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!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Halloween Havoc: OCCULT DIMENSIONS (1988) aka DON'T PANIC

The late '80s was a lot of things, but no matter who you were, you knew who Freddy Krueger was, which meant that if you were in the film business, you wanted to cash in on the world-wide success  of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise. Even if you were in Mexico.

Ruben Galindo Jr, (aka Ruben Galindo Ubierna) son of famed, prolific filmmaker Ruben Galindo (aka Ruben Galindo Aguilar), was born in 1952 in Mexico City, but at a young age was enrolled in a Canadian boarding school in Victoria. After moving back to Mexico, Galindo Jr. did some of his collegiate general ed before moving to California and graduating UCLA with a film and television degree. He then returned to Mexico, yet again, and began making genre oriented films on 16mm. Galindo Jr.'s second film on 35mm was the hugely successful (by Mexican standards) CEMETERY OF TERROR (1985). This was actually a break-out film for Mexican genre pieces as it received distribution the likes of which hadn't been seen since the days of K. Gordon Murray in the '60. There was a major difference however, Murray's imports were reworked for American kiddie matinee screenings, CEMETERY OF TERROR was straight-up teen horror fare with zombies and bloodletting in the vein of the Italian horror films of the era. It would only make sense then, that Galindo Jr.'s follow up would be the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) inspired OCCULT DIMENSIONS.


Poodle mulleted rich kid, Michael Smith (Jon Michael Bischof, who also provided the score) has been transplanted from Beverly Hills to Mexico by his snobby parents who promptly got a divorce after relocating. Michael's mom (Helena Rojo) has become an alcoholic to the point of leaving a bottle of silver tequila on the stair banister for those times when actually walking to the liquor cabinet is just too much of an effort. Sure, we've all been there. Stairs can be such a bitch. Speaking of bitches, Michael is having a drunken birthday party and decides everyone needs to go home. Everyone does except for a handful of his closest friends who decide to pop out from behind furniture and insist that they have a "game" of ouija. Michael, in a whiny way that will start to wear thin really quickly, doesn't want to play as he has had a bad experience before. His friends are pretty much total assholes, particularly Tony (Juan Ignacio Aranda), who contacts a spirit named Virgil. When Tony starts speaking as Virgil, Michael then flips out, as he is prone to do, and tells everyone that it is the devil! Tony, who is a total prick, laughs it off and dumps a bottle of tequila on the board before walking out. Damn these kids are spoiled brats! When I went to high-school no one would dream of wasting a drop of the precious fluid known as "alcohol". Not even for our dead homies.

After an obligatory romantic interlude with the new girl at school, Alex (Gabriela Hassel, who went on to appear in 1989s VACATION OF TERROR), Michael starts having weird visions of his classmates being killed by a burn-victim wielding what appears to be a sacrificial dagger, or a prop used by an '80s metal band, I'm not sure. When he has these visions of these stabbings, his eyes turn red and he has trouble seeing, leading to a lot of pantomimed stumbling about... during which Michael freaks out. I told you, Michael's emotional state is like that of a five year old. I guess it is only appropriate that he spends half of the movie in some awesome dinosaur pajamas, reflecting his child-like state of mind. Galindo was doing some thinking here.

While his mom freaks out in an over-the-top latin way, suddenly the news starts reporting these deaths that he has been having visions of. The homicide detective on the case Lt. Velazco (the ubiquitous Jorge Luke) seems a little lackadaisical about the whole thing, but maybe later in the movie he will start taking things seriously right? I mean, it's only been two murders with the same M.O. It's not like in the US where we have to have a dozen dead before anyone decides to not give a shit.

Michael's next freak out is Christine (Mindie McCullum, better known after a lot of unnecessary plastic surgery as Scottie Steiner's WCW valet Midajah). Michael suddenly decides instead of letting his friends get killed, that - and this is a stroke of genius - he will warn them! Of course we all know how this is going to go. Running out of his house (yes, still wearing his dinosaur PJs), Michael heads over to Christine's place only to run into her blow-dried jock brother Juan (future soap star Roberto Palazuelos), who understandably wants to kick his ass. He then runs over to the hospital where Christine works, but apparently nobody is allowed into the hospital. Maybe it's just because they can't take him seriously in those pajamas. Of course, due to all of the interference from hospital security, he is too late and can't save Christine. Still, it was a good plan, so maybe next time, he'll be able to save someone! Or not. The bodies pile up, but after a VIDEODROME (1983) inspired moment in which a face pushes out of the TV and tells Michael and Juan that it is Virgil who is doing the killing, the boys team up and, more importantly, Michael puts on some real clothes.

I'm probably going to sound like an apologist here, but while I've seen a lot of people saying that it is a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET rip-off, it is definitely riding Freddy's coattails, but it really isn't fair to dismiss it as plagiarism. At the same time it is not wholly original as it borrows from Dario Argento as well as NIGHTMARE and the aforementioned VIDEODROME. In one scene our deteriorating villain (no backstory is given for his condition), shoves the dagger under someone's jaw allowing the audience to see the blade twist inside of his mouth. This is an obvious and direct lift from Argento's OPERA (1987). I think it is safe to say that Galindo is a fan of the Italian stuff as this feels like it would be right at home in the Filmirage line-up of the same era.

While the budgetary short-comings are a given, Galindo works in some good low-rent latex effects and some impressive camera set-ups. He also borrows Craven's use of horror movie film clips playing on the TV (technically not Craven's invention), though here instead of Galindo throwing a tip of the hat to a fellow filmmaker, he mostly uses clips of his own CEMETERY OF TERROR. Quite frankly, if I was the guy who had made CEMETERY OF TERROR, I would have clips of it in every movie I made afterwards, too.

The only real thing that strains the entertainment factor is Galindo regular Jon Michael Bischof. Bischof is such a wimpy man-child that, coupled with the pajamas (what was Galindo thinking?), he quickly goes from amusing to irritating. But then again, there are plenty of other things to keep your attention. Plus, I learned that Mexican schools are really strict. Michael has to bribe a security guard with a men's magazine to allow him to enter the campus late. Apparently not showing up for class on time is punishable by expulsion! Obviously they couldn't do that here in the US, because A: The schools would be empty, and B: Someone would get shot.

My favorite moment is the very end (minor spoiler) when the killer gives up his dying breath, Michael is laying in a broken heap on the floor, and Alex is sobbing over him, Lt. Velazco who you would expect to finally show some interest in the case, looks rather bored and simply turns around and walks off! I guess it's not his job to clean up the mess, right? I can't tell whether Luke is phoning in the role, to previously unknown degrees, or whether he is supposed to be such a hard-bitten cop that a possessed, evil killer with psychic powers doesn't even phase him.

This is definitely one of Galindo's easier films to track down as it was successfully marketed around the globe. It appears to have been shot almost entirely in English, presumably to make an inroad into a what was then a very lucrative home video market, but for unknown reasons, the Spanish dubbed version is the most commonly available print these days. Ironically, while quite successful in foreign markets, Gallindo's hybrid of US and Italian horror was not really popular with Mexicans which is why his directorial efforts of horror films only number a mere handful.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Newsploitation: Extra! Extra! Talking Severed Head Turns 30!

Okay, now I’m going to make you feel really old. Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR came out thirty years ago today on October 18, 1985. Coming out of left field, it gave ‘80s audiences their Dr. Henry Frankenstein and did it with so much over-the-top flourish that became an instant classic. So raise your vials of glowing reagent to celebrate this vital birthday.

Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West - Re-Animator” from 1922, RE-ANIMATOR came about when Chicago theater director Gordon was looking for something new to adapt to the stage and read Lovecraft's serialized story at the library. Gordon, playwright Dennis Paoli and fellow writer William Norris then considered making their loose adaptation into a TV series. Fate intervened when they met producer Brian Yuzna. The producer had been looking for a project to launch his filmmaking career and this proved to be a perfect fit. Eventually the group got in bed with Empire Pictures’ Charles Band and the rest is history. Filming began in November 1984 with a main cast of young unknowns in their first few years working in Hollywood including Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, and Jeffrey Combs.

As an independent theatrical outfit Empire Pictures was just barely scraping by. Their biggest hits to date had been TRANCERS (1984) and GHOULIES (1984), which went out to a few dozen theaters upon release. RE-ANIMATOR was their first wide release and by wide we mean only 129 theaters the weekend of October 18. I wish I could tell you that it was a blazing success right out of the gate, but RE-ANIMATOR didn’t even crack the top ten with a haul of $543,728. However, there is something interesting to say about this - the film garnered a per-screen-average of $4,214, which was double what any film in the top five (including COMMANDO, REMO WILLIAMS and SILVER BULLET) made. Had it gotten to over 1,000 screens like those flicks, it would have killed the competition. Ultimately, it would make just over two million in its U.S. theatrical run, ending up Empire’s third highest grosser overall following later releases TROLL (1986) and ELIMINATORS (1986). Where RE-ANIMATOR truly found its audience was on home video and cable. I can still remember my mom renting me the Vestron VHS from our Farm Fresh supermarket. If only she had known.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Halloween Havoc: FANGS - THE WOLF MAN (1991)

Thanks to Jerry Warren and K. Gordon Murray, most of the exposure that the English speaking world has had to Mexican cinema has been the campy kind. Made even more so by terrible dub jobs, chainsaw editing and sometimes reshot inserts. I'm not saying that these patchwork releases are deserving of ire or even not entertaining, I'm just saying that not all Mexican horror cinema falls in the much over-used "so bad it's good" category. Sometimes in spite of budgetary shortcomings, they are solidly crafted entertainment.

A lowly race horse trainer, Cristobal (Miguel Angel Rodriguez), has nightmares of crawling through underground tunnels, a girl in a white gown and being bitten by something. In his miserable real life, he has to deal with the nightmare of a rich, sneering horse owner Roman (Jose Elias Moreno) who treats him like dirt any chance he gets because he is jealous of his girlfriend, Susana (Olivia Collins), engaging in idle chat with the lower classes. Adding to his troubles is the fact that he desperately wants to be with Susana, and his snobby ex, who has moved up in social circles, wants to get back together with him.

The next night he sees the woman in white from his dreams near the stables and he chases her through fog into underground tunnels where he finds a jewel encrusted idol. You'd think this would be where a giant boulder would roll out of nowhere to crush him, but instead the girl in white tells him that he can keep it. It is the key to unlock his soul and has the power to release his ancestors, the only catch is if he misuses its power, he will pay an ambiguous price. Suddenly Cristobal wakes up from the dream, but sees that the idol is sitting on his dresser. Was it real after all? Who cares because he's now rich! One by one he sells off the jewels to buyers who seem hypnotized by their beauty.

Flush with cash, Cristobal starts getting cocky and some weird things start happening to him, including tearing into a chunk of raw meat with animal frenzy. When Roman sets his thugs on Cristobal out of jealousy, Cristobal savagely beats them, breaking one of their arms to the point where the bone sticks through the skin. Can't say they weren't asking for it though. With each jewel things get stranger and stranger until he finally finds himself transforming into a wolf-like creature who is running around at night, retrieving the stones by tearing the new owners to pieces.

That description really doesn't do this film justice. This low-budget outing was directed by Rene Cardona III and written by veteran exploitation writer/producer/director Ruben Galindo Aguilar (credited as Ruben Galindo) the man responsible for 1973s SANTO VS. THE KILLERS FROM OTHER WORLDS, and produced Raul Galindo Ubierna (credited as Raul Galindo) who has a much smaller resume, but includes such classics as CEMETERY OF TERROR (1985) and GRAVE ROBBERS (1990), both directed by Ruben's son Ruben Galindo Jr. (aka Ruben Galindo Ubierna) Got all that? Good because I'm confused as hell. Sorting out the Galindo's is incredibly difficult, even in Spanish.

The first thing that becomes clear is that Cardona III and Galindo Sr. were genuinely trying to make a serious horror film, complete with dream sequences, surreal moments, expressionistic camera set-ups and the all-important fog. This is not a slam-bang quickie for the home video market, this is clearly meant to be a major release in the Spanish-speaking world.

During Cristobal's meltdown after selling all of the jewels, we get a major transformation sequence at the race track, Cristobal sprouts hair, fangs and his back arches and his face pushes out. Sound familiar? Yep, it's like Rick Baker on a budget, sort of a MEXICAN WEREWOLF IN... err.. MEXICO! The movie is just like AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981), aside from the lack of Nazis, nurses, porno theaters, and sarcastic walking dead. Oh, and no exotic local, or soft-drink spokesperson. Ok, actually it's nothing like AMERICAN WEREWOLF aside from a few key elements. When Cristobal starts really going nutso and slaughtering people in the stables, he wakes up naked, no not in a zoo with a bunch of live animals, but in a stable with a horse that ripped apart. Another tip of the hat comes when Susana, who is realizing that something strange is going on, finds Cristobal's clothes on the floor with some strange goo, ala CAT PEOPLE (1982). There's also a bit of JAWS (1975), when Roman tells the police chief that he will hunt the animal for a fee. If the plot had been a carbon copy of one or the other, I would have probably enjoyed it anyway, but as it was, I think you might be able to legitimately call that an hommage. Or maybe that's bullshit and it was just a bit of plagerism. Either way, it's a hell of a lot of fun.

The acting may be a bit "enthusiastic" in places; the tragic romance is punctuated the latin penchant for high emotions, but for what it is, the actors do an excellent job of not leaning into hamming it up. Rodriguez' sweaty, tortured transformation scenes may echo David Naughton's in AMERICAN WEREWOLF, but he is definitely giving it his all.

Cardona III was born too late to get the world-wide exposure that his grandfather and father benefited from during the '70s and even the '80s when the English speaking theatrical market was far more interested in distributing culturally diverse cinema. It's a far cry from these days where the only foreign film you are likely to see in a US cinema is a Michael Bay film that has been partially financed by the Chinese. It's a shame too, because with some solid backing, I'd love to see what he could do for the same $10 million that AMERICAN WEREWOLF cost.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Halloween Havoc: DIABOLIC INHERITANCE (1994)

After the death of a wealthy, eccentric aunt leaves her vast estate to her nephew Tony (Roberto Guinar) and his wife Annie (Holda Ramírez), the couple decide to move in. Once in the house, they do some cleaning. And some kissing. And a shower is taken and... find a room with a satanic alter! We know it's satanic because there is a big Chris Cooper style Halloween mask of the devil hanging on the wall.

Tony brushes off his wife's frivolous concerns saying that everybody knew about his aunt's love of weird stuff, like whatevs. Also in the attic is a picture of the Aunt at eight years old with a clown doll that is nearly the same size. Conveniently also in the same attic trunk is the doll itself. I should point out that it took twenty minutes to get to this point. Twenty! Most of this time is people making phone calls, travellogue footage of Mexico City and even stock footage of airplanes taking off and landing. Oh, and Tony looking for a job, for which he is having little luck because he has absolutely zero personality.

Annie becomes pregnant (conceived during a lengthy sex scene in a completely dark room!), and while wandering around the mansion, the clown doll comes to life and pushes her to down the stairs. The doctors manage to save the baby and now Tony's son Roy is now besties with Auntie's creepy clown doll. He swears that the doll is alive, but of course Tony just brushes it off like everything else in life. Well, except for kissing. Tony sure does love to kiss. Matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Guinar took the role just so he could get as much necking and groping as possible from the two female leads. Oh, and because it's shot on video we get noisy kisses, that sound like someone torturing a balloon animal, every couple of minutes. Did I say "two" female leads? Yep, still working at the same job, and in spite of being a complete dickhole to his smokin' hot secretary Claudia (Mexican soap star and Playboy model Lorena Herrera), she totally digs him and after confessing her feelings, they get hitched. If Guinar was the director, I'd say this was a total vanity project.

All of a sudden Roy has a step-mother and you know what that means. His life is about to reach all new levels of suck. First thing she does is decide that she doesn't like the fact that Roy enjoys hanging out with his homie, the clown. Not that he has anyone else to play with since they live on a massive estate in the middle of nowhere, but whatever, the clown has got to go! First she tries locking him in an armoire, and he returns. Next she tries throwing him in a pond in a park, and he comes back. Then she tries throwing him in a box and while driving her convertible in a rough area of town let's a dirt-bag steal the box out of the car (no really), and he returns. She then totally flips out grabs a pair of scissors and rips his head off. At this point I'm feeling kind of sorry for that clown doll. Not only does it not have a name other than "clown doll", but jeeze what the hell did he do to piss off Claudia? I mean, since she's been around, the only thing he's done is stab the criminal who stole him out of her car with a broken bottle! Oh, and he kills the housekeeper by telekinetically using a rope in the longest slow-motion shot in cinema history to grab her and throw her over the roof of the mansion. Don't ask, I don't know either.

Of course, this means war and the bitch has got to go! I say that like something exciting happens. It doesn't. Really.
(spoilers ahead if you care)
Clown doll teleports around the room and then comes after Claudia with a knife instigating a chase scene in which they run down stairs, through some woods, down more stairs, up some stairs, up more stairs, at which point she falls over a cliff and clown doll and Roy smile and shake hands.
(end of spoilers)

While this all sounds like some wonderful beertainment, it has so much pointless filler that you have a movie that could have been a TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode drawn out to 80 minutes. Not that it has the production values that are anywhere near TALES, hell these guys dream of being on-par with THE NAILGUN MASSACRE (1985), which they are not. We get scenes of climbing stairs, driving, drinking beverages, standing around, kissing, more kissing, going to the lamest fair ever and petting the animals, walking some more, having completely non-sequitur phone conversations that abruptly appear in the movie and serve no purpose for the characters or plot. Seriously, in one scene Tony and Claudia walk outside, close the door, walk to a spot on the terrace, take out cigarettes, light them and Claudia says "It's getting hot, don't you think?" to which Tony says "No, not really." Cut! Print! Or rather press stop on the video camera and on to the next scene in which Tony and Claudia go out for a classy black tie dinner at Aladino's and slow dance for a while. Riveting!

This one truly tested my fawning adoration for Mexican films and it may have tested a lot of other people too, as this was writer-director Alfredo Salazar's final directorial effort. As a director he started with the cult favorite horror-western THE RIDER OF THE SKULLS (1965), but only made ten movies in that capacity. However he served as production manager on NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1969) and wrote over 60 films, most of which are genre films such as the classic horror THE CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE (1968), the infamous superhero flick THE BATWOMAN (1968) and lucha films such as SANTO AND THE BLUE DEMON VS. DRACULA AND THE WOLFMAN (1973). This makes me want to give him some props, but damn this movie is rough going.

Lorena Herrera in 2011

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Halloween Havoc: MUSEUM OF HORROR (1964)

Have you ever sat down and looked at a pile of videos and thought "I'm in the mood for something that smashes House of Hammer, Mario Bava and Edgar Wallace into a HOUSE OF WAX (1953) sandwich"? You have? Well brother, do I have a movie for you!

The sad thing about Mexican cinema is that it rarely travels to this side of the border. Most of the stuff that makes it past the guards are impoverished, mono-linguistic, and willing to do things that Americans don't. Rough and tumble types, usually with cowboy hats, guns and a blue collar work ethic. Tortured metaphors aside, the majority of Mexican cinema in the US are Spanish language shot-on-video action movies. Back in the '80s and early '90s you could find a whole lot more, but again, only in Spanish and you had to go to a (gasp) Mexican video store. Of course, if extreme right takes the White House, I will undoubtedly be arrested for owning a VHS tape of NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1969), one of the few films that was imported back in the '70s, slapped with a crappy dub job and released in a big box on VHS years later. Most of the films given that treatment were like so many horror imports, dubbed, edited and released for kiddie consumption. Remember those days when kids were allowed to watch movies in the theater that didn't have a Disney princess in them?

Because most of the Mexican cinema imported into the states was camp fare such as the ever popular WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964), the true gems of Mexican horror cinema were unjustly overlooked. Several years back we had a burst of Mexican horror being released on DVD with subtitles bringing us classics such as GRAVE ROBBERS (1990) and the stunningly atmospheric CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN (1963), but they were sadly a flash in the pan.

CRYING WOMAN director Rafael Baledon, like many, if not all Mexican directors, made movies in a wide variety of genres, but his horror films are the real stand-outs in his career. A year after CRYING WOMAN, he followed up his success with the excellent HOUSE OF WAX inspired MUSEUM OF HORROR.

Set in the fog-shrouded coble-stone streets of Victorian-era Mexico, a man with a severely disfigured face, dressed in a black cape and broad-brimmed hat kidnaps a woman and takes her to his subterranean laboratory hidden in the local cemetery. Once through a secret passage way, he injects her with a sedative, pulls over a giant pot and completely drenches her in boiling goo. This not only kills her, but ruins her immaculate '60s hairdo. See? I told you it was like Hammer.

As it turns out, this is the third girl to "disappear" off of the streets and of course the police are baffled. The presumed crimes are all taking place in a specific section of town which has a boarding house populated by likely suspects. There is Professor Abramov (the venerable Carlos Lopez Moctezuma), who enjoys taxidermy and does not enjoy women; then we have Dr. Raul (Julio Aleman), who is conducting experiments on fresh cadavers when he is not working at the hospital; and then there is Louis (Joaquin Cordero), an ex-actor who was forced to give up the lime-light and open a museum to showcase his passion of creating historical female figures in wax.

We also have Ms. Marta (Patricia Conde), the pretty daughter of the owner of the house (the also venerable Emma Roldán), who is the object of Dr. Raul's affection. In spite of the fact that Raul insists that they were meant for each other because they knew each other since childhood, Marta starts falling for the tortured soul Louis. Ain't that always the way? Girls have to go after the guy who is going down fast and taking everyone with him. Of course, Raul is so clenched with jealous anger, that you can hardly blame her for keeping her distance. It isn't long before the hot wax maniac (a movie that I would love to see made, by the way) has got his one good eye on Marta.

In addition to all of the above, we get two songs sung by one of the maniacs future victims in what is apparently the only nightclub in town. I have come to that conclusion because everybody who is in the film goes to that nightclub every night. Still, it is a small price to pay for such a atmosphere drenched gothic production.

As it is, it is only on the Latin-American On Screen Cine Involidable label, which has a nice collection of classic Mexican horror films, but have no subtitles and look like old VHS bootleg prints taken from heavily worn film reels. It's more the pity as not only does Baledon lay on the darkness and fog with a shovel, but he takes the time to set up some truly beautiful shots using back-lighting, oblique angles and split focus.

If there is a underdog in the world of horror films, it is unquestionably Mexico. Even Thailand gets more press, and their horror movies pretty much suck. If this were an Italian horror film, it would be cleaned up and released on DVD and blu-ray with audio commentary by some pretentious, egocentric asshole. Until that day arrives, if ever, these releases will have to do, and if you are like me and grew up with monster movies on late night television, there's almost something nostalgic about watching them in cruddy quality. Oh hell, now I'm starting to sound like a hipster.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Haloween Havoc: SHRIEK OF TERROR (1991)

The illustrious Rene Cardona (born Rene Cardona Andre) is arguably the godfather of Mexican genre cinema, in more ways than one. A member of the 1924 Cuban Olympic Fencing Team, Cardona broke off his medical studies in his homeland of Cuba due to the political and economic turmoil and like so many others, Cardona transplanted himself in the US. While continuing his studies in New York in his early 20s, Cardona's dashing good looks got him cast in the first film production of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1928), which was remade in 1953 by Howard Hawks, but sadly did not include Cardona.

After moving from New York to Hollywood, Cardona quickly began writing, directing, producing and acting in films, including the first Spanish language film shot in Hollywood, HAVANA SHADOWS (1929). He was in fact the first person to make a film in multiple language formats; silent, English and Spanish, with the same cast, and was the youngest film executive at the time. Following this minor triumph in Hollywood, Cardona moved to Mexico to become almost an instant success, ushering in the Golden Age of Mexican cinema and fathering the equally prolific Rene Cardona Jr. Cardona Sr's efforts include comedy, drama, science fiction, wrestling, horror, adventure, westerns and pretty much any other genre you can think of. His films inspired his son, Cardona Jr., to continue in his footsteps making some of the best genre films to come out of Mexico during the '70s and '80s. Cardona Jr. in turn fathered Rene Cardona III who also continued in his father and grandfather's footsteps, and has made a slew of entertaining genre films, including this one; SHRIEK OF TERROR (1991).

Posing as an outing for his family, Class A jackass Roberto (Hugo Stiglitz) drives out to an old Aztec temple to meet his brother Carlos and his buddy Eladio (Rojo Grau). After sending his wife Laura (Edna Bolkan) and 5 year old daughter Gabby off to have a picnic in the woods, Roberto and the boys don their fedoras for some good, old fashioned tomb raiding. After walking in and busting up one wall, they find nothing but trinkets and bones. Roberto, furious, stomps off after grabbing a piece of bone. Thinking that the bones might be worth something, Carlos and Eladio grab some too, only to find themselves under a barrage of fire from the local yokels who don't care too much for them grave robbin' city folk. Of course this doesn't stop a few of them from stealing a few, possibly magic, bones for themselves. As soon as they grab the bones, something awakes and roars.

After high-tailing it out of the temple, the leader of the posse reports this news to the local shaman, Colibri (Roberto Ballesteros), who realizes that bad things are about to go down and only he can stop them.

As it turns out the creature from the temple is a pan-dimensional spirit creature called a Chaneque who is (I think) brought to this world by the remains of a possessed monk. The script is a little muddled on what exactly it is as it is a creature well-steeped in Mexican folklore dating back to the Aztec era. Stealing the bones from the monk's skeleton has marked the intruders and the Chaneque wants them back and maybe a few children's trinkets along the way (apparently it likes "pretty things").

Colibri consults another shaman, who informs him that the Chaneque is looking to possess one of the offenders, most likely a child, who will be cursed for all generations and that the monk's skeleton must be reassembled and burned. After this urgent warning of impending doom, the shaman then tells Colibri that he is on his own. Thanks buddy. Yeah, I'll just go track down the deadly, evil, immortal, soul-stealing monster by myself, that's fine.

The Chaneque, slashing his way through the cast to complete his bone collection, tracks Gabby down by following her to school where her teacher is very concerned about the pictures of monsters that she has been drawing. As to put a fine point on the horror that awaits her, while playing at school the Chaneque causes her volleyball to catch on fire and melt. If I had a nickel for every time I got send to the principal's office for that.

Naturally the Chaneque finally catches up with Gabby and possesses her turning the film upside down into a sort of bizarre riff on POLTERGEIST (1982) and POLTERGEIST II (1986), where Gabby's parents can hear her voice in the house and Colibri (who can communicate telepathically with the child) must pull a Zelda Rubenstein and get their daughter back.

I have to say that even that description barely conveys the schizophrenic nature of this movie. Cardona III and co-writer Honorato Magaloni (the token latino actor in dozens of Hollywood films), are bursting with ideas, and while they often seem to be running in different directions, it is at no point predictable. In once scene near the end (spoiler alert), the Chaneque uses the painting of a unicorn to blow a hole in the wall of Gabby's bedroom creating a portal to a jungle dimension in which Roberto is attacked by blazing rubber balls. The moment is almost an acid-trip in 20 seconds.

The film also features some interesting monster POV shots that appear to be cribbed from EVIL DEAD (1981) and a few other stylistic moments that almost clash with the slightly pedestrian shooting technique of the rest of the film. Also interesting is the fact that Roberto is a complete dick to his family, at one point he flies into a rage when he discovers that someone set some Mexican troops in with the French troops in his diorama of the French intervention of 1862. Granted that subject is a bit prickly for Mexicanos as this battle is the exact reason that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated, though I don't think they had dollar Corona beer specials at the time.

In addition to a couple rather surprising Hollywood-taboo busting moments, this outing is loco enough to make you forgive the low budget and the fact that we only really see the Chaneque in extreme close-up or in silhouette.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Halloween Havoc: FOREST OF DEATH (1993)

Ah Mexico. Land of cowboy hats, pistoleros, masked wrestlers and crazed slashers. Wait, what? Slashers? Yes indeed, while Mexican horror cinema has a long and glorious past, the FRIDAY THE 13TH bug never got as deeply infused into their pop-culture as it did in say Canada or Germany. So it's twice as much fun to see someone with a few pesos head out to a remote area to do a latino EL VIERNES 13!

Deep in a secluded forest some illegal tree poachers have found themselves in the sights of a Ranger Emilo (the prolific Jorge Reynoso) nicknamed Jaguar. He takes his forest very seriously, as we see later when he talks to his plants and calls the trees "my babies".

A group of twenty-somethings on a trip to a remote cabin in those very same woods has a breakdown at an abandoned rest stop. While the girls moan that they want quesadillas con papas (good luck with that), the guys run into Jaguar who is handing over what is left of the poachers to the police. All of them are in bad shape, but the leader has had his leg shot off which causes Ceasar (Andrés Bonfiglio of GRAVE ROBBERS fame) to freak out and run to his girlfriend Sylvia (Alejandra Espejo). Si, muy macho.

As it turns out the "cabin" is more of a "ranchito", complete with a grim-faced caretaker named Jacinto (the super-prolific Alfredo Gutiérrez) who speaks in a monotone and imparts cryptic warnings of imminent danger at in opportune times. Sort of a Loco Rafael, if you will. Of course, there is a dark past associated with the place, which quickly comes to light after the group settles in. Sylvia grew up in this house and her mother had drowned in the lake, but her body was never found. Sylvia's abusive father left Sylvia on her own after that and was never seen again, though he has sent her money over the years.

Our Ranger, Jaguar, was Sylvia's first love when she was like 10, we know this because Sylvia finds a tree in which she carved a heart with their initials in it. Oh and because the 35 year old ranger sits in his tiny cabin and stares at a picture of her... when she was like 10. No, no, that's not creepy at all.

After a rough night in which Caesar has nightmares of an axe-weilding maniac breaking into the house, Adolpho (Andrés García Jr. who appeared in a few notable horror flicks before going on to 1992s LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE) decides to put on snorkel gear and goof off in the lake. As we all know, snorkel gear is like a red flag to a deranged slasher. When nobody can find him, they naturally are upset that something may have happened to him in the very same lake that Sylvia's mother drowned in. It's got a maldicion de muerte! Jaguar shows up on the scene after the kids try to light up the fireplace with the flue closed (apparently that bundle of kindling produced enough smoke to be seen across the entire forest). Jaguar calmly smooths over the situation by telling the kids "if he drowned, he drowned."

Now, unable to find Adolpho, the weather turns dark and violent and one by one people start turning up dead, but who is the killer? Cue ominous music.

As much as there are slews of low-rent, generic films floating around in a sea of slasher clones, it is fun to see the tropes trotted out en espanol, even the axe-wielding killer wears a yellow rainslicker. The acting isn't abysmal, but it's definitely not great, but it's shot on film and while it feels a bit like a slasher film that the MPAA got ahold of in the '80s (only one death is on screen), it still hits that soft spot in my head for these kinds of films. Or, to put it another way, it may not be anywhere near the level of THE PROWLER (1981) or MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981), it still kicks the crap out of FINAL EXAM (1981) and GRADUATION DAY (1981).