World of Witchcraft: VIY (2014)

The long delayed, troubled production of the remake of the Russian horror classic.

Halloween Havoc 2010: FLESHEATER (1988)

Bill Hinzman's splattery Halloween zombie classic!

Fangs for Nothing: RIGOR MORTIS (2013)

Stunningly straight-faced and gothic hommage to the Mr. Vampire films.

Halloween Havoc 2010: ISLAND OF BLOOD (1982)

Budget-starved, bone-headed, often annoying slasher flick. A favorite.

Halloween Havoc 2011: WATCHERS 3 / IV (1994/1998)

When it comes to bad sequels, nobody rocks it like Dean Koontz wannabes.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cheesy Rider: PUSHING UP DAISIES (1973)

If there were two movies that marked the end of the '60s and heralded in the new decade of cinema, they would be EASY RIDER (1969) and THE WILD BUNCH (1969). You could also argue 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) and you would be right, but putting that aside, you have two films that demonstrated a profound change in society on many levels. Both have a sense of perseverance in the face of adversity and deep alienation from their environments with a marked cynicism and fatalism not previously known to mainstream cinema. The much reviled Vietnam War was already 14 years old, and the much loved President Kennedy had been killed, as had Martin Luther King, a man that promoted ridiculous things like non-violence and racial harmony. There were good reasons to be cynical, and we hadn't even gotten to the Watergate incident that would forever ruin confidence in our elected officials.

Because of the deep chord these films struck with audiences, they were wildly successful at the box office. EASY RIDER was made for $400,000 ($2.5 million today) and it made $60 million in global returns (or $388 million today). By comparison, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) was made for $170 million and grossed $768 million world wide. For every dollar spent, EASY RIDER returned approximately $155.00, where as GUARDIANS returned only approximately $4.50 per dollar spent. Somebody get Kevin Feige in off of that ledge.

As always, any film that makes a wad of cash that would make a pimp jealous is going to breed knock-offs faster than a Harley Ultra-Glide rolls down the highway. Err, come to think of it, that is not very fast. Of course, you could make the argument that EASY RIDER was merely one film in a long progression of motorcycle movies dating back to THE WILD ONE (1955) and it actually punctuated the end of the biker genre much like THE WILD BUNCH did with Westerns. Either way, it influenced many filmmakers down the line including a then unknown (and frankly now not very well known) Ivan Nagy.

Partnering with veteran TV and indy movie actor Ross Hagen (who co-wrote and produced), neophyte director Nagy decided that the movie he wanted to do to launch his career would be a completely odd blend of both RIDER and BUNCH, with some awkward comedy thrown in for good measure.

A quartet of ex-cons, Maddux (Ross Hagen), Wilbur (Hoke Howell), Kelly (Kelly Thordsen), and A.J. (Eric Lidberg), decide that holding up a dirtwater town bank didn't get the returns that that they were hoping for. After stealing a car from a huckster salesman, Maddox and Wilbur decide to rob a gas station run by a good ol' boy grease-monkey (played by Christopher George, if you can believe it), while Kelly and A.J. rob the cafe across the street. Unfortunately for the the latter, the cafe is a hangout for the state police and half of our quartet end up on the chain gang busting rocks with sadistic guards who are itching for a chance to kill. And this is all before the opening credits!

Speaking of the opening credits, they have got to be the most bizarre and annoying credits I have ever witnessed. Clearly made by people who were experiencing the fruitful bounty that Timothy Leary endorsed, they show in slow motion and freeze frames a guard intimidating and stabbing a black prisoner who is pleading for his life. This is done with no music, but instead uses heavy reverb causing the screaming dialogue to slowly echo across your speakers. This goes on for an agonizing full 2 minutes! If that doesn't seem like a long time. Take a stopwatch to the closest angry infant you can find and start the countdown. Cash money says you will never make it to 120 seconds.

Maddux and Wilbur decide they are going to bust out their buddies which comes none too soon as the sadistic guard forces the prisoners to bury the dead man and jump up and down on his grave chanting "it's garbage we're stomping on" while Jimi Hendrix's distorted rendition of "Amazing Grace" blares across the soundtrack. It's actually weirder than it sounds. Following a full-blown western-style shoot-out, the four are back on the road trying to figure out a plan (for something) and arguing about whether the prison served butter or margarine. I think this is the alleged "comedy". Hard to tell.

Maddux is the leader of the mini mob because he went to high school, is an ex-green beret and has a tendency to wax metaphoric, saying things like "it's not how long you live, but how." Dude, that's deep. He figures the best plan of action is to rob another bank, this time dressed as nuns (perhaps inspired by 1972s FUZZ) and hightail it to Mexico. The robbery scene is pretty perfunctory (though they do make sure to include an injun stereotype and a butt gag). Much of the film shows a marked lack of motivation. Some scenes are clipped so short that they cut off lines of dialogue while others go on so long that you can presumably have time to load up another bong hit and get into the groove of the flickering images. Actually that's not a metaphor, there are some very odd stylistic choices during a few scenes of the movie where we get multiple freeze frames and heavily edited dissolves that seem completely out of joint (no pun intended) with the rest of the film.

The final third of the film is the boys riding across the desert on motorcycles to get to a cantina in Mexico where they plan to whoop it up and bet on prostitutes in an armwrestling match. Really. There is a lot of riding going on here. Much like horror films that have relentless rock climbing, here we have riding. At one point Kelly asks Maddux why they were riding bikes across the desert. Maddux tells him "it's like the old west." To which Kelly says "you can keep the old west, I never liked it anyway." For some reason I'm pretty sure most of the dialogue was improvised.

This movie is slower than a southern drawl on a hot day, but for some reason it manages to lure you in with it's drug-addled, somewhat charming ineptitude. The music, all of which I'm sure are stolen tracks, is an utterly bizarre hodge-podge of styles. During the orgy scene (yes, Kelly Thordsen is involved in an orgy), in addition to the disorienting hand-held camera and rapidly edited close-ups, we get a shrill, cheery ukulele number on the soundtrack! I can only think that the music was a temp track that never got a finished score. Matter of fact, the whole film looks like it could have been a work-print that was rushed out the door.

Unreleased on video in the US, it was released theatrically by the brand new distribution arm of the original Cannon Group (before the arrival of Golan and Globus in '79) with an obviously replaced title card. The original title was FIVE MINUTES OF FREEDOM and I am not really sure if that title is better or worse, neither gives any idea as to what kind of film it is. As far as I know, the only video release it has gotten was in the early days of video in Holland (where else?). The subtitles add a bit of minor entertainment. For instance when Wilbur falls off of his motorcycle (a clearly unscripted goof) he says "damn bike" and the subtitle reads "satans dike". I guess some of us are easily amused.

Ivan Nagy followed this up with another crime comedy titled BAD CHARLESTON CHARLIE (1973), a roaring '20s period piece reteaming Hagen and Thordsen and the odd 1975 thriller DEADLY HERO before moving into TV land. He is known to horror fans for his 1993 slasher film SKINNER starring Ted Raimi, but really he is mostly remembered for being Heidi Fleiss' boyfriend.

As it stands, this redneck hippy movie may not be the best way to spend 90 minutes of your life, but there's something about it that will keep you watching if you are in a forgiving state of mind.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Halloween Havoc: THE EVIL CLERGYMAN (1988)

Back in the mid-80s, I wouldn’t be surprised if you found Charles Band bowing at the grave of H.P. Lovecraft.  The two adaptations he co-produced – RE-ANIMATOR (1985) and FROM BEYOND (1986) – made him some nice change at the box office ($2 million and $1 million, respectively, with neither getting a higher run than 190 theaters). Not only that, the two Stuart Gordon helmed films were deemed instant classics, lending Band’s Empire Pictures the credibility it certainly needed at the time.

Band was no doubt aware of this when he mounted an ambitious little project entitled PULSE POUNDERS in 1987.  The concept behind this anthology was to provide half hour mini-sequels to a couple of popular Empire productions – THE DUNGEONMASTER (1984) and TRANCERS (1985) – and fill the third slot with another Lovecraft adaptation.  With Gordon tied up filming ROBOT JOX (1989), Band took directorial control but planned a full RE-ANIMATOR reunion as he brought back Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and David Gale for an adaptation of Lovecraft’s short story “The Evil Clergyman.”  Also back was screenwriter Dennis Paoli, who put the kink in the earlier adaptations and continued that path here.

Selecting “The Evil Clergyman” to adapt is an odd choice because it is only a four-page story.  In fact, it isn’t really a story but a portion of a letter Lovecraft sent to a friend describing a dream he had and it was published posthumously in 1939. Damn, this means when Stephen King dies we’ll get adaptations of his emails and Entertainment Weekly articles.  The plot involves a man spending a night in a room and seeing the past as a former priest burns some mysterious religious texts and then commits suicide by hanging.  After witnessing this ordeal, the protagonist looks into a mirror and realizes he is now the priest and his body has been overtaken.

This adaptation opens with a woman named Said Brady (Barbara Crampton) arriving at a castle to visit the room of her former lover.  The landlady isn’t too welcoming, but lets her into the room. But not before accusing Said of having an “unhealthy obsession with sex and death” and saying she was once more beautiful than her.  Damn, Gramma, put away them claws.  Anyway, our female lead gets into the room and is quickly visited by the spirit of Jonathan (Jeffrey Combs), a former priest who greets her with a ghostly goosing.  She tells him that she has come to “make peace with your memory” and apparently that can only be done by getting it on. Jonathan proves he was quite the lothario by getting her into bed and stating, “Your body is my religion.”  Man, I am totally going to use that line.

Unbeknownst to Miss Brady, crawling around on the floor is a rat-man creature (David Gale).  Post-close encounter of the coital kind, she wakes up in bed with Jonathan missing and this tiny beast licking her.  Uh, gross.  She is then greeted by a ghost of a clergyman (David Warner), who informs her of the perverse and deadly past of her lover.  In fact, he was one of his victims and shows this off by exposing the bashed in left side of his face.  He tells her that the rat-man is Jonathan’s animal familiar and that “he only wants your soul.”  Ladies, you thought your old boyfriend destroying your credit rating was bad?  Brady then has her second encounter with Jonathan and he proves how well hung he is…and not in the way you think, pervs!  He admits he committed suicide and then does the act again, hanging himself in center of the room from a ceiling beam.  He’s still alive though and asks her to kiss him.  When she says she can’t reach him, he slyly says, “Kiss me like you used to.”  Damn, brother be smooth.  This gives us an implied hanging blowjob that you know Lovecraft always wanted in his work.  The clergyman reappears to stop her, but she bashes his head in and then proceeds to hang herself.  Her death complete, Jonathan begs his familiar to have her body and it is granted.  The short ends with Miss Brady walking out of the room with Jonathan’s soul now nestled safely inside.  Damn, he is totally a freak.

This rendition of “The Evil Clergyman” is unique in that it is both a faithful adaptation and a complete reworking of the source material.  Paoli tells the simple story, but also includes some random Lovecraft elements from other stories. While never said, the rat-man is clearly supposed to be the rat-man Brown Jenkin from “The Dreams in the Witch House.” And the idea of soul transference also appeared more prevalently in “The Thing on the Doorstep” (not surprisingly, Gordon and Paoli had worked on an adaptation of that story which made the body switch from male/male to male/female).  Also, he ups the kinky factor significantly. As Tom pointed out to me, Band knew how his bread was buttered and the hanging blowjob scene here is an obvious nod to the infamous head scene in RE-ANIMATOR that drew that film so much attention.  And this is a full on RE-ANIMATOR reunion as we have most of the lead players back with even DP Mac Ahlberg behind the camera.

All of the performances are fine, although you might think of someone else other than Jeffrey Combs when it comes to a stud who can bed Barbara Crampton. You have to give Combs (and David Warner) credit though as they have that same ability as Peter Cushing to make any wacko dialogue/scenario sound believable.  This helps when Combs has to kiss the man-rat, surely not the highlight of his career.  The end also has Crampton doing a kind of Combs impersonation that is really good (she has his cadence down).  I don’t know why, but it amuses me that they flew Gale all the way to Italy to be made up like a rat and only gives him lines like, “Bitch! Whore!” Hey, as long as the check cleared, right? Ah, crap, at this point the check probably didn’t clear.  Yes, the whole PULSE POUNDERS project was one of the last efforts by the financially struggling Empire.  Filming started in April 1987, shut down, but then resumed in October 1987.  As it was, the film never got a full post-production treatment and the segments only came to light in 2012 when Full Moon found a copy of VHS and offered it up to fans.  While not the best Lovecraft short, I’d definitely recommend it to curious fans or those who simply want to check out the RE-ANIMATOR players in their prime one more time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Halloween Havoc: THE RESURRECTED (1991)

If you were around in the '70s and '80s, you will have owned at least on record on the Scotti Bros label. While Tony and Ben Scotti were responsible for launching such luminous careers as Leif Garrett and Weird Al Yankovic, it was the theme song for ROCKY III (1982) that blew the lid off of the label. Survivor's "The Eye of the Tiger" was the number one single in the US and the UK and even if you weren't around in the '80s, you have heard this song. Probably even karaoked it, if you wear a vest with a v-neck undershirt.

Tony Scotti started out as a small time actor in TV and film and Ben Scotti was at one time a defensive back for in the NFL with the Redskins, Eagles and Niners. They started up their record label in 1974, but in the '80s they moved into movie production and distribution.

Their first film in 1986 was an entertaining Gary Busey action vehicle named (what else?) THE EYE OF THE TIGER for which they tapped the talents of director Richard C. Sarafian. The company was only involved with a handful of movies and sadly most of them are not Video Junkie material. Sorry, you will never see a review of HE'S MY GIRL (1987) no matter how much we like T.J. Carter. Their final film was unequivocally their finest hour and a half, an adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward."

Told in a non-linear fashion, I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but really if you haven't seen the movie. You need to do that. Now. I'll wait.

Opening the way all horror movies should open, with a dark and stormy night, Charles Dexter Ward has escaped from an asylum leaving a bloody mess of human carnage and a large, black scorch-mark. How this came to be is told in flashback by private investigator John Marsh (John Terry). After the cosmetics executive, Ward, goes missing, his wife Claire Ward (Jane Sibbett), hires gumshoe March to investigate his disappearance and his bizarre research that may be linked to the occult. The police are investigating as well and want to know why they found a suitcase of human remains in the boathouse that he was using as a laboratory.

In short order, March discovers that Ward is using a farmhouse in Rhode Island's Pawtuxet Valley, with a man named Dr. Ash, that has been the site of strange nocturnal deliveries and noxious odors. He also discovers that one of those deliveries was witnessed by a neighbor to be eight coffins, and coincides with the recent robbery of eight graves of ancient European practitioners of the occult.

While conducting his investigation, Claire finally tells March about a trunk Ward had received from a dead relative that he never knew. It contained strange papers from the 1700s discussing dark experiments. Yeah, I know that's awfully vague, but I can't ruin the movie if you ignored my orders a few paragraphs ago.

Directed by Dan O'Bannon from a screenplay by Brent V. Friedman, who was fresh off of the brilliant low-rent sequel to William Malone's SCARED TO DEATH (1980), titled SYNGENOR (1990), this is probably the best Lovecraft adaptation you will ever see. Sure it's a slightly budget starved (some of the effects are a little lacking), but O'Bannon's direction is impeccable, with a prowling camera that feels at times like an old Argento film. Besides, if you get nostril-deep in Lovecraft adaptations this $6 million production will feel more extravagant than the latest Marvel adaptation.

As always, I feel like I have to defend the changes made in the film. Yes, it is Ward's father who has him committed in the story, and yes, there is no Detective Marsh or Mrs. Ward in the story either. I supposed you could have a narrated film without those characters, but it would be clumsy and annoying as the story is simply a third-person accounting of a history of one man. Those new characters have to exist to drive the narrative forward in the structure of a film. Not only is it necessary to bring in those characters, but I really like the idea of fusing a bit of Phillip Marlowe / Mike Hammer in the Lovecraftian milieu. Additionally, the film contains as many horror trappings as you could possibly ask for including lightning storms, fire, fog, an insane asylum, creepy paintings, a secret library, dark cellars, putrid tunnels, bloody corpses, human experiments, ancient apocryphal texts, and a dark family secret. Really, what more could you ask for?

As much as I like the idea, John Terry, who you may remember from HAWK THE SLAYER (1980), TUXEDO WARRIOR (1982) and even as Felix Leiter in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987), isn't really the best leading man. Unless you live in Hawaii and drive a red Ferrari 308, a private investigator should be like his office: Shabby and rundown. Here Terry is rather realistic, wearing a crisp suit in a fashionable modern office, and playing the part accordingly. If you didn't know better he could be playing a lawyer. Also Jane Sibbett is a dyed in the wool TV actress if ever there was one. Her performance is so flat she appears to be a walking advertisement for botox. I get that she's supposed to be taking her queues from hard-boiled beauties like Veronica Lake and Lauren Bacall, but she lacks the sultry sparkle that gives their characters dimension.

On the other hand, Chris Sarandon is an actor I was never really impressed with until 1985 with the release of FRIGHT NIGHT (1985). Even moreso, THE RESURRECTED is arguably the finest performance of his career with his portrayal of the older, affected Ward. Clearly he took this role very seriously and puts real effort into playing a crazed older man, speaking as though he were from the 1700s. His performance is so dead perfect that his face instantly comes to mind when I see the name Charles Dexter Ward, much like it is inescapable of thinking about Jeffrey Combs when you see the name Herbert West. Going up against this is part of the reason that Terry and Sibbett don't come off as well as they might have. Ward is a much meatier role that allows Sarandon to flex his acting chops in a way that he never was able to before.

Aside from minor acting quibbles, and maybe a few rubbery-looking effects, this is without question the finest Lovecraft adaptation on celluloid. It's a shame that it has been such a sleeper film, but then again, at least hipsters haven't ruined it for the rest of us.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Halloween Havoc: RE-PENETRATOR (2004)

When we launched our coverage of the film adaptations of the work of H.P. Lovecraft we said that we would leave no stone unturned. Damn it, why did I have to get this stone? Lovecraft’s stories have seen the highs and lows from filmmakers around the globe, resulting in quite possibly the most eclectic filmography of any adapted author. Posthumously, the writer has been given accolades of the highest order.  In 2004, however, he received a distinction that eluded even Edgar Allan Poe – someone went and made an H.P. Lovecraft XXX spoof.  Oh, dear God…er, Old Ones, help me!

Stuart Gordon’s classic RE-ANIMATOR (1985) serves as the inspiration for the aptly titled RE-PENETRATOR.  The film opens with Dr. Hubert Breast (Tommy Pistol) preparing to inject his day-glow green life-restoring formula into a naked female corpse (Joanna Angel).  He utters how this restorative juice will get her to “crave sex” but decides he needs “something bigger” to kick things into motion.  He gets a super-sized syringe full of green goo and injects it into her vagina, causing the undead dish to rise from the dead.  And that isn’t the only thing rising.  After hilariously screaming, “It’s alive, it’s alive” to full comedic effect, the good doc proves his M.D. stands for Medical Deviant as he and his experiment get it on in bloody fashion.  After they finish having sex, he tells her she acts like she hasn’t had sex in 120 years.  Apparently she has the post-coital skills of a preying mantis as she proceeds to kill her mate by mounting him and ripping out his intestines.  The film wraps up with the zombie girl looking to inject the dead doc with the serum to raise him once more.  Take that, Viagra!

Truth be told, there isn’t really a lot I can say about RE-PENETRATOR as it is only short that was made for Burning Angel.  Not surprisingly, it is currently the only XXX Lovecraft porn parody and we can only hope it will be the last.  Well, unless AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS gets made (again, it won’t) and we can get AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MAMMARIES (you can boo Tom for that joke).  I actually went into this thinking RE-PENETRATOR was a full length feature, but it is only a 20+ minute short.  This no doubt disappointed the porn parody enthusiast in me as director Doug Sakmann was responsible for EVIL HEAD (2012), the spot on parody of THE EVIL DEAD (1981). Alas, this was just his infancy stage when he did this and THE XXXORCIST (2006).  So anyone hoping for a full on XXX version of RE-ANIMATOR’s infamous head scene will have to wait.  The sex in the film is actually quite gross as it involves lots of blood spewing and spraying.  You have to admire the performers for working through all that.  Definitely not my cup of tea, but I’m sure some Japanese salary man is very, very happy halfway across the globe. It shouldn’t come as a shock that it won “Most Outrageous Sex Scene” at the 2006 AVN awards.  I’m glad to hear it beat out “The Cum Omelet” from AMERICAN BUKKAKE 26 (I’m not joking, that is a real thing it was up against). Also, some rather bad metal music blasts during the entire proceeding so you you’re your ears as well as eyes assaulted.  Rather than bore you with more words, here are some pics to give you an idea about the film (and send tons of Google hits our way).  Enjoy?


You're welcome for the nightmares:

Somewhere Andreas Schnaas is screaming, “This is too much!”

This Lady Gaga chick is weird!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Halloween Havoc: DARK HERITAGE (1989)

Horror as a genre tends to be borderless. Being human makes a lot of horror's themes relatable by nearly everyone, everywhere regardless of where they live. Because of this, there really is no need to set the location in an actual place. You can make it Anytown, USA and no one will really notice. However, when you set the location, you get all of the area's history and superstitions to draw on. In the US, there are locations that naturally lend themselves to the genre. We have Massachusetts' witchburnings, Pennsylvania's Arkham Asylum, and New Hampshire made famous by Sutter Cane. Oh yeah, and there's Maine, the setting for novels by some weird lookin' dude who never amounted to much. Then there is Louisiana, a state that is arguably the richest in superstitious folklore, creepy scenery and dark history. So why isn't it used more? It's a question that will probably never be answered, but one that should be asked more often.

In "northern" Louisiana a campground is the site of a horrific massacre. Most horrific is the acting of the victims of clawed green hands. The police have written it off as a wolf attack, but local journalist Clint Harrison (Mark LaCour) knows damn well that there haven't been any wolf sightings in the area for over 150 years. His boss Mr. Daniels (Eddie Moore) tells him to forget all that, and that his boss wants Clint to investigate an abandoned house. Apparently 150 years ago the area was the site of a string of serial killings that went unreported. So basically, the hell with the massacre that happened last night, let's get on the murders that supposedly happened a century and a half ago that nobody ever talked about. The deal is that Clint and a couple of volunteers from the printing department, are to spend a night in the house as a fluff piece. To this effect the guys are given a video camera and a swift kick in the ass, as for some reason Mr. Daniels is irate over this idea. After telling Clint that there is nothing to it, he tells Clint that he is crazy for taking the assignment and that he is "totally opposed to it." Typical bad middle management, delivering conflicting messages to subordinates.

After driving out into the sticks and hiking three miles up to the house, the other guys start getting scared, even though one is packing enough heat to make Dirty Harry self-conscious. Clint recounts some of the history of the Danson (amusingly pronounced "dancin'") house which was the site of horrible murders that only happened during thunder storms. Amazingly in spite of being abandoned for 100 years, there isn't a speck of dust and everything is in pretty nice shape. The guys set up their video camera and take watch. Of course Clint is woken up by a specter in the window during a thunderstorm only to find the others gone and the camera smashed to pieces.

After returning to the office, Mr. Daniels gives him the third degree accusing him of not staying in the house at all and then accusing him of murdering the other two guys! There are no bodies and no motive, but he's going to fry for it (presumably in a crispy cornmeal coating). He then says "I'm just trying to help." As if that wasn't schizophrenic enough, Mr. Daniels gives Clint three weeks paid leave to get his head together, but definitely not to work on the story.

Of course you know what that means. Clint decides that there is a connection between the house and the campsite massacre, but the hard part is actually proving it. After hooking up with another couple of expenda - err, I mean dependable volunteers, the guys gradually uncover the sinister secret of the house and a network of tunnels underneath it. Amusingly, the way they discover the tunnels is because they figured they would check the area of the campsite massacre for clues that the police overlooked. How to they do this? By digging up patches of soil with shovels. Hey, they didn't know about forensic science! "CSI" hadn't been broadcast yet. Also, when one of the schmucks gets killed because during a thunderstorm they decide to hang out in the camper of a murdered couple (who apparently were tidy enough not to spill blood anywhere), Clint flips out and wants to bury his body because he thinks that the police are already suspicious of him for the last two disappearances! Sure, nothing suspicious at all about a missing person in a shallow grave on a crime scene. Nobody will ever know. I think Clint's mamma must have been drinkin' something funny when she was pregnant.

As, no doubt, you can tell this is a rip-off of Lovecraft's "The Lurking Fear". I say "rip-off" because there is no credit given to Lovecraft or his story in the credits. Though strangely there is no credited writer at all, so perhaps the writing credits were left off by accident. Yeah, that's it, blame the lab. Interestingly transplanted from the Catskills of upper New York to the unnamed Northern Louisiana woods, but this is a rank amateur production, make no mistake. The writing and acting is on par with countless other shot on video horror flicks from the late '80s, except for one very discriminating factor: it was shot on film. As far as I'm concerned, going through the laborious and expensive process of shooting with film is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Anybody can grab a video camera and screw around with their friends and call it a movie (for some reason Jon McBride comes to mind). Here producer-director David McCormick takes a break from his usual gig as an editor and gives us his one and only film. I totally respect the fact that not only is his singular, personally financed project shot on film, but it is an adaptation of a Lovecraft story. Plus it stays true to the Louisiana location as everybody in the movie, and I do mean everyone, is strapped an loaded.

Granted it's not the best Lovecraft adaptation you'll ever see, but the reckless enthusiasm and genuine sweat equity make it an enjoyable one in my eyes.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Newsploitation: The Phantom of the Box Office

Pardon the interruption in our continued H.P. Lovecraft film coverage, but we figured we’d take a day to remember another box office birthday. Rather than being something that set the ticket takers on fire, this is a film that came and went in a matter of weeks. But it is an important film in that it demonstrated several box office lessons for the producers (and me, at the time).  Namely, a hot property in another medium isn’t always a guaranteed success and just because a performer is popular as one character doesn’t mean it will translate to other projects.  So allow me to draw up the curtain on 1989’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, which celebrates its 25th anniversary today.

This new version of Gaston Leroux’s novel was officially announced by Cannon at MIFED in October 1988.  No, that isn’t an error.  Cannon was the original backer/distributor for this film.  The following two-page slick advert from the October 19, 1988 Variety publicized the film and boasted the major casting coup for Golan/Globus as they had hired Robert Englund – horror’s hottest actor and Freddy Kreuger himself – to play the title role.

Original PHANTOM announcement
(click to enlarge)

If you clicked on the large version of the ad, you probably noticed a few things.  First, a promised start date of November 28, 1988 was listed.  Second, the screenplay was credited solely to Gerry O’Hara.  Third, John Hough was listed as the director.  A lot of changes would go down before the cameras eventually started rolling.

Perhaps the biggest change was Cannon going bankrupt.  Menahem Golan split and quickly moved on to the newly reconstituted 21st Century Film Corporation.  Most folks know he took both the Marvel titles Cannon owned (Spider-Man and Captain America) with him.  He also took the Englund vehicle, which was to be produced by Harry Alan Towers, and groomed it to be 21st Century’s first theatrical release.  Behind-the-scenes turmoil was abound as by the time December 1988 rolled around, the film’s listing in Variety’s “future productions” guide featured all new players. O’Hara was now credited with the earlier script and Duke Sandefur was now listed as the screenwriter.  I suspect lots of drama went on there as Sandefur’s script wasn’t even copyrighted until September 1989.  Also, director Hough was out and Dwight H. Little was in. Honestly, this change was probably for the best as Little was coming off the hit HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988) while Hough – who was great in the 1970s – had just given the world THE HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE (1988).  Production start dates moved from January 1989 to February to eventually March, where filming started in Budapest.  It was a very tight schedule to meet their already planned fall release date.

To make matters worse, the MPAA originally slapped the film with an X-rating for the onscreen violence.  To date, the uncut version has never come out (and I’m sure it is tamer than anything we see on THE WALKING DEAD each week).  According to Variety on August 15, 1989, the film was cut down and received the desired R-rating.  This allowed the producers to go wide with their product and Golan told Variety in an October 18, 1989 article they were “choosing its theatrical releases carefully.” (Amusing, he also said in the same piece that he’d have his MACK THE KNIFE [1989] musical starring Raul Julia out in time for awards season; he missed that date…and the awards.)  Two weeks later, PHANTOM arrived on over 1,400 screens with a thud despite posters reminding everyone that this starred Freddy.  The film failed to even crack the top five its opening weekend, coming in with a paltry $2,050,000 in sixth place behind SECOND SIGHT (1989).  Yes, a film with Bronson Pinchot as a psychic beat this film out.  The grisly new take on the Phantom dropped faster than a chandelier and disappeared within two weeks with a final tally of just $3,953,745. The film also had the unfortunate distinction of being the lone nationwide theatrical release by 21st Century.

As I mentioned in the opening, this film’s failure was also a learning experience for yours truly.  When I heard Freddy Kreuger was going to play the Phantom of the Opera, I thought it would be a smashing success.  “Freddy is huge at the movies, Phantom of the Opera is huge on Broadway, this will be huge,” thought my huge-skewed 14-year-old brain.  Sadly, grown men with access to millions of dollars had the same thought process at the time. So confident was the studio of the film’s predestined success, they had already announced a sequel with Englund called TERROR OF MANHATTAN.  That film never got made.  The script was eventually rewritten and became DANCE MACABRE (1992) with Englund directed by Greydon Clark.

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