Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Diamond Ninja Force (1988)
Director: Godfrey Ho
Starring: Richard Harrison, Melvin Pitcher, Andy Chworowsky
Plot: This is a Godfrey Ho movie... you expect plot?
Also known as Ghost Ninja, this is one of the many 80s mash-ups that Godfrey Ho "directed", starring washed-up former sword-and-sandals star Richard Harrison (GIANTS OF ROME). As is usually the case, Ho takes an established movie, adds some newly-shot ninja scenes and voila, ninja mash-up goodness. But unusually he chose a Taiwanese horror movie to chop up, which actually works in this movie's favour.
Whereas the non-ninja portions of many of the Ho movies I've seen thus far tend to be a bit boring, that's not the case here. The Taiwanese horror bits are goofy as hell and a whole lot of fun. A family - including mum Fanny and son Bobo (dig those names man!) - finds their home haunted by a ghost, or ghosts (it's hard to tell) and all manner of campy low-rent Amityville Horror stuff happens to them. Some of it is quite adult in nature, so we get a strew of sex scenes and nudity. That does get a bit tedious, but it's saved by the variety of supernatural "special effects" which are downright hilarious.
Meanwhile, the bad guy who summoned the "ghost ninja" to haunt the family and drive them off their land, accidentally(?) kills the girlfriend of badass ninja dude Harrison, a member of the titular Diamond Ninja Force. Naturally he vows revenge on the bad guys, leading to a series of "fights" interspersed between the haunting storyline - in each, Harrison shows up and kills a bad guy easily and without any blood (despite using swords and throwing stars). More haunting stuff, another fight, more haunting, another fight... rinse and repeat until the final showdown between Harrison and the main baddie.
Naturally this is a bad movie. The name Godfrey Ho essentially demands that. It has the usual awful dubbing and incoherent plotline (although more coherent than most Ho flicks), and everything else that lovers of bad cinema will revel in. And adding to its appeal is the fact the non-ninja portions are just as fun, not something that is common for Ho's masterpieces. Given that, I think this might be my favourite Godfrey Ho flick so far. I found it on a streaming website called Creepster.tv, but it's also available on Youtube.
WHAT I WATCHED - MARCH 27-APRIL 23 2016
- This teen drama that comments on the increasing apathy of the younger generation is as poignant today as it was back in the mid-80s. When a male member of their group of friends kills a female friend, the rest of the group reacts to the news in different ways. Oddball Layne (Crispin Glover) turns uber-loyal and tries to cover up the crime, while Matt and Clarissa (Keanu Reeves and Ione Skye) choose the more ethical route. Matt's younger brother Tim (Joshua Miller) sees his contacting the police as a betrayal, and adding to the volatile mix is crazed drug dealer Feck (Dennis Hopper). This bleak affair benefits from some stellar casting (Glover and Hopper are the stand outs).
Scream season 1 (2015) Netflix
- I'm on the fence about the Scream movies. I did enjoy the first couple (and part four was okay), but I also recognise the damage their success did to horror movies, spawning a long line of soulless teenybopper movies that are better left unmentioned. The TV series brings back a lot of the elements of the first movie, to the point of making me wonder halfway through if the outcome was going to be the same (luckily it wasn't). Yes, it revolves around high school life and features a bunch of stereotypes but the writing is pretty good and it kept me guessing all the way to a fairly-satisfying conclusion. Bonus points for giving regular work to Bex Taylor-Klaus (THE KILLING, ARROW).
Roadkill (2011) DVD
- This Scifi/Syfy original movie will be appreciated by fans of their output and is best avoided by haters of their fare. It has the usual elements - washed up star (THE CRYING GAME's Stephen Rea in a short cameo role), bad CGI and a killer creature (giant bird of prey). Making it rise above the crowd is its setting (Ireland) and the inclusion of some gypsy mumbojumbo magic. If, like me, you can appreciate Syfy's flicks as modern-day versions of 50s B movies like Attack of the Giant Leeches and The Giant Gila Monster, you'll dig this.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) Netflix
- Family movie night, and we sat down to watch this Brendan Fraser vehicle. Remember him? I recently read something online about his fall from grace, and it seems part of the blame sits on his decision to pass on the sequel to this movie (he was replaced by Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson).
Fraser's slide into obscurity aside, this movie succeeds in doing what it sets out to do - bringing a Jules Verne tale to life in a family-friendly way using modern graphics. You get what you'd expect - lots of fights with giant creatures, perilous treks through underground worlds etc. Good fun.
The Hallow (2015) AVI
- I've lost count of the number of horror movies I've seen in the last couple of years that start off with a family leaving the city to move into a house in the country. That's the case with The Hallow (aka The Woods), with the three-person family (mum, dad and baby) leaving London to set up home in the Irish countryside. Dad is some kind of environmentalist, who ignores local warnings and ventures into the dark woods. This riles up the creatures of local legend (faeries, goblins etc), who begin to terrorise the family. It's a simple premise, part survival horror part fairytale, but one that succeeds for the most part. The creatures, which are presented using a mix of CGI and practical effects, are pretty damn creepy and the infusion of Celtic folklore keeps things interesting. Not a must-see, but okay for what it is.
Justice League vs Teen Titans (2016) AVI
- The latest DC animated superhero flick has a great premise, but sadly is not executed as well as it could have been. I love the idea of a movie centred around the Teen Titans (particularly Nightwing, my favourite outside of Batman) having to work together to defeat a Justice League possessed by an alien force. I even don't mind the heavy emphasis on Damien Wayne/Robin, despite the fact I usually find the character annoying. But what brings this one down a peg or two is the fact that it just feels like it drags on for too long. More action and less set-up would have been a better idea. My six-year-old son loved it, but then he's easily impressed when it comes to superheroes.
Hell and Back (2015) Netflix
- I was excited to check this one out, as stop animated movies for adults are few and far between. As the title suggests, two friends venture to hell to rescue their buddy who is accidentally sucked into the void. Together they face an army of demons led by the Devil (Bob Oedenkirk, BETTER CALL SAUL) and a variety of other characters, including a human demon hunter and a half-human, half-demon girl (Mila Kunis, FAMILY GUY). The humour is definitely of the toilet kind and I found myself laughing a few times, but for the most part the comedy hit the mark for me. I still enjoyed watching because of the glorious stop motion animation, but was left wishing this one had been better than it turned out to be.
Sunday, April 3, 2016
WHAT I WATCHED - MARCH 20-26 2016
Deathsport (1978) DVD
- A very loose "sequel" to Roger Corman's cult hit Death Race 2000, this stars David Carradine, although he doesn't reprise his Frankenstein role. Instead he's a cyborg warrior who rides a suped-up motorcycle (a "destructocycle"!) around the wasteland and battles bad guys. This is essentially Robin Hood if you trade the bow and arrow for a two-wheeler, with the always-menacing Richard Lynch playing our Sheriff of Nottingham-type baddie. Maid Marion is ex-Playmate Claudia Jennings, who naturally spends most of the movie in the buff.
Sadly this lacks the intended humour of Death Race 2000, although it's so bad that it elicits a few laughs, mainly around the action and the inane dialogue that Jennings and Carradine swap back and forth. The action consists mainly of motorcycle stunts, feeling very much like that other futuristic turkey, 1982's Megaforce. Definitely another one that bad cinema junkies will enjoy.
Congo (1995) VHS
- I hadn't seen this movie since it was first released on home video, but remembered quite liking it and my girlfriend had never seen it. Based on a novel by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) this tells the story of a group of explorers who venture into a jungle where ancient killer gorillas are on the loose. Pretty straight forward, although there's a "talking" gorilla that adds a bizarre, family-friendly angle to things. As a result this feels like a weird hybrid between a kid's jungle adventure movie and something more adult-oriented like Jurassic Park or King Kong.
What makes this watchable is the cheese factor. On top of the "talking" gorilla stuff, Tim Curry hams it up with an awful Romanian accent, Joe Pantoliano shows up for a humorous cameo, the science involved makes no sense, and the killer gorillas aren't very convincing. Oh, and Bruce Campbell has a very small role, although he plays it fairly straight.
The X-Files season 10 (2015) AVI
- I was a bonafide X-Files fanboy back in the day. The show kind of jumped the shark towards the end, with all of the alien conspiracy plotlines. I enjoyed it most when it was just Mulder and Scully travelling somewhere to investigate and finding some new form of creature or other unexplainable phenomenon. When they announced a new season I was a bit sceptical that it would just be more of the alien bullshit, but I was still pretty excited to see Fox and Dana back in action.
While there is a fair amount of alien conspiracy stuff in season 10, I was happy to see that there's also some "creature of the week" episodes amongst the 6-episode revival. Even the alien stuff wasn't overbearing, so I enjoyed this new season a lot. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson feel so natural back in their career-defining roles and I was happy to see other series regulars like Mitch Pileggi (Skinner) and William B Davis (Smoking Man) show up for cameos.
My favourite episode was the comedic Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster, featuring my fellow countryman Rhys Darby. Darby's comedy is very hit and miss for me, but this was extremely well written and funny throughout.
I'm looking forward to a season 11 if it happens, although it did kind of feel like the introduction of two young pseudo-Mulder/Scully type agents (played by Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Amell) was maybe setting the way for them to eventually take over the show?
Nothing Lasts Forever (1984) AVI
- This is a bizarre lost film, which has never had any kind of home video release. It was directed by Saturday Night Live writer Tom Schiller and because of this has a few SNL alumni (most notably Dan Akroyd and Bill Murray) show up in supporting roles. The lead is Zach Galligan, a couple of years before he would hit the big time with Gremlins (this movie was filmed in 1982 but shelved for two years, and then barely shown anywhere).
In terms of plot this one's a weird one, set in some weird future or alternative totalitarian world where you have to go through customs to enter Manhattan and pass a test if you want to become an artist. There's a bus that flies to the moon for shopping, some bizarre avant garde artists and more. It's definitely one of those movies where you have to throw logic out the window and enjoy the ride. A ride made quite enjoyable by the cinematography. Most of the film is shot in black and white, with the futuristic city resembling something out of 1927's Metropolis. Dream sequences and the finale happen in colour, a change that is quite startling. In fact, the word "dream" is probably the best way to describe this movie - it feels like one big dream.
The Witch (2015) AVI
- The uber-creepy trailer to this horror flick had me drawn in from the start. While the movie itself didn't prove to be quite as good, it's still a nice little tale of witchcraft, religion and family dynamics in the early days of American settlement. A puritan family is banished to the wilderness for an indiscretion, and soon finds that the forest bordering their new, isolated farm is harbouring something evil.
I appreciate that this isn't your typical modern horror movie, so bypasses inane jump scares to take things slowly, building up the suspense and using light and shadow to create an ominous atmosphere. Some people might find this boring, but fans of more subtle horror should enjoy it. Add in a couple of creepy kids and an even creepier goat and you've got a successfully chilling flick. It's not perfect - things fall down during a "possession" scene - but is one of the better horror movies to be released in the last couple of years. Recommended.
WHAT I WATCHED - MARCH 13-19 2016
Leprechaun (1993) DVD- Naturally I watched this movie on March 17, St Patrick's Day, because what is more Irish than a killer leprechaun, right? Embarrassingly I don't think I'd ever seen this movie up until now. Not that I was missing much. Beyond getting to see a young Jennifer Aniston in action, and some minorly amusing scenes, I didn't enjoy this one much at all. How do you screw up a movie about a killer leprechaun? I haven't seen any of the sequels either, are any of them worth seeing?
Storm Warning (2007) DVD
- This on the other hand I enjoyed immensely. It's a good backwoods, killer hillbilly movie ala Wrong Turn, with the major point of difference being that it's Australian. A city couple get lost while out yachting and end up on a secluded island where a family of rednecks (or yobbos as the Aussies would call them) are growing pot and killing anyone who gets too close.
What makes Storm Warning work so well is some great acting (especially by David Lyons as inbred Jimmy) and the way director Jamie Blanks (Valentine, Urban Legend) builds up the tension for a good long time before unleashing the inevitable violence. And when that violence arrives, it is gloriously brutal. The bodycount might not be high, but the way people meet their end will have any gorehound cheering their ass off.
Not as torture porn-y as fellow Aussie flick Wolf Creek, Storm Warning still packs a major punch and is a damn good time.
Saturday, April 2, 2016
WHAT I WATCHED - MARCH 6-12 2016
Finding Vivian Maier (2013) Netflix
- This documentary is a posthumous look at a woman who worked as a nanny for rich families in America, but secretly documented the world around her via hundreds of thousand of photographs that she took. After her death filmmaker John Maloof bought her negatives in an auction and discovered that her work was world class, so set about telling her story. It's amazing that none of her work was ever exhibited for the world while she was alive, because her work truly is inspiring. I do love a good doco and especially one that unveils something that has up until then been hidden from the world, which is definitely the case here.
Cub (2014) AVI
- I remember hearing about this Belgian horror movie in the lead up to its release, but I never got around to seeing it until now. It tells the story of a group of boy scouts who go camping in the woods in an area that is off limits, and discover something horrific lurking there. I was a boy scout in my younger days and director Jonas Govaerts captures that time of life perfectly, especially the banter and mischievousness of young boys. He also captures the bullying that inevitably goes along with any gathering of pre-teen males.
As for the horror elements, they are handled very well, with plenty of suspense and even some gorey moments. The mystery as to what is exactly going on keeps you enthralled until the ending, which will please some people but annoy others. It's definitely outside the box, and that's to be commended.
Dead and Breakfast (2004) DVD- The cover of my DVD copy of this movie has a quote about it possibly being the American equivalent of Shaun of the Dead. Praise like that always makes me wary, so I went into this expecting to dislike it. But while it's not a great movie, it's a perfectly entertaining splatter comedy in the vein of Brain Dead (Dead Alive to you Americans), Evil Dead 2 and, yes, Shaun of the Dead. It's not as good as any of those, but I still enjoyed it. The gore is good fun, and the comedy actually hits the mark for the most part (the real telling factor for any horror-comedy).
This is England '90 (2015) AVI- A couple of years ago my girlfriend and I discovered the English TV series (mini-series?) This is England and loved it. We subsequently watched all the sequels (This is England '86 and This is England '88). Then last year the final part, This is England '90, was released, so we were eager to see that as well.
In a nutshell, This is England tells the story of a group of young skinhead punks as they grow up in poverty in the UK. The best part is the series started in 2006 and finished last year, so the cast really do grow up before your eyes. There's violence, there's comedy, there's a lot of references to pop culture stuff from the 80s (and 1990) which is great for anyone who remembers those times.
This final chapter ties up a few loose ends (Combo gets out of prison, Shaun goes back to high school, Woody and Lol get married) and introduces some new storylines (Kelly gets hooked on heroin). I really do wish this series would continue though, as I have thoroughly enjoyed it. To me Woody is one of the best-written, funniest characters of all time.
Men Behind the Sun (1988) AVI- This movie is one that I've heard about in passing over the years, usually mentioned as one of the most shocking films ever released. In my experience most movies that get that kind of hype fail to live up to it, and usually I'm left feeling a big "meh" about them. I guess that's what comes from having watched so much horror cinema over the years.
With that in mind, I sat down to finally watch this movie, and I can honestly say it shocked me. That's not an easy thing to do, but Men Behind the Sun did it. Parts of it feel very much like any other torture exploitation film (like the Ilsa series or 120 Days of Sodom), but what this movie does differently is set up the victims as sympathetic, so when they meet a gorey end it actually hits home. As anyone who has seen this movie will probably agree, the scene in the operating room is heartbreaking.
This is definitely one of those movies you don't need to watch twice, but I'm glad I finally got around to seeing it. Hard to "recommend" as such, but worth seeing once.
The Man Whose Mind Exploded (2012) Netflix- Another doco, this one about an extravagant British man who suffered a terrible brain injury in an accident and now suffers from short-term memory loss. There's really nothing more to it than that. Interesting enough, a good time waster.
Cry Wolf (2005) DVD- I bought this DVD last year at some point (for very cheap) and have almost watched it a few times. But every time I picked up the case and looked at the back, the "pretty" teens (male and female) have put me off. I usually find that when a horror movie is populated by nothing but picture-perfect model types, it blows. But I had also heard some decent things about this one, so I finally pulled the trigger.
As a horror movie this is nothing special, just any other slasher about a group of high school students being stalked by a masked murderer. But what makes it stand out is that the storyline is very well written, with all sorts of twists and turns associated with the fact that this particular group of teens engages in a game where they try to outwit each other through deception and lies. Rich kids, am I right? But this adds another layer to the slash-and-bash proceedings, making for a fun little movie.
WHAT I WATCHED - FEBRUARY 28-MARCH 5 2016
Roller Blade Warriors: Taken By Force (1989) DVD
- I've seen this one before and bored one night I decided to throw it in again and have a few laughs. In a desolate post apocalyptic world, a group of women belong to a religious order that instructs them to go out into the world wearing skimpy leotards and on rollerskates. As you do. This is actually the first sequel to the movie Roller Blade, and several sequels follow - talk about beating a dead horse.
The acting is over-the-top and campy, the fight scenes are hilariously bad, and the script doesn't make a lick of sense (why would anyone want to rollerskate when what’s left of the roads are going to realistically be covered in all sorts of rocks and rubble? Just who is sweeping these roads?). Notice I said rollerskate, not rollerblade. There are no rollerblades in this movie, only four-wheel rollerskates. I'm willing to let that pass though, because everyone fights with ninja swords (aka blades), so the name could come from that.
If you haven't figured it out already, this is definite so-bad-it's-good material. One for the bad cinema afficionados.
Funeral Home (1980) AVI
- A girl goes to stay with her grandmother, who runs a bed-and-breakfast in a creepy old Funeral Home, which grammy and her missing husband used to run together. In true slasher style people start dying and the girl hears some strange things coming from the basement. Is grandpa not missing after all?
This little rarity (no DVD release) from director William Fruet (House by the Lake, Spasms, Killer Party) is a solid slasher that is boosted by some solid acting from Lesleh Donaldson (Happy Birthday to Me) as the granddaughter and Kay Hawtrey as the grandmother. The wacky ending also saves it after some plodding middle parts. Overall it's definitely worth watching for slasher fans.
Boardinghouse (1982) AVI
- What drew me to this one was the cover art, which is so awesome/cheesy. The movie itself? Not so much. I'm sure if I'd seen this movie in the mid-80s my teenage self would have enjoyed it - it's full of T&A. So much so that it feels like a softcore porno with some supernatural/killings thrown into the mix. And the acting is terrible... it's obvious these girls were picked for talents other than their thespian chops. Apparently the budget was a whopping $10,000, and I guess most of that went on catering.
This one's definitely a chore to get through if you're not a teenager with over-active hormones.
Perfect Victims (1982) AVI
- Another rare title, this one has never made it to DVD. It's about a guy who contracts AIDS and blames women for it, so he goes on a rampage of killing random females. The AIDS angle makes it stand out a bit from the sea of slashers that the 80s brought, but other than that it's fairly by-the-numbers. There are a few rape scenes, so if that's a deal-breaker for you, I suggest you give this one a miss. Interestingly the director went on work on mostly Power Rangers-type TV shows, which is a real change of pace from his work here.