Wednesday, January 11, 2017

All Night Horror Marathon Volume 2 (4-movie DVD set)

Overview: Scream Factory released this four-flick set in 2013, bringing to DVD for the first time a quartet of obscure horror offerings. Let's dive in and see if these movies are any good or if they should have been left in obscurity...

Cellar Dweller (1988)
Director: John Carl Buechler (Troll, Friday the 13th Part 7)
Starring: (TV's The Munsters), ,

Plot: In the 1950s a horror-comic artist's creations come alive and kill him. Years later a new cartoonist revives the creatures in his house, now part of an artist's colony.

Cellar Dweller gets off to a great start with an opening scene featuring genre legend Jeffrey Combs (REANIMATOR), but sadly he's quickly killed off. Luckily the remaining cast is still pretty good, headlined by Lillian Munster herself, Yvonne De Carlo, as the grumpy matriach of an artist's colony. Debrah Farentino, making her feature debut, is the main protagonist, a comic book artist who unwillingly revives an age-old monster via her art.

Brian Robbins is another artist and Farentino's love interest, a strange casting decision given his nerdy looks (utilised so well as geek Eric on Head of the Class, showing on TV at the same time this movie was made). In any other movie Robbins would be cast as the lovable loser forever in the friend zone, but not here.

Once Farentino's art unleashes the monster, Cellar Dweller moves into familiar monster/slasher territory as the body count mounts and a predictable climax looms (albeit one with a last-minute swerve). The kills are nothing too notable, but what really keeps things interesting is the monster. The creature effects are cheesy but endearing, along the lines of the monsters from Castle Freak, Subspecies and the like.

Contamination.7 (1993)
Directors: Joe D'Amato (Beyond the Darkness), Fabrizio Laurenti (Witchery)
Starring: Mary Sellers, ,

Plot: People from a small town are attacked by evil radioactive tree roots growing in the forest.

Decades before M. Night Shamalan inflicted cinema-goers with his own nature-gets-revenge borefest, The Happening, Italian genre veterans D'Amato and Laurenti achieved the same feat without any big name stars and a fraction of the budget.

Whereas Cellar Dweller is cheesily enjoyable, Contamination.7 will be appreciated only by the most seasoned of bad cinema fans. For the most part it's a stodgily-paced bore, the only respite from its mire coming from a smorgasboard of awful acting and some ridiculous killer-roots special effects.

The plot is threadbare - pollution causes vines to kill a variety of townsfolk, a group of protagonists must survive while also battling crooked cops and politicians. The final showdown between the townsfolk and the roots does manage to veer away from being totally predictable, while completely throwing logic out the window, before a final scene that restores proceedings to yawn-inducing predictability.

As mentioned above, the acting here is horrendously bad - every single performance is more wooden than the evil roots themselves. Leading the way is Vince O'Neil as the corrupt sheriff. He's meant to be the main bad guy but O'Neil's "acting" is so off-kilter he becomes the main source for unintended laughs. Sellers also makes a weak leading lady, no doubt cast as a favour to her husband Laurenti. The rest of the cast are nobodies with the acting chops of your average high school production.

This movie is also known as The Crawlers and, amazingly, Troll 3. Like Troll 2 it has nothing to do with the first movie. It doesn't reach the comedy heights of Troll 2, but Contamination.7 has enough unintentional laughs (check out the comically-delayed reactions to a bad guy shooting himself in the head) to sate the appetite of most schlockophiles. However, if 90 minutes of bad acting and action scenes comprised of people rolling around on the ground with rubber "vines" doesn't sound like a good time to you, you'll probably want to steer clear.

The Dungeonmaster (1984)
Directors: Charles Band (Trancers), John Carl Buechler (Cellar Dweller), David Allen (Puppetmaster II), Steven Ford, Peter Manoogian (Demonic Toys), Ted Nicolaou (Subspecies series), Rosemarie Turko
Starring: Jeffrey Byron, Richard Moll, Leslie Wing

Plot: Paul, a computer whiz who spends more time with his machine than with his girlfriend, finds that he has been chosen as a worthy opponent for Mestema, and evil wizard who has spent centuries searching for a challenging foe. After having his computer changed into wristband weapon, Paul does battle with a variety of monsters before finally coming face to face with the ultimate adversary.

Also known as Ragewar, The Dungeonmaster is essentially an anthology movie overseen by Charles Band with a plethora of Full Moon regulars writing and directing their own portions. Each of these mini-stories takes the form of a challenge that hero Paul (Byron) must complete to defeat the evil Mestema (Richard Moll from TV's NIGHT COURT) and rescue his girlfriend (Wing).

From an opening dream sequence involving full frontal nudity (80s bush alert) and crude monster effects, through to the predictable happy ending, The Dungeonmaster is 73 minutes of cheesy 80s good fun. Hell, there's even a scene involving heavy metal legends WASP! Laser beams, studded wrist gauntlets, Mad Max-esque vehicles, midgets, giant hair, bad puppetry, corny creatures - this movie has it all.

As with most anthology movies, some of the segments are better than others. As a fan of 80s heavy metal I enjoyed seeing Blackie Lawless from WASP playing a bad guy in "Heavy Metal", directed by Band himself; "Stone Canyon Giant" (by David Allen) has a Harryhausen-esque charm to it as Paul battles a stop-motion statue; "Desert Pursuit" (Ted Nicolaou) is a fun little segment that does what so many others were doing in the early 80s, ripping off The Road Warrior; and "Demons of the Dead" (John Carl Buechler) has a wacky puppet monster and zombie warriors. On the other hand Steve Ford's "Slasher" is lame, with more time spent on unfunny comedic relief cops than the Jack the Ripper killer, and "Cave Beast" (Peter Manoogian) and "Ice Gallery" (Rosemarie Turko) are entirely forgettable.

Byron and Wing aren't about to win any acting awards but make a passable leading couple (once Byron loses his ridiculously-large glasses after the opening scenes). But it's Moll who steals the show, looking and sounding like a hybrid of Connor and The Kurgan from THE HIGHLANDER (albeit two years before that movie) while spouting ridiculous dialogue with evil glee.

Catacombs (1988)
Director: David Schmoeller (Tourist Trap, Crawlspace)
Starring: Timothy Van Patten (Class of 1984), Ian Abercrombie, Laura Schaefer

Plot: A demon is trapped in the catacombs beneath a European monastery. Four centuries later a young woman arrives at the monastery to study just as the demon begins to stir.

Although made in 1988, this Empire Pictures effort sat on the shelf for a few years due to its distributor going out of business. When it finally reached the light of day in 1993 (via VHS and Laser Disc) it had been retitled Curse IV in an effort to "cash in" on that series (not sure why, that series was never very successful). But its original title is obviously more fitting, as this movie is set at a monestary built over a series of catacombs where an evil lurks.

Filmed in Italy, this is undoubtedly the most well-photographed of the four movies in this set. Director/writer David Schmoeller throws in a variety of artistic flourishes that make for a visually-pleasing experience, even if the story doesn't hold up as well. The problem is, while the cinematography is good, nothing really happens for most of the movie. I like a good slow build, but Catacombs crawls along at a snail's pace with very little of interest (apart from one eerie scene involving a Jesus statue) until the inevitable showdown between good and evil in the third act. And even then things reach a rather anti-climactic resolution.

On the acting side, Timothy Van Patten stands out, as expected, as a conflicted young Catholic priest. Anyone who has seen CLASS OF 1984 knows what a fantastic job he did in creating a complex and iconic character in that film. Sadly (for us fans of his work) Catacombs was his final feature film role to date - after this he had a regular role on a TV series for one season and then has spent the last three decades behind the camera as one of the most prolific directors in TV land. The rest of the cast does a decent-enough job - Schaefer is pretty if a touch bland as the leading lady, and Abercrombie brings a veteran touch to his role as the head monk.

In the end it is the plot that leads to Catacombs' downfall. Great cinematography, good sets, good acting and decent atmosphere can't save what is ultimately a boring experience. This is, after all, supposed to be a horror movie and you can't do it properly without throwing the viewer a bone every now and then in the form of some decent scares or gore.

Poor Timothy Van Patten, such a great young talent deserved a better movie than this to be his final (to date) feature film.

Conclusion: I didn't hate any of the movies in this set and I'm glad I finally got to see them (well, I had seen The Dungeonmaster already, on VHS a few years back). In terms of my personal enjoyment of the four flicks, they would rank (best to worst): 1 The Dungeonmaster, 2 Cellar Dweller, 3 Catacombs, 4 Contamination.7. As far as recommendations go, I'd suggest watching The Dungeonmaster and maybe Cellar Dweller. Skip Catacombs and only watch Contamination.7 if you're a sucker for punishment (aka a seasoned fan of bad cinema).

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