The Astro-Zombies (1968)

The_Astro_Zombies-249921643-largeGreetings, readers, Bill here again with a film by a true cult movie, the unforgettable Ted V. Mikels. With his impeccable handlebar mustache, the giant talon hanging from a chain around his neck, somehow-wider-than-ear-to-ear grin, and bevy of beautiful women (plus a castle to house them in), Mikels is a true one of a kind original, the kind of larger-then-life character who, if you saw them in fiction, would think them to be too outrageous to be believable. Tonight we’re watching one of Mikels’ best-known films, THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES, starring John Carradine (of BIGFOOT and THE FACE OF MARBLE), Tura Satana (FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!) and Wendell Corey (REAR WINDOW, WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET) in his final film role. Without going on any further, let’s settle in with this cult classic, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

The CIA is deeply interested in the work of rogue scientist Dr. DeMarco (Carradine), whose work on organ transplants and thought transference, financed by the American space program (on the grounds that it’d be really useful to be able to beam information directly from a computer to an astronaut’s brain while he’s in flight), was progressing along very interesting lines prior to his termination from the space agency.  Fearful that Communist spies might try to tap DeMarco and steal his work on thought-transference, CIA agent Holman (Corey) is assigned the task of locating and safeguarding DeMarco.

The CIA is right to be concerned, as a Communist plot is afoot to try and steal DeMarco’s work, spearheaded by the villainous dragon lady Satana (Tura Satana, rocking both the cocktail dress and the kimono just as vivaciously as she did the black leather in FASTER PUSSYCAT!), her agents hounding – and gunning down – Holman’s underlings every step of the way.

Meanwhile, DeMarco is using his techniques to create an army of Astro-Zombies, crazed undead cyborgs that roam the streets of L.A. butchering pretty girls left and right! Well, okay, there’s one Astro-Zombie wandering around killing people, but that’s because DeMarco was forced to utilize a criminal brain in its construction (shades of Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN) and he’s hoping to recapture and reprogram it, but in the meantime, the rest of these Astro-Zombies won’t build themselves…

You have to respect Mikels’ vision.  With Commie spies, square-jawed G-men, dancing girls, mad scientists, bouncing boobies and solar-powered cyborg zombies, THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES honestly should be a surefire win.  I say should, because while it’s certainly entertaining in concept, in practice it manages to feel both overloaded and underloaded.

I say overloaded because there’s so much going on that none of it ends up feeling fully developed, and subplots pop in and out with abandon, rarely getting resolved in any meaningful fashion.  I say underloaded because I feel like you could cut 20 minutes from the film without impacting the story any, and long stretches of the movie just kind of drag.  Such is the price of having a mad genius behind the camera, I suppose.  I think not just the film, but the script itself could have used a firmer hand at the editing stage – I found it particularly irritating how nothing is ever explained or given reason until after it’s over, if at all – What DeMarco’s trying to achieve isn’t made clear until after he’s stopped from achieving it, and the same goes for Satana.  We’re left with strings of scenes divested of any sense of meaning and that makes it a much harder film to pay attention to.

The Astro-Zombies themselves are fun creations, and certainly visually arresting; With a big skull head implanted with various technical bits-and-bobs, particularly black lenses filling the eyesockets and a metal grill shaped like Jack Nicholson’s manic grin over the mouth, they’re a lot more interesting to look at then the average man in a rubber mask, and I feel like some of their scenes kind of prefigure the tension and attitude of later slasher movies, though some tighter editing and some less-egregious day-for-night photography would probably emphasize that prefiguration more.

What really grabbed me here was Tura Satana, and not just for the obvious reasons; the only other film I’ve ever seen her in was FASTER PUSSYCAT, and her conniving secret agent here is a far cry from the brash, overbearing uber-amazon (or should I say mammazon) that Russ Meyer had her playing.  While her character Varla in FASTER PUSSYCAT never speaks below a contemptuous snarl, the character Satana here is soft-spoken because she can afford to be; she doesn’t need to raise her voice to utterly dominate the other agents in her cell, she can do it with just her piercing eyes and a languid drag on her cigarette.  And if that’s not enough…she’s packing heat.  I feel like Mikels gave her a much greater opportunity to act, and she makes the most of it here.  She does so much with an arched eyebrow or a leisurely hand gesture and is generally the best performer in the film outside of maybe Carradine, and he’s not exactly stretching his acting muscles in the familiar role of authoritative mad scientist.

tura

Even more interesting is the emphasis Mikels places on Satana’s legs.  Obviously, Russ Meyer was something akin to the Platonic Ideal of a slavering boob-hound, and he dressed his actresses (or undressed, as the case may be) to emphasize their chests as extremely as possible.  While Tura was never nude in FASTER PUSSYCAT, her all-black ensemble and thick black mane draws the eye to the paleness of her face and cleavage.  In ASTRO-ZOMBIES, she wears a variety of dresses cut high up the hip and perches on chairs or sprawls across couches in positions calculated to show the maximum amount of bare thigh allowable by the standards of 1968.  While I don’t think it’s humanly possible to actually de-emphasize Tura’s bosom, Mikels comes pretty damn close in some scenes, and it shows how much a movie can reflect the mind of a filmmaker; Mikels isn’t the obsessive boob-hound that Meyers was, and so that’s not where his focus with Tura as an actress is.  If it weren’t for those penetrating eyes, it’s almost hard to believe it’s the same woman in both roles, the differences in how she’s shot are so extreme.

Final Analysis: THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES is not a name that will ever echo in the annals of great horror cinema the way, for example, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD or THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE do; instead it’s found a different sort of notoriety, the notoriety of being bizarre and unlike anything the viewer has seen before, and it’s more then a little incoherent, but it’s the sort of film that, for the aficionado, is worth watching once, if maybe not worth watching twice.  Tura Satana gives a great performance, John Carradine is in his natural habitat, there’s some bare breasts during a nightclub scene and the monsters are solar-powered undead cyborgs.  You’ll probably want the 91 minutes back when it’s all over, but while it’s going on it’s a weird ride.

Overall, I give THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES (1968)…

two_barrels_of_toxic_waste

TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Coming Soon – Toxic Talk Radio

Hello, readers, Bill here again with an apology for the half-month of radio silence and an explanation as to why – I’m working on adding something very big to Radiation-Scarred Reviews, and I’ve been putting a lot more mental energy towards that then towards writing as of late.

Radiation-Scarred Reviews is gaining a podcast element.  This podcast will be available on iTunes as well as posted here and cross-posted to the other site I provide content for, The Blood Sprayer.  Because of this cross-posting, I’ve ultimately decided against simply calling it “Radiation-Scarred Reviews: The Podcast,” but rather “Toxic Talk Radio,” in part because I like the alliteration, and in part as homage to what RSR was almost called when I decided to start writing back in 2008 — “Toxic Atrocity Reviews.”

The format will not just be me babbling about any given movie, and it won’t really take the form of reviews you can listen to.  Instead, I and a guest (of which I’ve got a couple lined up, and more in mind to ask on) will shoot the shit about movies for 45 minutes to an hour.  One film will be chosen to kind of provide a central focus to each episode, but I’m anticipating wandering all over the map instead of staying tightly-focused on that one film.  For example, I’ll be recording the first episode this weekend with a nominal focus on Murnau’s 1922 classic NOSFERATU, but I’m guessing we’re going to discuss German expressionism, vampires, trivia about the film (I’ve come up with some really interesting tidbits about the castle where the film was shot), Werner Herzog’s remake, and other ways in which this film has influenced pop culture.

I’m not sure when it will go up (I haven’t recorded it yet, for one thing, and I’m waiting to see what the situation will be with having a logo designed) but I’m expecting it to be a fun change of pace and a nice addition to my stable of work here at RSR.

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C.H.U.D. (1984)

CHUD_posterGood evening, readers, Bill here again – I’d narrowed my film choices for today down to re-reviewing one of two films I covered very early in my career here at RSR – C.H.U.D. (1984) or THE BEAST WITHIN (1982). Discussing the films on Facebook, I decided to wait on re-covering THE BEAST WITHIN until I got the Blu-Ray of the film, and then discovered that by serendipitous coincidence, today (August 31, 2014) marked the thirtieth anniversary of C.H.U.D.’s release into theaters.  Clearly, the Universe had spoken – I was to watch and review C.H.U.D. tonight.  Now that I have my various “mature, responsible adult” errands taken care of, I can sit down with the film.  Join me, won’t you?

Spoilers ensue.

George Cooper (John Heard, of HOME ALONE and HOME ALONE II, as well as SHARKNADO), a once-prominent photojournalist, has moved into a downtown tenement building in New York City with his girlfriend Lauren (Kim Greist, MANHUNTER) in order to pursue his latest assignment, documenting Manhattan’s homeless population, especially those known as Undergrounders, due to inhabiting the disused subway tunnels and sub-basements of the city.  This assignment brings Cooper into contact with “The Reverend” A.J. Shepherd (Daniel Stern, also of HOME ALONE and HOME ALONE II, last seen around these parts in LEVIATHAN), who brings to his attention the fact that these Undergrounders are disappearing…completely.  And their hunt for the Undergrounders brings them into contact with Bosch, a captain in the NYPD (Christopher Curry, STARSHIP TROOPERS), a cop on the edge of going loose-cannon because his wife has gone missing and the department won’t do anything about it.

Joining forces, Cooper, Reverend and Bosch descend into the sewers to conduct their own investigation, and discover that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been stockpiling nuclear waste in the sewers under New York instead of just moving it through.  And that waste has begun to leak.  And the missing Undergrounders…they’re not missing anymore.  They’re also not human anymore.  Exposure to the nuclear waste has mutated them into Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.  And they’re beginning to venture to the surface in search of food…

I think this is a surprisingly divisive B-movie.  I’ve seen a number of people rave about how great this film is, and a number of others utterly disparaging this film, usually with the comment that “people only like it because they saw it when they were kids and there’s the nostalgia factor.”  I know I’m prone to use that line on people who claim to me that FREDDY’S DEAD or JASON TAKES MANHATTAN are good movies.  Frankly, I didn’t see this film until I was an adult.  I was 21 the first time I saw C.H.U.D.  And in all honesty, I really like C.H.U.D.  I think it’s a fun monster movie.

I really like the central cast.  Heard, Stern and Curry all give great performances and have fantastic chemistry between them.  I particularly love Stern and Curry together – Stern’s character “Reverend” is boiling over with anti-authoritarian sentiment and can’t contain his sarcastic attitude when dealing with authority figures, while Curry’s cop Bosch *is* an authority figure, and the banter they have going back and forth between them as they discover that their personal vendettas dovetail nicely and that they can both benefit from joining forces.

I like the way the story is structured – it’s built like a police procedural, with a mystery — the missing homeless people — presented and then assembling disparate clues – homeless people trying to obtain weapons to protect themselves from something they can’t describe, the discovery of a discarded Geiger counter and a contamination-badge, a witness to an attack, and finally a dead C.H.U.D. – to reveal, one step at a time, the answer to the mystery.  It’s a very effective piece of storytelling.

The C.H.U.D.s themselves are simple yet effective – most of them are dressed in tattered shirts and trousers or coveralls, with masks and sleeves for monstrous exposed flesh.  They’re pretty uniform in appearance – bald heads, bat-like ears, crooked fangs and oozing, scabby skin, with huge glowing yellow eyes.  This uniformity makes some amount of sense as they’re all mutated by the same source of radiation, and I really liked the conceit in the film that the C.H.U.D.’s radioactive nature meant they could be tracked via Geiger counter.

chud9

Good long looks at the C.H.U.D.s are few and far between, the filmmakers preferring to keep their monsters confined to shadowy environments and either extreme-closeups or long shots.  Unfortunately, the one really good shot of a C.H.U.D. (see above) is also one of the goofiest shots in the film, in which a C.H.U.D. demonstrates an interesting mutation – a neck that can stretch out and flex like a python – as it menaces Lauren.  Unfortunately, this proves to be a disadvantageous mutation, since she’s got a sword (in an excellent example of Chekhov’s Gun, the sword is prominently shown in several earlier shots to establish its existence in her and Cooper’s apartment).

Final Analysis: A fun romp through the streets of 1980s New York City, C.H.U.D. combines monster movie and police procedural elements in a way that breathes fresh life into both.  With great performances from a solid cast, decent-looking monsters and really strong, smart writing, I can confidently say that C.H.U.D. is a movie that wholeheartedly deserves every ounce of “cult classic” designation it’s garnered over the last thirty years.

Overall, I give C.H.U.D. (1984)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Sting of Death (1965)

combo_death_curse_of_tartu_poster_01Greetings, readers, Bill here again with the second film of the day here at Radiation-Scarred Reviews; what can I say, my girlfriend told me to put in another movie and amuse myself while she knits. Going through my DVDs, I was reminded of this film, which was probably one of the first ten or so movies I reviewed back in 2009. As the old review is painfully embarrassing for me to read, I thought it would be worthwhile to go ahead and give this film a fresh watch and see how I feel about the film given five additional years of film criticism and knowledge.  Let’s roll the picture, shall we?

Spoilers ensue, but not as many as would be in my old reviews.

Dr. John Hoyt, a young up-and-coming marine biologist, and older scientist Dr. Richardson have established a small laboratory/bungalow in the Florida Everglades, and have invited a group of young women (grad students, I guess? I dunno, the film doesn’t bother to explain) down to spend the weekend.  While the sheriff wants Dr. Richardson and Hoyt to examine the body of a dead fisherman to determine cause of death and Dr. Richardson’s creepy, hulking lab assistant Egon is skulking around, none of this is going to get in the way of the girls’ urge to put on the latest Sedaka record and party down!

I’m not kidding.  The film lists Neil Sedaka as “special singing guest star” and the plot of the film just STOPS in order for a full song and dance number set to his hit song, “Do the Jellyfish.”

The film picks up when the party is interrupted by a murderous half-man, half-jellyfish creature that pops out of the pool and nearly kills Richardson’s daughter before escaping back into the swamps, leaving a swarm of Portuguese Man-o-War to kill off a group of college students that showed up to join the party.

When the creature returns to carry John’s love interest Karen off into the swamps, he has to go after it, armed with only a pair of swim trunks and a road flare (!).  Can he destroy the terror, or will he feel the…STING OF DEATH?

I just can’t get over the “Do the Jellyfish” song and dance number.  The song is enough of a goof, sure, but the dancing…! No two people in this group of about 15-20 are doing the same move at the same time, and all of them – ALL OF THEM – dance like they were thrown out of a Frankie Avalon movie.  And then the camera was handed to someone – I don’t know if it was director William Grefe’s idea or what, but for every crowd shot or close up of someone’s face in this sequence, there’s three shots of girls’ butts in tight pants, wiggling to the music.  Someone on set was the Russ Meyer of ass-men, and I want to know who.  Let’s go ahead and watch that scene again:

Yep, that’s something weird alright.

You know, in the five years I’ve owned this film and the number of times I’ve watched it, I’m still not 100% sure what’s going on with the monster.  Is it that the mad scientist created a giant jellyfish, and when he exposes himself to its secretions he becomes a jellyfish man? Is he just a guy in a wetsuit wearing a jellyfish on his head in the worst Scooby Doo traditions? I”m probably putting more thought into this then the screenwriter did.  Regardless, the monster looks like crap; the performer is dressed in a wetsuit and swimfins, slathered liberally with mud to try and disguise the wetsuit, with a jellyfish “head” made out a pink plastic dry-cleaning bag to which a variety of thin plastic strips have been attached to represent the tentacles – and you can track the order in which scenes were filmed, because those tentacles don’t stay on very long.  Depending on the scene, he’s got anywhere from about 30 down to maybe 12.

sting-of-death

The film’s biggest crime, I have to say, is how damnably slow it is.  It’s just slow slow slow slow sloooooooow, and not in the good “building tension” kind of way, but in the “we ran out of story an hour ago, time to pad every scene” kind of way.  The film has a listed run time of 80 minutes and that’s far too long for the amount of story they had.  The airboat chase did not need to be as long as it was.  The pool party did not need to be as long as it was.  Hell, the “teenagers falling into the water and being killed by jellyfish” scene did not need to be as drawn out as it was! The film could have easily been 25 minutes shorter without any loss of narrative cohesion, and that, my friends, is a problem!

Final Analysis: I suppose if you like jiggling derrieres in tight 1960s fashions and long sequences of people traveling across swamps in airboats then this film might have something for you, but it’s so agonizingly slow and poorly acted, poorly scripted and just…just not good, I don’t really want to recommend it.  It’s worth seeing for the surrealism of the jellyfish-man-monster, I guess, and the song is catchy, but beyond that it doesn’t have a lot going for it.

Overall, I give STING OF DEATH (1965)…

barrel of toxic waste

ONE BARREL OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)

Greetings, readers, I have a three day weekend this weekend due to the Labor Day holiday, which means watching lots of movies here! Discussing what I should watch with my girlfriend, she opined that as she enjoyed watching CRITTERS with me, she’d be open to watching CRITTERS 2. Since I had no better ideas off the top of my head, let’s kick off this long weekend with CRITTERS 2: THE MAIN COURSE. While I have no memory of ever having seen the first CRITTERS as a kid, I know for a fact I watched CRITTERS 2, because I was obsessed with the sequence in which the Crites combine into a giant ball and roll through town in a move predating Katamari Damacy by some twenty years. Any horror story I came up with when I was 9 invariably had a sequence in which monsters formed into a ball and rolled after people because I thought this sequence was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. But anyways, enough childhood reminiscing, let’s…wait a second. Wait just one second. That’s the poster? THAT? They just airbrushed a big chrome “2″ into the Critter’s hands! Oh well, on to the film.

Spoilers ensue.

Two years after the events of the first film, Brad Brown (Steve Grimes reprising the role) has returned to the small town of Grover’s Bend to visit his grandmother for Easter; he soon discovers that Ug (Terrance Mann again), the alien bounty hunter, and his friend Charlie (Don Opper), who’d gone into space with Ug two years ago, have returned.  A routine sweep of Earth has revealed the presence of residual Crite DNA, and the bounty Ug was paid to destroy them the first time around will be revoked if they don’t finish the job.

That residual Crite DNA happens to be a clutch of 20-something scaly green eggs, half of which were sold to Brad’s grandmother as exotic Easter eggs for the day care she runs…and now they’re hatching.  With the whole town bitter towards Brad for what they see as a “boy who cried space monster” hoax from two years ago, how’s he supposed to convince them of the danger they’re in?

You know, I feel like I’d remember if I had seen the boobs in this film as a kid.  That’s the sort of scene that traumatizes a 9-year old’s psyche and makes him a drooling boob-hound for life-ohhhhhhh, maybe I did see the boobs in this one, then.  Ug’s shapeshifting sidekick Lee takes on the magnificent form of Cynthia Garris for a good chunk of the film, busting out of her clothes in the process.

I’d be staring in stunned silence too.

CRITTERS 2 definitely abandons some of the horror of the first film in favor of ramping up the comedic aspects, and it ends up feeling way more like a GREMLINS cash-in then the first film does for much of its running time, especially the first confrontation between the bounty hunters and the Crites.  Taking place in the Hungry Heifer burger bar (one managed by Eddie Deezen, no less), it features Crites flipping burgers (with tiny spatulas, natch), spraying each other with condiments, swimming through the shredded lettuce of the salad bar, and generally behaving like the Gremlins do when they invade the bar and harass Phoebe Cates.  They’re malevolent creatures, but they still come across as more wacky then threatening, even when they’re eating people.  We even get a sequence of one of them doing Tex Avery-style bug eyes at the sight of Ug and Lee.

The subtitled Crite dialogue is used to even greater comedic effect here, as the audience is privy to a debate between Crites as to whether or not to go after the humans of the town first or raid a cheeseburger factory.  That the Crites are swayed by the argument that cheeseburgers don’t have any pesky bones to chew around I think says volumes about them as a species.

If CRITTERS 2 throws far more comedy and nudity at the audience then the first one did, it also gives us much more, and much more impressive, gore effects, including a couple of really ridiculous Crite deaths – my favorite being one that you see from a newborn Crite’s perspective as it’s being stomped on, spurting a thick green slime in every direction.  People and cattle alike are eaten in a far more bloody and vicious fashion, even though we don’t get full dismemberment on display here.  The guy who gets run over by the Crite-ball and is instantaneously reduced to a bloody skeleton still wrapped in the tatters of a coverall is an image that’s stuck with me for almost two decades now.

I was also struck by the sense of heart I got in bits and pieces in this film; it’s not a consistent thread throughout, but I did like the scenes dealing with Charlie’s return to Earth, and facing his fears of being abandoned back on Earth by Ug and Lee.  As he put it, “On Earth, I was nobody…out here I’m a bounty hunter!” and to have him ultimately decide that Earth is where he belongs and decide to stay gives the viewer a touch of the warm-fuzzies inside.  Similarly, Brad dealing with the fallout of being labeled a flying saucer hoaxer following the events of the first film and the way his former neighbors torment him when he returns  isn’t played consistently throughout, but it is for the most part a serious contrast to the slapstick antics of the Crites.

Final Analysis: Following the GREMLINS model of following up on a horror-comedy with a sequel that emphasizes the comedy, CRITTERS 2 is a fun and silly romp through a midwest infested with rolling alien hedgehogs and the lengths needed to exterminate the little pests.  It’s far more goofy then scary, with some good gore and delightful creature effects by the Chiodo Brothers, and more than anything I think it’s just a fun way to spend an afternoon.  I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who likes space-monster movies and horror-comedies.

Overall, I give CRITTERS 2: THE MAIN COURSE (1988)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Critters (1986)

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

Spoilers ensue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall, I give CRITTERS (1986)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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

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

See you in 24 hours.

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Scum (2014)

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

Spoilers ensue.

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

You can watch SCUM here.

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

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

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

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

Overall, I give SCUM (2014)…

five_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FIVE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Coming Soon from Freaktown Comics – SLASHERMANIA

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

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FREAKTOWN COMICS PRESENTS: SLASHERMANIA

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

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

“And the Slashie goes to…”

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

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

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

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

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The Crater Lake Monster (1977)

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

Spoilers ensue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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