Cyclone (1987)

PosterFull-CYCLONE-poster-001Tax returns are a magical thing, readers, especially if, like me, you go through a website (which shall remain nameless as they’re not paying me for a plug) and are offered the option of getting a portion of your refund as an Amazon gift card, with every $100 you put on the card netting you a bonus $10. So having received such a gift card from filing my taxes, I of course promptly put it to good use by getting a bunch of cheesy movies from a variety of genres. As I’ve been kind of running around like a headless chicken today, I don’t have as much time as I would have liked for reviewing and so I picked today’s movie based solely on its running-time. But I gotta tell you, it looks promising. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Rick (Jeffrey Combs, of RE-ANIMATOR and CELLAR DWELLER) has built the ultimate motorcycle, “Cyclone,” a computerized ride that incorporates rocket launchers and laser cannons into its innovative design.  He also has an iron-pumping blonde bombshell of a girlfriend, Teri (Heather Thomas, of ZAPPED!).  As the owner of the chopshop puts it, she’s got “a bit of Bruce Lee in her,” as demonstrated when she whips the crap out of a trio of chauvinist pigs haranguing her outside the chopshop.  After a visit to a punk club at Teri’s request (the band is Haunted Garage, whose frontman, Dukey Flyswatter, is best known to me as the voice of Uncle Impy in SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA), Rick is murdered.

Now, it falls to Teri to keep “Cyclone” from falling into the hands of Rick’s killers.  Along the way, she encounters FBI agents (Martine Beswick of THUNDERBALL and, surprisingly, her voice appears in CRITTERS 4, and Robert Quarry, of COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE) and a small army of thieving goons at the beck and call of a crimelord (Martin Landau, of WITHOUT WARNING and ALONE IN THE DARK) who wants to get his hands on Cyclone’s clean energy fuel source.

It’s kind of amazing the sheer volume of “names” Fred Olen Ray assembled for this cast.  Above and beyond the people named in the synopsis, we also get appearances from Troy Donahue, Huntz Hall (whose career stretches back to doing James Cagney pictures in the ’30s) and astonishing, Tim Conway Jr. and Michael Reagan (son of Ronald) as a pair of bumbling cops.  Dawn Wildsmith, Ray’s wife at the time (last seen around these parts in EVIL SPAWN) likewise appears with one of the most incredible manes of hair I’ve ever seen.

For the most part, CYCLONE is a pretty standard sci-fi action movie of its era, blending crime/espionage elements with the more outrageous aspects of a motorcycle that shoots rockets.  Unfortunately, it gets bogged down by extended driving sequences and overlong blocks of expository dialogue that slow the action to a crawl and dissipate the tension called for by the genre. It’s disappointing, but it’s also to be expected – long talky sequences cost a whole hell of a lot less to film then sequences of rocket launchers being fired, and for a filmmaker on a budget, it’s not a hard decision to make as to which to film.

To Ray’s credit, he does a fantastic job of varying the action sequences – car chasing motorcycle, car chasing car, shoot out, one-on-one catfight, three-on-one fistfight – keeping them interesting and engaging.

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Heather Thomas is a beautiful woman, and does a fantastic job carrying the majority of the film on her trim shoulders.  Her first introduction in the film involving the camera in a series of tight close-ups on her spandex-clad body as she lifts weights, and with that sort of intro I was expecting her to be a mere fleshpot, here more for eye-candy then anything else but she puts in a damn fine performance whether she’s dancing at the club or being tortured with a car battery and set of jumper cables.

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The only time she’s not outperforming the rest of the cast is when Martin Landau’s on screen — here he hams up the sleaze factor in his performance and comes across perfectly as a lounge-lizard sociopath who doesn’t care whose nipples get hooked to a car battery as long as he gets what he wants.  To his credit, however, car battery is his plan B after attempts to bribe Teri to assist him and betray Rick’s memory fall short.  I feel like if this movie was made today the car battery would be Plan A.

Final Analysis: A fun little flick to pop in on a Sunday afternoon, it doesn’t call for a lot of brain power on the viewer’s part but it entertains well enough.  As I said, the scenes between the action sequences tend to drag on longer than necessary and while we hear a lot about the capabilities of the Cyclone, we don’t really get to see them in action.  However, Heather Thomas made a great lead and Martin Landau a stellar villain, and overall I don’t have anything I can really complain about with this film.

Overall, I give CYCLONE (1987)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Critters 4 (1992)

Critters 4 posterGreetings, readers. I actually watched this film last weekend – while celebrating Valentine’s Day, my girlfriend declared that we should watch CRITTERS 4, since she’d seen the first three and wanted to complete the franchise. I popped the DVD in the player while she mixed up a foot bath for me to soak my soles in, and we sat there watching the fourth and, thankfully, final film in the franchise.  As I didn’t have my laptop in hand I didn’t review it at the time, so let’s take a look now and see if it’s as bad as it promises, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Beginning exactly where CRITTERS 3 left off, we find Charlie dutifully placing the last two Crite eggs in existence into a containment pod sent by the Galactic Council.  Naturally, he gets sealed in too and the pod blasts off for space, Charlie and the eggs frozen in suspended animation inside.

The pod is found by a salvage-hauler in the distant future year of 2045.  The salvage-hauler, under sleazy, chain-smoking captain Rick, initially thinks to sell the pod as scrap, until the “old logo” of the Terracorp Corporation is discovered in the pod.  Reluctantly, Rick contacts Terracorp representative Councillor Tetra (Terrence Mann, of the last three Critters films) who instructs them to deliver the pod to a nearby Terracorp space station, where they’ll receive triple the usual salvage rate for it.

When crewmember Fran (Angela Bassett! I bet she doesn’t list this film on her resume any more) refuses his advances, Rick takes out his frustration on the pod, breaking it open and releasing both Charlie, and the two Crite eggs, which hatch immediately, with one of the infant furballs burrowing lethally into Rick’s face.  Before long, Charlie’s trying to come to grips with the fact that he’s 53 years in the future, his friend Ug is now mysteriously a corrupt businessman calling himself Councillor Tetra, the Critters are breeding out of control again, and oh, yeah, the space station (voiced by Martine Beswick) is about to self-destruct.

That almost made ALIEN RESURRECTION look good by comparison.  Almost.

The two biggest things working against CRITTERS 4 is that A) it’s nearly bloodless and B) the script is so nonsensical that the actors are practically rolling their eyes on camera at it.

Let’s start with the first point.  There are a total of four character deaths in the film, and CRITTERs 4 follows in its predecessor’s footsteps by telegraphing who’s going to die – by making them assholes.  Only the assholes die in this film.  The sleazy, rape-happy captain? Eaten from the inside out.  The drug-stealing engineer? Eaten.

critters4_shot6lAND THOSE ARE THE ONLY TWO CRITTERS-RELATED DEATHS.

The other two, a full 50% of the kills in the film, are committed by other characters using firearms.  Ug/Tetra shoots Brad Dourif’s dickish and overbearing character in the face and then Charlie shoots Ug/Tetra on the grounds that “things change.”  I’m sorry, but there’s something profoundly wrong with a Critters movie where Critters are responsible for only half of all death scenes.

Secondly, the script is more hole than plot.  We’re given no understanding of how the future has come to be what it is, no explanation for Ug’s inexplicable change from good guy alien bounty hunter to white collar criminal, no reason why the space station is abandoned and malfunctioning, no reason why we should give a tin shit about anybody except maybe Charlie, and even then he’s presented as such a dumbass that he’s hard to root for.

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It feels like the film has zero respect for itself, so how can we be expected to care about it?

At least the movie has Angela Bassett’s bare, buoyant buttocks to its credit, something that cannot be said for the two movies this film reminds me of most strongly, JASON X and ALIEN RESURRECTION.

Final Analysis: Good actors like Angela Bassett and Brad Dourif are completely wasted in this terrible movie, the sets look like leftovers from a 1980s Roger Corman production and the script feels less written and more excreted.  There is absolutely nothing here to recommend, and that’s a disappointment for a franchise that started so strong with the original CRITTERS back in the day.  And really, that’s how CRITTERS 4 is best summed up – as a disappointment.

Overall, I give CRITTERS 4 (1992)…

barrel of toxic waste

ONE BARREL OF TOXIC WASTE.

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The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

220px-ReturnofswampthingGreetings, readers, Bill here. We’re re-viewing tonight’s film to celebrate the life and career of Louis Jourdan, an actor who was capable of far more than films of this caliber but nevertheless cheerfully appeared in them – both this film from director Jim Wynorski (whose work we last chronicled here with DINOSAUR ISLAND) and the (in my opinion) vastly-less-enjoyable predecessor directed by Wes Craven. Monsieur Jourdan left this world behind this past Saturday at the age of 93, and I don’t doubt that the world of cinema is poorer for his passing.  Also starring the late Dick Durock, Heather Locklear, Sarah Douglas, Joey Sagal and Penthouse Pet Monique Gabrielle (here allowed to show off her comedic chops as opposed to just her dirty pillows), let’s rock and roll with my favorite superhero movie, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Abby Arcane (Locklear), incapable of moving on emotionally following her mother’s mysterious demise, has come to the bayou in search of her stepfather, the diabolical Dr. Anton Arcane (Jourdan, reprising his role from SWAMP THING) to set a few things straight.  Once there, she quickly learns that Dr. Arcane has some rather sinister plans in mind for her – plans that had previously led to her mother’s death, and which mean to put Arcane beyond Death’s grasp.

Menaced by Arcane’s henchmen Gunn (Sagal) and Poinsettia (Gabrielle), Abby finds a surprising ally in the swamp – Dr. Alec Holland, a research scientist-turned-muck encrusted mockery of a man after exposure to burning chemicals and swamp waster courtesy of Arcane.  Holland, now known as Swamp Thing, has an unfinished score to settle with Arcane, and falls in love with Abby as well!

Along the way we encounter mutants, mad scientists, two goofy kids in the wrong place at the wrong time, a contest of oneupsmanship involving scar tissue, and more references to avocados than any movie should ever contain.

My girlfriend spent this screening shooting me sidelong glances and saying, “Really, Bill?”

There’s no denying that this is a silly, cheesy movie.  But then, it’s a comic book movie from the days before Burton made “serious” comic book movies a thing, and many years before the current crop of serious, respectable superhero movies.  And honestly, I kind of miss this atmosphere – it’s just light, easy-on-the-brain fun.

THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING also draws far more on the aesthetic of comic books than any superhero movie in recent memory except maybe Ang Lee’s HULK, and in some ways more closely resembles Romero’s CREEPSHOW, with the scene changes accompanied by a “turning pages” effect.  The opening credit montage of frames from the Swamp Thing comic book is likewise a surprisingly-underutilized connection back to the parent medium.  FLASH GORDON is the only other film I can think of off the top of my head that uses the same sort of montage.

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Unlike far too many movies, I can’t pinpoint a single truly bad performance or underutilized actor in this film.  I love Heather Locklear’s valley girl take on Abby Arcane and Dick Durock’s commanding presence as Swamp Thing is far more enjoyable and, lets face it, present than he was in Craven’s film.  The suit’s far better as well.  I enjoy the broad, gum-popping comedy of Gunn and the more sardonic humor of Poinsettia.  Hell, I love that Monique Gabrielle gets to be more than just a pair of bouncing jugs and splayed bush here.  She’s got fantastic comic timing and can express so much with just a roll of her eyes.

The true scene-stealer of course is Louis Jourdan, who infuses the role of Arcane with a diabolical ennui.  He’s evil, but he’s languid, almost cat-like in his villainy.  He’s so confident in his eventual success that he doesn’t feel the need to expend a single iota of additional energy in pursuing his schemes.  The man makes eating a well-balanced breakfast sinister, and his whole attitude is embodied in an exchange of dialogue in which Abby accuses him of having sold his soul to the devil:

“Let’s just say he has a lease with the option to buy.”

Damn that’s good.

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The practical effects, i.e. the monster suits, are excellent.  One of my biggest complaints with Craven’s take on the character is how much the rubber suit just looks like rubber.  Here Swamp Thing is not just beefy and muscular, but he actually looks like vegetable matter, covered in leaves, vines and roots.  Likewise, we’re treated to an assortment of mutants created by Arcane, including a Leech-Man, an Elephant-Man and a Cockroach-Man.  The panoply of “Un-Men,” to borrow a phrase from the comics, is rounded out by Dr. Rochelle, one of Arcane’s underlings (played by Ace Mask, a regular in Wynorski’s films from this era) who turns into a big-headed mutant goon resembling Star Trek’s “Balok,” albeit a big-headed mutant goon who still needs his inhaler.

Final Analysis: While Gina did not care for this film, going so far as to state she’d prefer a screening of Joel Schumacher’s BATMAN AND ROBIN, I’m a fan.  It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a nice film to put on after a long day in the office, and sometimes that’s all I’m looking for in a movie.  I enjoyed the performances on display here and the monster-hero brawls had an appreciated degree of aggressive physicality to them.  It won’t be for everyone, but for B-level superhero flicks, nothing beats THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING in my eyes.

Overall, I give THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1989)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Hunchback of the Morgue (El Jorobado de la Morgue, 1973)

posterGreetings, readers, Bill here with another sterling example of Spanish Horror, as exemplified by Paul Naschy (previously witnessed around these parts in PANIC BEATS and FURY OF THE WOLFMAN).  I’ve been meaning to watch this one for a while now – The Vicar of VHS over at the now-slumbering Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies turned me on to this one, as well as Naschy’s work in general, and I actually picked it up at the same time I bought MYSTICS IN BALI, so it’s been sitting on my coffee table for a while.  This one holds a special place in my blackened little heart just for the concept alone – who else but Naschy would make a movie focused on the mad scientist’s hunchbacked assistant, and present him as not just a sympathetic character, but as a romantic lead? It’s an amazing concept and really shows how much creativity was flowing out of Spain in the 1970s.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Gotho (Naschy), is the hunchbacked assistant at the local hospital, mostly kept busy running cadavers around for medical students.  He’s also apparently the most hated man in the village for his deformity – the children pelt him with rocks while screaming “Monkey! Monkey!” while the doctors he works for tell him he looks like a baboon and laugh right in his face at their own cleverness.  His one happiness is visiting a childhood friend of his, Ilse (Maria Elena Arpon, last seen around these parts in TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD), who’s very ill.

In fact, the bullying of the local doctors causes Gotho to be a minute too late on his way to visit Ilse, and she dies just moments before he walks in the door.  Seeing her lifeless form, drives Gotho mad with grief, and then seeing a doctor nonchalantly stealing Ilse’s necklace with the remark “this coldcut doesn’t need it any more” drives him mad with rage.  He murders the thieving doctor and carries Ilse’s body into the night.

Before long, Gotho is stalking the streets for revenge on the doctors he blames for Ilse’s death, and quickly finds himself in the employ of Dr. Orla, a mad scientist who promises to restore Ilse to life and health in exchange for Gotho’s labors on the scientist’s “primordial slime” experiments, but how can Gotho be sure he’ll keep his word?

This movie is amazing, and amazingly weird.  Like I said, who else but Naschy would make a movie where the hunchbacked lab assistant is the lead? And then, not being content with just having a hunchback wandering the streets killing people, throw in a slime-monster for a climactic battle? While HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE doesn’t quite reach the extremes of the Outer Batshittosphere the way a movie like FURY OF THE WOLFMAN does, it’s certainly not for lack of effort.

This is a film where the hero hacks up cadavers, strangles people, throws people into acid vats, seals them in Iron Maidens, smashes vials full of smoldering chemicals into faces, fights rats with a torch…all in the name of love!

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Actually, let’s talk about that “fights rats with a torch” bit for a second.  In the film’s most controversial sequence, Gotho discovers a swarm of rats feasting on Ilse’s cadaver and loses his goddamn mind, using a lit torch to clear them off her body – soon the rats are launching themselves at him angrily and he has to light a skeleton on fire and body-slam it into a mass of rats to escape with his life and the gnawed-on remains of Ilse.  These are real rats (Naschy had to be inoculated against rabies for this scene) and they’re actually being catapulted at him by crewmembers just off-camera.  And yes, the rats were actually set on fire, and some of them do burn to death on camera.  It lacks the sheer visceral punch in the dick of the unsimulated animal kills in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but it’s still something animal lovers should be aware of before going into this film.

Even crazier, there’s a decapitation scene that uses a real corpse! Yes, Naschy got permission to decapitate an actual cadaver on film, but even after a couple nerve-steeling shots of whiskey he couldn’t get past the first cut – but that’s all we need.

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Naschy of course steals the show as the tormented, dimwitted Gotho, but he’s surrounded by great talent here.  Victor Alcazar is marvelous as the corrupt, self-centered Dr. Orla, using Gotho to facilitate his experiments with primordial ooze.  Even more interesting is Rosanna Yanni, who plays Dr. Elke, who first brings Gotho to Dr. Orla’s attention.  She and Gotho form a rapport in the wake of Ilse’s death, and ultimately end up in bed together – that’s right, we get a hunchbacked sex scene on top of everything else! Yanni gives a strong performance and provides a good “straight woman” role in the midst of all the madness.

Final Analysis: A magnificently weird film, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in its twisted take on the venerable mad scientist genre.  Naschy’s a powerhouse as always, the women are achingly lovely in that way only women of Spanish origin are (Arpon is from Barcelona, while Yanni’s Argentine), and the film never lets you get comfortable enough to think you know what’s going to happen next.  From the polka and busty barmaids of the opening sequence to the explosively tragic finale, nothing is ever predictable here, and I love it for that alone.  Add in the dark, gothic atmosphere and sleazy 1970s gore and shock scenes, and it’s a sure-fire winner all around.  Add this one to your collection for sure!

Overall, I give HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (1973)…

five_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FIVE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Critters 3 (1991)

critters3Well, readers, I found myself with some free time today after coming down with a bout of food poisoning, and what better way to rest myself then to park my suffering ass in front of the TV with a cheapo movie, eh? I’ve got plans to finish reviewing the CRITTERS, BLIND DEAD and TREMORS franchises at some point in the future, and I figured that this would be a good place to start.  Released direct-to-video in 1991, here’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s film debut – CRITTERS 3.

Spoilers ensue.

A family – Annie, her little brother Johnny, and their father Cliff – stop to fix a flat tire.  At the rest stop, Annie encounters Charlie McFadden (Don Keith Opper, reprising his role from the previous two films), now apparently somewhat deranged and still hunting for Crites.  Unfortunately, while Cliff’s fixing the tire, a Crite rolls in and lays a clutch of eggs under the car.  When they drive on, the eggs are inadvertently brought along for the ride.

The eggs hatch soon after they return home, quickly making a meal out of the sleazeball maintenance man and terrorizing the other tenants of the apartment complex.  It swiftly falls to Annie and Josh (DiCaprio, in a role I bet he doesn’t include on his resume any more), the landlord’s stepson, to try and contain the Crites before they spread to the rest of the city.  Fortunately, Charlie’s on his way to clean up the mess…

CRITTERS 3 continues on its predecessor’s trend of emphasizing the comedy aspect of horror-comedy.  The Crites chuckle and snicker to themselves as they hunt their prey, and their “rolling” method of locomotion has become a spin worthy of the Tasmanian Devil.  The people who fall prey to the Crites are now not just anyone in their path — their victims are the assholes we want to see turned into crite-chow, while the characters with redeeming qualities manage to escape, and in this way I think the film is drawing more off late-80s/early-90s slashers rather than the language of alien invasion movies.

I thought it was particularly interesting that we get a visually-defined “leader” to the Crites this time, in the vein of Stripe/Mohawk from the GREMLINS films – this film has “Blackie,” a Crite scarred after falling face-first into a puddle of bleach.  After the efforts put into differentiating the first CRITTERS film from GREMLINS, it’s odd to see that sort of “call back.”

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I think what I like best here is the character arc for Annie – over the course of the film she goes from being the daughter of a hopeless schmoe trying her best to hold the family together after her mom’s death to a strong, independent woman who takes charge of the situation and doesn’t take shit from anyone, least of all her slacker of a father.

And let’s face it, Cliff’s a loser.  He’s simply shut down in the wake of his wife’s death, leaving his children to fend for themselves while he travels for work as a railroad engineer, opting to spend most of his remaining free time half-passed out in the easy chair in front of the TV.  It takes his son Johnny falling off a roof and nearly dying to snap him out of his apathy.  The end of the film shows them a happy family once more, but to me his redemption’s too little too late, and I think the power dynamic in the family has permanently shifted in Annie’s favor.

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I’d actually be really curious to learn what happened to Charlie between CRITTERS 2 and here.  At the end of the last movie, he was settling into a position as sheriff of the little town of Grover’s Bend, having finally won their respect and a place he could call home.  So why is it here that he’s a shabby, disheveled lunatic wearing a bandoleer of fishing lures and living in the woods? Did the mental strain of having two close encounters with the Crites finally prove too great a shock to his system?

As for Leonardo DiCaprio? He’s just kind of there.  There’s nothing to say about his performance; nothing here suggests the career he’s going to have, but at least he’s not the kid from TERMINATOR 2.

Final Analysis: A goofy little movie and a reasonable enough sequel to the original CRITTERs.  I thought moving the action from Grover’s Bend to a larger city worked well and the Crites were as entertaining as ever.  It’s nothing amazing and ground-breaking, but it’s a decent enough viewing experience.

Overall, I give CRITTERS 3 (1991)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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From Beyond (1986)

From-BeyondGreetings, readers, Bill here again. I’ve been on a bit of a Lovecraft kick this week – I’m running a campaign of the Call of Cthulhu RPG for some friends and have been listening to the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast while I’m at work, and decided I wanted to revisit this very weird and very sexual adaptation of one of Lovecraft’s lesser-known, but in my opinion, best stories.  From the golden boys of bringing Lovecraft to film, Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna and Denis Paoli (the power-trio behind RE-ANIMATOR), starring Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton (also of RE-ANIMATOR, later paired again in CASTLE FREAK), today we’ve taking a look at FROM BEYOND.

Spoilers ensue.

Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Combs) is being held for psychiatric evaluation to see if he’s fit to stand trial for the murder of his partner, Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel).  Evaluating him is Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Crampton), who upon learning that Tillinghast and Pretorius were experimenting on stimulating the pineal gland in the brain to expand consciousness, decides to take Tillinghast out to the farmhouse he and Pretorius had been working in to see the machine they built, the “Resonator.”

The Resonator stimulates the pineal gland all right, granting people within its sphere of influence the ability to see into dimensions coterminous with ours – and to allow the inhabitants of those dimensions to see into ours.  With Tillinghast’s help, Dr. McMichaels rebuilds the Resonator and activates it.  Soon jellyfish- and eel-like creatures are swimming through the air around them…and to make matters worse, Pretorius — mutated, insane, lustful and perverse — has returned from the parallel dimension he’d been dragged into, and he wants McMichaels’ body like he’s never wanted anything before.  Can Tillinghast, McMichaels, and detective Bubba Brown (Ken Foree) break free of the hypersexual spell of the Resonator before they’re all pulsating mutant fuck-machines?

I really like this film – I love the neon candy-colored atmosphere, I love the gonzo BDSM poured liberally throughout the film, and I especially love the creatures – many of them the work of good ol’ John Carl Buechler, who at this point I think is a safe bet for “Radiation-Scarred Reviews’ Best-Loved Special Effects Artist.”  I particularly like the progressive devolution of Edward Pretorius (sharp-eyed fans will recognize the name as being derived from THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) as he loses more and more of his humanity with each trip through the Resonator, his body bulging and flowing like hot molasses into new and more horrible configurations.

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Combs is, of course, perfectly cast here, his nervous, panicky Tillinghast a far cry from the calm, collected detachment of Herbert West, Re-Animator, and the chemistry between him and Crampton is, if you’ll pardon the phrase, electric.  Some hypotheses regarding the pineal gland’s function suggest a role in controlling the production of sex hormones, which ties in nicely with the hypersexuality the Resonator field inspires in those within its sphere of influence.

I particularly like the implication that even when the field is turned off, those who have experienced its effects continue to experience…something.  Crampton’s evolution from a straight-laced doctor to an energized, horny sex goddess who can’t get enough of Pretorius’ S&M dungeon.

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If you ask me, Ken Foree doesn’t get enough credit for his role in this film.  He plays a similar role to Dan Cain in RE-ANIMATOR — that of the straight-man; amidst the insanity of Tillinghast, McMichaels and Pretorius, Detective Bubba Brown is  our everyman viewpoint character, the anchor that gives resonance (heh) to the maelstrom of crazy he’s found himself in.  He’s the one throwing up in the corner after the Resonator’s powered down, he’s the one trying to be a voice of reason to a swiftly-shrinking audience, and ultimately he’s the film’s only real non-psycho.

I think Lovecraft himself would have had an apoplectic fit if he ever saw this – I don’t think he had any interest in his works ever gracing the screen, and they’re generally “unfilmable” as written.  Body horror and sexuality were not things he was interested in including in his work for the most part (with the exception of the horror of miscegenation that runs through works such as “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn”).

But I think Gordon and co. had the right idea in cranking the gonzometer up to about 27 for their film adaptation of “From Beyond”; it’s one of Lovecraft’s very early stories, in fact I’d argue the first to really get into the themes he’d become famous for, and it’s less of a concrete story and more of a vignette; filmed straight we’d have about 15 minutes of footage.  And if upping the sex and violence for RE-ANIMATOR resulted in a hit — and that with a real, finished story with a recognizable beginning, rising action, climax and denouement — then upping the sex and violence to cartoonishly over the top levels, with exploding heads and leather corsets, would hopefully do the same for FROM BEYOND.

Final Analysis: An outrageous, bubblegum-colored cavalcade of BDSM and spurting ultraviolet slime built around the core of an H.P. Lovecraft story, FROM BEYOND is an amazing slice of 1980s cinematic excess that must be seen to be believed.  The cast all put in stellar performances – and while I think Ken Foree really deserves a lot more recognition for his role here then I think he’s received, it’s Barbara Crampton with her Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation from uptight doctor to nymphomaniacal BDSM addict that absolutely steals the show.  While it’s not a perfect film, it’s a darn enjoyable one, and if you like tits, slime, and monsters as much as I do then this is a must-see.

Overall, I give FROM BEYOND (1986)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Robocop (2014)

Robocop_posterGreetings, readers, Bill here. I hope you’ll forgive me that long, unscheduled absence – between lack of motivation and lack of time, I just haven’t been able to make much movie watching, much less movie reviewing, take place. However, having watched this film not too long ago and having had the time to chew it over, I decided it’d be worthwhile to write up my thoughts on it. I imagine this review is going to piss some people off, and that’s fine.  I’m kind of hoping to, to tell the truth.  So without any further ado, let’s take a look at 2014’s re-whatever of ROBOCOP, starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton.

Spoilers ensue.

In the year 2028, multinational megacorporation Omnicorp is looking to boost it’s profits to unheard-of levels.  For years they’ve provided military robots, including humanoid drones and larger ED-209 enforcement droids, for use in America’s conflicts overseas.  They would like to expand their market and begin selling military-grade drones to American police departments but are blocked from doing so by the Dreyfus Act.  To turn public opinion against the Dreyfus Act and work towards getting it repealed, CEO Raymond Sellars (Keaton) moves forward with a program to humanize the drones – by producing a military-grade cyborg police officer.

Alex Murphy (Kinnaman), an honest Detroit cop, attempts to arrest crimelord Antoine Vallon, only to be foiled in his attempts due to Vallon’s bribery and manipulation of the police department.  To send a message to anyone else like Murphy, a bomb is wired to Murphy’s car, leaving him at death’s door.  The perfect candidate for Sellar’s program.

When Murphy revives months later, he discovers that his wife has given consent for experimental prostheses to be grafted to what’s left of him, and he now inhabits, effectively, a robotic shell.  Profits beat philanthropy where Sellars is concerned, however, and his top scientist (Oldman) is soon put to work rewiring Murphy’s brain and keeping his hormone and enzyme levels carefully balanced to ensure his docility and compliance to company policy.

When Murphy begins to override Omnicorp programming, Sellars soon finds himself in a desperate “arms race” to protect his newly-opened markets and his own skin from the man now known as “Robocop.”

I know that this is a film that inspired a lot of knee-jerk reactions and bitter accusations of childhoods ruined from fans of the Paul Verhoeven original.  And don’t get me wrong, the original ROBOCOP is an excellent, excellent movie, and one that’s aged better then most of its contemporaries.

Why does it age better? Because it postulates a future that’s very carefully extrapolated from the present of 1986-87.  Privatization of police, low-efficiency vehicles, corporate malfeasance…the future of ROBOCOP is basically the present we actually got in a lot of ways, though reality is of course painted in far less broad strokes than the film.

I actually like a lot of what we got with the 2014 remake of ROBOCOP, because I feel like it did the same sort of extrapolation writ large.  It’s ROBOCOP for a post-Steve Jobs (the obvious basis for Keaton’s character, right down to the turtleneck and jeans), post-dronestrikes, post-PRISM America.  Samuel L. Jackson bookends the film as an obnoxious, bile-spewing TV pundit that would not appear out of place on any of several current cable news channels, and the film focuses heavily on image-driven corporate malfeasance – the depths to which Sellars is willing to descend to ensure he looks good and his products look good, regardless of the human cost of doing so.  Same with Jackson’s pundit – image is everything, style not substance.  And it’s Murphy’s substance – his human qualities that force their way to the forefront, regardless of artificial dopamine levels, that brings about Sellars’ downfall.

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I particularly like how the black Robocop suit, so viciously derided when it was revealed, is explained in-universe as being the result of market research and Sellars’ desire to make the product “sexy” to the consumer.

Not to say that I liked everything in the film.  Personally, I found the chemistry between Kinnaman and Abbie Cornish, playing Murphy’s wife, lacking, and her performance came across as very flat to me.  Because of this, I’m glad they focused more on the relationship between Murphy and his son, but still, the weakness between these two actors definitely shaded those scenes for me.

I was disappointed to see Murphy’s partner recast as a male – I thought the casual cameraderie between Alex Murphy and Anne Lewis, and the way she was depicted in the original, some of the most interesting and quietly revolutionary in the film.  We had a female lead who was shown as independent and capable in her own right, not hanging on to the male lead as a romantic interest or sex symbol but as an equal and heroic figure.  IN 1987! Given how hard it is to find characters on par with Officer Anne Lewis in genre films today, the fact that she was replaced with a male “buddy” figure is disappointing.

Likewise, I found the character of Vallon, the crime boss, dull and flat – he exists as a delivery system for the bomb that puts Murphy in Sellars’ hands, and once that is accomplished he’s quickly removed from the film.  Even without comparing him to Kurtwood Smith’s energetic and actively-villainous Clarence Boddicker, he’s just very one-dimensional and uninteresting.

Final Analysis: If you go into this film seeking to compare it to Verhoeven’s 1987 classic, you’re going to be disappointed.  But if you take this film on its own terms and let it be its own thing, it’s not too shabby a movie and a decent enough way to spend two hours.  Plenty of shoot’em up action, we get to see the ED-209s do more than stand around and fall down stairs, and Samuel L. Jackson yells “MOTHERFUCKER” directly into the camera.

Overall, I give ROBOCOP (2014)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Bad Ronald (1974)

fMGK9MPxaWCyQAJ9qSfCVLUcsgvGreetings, readers, Bill here again – I know; how long has it been since I’ve written three reviews in three days? Probably not since I was single and working at the factory. Today’s review represents a weird crossing of streams between my movie reviewing life and my day to day, pay-the-bills real life. I’ve begun to develop a reputation around the office I work in as the go-to guy to answer questions about horror and “bad” movies.  My supervisor Elaina brought this film to my attention – apparently they showed it to her health class in high school! She described to me fond memories of how cheesy and weird this film was, and by chance I saw a copy for sale at Cinema Wasteland – in the hands of someone else as he was handing over the cash for it.  I mentioned this to Elaina, and she told me how eager she’d be to see it again, and I offered to track down a copy for her.  Well, I found it and ordered it, and she encouraged me to give it a watch before I turned it over to her.  It arrived today, so let’s give it a go, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Ronald Wilby is a good kid – shy, awkward, clumsy, and a bit lost in the fantasy world he’s created in his head for a story he’s writing and illustrating.  His overbearing mother (Kim Hunter, of PLANET OF THE APES) dismisses his ideas of being an artist, insisting that he become a doctor.  She’s very ill, but is delaying treatment until Ronald becomes a doctor and can cure her.  On the day of his 18th birthday, Ronald accidentally kills the ten year old girl next door when she mocks him for his awkwardness – picking her up in anger, she slips out of his hands and hits her head on a cinderblock.  Panicking, Ronald buries her in a shallow grave.  His mother is horrified at this – burying the body will complicate any claims that the girl’s death was an accident, and even if Ronald is acquitted, the negative publicity will ruin any hopes of him becoming a doctor.  They decide the best course of action is to convert a spare bathroom into a hiding space, replacing the door with a wallpapered drywall panel.  Ronald will live here, in this tiny space, until the matter blows over.

Unfortunately, Ronald’s mother soon dies of her illness and, since they’ve maintained the illusion that Ronald has run away and she lives alone, the house is soon sold to the Wood family.  They move in with no idea that Ronald is still there, and even less that he’s gone crazy from the isolation, retreating fully into the fantasy world he’s created in his head…

While this is far from the best 1970s made for TV movie I’ve seen, the narrative is pretty solid and the story remains interesting throughout – I attribute quite a bit of that to it being based on a novel by John Holbrook Vance; name not ringing a bell? He’s better known as Jack Vance, and he was a prominent sci-fi, fantasy and mystery author for many years, best known for the Dying Earth series of science-fantasy picaresques set millions of years in the future as the sun flickers on the edge of going out.  Human cynicism and the best-laid of plans going awry being recurring themes in Vance’s work, it doesn’t surprise me that this story originated from his pen.

I will allow that the acting is pretty terrible throughout, even coming from good actors and actresses like Kim Hunter and Dabney Coleman, who plays the patriarch of the Wood family.  Many of the performances come across as flat, listless and without emotion, and those that aren’t listless are almost histrionic in their overacting.

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The print of the film is pretty lousy looking, with the colors occasionally getting fuzzy and bleeding into each other.  It’s clear that Warner Brothers didn’t put any effort into restoring the film before releasing it as part of their “Warner Archives” collection of pressed-on-demand DVDs, just threw it out there to make a quick buck off the handful of people who want to see it.

Final Analysis: A solid story somewhat hampered by the performances and print quality, Ronald is nonetheless a satisfying creepy character whose descent into madness manages to be believable, if maybe a bit too quick – the scale of time over which events take place isn’t real clear, but no more then a week or two could have passed between Mrs. Wilby’s death and the Woods moving in, right? It’s a weird, moody little film that manages some really chilling moments, and worth a watch if it crosses your path.

Overall, I give BAD RONALD (1974)…

two_barrels_of_toxic_waste

TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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A Feast of Flesh (2007)

feastoffleshGreetings, readers, Bill here with a surprise morning review. I’ve got a lot of PTO from the office that I need to use or lose before the end of the year, and my car needed some work done on it so I figured while the Radiation Roadster is in the shop, I can sit down and watch one of the films I brought home from Cinema Wasteland this past weekend.  While I mostly picked up a stack of Hammer classics (which I’ll be working my way through over the next three weeks leading up to Halloween), I also spent some quality time at the Happy Cloud Pictures table with writer/director Mike Watt and his lovely and talented wife, actress Amy Lynn Best.  Mike and Amy are friends of mine, and I spent a lot of time at the con chatting up Mike about our respective writing work; in addition to buying his new book Movie Outlaw (which you should absolutely buy, along with its predecessor Fervid Filmmaking), Amy sold me copies of several of their films, including this one.  As always, the fact that Mike and Amy are my friends does not guarantee their film will receive a glowing review; A FEAST OF FLESH will stand or fall on its own merits today.

Spoilers ensue.

John has just won an invitation to the Bathory House, an exclusive, invitation-only brothel on the edge of town.  He intends to go with his friends Aaron and Jess, who want to experience a threesome before they’re married.  John also tries to bring his friend Seth along, but Seth is more interested in moping about his girlfriend Terri, who left him to move to New York.  When John recognizes one of the girls *as* Terri, he storms out to inform Seth.

As such, John is not there when Aaron and Jess become chow for the ladies of the Bathory House – yes, the prostitutes are all vampires, under the command of Madame Elizabet (Amy Lynn Best).  When John becomes aware of his friends’ untimely demise (and let me just say, talk about coitus interruptus!) he finds himself with a surprise band of allies – an organization of mercenary vampire hunters led by Sheridan (Mike Watt, who also wrote and directed the film – and I’d be willing to guess that the character name is a reference to Sheridan leFanu, author of Carmilla).  You see, Sheridan and Elizabet share an uneasy truce – so long as the girls of the Bathory House don’t turn any local women into vampires, Sheridan won’t stake them all and burn the House to the ground.  And by turning Terri, even by mistake, Elizabet’s stable of whores have violated the terms of that agreement.

This was a really refreshing vampire film.  The vampire, at least in its Eastern-European-via-Hollywood guise known so well to us today, has been reduced to a cheap, gaudy Halloween costume; on the one hand, you’ve got the decadent libertine, the hyper-romanticized Byronic boytoy for female audiences to get slippery over – Lestat, Edward Cullen, even Lugosi’s Dracula falls into this category.  On the other hand, you’ve got the predators – wolves in human skin that view humanity the way we view a bag of Cheetos.  It’s so goddamn rare to see vampires as actual characters in their own right.  The big one that comes to mind is Willem Defoe’s portrayal of Max Schreck/Graf Orlock in SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, and even that only slipped into the realm of “character” occasionally.

While most of the girls in A FEAST OF FLESH come across as bloody eye-candy, Madame Elizabet is a character first and a vampire second.  She’s a consummate businesswoman who controls the Bathory House with an iron fist – not because she’s an Ilsa-style dominatrix, but because that’s the way she keeps herself and her girls alive (or at least, undead).  Her first priority is survival at all costs, and she’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that survival – if that means killing, then she kills; if it means signing a mutual non-aggression pact with a band of vampire hunters, then she signs the non-aggression pact.  She’s smart, resourceful and unflinchingly determined to see that she’s done right by, and that makes her far more interesting and richly fulfilling a character to watch in action than someone like Lestat can ever be.

Amy Lynn excels here, and shows off just how much she can do with a cocked eyebrow, a tilt of the head or the set of her shoulders.  She’s not just an actress, she has legitimate screen presence.  There were a couple points where her delivery of dialogue came across a little flat, that another take could have maybe punched up, but I recognize the limitations of time and budget on independent filmmakers – and I’m thinking maybe Elizabet’s divorced enough from her human life that emotions are starting to not come as easily to her.

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And the fact that Mike and Amy had the self-respect as creators to not equate “strong, independent woman who happens to be a vampire” with “predatory lesbian” lifts Elizabet a step or two above most Carmilla adaptations.

On the other side of the conflict, most of Sheridan’s men are likewise simply warm bodies to pull triggers and hammer stakes, without a great deal of characterization involved.  We’re granted peeks into Sheridan’s backstory through flashbacks explaining the origins of his professional relationship with Elizabet and he’s as much a nuanced character as she is; he’s seen both sides of this conflict and has lived through others (at one point musing on how much he misses the simplicity of Ireland’s Troubles), enough so that he’s weary of conflict, and you can tell how worn down to his bones he is from untold years of fighting.  And yet, at the same time he’s reached the point where he can see no other alternative to ending his current feud with Elizabet’s girls then through overwhelming them with violence.  I kind of got the feeling towards the climax of the film that Sheridan at least was on a suicide mission, and that he would welcome the release of the grave.

I also think Mike and Amy’s real life off-screen relationship really enriches the relationship on screen between Sheridan and Elizabet.  Mike and Amy are in a place where I’d like to see my girlfriend Gina and I down the line, with their level of mutual warmth and playful, teasing antagonism of each other, still in love after years together.  And that playful antagonism comes out in Sheridan and Elizabet.  As repulsed as Sheridan is by what she is, he cannot help but feel some degree of affection for Elizabet, while she’s contemptuous of his response to her kind but respects him as a rival.  Their animosity ends up feeling like a much grayer area then most Van Helsing/Dracula types, and that makes the film far more interesting to watch.  Watch her hissing sigh of acknowledgement, her shoulders slumping in emotional defeat, as Sheridan comments that he knows that she knows what a bad idea the treaty was in the first place.  Watch his eyes as their fight comes to its inevitable, bloody conclusion.  Both of them regret what their existence has brought them to, and I can’t help but read an unspoken wish in both of them that things could have turned out differently.

Or maybe I’m just reading way too much into a movie about a brothel full of vampires.

The one thing I really didn’t care for in the film was the lighting.  A lot of scenes appear underlit to me.  In some shots it ends up being really beautifully moody, but in others it just looks like they were trying to make the best of what they could get out of an open window or a lamp on a nightstand.  With the film as sharply written as it is, the lighting is a distraction and makes the film look cheaper or tackier then it actually is.

Final Analysis: With a well-written script, thoroughly three-dimensional characters anchoring a diverse cast, beautiful gore effects and some quality fight choreography, A FEAST OF FLESH is the proverbial shining city upon a hill to which independent filmmakers should be looking to see how to make a good film on a small budget.  Look for horror icons Debbie Rochon, April Monique “Chainsaw Sally” Burril and her lucky sunovabitch husband Jimmyo Burril in cameo roles.  Anyone with an interest in vampire cinema owes it to themselves to check this film out.

Overall, I give A FEAST OF FLESH (2007)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Mutantis (2014)

mutantisGreetings, readers, Bill here again. Today I’ve got a screener that arrived in the mail the other day, a film inspired by the sleaziest of 1970s grindhouse monster movies. It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a screener around these parts, and I’m eager to take a look-see at this film.  Without further ado, let’s take a look at MUTANTIS, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Dr. Joy, or “Father Joy” as he prefers to be called, has brought his stepchildren to the secluded Possum Valley, the site of a nuclear reactor and miles of trackless, uncharted wilderness, for a “camping trip.”  While at first it seems as though Father Joy has nothing more nefarious then the molestation of his shy and awkward stepdaughter Cindy on his mind, it soon comes to light that Father Joy has come to Possum Valley in search of the legendary Bigfoot…and he intends to use his stepchildren as bait to lure out the creature so the band of mercenary rednecks he’s hired can capture the beast.

You can imagine Father Joy’s surprise when he discovers that the creature lurking in Possum Valley isn’t a Bigfoot, but a mutant horror known as Mutantis – with its scaly torso, wattled neck, sharp-toothed beak and lobster claws, it’s a vicious horror that tears its victims limb from shattered limb.  Even worse, those it doesn’t tear apart are in for a far worse fate as Mutantis’ enormous, fire-engine red erection emerges from its scaly nethers.  With Father Joy overwhelmed by a monster far beyond his wildest imaginings, it’s up to square-jawed and majestically-sideburned gentleman adventurer Dr. William Fury to step in and save the day.

You know, I really struggle with films like this.  It seems like a lot of independent filmmakers are doing these sorts of 1970s throwback films, and honestly they’re not an easy thing to do well.  It’s very easy to fall into the trap of going so far overboard that they cease to be homages and become farces.  MUTANTIS dives headfirst into farce from the first reel.  From the ludicrous wigs and purposefully-clumsy dubbing through the constant references to masturbation, frequent scenes of castration and the regular interruptions from an intentionally-stilted on-camera narrator advocating traditional values and denigration of sin, there are not ten seconds in a row where the film takes itself seriously.  Shots of wobbling breasts are intercut at random, the monster suit is paper mache not due to a lack of funds but because it’s funny for it to be so.

Honestly, I saw less of films like DEATH PROOF, MACHETE or HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN in MUTANTIS, and more of THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA.  CADAVRA is built around a careful skewering of the tropes of 1950s sci-fi movies, and as much as it winks over those tropes, it still shows a great deal of love for those films, straight down to the use of authentic shooting locations and musical cues taken from those films, and manages some solid humor built off tropes combining in ways that they never were in the 1950s.

Unfortunately for MUTANTIS, it only has a few jokes up its sleeve, and goes through a number of variations on each theme – Father Joy’s obvious sexual interest in stepdaughter Cindy, the monster’s drive to procreate with anything that moves, bad 1970s hair, and awkward references to “free love” vs. “the establishment.”  It burns through these jokes pretty quickly, and then descends into anarchic sexual and scatological humor – Father Joy eating feces off the ground and announcing that due to his mastery of “all fields of science” he is confident that it is Bigfoot scat, for example, or the revelation that Mutantis has been alternating between mating with its own mother and its own father for months prior to Joy’s arrival.

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I can see what the filmmakers were trying to do, and I can see where they were coming from.  Some majestically sleazy films, including BLOOD FREAK and SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED, are pretty clearly a part of MUTANTIS’ DNA, but where MUTANTIS is silly and cheesy on purpose, those films were made with the intent of being taken seriously.  I think if MUTANTIS had taken its concept and played it straight instead of being intentionally-bad, I would have enjoyed it a lot more then I did.

And let’s be frank, on the face of it MUTANTIS is fantastic – a monster born of toxic waste and black magic threatens an unscrupulous scientist who uses his own children as bait to lure the creature out.  I’d watch the hell out of that! But when that plot is used as no more then glue to hold a bunch of castration jokes together, I can’t help but come away disappointed.

Final Analysis: MUTANTIS is just plain not a good movie, and works very hard to look and feel as terrible and inept as possible.  And this, to me, is a damned shame, because underneath the dick jokes is the nucleus of what could have been a really fantastic throwback to the environmental monster movies of the 1970s.  Unfortunately, the trend in “intentionally bad” movies just comes across to me as an act of supreme laziness – why bother putting in the work to make a “good” movie when you can half-ass it and claim it’s “intentionally bad”? With just a little extra effort – and honestly, it really isn’t that much more then went into making this film look like crap – it could have been something really stellar.  And it’s just kind of sad what could have been and wasn’t.

Overall, I give MUTANTIS (2014)…

barrel of toxic waste

ONE BARREL OF TOXIC WASTE.

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