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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Deadly Blessings (1981) horror

Deadly Blessings (1981) - This review is part of the Final Girl Film Club, brought to you by the wonderful Stacie Ponder, artist writer, film maker Check yer out at her Final Girl blog.
Deadly Blessing by Wes Craven was a very unexpected film, something of a mystery something of a weird supernatural thriller, but a film with a definitely unexpected ending.
 We open with the Hittites working in the fields, like the Amish but with more religious fervor they shun the modern world and all its useful tools.
Faith (Lisa Hartman-Black) is a painter and neighbor of these people. A simple girl with a keen eye and a nervous twitch.who William, (horror icon Michael Berryman), does not like. He plays a man child who acts out breaking Faith's painting and yelling "Incubus". He could be in trouble with the leader of the Amish Isiah Schmidt (Ernest Borgnine), but first lets focus on establishing this cult. When son John (Jeff East) looks longingly at a tractor, as he toils with a hoe. Isiah makes it clear how the community feels about that. "We have no use for that kind of machinery so do not covert what he has, do you understand?" His son apologizes after getting a real old time ear twist. It establishes both the idea that the Hittites abhor the modern technology but also establishes the Isiah character as the stern leader of the cult. As the film goes on we really learn that this sect believe they are the chosen people by God. Later in the film when John has been talking to Vicki (Susan Buckner) and not doing his endless work Isiah catches him and when Vicki tries to take responsibility because she started the conversation he says When Isiah comes by in his wagon he is clear that interacting between outsiders and his people. "We are the kindred of God, we have no business with the serpents." So not only do they think they are special they think everyone outside the cult is working for the devil. So what is this whole thing where poor little Faith is called Incubus? Well that is later so lets not get ahead of ourselves.
The guy on the tractor is Jim Schmidt (Douglas Barr) the eldest son of Isiah and recently shunned member of the cult. After getting his own farm from his Father he apparently said enough with this hand toiling and went out and got a tractor. Married for a year to an outsider Martha (Maren Jensen) they are in love and still making sweet love regularly. It is a point of contention for the Hittites to have outsiders living so close to the sect. Soon we will see that this is the first conflict that gets us thinking about the mystery to follow. Maren Jensen who was Athena on the original Battlestar Galactica television series appears here in her last film. Wikipedia has an interesting little Bio about what she has done since then.
  While John is making love to his lovely wife when someone sneaks in the house, using the Killer Point of View (POV) camera work, we seethe nude couple through the open bedroom door. Jim hearing something walks out of the bedroom and investigates to find the front door open. He gets to the porch and hears his tractor start up, the music lets us know this is some mysterious stuff and we should be tensing up. When the light fails in the barn he has to turn off the tractor in the dark. Someone starts the tractor again and hits him with it, the end of the happy couple. Its so horrible that just after having sex poor Jim had to die, it is key though in making a horror movie. All indicators at this point are clearly accusing the Hittites but who knows the killer is not seen.
 At his funeral the Hittites are up on a hill doing their own funeral, I guess they cared after all. Martha is driven home by neighbor and Mother of Faith, Louisa Stohler (Lois Nettleton) does an aweful job after the funeral she is still doing her flirting style of acting. I think it is a choice being made here where the character needs to come off just a bit strange. Earlier in the film she flirted a bit with Jim and now she almost still seems to be flirting with Martha. I think since there is the mystery of who the killer is that creating more strange characters helps keep the viewers off guessing.
  We get introduce to a couple more characters when Vicki and Lana (Sharon Stone) come to town to comfort their friend who has moved to farm country. Why they did not make it for the funeral is an oddity. It is a nice little sequence before they arrive where William while playing with the younger Hittite boys is dared to go into Martha's barn only to almost get caught when she who notices the open window. William in his panic to not get caught in the forbidden place loses a shoe which eventually sets up his death. His angry father sends him back out into the night to find the missing shoe. He heads back to her place snooping around and sees Martha undress through the bedroom window. The nudity is intriguing for this man child but unfortunately it is his undoing. You can not be a Peeping Tom in a horror movie or bad things will happen. It must have sent a psychic message to a killer that he was thinking about sin. He is knifed to death from behind as he watches the naked Martha. This is two killings now and it is a big mystery to who is doing the killing. Is it crazy painting Faith? Her flirtatious Mother? One of the Hittites seeing sin everywhere? It couldn't be Isiah could it, his rigid morality seeing evil in his son's betrayal and then seeing William corrupted by the image of Martha's fine body?
  There are a bunch of plot points in this film the first being that Isiah would like to have his land back from Martha. The way he sees it it was his before he gave it to his son, never expecting the man to leave the sect. He is willing to pay to have it back but Martha who is holding onto everything left of her deceased husband is stalwartly refusing to sell. It builds the suspicion about whether the killer is one of the Hittites so might just be a red herring. Later after a body is found the sheriff suggests she leave and shes says the funniest thing yet. "You want me to run because you can't find a killer?" really, your husband was found dead by you in the barn. Then a second death that is obviously a murder and she is not willing to go? Yes the Sheriff wants you to leave precisely because he does not know who the killer is and his police station is thirty miles away. Duh. This steadfast belief about holding onto her past life while her current one is in danger really does not make sense.
   Even when the killer comes around to get her she doesn't leave. In POV the creeper is looking for an unlocked window into the house as Martha heads into the bath. Lana and Vicki play a game in the living room while the creeper sneaks into the bathroom. The warm cloth on her face and the steam in the room does not stop Martha from suspecting that someone is there. The creeper leaves a large snake in the room which of course find its way into the tub. It is a Boa so mostly harmless but sure to give a scare to the woman. She of course freaks but is clear enough to kill the serpent. Why won't she just leave?
 There is also the temptation of Isiah's second son, John. He has the encounter with Vicki and seems quite smitten with her. After also coveting the tractor it is further down the path to damnation for him. Sure he is supposed to tow the line and marry his cousin Melissa (Colleen Riley) but she is such a plain Jane next to the blond in the shorts and loose shirt. Vicki for her part makes it clear she likes him and is somewhat dismissive of his way of life. He actually travels down the road of meeting the girl from the outside, becoming a liar to see her again, to being banished from the cult when caught. His infidelity is also punished by the killer in a third example of how lust kills.
  A third subplot was about Lana who is having dreams and bad feelings while visiting her friend. The first example is a dream she explains at breakfast. An ashen man whispered her name then came and banged on the door of a house. She shot a cannon at the door and when the smoke cleared the man was still there but had become a spider. He whispered her name again. She woke up in a cold sweat. This is the first phase of what can only be explained as a mental breakdown. I think the purpose of this subplot is to inject the feeling that something other worldly is going on at the farm.
There is a great scene of her getting really scared in the barn that sends her down the path to crazy.
  Lana while getting a bolt for the tractor has a strange experience where she is locked in the barn. The door swings closed so she props it open with a rock. Then it closes again even with the heavy rock there. She heads to a window thinking Vicki is playing a trick on her. Then the really first signs that there may be something supernatural occur. The light from outside is blocked on each consecutive window. it could be shutter closing or maybe the sun is blotted out. In the darkness she screams for Martha's help but there is no help coming. Locked in the barn with the chickens and crying she thinks she sees shapes pass by the door outside. A creepy sound from up in the hay loft, she climbs the ladder through the spider webs. Spiders being her theme for the spirit world's intrusion in her life she is really afraid. The music is clear this is not good. A bird flies, as she creeps around the loft. She sees the light of the door opening below, but a full spiders web blocks the way. She find the William's lost shoe. A hand reaches up with a yell and she runs falling down the stairway. She sees the open door but is paralyzed temporarily by a spider on her. She heads for the light and we think she is out then the hung body of William falls from above in front of her. She freaks out screaming.
  I do have to say though the later dream where the ashen man makes Lana open her mouth wide and then a spider falls into it is just going too far. It makes me queasy just thinking about it. It makes her somewhat useless for a good part of the movie. It is just a very light touch of paranormal that is not strong enough or well defined enough to really be justified as the precursor to the surprise ending.
 The final bit of plot point is Louisa and Faith. faith is established as a weird artist girl, nervous and a bit strange. She likes to paint and is used to give information about the plot to Martha. Her Mother already has come across as odd also. A bit flirtatious even with the women. She really stood out as not really being compassionate after Jim's funeral. Later we hear her go on about her daughter and men in general. She comes by the house saying she is looking to Faith who seems to be missing. She sees the gun purchased by Martha in town, a good thing to know if she happens to be the killer. She expresses her dislike for men. She also thinks her daughter pretty stupid. "She couldn't pour piss from a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel."
 When the climax arrives and she plays her part whether good or bad, her character certainly fits with these earlier scenes so there is a good character flow in this movie where the established traits of the characters are played out later in actions, this is decent writing in what is a bit of a strangely written film.
When the climax comes it is fast and furious with some major characters facing the risk of death. Vicki and John hook up and out in the middle of no where he gets to drive his first car. When they start making out the music starts up.  Melissa waking and saying his name as he gets some Vicki lips could be the connective tissue the film is looking for for a supernatural connection. Melissa brings a knife out of a drawer and runs out of the house in her night ground. She runs through the woods.
Vicki starts noticing things outside and John goes out to check things out. He finds nothing and coming back gets to feel his first tittie before being stabbed to death through the convertible roof. Vicki tries to get away but the car is stuck and she sees the gas being poured over it. She unfortunately dies in a fiery wreck.
  Back at the house, Lana instead of milk in the carton there is blood. Someone is messing with their heads or is it yet another connection to the Incubus.  Lana thinks death is after her and really this is the last thing that Martha needs to hear.  She is really unhelpful in this stressful time sort of cowering on the couch. Someone hung something just inside the door of the bedroom, a scarecrow and so the ante has been upped. On the lapel of the scarecrow is the flower that was on her husband's body when he was buried. She heads off to the grave to see that her husband is no longer there, instead chickens in the casket lead her to believe Faith is behind it all.
  The climax is all about Martha learning about the killer who has a really unhealthy obsession. Secrets will be revealed and people will die. In the end some unexpected arrivals save our lead from death. In all six characters are involved in various ways in the final sequence of scenes. Ending with the killers death and our heroine surviving the night.
  The final scene is the most confusing since the film even though it tried didn't really make the supernatural case. Daylight and Lana is leaving, the sheriff is there to drive her. She is better now and no longer really bat shit crazy. Remarkably Martha is staying at the farm! Yes, after her husband's murder, and the murders of countless other area folks including one of her closest friends, the memories are just too good to leave behind. She calmly walks back into her farmhouse,  light changes in a strange way putting her on edge, she sees the ghost of her husband walking to her. Beware! Beware Incubus! Then the ending that you could not have been expecting. Roll credits on this one!
  It is not a bad movie but calling it good would be challenging. Parts are well drawn including characters like Isiah and Vicki but others motivations are not like Lana and our lead Martha. I liked the very structured depiction of the Hittites and there conflicts as the outside world begins to affect there way of life, while at the same time the failure to define the Incubus, in a way ruined that part of the story. It leaves me wondering if there are missing scenes where the legend of the Incubus are discussed.Still I sort of enjoyed this film and recommend it as a passing fancy.
Rating (5.3) 5.0 and up are recommended, some just more recommended than others

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Horrible Dr. Bones (2000) Horror

The Horrible Dr. Bones (2000) -  This low budget collection of three stories is called "Urban Evil" at Netflix and although it is not of the highest quality there are some fun things in it. The stories Demonic Tunes, The Killing Kind and Hidden Evil are three completely different stories without the connecting tissue often used in these kind of films. You would think that since the title included Dr. Bones that he would be the character that either appears in each story or that he would be the "crypt keeper" type character introducing them. Unfortunately he is just the main villain in the first story and is not seen again. Why Netflix changed the name of the disc is beyond me, was it conscious to connect Urban with the all black cast?  I understand that each story is about city characters but really.
  Demonic Tunes is the story of a young band that tries for a starring gig at a local club. The club run by Dr. Bones (Darrow Igus) and his assistant Theodora (Rhonda Claerbaut) is looking for the right sound to intertwine their nefarious plan with. He is a voodoo doctor with a skin problem who is tired of  zombies who have to be dead. Bones comes up with the idea that if he performs the ritual sacrifice while broadcasting the magic through music then he will control the living listening audience the same way he controls the dead sacrifice victim. Its a great plan but he needs just the right music to make it work.
  This is where the band The Urban Protector comes in. Lead singer Lisa (Sarah Scott Davis) and her players Wanda (Tangelia Rouse), Pookie (Derrick Delaney) and Phil (Danny Wooten) audition and have just the sound that Dr. Bones is looking for. Only there sound man Jamal (Larry Bates) notices that things are not quite right with this setup. Will he be able to save his friends from the mind control of Dr. Bones? The climax of the film is at the first concert with the band playing upstairs and the voodoo priest performing his ritual downstairs, wired into their sound system. Jamal who notices the wire running through the entire club to Bone's cellar room interrupts him, but is he too late? The story end rather quickly and in a really simplistic way that is not very satisfying.
  The Killing Kind is a story of a family rap group who takes a stand against a local drug kingpin. Originally titled "Ragdoll (1999)" and release the year before this DVD the version in this trilogy must have been severely edited because it really seems like parts of the story are missing.  After embarrassing the Kingpin, the thug goes after the Gran (Freda Payne) of the family rap group. There is a scene where family leader Kwame (Russell Richardson) uses his grandmother's voodoo magic to call the Shadow Man (Frederic Tucker) for protection. This magical being asks for a payment in return for the magical protection, and the flustered Kwame promises him anything. That was not a smart move as Kwame finds out. Shadow Man brings to life a ragdoll to deal with the drug dealing thugs. It is very reminiscent of the little African doll in the 1970's Trilogy of terror in that the doll is evil and will kill the thugs. Problem is that for each thug the doll takes the price is someone that Kwame loves is also killed. In quick order the doll does its deeds but when gran finds out that Kwame has used black magic she has to intervene to save the rest of the family. With the help of the surviving sister Teesha (Jennia Fredrique) the family attempts to break the deal with the Shadow Man. Is it possible? Will the family be safe from the Kingpin? Like I said earlier the edits to this story really hurt the final product and although the story completes you are left with the feeling that you did not see the whole story.
  The final story "Hidden Evil" concerns the releasing of an evil spirit in a condemned former school for freed slaves, in South Central LA. I know it seems a bit of a stretch and it really is. The slave in question was locked in the basement of the school after killing 5 other slaves and drinking their blood for some kind of ritual? Originally entitled "The Vault (2000)" it is very original if a bit unbelievable.  Set in modern LA and there is a group of kids from Crenshaw High with their history teacher Mr B (Ted Lyde) heading to a condemned school to try to save what they can of the heritage of the building. They know it was once a school for ex slaves but are not aware of the evil ghost in the basement. Director James Black does a decent job in this low budget horror story. You can read my review of that film by clicking the link above. The students are reasonably competent actors, Michael Cory Davis, Michael Maurer, Austin Priester, Kyle Walker, and Parrish Washington as well as the beautiful Shani Pride.
  Overall this trilogy is a bit of a mixed bag. I have seen worse and I have seen better. Unfortunately some of the acting is just not up to snuff and the ideas not thought out quite enough. Still if you see this one in a discount bin it may not be a total waste of time. One really positive thing about the set of stories are all the black character are not black stereotypes. Sure there are character stereotypes, the evil record producer, the vengeful drug dealer, or the geeky student, but they are not necessarily race based and that is refreshing. In each film there are positive black characters with drive and motivations outside of race. The "N" word is never used and for the most part the protagonists are all positive.
  Know this is low budget and not the highest of quality but might be worth a view, I want to recommend it but the films are not really that good. Sure I enjoyed them but I am not sure many other people will.
Rating (4.1) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Maniac (1980) - horror psycho

Manaic (1980) - This review is part of the Final Girl Movie Club, the talented and entertaining Final girl Stacie Ponder continues to thrill her fans with her comic RPG. Check her out at her website Final Girl. Maniac was made the same year as Friday the 13th but it is quite a different movie. Friday the 13th released in over 1000 theaters with a surprisingly large advertising budget, while Maniac struggled without the push. It was made for $350,000 and took in a total of six million. Sure both killers seek out and murder all based from a past trauma but they are far from the same kind of movie. F13th would go on to create a modern day classic monster in Jason Voorhees while Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) would not be heard of again. Both films have special effects by Tom Savini but Maniac for all its faults have far superior gore.
  The best piece being Tom Savini blowing his own head to pieces. It is surprising that this film is getting a remake this year starring Elijah Wood. This is a film on the dark side of the slasher film. Instead of any mystery at all we follow a killer and learn in excruciating detail the trauma that has set the crazy to murdering. We watch his crazy habits and slowly the reveal is what his Mother did to him that made him so nuts.
  We start right away in this film with a killing, two lovers are having a fire on the beach and when the man in the couple heads out to collect more firewood the Killer's POV shows the killer moving in on the woman. He slits her throat with a straight edge and then waits in hiding to come up behind the man and strangles him with a wire. Then our killer wakes from a nightmare and the film credits start.
  Frank Zito is a disturbed man, scarred from a child hood of abused  he lives the life of a maniac. Compelled to keep his prostitute mother with him forever he is constantly seeking her out in the female victims he kills. Then he in his whacked out thinking takes their scalps and nails them onto the heads of mannequins that he sleeps next to.
  Early on we are forced to watch him kill a prostitute after an inability to get through the act of fornication. Really what the film is doing is slowly showing Frank's sickness and violent behavior while also giving more and more information about how he became so damaged. After the killing we get to see Frank struggle and cry, really trying to get us to sympathize with him, but then the film shows him as he cuts the scalp from the prostitute and any sympathy gained is lost.
  We get this for the entire movie, moments of Frank in anguish and then him doing some base behavior that reminds us there is nothing redeemable in this character. So instead of continuing on droning about his kills let me just say the special effects are exceptional. From the multiple slice scenes to the over the top and wonderfully done shot gun to Tom Savini's head, there is great gore for those who like that sort of thing.
  You think things are going to change when he meets photographer Anna ( the lovely Caroline Munro) who for some inexplicable reason is attracted to this fat awkward and ugly man.He stalks her a bit but is charming enough to get her to go out on several dates with him. I suppose the audience is supposed to think that he may be the beast changed by the introduction of his beauty. You just can't with this film though, Frank is completely unlikable and you know there is not a bit of sane in his crazy head. Hell the internal dialog we are forced to hear throughout the film is compelling in letting the viewer know he will never recover from his sickness.
  When Frank stalks and kidnaps one of Anna's models, Rita (porn star Abigail Clayton) we are forced to get the reliving Frank does of his relationship with his mother before seeing his victims as her and killing them so he can keep them forever. There is a progression here with Frank going further in each of his kills. So it is just a matter of time before he snaps completely and makes the mistake that gets him caught or killed. So will Anna be a victim? It is really the only compelling question in the film.
  I have to say I so dislike Frank that this movie was just painful to watch. I so did not care one way or the other about his condition. I just wanted the gross film to end. When all is said and done a crazy killer is just that, I really don't want to care for him.
Rating (3.5) 5.0 and up are recommended, but some more recommended than others.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) Slasher

  Fridaythe 13th Part 2 (1981) - This film starts with a little girl singing and running through puddles, then a pair of adult shoes and jean covered legs walking towards a house. The unmistakable music of the Friday the 13th theme plays as we see in the house. Final girl Alice (Adrienne King) lays in her bed having a nightmare. An overly long review of the first film; where we see way too much as she covers Mrs. Voorhees explanation in the climax of the first film. When Alice does her final act of survival against the older woman and we see the final surprise scene of that movie there is no way we do not understand the starting point of the second film. The idea of this whole thing is to establish the idea that the boy Jason has supernaturally survived.
  Alice wakes from her horrible dreams and we learn she is really still not over her ordeal. When she enters the shower we get a false psycho reference, this is the lull before the storm to come. The music picks up in scary fashion and she seems a bit nervous, checking the door to see it is locked. She makes t slowly back to the rear of the apartment and hears a crash seeing an open window in the kitchen. She takes a knife for defense. Another false alarm as a cat jumps in the window. Opening the fridge she sees the severed head of Mrs. Voorhees, and then Jason grabs her and sticks an ice pick through her head. It is the start of a new film and it means the final girl from the first must be the first victim.
  Early in this film we get to know some counselors as they make their way to Chrystal Lake. As they close in at the little town Crazy Ralph (WaltGorney) makes and appearance without as much craziness this second time around. Jeff (Bill Randolph) and Sandra (Marta Kober) head out to the lake with funny guy Ted (Stuart Charno) are shown on their way to the new locale with the sole purpose of establishing that it is on Crystal Lake and that it was called "Camp Blood" On the opposite side of Crystal Lake is a training facility for camp counselors, and you and I am thinking that this can't be good. As they sit around a campfire we get the story of Jason and the killings across the lake. It is said that the mongoloid child of Pamela Voorhees saw his mother killed and is roaming the woods seeking to hurt all who enter the area. How much more set up do you need than this? It means we now know what is going to happen to these counselors in training. One really early piece of foreshadowing Ginny (Amy Steel) who will eventually be out final girl can't get her VW bug started.
  What follows are some more of the counselor introductions just like in the first film, Paul (John Furey) and Ginny are a couple, Jeff and Sandra are also. Pretty boy Scott (Russell Todd) is in pursuit of the beautiful Terry (Kirsten Baker) when she is not looking for her little dog Muffin. Then there is girl next door Vicki (Lauren-Marie Taylor) showing interest in handicapped stud Mark (Tom McBride). Mixed in with this is the death of Crazy Ralph and Jeff and Sandra wandering over to the original Camp Crystal Lake. Then the death of  Deputy Winslow (Jack Marks) after he foolishly chases someone through the woods only to come across Jason's shack, shrine to Mom, oh and the claw of his hammer.
Jason this time around has not yet chosen his iconic hockey mask to wear. Instead he stalks around with a sack over his head. In general you can guess what happens since it is well established in the first film, but since this is part two they up the ante on the creativity of the kills.
   Ralph got choked with barbed wire, the deputy got a hammer to the head. Scott, takes Terry's clothes while she swims nude in the lake but ends up stuck in a rope snare hanging upside down completely helpless. It's a creative scenario if an unrealistic one. She goes off to get a knife to cut him down but he is bait for a killer and the helpless man has his throat slit with a machete.
  Both Jeff and Sandra, as well as Vicki and Mark are gearing up for sex when they meet their makers. Did I mention another rain storm moves in further isolating people. Of course this is a continuation after all. Killing the guy in the wheelchair with a machete to the head is pretty cool, having him tumble down stairs because there are no handicap ramps is harsh. Still things get even more creative when Jeff and Sandra joined in love making get a spear through their bodies.
  Final girl Ginny and boyfriend Paul make their way back to camp to join the action. Ginny as the final girl has to fight off the attacks by Jason repeatedly. She does a great job of it too, fighting him off on several occasions. Eventually chased to his cabin in the woods she is sharp enough to put on his mothers sweater and try to convince him she is his Mom. With the help of Paul they manage to overpower the killer putting a machete through his shoulder. Of course there is another surprise ending to this story, how else would we get part three?
  This is a solid second feature on the subject and I really enjoyed how hard Ginny fought through. I did not like that every time Paul arrived she seemed to shrink into a shell instead of helping him fight the killer. Also the baffling, "it makes no sense" scene from the next morning absolutely messes up what is a solid slasher film.
Rating (6.5) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Friday the 13th (1980) Slasher

Friday the 13th (1980) - I don't know if it was because I was a self involved teen or that we had so little money for seeing movie but somehow when this movie came out I was not in the wave of people who saw it. I remember hanging at the Mills St. park in Dorchester MA and hearing the buzz it created within the circle of high schooler but I don't recall it on the big screen. Friday the 13th created a buzz in that it was a movie with a bunch of unique and gross deaths and all us teen smoking weed and drinking beers thought that was amazing.  Years later watched alone in my apartment in Mission Hill and saw quite a different movie. Instead of the series of unique murders I saw some throat slashing and a pretty cool Kevin Bacon death but the little revenge film I saw on VHS could not have been the hit all the kids were talking about years before? Could it?
  Certainly watching it today I could link the slasher genre to that of the Italian Giallos with all the stabbing and killing but those tended to be more mystery than slasher. Here though in the first of the series of what eleven films there is no hockey masked supernatural killer stalking the counselors of Crystal Lake. No this is a simple revenge story with a twist ending about who the killer is and that is very much giallo in nature. The story of the vengeful mother who kills seven counselors at the camp where her mongoloid boy drown is now a classic. I remember the controversy more than the film. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert in there show Sneak Previews spent an entire show ripping apart this film as the worst thing to happen to society in a generation. This spurred them to do another two part series on the horror genre. In that they seemed disturbed by the killer point of view shots (POV) and how they thought it was a way to have the audience connect to the killer instead of the victim. Essays by smarter people than me have been written on this but certainly the technique was stolen from the Italian Giallos and translated effectively to the horror films of the 80s.
  Early in the film we travel with Annie (Robbi Morgan), a hitchhiking counselor still 20 miles out of  town at Camp Crystal Lake. Checking in at the local eatery she gets some strange looks from the patrons when she says where she is going. Each time the camp was do to reopen some tragedy happened there to stop it. A murder or a fire it did not matter, fact was that folks about these part just thought the place was cursed. In fact the local loon "Crazy Ralph" (Walt Gorney) was happy to tell Annie about "Camp Blood" and its "death curse".  Annie the eternal optimist will not be deterred from her summer employment though and takes a ride half way to the camp, then plans on walking or hitching the rest of the way.
  Now hitchhiking for you youngsters was a very common way for kids in my generation to travel. It now would seem odd to see a girl hitch hiking through the wooded country side but let me tell you it was very common in those days. Many a weekend I would use my thumb to travel to this party or beach without a second thought to the dangers of it.  In fact the advent of 24 hour media and the horror genre were probably directly responsible for all but ending the practice. The media because as cable and 24 hour news became the norm you would here every incident no matter where in the country it happened, we would get the blow by blow on who was assaulted or killed, or just plain scared by a stranger in a close call. The horror genre because slasher films shifted the scare from the environment or monsters and ghosts to a very personal danger from other people. I think it really shifted our thinking about what our personal safety is.
  Funny thing is for Annie the hitch-hiking does not have the best outcome. She is picked up by an unseen stranger in a jeep. Annie always pleasant makes small talk that is in no way responded too. The film does several things to hide the identity of the killer for most of the movie so having line at this time would not be good. When the driver passes by the entrance to Crystal Lake Campground Annie becomes alarmed. She pleads with the driver to stop the car. Finally jumping out of the car while it is still moving. Then comes the first chase and murder. Well done with effective music we have set the stage. Annie gets in a jeep similar to that of her new boss but that is just to throw the viewer off.
 Now we know about the camp, the tragedy that happened there and how some locals feel about it reopening. We know there is a killer and have seen the first killing, still there is the mystery of who and why, as well as how and what will happen to the remaining counselors at the camp. The film spends a small amount of time defining the counselor, you don't need much because they are just fodder for our killer but enough to know their names.  There is the couple that dies after having sex,  Jack (Kevin Bacon) and Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), the pretty girl Brenda (Laurie Bartram), liked by Bill (Harry Crosby). The Joker Ned (Mark Nelson), Camp owner Steve (Peter Bouwer) and final girl Alice Hardy (Adrienne King).
As a storm roles in we will see each counselor isolated at some point and the dispatched, with the most inventive kill to Jack, post sex of course. What this film does well is hides the killing of the counselors from each other. Really there is no reason for the counselors to suspect anything is going on until there time has come. Ned is killed before Jack and Marcie come into the cabin to get it on. They never see his body on the top bunk. Marcie goes to the bath house after and Jack is left alone to meet his fate. When Marcie hears sounds in the bath house she thinks the other counselors are messing with her prior to getting an axe in the head. Brenda breaks up the game of strip Monopoly to go close the windows of her cabin thus making her a good candidate to go next.
  Music is very effecting and effective throughout the film. The killer theme is excellent at raising the audience level of attentiveness. We get some interesting POV as the killer follows Brenda through her bedtime routine. Just a note candles as a lighting source really against regulations for a camp. Brenda's doom is inevitable but the buildup is great with a child sound saying help me off in the distance as the thunder and lightening mask the sound. Brenda rushes to help the person shouting in the dark, lured out onto the archery range she is the perfect target when the flood lights are put on.
  Its not until the final girl is the last one when she sees what is going on. Moving a door to find Bill hanging to the backside, riddled with arrows now we get the final panic fight for survival. Alice questions whether she can do it but it would not be a good film if she didn't. The false hope in the arrival of Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) brings the final sequence into play. When she starts her rant showing her insanity we are treated to the classic fight between the revealed killer and the final girl.
  I always have maintained that I was not a fan of the slasher film. As I watch more of these films though there is a quality that I like, sure the subtext is not to be glorified but the plight of the final girl is usually very compelling. As I write this review I am also thinking about another film Maniac (1980) that was not as good as this. It follows the craziness of the killer from beginning to end. Making the audience live through his murderous masochistic violence all the while trying to get the audience to identify with the suffering he went through as a child. It is an ugly and vile film compared to Friday the 13th. The later is horrible in the killing of all the innocent counselors but does a more effective job of creating tension and understanding to the motivations of the killer. Unlike Siskel and Ebert I don't see the genre as a end to modern civility nor do I think there is any redeeming message in the film. What it is, is a well put together slasher, and because it made almost 40 million dollars on a half a million budget changed Hollywood's approach to marketing. From this film on the genre will gear towards teen audiences a trend that continues to this day.
Rating (6.7) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Blackwater Valley Exorcism (2006)

Blackwater Valley Exorcism (2006) - This straight to DVD gem is a basic exorcism story with a twist. Oh wait a minute don't they all have a twist these days, the dead twin in The Unborn (2009) with its Jewish exorcism, the pastor with doubts in trying to be seduced by the demon in the girl like Enter the Devil (1974) and the long slower The Antichrist (1974), there is the priest who lost faith like in The Exorcist and  The Last Exorcism (2010), but this one unfortunately does not live up to any of these films. Heck these are only the ones I reviewed, this area of horror is well worn and does not easily see new and inventive ideas. So what you have to do when you make a possession film is add an unexpected twist or combine it with another idea, like The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) where it is part exorcism movie part courtroom drama.
This film attempts to complicate the exorcism with interpersonal relationships but really comes up short leaving a jumbled mess of melodramatic tension, a poorly set up twist and a lot of overly dramatic projection by the actors. The writing was jarring in its distribution of exposition, and the dialog confounds the viewer to buy into the believability of almost all the characters. Writer Ellary Eddy tries but just does not seem effective enough at this point to put together a decent script. I get that Eddy was going for the emotional power of the relationships these people have through their history together.  In a  small community where people have known, laughed, loved, fought and cheated it could be a backdrop for the secondary side of dealing with the plot of the film. It just was not well executed.
 Early in the film we see the strange behavior of Isabelle (Kristin Erickson) the younger daughter of Eli (Randy Colton) and Blanche (Leslie Fleming-Mitchell). She is acting strangely and they are not sure how to handle it. Theirs is a relationship where they have drifted apart and because of that can't effectively deal with their daughters issues. Then there is Jacob (Cameron Daddo) the town priest who of course has has trouble with his father and fealty to the church. He is a flawed character who will have to overcome his weaknesses to save the girl. His history with the older sister Claire (Madison Taylor) is instrumental to the script but under developed and comes as a WTF moment when revealed. Finishing out the main players is farm hands Luke (Paul Kapellas) and Miguel (Del Zamora). In what is a wasted part in the film the great horror actor Jeffrey Combs is a cameo as the local Sheriff.
  Of these actor only Daddo and Zamora stand out, but unfortunately some of the lines they have to deliver are just painful. It was really hard to tell if the acting was bad or if director Ethan Wiley was trying for the soap opera style of acting. It could be that because the script has the demon though Isabelle influence the decisions and emotions of the cast that he was going for a overly dramatized style. So when Eli (Colton) who was so over the top,  delivered his vitriolic attacks on the other characters, the director wanted it to seemed like the demon was heightening the emotions of every interaction. It could also be that it was just sub par acting on a sub par script.
  Demons being demonee means that as we have seen in many exorcism movies before, it is going to expose the weakness of each character. The relationship between Eli and Blanche where he suspects she cheated on him with friend and town veterinarian McCall (Don Knowlton). Miguel who is recruited for his former experience with an exorcism is forced to relive the slaughter of his family and the guilt he still carries for his part in not keeping them safe. Then there is Jacob, a truly flawed individual who appears in the past,  to have loved Claire and also been ever so tempted by the showering Isabelle.
 When the twist happens and none of the above is a twist it is bizarre that the film gets to where it ends up. All along the way you are forced to question characters behavior and if you don't buy that the Demon is affective that behavior then you are just going to think they are stupid shallow people who get what they deserve. The twist comes out of no where with almost no setup and then the conclusion is equally unsatisfying.
  Overall this film struck me as bad, some of the cinematography was good but the practical effects on the possessed Isabelle were not up to par. Hopefully makeup artist Shyann Swisher has improved since then. This film with all its flaws can not be recommended. Even though I have a love for a lot of bad horror I can't even give this film a recommendation as a good laugh. Mostly it just left me a bit pissed off that I wasted the time going all the way to the end.
Rating(2.2) 5.0 and up are recommended , some more recommended than others.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Womens Prison Massacre (1983)

Womens Prison Massacre (1983) - Emanuelle fuga dall' inferno is the original Italian title. The film starts with a play performed in the women's prison, a personal piece of depth and a deep understanding of the human condition. Okay maybe not but it is an attempt. It is intended to show Emanuelle as a strong influential writer and to establish that the prison is not going to tolerate her style of entertainment. It effectively brings the character of Emanualle to the forefront as well as her tomato throwing rival Albina. Then the establishment as a non tolerant group of controllers. Emmanuelle (the lovely Laura Gemser) is a reporter framed for smuggling drugs even as she closes in on the government official involved. She is now in a women prison where she is not the most liked prisoner. The official District attorney Vincent Robinson (Jacques Stany) wants to make sure she never gets her story out. He enlists the aide of the Warden (Lorraine De Selle) who in turn tries to have tough prisoner Albina (Ursula Flores) do her dirty work. Emanuelle and her friends Laura (Maria Romano) and Irene (Antonella Giacomini) are out numbered in the prison so although they are tough the guards still manage to give them significant problems. Albina does not fair well against the smart and strong Emanuelle and even after being armed with a knife only manages to have the knife stabbed into her own leg. This is what you think the film is going to be about. Emanuelle fighting against the odds to beat out the prison establishment and then to publish her story and expose the crooked district attorney. No though that is not it at all!
  Early on is a sub plot about four convicted murders, men who must be temporarily housed at the women's prison. Brett O'Hara (Robert Mura), Victor "Geronimo" Brain (Raul Cabrera), Helmut "Blade" von Bauer (Pierangelo Pozzato), and mastermind Crazy Boy Henderson (Gabriele Tinti) are on their way and the results will be explosive. They have something to do with the smuggling ring Emanuelle was investigating but that is nothing. During transport some fake cops try to spring them and would have succeeded if not for Lawman Harrison (Carlo De Mejo) who manages to fight off the attempt and deliver the prisoners. It seems it was just a reason to have a car chase really.
  In the prison they manage to overpower the guards, the lawman and the warden and take the whole prison hostage. Of course they want a car to the airport, a plane at the airport and 5 million dollars. Strange enough the negotiator they are dealing with is none other than District Attorney Robinson. Leaving the wounded lawman with Emanuelle the convicts threaten the lives of everyone in the prison if they do not get what they want. The 3 hour time limit seems serious.
  Brett gets a chance to be alone with the warden. He makes her strip off her clothes with a little violent persuasion. Blade and Geronimo  head down to the women's ward where the women will love a man. The Warden strips but this film is a bit tame as far as skin, some boobs and a garter belt. Brett seems more into humiliate her than to rape her. Geronimo gets it on with Albina in the medical ward and she is equally into it. There is some simulated sex in that scene. Blade seems happy to stand at the bars of the women cage and be felt up. In all the sexy 70's music you hear in porn is playing and the film cuts between the different locations. After finishing in Albina she gets a surprise when he chloroforms her before heading back out to meet the others. There is implied rape of the warden but nothing on the screen. This is an exploitation film but like I said it is more about making you believe what happened as opposed to seeing such horrors. This at least until Crazy Boy gets mad at Emanuelle for pleading for the cops life. To show her he slaps her around and then rapes her, she is clear this is not her wish.
 Blade in with Laura and Irene seems like a crazy fuck himself. He makes them dance with the blow up doll but seems to get as much pleasure pulling their hair and scaring them with his crazy eyes as he does in deflating it. At least while this is going on Blade loses his razor blade and Laura end up with it.
While this silliness is going on outside Robinson is setting up to send in commandos. Inside the convicts want to know what is going on. The Commando unfortunately come in the window just as Albina wakes and she goes straight to Crazy Boy to talk deal for her info. So when the commandos make their move it is a fair gun battle. They fail even though Brett is killed in the process. Crazy boy does a payoff to Albina by killing Irene for her. Then he makes Emanuelle and Albina play Russain Roulette. Laura was hiding when Irene was killed and she gets a strange idea harkening back to the play she performed in the beginning of the movie. The mantis hides the razor blade in her vagina and lays nude waiting for Blade to take her. She recites her silly lines and he goes for he beautiful body only to get the suprise of his life. he chokes her out as he takes her the blade slicing into his member as she dies. He struggles out of the cell looking for help from the women in the cages but all they do is attack him when he gets close. Now a man without a penis he is no longer desirable.  These scenes are cut with the game of Roulette that ends with a gory outcome splashed across Crazy Boy's face.
  Down to Crazy and Geronimo they take the Warden, the injured Lawman and Emanuelle as hostages when their demand have been mad. The fast paced organ music pumps with a background drumbeat as Robinson sees Emanuelle alive again. He wants the cops to shoot them all and takes the first shot at her, missing but hitting Geronimo and the Warden. Crazy Boy shoots him in the chest giving Emanuelle her revenge.
Off they go in the car apparently in days before there were LoJack and helicopters. When the car stalls Crazy Boy gets pissed at the double cross and is wounded by the cop driver as he kills him. Off he runs with wounded officer Lawman in pursuit to take him out. The film ends with Emanuelle returning to her prison cell to serve out her undeserved term but with the knowledge that the corrupt Robinson got his.
Overall the film executes the goods of a exploitation film. It wanders in unexpected places but overall closes out all the threads that were started. It is always good when the exploiters get theirs in the end. Because the depth of the characters as so flat with only Gemser getting any depth at all, this film can't be good. It is exactly what it was intended to be and does not get my recommendation. Now if you like exploitation it is just mildly boring with no big surprises or skin so you will probably be disappointed.
Rating (4.5) 5.0 and up are recommended, some just more or less than others.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Ring (2002) - Horror

The Ring (2002) - A great thing about this film is the really well done opening sequence, two girls in a room talking about an urban legend and scaring and joking with each other. I had forgotten that the most memorable piece, the face of the first victim, was a couple scenes after this sequence. What is great about it is that it really creates and informs us about the VHS tape mythology, as well as giving us the first scare of the movie. The tension is built well with the television and water both thing become more important to the curse so it is good foreshadowing.
The story starts with two teenage friends, Katie (Amber Tamblyn) and Becca (Rachael Bella),  hanging out watching television. Katie tells Becca about her trip to Shelter Mountain Inn with her boyfriend and a couple other friends. There is this nice combination of joking about sex and sharing the story of the tape. Katie explains how there is this tape that when you watch it a curse it set. You immediately receive a phone call telling you you have seven days to live. Katie says she watched the tape exactly a week ago and then seems to choke, her friend takes her in her arms alarmed. There is a nice break in the tension as you see that Katie is pretending to choke. Still the scene plays a nice little game where you are not sure if Katie actually watched the video or is just telling a story. Then again a tension break when her mother calls. It is very effective, the bringing Becca up to a tense state but then relieving the tension for a new build up.
 Only after Becca left the room did the risk to Katie seem real. So what happened to Becca who we later find out ended up in a psychiatric ward. There is the television going on and Katie being afraid. Then movement down the hall, and Becca being no where to be found. Again the sequence is so well constructed that you forget you really don't see anything terrifying. After the dripping doorknob we leave the house and start on the story proper. It has been a very effective set up for what is a wonderful mystery.
  If there is a major flaw with the characters in this film it is that of Aiden (David Dorfman) the son of  Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts). He is establish early as someone supernatural in ability, but does this fit the mythology or is it a convenient character trick to allow exposition that helps his Mother? He draws pictures of his dead cousin Katie dead but does it prior to the actual end. He is connected to the ghost girl Samara having some kind of mental connection to her. He relays information to Rachel several times during the movie and I am not really sure I buy the connection. Katie who baby sat him was his best friend, she was our first victim in the movie so there is that connection but is it enough?    Sure he is a creepy kid who is non emotional and acts way to adult for his age. In his monotone he calls he mother by her first name adding to his character. Really though he is a kid and there is never really any explanation of why he has the connection he has.  Still the fact he sees the tape and his believing mother has to figure out how to save him  is a nice added motivation. I am not really sure his character adds to the mythology which could stand on its own.
  This film is pretty tight as it moves along and once Rachel is on the case of Katies death. She learns of the trip to the cabin and the death tape. She gets a copy of the film and after watching it gets the call and has seven days to solve the mystery. This film works on this level too. Rachel has a time limit before her death comes and it adds a very nice atmosphere to the film. Most of the film is her and her former boyfriend, and father of Aiden, Noah (Martin Henderson) doing investigative journalism in trying to find out the story of the tape before it is too late.
  Since VHS was only developed in 1976 and the videos of Samara (Daveigh Chase) were made in 1978 there is a real leap of faith we have to make here about the availability and use of the format. It is hidden well in a compelling story of a horse farm on a small island that has turned bad. The horses get sick and die, and the family at the center of it, the Morgans, experience an unusual amount of hardship after adopting the child Samara. Rachel for her part after finding the VHS, then  figures out the island where it was made and the story of the Morgans. Now what she hopes to accomplish is really unclear but isn't that what a mystery is all about. This problem solving is all about the small things at the edges of the story, each piece is discovered and pulled into focus and it progresses the story before some other small thing takes focus. It is effective as a storytelling strategy.
  When all is said and done it appears that Rachel has seemed to solve the mystery. She and Noah have reconnected and she heads home to tell her son that all is well. Only thing is the supernatural connection the boy has with the ghost has him in a tizzy. He knows that now that Samara has been laid to rest that it is the worst outcome. The false ending gears back up as Rachel tries to solve the last piece of the puzzle. Why didn't she die at the end of seven days? She thought it was because she solved the mystery of the Morgan family but now in the harshest way she realizes it was not the case.Will she figure it out before Noah's time is up. How will she save her son who has also seen the death tape. You will have to view this movie and see for yourselves.
  This is a well put together story by screenwriter Ehren Kruger, with reasonably compelling characters and a twist that screams for the sequel that was to come. Considering the drivel he later put out this is by far his best work to date. The story by Koji Suzuki is solid enough that he did not mess it up too badly in adapting it for an American audience. Director Gore Verbinski creates a cloudy world of mystery and his blue\ish palette works in this case.
  In seeking out the gore shots for this article I was interested in seeing if they were good looking effects. In the film the two death faces shown were done so quickly it was hard to tell if it was because they were poor or for effect. You can judge for yourself. Naomi Watts is good as the reporter  and the supporting cast is solid. I particularly liked the quiet menace that Brian Cox brought to his role as Richard Morgan. solid is how I would describe this horror/ mystery film.
Rating (7.3) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Breeders (1986) Horror Aliens

Breeders (1986) - It's the mid 1980's and no longer can a guy get a ticket to a girl's bedroom with a cheap Italian dinner in a second rate restaurant. At least that is what Donna (Natalie O'Connell) says as she storms out of the cab in a seedy part of NYC. Well actually it was the corner of Gold St. and Platt St.  but in this case her date gone bad is the least of Donna's worries. Feeling unsafe  will be the least of her worries in a minute or two of movie time. Poor Donna after having a false alarm in the form of an old man walking his dog is terrified, carried off and raped by the guy when he transforms into an alien creature.
  There is very little held back in this low budget monster flick. The alien or monster that must reproduce seems to be a well worn theme in the movies. In this blog alone I have reviewed, Decoys and Candy Stripers both were the alien must survive through sex. Unlike those films where the aliens inhabit the form of human woman and use their sexuality to lure men in, this film it is a male alien and the sexual contact is rape. This is harsh but luckily nothing is shown onscreen to further exploit the female characters in the film. There could probably be or probably already has been, an article on the subject of why the male alien forces himself on victims while the female alien seduces the victim. Why can't the male alien also Seduce? The psychology of horror certainly does not preclude the a male alien seducing female victims. Can you the reader name more horror movies where sexual contact is the way the creature(s) need to survive?
Francis Raines
  Our leads in the film are Dr. Gamble Pace (Teresa Farley) and Det. Dale Andriotti (Lance Lewman) who are such cardboard line readers that the scenes they are in are almost unbearable to watch. We quickly learn that there have been 5 attacks similar to Donna's and that in all the cases the assailant appeared to be a different person. We also learn that the women now have strange brainwave patterns so somehow they have been physically changed and topping it all off we learn that the women were all virgins at the time of the attack.
 The film moves on to more victims while our two main characters try to figure out what is going on. The next victim is a model Karinsa (Frances Raines) and surprisingly the photographer Gail (Amy Brentano) and female assistant Alec (Adriane Lee) are later victims also. This is surprising because since the victims are all virgins that means that there are three 20 somethings in a room in NYC that are all virgins. I don't recall a time when that has ever happened before by chance. From this point in the film there is an increasing amount of nudity, probably to increase VHS sales at the time of its release. In fact it suddenly starts feeling like the only reason the women are on film is to add skin. The model starts with a nude stretching routine but there is also a nurse at the Hospital Kathleen (LeeAnne Baker) who upon returning home immediately strips out of her nurses outfit and has no underwear of any kind on. Strange to head off to work at the hospital without a bra or patties under you blouse and skirt. It certainly will give the lech something to drool over while waiting for this sort of badly acted film to end.
  It is not that the plot is awful, it is just sort of middle of the road with some clunky dialog and only thin connecting threads to get the main characters to figure out the mystery. Writer / Director Tim Kincaid is far from inept. The story connects all the different pieces in what is a reasonable story even if it will win no awards. If the execution and acting was better it would be very passable. Our main characters connect the dots as the women who were attacked wake and in a trance walk nude from the hospital. Our leads (who are horrible, did I mention they are horrible) get together and head to the tunnels under the city. He continues to make films in the adult film industry as Joe Gage.
  The story eventually gets Gamble and Dale under the Empire State Building where they find all the victims writhing in a slime pit transforming or having baby aliens who will be an unstoppable alien army ready to enslave mankind. They get the full story of how the aliens arrived from a human alien shape shifter, who tells them they can look however they want and arrived from space as spores. The aliens need virgins healthy and strong to create a super strain of beings to rule earth. They tried to do it with an old street person woman but she only produced a mutant. Our heroes first deal with the mutant baby and then with the alien shape shifter before electrocuting all the victims in the slime pool.
The gore is great and silly at the same time, the music the techno 80 trash that was part of so many low budget horror films in those years. The gore is particularly fun at the end when we see the malformed alien baby and the leads proceed to slaughter it. Then when workmate of Gamble, Ian (Ed French), who is the alien explaining the film is finished his head explodes showing the creature instead. Very cool. Finally the setup for the sequal that would never be is classic.
Rating (3.6) 5.0 and up are recommended, Some more recommended than others.
This film also gave several find that location moments throughout the movie. Leaving in a street sign while setting a scene allows me to use Google maps to track down these shot locations. Here are the three I found.
1. When the cab lets Donna out she is at the corner of Platt St and Gold St. NYC.

2. At the fashion shoot they set up by showing the intersection of 7th and 38th streets NYC.

3. The final one was a bit tougher but I think I have it as 199 Avenue A and E.12th St. NYC.