Critters (1986)

CrittersposterGreetings, readers, Bill here again. Now, today’s film is one I’ve had on my plate for a while now; my friend and webmaster Jordan (aka the Vault Master) gifted me with the complete CRITTERS franchise on DVD a couple years back, and I’ve been meaning to revisit the series; I’m not sure I ever saw this first one in the series, and I know I saw CRITTERS 2, 3 and 4 back around 1996-1997. So I decided today that I’d put what I would review up for a vote on the RSR Facebook page, and CRITTERS won out,  And so, without any further ado, let’s take a good long look at this mid-1980s horror comedy classic, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

On a prison-asteroid somewhere far out in space, a jailbreak occurs, and a group of prisoners, all belonging to a species known as “Crites,” manage to steal a ship and escape out into space.  The warden, a grotesque little half-man-blob in a hover-chair, commissions a pair of shape-shifting bounty hunters to retrieve the Crites.

The Crites’ ship lands on Earth in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas, on land owned by the Brown family; the first intimation they have that they’re in the middle of a nightmare is when the patriarch of the family, Jay Brown (Billy Green Bush, of THE HITCHER and JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY) discovers a cow that the Crites have eaten most of.  Before long, the entire Brown family – father Jay; mother Helen (Dee Wallace, last seen around these parts in ABOMINABLE), and kids Helen and Brad – find themselves besieged in their lonely farm house, surrounded by hungry alien monsters.  With the aid of Charlie (Don Opper, of…the CRITTERS franchise fame…), an alcoholic handyman and the bounty hunters, the Browns fight back against the Crites; but can they survive the night or will they become an interplanetary buffet?

A lot of people seem convinced that CRITTERS was made to cash in on the popularity of GREMLINS (you know, the way MUNCHIES, HOBGOBLINS, GHOULIES, and who knows how many others were), but the director has always denied this, claiming the script was written before GREMLINS was released and then edited to minimize the similarities between the two films.  And really, beyond “a group of pint-sized monsters terrorize a family” the similarities between this film and GREMLINS are pretty much nil.  The overall story structure, in which a midwestern family is in trouble and mysterious strangers ride into town to resolve the trouble, is far more reminiscent of the classic western formula, here laid over top of the “Hopkinsville Goblin” case in UFO lore, in which a Kentucky family spent a harrowing night “defending” their homestead from curious, silvery, big-eyed and big-eared creatures.  This same incident was also one of the inspirations that led to Spielberg’s E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, for what it’s worth, a film in which Dee Wallace also played the mom.

While the human cast is pretty solid, nobody really stands out as remarkable here with the possible exception of Don Opper’s Charlie; I did like his character arc from being the town drunk, being condescended to by the sheriff, to helping save the day and leaving with the aliens for further adventures in space.

The real stars of the show were the titular Critters; the Crites are some of the most fun, bad-to-the-bone aliens in recent viewing memory.  They have all the personality and wicked charm of Dante’s Gremlins, and end up with the best lines in the film – yes, the Crites aren’t just mindless eating machines, they’re smart enough to hot-wire a ship and have a language of their own, translated for the viewing audience through the courtesy of subtitles whenever they’re conversing.  I’m particularly fond of a sequence in which a Crite finds a stuffed doll of E.T. and tries to have a conversation with it, mistaking it for a fellow alien stranded on Earth; eventually he grows frustrated with the doll’s silence and chews its head off.

Final Analysis: A great little horror-comedy with a solid, if unremarkable cast and fun, gruesome little monsters.  Was it inspired by GREMLINS? Maybe, maybe not.  Does it seem to fit into the lineage of films inspired by GREMLINS? It does.  Does it matter? Not in the slightest.  With a promised sequel materializing two years later, with two more coming down the pipe in the early ’90s, CRITTERS proved to be more lucrative a franchise then any of the (other?) GREMLINS follow-ups were, and it makes for a damn good afternoon’s viewing.

Overall, I give CRITTERS (1986)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – Radiation-Scarred Reviews/Bill Adcock

I got challenged, and decided to challenge ALL OF YOU, yes, the entire readership of Radiation-Scarred Reviews. Plus, my webmaster, one of my biggest inspirations, and my neighbor Chad.

See you in 24 hours.

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Scum (2014)

IMG_7617Greetings, readers, Bill here again. Now, I normally do not review short films; I’ve been burned so many times by indie guys making short films who simply don’t know how to tell a story using the format, and it’s by and large turned me off the format. However, tonight I am reviewing a short film; 2014′s SCUM from Ohio-area filmmakers Zach Shildwachter and BJ Colangelo. Why am I breaking my pattern? One, because Zach and BJ are both really close, dear friends of mine. Two, because Zach has proven to me that he can do more with 10 minutes and a budget consisting of a coffee mug full of pennies then some filmmakers can do with five grand and seventy-five minutes. And three, because this is my site and I can do as I damn well please. However, do not make the mistake of thinking that Zach and BJ’s relationship with me comprises my integrity as a reviewer; much as with DIE, DEVELKOK, DIE!, my review is based solely on the film’s own merit.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

SCUM follows a meek, weak-willed man (Josh Miller) who has spent his entire life on the receiving end of every sort of abuse imaginable.  When confronted with the reality of his wife’s infidelity, his already tenuous grip on reality begins to slip through his fingers.  As he struggles to find meaning – to demand meaning from the universe – through violence, his universe contracts, smaller and smaller, until there’s nothing left but the space inside his head.

You can watch SCUM here.

Some filmmakers make a film because they have something to say; others, because they have to say something.  With SCUM, Zach Shildwachter has something to say, and he says it with such precision and grace that he makes it look easy.  With minimal dialogue (and none of it from the main character), the film is instead narrated by the main character’s internal monologue, which Zach has developed from quotes taken from interviews with serial killers.  Through careful selection of quotes and proper arrangement, Zach makes the message of SCUM crystal clear: that there’s a beast in the heart of every man and woman, testing its bonds, waiting for the moment when it breaks free and resumes control; the moment when civility and humanity break down and Mankind’s true face, snarling and demoniacal, is shown.  It’s not a new message; Bertholt Brecht cheerily reminded us in the 1920s (in a song that Tom Waits later covered beautifully) that Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts, while Alan Moore, speaking through the Joker, told us that all it takes is one bad day to drive a man “stark slavering buggo.”

At the same time, SCUM is geared to force the viewer to examine themselves, to find the monster within their own souls.  The main character begins the film as a protagonist, an underdog hero that years of cinema have already geared us to root for, and his first two kills – his unfaithful wife and her lover – come across as at least justifiable, if not actually praiseworthy, homicides.  We’re cheering him on at this point as he seems to be taking charge of his life and not letting anyone use him as a doormat any longer.  But by the six-minute mark, he begins to transition; the audience is forced to question whether or not they can root for him as he begins to murder innocent bystanders.  By the 11 minute mark he’s become utterly reprehensible…right? I’m not sure; I think I’d feel a stronger answer to this question in my bones if I was watching this film in a room full of people.  All I can go by is my own response to the character’s actions, but given that I’ve been in theaters where audience members have cheered on the brutal, savage rape and dismemberment of characters on screen…who knows how others will react?

The film, for all its dirtiness and sleaziness, is a beauty to behold, with a color palette that’s both rich and muted in turn, and the careful use of filters during sequences of flashback or dissociation that connect the grindhouse vibe of the film to the Instagram generation in a way that feels more natural and less forced then many of the “Retrosploitation” films of recent years such as MACHETE and similar offerings.

Final Analysis: See it.  Absolutely fucking see it.  The link is right up there to see it for free and it’s 12 minutes of your time.  You will not regret it.  And I, for one, am eagerly awaiting Zach Shildwachter’s next short and even more so the day when he makes a feature.  The closest thing I can offer to criticism of this film is that I wish it was a full-length film.

Overall, I give SCUM (2014)…

five_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FIVE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Coming Soon from Freaktown Comics – SLASHERMANIA

Hey readers, just thought I’d signal boost this press release I received last night – I know I’m a movie review blogger, but this upcoming graphic novel sounds like too much fun to pass up. Unscrew your eyeballs, because SLASHERMANIA is coming:

***

FREAKTOWN COMICS PRESENTS: SLASHERMANIA

1983. Troubled teens from New York and Los Angeles are taken to a summer camp facility to be trained as counsellors and mix safely with other people their own age. Little do they know they are being watched by an audience hungry for sex and violence. They are the designated victims for a bizarre contest of murder and mayhem – WELCOME TO SLASHERMANIA!

Masked maniacs from across the USA, Canada, Italy & the UK compete in various categories: best Male Solo Death! Best Female Solo Death! Coitus Interruptus! Sin Punishment! Most Creative Kill! Biggest Multiple Death! The coveted Slasher of the Year award!

“And the Slashie goes to…”

Slashermania is an original graphic novel in the tradition of the classic slasher movies of the eighties. Written by Russell Hillman, with art by Ron Joseph, Jake Isenberg and Harry Saxon, and letters by Sergio Calvet.

For more details, including release dates and preview art, follow @FreaktownComics on Twitter or find us on Facebook.

***

I’ve taken a look at the same artwork they have for SLASHERMANIA and while it’s a bit cleaner then I would have liked given the subject matter, it’s beautifully done and I think it’s going to complement the story well.

SLASHERMANIA is coming, and while I’m not a slasher fan for the most part, I’m definitely interested in this.

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The Crater Lake Monster (1977)

The-Crater-Lake-Monster-monster-movies-36925904-450-683Greetings, readers, Bill here once more with a movie I’m flabbergasted I haven’t gotten to until now. Those of you who are regular readers know I’m a sucker for dinosaur movies and love anything with stop-motion animation, and this film has both going for it, as well as being probably the best thing to ever come out of Crown International Pictures. With special effects by Dave Allen (my choice for the second best stop motion artist after Ray Harryhausen), directed by William R. Stromberg from a script by Stromberg and Richard Cardella, and starring Richard Cardella, let’s take a look at THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

A group of archaeologists working near Crater Lake in northern California (not the more famous Crater Lake in Oregon) uncover the find of a century; Native American cave paintings, at least 5,000 years old, depicting natives engaged in battle against a rampaging plesiosaurus, a Loch Ness Monster-like prehistoric reptile.  Proof positive that the dinosaurs did not go completely extinct 65 million years ago – at least a few survived into the Age of Man!

Unfortunately, at this point a meteorite crashes into the lake, setting off an earth tremor that destroys the cave and the cave paintings, with the archaeologists barely escaping with their lives.  The meteorite has a second effect; it uncovers a buried egg, deep in the muck of the lake, and heats the water sufficiently for the egg to hatch!

Before long, there’s a full-grown plesiosaur roaming the lake, picking off boaters and fishermen.  It falls to Sheriff Hanson (Cardella) to figure out a way of killing this creature before it depopulates the entire Crater Lake area.

This film doesn’t get a great rap from most critics; for example, George Reis over at DVD Drive-In referred to THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER as “one of the worst giant monster flicks of all time,” and I don’t think that’s fair.  I mean, crap, I’ve sat through MONSTROID, and next to that film this one looks like GODZILLA.  I would say THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER doesn’t even fall into the bottom five of giant monster movies I’ve seen, probably not even the bottom 10.  Hell, I still can’t get the taste of the YONGARY remake out of my mouth, and I haven’t seen that since before I started Radiation-Scarred Reviews.

Many of the problems with the film can be chalked up to Crown International rather than Stromberg and Cardella; the godawful public domain soundtrack, for starters, was not their doing and they weren’t responsible for the fact that the film was edited like an autopsy video.

I think the other thing a lot of people don’t care for is the comic relief, in the form of two bumbling bumpkins, Arnie and Mitch (Mitch has Steve Gutenberg hair, while Arnie has a giant beard and a drinking problem, otherwise they’re essentially interchangeable) who run a small boat rental business on the lake.  These two knuckleheads bicker like an old married couple, get comically drunk in the woods, engage in clumsy fistfights, and generally seem to exist to make the sheriff rip his hair out – they don’t add a whole lot to the film other then being the ones to stumble across the remains of people the monster killed, which is why I didn’t make any mention of them in my earlier synopsis.  For the most part scenes of Arnie and Mitch are played for laughs and for padding the length of the feature; it’s only during the climactic sequence of the film that they become good for anything.

Similarly, a subplot involving Sheriff Hanson chasing down a robber that shot two people during a convenience store hold-up likewise struggles to feel like anything except padding the runtime and the monster’s kill-count.

On a brighter note, the monster looks fantastic, a true showcase of Dave Allen’s (Q: THE WINGED SERPENT, THE DAY TIME ENDED, GHOSTBUSTERS II) amazing talent.  I won’t disagree with anyone who lists the plesiosaur here as the highest high point of the film.  It’s beautiful in its ugliness; thick, warty hide rippling as it moves, its neck thick with wattles, a mouthful of jagged fangs…it’s everything a B-movie dinosaur should be, and the climactic battle between it and the bulldozer — well, while it may not be the “roping the Allosaurus” sequence from THE VALLEY OF GWANGI, it’s pretty darn impressive in its own right, and gives the beast some personality of its own – something few special effects artists besides Harryhausen and O’Brien have been able to accomplish in stop-motion.

I haven’t upgraded to the Blu-Ray release of this film put out by Mill Creek, which pairs it with GALAXINA, but I have the Rhino DVD release and honestly the quality here is so good I don’t see any reason to upgrade.  The print is flawlessly crisp and bright, with rich, saturated 1970s colors on full display.

Final Analysis: It’s not JURASSIC PARK, but if you go into it expecting JURASSIC PARK you’re an idiot and a jackass.  However, if you go in for a light-hearted monster movie that you don’t have to think too hard about, you will be entertained.  And who can ask for more from a film then that? While it’s not a perfect film, I had fun watching it.

Overall, I give THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER (1977)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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The Entity (1981)

220px-TheEntityGreetings, readers, Bill here again. Forgive the odd timing of this review; I’m out sick from work today, but my eyeballs and fingers are still functioning so I’m not going to be an unproductive lump of flesh on the couch. I picked this film up awhile back having read descriptions and been impressed with how sleazy it seemed; add to that the magnificent “based on true events” tag and my endless amusement at claims of the paranormal and occult and I was sold, baby. Without any further ado, let’s get into this film about demonic assault, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey, BLACK SWAN, INSIDIOUS) and her family have a problem.  One night, after putting her young daughter to bed, Carla is violently attacked and raped in her bedroom.  She doesn’t see the assailant; her son Billy assures her the front door is still locked and no one came in through the garage; there’s no way an attacker could have gotten into the house.  A sudden outburst of poltergeist activity sends her and her family running to a friend’s house for the night.

At her friend’s advice, Carla agrees to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver, BLUE STEEL), who is initially convinced that Carla’s either making up the assault or her mind fabricated it as a response to past trauma; as we learn, Carla’s had a rough life, including sexual and physical abuse, a teenage pregnancy and a first marriage that ended with her husband’s violent death.  However, when Carla is raped again, this time in front of her children, and again, in front of her friend Cindy, the possibilities of a paranormal assailant are explored.

At the urging of a pair of parapsychologists, Carla agrees to be the bait in a trap for this entity.  A mock-up of her house is created and rigged with liquid helium dispensers to freeze the demon, alien, ghost or whatever this thing might be.  Before long, all Hell breaks loose…will Carla ever have a normal life again?

As far as “based on true events” goes, allow me to quote from the Wikipedia article for this film: “[Director Sidney] Furie … confessed that he intentionally avoided researching the actual case upon which The Entity is based as he “did not want to judge the characters and story in any way.” Both he and actress Barbara Hershey did not meet with Doris Bither, the real-life Carla Moran, either prior, during or after the shooting of the film was completed in 1981.” So much for “based on true events.”  I’m not going to comment on the case of Doris Bither, as this is a movie review blog, not a paranormal investigation blog.

The film is largely a very slow-moving, slow-burning film as Carla struggles to convince the people around her that she’s being sexually assaulted by a huge, invisible monstrosity, punctuated with truly harrowing scenes of Carla being assaulted – Barbara Hershey should have won some sort of award for her performance here, because she goddamn sold it.

Other than Barbara Hershey’s performance, a lot of the other actors seemed kind of flat and lifeless, which took me by surprise – Ron Silver was not a bad actor by any stretch of the imagination.  I think it’s just that the film focuses so tightly on Carla Moran and her experiences that the rest of the cast is kind of shunted off to the side and not given enough to work with.

Final Analysis: Not a bad film by any metric, and especially not a sleazy film – it handles the subject of a woman being raped by a demonic force with all possible tactfulness, which I have to say is not something I was expecting in the slightest.  Barbara Hershey gives a great performance while everyone else kind of stands off to the side, the special effects are handled with restraint.  In a film where it would be very easy to go over the top, everyone stayed remarkably on the rails.  I don’t know that this one is going to have a lot of rewatch value for me, but I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Overall, I give THE ENTITY (1981)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)

Tremors_2Greetings, readers, Bill here. Having had guests visiting this weekend, I didn’t feel right reviewing a film when I was supposed to be playing host, and resolving this morning, since I knew I had an open evening, that I’d relax and watch something fun and light-weight. Scanning through my collection of DVDs, looking for something I could watch while on the couch with my girlfriend that wouldn’t utterly repulse her (she hasn’t forgiven me yet for subjecting her to SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER), my eyes fell on the TREMORS franchise set I picked up at Wal-Mart a couple years back while still in college. I’d reviewed the first film in the series a while back at the behest of RSR fan Bonnie Murray, and decided it’s high time I revisited the series.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

A few years after the events of the first film, Val has gotten married and moved away, while Earl (Fred Ward again, now with long hair) found himself screwed out of the royalties from a Graboids-based arcade game and is now struggling to make ends meet with a failing ostrich farm.  When a young fan, Grady Hoover (Christopher Gartin) shows up on his doorstep with Mr. Ortega, a Mexican oil executive whose fields are being plagued by graboids.  Ortega wants to hire Earl to exterminate the graboids, an act Earl declares he’s not suicidal enough to partake in.  Grady eventually convinces Earl that this could be the big second chance he’s been waiting for…and that Ortega’s offering $50,000 per graboid killed doesn’t hurt either.

Once in Mexico, Earl and Grady are introduced to the last few people still working at the oil field, most prominently geologist Kate Reilly (Helen Shaver), whom Earl is immediately attracted to.  While Earl and Grady have some immediate success hunting graboids with a seismometer, a series of remote controlled toy cars and a few bundles of dynamite, eventually they find themselves overwhelmed by the numbers of graboids in the region and call in Earl’s old friend Burt Gummer (Michael Gross, reprising his role from the first film).  Moping around his compound following his wife leaving him (having declared that Burt simply didn’t know how to exist in a world without the Soviet Union’s threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over his head), Burt relishes the opportunity to distract himself hunting worms.

What none of them anticipate, however, is the screwy life-cycle of the graboids.  When the worms start erupting like Hefty bags full of beef stew left in the sun, releasing small, fast-moving, heat-seeking “Shriekers,” all the heavy artillery Burt brought proves useless, and the group is forced to think on their feet to find a new method of fighting the graboid menace.

It’s so rare to find a sequel that lives up to the promise of its predecessor; THE GODFATHER, PART 2, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH.  I can say with all confidence that TREMORS 2: AFTERSHOCKS belongs on that list, and it’s a shame it was released direct-to-video instead of given theatrical release.

With Kevin Bacon not reprising his role, much more of the film falls on Fred Ward’s capable shoulders, and he does amazing with it.  Why the hell isn’t he a bigger star? Is it the nose? Seriously, Ward’s talents are undeniable, especially on display here.  The fairly happy-go-lucky Earl of the first film has developed a harder edge in the interim between the two films, bitter at having been cheated out of the royalties off merchandise inspired by his ordeal in Perfection, on the edge of giving up but just a little too stubborn to let go entirely, a man who keeps the October 1974 centerfold pinned to the wall as a reminder that some dreams aren’t worth chasing after.  His revival and reconnection with happiness over the course of the film is fantastic, from the first grudging excitement he allows himself when he detonates his first graboid to his exuberance as he tallies up his earnings and walks off into the sunset with Kate on his arm, it’s one of my favorite character arcs in recent memory.

This film is where Michael Gross’ character Burt truly takes off and begins to really take over as the central protagonist of the franchise.  From the first scene of him moping in his rec room (taxidermied Graboid head on the wall behind him), carelessly eating a TV dinner in a bathrobe, we have a similar arc to Earl’s – having had everything, his wife, his looming threat of thermonuclear world war, etc., taken from him, he has to reconnect with the world.  His participation in the graboid-hunt feels very much like a midlife crisis — he makes a road trip, gets himself a new ride (in this case, a 2 1/2 ton Mexican Army Surplus truck) and engages in machismo-drenched competitive graboid-hunting with Earl and Grady.  By the film’s conclusion, Burt is back to being his smart-alecky, sarcastic self.

We aren’t given a whole lot of Graboid-proper action, just a few short sequences of the beaked head popping out of the ground and then a sequence of a “sick” graboid beaching itself on the surface, laying their moaning pitiably.  Once the Shriekers emerge (apparently eating their way out of the “parent” worm), then things get crazy.  With their small, dense bodies, long ivory-beaked heads, muscular dinosaur-like legs and stubby tadpole tails their small size is no hindrance to being scary little bastards.  They’re fast, aggressive, incredibly strong (capable of chewing through sheet steel with ease) and hunt through detecting heat via a little flap that pops up on their heads, revealing a pulsating, brain-like sensory organ.  The Shriekers were realized through elaborate puppets for all close up sequences, with decent CGI used for crowd scenes and extended action sequences.

Final Analysis: All in all, TREMORS 2: AFTERSHOCKS is undeniably a good film, building on the comedy of the first film while replacing some of the horror with action.  The monsters are well realized and delightfully grotesque, and the film carries a surprisingly heartfelt message about never giving up on one’s dreams or allowing life’s setbacks to keep one from living life to the fullest.  Or am I just reading way too much into a low-budget monster movie? Nah, I’m going to go with the film having a heartfelt message.

Overall, I give TREMORS 2: AFTERSHOCKS (1996)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Satan’s Little Helper (2004)

Poster_of_the_movie_Satan's_Little_HelperGreetings, readers, Bill here again. Today’s movie comes to us courtesy a recommendation from a coworker of mine, who’s friends with the guy who, ten years ago, starred in the film. She recommended I check out the film and give it a review. And since she was kind enough to watch GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS on my recommendation, the least I can do is check this out on hers.  From director Jeff Lieberman of SQUIRM fame, here’s 2004′s SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER.

Spoilers ensue

Meet little Dougie (Alexander Brickel), a little boy obsessed with Satan ever since he began playing the popular “Satan’s Little Helper” video game.  He’s equally obsessed with his older sister Jenna, declaring to his mother as they go to pick her up at the train station that he intends to marry his sister.  His hopes are dashed when Jenna shows up with her new boyfriend Alex.

Running off, Dougie encounters a serial killer in a Satan mask who agrees to take Dougie on as “Satan’s Little Helper.”  Dougie thinks this is all a harmless game, even as Satan murders the entire police force of the small town.  He invites Satan into his home to send Alex to Hell, and once Satan takes an aggressive, sexual interest in Dougie’s sister and mother, it begins to dawn on the kid that maybe this isn’t a game any more…

No trailer on Youtube for this one, but here’s a clip:

That was something else.  Dougie’s entire family is some kind of Freudian mess; Mom (Amanda Plummer) is a pothead who see’s Dougie’s obsessive desire for his older sister as harmless and cute, and that same older sister thinks it’s adorable to be choke-slammed and nearly-raped while her little brother watches, and barely protests when Satan (whom she believes to be Alex in costume) starts taking upskirt photos of her mother (who also doesn’t protest)! This family has problems, above and beyond having invited a masked killer into their home.

The film looks really great – the colors are candy-bright and ultra-saturated, BLUE VELVET style, evoking a sense of a more innocent era of Halloweens, a time before slutty costumes and ultra-realistic lawn decorations.  Likewise, Satan’s mask is excellent, and provides an impressive contrast from the more throwback-style costumes seen on kids in the film, including Dougie’s “Satan’s Little Helper” outfit.  I’d almost call that contrast a commentary on the way Halloween has evolved over the last couple decades.

While the film looked great and has some clever commentary to it regarding parental responsibility, the place of video games in childrens’ lives and the difference between fantasy and reality, overall I don’t think I was wholly sold on the film as an “underappreciated horror classic” as I saw it recently described on some list-site.  I thought the balance between humor and horror was badly uneven and would have liked a set of protagonist-characters that I actually found likeable enough to root for – or at least a villain more strongly defined then Satan was here.

Final Analysis: Not exactly my cup of tea, this horror-comedy is pretty offbeat and may appeal more to people looking for something to put on as background at a Halloween party then for someone like me, putting this on and scrutinizing it.  The villain is visually interesting even if no more then a cardboard cut out in terms of personality and motivation, while the rest of the cast is either forgettable or squicky in one way or another. The humor itself is excellent, I hasten to add — I particularly liked the incongruity of placing a scene of graphic cat-murder immediately before a sequence in which a family of trick-or-treaters ask Satan to pose for a photo op with his “decorations.”

Overall, I give SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER (2004)…

two_barrels_of_toxic_waste

TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Death Metal Zombies (1995)

dmz-vhs-artwork-aGreetings, readers, Bill here again. It dawned on me that it’s been ages since I’ve reviewed a film that wasn’t from either the 1980s or the 1970s. I decided I needed to mix things up a bit, and it came down to either 2004′s SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER (which I’ll be reviewing soon anyways, as a coworker of mine’s friends with the kid who starred in the film and has been asking me to review it) and 1995′s DEATH METAL ZOMBIES. I can’t remember the last time I reviewed something from the 1990s, plus my girlfriend’s using the Netflix account tonight, so DEATH METAL ZOMBIES it is.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Brad Masters is a fan of heavy metal – the heavier, the better.  So when he wins an exclusive first-listen recording of the newest album from his favorite band, Living Corpse, you bet your ass he’s not going to wait to listen to it – his girlfriend Angel will have to wait to listen to it on the second spin.  Playing the album turns Brad and his friends Tony and Kelly into Death Metal Zombies, undead killing machines enslaved to the will of Shengar, lead singer of the band Living Corpse.

Now Angel has to find a way to reverse the Death Metal Zombie curse as the infection spreads…

If you don’t like cheesy, no-budget, SOV horror made by a group of friends with a camcorder and a dream, you won’t like DEATH METAL ZOMBIES.  But if you can look past the video quality and that the cast isn’t composed of classically-trained thespians, DEATH METAL ZOMBIES has a lot to offer.

For starters, I’ve never seen a film with headbanging zombies created by playing a heavy metal album forwards (or backwards, for that matter), roaming the streets with switchblades and butcher knives at the command of their favorite vocalist.  You hear that? For everyone bitching about the lack of originality in horror these days, BAM, DEATH METAL ZOMBIES.  Check it out, because it’s something you haven’t seen done to death.

The zombie make-up is done simply and effectively – some white face paint and heavy eyeshadow forms the majority of it, which is fine as these are fresh ghouls, most of them dying without major traumatic injuries.  And for those used to Romero-style zombies, the smirking, tool-using zombies here (going so far at one point as to find a can of gasoline and start splashing it around the house Angel is in in order to burn it down) with their moaning cries of needing to kill for Shengar might be a bit hard to swallow, but I personally had a lot of fun with them and with this film.

The biggest draw, here, is the soundtrack.  Metal tracks, specifically early 90s underground metal (of the sort that arose as a response to the Glam scene and nascent Grunge movement), play throughout, and my understanding is that filmmaker Todd Cook contacted Relapse Records to request the use of one song, and they sent him 40 discs of music to use as he pleased.

Final Analysis: A fun movie of the sort that have become more common without getting any better as technology has grown more widely and cheaply available, I think I can safely recommend DEATH METAL ZOMBIES to anyone with a taste of trashy SOV B-grade horror and heavy metal music.  The film was remade in 2012, also by Cook, as ZOMBIFIED with a larger budget; I haven’t watched that one yet so I can’t comment.

Overall, I give DEATH METAL ZOMBIES (1995)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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The Beast Must Die (1974)

beast_must_die_poster_01Greetings, readers, Bill here again. Tonight’s film was chosen by a vote over at the Radiation-Scarred Reviews Facebook page, selected as tonight’s film over 2004′s SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER. I actually just purchased this DVD today as well – I discovered a little mom-and-pop video rental store that happened to be across the street from the yarn shop where my girlfriend takes knitting classes. While she was learning how to make mittens, I decided to check this place out. The selection was excellent, but the prices were a bit high and the staff wasn’t composed of movie-people; the woman at the front desk just kind of glazed over when I commented about how nice it was to see places like this still existed; they started giving me the stink-eye when I was lingering too long going through the shelves, so I brought this film up to the register and bought it (because there’s not enough Peter Cushing in my personal collection; the woman’s only comment was “Huh, no one’s ever rented this one from us before.”) just to leave without a cloud of suspicion hanging over me.  But anyways, enough about that, on to the film!

Spoilers ensue.

“This film is a detective story,” our opening narration intones, “in which you are the detective.  The question is not ‘who is the murderer’ but ‘who is the werewolf.’”

Millionaire and big game hunter Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart, of COTTON COMES TO HARLEM) has his sights set on the biggest game of all – the legendary werewolf! To this end, he has invited to his country estate six people that he believes may be lycanthropes – disgraced diplomat Arthur Bennington (Charles Gray, of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW); scandal-clouded pianist Jan Gilmore and his wife, Davina; artists Paul Foote, recently released from prison for cannibalism and Dr. Lundgren (Peter Cushing, last seen around these parts in THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR), an archaeologist and expert on lycanthropy.  Using a series of closed-circuit TV cameras, Newcliffe intends to determine which of them is a werewolf and then hunt them for sport.

Amicus, the studio that produced THE BEAST MUST DIE, was kind of a second-string Hammer in the 1960s and 1970s, best-known for their anthology films.  Their non-anthologies were pretty hit-or-miss, and THE BEAST MUST DIE ended up a miss, proving to be the last horror film from Amicus before they closed their doors for good.

The film moves very, very, very slowly, and not in a good, building-suspense kind of way.  The film feels front-loaded with padding from the very first scene of Newcliffe testing his security systems.

Of the cast, only Peter Cushing’s character Dr. Lundgren isn’t presented as a complete miserable asshole deserving of a werewolf-related disemboweling — which makes it very hard to care about solving the mystery of who the werewolf is, just the mystery of why the werewolf isn’t killing these people off faster.  Speaking of characters, Calvin Lockhart was not the original desired star for this film – Robert Quarry (of COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE and DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN) was originally supposed to play the role of Newcliffe, but they decided on Lockhart instead as an attempt to cash in on the then-current blaxploitation craze.

The werewolf itself, due to budget restrictions, was played by a german shepherd with a fur coat on it, to make the dog look bigger and shaggier.

The film’s probably best known for its gimmick – a thirty-second “Werewolf Break” before the climax of the film in which audiences were invited to review the evidence and figure out who the werewolf was for themselves.  It’s not on par with something like selling life insurance against dying of fright in the lobby – heck, it’s not even on par with the “Hooter Honk” and “Gore Gong” schtick from CEMETERY GIRLS.

Final Analysis: I really, really wanted to like this film.  I mean, c’mon, Peter Cushing and a werewolf? What could go wrong? Unfortunately, the film feels poorly put together, the characters are pretty flat and uninteresting (in addition to being assholes) and overall the film was just plain boring – the cardinal sin of movies.  I like the concept, the blending of TEN LITTLE INDIANS, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME and werewolf lore (for which the film provides an entertaining “scientific” explanation), but overall it just didn’t work for me.

Overall, I give THE BEAST MUST DIE (1974)…

two_barrels_of_toxic_waste

TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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