Saturday, August 4, 2018

'Evil Bong 420': A Bad Trip!

Evil Bong 420 (2015)
Starring: Sonny Carl Davis, Chance A. Reardon, Mindy Robinson, Robin Sydney, John Patrick Jordan, and Amy Paffrath
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band and Nakai Nelson
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Rabbit (Davis) returns to Earth from the Bong World and opens a bowling alley where customers may bowl topless in between smoking bowls. On the night of the grand opening, the bowling alley is flooded with assorted weirdos and stoners, and it looks like Rabbit's dream of being a successful business owner while spreading joy and happiness is coming true. Then Gingerdead Man and the Evil Bong decide to crash the party...

I once declared "The Killer Eye" as the worst movie Charles Band has ever inflicted upon the world. It still holds that distinction, but "Evil Bong 420" comes close to matching it in awfulness. Everything that was wrong with "The Killer Eye" can be found here with the dearth of actual story content being prime among them, and bad performances from usually reliable actors being a close second.

The majority of "Evil Bong 420" consists of barely connected skits involving Rabbit talking to customers, employees, or bowlers behaving badly; or the Evil Bong and Gingerdead Man exchanging weak insults in the Bong World. Scenes that involve actual plot or character development (yeah, I know... what I am doing, expecting character development in an "Evil Bong" flick; well, character is king even in movies like this!) comprise maybe 12-15 minutes of the film's run-time while the rest if taken up with the aforementioned skits. This is similar to the format in "Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong", so it's not entirely unexpected, but at least there was a little more coherent story in that one, as well as something approximating and ending. With this film, the only decent actor who really has a chance to do anything with the part is Sonny Carl Davis (who has more screen time as Rabbit in this film than perhaps ever before)... while Chance A. Reardon gets almost as much time and stinks up the screen as Hambo in a pointless and timewasting "Ooga Booga" crossover.

To add injury to insult, after mostly spinning its wheels in place for an hour, the movie stops just when it seemed like it was finally getting started. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know how much that bothers me when a movie does that, and how often Band engages in this bit of bad storytelling. In the case of "Evil Bong 420" it really is insulting to the audience, because most of the running time was wasted on garbage scenes.

I almost gave "Evil Bong 420" a One Star-rating--which should surprise no-one given the nonstop negativity of this review--but I liked Rabbit so much here that I settled on a perhaps-too-generous Two Stars. The gags surrounding his invention--the Weedblower--cinched the rating, as they not only helped advance the plot, but they were actually funny.

I am told this is the lowpoint for the "Evil Bong" series. God, I hope so, because I've got three more in my "unwatched" stack...

By the way, if you've ever wondered if a gingerbread man animated through black magic and the soul of a psychopath can ejaculate, you will find the answer in this film. You can take this is a selling-point or a warning to stay away.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

'Axis Termination' is Quality Puppet Master!

Puppet Master: Axis Termination (2017)
Starring: Paul Logan, Tonya Kay, Kevin Allen Scott, George Appleby, Tania Fox, Alynxia America, and Lilou Vos
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band and Dale Cooper
Rating Six of Ten Stars

As a pair of Nazi mystics (Kay and Scott) and their band of psychopaths are on the verge of unlocking ancient secrets that will allow them to create unstoppable super-soldiers, an elite force of psychics in the employ of the United States Army (America, Appleby, and Fox), together with their new liaison officer (Logan), launch a desperate attempt to stop them once and for all. Meanwhile, Toulon's puppets sqaure off against their Nazi-animated counterparts.

The first two entries in the three films that have made up the latest reboot of the "Puppet Master" series were disappointments. But, since I remain ever-hopeful that Charles Band will give me another "The Creeps" or "Blood Dolls", I keep coming back for more. (Also, there's usually JUST enough in whatever film I've most recently been regretting to give me hope for the next one.)

 When the film opened with a clumsy and perfunctory elimination of the main characters from the first two movies, I feared I was in for more of the same disjointed story-telling that helped drag those previous films down. Those fears became greater as those were followed by a pair of talkie, over-long scenes that swept aside much of what the two previous films had been about.

But THEN the film got going in earnest, and I realized that the restaging and the introduction of an entirely new set of characters and a new plot direction in this third and final part of what had been described as a "trilogy" was all about picking up some of the plot threads from one of my favorite Puppet Master films--"Retro Puppet Master"! While the film still dragged a little here and there, and the acting left a little to be desired at points, the return of the full-tilt mysticism and expansion upon the Eldritch Horror Roots of the puppets more than made up for this.

The film even featured honest-to-god Puppet Masters, which the previous two didn't really, and the Nazi Mystics vs. Allied Mystics also helped the film a great deal. The puppets were also better animated than they've been for a long, long time, something which made up for the fact that Blade's design didn't match what had been present in the past two movies. (I have seen some comment they were disappointed that some of the puppet "animation" was done using actors in costume against a green screen. It didn't bother me at all, but then I've been watching Band productions for 30 years now so I've seen far worse.)

Another minor plus is they even got the hairstyles on the female characters right for the period in which the film was set. It's not that I'm a fashion expert... I just watch a lot of movies from the period the last few Puppet Master films have been set in, so little things like that stick out to me. Check out my Shades of Gray blog for reviews of black-and-white movies and more!

While the acting was generally not anything to cheer about, George Appleby and Tonya Kay gave nice performances as the lead good and evil mystics respectively. The characters had history, and while it's not fully explained in the film, he was felt in the performance and it made the characters more real. Kevin Allen Scott and Lilou Vos were also scary as the lead Nazi psychopaths... with Scott being particularly impressive, even with his magical powers being expressed through supremely cheesy digital effects.

While "Puppet Master: Axis Termination" is far from a perfect movie, it ended this go-around with the killer puppets and dolls on a high note. I, once again, find myself encouraged by what I perceive as a general upward trend in the overall quality of Band's productions. Maybe we've hit rock bottom, and it will only get better from here.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

'Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong': A Bad Trip?

Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong (2013)
Starring: John Patrick Jordan, Robin Sydney, Sonny Carl Davis, The Don, and Michelle Mais
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band and Nakai Nelson
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

When Larnell (Jordan) and Sarah Leigh (Sydney) happen to open a pot shop and a bakery within walking distance of each other, their dark pasts--his involving an evil, sentient bong; and hers a homicidal, enchanted cookie--collide with lethally moronic results.

As the title makes clear, this film crosses Full Moon's Gingerdead Man series (slasher movie spoofs) and Evil Bong series (stoner comedies). I sat down to watch the film with high hopes but low expectations, as Charles Band has disappointed me more in recent years than not. Sadly, my hopes were yet again dashed.

"Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong" features a script that gives us less or a story and more a string of loosely strung together jokes and puns--few of which are funny; and which has weak dialogue being delivered by actors who for the most seem to be struggling to bring their characters to life. To add insult to the injury already done, the film feels padded because of an overlong recap of every single high point of the three "Evil Bong" pictures that preceded this one, even though most of that was completely unnecessary back story for this picture, that because there are some exchanges among characters that are redundant to ones the audience sat through moments before.

The worst part, however, is that the implied clash between Full Moon's weirdest characters is little more than an exchange of insults. Even after he goes to Bong World, Millard the Gingerdead Man doesn't do anything that's a threat to Eebee the Evil Bong in any way. Even the non-ending ending of this film (which annoyed me here as it has on so many other Band productions) didn't even feel like it was teasing an interesting sequel where the fight promised by the premise would occur.

The film is not without good points, however. Sonny Carl Davis is even funnier as Rabbit than he's been in previous films (and he's traded in the priest collar he was wearing when last seen for a name-tag and a briefcase and a job as a traveling salesman of Evil Bong-branded merchandise), and the scene where Luann (from the first couple "Evil Bong" films) and Sarah Leigh (from "Gingerdead Man") meet each other is lots of fun. Both characters were played by Robin Sydney, and she gets to trade insults with herself while playing both characters appear on screen via the magic of trick photography. Also, John Patrick Jordan has perfected his startled Larnell "eep!" and delivers it with such comedic timing that he delivers some of the films best laughs. Finally, more effort is also put into animated the film's titular creatures than in previous sequels, even if the Gingerdead Man looks like a hand-puppet in a couple of scenes.

So is "Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong" worth your time? If you're a fan of the loose structure and sophomoric humor that was  the hallmark of the "Evil Bong" pictures so far, yes. If you're a fan of the slasher spoofs and sophomoric humor of the "Gingerdead Man" pictures, probably not. Despite the fact that I get the distinct sense that Sarah Leigh will be stepping into Luann's shoes in future installments of this series (which I will be watching and reviewing in this space), the Gingerdead Man franchise is the loser here as it gets absorbed into the Bong World.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

'Axis Rising' was a disappointment

Puppet Master X: Axis Rising (2012)
Starring: Kip Canyon, Jean Louise O'Sullivan, Oto Brezina, Scott King, Stephanie Sanditz, and Brad Potts
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band,
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Two all-American kids, Beth and Danny (Canyon and O'Sullivan), and everyone's favorite homicidal dolls must stop Nazis (King and Sanditz) and their captive scientist (Brezina) from using Toulon's magic serum to create an army of super-soldiers.

Puppet Master X: Axis Rising" is a direct continuation of "Puppet Master: Axis of Evil" and it was yet another decline for Charles Band as a director and story-teller. The story is chaotic, the characters do things that make no sense except they have do or the plot stalls (this is especially true of Stephanie Sanditz big-boobed, sexy Nazi sadist), and there is literally not a single scene in the film that doesn't end up dragging because Band lets it go on too long.

 I THINK Band and his screen writer were attempting to make this movie feel like something that might have been made in the 1940s, with its pure-hearted heroes and utterly depraved and evil villains. This doesn't work because very little of the dialogue is snappy enough and the heroes so bland, and made more-so by the weak performances from  Kip Canyon and Jean Louise O'Sullivan. Of course, these characters were so bland to begin with that I didn't even realize the roles had been recast until I sat down to write this review. That might have been to the credit of the casting director... if the new Danny and Beth hadn't been so lame.

As uninteresting and bland as the heroes were in this film, the Nazi villains were all lots of fun, with Scott King, as Commandant Moebius, and Stephanie Sanditz, as his lieutenant and lover Uschi,  giving performances that were so over the top that I'm surprised their scenery-chewing didn't leave teeth marks in my television set. These actors and characters, along with the pathetic scientist played by Oto Brezina, go a long way to making the tough slog that this film is bearable and give it the somewhat strong finish that it has.

Aside from King and Sanditz, the only good thing I can say about "Puppet Master X" is that Band didn't leave us with yet more unresolved Puppet Master story threads (as happened with "Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge") or an unfinished reboot/prequel storyline (as happened with "Retro Puppet Master"). This film delivered on MOST of the implied promise made with the non-ending ending in "Puppet Master: Axis of Evil". I further appreciated the fact that it picked up on the mysticism thread that was introduced in "Retro Puppet Master". If the story-flow had been more finely crafted, I think I may have been more forgiving of the weak acting on the part of O'Sullivan and Canyon because of the effective callbacks to previous films in the series.

By now, I'm sure you've noticed that I've not talked about the killer puppets. That's because, while they are present, they don't do much and when they do, it's generally uninteresting. The animation/puppetry is a little better than it has been in recent installments, but overall they are mostly here just because they have to be. This includes the new Nazi puppet additions as well, with one notable exception and another that appears to have promise but ends up being lame in the end because of bad writing. (I can't go into exact details here without spoiling things.)

Over all, "Puppet Master X: Axis Rising" is a disappointment. If only Band had emulated B-movies like the best of Monogram Pictures instead of the worst of Producer's Releasing Corporation.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

'Ooga Booga' is a poorly made satire

Ooga Booga (2013)
Starring: Ciarra Carter, Chance A. Reardon, Gregory Neibel, Wade F. Wilson, Karen Black, and Stacey Keach
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band, Danny Dravin, and Edward Payson
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

After a clean-cut young black man (Wilson) is murdered by racist cops, his vengful spirit animates an action figure named Ooga Booga. With the help of his girlfriend (Carter) and a has-been kids show host best friend (Reardon), he metes out gory justice on his killers and those who protected them.

If you're one of that strange breed of 21st Century Humans who are walking around looking for a reason to be offended and outraged, this is a movie you need to stay far, far away from: The simplistic satire will be completely lost on you, and the racist and sexist content will cause you to have a stroke.

Even if you aren't one of the Perpetually Offended Tribe, "Ooga Booga" might be a film you should stay away from. While the aforementioned attempt at satire in this film--of 1970s exploitation films, of the modern "all cops are racist!" tropes, and Band's own affection for Killer Toys and the merchandizing tie-ins in can make--are appreciated, they are so clumsily implimented that they are almost insulting to the intelligence of viewers. There's the further issue that most of the comedic elements and jokes in the film are mostly unfunny.

There are some things to recommend the film, however. Chance Reirdon is quite funny as the over-the-top offensive kids show clown, and Ciarra Carter is featured in what has to be the weirdest shower scene in movie history. Karen Black is entertaining is one of her last roles before she passed away, but her scenes and character seem like they almost belong in a different movie. Finally, Stacy Keach is amusing as the cartoonish racist judge... but not amusing enough to earn "Oooga Booga" more than a Three Rating.

By the way, as weak as this film is, Richard Band was up to his usual high standards with the theme he composed for it. It perfectly captures the mood of the film while giving us a very interesting piece of music. Listen for yourself, if you haven't already!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

'Murdercycle' is a ride for kiddies

Murdercycle (1999)
Starring: Charles Wesley, Cassandra Ellis, Michael Vachetti and Robert Staccardo
Director: Tom Callaway
Producers: Charles Band, Kirk Edward Hansen, Donald Kushner and Peter Locke
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A psychic spy (Ellis) and a Marine squad battle an alien invader shaped like a motorcycle and rider in an isolated CIA secret base. Meanwhile, a CIA agent (Vachetti) is trying to conceal the real reason for the alien attack.

"Murdercycle" is the sort of movie that a 12-year-old boy would get a kick out of--lots of gun play, a little bit of blood, a little bit of strong language, and an alien motorcycle that can turn invisible and that blows the crap out of everything it comes across with laser beams and missiles.

But, for anyone who is a little older, the film is too aimless and too empty of content to be worth your while. And for anyone who is a LOT older, and who happens to have been a fan of Marvel Comics during the 1960s and 1970s, the film is downright annoying because of the way the characters are named.

Every character in the film is named after a top comic book creator, with the two lead characters being named Kirby and Lee after the creators of the Fantastic Four. The oh-so-clever writers make sure that we don't miss this fact by making repeated references to the Fantstic Four comic book series. And then they proceed to use the names at every possible opportunity just to make sure we all get the gag. It's a gag that becomes very, very labored well before this 90-minute picture is over.

Unless you have some young kid you want to watch a sci-fi/action film with, or you're running a Full Moon-oriented blog like me, this is a movie you can skip.

Friday, December 23, 2016

'Parasite Dolls' in an underdeveloped disappointment

Dangerous Worry Dolls (aka "Parasite Dolls") (2008)
Starring: Jessica Morris, Cheri Themer, Dilio Nunez, Deb Snyder, and Meridith McClain
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band, Joe Megna, and Dana Harrloe
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

When incarceration in a women's prison ruled by a corrupt warden (Snyder) and a violent gangleader (McClain) becomes unbearable for Eva (Morris), she wishes her troubles onto a set of "worry dolls" that her daughter gave her while visiting. The dolls, however, are more than just vessels for wishful thinking, and they swiftly begin to eliminate all of Eva's troubles.

Like so many Full Moon movies, "Dangerous Worry Dolls" is brimming with potenial and overflowing with promise... potential and promise that for the most part remains unrealized. Quite honestly, it feels like they used a partially fleshed-out outline as their shooting script and even then didn't bother completing all the scenes.

We are introduced relatively well to Eva, the main character, but no other character gets even the slightest bit of development; everyone is a cookie cutter "women in prison" stock character--and even Eva's character is paper thin in the depth department. Worse, however, is the fact that only one of the worry dolls in Eva's box gets to do anything in the film. Why only that one is magical is never explained... although one gets the feeling that they were ALL supposed to be magical if the film had been compelte.

With the overlong opening and end credits are removed, the movie barely runs more than hour... and what happens in that hour feels incomplete and there are a number of severe continuity issues, such as a confrontation that was supposed to happen at 10:30pm ends up taking place after an event that was supposed to happen at Midnight. There's also an issue with Jessica Morris' make-up once she becomes possessed by the worry dolls and goes on a rampage; the discoloration on her skin that can be seen in the still above comes and goes for no real reason other than maybe scenes are not in the order they were originally supposed to be according to what passed for the script.

The only bright spot here is Jessica Morris, and possibly Dilio Nunez. Morris gives a decent performance all around, considering what she has to work with, and Nunez does some nice foreshadowing of the "big reveal" regarding his character's secret. None of the other cast members give bad performances, but they aren't especially good either. Then again. one has to excuse them to some degree, because they are spitting out some of the most cliched dialogue imaginable while portraying characters that are woefully underdeveloped.

"Dangerous Worry Dolls" is only for people who absolutely must see every single movie in the "women in prison" subgenre of trashy films, and for those who enjoy that off-kilter, undefinable quality present in almost all of Charles Band's films--even the ones that feel as unfinished as this one. It's not his worst effort, but it is far, far from his best.