December to Dismember: SAINT (2010)

Yultide terror from Dick Mass!

December to Dismember: SILENT NIGHT (2012)

A remake that gives a bad name to Santa slahers.

December to Dismember: ELVES (1989)

Dan Haggarty takes down the Christmas threat of Nazi elves!

December to Dismember: PUREZENTO (2005)

The Japanese take a stab at the Xmas slasher genre.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Newsploitation: The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of Box Office

Today’s box office birthday is an odd one because this film didn’t become a box office hit and only became a cult classic to a small subset of people. But if we ignored those films, we’d only be writing about stuff like TITANIC (1997) and where would the fun be in that?  So today’s date, January 25, 2015, marks the 30th anniversary of the U.S. release of THE PERILS OF GWENDOLINE IN THE LAND OF THE YIK-YAK (1984).  Now say that title three times fast.

The fact that a film based on a famous BDSM comic even became a movie is kind of amazing, but then you realize the French were involved.  The concept was born from the mind of one John Willie (real name: John Coutts), a British artist and photographer known for his fetish work in the 1940s/50s.  Yes, your parents were freaks too!  Of course, S&M stuff was kept on the downlow and while Willie was living in Canada he started up a magazine called Bizarre.  It was a self-published work that allowed Willie to exorcise some sexual demons as the issues were filled with drawings and photos of bondage.  In issue no. 3 he debuted the character of Sweet Gwendoline, a damsel in distress in the tradition of Hollywood serials.  The only difference is when Gwendoline found herself tied up there was lots and lots of rope involved.  Willie only published 23 issues of the magazine before he passed away in 1962. Sweet Gwendoline, however, would live on.


In 1974, a collection of Willie’s work was republished as The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline.  It became a worldwide success, selling in the U.S., Germany, Italy, and – you guessed it – France.  It had that certain joie de vivre that they enjoyed, so it should be no surprised in June 1980 that Films de L’Alma (Alma Films) announced in Variety they had bought the rights to the series and planned a feature film (“a team of six screenwriters is currently working on adaptation” said the piece).  In January 1982 it was announced that director Gerard Zingg would be writing and directing the adaptation.  He has previously helmed AT NIGHT ALL CATS ARE CRAZY (1977) starring Gerard Depardieu and written NEXT YEAR IF ALL GOES WELL (1981) starring Isabelle Adjani.  Not sure a guy known for comedy-dramas was the best fit for this project and someone behind-the-scenes must have agreed as six months later a new writer-director was attached.  In June 1982, it was announced Just Jaeckin – France’s premiere softcore erotic director – was taking over as writer-director.

Jaeckin has burst onto the scene when his debut film, EMANUELLE (1974), became a worldwide box office smash.  Not only did it launch his career, but it brought Sylvia Kristel to sexual icon status.  Jaeckin followed up his first film with a succession of sexually tinged flicks like THE STORY OF O (1975), MADAME CLAUDE (1977), and THE LAST ROMANTIC LOVER (1978).  His film right before signing on to GWENDOLINE (as the French version was titled) was LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER (1981), an adaptation produced by Cannon that reunited him with Kristel.  Alma (now co-producing with ParaFrance Films) ran ads for the film which featured nothing but some S&M drawings by Willie and Jaeckin’s name.

Original Varitey ad (click to enlarge):


Interest was minimal.  Haha, just kidding, interest went through the roof and in July 1983 the company bragged in Variety that they had raised the film's entire budget of 35,000,000 franc ($4,500,000) in presales. Looking to play to an international market, the filmmaker opted to cast two Americans in the lead roles.  For the male lead, they recruited former male model Brent Huff.  For the titular role of Gwendoline, they cast another relative unknown in Tawny Kitaen.  Filming took place the summer of 1983 and the film debuted in France in February 1984.  It would hit most of the rest of the world throughout the year.

In the United States, the film was picked up for distribution by the Samuel Goldwyn Company.  Started by the son of Samuel Goldwyn in the late 70s, the company had an unusual track record, bouncing from distributing art house and foreign films to horror and cult oddities.  This was going to be their first big theatrical nationwide release.  Well, the first release to crack 500 screenings.  The company ended up cutting the film down from 105 minutes to 87 minutes and, hoping to piggyback on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1982), designed a poster emphasizing the action.  They also gave GWENDOLINE the incredibly awkward title of THE PERILS OF GWENDOLINE IN THE LAND OF THE YIK-YAK (1984).  Despite being ushered out on a healthy number of screens, PERILS  fared poorly, coming in 9th place with a weekend total of $1,337,274, well behind the other new releases THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN (1985) and TOMBOY (1985).  To show how little respect the film gets, Box Office Mojo only reports that weekend haul, as if the film disappeared on the Monday after its release.  However, a search through Variety shows it reported a tally of $2,189,663 in February 1985.  That same month Vestron announced they had picked up the film and were quickly sending it to video in April.  That is really where PERILS found its audience with young males looking for adventure and getting a movie packed with a whole different kind of adventure.  You can read the thoughts of one of those transformed boys in Tom’s review.

Amusingly, things came full circle in the early ‘90s as EMANUELLE sequels producer Alain Siritzky tried to get a TV series launched from Willie’s work.  Much to the dismay of young lads everywhere, it didn’t get off the ground.

Pre-sales ad for proposed series:



Monday, January 19, 2015

Newsploitation: Small Seismic Shifts at the Box Office

Another day, another anniversary.  Today’s box office birthday is special one in that it is one of my favorite horror/sci-fi movies of the 1990s, a great example of how to pay homage without being condescending.  It is also an illustration of the power of audiences in the post-theatrical world (meaning video and cable) back in the 1990s. Yes, there is a whole lotta shakin’ going on today as the giant worm masterpiece TREMORS turns 25-years-old.  When TREMORS came out in January 1990, it was a modest success at the box office.  Its gross was nothing that would blow studio execs away, but enough to keep the Universal brass on Spago’s reservation list for another few minutes.  It is in the film’s video afterlife that it really caught on with audiences and, thanks to the efforts of its core creative crew, has become a veritable one-movie industry.

TREMORS was scripted by the writing team of Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson in the mid-80s and came from a ominous thought Wilson once had while working out in the desert and wondering what would happen if something was lurking under the sand.  I first started noticing this screenwriting duo’s names back in the mid-80s on fun sci-fi comedies like SHORT CIRCUIT (1986) and BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED (1987).  So when I read in Fangoria they were going to be working on a sci-fi/horror film, it was promising news.  The script made its way around town and eventually fell into producer Gale Anne Hurd’s hands and she raised the money to have it made under her No Frills Film Production banner.  Lined up for the director’s chair was Ron Underwood, who had previous to this done after school specials.  Friends with Underwood since meeting at USC in the 1970s, Maddock and Wilson has co-written several shorts/educational films for the director, who would be making his theatrical feature film directing debut.  Telling the tale of a small desert town fighting off killer sandworms, the film began principal photography in April 1989 in California.  In Variety on August 3, 1989 it was announced that Universal Studios had picked up the worldwide distribution rights with an early 1990 release date planned.

TREMORS came out on January 19, 1990 in the U.S. and was the only wide new release that weekend.  It got fairly good reviews (even critical saint/blowhard Roger Ebert sanctimoniously lowered himself enough to say he “liked it enough to recommend it, just barely.”). The film opened in 5th place with a haul of $3,731,520.  Now here is where things get interesting.  The following weekend, the film only dropped 18% in its take.  Now if you know anything about horror and sci-fi films that is pretty amazing.  Usually genre films typically tend to drop 50% or more their second weekend.  So TREMORS managed to keep folks coming back.  For me personally, I saw it in a military theater in Germany twice on back-to-back days a few months later.  Yes, I enjoyed the damn movie so much that I went back to see it the night of its second screening.  In total, the film ended up grossing $16,667,084 at the U.S. box office.  According to the IMDb, worldwide it made $48.5 million.  Not bad for a “tiny” film with a budget of around $11 million, but still behind Universal’s other horror films that year – William Friedkin’s THE GUARDIAN, Sam Raimi’s DARKMAN, and CHILD’S PLAY 2.

Following the film’s theatrical release is where the film really took off though.  It became a great success of video and cable, with the offbeat characters and comedy capturing audiences. Underwood went on to have even greater success the next year with CITY SLICKERS (1991), which ended up being the highest grossing comedy of that year.  The Maddock/Wilson/Underwood trio sooner partnered with producer (and their former agent) Nancy Roberts to form Stampede Entertainment and in March 1992 received a first look deal with Universal studios.  The first project born from this was the fantasy comedy HEART AND SOULS (1993), which fared so-so when released in theaters in August 1993.  However, just like TREMORS, the film had an afterlife on video.

The idea of returning to Perfection always stuck with the group and in the mid-90s they convinced Universal to fund a sequel at a fraction of the cost of the first film. The team reunited on TREMORS II: AFTERSHOCKS (1996) with Maddock and Wilson again co-writing and Wilson in the director’s chair. The follow up went straight-to-video and was successful enough to bring the team back together for a third film.  TREMORS 3: BACK TO PERFECTION (2001) arrived a few years later with the same writing team and this time Maddock making his directorial debut.  The little killer worm film that could was now a franchise and in July 2002 the Sci-Fi Channel announced they were picking up TREMORS: THE SERIES (2003).  The series ran for 13 episodes and also led to TREMORS 4: THE LEGEND BEGINS (2004), which saw Wilson back in the director’s chair.  Whew!  Like a voracious sandworm, Universal couldn’t get enough. Not a bad legacy for a film that only did okay at the box office twenty five years ago and a pretty happy ending for those involved.  Of course, we also have to have the Hollywood ending as last year Universal started production on TREMORS 5 in South Africa.  Amazingly, they let Maddock and Wilson walk on the project when they wouldn’t allow the series creators creative control.  Ah, Hollywood, never change.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

No Dinero Pistolero: BLACK NOON (1971)

In the mid-to-late 60's the Italians re-invented the American western, eliminating the chest-thumping bravado and faux patriotism and turning the genre into a place where dirty, violent men schemed and killed for gold and retribution.

You could argue that THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962) marked a turning point in the traditional western, but, as everyone knows A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) is the true milestone. While other films, many of which were great in their own right, followed in a similar mold, in the early '70s the mass popularization of psychedelia seeped into the mainstream and the western became even further removed from the wholesome days of Tom Mix and Gene Autry. While DJANGO KILL! (1967) pushed the envelope of a nightmare world in a western setting, EL TOPO (1970), after being championed by John Lennon, set a precedent in mainstream culture, allowing westerns to break away from lingering stereotypes and use the western setting for a multitude of ideas. This extended to the small screen where TV movies had to rely on writing rather than a budget. The CBS Movie of the Week, BLACK NOON, is a perfect example of this.

The movie opens at night with a church engulfed in flames and a woman (Yvette Mimieux) watching in a nightgown, holding a cat.

Reverend Keyes (Roy Thinnes) and his wife Lorna (Lynn Loring) have found themselves stranded in the desert of the old west with a broken wheel and a dead horse. Both are on the edge of death, when a some kindly folks, Mayor Caleb Hobbs (Ray Milland), his daughter Deliverance (Yvette Mimieux) and their hired hand Joseph (Hank Worden), stop their buckboard to help them out.

After getting the reverend up on his feet, Lorna is still bed ridden. Hobbs tells Keyes that their last minister died tragically shortly after the town church burned to the ground and asks if he would stay on to preach for the people. While Keyes is supposed to be travelling to another community to help out, he is persuaded to stay long enough to give a sermon in the new church that the town is building for him. Caleb talks about the town's misfortunes, including a gold mine that has played out and a black-clad gunslinger named Moon (Henry Silva) who rides into town for his share of the gold from the local mine. The town has no sheriff, so the gunslinger runs roughshod over the populace virtually holding the town hostage.

Meanwhile Keyes is suffering from horrible nightmares about being chased by a man covered in burns and falling into the arms of Deliverance, who is mute and is secretly sculpting a candle that looks exactly like Lorna. Lorna too is plagued by nightmares, but seems unable to recover enough to get out of bed. On the one night that she does, she is horrified to see a group of children wearing animal masks, holding candles in the cemetery and while chanting something unintelligible.

As the strange forebodings begin to pile up, the reverend starts to realize that the town isn't what he thought it was and they need to get the hell out of Dodge.

While Thinnes may not be a riveting leading man, and Milland may not have much to work with, it is a great cast that also includes Gloria Grahame and Leif Garrett. I should point out that I have left out quite a bit of the plot, because if you do see it, you should do it cold. I don't want to over-sell the movie, but veteran TV director Bernard L. Kowalski (fresh off of the brilliant 1970 anti-western MACHO CALLAHAN) manages to make the "Twilight Zone-ish" screenplay work with what is clearly a budget comprised of spare change scraped out of couches in the CBS offices.

Today's jaded audiences might find this a bit too slow, as evidenced by the spoilerific IMDb reviews, but the goal here is to set up a brooding atmosphere of impending horror on a minimal budget.

Much like INN OF THE DAMNED (1975), the western setting is almost incidental and it only becomes apparent as to the reason for the setting at the end of the film. The dream/nightmare sequences are particularly well done, as is the rampant symbolism, such as a snake that slithers under the reverend's broken wagon in the beginning of the film. These are great little touches that are sadly lost in modern mainstream cinema. Still unreleased on VHS or DVD, it's a shame that the only way to see this is through bootleg copies of old TV broadcasts.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Eat My Shorts: OVERLAPPING SCENARIOS (2014)

We’re going to mix things up with our first official short film review on the blog.  This one comes from the mind of our pal Don Guarisco.  In addition to running the awesome Schlockmania site, Don is also a screenwriter.  Last year he offered me a sneak peek of a short he had written called OVERLAPPING SCENARIOS (2014) while it was making a festival run. Now watching a friend’s work is always hard as feelings can be hurt.  Thankfully, Don saved me any awkward conversations by supplying an engaging short that confirms that genre cinema works best when one has a really great idea.  When he offered me a chance to review it, I jumped at the opportunity.

The film gets right down to business in the first minute as art school student Sam (Eric Dooley) receives a frantic call from his ex-girlfriend, Laurie (Valerie Jones).  She suspects some foul play has happened with her new boyfriend, Wes (John Stevenson), and recruits Sam to drive up to the family cabin of her new beau.  It appears author Wes prefers extreme isolation when it comes to putting his words on the page and he has gone missing after calling Laurie in apparent emotional distress.  The couple arrives at the isolated location with the writer nowhere to be found.  What they do find is a DVD on a table with “play me” scrawled onto it.  Naturally, they put it in and before you can say “Shall we play a game?” they find themselves inside a warped world where things are exactly as they appear.  To reveal anything else would be a disservice to the film.

Alluding to the SAW franchise above might be a bit of a disservice as this 25-minute short has more thought put into it than the last twenty SAW sequels and plays out like a solid TWILIGHT ZONE episode. Guarisco’s script cleverly plays with some of the clichés we see in genre cinema and tricks the viewer on several occasions.  Early on a viewer might question why characters are acting a certain way, only to have it all explained by the film’s end.  Without giving too much away, I have to say I love the central idea that the plot hinges on.  After my initial viewing I mentioned to Don how the idea that [TOTALLY REDACTED FOR MEGA-SPOILERS] was a very Cronenberg-ian concept and he confirmed that the influence was definitely there.  That last part is another one of the main reasons I dug the film – the script is filled with a number of nods toward all different types of cinema. Tips of the hat include the films of Ingmar Bergman, THE OUTER LIMITS, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971), DARK CITY (1998), and the Italian giallo subgenre.  Now I hope I’m not just inferring these references, but I’m the kind of guy who sees characters named Laurie and Sam and automatically think it is a tribute to HALLOWEEN (1978).  (If it isn’t, you should totally say it is.)  However, given Don’s apparent love for all kinds of cinema, I must be right. While steeped in allusions to cinema, don’t think that the story is derivative in any way though. At its visceral core, the main point is definitely original and something I think could be guided into a feature length script.  The script also has some genuine humor in it.  Some of it is overt (“He’s no Stephen King, is he?” Sam quips when he reads a piece of writing by Wes) and some of it is very subtle and clever (like the reason they switch to black & white, which I’m dying to tell you but can’t).

Complementing Don’s screenplay is the work by director Eduardo Miyar.  He caught my attention right from the opening shot, which is just a shot of a mobile hanging in Sam’s apartment.  On the drive to the cabin there are some nice ominous shots.  The one that really got me was one shot in particular where Laurie runs into a room.  Miyar does something so subtle there that the first time I watched the short I went back to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. Helping to further establish the mood is some truly spooky music by Kathryn O’Donnell Miyar.  I assume they know each other.  Helmer Miyar also cast three good actors for the lead roles.  Acting has long been the bane of low budget films and, thankfully, it appears they eschewed the age old “let’s just use our buddy” casting; so kudos to the team for leaping over the highest hurdle in low budget filmmaking.  All three leads are good in their roles with Jones and Dooley instantly projecting an onscreen rapport that suggests a troubled past relationship.  Of course, I can’t get into hero and villain specifics without spoilers (there I go being a downer again), but I will say the villain of the piece has a nice, chilling delivery.

The lack of spoilers, however, can be rectified.  Don and the folks at Hodge Podge Productions have uploaded the short on Vimeo for your viewing pleasure and offer it below.  If my words interested you, please check it out but make sure you have an open mind.  If you don’t trust me, just know that the short “Audience Favorite” award at the 2014 Tally Shorts Film Festival and co-won the “Runner Up/Best Picture-Audience Vote” at the "Come To Daddy" Short Film Soiree in Toronto.  Canadians, as we all know, can be trusted.

Newsploitation: Leatherface turns 25!

Okay, these box office birthdays are going to start to get weird for me now that we are celebrating 25th anniversaries of movies released in 1990.  I started getting interested in box office figures in the mid-80s and would love to see figures in the Variety issues my theater teacher had.  But 1990 is different because that is when I can first remember seeing box office figures printed in the newspaper.  Personally, I’ve always felt the reason for this was the success of BATMAN (1989) the previous year.  Anyway, being able to see what landed in the top ten would soon be a lesson for me that not all films are created equal.  Today’s study in that: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III.

It goes without saying that Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) is one of the greatest horror films of all-time.  In fact, it is one of my favorites and was responsible for a formative memory as my mom forced us to shut off the VHS when we watched it.  (Yes, she rented a film with that title, but then somehow got offended by the content.)  My sister and I snuck it out later to watch it.  Hooper’s sequel THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 (1986) also provided another memory as a theater manager refused to sell my mom tickets for us to see it.  (Yes, apparently mom forgot all about the VHS incident.)  I eventually saw that one on video and loved the ever loving hell out of it, with its wit and general insanity only improving over time.  So when New Line announced they were doing a third entry in the TCM series, I was revved up.  Ah, boo yourself.

“New Line releases the ELM STREET series, so they must really care about their films,” thought my 14-year-old brain.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  New Line Cinema had acquired the rights to the CHAINSAW series in 1988.  The company had a history with the franchise as they purchased the rights from Bryanston and re-released the original in the early 1980s.  Before officially announcing the film, they briefly flirted with the idea of using a Hooper and Kim Henkel idea for the sequel. However, that was not to be and New Line announced the new project as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3: LEATHERFACE at the American Film Market in February 1989 (see the AFM ad to the right; also note HEART CONDITION [1990] originally having a man and woman in it and a very early ad for IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, which would arrive six years later).  Limited details had splatterpunk author David Schow listed as the writer and a spring start for a fall release date.  Execs described it as “a total rebirth” of the characters.  I believe today we call that a reboot.

Also at the same convention was a young filmmaker pimping another sequel, THE STEPFATHER II (1989).  The director was Jeff Burr and by June 1989 he would be signing on to find himself in the director’s chair for the Sawyer clan’s third go-round. This was great news for me as I had seen (and loved) Burr’s anthology THE OFFSPRING (1987).  I figured if he could make a great movie with minimal funds that given millions he would make a fantastic movie.  Ah, so naïve of studio/film world politics in my youth.  (Sadly, Burr also saw his STEPFATHER sequel get into the hands of the Weinsteins, who proceeded to mangle it.)  Thankfully, after Burr was signed, New Line gave him plenty of time to develop the LEATHERFACE project.  Haha, just kidding, he was literally given a few weeks.  As evidenced by their super-rushed production of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5, New Line had adopted a “release date first, filming very fast later” policy and had already penciled in the third CHAINSAW film for a fall release date.  Filming took place in July 1989 and by most accounts it was a stressful shoot.  I’d highly recommend Schow’s articles on the film (and un-making of his script) in Fangoria issues 88 & 89.

Things were going smoothly (well, as smoothly as possible for a four month filming-to-release) until New Line hit a snag in the form of an acronym feared by horror filmmakers worldwide at the time – M.P.A.A.! In early October a headline that made the front page of Variety screamed: “X Prompts Cuts in CHAINSAW III.”  Yes, the dreaded censorship board had struck again.  On October 18 an article stated that New Line requested an appeal, but that went about as good as a grand jury investigating a cop who killed someone.  October 25 brought the news that the draconian ratings board was like Tom Petty and they won’t back down (Variety: “the X-rating given to New Line Cinema’s LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III was sustained again Oct. 19 at a hearing before the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s Classification & Ratings Appeals Board.”)  This played havoc with a scheduled November 3, 1989 release date. Naturally, this date was missed and on November 8 it was reported that after several attempts to recut the film, New Line was finally given an R-rating.  The ultimate irony here is that New Line later released the film unrated on VHS and DVD and the gore wasn’t bad at all. I’d argue kids see worse today on basic cable with THE WALKING DEAD.  Ah, the ‘80s.

The film was finally scheduled for a nationwide release on January 12, 1990.  Now here is where we get back to my original point about box office numbers.  When I finally got a chance to see the top ten for that weekend, TCM3 was nowhere to be seen.  “Did they cancel/delay the release?” thought my little brain.  Nope.  The film bombed hard, opening in 11th place with a gross of $2,692,087 on 1,107 screens.  Unbeknownst to New Line while they were shooting this in July 1989, the horror franchise market was going to bottom out the next month with the latest ELM STREET and FRIDAY THE 13th entries dying a quick death at the box office.  By the time CHAINSAW roared into theaters, the deck was stacked against it and January was already a bad month for movies.  The highly touted return of Leatherface saw the madman’s titular weapon running out of gas quickly as the film left theaters with a small sum of $5,765,562.  (New Line looked like it was going to have a rough year until it was saved by some TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES [1990] in March.)

While the film didn’t perform up to expectations, some good did come from it.  It gave genre icon Ken Foree another theatrical feature and it helped launch the career of Viggo Mortensen. Perhaps the best thing from it though was an amazing teaser trailer attached to ELM STREET 5.  One has to think this came about as a response to Paramount’s JASON TAKES MANHATTAN trailer (hell, both of them unfold in nearly the exact same manner), this clever trailer shocked me when I first saw it due to the surprise factor alone.  Remember, kids, this was the ‘80s before every frame of a trailer was spread worldwide on the computer.  Dammit, where did I put my Geritol?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Newsploitation: AVENGING ANGEL (1985) now a 30-year-old MILF

This post was totally going to be about the 30th anniversary of ANGEL (1984) and how that sleazy indie from New World managed to snag $17 million at the U.S. box office when it came out on January 13, 1984.  However, sharp-eyed Mark Tinta pointed out last month that it would be the 31st anniversary since we’d be living in 2015 in the New Year.  Dammit!  Thankfully my grist was saved when I found out that the sequel, AVENGING ANGEL (1985), came out almost exactly a year later on January 11, 1985. Exploitation filmmakers save the day!

ANGEL (1984) was the brainchild of writer-director Robert Vincent O’Neill.  Working in film since the 1960s, O’Neill participated in classics as varied as EASY RIDER (1969), where he was a prop man, to COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970), where he was the production supervisor. As a writer-director, he made his debut with the deliciously titled LIKE MOTHER LIKE DAUGHTER (1969) and followed that with THE PSYCHO LOVER (1970) and BLOOD MANIA (1970).  Now the sheer fact that he maintained a career after BLOOD MANIA is amazing.  In the 1980s, he co-wrote two flicks starring Wings Hauser – VICE SQUAD (1982) and DEADLY FORCE (1983).  Now this is just a stab in the dark, but I’d venture to say the box office success of the first one paved the way for his idea to co-write the ANGEL script with Joseph Michael Cala as both films deal with the sordid nightlife of the L.A. streets. ANGEL was officially announced by New World in May 1983 and went before the cameras the following month.  The film was released on January 13, 1984.  Now I’d love for this to be a case where it shot to the top of the box office, but it debuted in 8th place with just over $2.2 million.  The remarkable fact is that ANGEL did this on just 330 screens.  For comparison, the other new release, HOT DOG…THE MOVIE (1984), debuted in second place with $4.5 million on 1,273 screens.  Despite being on so few screens, ANGEL had the highest per screen average of any film in the top 15.  I’m going to lay all of the success at the amazing poster that declared: “High School Honor Student by Day.  Hollywood Hooker by Night.”  ANGEL kicked around the box office for a few months; it only got as high as the sixth spot, but raked in a cool $17,488,564. The film ended up being New World’s highest grosser that year, even outgrossing their “big” release CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984).

With such immediate success, you know a sequel would be coming soon.  New World was prepared and announced the sequel, titled AVENGING ANGEL, at the 1985 Cannes film market.  It went into production under writer-director O’Neill again with a few changes.  Donna Wilkes, who played the original Molly “Angel” Stewart, was replaced by Betsy Russell in this follow up.  And the character of Lieutenant Andrews, Angel’s cop guardian originally played by Cliff Gorman, was now played by Robert F. Lyons.  That second bit didn’t matter too much as it was the death of Lt. Andrews that sets the plot into motion.

Hoping to repeat the success of their first film, the company penciled in a release date of January 11, 1985, two days shy of the first film’s original release date with a wider release (Variety, January 10, 1985: “Avenging Angel, sequel to last year's Angel, break through pic which successfully launched the new regime at New World, will be launched with 550 prints as it goes out to 14 markets”).  This time, however, they missed their mark.  The film opened in 10th place with a small $1.7 million dollar haul.  To its credit, it was the highest debut for any new release that weekend (the other being New World’s own TUFF TURF [1985]) and it had the second highest per screen average.  But audiences didn’t return, perhaps due to the less sleazy nature or the general confusion with the title.  The American audiences fell out of love with Angel as quickly as they had fallen in love with her.  They wouldn’t bestow another prostitute with box office dollars until she was sanitized in PRETTY WOMAN (1990).

Oddly, AVENGING ANGEL would turn out to be O’Neill’s last film.  He was attached to an action picture called VENGEANCE from writer-producer John Brascia.  It was set to lens in the fall of 1992 in Texas with a cast that included Gary Busey, Telly Savalas and Jordan Michael.  Despite repeatedly being mentioned in Variety (with an ever-shifting filming date), it appears to have disappeared into the “never got made” files.  New World, on the other hand, kept trying out the vigilante streetwalker concept and filmed ANGEL III: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1988) in October 1987.  With O’Neill gone from the series, the director’s chair was filled by veteran exploitation director Tom DeSimone.  Naturally, Angel was recast and played by Mitzi Capture this time around.  The film received an R-rating and by all evidence went direct-to-video later that year.  Amazingly (or amusingly), a fourth entry titled ANGEL 4: UNDERCOVER (1994) followed and featured Darlene Vogel as Angel.  It also co-starred Roddy McDowall, probably much to his dismay.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

William's Wacky Winding Down of 2014

Wow, another year gone by and the only thing I have to show for it is my millions…of hours wasted watching bad movies.  My total was 274, down from last year's total of 289. 219 were films I had never seen before and 55 were revisits.  Here’s a quick breakdown of some things I watched.

First film seen in 2014: NINJA: SHADOW OF A TEAR (2013)
Last film seen in 2014: PUPPET MASTER 5 (1994)
Films seen in theaters: 5 (matching last year's all time low for me)
Best film seen theatrically: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)
Worst film seen theatrically: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)
Biggest surprise: SCREAM BLOODY MURDER (1973), ESCAPE PLAN (2013), and THE MACHINE (2013)
Biggest letdown: LEGENDARY (2013) and RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH (2013)
Oldest film seen: SAFE IN HELL (1931)

Video Junkie Moment of the Year:

I’m actually going to cheat because I have three.

1. I was extremely proud of my write ups on the histories of TORMENT (1986) and PULSE (1988).  The former was brought to my attention years ago by Bill Picard and, naturally, I waited years to watch it.  When I finally saw it, I was impressed by the filmmakers (it was a co-directing team) and curious what happened to them.  I was able to track down Sam Aslanian and he was more than accommodating when it came to talking about his film and related some amazing stories.  The latter was recommended to me by Edwin Samuelson and the movie blew me away.  What was even more surprising was writer-director Paul Golding never made another film and there was zero information on the making of the film online.  This had to change and I was able to contact Golding.  Thankfully, he was open to talking about the film and was awesome to talk to. In depth write ups on lesser known pictures like these are one of the reasons we keep doing this kind of stuff.

2. Damn, another case of a friend leading us astray…uh, I mean, taking us to a prosperous land.  In early 2014 our buddy John Charles pointed out that no one had reviewed the Bud Spencer detective series EXTRA LARGE online in its entirety.  A dimly lit bulb went off over my head and I mentioned to Tom we should think about doing this.  Now before I go any further, I should mention Tom is a Spencer-o-phile and has been since I’ve first known him. So it seemed only natural to tackle the two seasons of this series.  After racking our brains trying to figure out the actual order, we settled down and did it.  It was a bumpy ride (both Tom and I still flinch when we hear the word “Indians”), but damn well worth it in the end.  Now if I could just get this damn theme song out of my head.


 3. The biggest one – the blog redesign!  Truth be told, this was all my work and Tom just sat around doing nothing.  Oh wait…it was the other way around.  Yes, Tom took the initiative to redesign the site in July and it came out looking fantastic.  After all, we want the people looking at our porn reviews…er, our dear readers to have a slick looking page for their eyeballs.

Video Junkie’s “What were we thinking?” Moment of the Year:

Again, I’m cheating and adding two.

1. This is an odd one because it actually didn’t happen.  After covering the EXTRA LARGE films, we were full of ego and bravado.  We figured, “Hell, if we can tackle something this big, let’s keep the party going and review Spencer’s earlier series BIG MAN.”  Yeah, they were really creative when it came to naming his TV shows.  Both Tom and I watched the first episode and then waited to see which one of us would say “I think we should move on” first. I’ll just pretend we both said it at the exact same moment.  Unlike heavy marijuana users, we had enough of the Bud.  Of course, we may work up the courage one day.  One day.

2. This one isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a funny example of a slippery slope that Video Junkie-ism can bring.  In the spring Tom randomly sent me a movie, KAIZOKU SENTAI GOKAIGER VS. SPACE SHERIFF GAVAN (2012), and I watched it in early June and was freaking blown away.  I quickly emailed him and said, “Dude, have you watched this?” We were both convinced Japanese children had severe ADHD thanks to movies like this.  We also both then wondered, “Gee, I wonder what Kamen Rider has been up to?” Bad, bad move.  Full disclosure: We both totally dug Kamen Rider stuff in the mid-90s but soon feel out of it.  So to discover the character had been in, oh, say 700 million shows/movies since pretty much sent us into overdrive.  I swear my viewing list for that summer was 99% Kamen Rider flicks. “Who needs drugs…” was the subject of one of Tom’s emails about these shows. They were over-the-top and insanely creative.  Sure, burnout eventually occurred but not before Tom wanted sugared donuts and I was walking around randomly saying, “Ta…to…ba!”  Glad to know we still have our addictive tendencies.

Films watched more than once:
-THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1989) - twice
-WARLOCK MOON (1973) - twice

Directors most watched (individual films):

-Osamu Kaneda (8) - a bunch of KAMEN RIDER movies
-Alessandro Capone (6) - a bunch of EXTRALARGE w/Bud Spencer movies
-Enzo Castellari (6) - a bunch of EXTRALARGE w/Bud Spencer movies
-Lucio Fulci (6)

Best films that I saw for the first time in 2014:

-WILD BOYS ON THE ROAD (1933)
-ASK A POLICEMAN (1939)
-SCREAM BLOODY MURDER (1973)
-MAN ON A SWING (1974)
-MIRRORS (1978)
-SIERRE NOIRE (1979)
-GOODBYE PARADISE (1983)
-POSITIVE I.D. (1986)
-PULSE (1988)
-SPLIT (1989)
-THE MAN WHO SAW FRANKENSTEIN CRY (2010)
-ODD THOMAS (2012)
-FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (2013)
-JODOROWSKY'S DUNE (2013)
-THE MACHINE (2013)
-NEBRASKA (2013)
-PRISONERS (2013)
-DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)
-LANCE ARMSTRONG: STOP AT NOTHING (2014)

Worst films that I saw for the first time in 2014:

-ORLOFF AND THE INVISIBLE MAN (1970)
-THE HEADLESS EYES (1971)
-FEEDERS (1996)

Best “kind of cinema I live for” I saw for the first time in 2014:

-REVOLT (1986) – thanks Richard!
-NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE (1986) – thanks Patryk!
-FAST GUN (1988)
-DRAGON FIRE (1993)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Thomas' De Hart Attack Awards for 2014

Top Dozen Favorite First Time Viewings in 2014:
Welcome to the second annual De Hart Attack awards. This a way to honor the movies that I saw for the first time in 2014 that became instant favorites. While I watch a hell of a lot of movies again (HD makes all the difference sometimes), these are my top butcher baker's dozen of first time outings.

RIGOR MORTIS (2013): Not only one of the best films to come out of Hong Kong in years, but one of the best horror movies to come out of any country in years. Easily my favorite film of 2014.

FIRE, ICE & DYNAMITE (1990): Willy Bogner gives us the thinnest of plots since THE CANNONBALL RUN (1981) as an excuse to have insane professionals do extremely dangerous things in the snow.

DARK COUNTRY (2009): Thomas Jane's truly under-appreciated 3D homage to "The Twilight Zone" and '50s film noir, scuttled by a boneheaded studio who didn't know what to do with it.

TERMINAL CHOICE (1985): Wonderfully sinister Canadian bitch-slap to the medical profession, executed with style and a solid cast.

THE SPY (2013): Maybe it is just because most South Korean movies are so lacking in originality and subtlety that this one caught me by surprise. Like many Seoullywood movies, it is aping a US film, but for once, does it so much better. If only modern Bond films could be this much fun.

GALLANTS (2010): Highly entertaining, tongue-in-cheek tribute to old-school HK martial arts films starring Leung Siu-lung, Chen Kuan-tai and many other old kung fu stars. Done without getting too sentimental or mocking the subject matter, this film hits exactly the right tone and boasts some great old school martial arts fights. Probably the second best thing I've seen out of Hong Kong in a very long time. Of course, that isn't saying much at all.

TALL BLONDE WITH ONE BLACK SHOE (1972): Yes, I know that you are thinking that this is one of those "film class" movies, where the instructor blathers on about how wonderful French cinema is, invariably leading up to yet another monologue on the brilliance of Jean-Luc Godard. Inspite of that, this François Perrin vehicle is an absolute corker of a satire, sending up the conventions of the spy and film noir genres, while throwing out a surprisingly bold visual style. Sure there is some slapstick, but there is plenty of multi-layered wit to balance it out. There is one caveat however: this movie will make you want to see the sequel, RETURN OF THE TALL BLONDE (1974) or god forbid the shot-for-shot Tom Hanks remake THE MAN WITH ONE RED SHOE (1985). Don't do it. It's a trap.

CHINA LAKE MURDERS (1990): Neat, twisted USA Network thriller starring Tom Skerritt as a small town Nevada sheriff and Michael Parks a big city LA motorcycle cop who may have some serious issues to deal with. I can't say much more without giving out spoilers, but the metaphoric game of chess between the two not only makes for a riveting movie, but gives two solid actors a chance to show just how good they are when they are cast in meaty roles.

JODOROWSKY'S DUNE (2014): I weep bitter tears every night over the fact that Jodorowsky couldn't manage to get his ultra-ambitious vision of Frank Herbert's classic novel "Dune" past the pre-production stage. This documentary actually makes things worse. Covering a large amount of of the history of the project, my only gripe is it should have been a full two-hours minimum. The 90 minute running time feels rushed, but is still a great movie about the greatest science fiction film never made.

SUPER HERO TAISEN Z (2013): Absolutely insane Toei mega-mash-up with countless Kamen Riders, Super Sentai and the Space Sheriffs thrown in for good measure. The action moves so fast and so furious that the 90 minute running time seems like 9 minutes. Plot? Oh jeezus, I don't know if I could explain it if I tried. If your only experience with tokusatsu is the cheap and cheerful "Power Rangers" you don't know what you are missing. Warning: This movie is a gateway drug. Video Junkie bears no responsibility for sending you down that rabbit hole.

THE NICKEL RIDE (1974): Nearly flawless, low-key crime movie in the vein of THE FRIENDS OF EDDY COYLE (1973), about a small time fence, Jason Miller, who's business is starting to turn sour and is starting to crack under the pressure of the cops and the mob. Perfect, if unusual, casting choices include John Hillerman and Bo Hopkins as, believe it or not, mafia men.

SPACE PIRATE CAPTAIN HARLOCK (2013): Easily the best computer animated film to come along in years, this readaptation of the manga that was turned into a children's anime and now into a stunning visual feast that dumps the slapstick in favor of dark, mature themes. Well, mostly mature. There is that zero-g shower scene.

DRAGON FIRE (1993): Out of the multitude of BLOODFIST (1989) remakes cranked out by Roger Corman's New Horizons Pictures, this is the top of the heap, eclipsing even the original. Set in a BLADE RUNNER (1982) dystopian future, this tells the BLOODFIST story of a guy who enters and underground martial arts tournament looking for the killer of his brother, but goes completely nuts with the retro-future set dressing, well choreographed action sequences and charismatic stars. Hell, it's even got a cameo by Jim Wynorski as a stri-club announcer, what more could you want?



Worst Films Viewed in 2014:
These are simply the most unentertaining and insipid films I've seen for the first time this year. I know some folks liked some of these, which is fine, you are welcome to them.

THOR: DARK WORLD (2013): Along with IRON MAN 3 (2013), this ranks as my least favorite of Marvel's films and found it even more tedious and uninspired than the first one. I am taking it that writers Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are under the assumption that nobody foolish enough to go see this has seen any of the STAR WARS films. Granted all of Marvel's output seem to be inclined to rip-off 1983s RETURN OF THE JEDI dogfight scenes (by way of the 1996 film INDEPENDENCE DAY), but this seems to take that source of inspiration one step further. In addition to completely wasting Christopher Eccleston with a thankless role, under a load of Darth Maul make-up, Stellan Skarsgard returns to provide the comic relief, which he should never do again. Then again, at least he keeps his clothes on. I think the best thing about this movie was the fact that the photoshopped poster that replaced Natalie Portman with Tom Hiddleston in Thor's embrace was accidentally used as legitimate advertising in China. Now that's funny.

TORRENTE 4: LETHAL CRISIS (2011): I understand the appeal of bad taste comedies, I actually used to like Santiago Segura and have enjoyed some of his past efforts, but I don't get the TORRENTE films at all. Yes, I understand that a parody of BAD LIEUTENANT (1992) is not a bad idea, but the jokes in TORRENTE 4 take this to extremes that are so low brow, the fact that I'm bitching about them will only make me sound like some PC tree-hugger. Other than a running fart joke, lots of masturbation jokes, homosexual jokes and some pretty shocking racist jokes, there is not much comedy to be had. Then again, is it a joke if you are constantly patronizing black people and calling them "sambo" and "fucking blacks"? They have a scene where Torrente and his cronies "accidentally" break a black guys leg (with the bone jutting out of the leg) in a soccer match and the black guy is so gullible he doesn't realize that his "friends" set him up, while the white guys laugh over his stupidity. During a prison shower scene, Torrente is being eyed by a big black man who is clearly about to rape him. To defend himself, he throws a bar of soap down behind the guy next to him and as the guy bends over to pick it up and we get his bent-over ass complete with hanging brains shoved out of the screen in 3D. Then we cut to the black guy charging like a bull at the exposed man bits. I really would like to find TORRENTE 4 crassly funny, but it's just crass for the sake of being crass. Of course this film broke box office records in Spain when it was released, so what the hell do I know?

NURSE 3D (2013): An intentionally campy neo-slasher film that desperately tries to be edgy by forcing bad puns, ridiculous caricatures, and shameless mugging while desperately trying to push the envelope with lesbian sex and sexual killings. A scantily clad nurse, Abby (the cartoonish looking Paz de la Huerta), swings her hips around a hospital that apparently has no dress code, having sex with anything that moves and killing them afterwards. The exception to the rule is a fellow nurse (Katrina Bowden) who is seduced by Abby, who genuinely likes her at first, and later begins to figure out that Abby is a psychopath. I'm sure if I was 13, I would have loved this movie. It's got full frontal female nudity, buckets of blood and slick, glossy production values. Since I'm not 13, the things that stand out are the completely idiotic attempt at a plot, ill advised CG effects, pointless use of 3D, and de la Huerta's performance which is arguably the worst fumbling attempt at acting in the history of modern cinema. Even if it didn't seem as though she was reading her lines off of a cue card, it would still be put to shame by any FRIDAY THE 13th sequel. NURSE makes JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (1989) seem like Dickensian literature.

SNOWPIERCER (2014): Much like the recent hubub over THE INTERVIEW (2014), this South Korean film is ham-handed dystopian future effort, based on a manga of the same name, got a huge reaction from the public based on what they would not be allowed to see. Here the Weinsteins proposed to release the film at some undetermined date, with a multitude of cuts. So, in other words, business as usual for them. For some reason the bastardization of this particular film, out of the hundreds that they have butchered, caused metaphoric rioting in the streets which eventually caused them to release the film in its untampered form. This meant lots of free publicity and a buzz that wouldn't quit with people who hadn't seen the movie citing it as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time that was being kept from the people by an iron fisted czar. While the public was whipped up into a frenzy of nerd rage, those of us who saw the film via Korean video found it to be nothing more than a paper tiger.
The visuals are bland, the acting is flat and the story-line is not only predictable, but laughable. A group of people are confined to live on a speeding train after global warming turns the earth into a frozen wasteland. The lower classes live in the back of the train eating protein bars and occasionally being punished by having one of their limbs pushed out of a specially made porthole where it instantly freezes and falls off. It's difficult to believe that a) energy would be wasted keeping a train moving for decades when it could be used to power and heat an entire building complex and b) that the designer of this last hope for humanity would engineer special holes in the hull for which corporeal punishment could be meted out. And don't get me started on the protein bars, the origins of which the filmmakers expect you to be horrified by, but are hilariously tame, the preachy politics, the self-indulgently long running time and the trite, cheesy ending. This is a movie, again like THE INTERVIEW, that without the controversy would have come and gone with barely anyone noticing.

THE RAID 2: BERANDAL (2014): Knowing that DREDD (2012) actually pre-dated THE RAID (2011) in script form makes one wonder if Gareth Evans had any real talent at all for anything other than directing action sequences. That question is clearly answered in this self-indulgent, rambling, inconsistent imitation of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese's more recent efforts. Completely dropping any relation to the first film, except for anything other than the main character, Evans slowly drags Rama (Iko Uwais) through a deep cover operation into the gangland. Shot with pretensions of art-house grandeur, the film feels like it was cobbled together from several cable TV show episodes. Lots of slow, cliched scenes in beautiful minimalist environments, ala Scorses, punctuated by hyper-violence with cartoon characters lifted out of KILL BILL (2003) and its plethora of imitators. Clocking in at a punishing 150 minutes, you could easily Weinstein 30-60 minutes out of the movie and no one would ever know the difference. In one scene Rama is attacked by a group of thugs who turn out to be cops. Why? They didn't know he was under-cover. It's not a terrible scene and the action is well choreographed, but it certainly doesn't advance the plot in any way. Fistfuls of non-sequitur scenes are the norm rather than the exception here.
For instance in the middle of his wannabe CASINO (1995), he has a boy friend / girl friend team of 20-something assassins, one who uses a baseball bat to hit hardballs into his targets skulls from a distance, the other a deaf girl who is blind in one eye (but otherwise attractive) and uses two claw-hammers to attack her victims. They both have two very long sequences of them killing random people that serve no purpose whatsoever, except to introduce them as two of the people our hero needs to fight at the very end of the film, like a video game mini-boss. Without the DREDD script to rip-off, it is clear that Evans is left to desperately grab at straws to try to put together a movie.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

December to Dismember: ONE HELL OF A CHRISTMAS (2002)

Back in the early 2000s when DVD and horror were booming, the horror bible Fangoria teamed up with MTI/Bedford Entertainment to dust off their Fangoria Films label.  One of the imprints earliest releases was the Danish film ANGEL OF THE NIGHT (1998).  The debut feature of Chile-born director Shaky González, it was a pretty slick looking vampire film.  It apparently performed well enough for the group that they opted to pick up his second feature, ONE HELL OF A CHRISTMAS (2002).  A kind of EVIL DEAD, HELLRAISER, and PHANTASM wannabe mash up, this sophomore feature saw Shaky on shaky ground (haha!) as he actually regressed and shot this one on video with a budget that won’t get you too excited for something that sounds cool.

The film opens with its HELLRAISER nod in the prologue as Arab merchant Ibrahim (Zlatko Buric) purchases a mysterious box for a man merely described as The Englishman (Pat Kelman).  Promised inside is “a whole lot of magic” and that comes in the form of a single black claw.  This gives us a price negotiation that would make AMERICAN PICKERS proud ($5,000 offered, $20,000 countered, $8,000 offered, $15,000 countered, sold!).  Hey, you can’t expect the guy to pay retail, right?  After the opening credits, we then meet the film’s lead in Carlitos (Tolo Montana), who is just getting out of the joint on a two-year stint.  When being given his personal items, Carlitos checks his wallet and the guard informs him he won’t find any money in there.  Carlitos whips out a picture of his son and says, “This kid is my gold.”  Whoooo, boy, hold on to your seats.  Once outside the prison fences, he finds his friend Mikey (Thure Lindhardt) has forgotten to pick him up.  So he hitchhikes into town, leaves Mikey an angry message, and heads to their old favorite diner.  Amazingly, Mikey has left a cell phone with a waitress there to give to Carlitos when he arrives.  Huh?  How would he even know he would be there? If you haven’t guessed, this film has major scripting problems.  Carlitos calls his buddy and they plan to meet back at his place later.  Heading home in a taxi, our lead just happens to spot his ex-wife and son outside a toy store, where the kid begs for a Cowboy Jack and Wolfie doll.  Carlitos sneaks in after they leave and buys them for him.  Hey, can this movie kick its horror plot into gear now?

So where exactly is Mikey?  He is at the shipyard to score some dope off Ibrahim. All hell breaks loose while Mikey is there as the Englishman shows up demanding the claw back.  Ibrahim objects by saying, “I satisfied three women and you want it back?”  So this claw is like Viagra? Before the Englishman can object, a mysterious man in black (Erik Holmey) shows up and starts ripping off heads. Naturally, the claw soon ends up at the feet of the hiding Mikey and he splits with it.  After all, supernaturally enhanced boners are worth a painful death.  Meanwhile, Carlitos has gotten back to his place and calls his ex-wife so he can talk to his son.  Of course, she treats him like trash and this sends him (and the viewer) to drinking Jack Daniels.  Hey, can this movie please kick its horror plot into gear now?

Drunk as a skunk, our ex-con’s night gets worse when Mikey finally shows up and tells him about the claw and its power. Mikey relays he got the claw and then, via flashback, tells how he snorted some black powder from the claw and then manhandled three baddies looking for Mikey to repay a loan a few hours ago. “This claw is going to make us rich,” Mikey declares before they both start snorting lines of the black powder (off a DVD copy of Gonzalez’s earlier ANGEL OF THE NIGHT, how meta!).  Cranked up on black marching powder, their only recourse is to call a hooker, who Carlitos promptly kills during a blowjob.  Stumbling out of their blur, the two men bury the dead girl’s body in the backyard before Mikey heads off for some important business, leaving Carlitos in charge of the claw.  What is Mikey’s important business?  He is screwing Carlitos’ ex-wife.  Hey, can this movie please, please, pleaaaaaase kick its horror plot into gear now?


My pleas are finally heard as we get the one hell of a Christmas plot kicking in around the 50 minute mark.  Alone in the house, Carlitos grows increasingly paranoid at every thunder crack.  His suspicion is warranted though as a spirit escapes from the claw and enters into the dead body of the hooker buried in the back yard.  Before you can say “I’ll swallow your soul” she is semi-alive and kicking…literally.  Yes, she somehow has kung fu skills now and proceeds to thump Carlitos until he puts a meat cleaver into her forehead.  The spirit departs her body and enters into the 3-foot tall Wolfie stuffed animal. It then proceeds to attack Carlitos before saying, “Join us.”  *long sigh*  When he throws the doll into the wall, the spirit transfers into a Cowboy Jack poster and soon an undead gunslinger is chasing him around the house for a shootout.  Naturally, this all comes to a head as the stranger comes to the house looking for his claw back and takes Carlitos to hell.

Man, I am pretty sure if you look up “missed opportunity” in the dictionary you will find a pic of this film’s poster. Everyone wants to root for a guy named Shaky González, because, dammit, his name is Shaky González.  Sadly, his sophomore feature is too much of a mess to be considered worth recommending.  Partially lensed in the U.S. but mostly shot in Denmark, ONE HELL OF A CHRISTMAS has promise in the last thirty or so minutes. Unfortunately, there is still the hour preceding it.  González is failed by his screenwriter who seems intent on doing a lame Tarantino or Rodriguez petty criminal wannabe scenario for the first sixty minutes.  Who was González’s screenwriter?  Some dude named Shaky González!  Yes, Shaky the director is undermined by Shaky the screenwriter.  If you missed my subtle pleas in the paragraphs above, I was dying for the film’s horror plot to kick in.  Instead, the audience has to endure 3600 seconds of painful family and friend drama with characters they don’t really care about.  This is doubly disappointing because the last thirty minutes displays some truly creative stuff.  There are some nice makeup FX and some inspired touches (like the animated Cowboy Jack coming to life and the journey to hell through a toilet) that warrant a better movie.  The technical aspects don’t help either as the video-cinematography is muddy.  Had this been given a few more script passes and shot on film, ONE HELL OF A CHRISTMAS could have been a Xmas surprise.  As is, it is a big ol’ lump of coal with perhaps something of a little value inside.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

December to Dismember: FEEDERS 2: SLAY BELLS (1998)

It’s Christmas Eve and what better time to kick off our annual looks at some of the oddest flicks with Yuletide spirit.  Having done this for four years now, we’re finding it harder and harder to unearth stuff to cover.  In our years of Xmas flick reviewing, we’ve collectively hit some shocking lows when it comes to horror/sci-fi/action Christmas flicks.  Notice I was genre specific there as I’m sure one of those direct-to-demand “family” Xmas flicks with cats and dogs are bad enough to make you scratch out your eyeballs. We’ve covered the good and we’ve covered the bad.  I guess it is about time we get into the ugly with something like FEEDERS 2: SLAY BELLS (1998).  This, my friends, is going to hurt.

Before this week, I’d never seen a “film” by the Polonia brothers.  I was certainly aware of the oeuvre of the twins, Mark and John, from Pennsylvania, but something in my primal instinct kept me away from their shot-on-video titles like SPLATTER FARM (1987) and SAURIANS (1994).  With their bespectacled and mustached look (surely the envy of hipsters everywhere) the brothers set out to do their own thing in as they made no budget affairs in hometown.  In the mid-1990s, the brothers Polonia teamed up with shot-on-video powerhouse Jon McBride, director of CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988), the film that still haunts Tom’s nightmares.  The resulting feature was the alien invasion flick FEEDERS (1996).  If you haven’t seen FEEDERS (and I’m going to assume you are sane and have not), the plot revolves around two buddies – Derek (Jon McBride) and Bennett (John Polonia) – cruising around the Pennsylvania countryside where they encounter a deadly group of carnivorous extra-terrestrials.  The film ends with Derek killing his friend Bennett, who had been cloned by the nasty E.T.s, and running wild on the streets as aliens zap buildings (allowing for demolition footage).  The final shot is a fleet of UFOs heading towards Earth, leaving audiences dreading the idea of a FEEDERS 2.

The sequel picks up with Derek giving a recorded statement about what happened to him.  Who he is giving it to is never established, but it is a rather impassioned plea that more aliens are coming and we must fight them.  Because apparently no one saw the buildings zapped at the end of the first film.   The filmmakers then quickly establish the holiday spirit as we meet Alan (Mark Polonia) and his wife Bernice (Maria Humes) decorating a Christmas tree with their son and daughter (in his capacity as screenwriter, Mark Polonia couldn’t be bothered to give them names).  It’s tough times out there for an insurance agent as evidenced by this dialogue exchange.

Daughter: “When is Santa bringing us presents?”
Bernice: “In about one more day.”
Alan (whispering): “Only if daddy gets paid tomorrow.”

Wait…so you haven’t bought any presents and plan to do your shopping on Christmas Eve? Someone needs to introduce Alan and Bernice to layaway.  That evening Alan is woken up by some strange lights outside his house and sees a UFO.  The craft’s inhabitants beam down and quickly take up residence in Alan’s basement.  However, THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983) this is not as the beasties mainly freak out the family dog and cause the lights to flicker off and on for the film’s first hour.

“I’m the mannnnn in the box!”


Christmas Eve day rolls around and Alan heads into work to for his scrooge of a boss (“I hate Christmas! And you’re not leaving early either.”).  Meanwhile, we get a couple of aliens scurrying around town to attack random folks.  They kill an older lady and her cat, a local priest, and a dude working at a pallet factory. Amusingly, the priest’s scene begins with him reading with it clearly dark outside. After he is killed, Alan drives home in the daylight.  Continuity, schmontinuity!  We also get a loving montage of mom wrapping presents (uh, didn’t Alan say he had no money earlier?) set to blasting synthesizer Christmas music.  I’m pretty sure this music was listed in the recent C.I.A. torture report as one of the things used against terrorists. There is also a goofy scene where the parents go into the basement to get some presents and one of the aliens charges towards them, only to get knocked out after hitting its head on a board.  “What an ugly doll,” Alan quips before throwing it on the floor. Then, in the film’s most dramatic scene, the aliens feast on Lady, the family dog.  Yes, the dog got a name, the kids didn’t.


It is at exactly at the 39 minute and 20 seconds mark that something kind of magical happens.  Up until this point, the kids have been discussing Santa Claus and his impending visit.  So what do the Polonias do?  They make Santa a character!  Cruising around in his sleigh, Santa (Polonia mainstay Todd Carpenter) is shot down by some aliens in his air space.  Shit…just…got…real!  With a genuinely creative twist, it seems only fitting that the Polonias cut back to Derek and he spends the next 7 minutes telling his story, which allows for a sepia-toned flashback to the first film.  Yes, 7 minutes of a 70 minute movie.  Back at Alan’s place, the battered Santa passes out on an outdoor slide and the aliens figure it is go time.  They sneak up from the basement and, after attacking the Xmas tree, go after Alan and his family.  The kids tell dad they saw Santa outside and Alan figures he has to save him.  Good move as Santa has the ability to teleport and, once inside the house, heads to the North Pole to get a ray gun to zap their alien pests into video effects fade outs.  The moral of the story?  Santa is real and don’t take kindly to aliens messing up his busy schedule.

Having been a forty-year-old Polonia film virgin, I’m not sure if I should be thankful or not that I lost my cherry to their FEEDERS series.  FEEDERS 2 is a particularly rough one as it is almost sadistic in its ineptness.  Remember when you were a kid and would get a hold of a video camera and make movies where you and your friends ran around fighting some kind of monster?  That is basically what this is, but with only slightly more of a script. The idea of Santa Claus whooping ass on screen isn’t exactly anything new.  René Cardona had him fighting the devil himself in SANTA CLAUS (1959) and ol’ Saint Nick had already fought aliens in SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964). However, it is a rather novel concept for the shot-on-video realm, where the finding new ways to hide blood tubing is considered a major achievement. Unfortunately, the Polonias do very little with it and their filmmaking skills are pretty shoddy.  As mentioned earlier, just as Santa works his way into the picture and things pick up, he is summarily forgotten for the McBride flashback which offers nothing to the film but padding.  I kid you not, after he gives us a recap of the events of the first film, McBride just shrugs his shoulders and walks off camera, never to be seen again.  The script is about as anemic as aliens’ tiny little bodies.  Speaking of which, you won’t believe the FX on display here.  The alien dummies from the first film return, but they also inject a new version with heads that look like a tennis ball covered in latex.  The computer effects are only slightly better with computer generated flying saucers that would make Ed Wood proud.  And speaking of Wood, wait until you get a look at the film’s acting.  They say the camera adds ten pounds, right?  Well, the video camera adds even more, causing the performers to slog around almost comatose onscreen under the weight. My favorite bit is when Alan ponders aloud what to get a woman who has everything and Bernice flatly replies, “More” with all the inflection of a zombie demanding brains.  And don’t get me started on Carpenter as Santa, who feels the best vocal inflection is to sound like Pee Wee Herman.  It says something when the best acting is done by the dog.


All that said I still have an odd level of appreciation for the Polonias.  They managed to follow their dream and crank out a bunch of stuff during their two decades working together (sadly, while looking them up, I found out that John passed away unexpectedly in 2008).  I can admire the men, while decrying their efforts right?

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