Tombs of the Blind Dead (La Noche del Terrore ciego, 1971)

Tombs of the blind dead 1972 bw Beyond horror designGreetings, readers, Bill here again.  Now, if you’ve been on our Facebook page lately you know I’ve been promising another screener review and then diving head-first into some Spanish Horror — some of you longtime readers will recall that I prefer the stuff coming out of Spain in the 1970s to the stuff that was coming out of Italy during the same period.  Well, the screener review didn’t pan out because the link they sent me to view the film didn’t want to work, so how about some Spanish horror? I’d reviewed this film very early in Radiation-Scarred Reviews’ history, but I reviewed the heavily-cut English language dubbed version.  Tonight I’m watching the original Spanish language version, as put out by Blue Underground – I picked up the coffin-boxed set of the entire Blind Dead franchise, complete with documentary on director Amando de Ossorio, from them last year.  But enough rambling preamble, let’s take a look at the film, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

At a resort in Lisbon, Virginia runs into her old school friend Betty, and introduces her to her boyfriend Roger.  When Roger invites Betty to join them for the remainder of their vacation, Virginia understandably becomes very jealous (a flashback revealing that Virginia and Betty had been lovers at school) and as Roger and Betty’s flirtations become more overt, Virginia leaps from the train, hiking to the nearby ruined monastery of Berzano.

Unfortunately, while ruined, Berzano is not uninhabited, as Virginia learns when the mummified remains of long-dead Knights Templar rise from their grave.  Blinded before death, the undead hunt by sound, tracking Virginia to her hiding place by the sound of her panicked breathing and pounding heart.

The remainder of the film follows Betty and Roger as they attempt to find Virginia, piecing together the legend of the Templars along the way – learning that Berzano was the center of the Templars’ cult of black magicians, using knowledge gleaned in the East during the Crusades in attempts to achieve immortality.  For this heresy, the Knights Templar were excommunicated and executed, hung up until the crows plucked the eyes from their heads.  Roger and Betty soon learn just how immortal the Templars prove to be…

This is a beautiful film.  Amando de Ossorio was a master; while they’re not zombies (de Ossorio was adamant about that), the Blind Dead trump Romero’s shambling gutmunchers as far as hungry undead go in my book.  They’re far from mindless, being in fact cunning, planning creatures, capable of setting traps, utilizing their skills with the sword from life, and my favorite, riding horses.  Live horses with skeletal riders! Even better, live horses with skeletal riders in slow motion! De Ossorio overcranks the camera whenever the Blind Dead are on screen, giving them an ominousness and a sense of unrelenting evil.

More importantly, de Ossorio builds an entire history and mythology for his Blind Dead; they’re not the Blind Dead because that’s the title of the film; he gives them a reason for existing and explains with care who they were and what they are now.  While a lot of this explanation comes in the form of a big ol’ flashback sequence (complete with the still-living Templars torturing a naked girl and drinking her blood) narrated by a historian, it’s not the sole means by which the Templars are fleshed out to the audience; clues and hints about what they are are woven throughout the story, and a decent amount can be extrapolated from what we’re shown on the screen.

The film moves at a fairly leisurely pace, never hurrying towards its explosive climax; the first act, culminating in Virginia’s death at the gnarled hands of the Templars, takes up a good chunk of the film’s run-time, and it’s time very well spent.  It introduces us to the Templars, their modus operandi, and gives the audience an idea of how they can be avoided or defeated, though unfortunately these methods don’t prove that useful to Virginia.

This section of the film is also my favorite in terms of the shots and atmosphere; when Virginia (played by the achingly-beautiful María Elena Arpón, aka “Helen Harp”) is initially exploring the ruins of Berzano by daylight, they seem open and airy, almost inviting.  At night, as the Templars close in, those same ruins become claustrophobic, sinister, confining, a maze of passageways that the Templars can navigate but you can’t.

Unlike a lot of Italian horror, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD isn’t just about intense visuals tied together by the thinnest vagaries of plot.  While there are some elements to the film that don’t quite make sense (for example, Virginia inexplicably rising as a vampire in the morgue after her bloodless body is recovered from Berzano), for the most part the storytelling in TOMBS is paramount, and care is taken to make sure everything (well, almost) hangs together correctly.

And while it’s a gorgeously-shot (and seriously, get the Blue Underground edition; the colors are AMAZING and the print is pristine) piece of suspenseful storytelling, it doesn’t skimp on the Eurosleaze; from the revelation that Virginia and Betty were lesbian lovers to scenes of naked women being tortured by Satanic knights, gratuitous shots of María Elena Arpón’s gloriously tan-lined rump and a vicious rape sequence late in the film, it’s not a movie for the whole family.  Add to that the amazingly downbeat ending…

Interestingly, There’s a scene in the film where two morgue attendants are discussing the body of Virginia, and one of them opines “she was asking for it, flaunting herself around like that. She was asking to be bitten.” I can’t tell if that’s bad subtitling, or still-relevant social commentary.

Final Analysis: Besides the glory that is Paul Naschy, this film contains everything that makes Spanish Horror so fascinating to me.  Vivid colors, beautiful, dark-eyed women, blood and guts, T & A, and some of the best thought-out and watchable undead I’ve ever seen on film make this film a real winner and a must-see for fans of 1970s horror in my book.  I legit cannot say enough good things about this film, and it deserves them all.  Three sequels – RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD, THE GHOST GALLEON and NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS – continue the Templars’ legacy of evil, and I’m looking forward to reviewing those in the near future.

Overall, I give TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971)…

five_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FIVE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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The Lost Boys (1987)

Lost_boysSoooo…confession time, readers.  There’s a lot of “classic” horror films that I simply haven’t sat down and watched yet.  I’ve spent a lot of time watching obscure crap instead; why watch something that everyone’s watched and talked about when I can spread the gospel of Filipino werewolf movies and obscure alien invader flicks? That being said, I did hit up the Palace Theater in Syracuse, NY for the annual Salt City Horror film festival, and in between laughing my balls off with some good friends who I haven’t seen in far too long, I managed to take in a few movies, one of them THE LOST BOYS, which to everyone’s astonishment I’d never seen before.  Promising me untold thrills and excitement, we went into the theater and sat down as the lights dimmed and the opening credits rolled.

Spoilers ensue.

Michael and Sam Emerson (Jason Patric, looking particularly Steve Gutenbergy, and Corey Haim, respectively), along with their recently-divorced mother, move into their eccentric grandfather’s house in Santa Carla, California.  Visiting the nearby Boardwalk one night, Sam makes the acquaintance of Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander) Frog, two brothers working in a comic book shop, while Michael finds himself entranced by a young woman named Star (Jami Gertz), the girlfriend of charismatic gangleader David (Kiefer Sutherland sporting an impressive ‘do).

As the Frog Brothers strive to make Sam aware that Santa Carla is overrun with vampires, Michael is inducted into David’s gang – all of whom are vampires themselves.  As Michael starts to crave blood, Sam and the Frog Brothers search for a cure and a means to destroy the head vampire – if they can identify who that is.

There’s some movies, I believe, that if you see them when you’re around 12 or so you’ll consider them to be the greatest thing since buttered bread, whereas if you were introduced to the same movie as an adult, say, 27 years old (as I am), you’ll be baffled by the love it’s shown.  Some of the FRIDAY THE 13TH and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels are fucking garbage, but I hear people wax lovingly about them because they saw them when they were 8 years old.  I went into THE LOST BOYS expecting it to be one of these sorts of films – something that was ultimately garbage but which had received cult status through the nostalgia of a generation of horror nerds.

I was pleasantly surprised.  While by no means a brilliant or flawless film, I enjoyed myself very much watching THE LOST BOYS.

I think what I liked best was that it was just a vampire film about vampires being vampires.  It wasn’t trying to use vampires as a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic, or drug addiction, or anything like that.  The vampires were simply undead, blood-sucking horrors.  While I’m usually pretty hardcore on the idea that monsters are meaning machines, that they exist to personify ideas and fears in a society, sometimes it’s nice to take a break and let monsters be their monstrous selves without yoking a heavier social commentary to them.

I’m sure if you wanted to dig you could tie the vampires here into fears of youth culture and generational differences, but I don’t really want to.  NOSFERATU was a metaphor for the spread of Communism and a personification of anti-Jewish sentiment.  Lugosi’s DRACULA played on fears of white slavery prevalent in America at the time.  Let me have one film where the vampires are just monsters.

I did like the idea of connecting vampires and Peter Pan’s tribe of “Lost Boys,” who, much like the undead here, can fly and are immune from the effects of aging.  I think that’s a clever idea, and makes me really really wish they’d tapped Jim Steinman, the Svengali behind Meat Loaf’s success, for the soundtrack.  Steinman’s been working for decades now on getting a dystopian rock opera take on the story of Peter Pan off the ground, largely predicated on the idea that spending decades as a 17 year old has driven Peter violently insane, just from the explosive energy with which 17 year olds do everything.  PLUS, Steinman was at one point working on a musical version of NOSFERATU, for which he’d originally written the song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” – made famous by Bonnie Tyler.  Look it up, the song’s about vampires in love.

While the film’s writing and direction are solid enough, and nobody gives a bad performance (though I’ve never been that impressed with Corey Haim’s acting ability, and I think Alex Winter is almost too baby-faced to be taken seriously as a vampire gang member), I think the real standout is Kiefer Sutherland as David, leader of the gang of vampires.  Sutherland projects an almost otherworldly suavity in the role, carrying himself with a swagger that says he doesn’t have a care in the world, and will destroy anyone who tells him ‘no.’

The vampire makeup is for the most part elegant in its simplicity – orange contacts and fangs form the majority of it, though the head vampire sports more elaborate facial prosthetics and we get a tantalizing glimpse of Sutherland’s feet being twisted and claw-like, allow him to hang upside down like a bat.  The feet are an ingenious touch I don’t recall seeing elsewhere, and the simplicity of the facial make-up is appreciated — they don’t need hellishly-warped faces to be menacing.

Final Analysis: A solid little vampire film that I can’t believe got saddled with an R-rating; it seems very much geared towards a younger audience with the two Coreys present.  While I don’t think I’ll ever feel an overwhelming fervent love towards this film the way some people I’ve spoken to do, I can respect the film for what it is and truth be told, I think I like THE LOST BOYS better then the earlier FRIGHT NIGHT, with which it shares some thematic elements.  It’s definitely worth checking out.

Overall, I give THE LOST BOYS (1987)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Grabbers (2012)

grabbers_UK_1400x2100-500x750Ah, Netflix Roulette…much like the game it takes its namesake from (and the variant that uses a marble and spinning board instead of a pistol), you never know what you’re going to get.  Flipping through my recommendations this evening, I thought the description of this film sounded like some cheesy monster fun, so I decided to check it out.  Let’s see if it’s good or if it’s the cinematic equivalent of a bullet to the brain, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

On the remote island of Erin, off the coast of Ireland, local police officer O’Shea (Richard Coyle) resents having been paired with workaholic newcomer Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley).  However, while investigating a beaching of mutilated whale carcasses, they come to realize that the island has become host to a group of blood-sucking tentacled creatures (a precredit sequence suggests that the creatures either came from space, or were disturbed by a falling meteorite).  As the creatures move in to start feeding on the local populace, a chance encounter between one of the monsters and Paddy, the town drunk, reveals that the creatures will die if they consume alcohol-tainted blood.

The townsfolk gather in the local pub to bolster themselves as an oncoming storm provides the creatures with a means of crawling further inland.  But will a BAC of .2 be enough when the big daddy monster emerges?

It’s nice to see a horror-comedy these days that isn’t a zombie movie.  It really is.  In a lot of ways, it’s very much a wet Irish TREMORS, something that I think was very much intentional, straight down to the naming of the monsters as “Grabbers” being reminiscent of the way the worms in TREMORS were dubbed “Graboids” — and with characters arguing over whether the chosen name was a good one or not.

The monsters are delightfully simple, just writhing masses of tentacles surrounding a wet, sphincter-like mouth; shorter tentacles ring the mouth more closely, and a whiplike tongue emerges to drain blood.  For the most part the monsters are realized through CGI, which I’d almost say is a requirement for creatures of this sort, except I’ve seen EL MONSTRO DEL MAR, which manages to create a tentacled beastie with wholly practical effects.  Regardless, I loved the monsters here.

I also really loved the “look” of the cast.  These are not the “beautiful” people of a Hollywood production; the faces on display here are stark, weathered features, lives lived hard displayed in every line, wrinkle and crease.  This just visually gives the film so much more character then if everyone was generically attractive.  The people are like the landscape of Erin Island – grim and worn, but unbeaten.

Finally, THANK YOU to the filmmakers for putting a flaregun to good use in the film.  Too few monster movies take advantage of this handy little tool.  Of course, I pretty much just want to shoot off a flaregun at anything and everything, so take that with a grain of salt.

Final Analysis: A fun little monster movie that doesn’t take itself particularly seriously, has a good looking set of creatures, some solid performances, good comedy and some beautifully Irish feckers who don’t hesitate to turn a Super Soaker into a flamethrower.  I say give it a watch; I don’t think you’ll be terribly disappointed.

Overall, I give GRABBERS (2012)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Alien from L.A. (1988)

alien_from_la_poster_01Greetings, readers, Bill here. Now, if you follow us on Facebook, you’ll know I’ve been saying for weeks now that I’d be reviewing this film. And I just kept either having life get in the way or delaying in favor of other films. I’ve got some free time tonight, however, and decided that there’s no time like the present to get on with reviewing this film, which was featured in the 5th season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Without further ado, let’s take a look at Albert Pyun (whose work was last featured here in the form of RADIOACTIVE DREAMS)’s 1988 film ALIEN FROM L.A., starring supermodel and philanthropist Kathy Ireland in her first film role, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Wanda Saknussem (Ireland, in giant glasses and apparently huffing helium between takes) is a shy, nervous, nerdy girl.  Just hours after her boyfriend dumps her for lacking a sense of adventure, she receives news that her father, archaeologist Arnold Saknussem, has disappeared, presumed dead.  Overcoming her fear of flying, she jets to North Africa to put his papers in order.

She discovers that her father had a pet theory that “Atlantis” was the name of an alien spaceship that crash-landed on Earth and then sank deep underground; beneath her father’s apartment she discovers an underground chamber, through which she blunders, ultimately setting off (apparently the chamber was built by the Ancient Rube-Goldbergians) a chain of events that deposits her squarely on the outskirts of Atlantis.  On the run from both the fascistic government of Atlantis and the minions of a diminutive crime boss (Deep Roy, of RETURN OF THE JEDI and Tim Burton’s adaptation of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY), she teams up with an inconsistently-Australian miner named Gus (William R. Moses) and a charismatic rogue named, appropriately, Charmin (Thom Matthews, of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 6: JASON LIVES!) to escape back to the surface world with her father in tow.

That, uh…wow.  What? What was that even…? Man, God bless Albert Pyun, because he tells the stories no one else can or will tell.  Movies like this one and RADIOACTIVE DREAMS showcase a boundless imagination, one that cannot and will not be constrained by such puny regards as a budget.  I’m looking forward to checking out Pyun’s sequel to STREETS OF FIRE, ROAD TO HELL, just to see what he does with the subject material and the setting.

This is just a plain damn weird film, no two ways about it.  I’m mystified, absolutely mystified, readers, as to why the Atlanteans constantly refer to Kathy Ireland as “big-boned.”  She’s not noticeably taller, and certainly no plumper, then any random Atlantean, so that can’t be it.  Are they looking to use her bones as currency? Food? Medicine? I don’t know.  If anyone has an answer to this, please let me know, because I’m not finding it.

I really like the dystopian vibe of Atlantis in this film, and its decadent, heavily-industrialized look is perfectly apropros; keep in mind that Atlantis is a city within a spaceship, its inhabitants having no concept of a world beyond their borders, and you have to imagine there’s been some heavy inbreeding down there.  Add to that just the boredom of a stagnating culture existing solely within a single cavernous spaceship, and the outrageous New Wave make-ups and fashions on display here, the gladiatorial combat, the recreational drug use…it all makes perfect sense within the context of the film.

The acting here…it’s not great, people.  It’s a high-concept film but the budget and talent (in front of the camera, at least) simply isn’t there to support it.  Kathy Ireland does not rise above the level of irritating throughout the course of the film, with her shrill, nasally voice (Is that her real voice? Or is she channeling the Chipettes?) and the bumbling, clumsy nature of the character.  Thom Mathews and Deep Roy do the best they can with what they’re given, while William R. Moses’ Australian accent wanders in and out of every other word.

In a weird way, the film does have a legitimate sci-fi pedigree, borrowing from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth; Wanda and her father’s surname comes from the adventurer who precedes Verne’s protagonists into the Hollow Earth, and her father’s name, Arnold Saknussem, could be read as an anglicized version of Arne Saknussem, the adventurer from the novel.

Final Analysis: A weird, cheesy, fun B-movie romp.  Pretty readily available in various Midnight Movie releases from MGM, as well as the MST3K version from Shout! Factory, it’s worth a watch, with or without the riffing.

Overall, I give ALIEN FROM L.A. (1988)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Demon Resurrection (2008)

2233699b1aa8ebb570d97d5b8ab05a98a6140fedGreetings, readers, Bill here with another special treat for you, this time a screener sent to us for review by writer/director William Hopkins. I’d intended to review it this past weekend, but between putting in some overtime at work and running the normal errands that come with semi-responsible quasi-adulthood, my weekend just seemed to get away from me.  However, I happened to find myself with some time tonight, so I decided to park my ass on the couch and give the ol’ DVD a spin.  Let’s see how this film stacks up, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Grace’s friends are worried about her.  She’s pale, weak, withdrawn…ever since she moved in with her new boyfriend John, it’s like she’s become a different person.  Believing her to be on drugs, her friends try to stage an intervention.  Upon arriving at the house Grace and John share, they discover that Grace got herself mixed up in something a lot worse then dope – she went off the deep end into a Satanic cult, and John rescued her from their orgiastic clutches and is nursing her back to health.

Unfortunately for Grace, John and Grace’s concerned friends, the demonic powers worshiped by the cult will not be so easily thwarted, and before long an army of zombies and cultists have surrounded the house.  With John’s occult guidance, do these meddling kids stand a chance at fighting back against Satan himself?

I never know what to expect when I’m sent screeners, readers, and those of you who have been with me for a while may remember that for a long time I didn’t accept screeners after having been very badly burned by a filmmaker unhappy with the review I gave his film.

DEMON RESURRECTION is compared, in a blurb from Buried.com quoted on the back cover, to “H.P. Lovecraft meets Night of the Living Dead,” which seems a bit disingenuous to me; just because there’s zombies surrounding an isolated house doesn’t necessitate the comparison to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, while just because Cthulhu shows up in an illustration in a grimoire one of the characters carries doesn’t mean Lovecraft’s name should be invoked.

That being said, this is a film that very openly wears its inspirations on its sleeve.  It’s hard not to see where films like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, EVIL DEAD and ALIEN inspired elements of this film.  This is not to say the film’s predictable and by-the-numbers; oh no, it’s got some twists that even took a jaded old cinephile like me by surprise.

I thought that DEMON RESURRECTION was a very ambitious film in the story it had to tell, and tried to pack a great deal into its 88-minute run time.  This works both to the film’s credit and its detriment; at no point does the film really slow down or become dull, but at the same time most of the protagonists are nondescript and the viewer isn’t given the opportunity to care about them before they’re gruesomely murdered.

While I’m not much of a zombie fan, I have to say the zombies in this film are some of my favorites of recent years.  With their dusty, skeletal faces and burlap-and-noose ensembles, they remind one of the undead in ZOMBI 2 or TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, and likewise, they don’t play by Romero’s rules.  Glowing faintly green through the magic of post-production effects, these skull-faced ghouls climb ladders, set ambushes and navigate obstacles so handily that most of the cast doesn’t stand a chance of survival against them.

Final Analysis: An ambitious film that shoots for the moon in a way that too many indie productions don’t nowadays, DEMON RESURRECTION doesn’t break much in the way of new ground, but it held my attention a lot tighter then many big-budget Hollywood productions have recently.

Overall, I give DEMON RESURRECTION (2008)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Beast of the Yellow Night (1971)

combo_beast_of_yellow_night_poster_01Greetings, readers, Bill here. I’m coming to you early today because basically all systems were not go at the office I work at. In fact, no systems were go, and rather than stand around doing BS make-work while staring zombie-like at the clock waiting for it to be 5 pm, I decided to take a half-day, run some errands, mail some goodies to a couple friends in the horror blogosphere, and then watch a movie before I have to pick my girlfriend up from her job. I’ve been meaning to watch this one for review for a while now, and decided that there’s no better time then the present in which to watch a Filipino werewolf/Satanism flick directed by Eddie Romero! Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

The Philippines, 1946.  While the War in the Pacific may be over, there’s still a strong American presence in the islands.  One of these Americans, Joseph Langdon (John Ashley, of MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, BRIDES OF BLOOD, TWILIGHT PEOPLE, and an assortment of other Filipino horror films) has a couple big problems.  A traitor and deserter from the army, while fleeing through the jungle he happens to eat an extremely poisonous piece of fruit.  As he lies dying, he’s approached by a fat, sweaty Satan (Vic Diaz, previously seen around these parts in THE THIRSTY DEAD and RAW FORCE) who offers him a way out and a new life.

Now, Langdon is taking over the life of an American businessman killed in an industrial accident, posing as the dead man to further Satan’s aims.  To make matters more complicated, Langdon’s efforts to resist Satan get him punished with random transformations into a hairy, bloodthirsty beast…

And in case the trailer has you actually interested in seeing the film, this public domain cheapie can be seen on YouTube in its entirety here:

So that’s THE BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT.  I’m not sure why it’s a “Yellow Night,” or what a yellow night actually entails, but there is a lot of bile-yellow fog clouds that billow up out of nowhere whenever Satan shows up, so maybe that’s it?

I’m not going to lie to you readers, this film is extremely slow moving, extremely poorly-lit, and extremely dull.  Much of the film is simply too dark to see anything going on, and the well-lit scenes tend to be long stretches of stilted-delivery dialogue between John Ashley and Mary Wilcox about why their characters should love one another but don’t.

What is good about this film is what it represents; John Ashley and Eddie Romero largely financed this film themselves, though they received additional funding from Roger Corman in exchange for theatrical distribution rights for the film through his New World Pictures company.  The experience convinced Corman to finance more films shot in the Philippines.  Films like THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, THE BIG BIRD CAGE, UP FROM THE DEPTHS, TNT JACKSON…a wide variety of true exploitation classics, all spun out of the profit Corman turned on BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT!

Final Analysis: Is BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT a good movie? Not particularly.  As I said, for the most part it’s too dark to see what’s going on, the acting is terrible, and it commits the cardinal sin of any movie, it’s boring.  There’s a few interesting moments scattered throughout the film, mostly relating to the Langdon-monster making sad eyes and pining over his lost soul and lost humanity.  But it’s not enough to really save the movie.  I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t particularly win me over.  If you’re an Eddie Romero/John Ashley completist, the film’s in the public domain (and I linked to the full film on YouTube above), but otherwise I’d largely say don’t bother.

Overall, I give BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT (1971)…

two_barrels_of_toxic_waste

TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

hansel_and_gretel_witch_huntersWhat’s this, readers? A Monday evening review? That hasn’t happened in a long time…not since the last time I was single, at any rate. But, while playing Netflix roulette with my girlfriend looking for something I could stand and which she could half-watch while knitting, we decided to give this a whirl after the first episode of HEMLOCK GROVE proved too intense for her. And let me just say, we made the right choice. We both had a blast watching this film.  But enough about my personal life, let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

So after their horrific formative experience with the witch in the gingerbread house (building codes having been much laxer in the late middle ages then they are now), Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) find themselves soon having grown up with the title of “Witch Hunter” applied after their names.  As they slay witch after witch across Europe, building up an arsenal of ridiculous steampunk weaponry, they also collect hefty fee after hefty fee from the villages they save from the predation of witches.

Their latest job leads them to the town of Augsberg, near where they were born, and the siblings quickly find themselves up to their necks in witches.  They soon find that the witches are gathering for the Blood Moon, a super-charged Sabbath that comes around once every generation.  The witches have something very bad planned, but can Hansel & Gretel stop them in time?

I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun watching a movie, or laughed harder.  This film was panned pretty hard by the critics for gratuitous violence and a weak plot, but you know what? Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke, this movie doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither should you.

The violence IS in fact over the top, though not quite to such garish extremes as Tarantino routinely achieves.  Heads are blown off, witches are shredded on razor wire, rusty knives are driven into guts, at one point a pair of conjoined-twin witches are partially separated in the gooiest way possible.  The blood is all tempera-paint red, like in all the best Italian horror, and a couple deaths were described by my girlfriend as “extra-chunky.”

The arsenal on display here is…I don’t think anachronistic is a strong enough word here.  It’s the same sort of steampunk weaponry on display in films like VAN HELSING, only my best guess is that this film is set in the late 1500s, making the Gatling gun, revolvers and other “modern” weaponry extra out-of-place.  Add to that the double-crossbow that can shoot in two different directions…

What took me by surprise was that in the fight scenes, Hansel and Gretel appear almost comically inept.  Actually no, not “almost.”  They’re comically inept.  Every witch they encounter flings them around like rag dolls, smashing them into walls, trees, whatever’s available.  I thought these two had been hunting witches for years, how is it that every witch they meet gets the drop on them and kicks their asses until they manage to get a lucky shot in? Heck, even in scenes when they’re fighting just regular people, not supernatural bitches, they get their asses handed to them in pretty short order.  How the hell have these two survived as long as they have?

To take matters even further, Hansel’s a diabetic! As he explains in the film, that initial witch they were captured by as children forced him to eat so much candy that he got sick, and now he has to give himself steampunk insulin shots (on a schedule dictated by a steampunk watch he wears) to keep from slipping into a diabetic coma.

The film was written and directed by Tommy Wirkola, best known in horror circles for the quirky Nazi Zombie movie DEAD SNOW, and like DEAD SNOW showcases a really great blend of comedy and horror.  In addition, here Wirkola has a stellar cast to work with, both with the two leads and with the supporting cast.  Peter Stormare (THE BIG LEBOWSKI) appears as a cruel and conniving sheriff, Rainer Bock (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS) plays the mayor of Augsberg, Famke Janssen (GOLDENEYE, X-MEN) plays the head evil witch, and Derek Mears (the 2009 version of FRIDAY THE 13TH) appears as Edward the Troll.  That’s a hell of an ensemble cast, and nobody gave a bad performance that I could see.

The film is very beautiful, visually, with a lovely color palette on display through the costuming, especially on the witches’ costumes.  The sets themselves tend to be on the drab side, making the costumes pop that much more.  The witches themselves are a fantastic mix of beautiful and loathsome, no two looking quite alike though with some common themes – darkened eye sockets, pale eyes, and cracked, pallid skid are pretty prominent, though some witches sport scales, horns, tattoos…and then of course there’s the oddballs like the aforementioned conjoined-twin witches.  The sharp contrast between the vividly-colored witches and the browns and grays of the “human world” also seems like it’s almost a comment on the contrast between “magic” and “science” but I might be reading too much into it.

Final Analysis: Is this a “good” movie? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for.  CASABLANCA this ain’t, but if you want to see witches getting blown away and chopped up in glorious full color explosions of gore along with some snarky, F-bomb laden dialogue, then this more than satisfies.  Like I said at the start, I had a lot of fun watching this film, and it didn’t outstay its welcome (word on the street is a sequel is coming, so we’ll see) so I really don’t have any complaints to voice about this film.  I enjoyed it, and I’d say it’s more then worth checking out.

Overall, I give HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)…

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FIVE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Nude on the Moon (1961)

Nude_on_the_moon_poster_01_Crisco_EditHow’s that for an attention-grabbing title, readers? Bill here again, this time with a classic 1960s “Nudie Cutie” from director Doris Wishman, the woman responsible for such classics as DEADLY WEAPONS. I really love these “Nudie Cuties” — they’re so sweet and innocent, you know? They’re not overtly sexual, they’re not crass, they’re just cute and fun…and full of real, natural boobs on real, natural female bodies, not the plasticine parts of the modern day. This is a short little film, so let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Jeff is a virile(ish) young scientist working in the lab of his older colleague, known simply as “The Professor.”  Jeff works night and day on a top secret project, working so hard that he fails to notice that his secretary, Cathy, is absolutely aching for him.  The Professor notices, however, and tries to counsel Cathy on her unrequited love and to nudge Jeff in the direction of Cathy’s heaving bosoms.  But at the same time, the Professor is also working on Jeff’s secret project — it’s a rocket to the moon! It has to be kept top secret because of reasons.

The rocket launches, leaving Earth’s gravity in about 4 seconds (which should have reduced Jeff and the Professor to something resembling a Hefty bag full of chunky beef stew dropped off the roof of the Chrysler building) and arriving at the lush, verdant sphere of South Flori-I mean, the moon.  Jeff and the Professor put on their spandex moon-suits and open helmets and go exploring, quickly discovering a population of topless, perky women bouncing around and sunbathing atop monolithic coral furniture (Coral Castle.  Check it out).  Astonishingly, Jeff and the Professor all but ignore the boobilicious beauties in favor of taking pictures of rocks and collecting soil samples.

With their oxygen supply running low (despite having open-faced helmets and breathing the moon-air), Jeff suddenly finds himself smitten with the Moon Queen.  Forced to leave her behind, Jeff takes another look at his long-suffering secretary Cathy.  Without her clothes, she looks an awful lot like the Moon Queen…

And here’s the full movie, courtesy of YouTube, for you to enjoy.

So, there’s not bloody much of a plot here to discuss.  The film is pretty much all fluff – prior to the rocket launch the film is padded with shots of Cathy typing and typical 1960s “Science – IN ACTION!” shots.  After the rocket lands, the film lands in typical Nudie Cutie territory, with no story to get in the way of the boobage.  Just long, lingering shots of curvaceous cuties wandering around in the warm sunshine and sitting on various large rocks.

The production values of the film are perhaps the textbook definition of sub-par; while Ms. Wishman was never working with Spielbergian budgets, this film takes the cake in terms of cheapness.  I mean, you only have to provide wardrobe for two actors, and the space suits on display here are what we get?

The women here are charming and easy on the eyes, especially if you’re like me, and prefer unaugmented girls next door types, the ones with big hips and cellulite buttocks and less-then-spherical breasts.  I happen to like this quite a bit, and so I find the women on display here absolutely endearing.  Audiences with a preference for Baywatch bodies and flawless tans will be disappointed by the flesh on display here.

Final Analysis: The film honestly has very little going for it but female nudity of the sort one gets in a more innocent time, when breasts went “bo-oi-oi-oing” upon release from a bullet bra and the idea of lounging nude in the sun for one’s health was in vogue and the idea of filming it and displaying it as “educational” was likewise in vogue.

Overall, I give NUDE ON THE MOON (1961)…

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TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

The-Mothman-Prophecies-2002-movie-posterGreetings, readers, Bill here again. After watching LORD OF TEARS last night I had this film on my mind – Something akin, perhaps, to the Six Degrees of Cryptozoological Kevin Bacon. One of the inspirations for LORD OF TEARS’ Owlman was the legendary Cornish Owlman, which falls into the same category of mysterious winged humanoids as West Virginia’s Mothman, which inspired paranormal investigator John A. Keel to write a book on the phenomena, which inspired this movie.  I haven’t watched this one in years but I remember it very favorably.  Let’s take a look-see, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

John Klein (Richard Gere), a journalist whose star is on the rise, and his lovely wife (Debra Messing) are out house-hunting.  After finding one they like, driving home to DC, she loses control of the vehicle and spins out of control, her skull cracking against the glass of the window.  In the hospital, she speaks to John (who was not injured in the crash) of seeing something right before she spun out…something winged, with red eyes that seemed to burn right into her.  Before dying, she fills a sketchbook with haunting images – images the doctors mistake for “angels.”

The quest for answers begins to consume Klein’s life, and two years later he finds himself in Point Pleasant, West Virginia with no idea of how he got there.  He finds the town in the grip of terror – residents are reporting strange lights in the sky, unusual phone calls from someone identifying themself as “Indrid Cold,” and most frighteningly, sightings of a winged, humanoid figure with burning red eyes.  Klein teams up with local police officer Connie Mills (Laura Linney) to investigate the disturbances, and find themselves faced with one essential question: Is the Mothman an omen, warning of disaster…or a harbinger of disaster itself?

The events of Point Pleasant began in 1966 when two young couples, looking for a romantic evening, drove out to a former WWII munitions plant turned wildlife sanctuary.  While out there, they encountered a flying entity with shining red eyes.  This triggered a series of similar sightings that lasted over a year.  Numerous people claimed encounters with the mysterious “Mothman,” some claiming the creature’s burning eyes left them with actual physical burns, migraines or temporary blindness.  The story was first brought to wider attention when ufoologist and sometimes-hoaxer Gray Barker wrote it up in his book The Silver Bridge in 1970; it received even wider attention when John Keel released the book The Mothman Prophecies in 1975.  It is, unsurprisingly, from this latter book that the film is derived.

Keel’s hypothesis was not that Mothman was an extraterrestrial creature, but an ultraterrestrial creature – something from another dimension, something that in past centuries has been interpreted as fairies or demons, and that while essentially non-malevolent, this entity or entities are portents, warnings of something terrible due to occur, and quite possibly serve as psychopomps – ferrymen of the souls of the recently-deceased – for those slain in the disasters they foretell.  The film largely follows Keel’s ideas, espoused to Gere’s character by a minor character, a paranormalist named “Leek” in honor of the late John Keel.

The Mothman “flap” of 1966-1967 came to a shocking conclusion with the collapse of the Silver Bridge, and the film likewise climaxes with the collapse of the bridge into the icy waters below.

Richard Gere gives a fine performance here as a rational man, a journalist used to dealing in objective truth, dropped into a situation where rationality has flown out the window and the universe is playing by an unfamiliar set of rules.  As the film progresses, it does a great job translating his progressive breaking with reality into something the viewer can readily follow, repeating footage (as Klein seems to repeat actions or events), sonic overlays, and suggestive imagery; paintings or statuary of angels are placed into shots, for example, and there’s recurrent sequences in which two red lights – traffic lights, a car’s taillights, Christmas tree lights – appear side by side.  Though he “appears” in the film only in a few scant frames, Mothman’s presence in the film is almost suffocating.  He’s ever-present.

Final Analysis: THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES  is not a film that ties up its mysteries neatly in the final reel.  If closure is something you want in a film, look elsewhere.  It’s a film about atmosphere, about mood, about the fear of the unknown and the confrontation of that fear.  It’s about a time and place where reality intersected with something else, somewhere else, for thirteen months.  If you can grok that, by all means give THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES a try.  It does a damn good job at what it sets out to do.

Overall, I give THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002)…

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FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Lord of Tears (2013)

lord-of-tears-posterGreetings, readers, Bill here with a midweek update. I’d received this film awhile back as a reward for having backed the Kickstarter — the DVD arriving wrapped in Deadly Nightshade-purple paper and sealed with a piece of tape affixing an owl feather over the folds in the paper. Theatrical, no? I’d been intrigued by this film since the director, Lawrie Brewster, contacted the Blood Sprayer Facebook page – another place my writing can be found, under the nom de plume “J.D. Malinger.” I’d mentioned the film to a coworker the other day as a promising-looking ghost story inspired by the Slenderman mythos, so let’s see if I’m a liar or not, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Upon the passing of his mother, James Findlay inherits the ancestral mansion – and with it, a written admonition from his mother to never set foot in the old house again, that exposure to something within its moldering walls drove him mad as a child – and only years away from the house allowed his fractured mind to recover.  James reasons that while he doesn’t remember much from living at the old house as a child, surely he’d remember going crazy, right?

James moves back into the old house, and begins to experience unnatural events; birds cluster outside his window, cawing and refusing the vacate, and nightmare-jumbles of long-suppressed memories rise up to bedevil him as he tries to sleep.  As the mystery deepens, a malevolent humanoid figure, a taloned and feathered fiend known to James since childhood as the Owlman, emerges…

Given the prominence that the Owlman is given in the advertising for this film, viewers might be forgiven for expecting LORD OF TEARS to be a paranormal monster romp in the vein of something like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY or perhaps THE EXORCIST.  It really isn’t, though — the filmmakers drew a lot more inspiration from THE RING and related J-horror films; films that drew heavily on the mythology of their country of origin and that weren’t afraid to allow a slow building of tension punctuated with fleeting moments of sheer adrenaline-pumping terror.

LORD OF TEARS likewise draws on the legendry of the Scottish countryside, as well as the Cornish stories of the Owlman, a man-sized owl-like creature said to have terrorized Cornwall in the 1960s and 1970s, possibly a relative of the American “Mothman.”

The film likewise moves very slowly, both for better and worse.  At times, the leisurely pace accentuates James’ growing mental aberration, giving the audience time to savor the horror he’s experiencing.  At other times, I at least was left wondering when the film would get on with it already.  LORD OF TEARS clocks in at about 100 minutes, and I think it runs just a little too long.

Aesthetically, the film is beautifully shot, with some amazing harshly-lit scenes that blur back and forth between the physical objects James is seeing, and him remembering them as they were in his youth.  Light and Shadow, those two most essential tools of the visual arts, are applied with a master’s touch where they serve to the best effect here; at no point is the film so dark that we can’t see what’s going on, but when it serve the purpose of the story for the lights to go out, they go fucking out.

The editing and some of the visual storytelling of the film I think will be a turn-off for some; it’s very stylized and in places very surrealistic, very Ken Russell-y a la ALTERED STATES or LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM.  Given the way the film deals with the vagaries of memory and elements of nightmare, I think the surrealistic editing is a valid choice, I just know that it won’t appeal to all audiences.

Final Analysis: Slow-burning, moody and haunting, LORD OF TEARS won’t appeal to all audiences and doesn’t quite fill out its runtime as thickly as I’d like, it’s nevertheless an extremely sharp and stylish indie ghost story that doesn’t underestimate the intelligence of its audience and indeed doesn’t hesitate to challenge viewers to step up to its intellectual level and piece together otherwise dissociated knowledge and ideas along with it.  I dug it.

Overall, I give LORD OF TEARS (2013)…

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FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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