeable character, and he starts offing people in various ways.

Damn, you know what, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Then again, my opinion was heavily (I mean heaaaavily) influenced by the fact this only runs 56 minutes with the end credits starting around the 48 minute mark. (Note: There is a longer version as the DVD and IMDb list a 71 minute running time; I found it streaming online and it looks like TubiTV omitted like the first ten minutes, maybe due to a Jesus blowjob gag.) The film is the work of writer-directors Jonathan Gorman and Thomas Edward Seymour, who are obviously heavily influenced by the work of Troma. This is evidenced by the roles by Kaufman and Rochon, as well as a scattering of scatologial humor. Yes, we get lots of poop and fart bits. And I’m talking graphic poop bits. If that works for you, have at it. It didn’t for me. What did work were some of the other comedy bits. And, heavens me, they were intentional comedy bits. Yes, there are actually funny lines, like when Jenny does her flashback talk and says, “It all started when I was a senior in high school. Before I was blonde and fully developed.” to explain why a different actress is playing the character. I also laughed a recurring joke about everyone calling the slim Sharon fat. Of course, with such zany material, you have to have a cast goofy enough to pull it all off. Amazingly, all of the thespians get the tone right. My personal faves were Margaret Rose Champagne doing hilarious over-the-top French accent as William Dafoe, Sarah Dauber as the airhead Sapphire, and Dick Boland as the bitchy Mrs. Johnson.

Of course, it isn’t smooth sailing as the thing is a mess in terms of unfolding the story. For example, in the end it is revealed that the killer Zombie Santa Chef is actually -- HUGE SPOILER SO STOP READING IF YOU ARE CRAZY ENOUGH TO WANT TO SEE THIS FILM -- Debbie Rochon’s Miss Johnson character. Yes, she showed up for a second scene! It is an ingenious twist that I’m sure fans of the series loved. But it also creates a mess. You see, Kaufman’s hospital character is the third person killed, presumably during Johnson’s hospital escape. Yet we’ve already been shown the Chef being resurrected in the graveyard and having killed several people. It don’t make no damn sense, but then again neither does searching for continuity in a movie called BIKINI BLOODBATH CHRISTMAS.

As far as the Christmas element goes, Gorman and Seymour (sounds like a law firm) could have done better. If you’re going to do a Xmas themed horror film, we need you to work in some Xmas themed deaths and a bit of that ol’ Christmas spirit. Instead we get some Santa hats, plus some tinsel and decorations here and there. Hell, we don’t even get a Christmas tree. And heaven forbid we get some Christmas themed death scenes. You telling me you guys never thought of impaling someone with a giant candy cane? You know they thought of doing it to someone’s ass. You know you did! And in perhaps the most shocking omission, only one character in the new footage gets topless. That is rather sinful, especially given the porn looking DVD cover. That is where the film is lacking. Regardless, I wasn’t bored. Again, I must stress my enjoyment came because of the short running time and some of the odd humor. As a bad movie watching professional, I can say that this kind of film should only be tackled when you’ve spent four decades wasting your life like I hav...uh, like some people have. Anyway, I'll save you time and give you an early Xmas present with the film's best moment.


Saturday, October 26, 2019

Halloween Havoc: WISHMASTER: THE PROPHECY FULFILLED (2002)

A.k.a. Djinn Blanding Builds His Dream House.

After the insufferably dull and clumsy BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL (in which no gates, hells or beyonds are featured), where could director editor turned director Chris Angel and his producers of piffle, Gary Howsam and Gilles Paquin, possibly go? How do you one up a movie in which there is no charisma, effects that aren't special, a title that lies and a plot that sort of just meanders to an end credit roll? Answer: You don't. The path of least resistance is down.

Young couple Sam (Jason Thompson) and Lisa (Tara Spencer-Nairn) videotape themselves (Y2K bitches!) arriving at their newly purchased house on a motorcycle. Obviously we are supposed to think they are cool because if the video camera and motorcycle weren't enough, Sam wears a leather jacket and enthusiastically knocks down the "sold" sign on the front lawn. He's a rebel man, he ain't taking no shit from no damn sign! This, in what has become a hallmark for the series, is accompanied by yet another wretched Y2K  pop song. Imagine Smash Mouth meets Love & Rockets. Kill me now.

Since we are clearly on the path of hitting all the cliches, as soon as Sam carries Lisa over the threshold (though they are not married - they are too hip for that square stuff!), they run upstairs and we get a rather long soft-core sex scene followed by Sam showing his sensitive artistic side by sketching Lisa in the nude with charcoal. Well, actually Lisa is primly covered by a sheet, but Sam, like all straight guys, sketches her naked anyway.

Flash forward three years and we get a bizarrely complicated set-up which is told in multiple flashbacks that don't actually tell the audience anything. At first I thought it was the screenwriter trying to be clever and letting the plot unfold as the audience discovers the story, then I realized that theory was complete bullshit and the production is simply a mess. The simple explanation of the exposition is that Sam was in a terrible motorcycle accident that has left him paralyzed from the waist down and extremely bitter. As you would expect, he hates Lisa for sticking by him though these rough times and spends his days drinking straight from the bottle (though always clear-eyed and articulate), looking at pictures of chick's butts on that "internets" thing and complaining about his non-existent sex life. So he's a lot of fun.

Lisa when not being ridiculously sympathetic and caring, is driving around in her Bronco II trying to get a lawsuit against a motorcycle parts manufacturer squared away with her fratboy lawyer Steve (Michael Trucco). Steve, because he is a conscientious professional, is less interested in the settlement than he is putting the moves on the fragile, under-sexed Lisa. To this end, he shows her his affection by presenting her with what appears to be an antique silver box that he found on-line (Y2K bitches!). Doubling down on his lack of skill with the ladies, Steve uses this as an opening to go in for a kiss. The box hits the floor, breaks open and inside is the all-too familiar opal of doom. Rejecting his advances, and the box, after getting a flash vision of the Djinn, Lisa splits and Steve tosses the stone into his safe. Which burns through the bottom, for no apparent reason.

Now that the stone has burned through the bottom of the safe, the Djinn is free to hide in Steve's closet and offer him a wish. Seriously. Uhhh, yeah, maybe it is a metaphor, but I have no idea either. Steve, being the complete dumbass that he is, has a full conversation with the weird dude that is hiding in his closet and wishes that the guy would stop talking in riddles. This wish is granted, and for the sake of those that did not know that there were three other films in the series, the Djinn explains who he is and what he does. He then *ahem* comes out of the closet, steals Steve's face, gets another nice black suit, and sets off to find Lisa to get her to make three wishes so that we can finally see what lies Beyond the Gates of Hell. Oh, we should be so lucky.

At this point you might think "hey, this film is fiiiiiinally going to go somewhere" and you are half right. It does go somewhere, but it's not up and it's in no hurry. Steve the Djinn grants Lisa's first wish to win the lawsuit and does so by having the opposing lawyer pull out his tongue, cut off his nose and shoot himself in the head after signing the paperwork. Because this clearly does not paint the Djinn as a villain in broad enough strokes, he is then shown going over to Lisa and Sam's house, taking a bite out of an apple and then casually tossing it back in the fruitbowl! Eeeeeevil, I tells ya!

Steve and Lisa have dinner at a nice restaurant and Steve manages to get another wish out of her. She wishes that Sam could walk. Done! At the same time, a couple at another table are passionately kissing, so naturally the pretty waitress says "I wish someone would kiss me like that!" to which Steve says "Oh, they will!" Cue a bunch of random customers who swarm all over her with full tongue kisses. If you thought Steve was a crappy lawyer before, this clinches it. Any ambulance chaser worth his salt would have at least handed her a card after witnessing literally a dozen sexual harassment cases.

Finally we get the third wish which brings us that much closer to the end credits and another terrible Y2K pop song. As Steve is again trying to put the moves in Lisa, she says "I wish I could just love you for who you are." Brother if I had a nickel for every time I got that old line, I could hire someone to watch this dreck for me. This bizarre wish confuses the Djinn (and the audience). In order to clear this up, he has a conference call with his fellow Djinnobites who appear in flames and loudly complain. When they ask him why he hasn't granted the wish, he says "human love must be given freely, or it isn't love, it's a trap." Oh for fuck sake. First of all, this is just dumb, second of all, that is what djinns do! They lead people into traps with their wishes! This idiotic turn of events leads Steve on a quest to find out how to make Lisa fall in love with him. Man, even Lifetime would hesitate to go with something this lamely saccharine. His best advice is from Lisa's astrologist friend who simply says "wine, roses and killer sex" before wishing for "killer sex" for herself and ending up apparently dying of an orgasm while sliding up a wall. His other bit of advice is at a strip club, and is "a fat wallet and a fat dick". So, while desperately trying to be a romantic love-story (including some painfully ham-fisted "beauty and beast" dialogue), screenwriter John Benjamin Martin does a nice job of reducing a complicated human emotion to just material goods and primal urges. Love lifts us up, indeed.

In addition to the non-stop and tedious romantic overtures, there are a couple of throwaway wish grantings. The most shockingly dull of which is when Steve is at a strip club and the bartender says that he would sell his soul to be a pimple on the ass of an allegedly hot stripper. You would think that this groan-inducing set-up would pay off with a Freddy-esque shot of the bartender's face made up as a pimple on the stripper's ass, with him screaming "noooooo!" or whatever. Yeah, that doesn't happen. He simply vanishes from behind the bar and we get Steve quipping "enjoy the view... brotha" and a shot of the shocked cocktail waitress wondering where he went. I can only assume that there was supposed to be an effects shot insert there that the producers couldn't or wouldn't pay for and no one could be bothered enough to cut the scene from the movie.

As if this inanity wasn't enough, late in the game Martin decides to throw in a dime-store Adrian Paul HIGHLANDER (1992-1998) type (Victor Webster), as the "Hunter". A black trench-coat wearing, sword-wielding prettyboy who must kill the "Wisher" (Lisa) in order to prevent the title from actually having to be shown (again). Sure, he has a sword that is the only thing that can actually kill the Djinn, but that's like hard and stuff. It's much easier just to kill some girl, I guess. Oh, and why not kill her employee who works in her boutique clothing store too? Yeah, I don't know why, the Hunter just seemed to be annoyed by her and chops off her head. Hooray for the good guy? The final show-down in which Steve and the Hunter face off on a roadside with a sword and tree branch (I'm not making that up) does finally explain why Lisa was driving a Bronco II, though. It's because the producers didn't want to pay for a decent car to unspectacularly wreck. Instead of some incendiary airborne SUV mayhem, the car catches some air over a hill and then just sort of flips for no reason and stops. Do you hear that sound? It is Spiro Razatos weeping.

I guess having two reasonably entertaining movies out of four is a pretty impressive ratio for us, but damn, I don't think I have ever seen a series drop off so sharply before. Even the HELLRAISER series had a reasonably consistent downward gradient. Interestingly (or not), the HELLRAISER movies evolved into simply re branding existing screenplays with some HELLRAISER imagery. Here it seems like someone wrote a HELLRAISER script that was re-branded as a WISHMASTER sequel. In addition to the Cenobite-esque Djinns that occasionally pop up like a Greek chorus, we have numerous lines where someone says "oh my god" and the Djinn replies with stuff like "God was not invited!" We also have another box, but unlike part 3, the production couldn't be bothered to make it a puzzle box this time. "Fuckit, it's just a box". Additionally, like HELLRAISER (1987) the story centers around a girl who is trying to avoid the advances of a creature disguised as a human, in a house that is demolishing itself at the end of the film. You can practically see the producers pointing at a HELLRAISER video box and saying "we want one of those!" and then cutting the screenwriter a check for $20.

I can't figure out whether this is better or worse than the last entry. Both are miserably unfun, but this is essentially a bad romantic drama with absurd amounts of padding that make the 90 minute running time feel like an eternity of damnation. Admittedly TV bit actor Michael Trucco is not nearly as bland as Jason Connery, but that's not really saying much as Connery played the part as if his father's disappointment was literally hanging over his head. As dull as the characters are, they at least aren't as annoying as the college kids in part 3. Also, Tara Spencer-Nairn's topless scenes certainly help add a little entertainment value. Hey, there's nothing wrong with cheap titillation when you're slogging through something that is slightly more fun than an ER waiting room.

Chris Angel has had a pretty solid career editing supplemental material for DVDs, but that experience does not a director make. There are a lot of close up shots that are edited back and forth, in much the same way you would have an interview with talking heads. Even during the dreary fight sequence between the Djinn and the Hunter, Angel shoots one participant at a time with the other cropped off the screen and simply edits back and forth between the two. The soft-core sex scenes that he enjoys so much are in no way exciting and there are so many scenes of disembodied heads speaking quasi-romantic lines to someone off camera that it often feels like a daytime soap opera. There are a couple of decent gore scenes, but the Djinn looks ridiculous and there is what is unquestionably the worst illusion of someone getting thrown across an alley, but is clearly being slowly carried around on wires. The worst part is that after watching this, I wished to see something different and ended up watching a movie that I have meant to get around to for decades, THE DEATHHEAD VIRGIN (1974). It's loaded with filler, has a lame demonic villain, barely any effects and the most memorable part was a couple shots of nudity. Nearly 40 years apart and I got the same damn thing! Man, that djinn is a dick.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Halloween Havoc: WISHMASTER 3: BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL (2001)

Damn, the Video Gods must have felt sorry for us as we’ve been getting off relatively easy with the WISHMASTER franchise. The first one is a perfectly acceptable time killer with enough FX gags and horror icon cameos to keep us interested. The second entry, while flawed, kept things entertaining enough with more latex slinging and some great unintentional comedy. Are we actually going to get through four films without experiencing any viewing pain? “Not so fast,” says WISHMASTER 3 & 4 director Chris Angel.

The third and fourth WISHMASTER films arrived during the direct-to-video horror flood of the early 2000s. A luxury born in the 1980s, the direct-to-video sequel programming exploded in the 1990s thanks to the efforts of guys like Charles Band (Full Moon Entertainment) and the Weinsteins (Dimension Films). It seemed like you couldn’t go a weekend with a new HELLRAISER or CHILDREN OF THE CORN popping up on the shelf. By the new millennium, things went into overdrive and seemingly any theatrical vehicle that had done decent on video got a makeshift sequel. From 2000 to 2005, viewers got (takes a deep breath) THE PROPHECY III (2000), THE PROPHECY: UPRISING (2005), THE PROPHECY: FORSAKEN (2005), LEPRECHAUN 5: IN THE HOOD (2000), LEPRECHAUN 6: BACK 2 THA HOOD (2003), MIMIC 2 (2001), MIMIC 3 (2003), DRACULA II (2003), DRACULA III (2005), THE CROW III (2005), VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS (2002), VAMPIREs: THE TURNING (2005),...(takes another deep breath)...SNIPER 2 (2002), SNIPER 3 (2004), TIMECOP 2 (2003), THE HITCHER II (2003), SLAP SHOT 2 (2002), TREMORS 3 (2001), TREMORS 4 (2005), THE SKULLS II (2002), and STARSHIP TROOPERS 2 (2004). Hell, we even got a sequel to 8MM (1999), which I’m still pissed they didn’t call 16MM. So, of course, we got two WISHMASTER sequels. How could we not?

Prophetically, WISHMASTER 3 opens with a car wreck. Troubled college student Diana Collins (A.J. Cook) is having nightmares about when her parents died in a car crash. She was the lone survivor and now blames herself. Damn, I wonder if one of her wishes will involve trying to ease this pain and bring her parents back? NOPE! I’m getting ahead of myself, but let’s just say this WISHMASTER doesn’t play by any rules. Back to the story, Diana is a history major at Baxter College and serious about her boyfriend Greg (Tobias Mehler). How serious? Early on we get this amazingly realistic dialogue when she sees him talking to mean girl Elinor (Emmanuelle Vaugier). This is literally the first things these characters say to each other.

Elinor: “You know, Diana, you should be careful. Boys who don’t get the attention they need tend to look elsewhere for it.”
Diana:  “I’m not too worried. When you’re this good they never wander.”

No joke, the filmmakers found this exchange so important that it is included in its entirety in the film’s trailer.

Part of her college duties involve helping Professor Barash (Jason “Yes, Sean’s my father” Connery), who is preparing for an upcoming Persian artifact exhibit. While looking over the inventory, Diana spots the Lament Configuration...er, a puzzle box that houses the fire opal the djinn is imprisoned in. Now how the gem arrived here after the events of part 2 is never touched upon. Like I said, there are no rules with this one and certainly no series plotline continuity. Damn, we didn’t know how good we had it with the first two. Naturally, Diana rubs the gem and the djinn (John Novak) magically appears. Just kidding. He shows up after she has left (is there a delay in genie summoning technology?) and confronts the professor. The professor makes his wish and asks to be given all of the world’s knowledge to make himself the smartest man on earth. Haha, just kidding, he asks for two beautiful women and they pop their tops before ripping him to pieces. The djinn steals his face and now we get evil Barash. How do we know he is evil? He wears a dark suit! To quote the Men’s Wearhouse founder, “You’re gonna like the way you look...EEEEVIL! I guarantee it!”

Per the law of the series, Diana sees flashes of this murder but she really has more important things going on in her life, like her relationship with Greg. Here is another totally realistic dialogue bit that we get complete with sad piano music playing.

Diana: “Do you love me?”
Greg: “Actually, that is what I came to ask you.”

Love, however, is the least of her problems because Barash is now on the hunt for the person who released him so he can grant her three wishes. Being totally acquainted with 20th century collegiate life, he immediately heads to the admin building to look up her address in her student file. Unfortunately, standing in his way is a rather dutiful secretary who is filing away late at night. She gets burnt to a crisp after wishing all the files would just burn up. Wait...the djinn just ruined his chance of finding Diana. DOH! No worries, as he has her in his class the next day. But Diana misses the class because she has been researching djinn myths all night and overslept. She then tries to convince Greg and her two friends, Katie (Louisette Geiss) and Billy (Aaron Smolinski), that the djinn is real and hunting her down, although he isn’t very good at it. Finally at the 45 minute mark our villain decides to ask for her dorm room address.

Okay, so far, so bland. But things are about to pick up in the worst possible way. Chased by the djinn, Diana and Greg escape her dorm room and head for the campus church. Unfortunately, Barash is already there (yes, he couldn’t locate her before, but now can magically appear where she is). He displays his abracadabra powers by making one of Diana’s friends dehydrated because she wished to “lose a little weight.” Diana blows through her first wish by wishing for the girl’s pain to end. Realizing she has to up her wishful thinking, Diana quickly does her second wish by - wait for it - summoning the spirit of the archangel Michael to help fight the demon. Goddamn, you went from zero to a hundred real quick, girl! Sure enough, a blue light zaps through a stained glass window and starts to enter her body. However, Greg apparently is really possessive of his girlfriend as he pushes her out of the way and the spirit enters his body. Nobody is going to touch my girl, angelic spirit or not! Apparently angels are badasses who can make swords magically appear in their hand at will. The duo stop the djinn for a bit and split. With two wishes down, Greg/Michael informs her that he carries the Sword of Justice (isn’t that a Don “The Dragon” Wilson movie?), which she can use to defeat the djinn. The bad news is that the djinn is hellbent on unleashing his demonic family and starts torturing Diana’s friends to get her to comply.

Jeez, where to begin on WISHMASTER 3? I think I can speak for the entire world when discussing the first two films that no one uttered, “You know, these films are too exciting. They should cut down on the FX gags and include more fantasy elements while upping the romance factor.” Well, no one except the folks who produced this monstrosity. What the hell were they thinking? You have a new, semi-successful horror franchise with an actor fans seem to like. “Yeah, we’re scrapping all that,” say the producers. (Amusingly, previous djinn Andrew Divoff revealed in 2017 he had even done a treatment for part 3.) The only returning element from part 2 is the participation of SOTA FX and even they don’t get much to do. Instead we get what is a by-the-numbers college slasher with the djinn in the role of the killer. The injection of the fantasy element would be appreciated if they actually did something cool with it. Nope! We just Greg changing his eye color and being dubbed with a deeper voice (that makes Michael the angel sound like a dumb jock). It is like the filmmakers just binged a bunch of HIGHLANDER and THE PROPHECY movies one weekend and said, “Yeah, we got this.” And by “got this,” I mean to be presented as blandly as possible by director Chris Angel (not to be confused with magician Criss Angel, although I wish it was him because he might disappear).

Here is the craziest thing about this whole thing - imagination is free. No, seriously, you can imagine anything you want and the only thing limiting you might be time and money. So it is stunning that director Angel and screenwriter Alexander Wright didn’t sit down one night to brainstorm over some pizza and beer to come up with the wildest wishes they could think of. Nope, no creativity will be accepted here! When the djinn confronts Billy for his wish, he says, "Blow me." And then he blows Billy across the room so he is impaled on a mask. Damn, I bet Angel and Wright high fived after coming up with that one. Hell, they give up and don’t even have Diana use her third wish in the final showdown. Her plan to outsmart the djinn is to jump off the room and kill herself. I can relate. And the wishes barely make any sense. A perfect example of the worst wishes is when the djinn corners Katie hiding in a science lab. She wishes she has someplace to hide and he says her wish is granted. Then her head is stuck in a cage full of lab rats that gnaw off her eyes and lips. WHAT? That doesn’t even make any sense. She seriously needs to call the djinn customer service line because this dude ain’t delivering. Hell, even the title BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL doesn’t make a lick of sense. You have to wonder how the hell this kind of bland stuff gets greenlit. Well, you will find out if you watch the trailer:


Yep, it was part of the Canadian tax shelter movie credit that was so popular at the time. Just another product to get money out of the paws of unsuspected Blockbuster renters back in the day. Well, and dumbasses like me who decided to marathon this series. Please send your best wishes! Honestly, the only enjoyment I got from this sequel was a song played midway though. It is a wannabe Smash Mouth sounding song called “Shoe Box Blues” and is a stark reminder of how awful late ‘90s rock was at the time. Sample lyrics: “I was born in a shoebox, living in a shoe, by the time I was five I was moved outside…” Yeah, that's all I got. Damn...

Friday, October 11, 2019

Halloween Havoc: WISHMASTER 2: EVIL NEVER DIES (1999)

You might be tempted to accuse us of resting on our laurels and give us a hardy ration of crap for talking about something as high-profile and reasonably budgeted as the WISHMASTER series. And you'd be right. I actually feel something resembling Catholic guilt over this. I mean, if I was stuck in a CLOCKWORK ORANGE chair and was being force-fed cinematic drivel, I'd rather it be this than another godfuckingawful non-Krampus Krampus movie. Which, I'm pretty sure is going to happen again this year. Allright? Cut us some slack already!

This entry opens with some of the stupidest art thieves ever to rob a museum, who decide that the best way to get a priceless artifact in a glass display case is to simply smash it with a gun butt. Naturally this causes the security alarm to blare and red lights to flash. Presumably the lights are union mandated to assist the deaf security guards on staff. In the ensuing shootout between the thieves and security guards, a stray bullet manages to break the priceless statue of the evil Ahura Mazda! Umm, except Ahura Mazda was actually the god of wisdom, of which the inexpensive Japanese car was named after. This kind of works out anyway, because the people who invariably break the statue are unilatterally dumbasses desperately in need of some Mazda. This uhhh, malevolent, I guess, statue contains the fire opal that contains our over-annunciating djinn. It's sort of like a not very fun nesting doll of evil. Or rather silliness as it turns out.

One of the thieves, Eric (Chris Weber, not to be confused with Chris Webber), is mortally wounded and Eric's grunge gurlfriend, who is of course named Morgana (Holly Fields), also catches a bullet. Instead of hitting her, the bullet hits the opal in her pocket, causing it to break, which can only mean one thing. Freddy, err, I mean Genie is free again! Fangoria alumni and special effects master Anthony C. Ferrante and the immortal Jack Sholder (who wrote and directed) earn my respect here by going all out here with a VIDEODROME-esque sequence where fleshy tendrils come out of the broken stone, embedding themselves in the wall and creating a pulsating orifice through which the Djinn (Andrew Divoff) can be reborn as a slithering hellspawn. Not to worry, though, respect will be lost later.

And later is here! When fully born the Djinn predictably asks the dying Eric what he would wish for. To which Eric replies "to have a successful heist that doesn't include me bleeding out from multiple gunshot wounds." No, I kid, I kid. He actually says "I wish I'd never been born." Uhhhh, ok dude. Aren't you taking the '90s emo thing a bit too far? Good to his word, Demerest causes Eric to shrivel up backwards through the years of his life and poof out of existence. Ok, I guess. I mean, you have to start out slow, you can't just throw all of the cool stuff at the beginning. This ain't WISHMASTER 1, you know.

The Djinn, heading to the exit to get on with his vaguely ironic, soul-stealing wishfullfilment plan, is stopped by a cop that tells him to "freeze!" Can you see this coming? Yep, lifting a gag straight out of THE MASK (1994), our malevolent prankster freezes him in ice and then when another cop asks him what happened, the Djinn painfully quips "he needed to chill out". Later in the movie, Demerest will repeatedly utter the line "there are rules" and that everyone has to make a wish. Except, apparently, when they don't and he just goes ahead and does shit anyway.

Morgana, being the counter-culture type is smokin' a J in her loft apartment and trashing the place out while crying over Eric... Even though Eric has now never been born, so she should have no memory of him whatsoever. She is also upset that her BFs dumb-ass robbery cost the life of a security guard who was a father to some presumably nice kids. Will this be important later? Be careful what you wish for. Also upsetting Morgana (in case it wasn't obvious, she spends most of the movie being upset), is the fact that Demerest allowed himself to be arrested and claimed responsibility for the attempted robbery and the murders of the thieves and security guards. Most people on the hook for felony theft and homicide would be pretty damn happy about this turn of events, but Morgana is grunge! She's wild! She's... probably not thinking very clearly after toking on that Mary Jane. This is really upsetting.

This of course leads to Demerest not passing, but going directly to prison in what is the shortest turn-around time for a criminal case with the skimpiest amount of evidence since the days of the Spanish Inquisition. This ploy means that Demerest now has an entire prison full of souls that will be turned over for a simple brainless wish. As we learn, the Djinn needs to snatch 1001 souls in order to be free of giving fatal wishes to the ungrateful masses and you know, create Hell on Earth and stuff. They fly in his ointment, other than having Tiny Lister as his prison guard, is that after harvesting 1000 souls he must grant three wishes to the person who freed him from his crystalline cage. So... that would be the security guard who shot the stone when it was in Morgana's pocket, right? Nope. It's Morgana because... uh, she was like closer to it, like, more than anyone else, I guess.

Meanwhile Morgana slowly starts doing some research, using that fancy new "internet" thing, and starts to figure out that Demerest is actually a Djinn. I make a crack about using a search engine to pull up a website devoted to djinn legends, but, yeah I can see that. Actually, more plausible would be finding a Japanese website devoted to djinn legends and showing people having sex with them.

After visiting Demerest in prison, Morgana decides that not only is he a demon, because she is having psychic flashes of him without his Demerest face, but also that she needs to recruit a vaguely Catholic-ish priest Gregory (Paul Johansson) who was, wait for it... her former lover. Girl, if your love drove this man into the ascetic life of the cloth, you are clearly doing something seriously wrong. Of course this puts us squarely in the "Christianity fixes everything" subgenre, but I'm really not sure what sect of Christianity this is supposed to be. As we discover, only a "pure" soul can destroy a djinn, and since Morgana looks like she stepped out of a Soundgarden video, we know she ain't pure. This is only a minor problem that is easily overcome with a quick make-over that includes a French curl hair-do, a bright summer dress and cutting off her finger with a kitchen knife. That is not a joke. Seriously, which offshoot of Christianity is this? The Branch Davidians?

Also confusingly, Father Greg goes to visit Demerest in prison to see this guy that his ex is fixated on. When he realizes that she's right and this dude is not just talking that way for the fun of it, he exclaims "God will stop you!" Uhhh, so an Assyrian demon can be defeated by a Jewish deity? Sure, what the hell. Also, now that Morgana is "pure", she uses this opportunity to seduce Gregory. The priest. Out of wedlock. Carnal sin. Hello? Anyone? This is like Catholicism as related to a friend by street-corner preacher who was high on peyote.

Eventually Demerest walks out of the prison (wearing Lister's face), steals souls from some Russian mobsters and heads out to an unnamed Sin City where he can get his last 800 souls in a single casino. A very well lit, disco-ball festooned casino cleverly called... "Casino".

Like many '80s/'90s sequels, this entry is happy to simply let the titular over-acting villain run around causing creative demises. This is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you've ever sat through what passes for horror movies these days, but instead of allowing Ferrante a free hand to rain in blood, the production saves plenty of sheckles and goes with effects-free comic demises for nearly all of the Djinn's victims. While running amok in the casino, he rolls some dice and tells a woman "you crapped out", she swells up and literally shits slot machine tokens. At this point I realized that this is less the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) wannabe and was and more of a LEPRECHAUN (1993) outing. Probably the most egregiously bad wish granting is when an inmate Gries (Robert LaSardo) says that he wants his lawyer Fox (Scott Klace) to fuck himself. Get Mr. Palm ready to meet Mr. Face. As Fox starts to talk about how he is getting Gries released because of new evidence, Fox's body (hidden behind a table) contorts and pumps while we get sounds of rhythmic flesh-slapping and Klace desperately trying to act like he is in uncomfortable coitus. I'm pretty sure the thought process went something like this: "well, I could take this job and hope nobody sees it, or I could have sardines on toast for dinner tonight. Again."

As disappointing as most of the fates of the Djinn's victims are, Ferrante is allowed a few very cool effects. One of them has Demerest grant a jail tough his wish to "walk out of here" by squeezing him through the bars of the cell causing his flesh to crumple and squish through the bars. In the ending casino sequence, the manager (Bokeem Woodbine) says "What next? Frogs and locusts?" Of course, since there are no rules, in spite of what Demerest constantly says, this brings a hail of frogs and a plague of fuzzy black dots. Are they flies? Bees? No, apparently they are cockroaches, which are definitely not locusts, but do allow Ferrante to do a gory reworking of the roach-ridden finale of CREEPSHOW (1982) segment "They're Creeping Up On You". Or possibly a hommage to THE NEST (1988).



Back in the day I didn't think much of the WISHMASTER series and I can see why, but as annoyed as I am with some of the movie's comic choices, Jack Sholder is no piker. He is also joined by one of my favorite wingnuts, producer Pierre David - responsible for SCANNERS (1981) and its sequels, including the gloriously misconceived SCANNERS III (1991). With a paltry budget of 2.5 million (exactly half of the budget for the first film), Sholder and David clearly have to make sacrifices, but to their credit manage to put a lot of the cash on the screen with plenty of locations and some great practical effects (Ferrante's Djinn suit actually looks significantly better than the KNB original). Together they deliver a tightly paced, professional looking film. A film that is reasonably entertaining, if for no other reason than the Xtreme '90s/'00s ness of the thing and the genuinely head-scratching religious angle. I was going to say "I wish part 2 was better" but I know the curse of the djinn has already "gotched" me into reviewing part 4, which I'm pretty sure will make me say "part 2 was better".