Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Stanley (1972)

Stanley (1972)
Director: William Grefe
Starring: Chris Robinson, Alex Rocco, Steve Alaimo
Format: DVD

Plot: A young Seminole Indian uses his rattlesnake to take revenge on all those he believes have wronged him.

Florida regional B-movie maker William Grefe is best known for helming some of the worst films of all time, like Death Curse of Tartu and Sting of Death. Given that reputation I went into this - a lesser-known nature revenge flick - with extremely low expectations and came out pleasantly surprised.

Now, don't get me wrong, this isn't a great movie. In fact, the first two-thirds are for the most part pretty boring, as we meet ex-Vietnam Vet and Seminole Indian Tim (Robinson), who has shunned society to live in the Everglades with his pet rattlesnakes (including the titular Stanley). We also meet local crime boss Thomkins (Alex Rocco from THE GODFATHER), his slutty daughter, a variety of Thomkins' henchmen and assorted other locals. When Tim finds out that Thomkins' men killed his father he gets revenge on them, but things don't really pick up pace until another henchman slaughters some of Tim's scaly friends.

Once Tim goes into full-on revenge mode Stanley becomes good fun to watch, full of zany, weird action as only the 70s could provide. Unintentional humor abounds. Among the highlights are Tim explaining about the death of his "family" to a stripclub bouncer, Thomkins diving into a pool full of snakes, the way a henchman named Psycho keeps saying "Yeah Mutha!", and the wacky ending. There's plenty that'll have you shaking your head with a wry, confused smile on your face.

Part Willard (man uses animals to get revenge), part Billy Jack (Native American fights back against evil white men) and part Copperhead (killer snakes), Stanley is worth watching if you're in the mood for an offbeat 70s b-movie.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Black River (2001)

Black River (2001)
Director: Jeff Bleckner
Starring: Jay Mohr, Lisa Edelstein, Ann Cusack
Format: DVD

Plot: A writer visits a town that isn't what it appears to be.

In the 80s and 90s two people stood at the top of the mainstream world of horror fiction - Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I'm a dedicated King fan, having read all of his books and watched all the movie adaptions. On the other hand I've read only a few Koontz novels and seen maybe two or three film versions. I'd never heard of Black River (based on a Koontz short story of the same name) until stumbling across this DVD for $2 at Half Price Books, but the plot summary sounded intriguing and I like Jay Mohr, so I decided to give it a go.

The first thing to know about Black River is that it's a TV movie (originally aired as a mini-series I believe) so it has all the shortcomings of the format - no gore, no T&A, broadly-stereotyped and shallow characters etc. The second thing is that it's not a horror movie. The best way to describe it is as an extra-long episode of The Twilight Zone. If you're at all a fan of that show (original or 80s version) you'll pick the "twist" right away, I know I did.

Jay Mohr (CHERRY FALLS) is a likeable protagonist, a recently-divorced novelist (Koontz and King sure do like basing their stories around what they know) named Bo. Escaping the LA rat race, he finds himself in an idyllic small town. One that he can't escape no matter how hard he tries. Lisa Edelstein (three years before her key role in TV's HOUSE) is his love interest and John and Joan's sister Ann Cusack is a quirky waitress.

As mentioned the plot is entirely predictable. As a half-hour TV episode this may have worked, but as a feature-length presentation it ultimately fails. This is no fault of the cast or the director (handcuffed by the format no doubt), the story is just... blah. There are a couple of moments of unintentional humour (a garden hose inexplicably coming to life by itself) but for the most part things just plod along until the expected finale.

I'd recommend skipping this unless you're a Koontz completist or a huge fan of Jay Mohr. Even then you'd be better off searching out Mohr's better work, like the aforementioned Cherry Falls or his underrated TV sitcom Gary Unmarried.

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).

Friday, May 6, 2016

What I Watched - April 24-30 2016


The Forest (2016) AVI
- While not a bad film, I was ultimately disappointed by this American horror flick set in Japan. It has a great premise - an American girl travels to Japan to search for her missing twin sister, who has disappeared in the "Suicide Forest" on the slopes of Mount Fuji. I've watched a few documentaries about this very-real place and find the concept of a forest full of dead bodies to be as creepy as hell, so had fairly high hopes for this one. It does start promisingly, building up some nice suspense and using the setting to its advantage, but in the third act it devolves into jump scares and then ends with a ridiculous climax, complete with one of those awful last-second jump scare moments. Given the setting and premise, this should have been better.
Krampus (2015) AVI
- I had mixed expectations going into this one. On the one hand I was excited to see a movie made by the director of the awesome Trick R Treat, but on the other I was worried about the subject matter. I guess I'm a bit burned out on evil Santa movies after A Christmas Horror Story and Rare Exports. It turns out I did enjoy this one to a certain degree, but I ended up wishing it was more horror and less comedy.
The premise of a dysfunctional family at Christmas being forced to fight off an evil version of ol' Saint Nick and his minions is a good one, but so much time was spent setting up the family that the early parts felt a lot like a remake of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I love that movie, but that's not what I was hoping for here. Minus some goofy gingerbread men, the creature effects are excellent - the Krampus itself is extremely creepy. 
Overall, Krampus is a decent horror comedy that is elevated by its effects, just don't expect it to be as good as Trick R Treat.
Diamond Ninja Force (1988) Stream
- See full review here.

Invasion of the Girl Snatchers (1973) Stream
- Originally going by the tongue-twister name of The Hidan of Maukbeiangjow, this is a no-budget 70s exploitation flick about a private eye hunting down a pair of criminals and getting tied up with a strange UFO cult. It never takes itself too seriously (the main private investigator is named Sam Trowel, get it?) and throws in some nudity to try to keep things interesting, but the acting is awful across the board and it looks like it was shot at the director's house. Quite boring for the most part, there's just not enough cheese factor to make this one recommendation-worthy.
White Ghost (1988) Stream
- See full review here.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) AVI
- The latest Stars Wars blockbuster has been reviewed to death so I'm not going to say much other than I loved this movie. After the extremely-disappointing prequels, this was a fantastic return to form for the franchise and what a Star Wars movie should be.

Robot Ninja (1989) AVI
- How could you not love a movie with that name? This low-budget actioner is about a comic book artist who adopts the identity of his superhero character (Robot Ninja) to fight crime. Kind of a Z-grade Kickass or, if you're my age, Condorman. Full of all of the traits you'd expect - bad acting, dumb humour, non-existent special effects (gotta love the fact that the main guy puts on a metallic mask to appear like a robot, but has his curly mullet showing out the back). Besides the cheese factor, what makes this watchable is the gore. Director JR Bookwalter (THE DEAD NEXT DOOR) doesn't spare the blood and guts, which are spilled in a lovingly low-budget manner. This is a good time for fans of bad cinema.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

White Ghost (1988)

White Ghost (1988)
Director: BJ Davis
Starring: William Katt, Martin Hewitt, Reb Brown
Format: Stream

Plot: An M.I.A. US soldier nicknamed White Ghost (Katt) lives in hiding in the jungles of communist Vietnam. The US army finds out about him and sends a black ops team to rescue him. However, the team is lead by a man who wants White Ghost dead.

The Greatest American Hero was one of my favourite shows when I was a kid. The show aired from 1981 to 1983, when I was aged 6 through to 9, the perfect age to appreciate the show's wacky appeal. Hell, I just loved getting to see a live action caped superhero in action, even if he couldn't fly properly or use his superheroes to save himself. And that theme song... awesome.

Lead star William Katt unfortunately faded into obscurity after the show's run, apart from showing up in a couple of the House horror/comedies I honestly couldn't tell you what he's been doing since. A look at his IMDB page shows that after Greatest American Hero he acted in a bunch of Perry Mason TV movies. Who knew? Well, luckily for us after that he chose White Ghost, a low-budget action flick that I happened to find in full on Youtube. The listing caught my eye because of one name - Reb Brown - an actor who I've raved about before on this blog for his bad, bad acting which is a sight to behold. Sadly Brown has only a small role in this, but despite that it's a good ol' time anyway.

Besides Brown and Katt, White Ghost also features Martin Hewitt (THE PARATROOPER), making for something of a bad-acting trinity. And it's directed by the guy who made the Brandon Lee vehicle Lazer Mission!

The storyline is part Missing in Action, part Predator (the team aspect, not the alien) and part Rambo. There are plenty of great cheesy moments, from Katt's frizzy mullet (which he unfortunately gets cut early in the piece) to the facepaint he dons that makes him look like the bassist from a Norwegian black metal band. After growing up on Katt as a comedic actor it's hard to take him seriously in a straight-forward action movie like this, and his facial expressions don't help. Let's just say his stoic face is more Alzheimer's patient than ass-kicking soldier.

The climax of White Ghost is typical of these movies, with all the explosions and gunfighting an action fan can wish for. My only complaint is the misuse of Reb Brown - he spends most of the movie in an office and only enters the jungle in the third act. He does get to brandish two machine guns and use his trademark yell, which I appreciate, but it's too little too late. I really wish they had cast Brown in the lead role (ala STRIKE COMMANDO) or at least in the main baddie role which instead went to Wayne Crawford (BARRACUDDA). But that complaint aside, White Ghost is a fun actioner - not quite as cheesy as classics like Strike Commando or Deadly Prey but worthwhile for fans of cheesy shoot-em-ups.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

HO NO: Diamond Ninja Force (1988)

Diamond Ninja Force (1988)
Director: Godfrey Ho
Starring: Richard Harrison, Melvin Pitcher, Andy Chworowsky
Format: Stream

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, but it's also available on Youtube.

Catch Up - What I Watched March 27-April 23


I don't know what it is about March and April, but every year they seem to become one big black hole for movie watching in my household. This year has been no different, with viewing totals a lot lower than what I typically achieve. I honestly don't have an explanation, but with so few movies passing before my eyes, rather than do the usual weekly What I Watched column, it's time for a catch-up...

River's Edge (1986) VHS
- 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.