Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Everyone gets failing grade at 'Cemetery High'

Cemetery High (aka "Scumbusters")
Starring: Debi Theibeault, Karen Nielsen, Ruth Collins, Lisa Schmidt, Simone, Frank Stewart, Tony Cruck and David Coughlin
Rating: One of Ten Stars
Producers: Gorman Bechard, Kristine Covello and Charles Band

A group of young rape victims go on a murderous rampage, killing scummy men whereever they can find them.

"Cemetery High" is a badly mounted attempt at spoofing revenge flicks like "Death Wish" and any crime drama you care to mention. However, it's badly written, even worse acted, and the best of the gags will tease only the mildest of chuckles out of even the drunkest viewers.

Toss this film on the pile of movies that never should have made the transition to DVD and start the incinerator. But don't waste your time watching it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Nothing says Christmas like demons, hellborne toys and killer puppets

Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys (2004)
Starring: Corey Feldman, Danielle Keaton, Vanessa Angel, Silva Suvadova, Nikolai Sotirov and Anton Falk
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Producers: Charles Band, Jeff Franklin, Bob Perkis and Jörg Westerkamp
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Eccentric inventor and toymaker Robert Toulon (Feldman) and his teenaged daugther Alexandra (Keaton) recreate the secret formula that can bring inanimate objects to life, and they use it to revive some of the puppet's created by Robet's grand-uncle Andre Toulon--Blade, Pinhead, Jester, and Six-shooter. It's a good thing they do, because the sinister president Erica Sharpe (Angel) of Sharpe Toys has been selling demon-possessed toys which will come to life Christmas morning and kill millions of Americans, sacrificing their souls to the demonlord Bael (Falk) and elevating Erica to ruler of Earth. Only the Toulons and the magic puppets can stop them... if they survive long enough.

"Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys" is one of the best movies to come out of the Sci-Fi Channel's original programming department. Yes, it's goofy and illogical and the special effects won't be winning any awards, but it's a fun and funny movie.

Although the creator of both the Demonic Toys and the Puppet Master concepts, Richard Band, had no direct part in the creation of this film, the presence of an old-time Full Moon script-writer (C. Courtney Joyner) and a director who worked on a number of Full Moon features (Ted Nicolaou) the spirit of the original movies is alive and well in this one. In fact, it's better than much of what Band has been producing and directing lately.

Corey Feldman in particular is great fun as the gruff grand-nephew and last male decendent of the Toulon line, and teenaged actress Danielle Keaton gives a nice performance as a cute and well-mannered kid who patiently puts up with the dad's weird nature. The father/daughter relationships in this movie is one of the things that makes it such an interesting film, particuarly when the Toulons are considered in the light of the relationship that Erica Sharpe must have had with her father. There's nothing deep here--like most films from the brain-trust that is/was the Full Moon gang, the emphasis is on gags, gimmicks and gore rather than characterization--but it's enough to make us interested in the characters, enough to make us care.

If you're looking for an unusual movie to mark the Christmas season, "Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys" could be the one to reach for. There might be a few too many fart jokes and exploding eyeballs for grandma's sensibilities, but I think most kids will get a kick out of it. (This might make a good capstone for a "Puppet Master"/"Demonic Toys" film festival, too. Start off with "Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge", go to "Demonic Toys", and then wrap it up with this film.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'The Dead Hate the Living' is hit and miss

The Dead Hate the Living (2000)
Starring: Eric Clawson, Jamie Donahue, Brett Beardslee, Benjamin P. Morris, Wendy Speake, and Matt Stephens
Director: Dave Parker
Producers: Charles Band and Kirk Edward Hansen
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A bunch of amateurs shooting a horror movie in an abandoned hospital stumble upon an experiment by a mad scientist (Stephens) who was trying to merge this dimension with one inhabited by zombies. Needless to say, they mess around, and soon they are living their zombie movie, as freakish undead stalk and add them to their ranks, one by one.

"The Dead Hate the Living" is another one of those tongue-in-cheek, third-wall horror movies that's full of in-jokes and references to other horror films. It's a movie with geeks as the main characters, and it's targeted (I imagine) primarily at movie geeks. Although, frankly, I found the director (Eric Clawson) and his sidekick/special effects-and-makeup-guy (Brett Beardslee) to be almost immediately unsympathetic because of the way they rolled their eyes when their lead actor (Benjamin P. Morris) didn't know who Dick Miller and some other B-movie actor was. I suspect the writer/director of the film was trying to make identify with and like these two, who are the film's heroes after all, because of their Geekier-Than-Thou attitudes... but, frankly, I've always been annoyed by people like that. Being obsessed with trivia does not make someone talented or capable.

That annoyance aside, I enjoyed many aspects of this film. The story, while hardly original, was fun... and it was funny where it was supposed to be funny, and creepy where it was supposed to be creepy. (Although, in some ways. the film-within-the-film seems like it would be far more horrific than what we actually get.)

The film's fatal flaw, however, is that it was probably made by inexperienced people from the actors through to the director. While the acting is better than what is found in many low-budget films of this caliber, the performers constantly dutifully wait for the other people in a scene to finish their lines before they start their own; even in situations where they're being chased by monsters, the characters very politely wait for the other person to finish what they're saying before they start talking. While the dialogue has a realistic sound to it, the way it's delivered doesn't seem realistic, and it gives each and every scene a sluggish pace.

(There are also a couple of elements that I didn't quite care for, such as why the actors look like their zombie make-up when they become living dead, and where all those zombies in the "Hammer Films Graveyard" set come from. Both of those are nonsensical elements that detracted rather than added to the film. And I'm not even going to comment on the illogic and just plain idiocy that leads to the zombies being unleashed upon the unsuspecting film crew. Suffice to say, it makes the characters from "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things" look like Nobel Prize winners. )

In the hands of a more experienced director, or perhaps with some more rehersal time for the actors, I think this film could have been a pretty decent little zombie movie. As it is, it's a little too weak to go out of your way for.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No, not THOSE 'Vampire Journals'

The Vampire Journals (1997)
Starring: David Gunn, Jonathon Morris, Kristen Cerre, Ilinca Goia and Starr Andreeff
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Producers: Charles Band, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A vampire who is dedicated to wiping out his (Gunn) own kind tries to save a young musician (Cerre) from the vampire king who wants to make her his slave (Morris)

"Vampire Journals" is another stylish film from Ted Nicolaou, who once again proves that he can capture that goth vampire style like no one else. It's not quite up to the standards he set in the three "Subspecies" films (which a passing reference is made to when the evil vampire lord Ash states that he inherited his underground maze of tunnels from Radu of Transylvania), but manages to put the mood and atmosphere that most "World of Darkness" Storytellers were shooting for Back in the Day. If you're still into that stuff and still running White Wolf's roleplaying game, you need to check this movie out. (If you're over 17. It's rated R for a number of reasons... most of them involving naked boobies.)

Unfortunately, aside from the neat crumbling scenery of Bucharest and the dream-like cinematography, there's not much else to cheer about with the film. The acting is okay but nothing spectacular and the story moves with glacial slowness for the film's first 45 minutes. The second half is a little better, but by then many viewers will have nodded off from boredom. (Although fans of gothy-type material will undoubtedly be fascinated by the self-pitying and over-justifying hero vampire Zachary, the evil jerkwad villainous vampire Ash, and the beautiful young pianist trapped between them.)

'Ragdoll' brings magic of the killing kind to the screen

Ragdoll (1999)

Starring: Russell Richardson, Jennia Watson, Freda Payne, Bill Davis and Tarnell Poindexter
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Producers: Charles Band and Kirk Edward Hanson
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Young up-and-coming musician Kwame (Richardson) turns to his grandmother's book of voodoo spells to get revenge after New Orleans crimelord Big Pere (Davis) has her beaten to the point she's in a coma. Kwame inadvertently unleashes uncontrollable killing magic--in the form of a ragdoll--that not only goes after Big Pere's gang but also those whom Kwame loves.

"Ragdoll" is a fun little flick that features all the "typical" Full Moon elements, including a killer puppet. If you enjoy that special atmosphere that hovers around most of the best features that have the name Charles Band in the production credits, you're bound to enjoy this movie. In fact, it may represent the last gasp of Band's Golden Age as far as the film's he's helmed. Although the VERY low budget is evident throughout the film, the magic is present to a degree that we won't see again until "Doll Graveyard" (and, even there, it's stronger in this film). Of course, it may also be that the film ends up as strong as it is because it is helmed by one of the most talented editors and directors who has worked with Band, Ted Nicolaou.

The film succeeds primarily due to strong performances from Russell Richardson (the handsome lead, playing Kawme), Jennia Watson (the very attractive love interest, Teesha) and Freda Payne (the target of the gangster attack that triggers the events of the film and whose skill with sorcery will be Kwamie's and Teesha's only chance of survival). Their acting talents go a long way to making us buy into the danger and threatening nature of the killer puppet in this movie, which isn't anywhere as impressive as the Demonic Toys or Andre Toulon's puppets, and which sounds like a cat that's either angry or in heat. The film's climax also wouldn't be anywhere near as suspenseful if not for the skills of these three actors.

There were only two things that got in the way of this film rating perhaps a point higher that I am currently assigning it.

First, the film could have done with a little more of a denouement than it has, or perhaps a brief reappearance of the Shadow Man, the devil-figure with whom Kwame makes the deal that unleashes the "killing magic"; his take on the turn of events would have been interesting. I like the fact the movie ends when it's over--with no "surprise shock ending" or the likes tacked on--but a little more of a wrap up would still have been preferable.

Second, for a film with a running time that barely breaks 80 minutes, a lot of tme is taken up by acts performing songs. There are three rap songs and two pop/soul tunes of mediocre quality included in the film, and, knowing Charles Band's love of using movies as promotional vehicles for other ventures (and other ventures as promotional vehicles for his movies), they are undoubtedly there in what was a failed attempt at branching out into a Full Moon pop music venture. (I suspect "The Horrible Dr. Bones" and "Blood Dolls" were part of that same scheme.)

An over-abundance of average pop music aside, "Ragdoll" is a fun flick that should prove entertaining, especially if you add it to the line-up of a Bad Movie Night.

'Seedpeople' is sci-fi horror to watch with kids

Seedpeople (aka "Dark Forest") (1992)
Starring: Sam Hennings, Bernard Kates, Andrea Roth, Holly Fields and Brad Yates
Director: Peter Manoogian
Producers: Charles Band and Anne Kelly
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A geologist (Hennings) returns to the tiny town where he grew up, hoping to locate the legendary meteor it is named after. But the ill feelings he stirs up on the part of an ex-girlfriend (Roth) and the deputy sheriff who is her current beau (Yates) pale in comparison the fact that extra-terrastial lifeforms are taking over the hamlet's citizens and preparing for a full-scale invasion of Earth.

"Seedpeople" is not a movie you want to see if you've seen any version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", any version of the "The Thing" or even "Horror Express". You probably also want to pass on the film if you have read any Stephen King except perhaps "On Writing". You will find yourself thinking of other movies and books that did what this film tries to do so very much better.

You will also realize that those stories usually have points beyond "alien plant-monsters take over a tiny town", something that this film does not.

A somewhat bigger problem is the casting of 16-year-old Holly Fields as Kim, a girl who is 12-13 years old. Fields is obviously older than the part she's playing, which leads you with the impression that Kim, who is supposed to be an intelligent, tomboyish kid is retarded. There aren't many older teens who can pass successfully as pre-teens like they were hoping to do here.

However, if you are looking for a scary movie you can safely watch with the 11-14 year olds, this is the film to check out. Yes, there's some violence and a little blood as alien monsters chew on victim's faces, but it IS a scary movie after all! Kids will probably not be familiar with the superior sources this film was inspired by, and it's not as intense as those so it's something that they will be able to see without too many nightmares. (Unless they are extra-ordinarily sensitive. And if there THAT sensitive, then you need to revisit your parenting class and let the kid out of the closet more often.)


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gingerdead Man Double-feature

The Gingerdead Man (2005)
Starring: Gary Busey, Robin Sydney and Ryan Locke
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band and Dana Harrloe
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Sarah (Sydney) and her friends must fight off an enchanted gingerbread man that is being animated by the spirit of a mad killer (Busy) who murdered Sarah's father and brother.

It's a given that one shouldn't expect high art (or haute cuisine) from a film titled "Gingerdead Man", but I expected better from the studio that brought us other films featuring pint-sized horrors, namely the excptionally creepy creations in "Puppet Master."

What we got here was a very dumb, badly acted, and simply badly conceived movie with a monster that was both unfunny and unscary, and a horror film that was pretty much completely devoid of scares. (The one chilling moment came toward the very end, following shortly after the one truly funny--if completely predictable--moment.)

That said, Gary Busey does make give a great voice performance as the killer cookie. I'm not sure if it's a testament to Busey's talent or his eccentricity, because Charles Band tells a story at his public appearances about how Busey basically frittered away the studio time and then pounded out the lines in perfect take after perfect take at the very end of the day. For all the other weaknesses of the film, Busey rocks.

This Charles Band-directed effort was a dissapointment... but at least that gave plenty of room for improvement when the sequel came around a few years later.

Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust (2008)
Starring: K-von Moezzi, Kelsey Sanders, Joseph Porter, Jacob Witkin and John Vulich
Director: Sylvia St. Croix
Producers: Charles Band and William Butler
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

The cookie possessed by the soul of a homicidal madman is back! This time, he's rampaging through the sets of Cheatum Studios, a low-budget movie mill on its last legs, looking to kill enough vicitms to perform a Satanic ritual so he can transfer his soul back into a human body.

When the Gingerdead Man made his first appearance in this, a sequel to a movie I count among the worst I've ever seen, I thought, "Hang on. How did he come back? Wasn't he destroyed in the original film?"

Then I thought, "This is a movie about a foulmouthed gingerbread cookie that murders people. Why am I trying to make sense of it?!"

And, once I went with the flow, this movie turned out to be quite a lot of fun. You'll be especially amused iif you're a fan of classic Full Moon films like "Puppet Master" or "Demonic Toys". A few of the jokes may be a bit "Inside Baseball" in nature--unless you're truly an Uber Geek or someone who takes and interest in the ups-and-downs of independent filmmakers like Roger Corman and Charles Band and the production companies they head--but most of the gags will be easily grasped as the self-mockery and overall ribbing of the low-budget fillm industry.

Unfortunately, while the movie may be fun, it's not all that good. It is far better than the original "Gingerdead Man" movie, but it still leaves alot to be desired.

Basically, the film feels half-baked (yeah, pun intended). The jokes are mostly ho-hum and the story feels disjointed and completely unmotivated until the Big Reveal surrounding Tommy, the terminally ill kid who has come to Cheatum Studios to see where his favorite movies were made before he dies. In fact, I was about ready to stop the film when it suddenly got good. The last half hour or so goes a long way to making up for a weak start. A plot development surrounding Tommy will be even more amusing to you if you've ever watched a B-movie, including this one, and thought to yourself, "That actor is entirely too old to be playing a teenager."

If just a little more time and effort had gone into developing the script, this film would have been much better. I know I said up-top that making sense of this movie is not something one should try to do, but I still would have liked a hint as to why the Tiny Tots animated to save the day at the end of the film. I have an idea, but I would have liked to at least see some hint as to the "who" and the "why" because the obvious answer makes no sense. (And, no, I don't think it's a spoiler to mention the "Demonic Toys" spoofs in the film come to life; when these puppets show up at the beginning of the film, you now they had to go on an uncontrolled rampage at some point.)

As for the acting and the sets and the puppets featured, is all passable, with Joseph Porter as the dying boy with a big secret being the only standout member of the cast. The cinematography could be better, as there are scenes where actors should be visible in a shot aren't, and others where actors are cut off by the edge of the screen, almost as if this was a bad pan-and-scan transfer. (It occurs to me that perhaps some of that was done intentionally, but it was more annoying than entertaining.) The soundtrack music was very well done, and it's the one area where the film is high quality.

In the end, I think it's a movie that big fans of Charles Band and Full Moon Features-type pictures will get a laugh out of. It's not as funny as I thought it would be based on the preview, but I still enjoyed it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The aliens just wanna rock all night
(and steal our wimmen!)

Bad Channels (1992)
Starring: Paul Hipp, Martha Quinn, Michael Huddleston, Aaron Lustig, Roumel Reaux and Victor Rogers
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Producers: Charles Band and Keith Payson
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A disk jockey known for crazy on-air stunts (Hipp) becomes the unwitting partner of an alien who has come to Earth to abduct beautiful women via otherworldly technology, radiowaves, and rock music.

Paul Hipp stars in "Bad Channels"
"Bad Channels" is a very silly sci-fi comedy that makes fun of all the conventions of a 1950s sci-fi films but does so with a 1980s attitude. The film is driven almost entirely by a fun script, as pretty much every actor featured in the film reported for work but doesn't appear to have done much more than that. No one's particularly bad, but everyone is what you'd expect in a B-movie like this.

The film's biggest weakness is the fact that it includes three full length rock videos in it. They're all pretty decent--and the rock band performing with cheerleaders in a gym predicts a more famous effort--but they in the context of the film they go on for too long. The audience isn't looking for classic MTV-type material, but for alien abduction action.

If you've enjoyed other comedies from Full Moon (like "Hideous!"), I think you'll like this movie. You'll also like it if you enjoyed offerings from the Sci-Fi Channel like "The Man With the Loud Brain". This kind of movie making apparently hasn't evolved since the 1980s.

'Netherworld' has some good parts, but they add up to nothing

Netherworld (1992)
Starring: Michael Bendetti, Holly Floria, Denise Gentile, Alex Datcher and Robert Sampson
Director: David Schmoeller
Producers: Charles Band and Thomas Bradford
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A young man (Bendetti) travels to an isolated spot of Lousiana to reconnect with the father he never knew. (Well... and to claim the massive edge-of-the-bayou property and mansion he inhertited from him.) He finds himself surrounded by stranger-than-average Southerners... and voodoo-practicing hookers. And flying stone hands. And, like the saying goes: It's all fun and games until someone gets tied to the evil sacrifical altar.

Sometimes, a low-budget horror film can survive on mood and mysterious imagery and characters alone. Take "Phantasm", for example. I love that movie, but the story makes absolutely no sense and I defy you to tell me how the movie's various elements tie together, especially since the explanation "it was all a dream" goes out the window with the shock ending.

Most of the times, however, such films are miserable failures... and "Netherworld" fits into that category. I get the sense that there is an idea somewhere buried under all the crap here, but that writer/director David Schmoeller was either too lazy to develop it properly or too full of his own artisticality that he forgot to make a coherent film. Or maybe the producer meddled too much... or meddled too little. This film doesn't warrant the research it would take to find the answer.

The film has plenty of strange characters and creepy imagery--much of which actually feels like it was copied badly from the aforementioned "Phantasm--but the various parts of the film barely connect and when they do, they make no sense. And Schmoeller simply isn't good enough enough to make a movie that can survive on atmosphere alone, even when he's cribbing from a film that got it right. He should have explained how the voodoo hookers fit in with the lawyer and the house keeper; who is ressurecting people and why; and he should have simply left out the stupid flying stone hand and weird midget.

"Netherworld" is a total misfire of a movie. It's astonishing that the same team that made "Tourist Trap" and "Puppet Master" could screw up so badly on this one.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

'Dead and Rotting' was a film in need of a bigger budget

Dead and Rotting (2002)
Starring: Stephen O'Mahony, Trent Haaga, Tom Hoover, Debbie Rochon, Jeff Dylan Graham and Barbara Katz-Norrod
Director: David P. Barton
Producers: Charles Band, JR Bookwalter and Trent Haaga
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Three practical jokers (O'Mahony, Haaga and Hoover) inadvertently cause the death of a witch's familiar while feuding with her. Using dark magic, the witch (Katz-Norrod and Rochon) sets about to gain revenge.

"Dead and Rotting" is one of those movies that deserves a remake with a bigger budget. It has an interesting story with some unexpected twists and good pacing. Most of the actors also do decent jobs in their roles.

Unfortunately, cheapness wafts from every frame of "Dead and Rotting". While a noble attempt was made in post-production to make the film appear as if it WASN'T shot in digital video, there is still a flat quality to the films and a softness to the shadows that still give the sense that it was shot with a couple of camcorders. The special effects and make-up are also barely half a step above Halloween spook-house stuff... not so bad that anyone needs to feel embarrassed but barely passable for a commercial production. This is also one Full Moon movie where they should have skipped the almost-obligatory tiny terror creature; the "homonculus" featured during the film's climax can't even really be called a puppet, and I also doubt that someone shaking it like a ragdoll from just off camera counts as puppeteering. ("Ghoulies" this isn't... it isn't even "Blood Dolls".)

Things aren't all bad, though. The scene where the vengeful witch transforms from an old crone (Barbara Katz-Norrod who does a fine job at playing a lonely, brokenhearted old woman) to a young hottie (Debbie Rochon, who does a fine job playing sexy temptress) is very well staged considering the only effects used are edits and puffs from a smoke machine. Similarly, the revenge of the witch and the slow method by which she takes it is very creepy and the related make-up effects are decently done.

If you want a horror movie with a slightly different twist and don't mind watching a film that was plainly made with very little money, you will probably find "Dead and Rotting" worth the 71 minutes it will consume of your time. This is particularly true if you enjoy that special brand of weirdness that's present in the best movies from Full Moon. This is by no means a good, movie--it's at the absolute low end of a 5 rating--but there's enough raw energy here and Full Moon-style magic to make it worth watching.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Killer robots and global warming
equal threats in 'Crash and Burn'

Crash and Burn (1990)
Starring: Paul Ganus, Megan Ward, Bill Moseley, Eva LaRue Callahan, Jack McGee and Ralph Waite
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band, Debra Dion and David DeCoteau
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

The staff of and visitors to an isolated television station in the wastelands of a global-warming ravaged, heatstorm-swept American Southwest must survive the assault of a Synthoid, a human-like robot, programmed to kill all who oppose the tyrannical autocracy of world government Unicom.

"Crash and Burn" is a fast-paced, light-weight sci-fi yarn that combines a whole host of pulp-fiction/comic-booky/cyberpunky futuristic tropes--killer robots passing for humans, giant robots, a decaying society with a questionable moral fiber that is ruled by an oligarchical global government, and plucky rebels embodied by a cranky old man and a tough young girl--to great effect and moves swiftly through its action-packed story.

The characters in the film are all as shallow and cliched as can be expected--movies of this kind are usually more about the action and plot than the characters--but the actors all do decent jobs in their parts, with Megan Ward as the cute teenaged tech genius, Paul Ganus as the dashing hero, and Bill Moseley as the handyman sidekick with a secret doing particularly well in their respective parts.

The special effects are about par for a low-budget sci-fi film of this vintage--it's got decent matte shots, make-up, and stop-motion model effects sequences--and the violence is also standard action movie fare. Everything here is pleasantly average, which puts it well above the usual fare for a direct-to-video film from the early 1990s. (I continue to be surprised by how good these old Full Moon films are.)

Another thing that surprised me about this film is that it hasn't been reissued with fanfare and a marketing push or that Charles Band & Company hasn't thrown together a sequel for it.

The film's backdrop--a world ravaged by global warming and struggling under the thumb of an eeeeevil megacorp that wraps itself in right-wing and religious rhetoric to control the masses--seems like just the sort of thing that the modern environmental movement would lap up. It seems to me that a DVD containing this film, a newly made sequel and a marketing campaign with slogans along the lines of "They didn't listen to the warnings, nor pay heed to the inconvenient truth... now the world is paying the price!" would sell plenty of DVDs.

Then again, maybe that's why I'm not in product development or marketing.

"Crash and Burn" is currently available on DVD as part of the "Charles Band Collection, Vol. 1" boxed set, which includes three other of Band's best movies from the early 1990s.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'Decadent Evil' is neither decadent nor evil enough to be interesting

Decadent Evil (2005)
Starring: Debra Mayer, Phil Fondacaro, Daniel Lennox, Jill Michelle and Raelyn Hennessee
Director: Charles Band
Producer: Charles Band
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A master vampire (Mayer) on the verge of becoming a demi-god finds her life complicated by a defiant fledgelings (Hennessee and Michelle), a love-struck mortal (Lennox) and a midget vampire hunter (Fondacaro).

That summary makes "Decadent Evil" sound like it might be a lot of fun if you're into Charles Band-style movies. Don't be misled... this is a film you can safely skip.

It seems to me that the quality of Charles Band's films reached a lowpoint in the first part of this decade. While recent films have been better, "Decadent Evil" is a craptacular film that isn't even a pale shadow of Band's earlier directorial efforts... it's shocking to think that this film is even from the same guy who brought us "The Creeps" and "Blood Dolls", let alone "Head of the Family" or "Hideous!".

That's not to say there aren't some halfway decent ideas here, it's just that they're badly implemented.

Everything about the script says half-baked. From a lame attempt to tie the film to previous Full Moon vampire films with an overlong prologue, through a a wavering sense as to the vampire queen being ancient or not, and to a fuzzy sense of how much time passes between various scenes in the film, it's clear that either the script needed more work or the production had issues. This sense is strengthened by the fact that this film feels heavily padded--with the aforementioned prologue and a drawn-out strip club scene/seduction scene that ends up having very little to do with anything that follows adding 10-15 minutes of pointless running time--despite barely being over an hour long.

And then there is the neigh-obligatory Charles Band puppet creature/toy tie-in, here embodied by Marvin the Horny Homunculus. I think Marvin was supposed to be the source of comic relief in the film, but the jokes are unfunny and the puppet is so badly made that it's almost sad that it was even included. Marvin is a superfluous element in the film and since there clearly wasn't enough in the budget to make him properly animated it would have been better to simply leave him out. As it stands, Marvin serves primarily to make the experienced Charles Band viewer remark, "Well... I guess the puppets in 'Blood Dolls' weren't so bad after all." (The one positive thing about Marvin is the eyes... the sculptor did a great job on the eyes, and they help bring a little life to the creature but nowhere near enough.)

The film is saved from a 2-rating, however, by a cast of talented actors who do their best with the material they're given. Debra Mayer is a little miscast as the haughty, bitchy vampire queen (she does bitchy quite well, as we saw in the Band's far superior effort "Blood Dolls", but haughty not so much) and Phil Fondacaro wasn't particularly believable as a vampire hunter, but they weren't bad. The rest of the cast of small-time, young newcomers accounted nicely for themselves, although they really didn't have much to do; this film is virtually free of anything resembling character development.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Shadowzone is home to horror

Shadowzone (1989)
Starring: David Beecroft, Louise Fletcher, Miguel Nunez, Frederick Flynn, Shawn Weatherly and James Hong
Director: J.S. Cardone
Producers: Charles Band and Carol Kottenbrook
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Cutting-edge sleep research opens a rift to another dimension... and a creature from that dimension crosses over to our. And he's not happy, nor particularly sociable. Soon, the bodies are piling up.

The art of the low-budget, B sci-fi movie hasn't changed much in the 20 years since "Shadowzone" was released. Thanks to advances in computer graphics, the way effects are done has changed, but the basic stories and how their told remain the same: Scientists explore Things Man Was Not Meant to Know and Monsters Start Rampaging. In fact, this is almost exactly the sort of film that embodies the phrase "A Sci-Fi Channel Original Picture" (or, now with more stupidity, "A SyFy Channel Original Picture"), only with better acting and better pacing than we've come to expect.

"Shadowzone" was the second feature produced under Charles Band's famous Full Moon label. Despite it's obscurity, it's one of the better ones. For wanna-be filmmakers, it's worth a look because it's a good example of how to make an effective sci-fi/horror flick on a small budget, and for the rest of us it's a nice bit of fluff that'll keep us entertained for 80 minutes.

There are aspects of the film that make little sense--the most blatant being that there is no way the in-use areas of a government facility would be allowed to be in the state of decay that the one featured in this movie is in, no matter how top secret it is--but the strong acting on the part of the cast and the well-written script will take all but the most critical viewers past that point and into the tale.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

'Arcade' is a fun, if visually dated,
kids-oriented sci-fi

Arcade (1993)
Starring: Megan Ward, Peter Billingsley, Norbert Weisser, John de Lancie, Seth Green, A.J. Langer, Sharon Farrell, Brian Dattilo, and Humberto Ortiz
Director: Albert Pyun
Producers: Charles Band and Cathy Gesualdo
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Alex (Ward), a teenager who is still reeling from the suicide of her mother, discovers that the hot new computer game, Arcade, is sucking her friends into its virtual reality world, bodies and souls. As if she didn't already have enough problems in her life, she, along with her computer game wizard friend Nick (Billingsley) are the only ones able to save their friends and stop Arcade before it abducts kids all around the world. Worst of all, the only way Megan can save them is to enter the game herself, battling the evil entity on its terms.

"Arcade" is a fun low-budget fusion of sci-fi and horror that's suitable for Mom and Dad to sit down and watch with the early teenaged fans of the genre, especially the girls. It's nudity-, sex-, and gore-free, with only one or two curse words uttered during the running time. (The film was rated R when it was first released, although I'm not sure why. It's also a rating that must have hurt the flick--although that R would certainly have been magical for the age group this seems to be directed at, even if their parents shouldn't have been thrilled to see if on a film they were watching.)

The film is decently enough acted and the script is okay. The effects have an outdated feel to them in this day-and-age where even my first generation XBox is able to put better computer graphics on my TV screen, but I think anyone who has an affection for the sci-fi and horror genre won't mind.

The film has some significant flaws, however. The worst of these is a botched ending where the filmmakers attempt to get one last scare in, but end up presenting something that even the most generous viewer will consider as lame and stupid. They would have been far better off if they had taken an approach similar to the scene where Alex wakes up to find everything has only been a dream (which quickly turns out to be part of her virtual reality nightmare).

I also would have liked to see more about the company that developed the virtual reality game and the how and why of the very dark and twisted secret hiding at the center of every one manufactured. It's touched upon briefly, but more time really needed to be devoted to it. This is one of those rare films that I wish had been longer than it is.

Actually, this commonly the case with Full Moon pictures... many of them feel halfbaked because no enough time is spent developing themes and characters within their usually brief running-times. Although, there are signs that this film was at one time longer; there is a point where Alex enters a new level of the game, a little scuffed but generally okay. Then, between scenes, she suddenly develops bloody gashes on her body and bloody nose. SOMETHING happened and whatever it was ultimately ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor with Band & Company probably saying, "Eh. They'll never notice!"

Watch the preview, courtesy of Full Moon and YouTube...

"Arcade" is available on DVD in the "Full Moon Classics Vol. 1" set, which contains "Arcade" and four other films from Full Moon's Golden Age from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. It's a nice set--the only featured stinker is "Netherworld"--and the price is right if you order it from, where it costs $65 as opposed to the $129 price elsewere, particularly if you order it at a discount from

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I think someone lost the second half of the movie....

Huntress: Spirit of the Night (1994)
Starring: Jenna Bodnar, Constantin Cotimanis, Charles Cooper, Blair Valk and Alek Devane
Director: Mark S. Manos
Producers: Charles Band, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

In "Huntress: Spirit of the Night," Tara (the very attractive and well-cast Jenna Bodnar) is falling victim to a gypsy curse. We get to see the beginning of her transformation/possession. We also get to see the first phase of a very treacherous friend screwing her over for her inheritance. But, just as things look like they're getting REALLY interesting storywise, the film ends.

"Huntress: Spirit of the Night" ends without a single of its plot threads properly resolved. It ends, literally, in mid-story, at a point where there should be at least another hour or so of material. I guess while they were busy conceiving of sexy sequences that go on for so long they become boring, someone forgot that a movie needs a beginning, a middle and an end.

The end result is that this is movie that you should not waste your time on. It's a shame that interesting ideas and an attractive cast got wasted on such a badly done film. It's no wonder Charles Band and Full Moon initial released it at arm's length--it's an awful effort even by the worst of their standards. It didn't have to be though... some trimming of the soft-core porn material and an actual ending might have elevated it to mediocre status.

(Snark aside, I think I know what happened here. Around this time this film was made, Full Moon was increasingly breaking what should have been one movie into two and filming them back-to-back. They did it with "Mandroid" and they did it with the "Subspecies" 2 and 3. Perhaps there was supposed to be a Part Two, but it never happened due to Band's falling out with Paramount and the subsequent loss in funding.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Trancers Trilogy

One of the better-known creations to issue forth from the Full Moon movie mill is the Trancer series. With six installments so far, it's a series that started out as a time-travel themed sci-fi/pulp action effort that veered into fantasy territory after the first three, and then tried to recapture its sci-fi roots with the sixth, and so far final, installment in the series.

I'm a sucker for time travel stories, so the first three Trancer films rank among my very favorite of the Full Moon movies (even if the original "Trancers" film technically pre-dates Band's creation of the Full Moon label). It's also a fact that the first three are pretty decent films all around. They form a nice trilogy, and the films that follow really don't compare to them, story-wise or quality-wise.

Trancers (aka "Future Cop") (1985)
Starring: Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt and Michael Stefani
Director: Charles Band
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Just as the toughest cop in Angel City of 2247, Jack Deth (Thomerson) wipes out the last diciple of Whistler (Stefani), a powerful psychic and cult-leader who turned his followers into homicidal zombies, he learns that Whistler has fled some 250 years into the past... to 1985 where he is hunting and killing the ancestors of those who thwarted his plans of domination. Whistler plans to change history and only Jack Deth can stop him by following him back into the past, and do what he does best: Hunt trancers.

"Trancers" is a fun sci-fi flick that should be counted among Band's finest efforts. classics. It doesn't have any of the weird puppets and miniatures that would soon become hallmarks of Band's films, but it has a well-crafted script with lots of creative ideas and a plot that zips along at a lightning-fast pace yet still leaves time for character development that adds depth to the proceedings, and his other trademark--a mix of slightly off-kilter humor that's tinged with horror.

The success of the film is also, naturally, due in no small part to excellent performances by Tim Thomerson and Helen Hunt, who both take their first turn as stars in this picture. Thomerson is great as the hardboiled future cop who finds himself out of his element and forced to rely on help from Hunt's character, a liberated woman who had just wrapped up a one-night stand with the ancestor whose body Jack Deth's consciousness ends up inhabiting. Hunt is equally excellent asthe strong-willed Lena who won't be told what to do by anyone. While Thomerson is every bit the leading man as a fullblown movie star, his roots as a stand-up comedian and character actor stands him in good stead as he forms what is first an uneasy partnership with Hunt's character. Hunt's comedic timing that would help make "Mad About You" such a successful series is also on full display here, even as she comfortably fits into the role of an action-adventure sci-fi movie sidekick.

With everything else it has going for it, we can add the fact that it's a time travel movie to the mix. I love time-travel stories, and I think this one is particularly fun as it has an unusual method of time travel--minds/consciences can be sent back in time to inhabit the physical forms of direct ancestors. Some of the other theories of time travel are a bit shakey, but it all makes sense on the comic-book universe level that the film's world exists on.

"Trancers" is an entertaining little film that sees its stars and its director doing some of their most interesting work. It's worth checking out if you're in the mood for some light, spirited sci-fi action.

Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth (aka "Future Cop II") (1991)
Starring: Tim Thomerson, Megan Ward, Helen Hunt, Biff Manard, Sonny Carl Davis, Richard Lynch, Martine Beswick, and Jeffrey Combs
Director: Charles Band
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Stranded in the 20th century, time-traveler Jack Deth (Thomerson) has made a new life for himself and married a lovely, strongwiled woman named Lena (Hunt)... which will some day make Jack his own great- great- great-grandfather. His new peaceful life is thrown into chaos when another time traveler returns to the past, hunting a villain from the future who is using an environmental action group as a front for creating deadly, zombie-like supersoldiers known as Trancers. This time traveler happens to be Jack's wife from the future (Ward), who had been dead for several years when he was sent into the past.

The main thrust of "Trancers II" is a fairly run-of-the-mill low-budget action film with a few sci-fi trappings that sees Jack Deth fighting and ultimately defeating a hoard of zombie-fied bad guys led by Dr. Wardo, another time traveler from Jack's original time period. It's not a bad story, but it's a somewhat predictable retread of the story from the first movie.

The film, however, is very interesting if you like time travel adventures, because of the tangled histories of two characters--they are present at the same point 300 years in their past, but one is seven years ahead of the other in their personal timelines and he knows the other characters future. He knows that she is actually already dead and that when she goes home, she will be murdered by trancer cultists. This wrinkle adds much to the film and makes the akward situation Jack is in of having to deal with two different wives--one of whom he can't tell that he remarried because he's actually a widower--a very interesting one. Jack's marital problems are played mostly for laughs in the film, but the details that brought it about are both fascinating and tragic.

The film is further helped by decent acting all around,even if the dialogue they actors are delivering could have used some more work. Poor Megan Ward in particular delivers from pretty awful lines. The final battle also lacks a bit of punch, and Jack seems a little too eager to gun people down. If killing the wrong person changes the future, shouldn't he be more careful about who he kills? It's one thing for him to kill Trancers--they're already dead--but what about the security guards he shoots? Dr. Wardo's assistants? The body Dr. Wardo's spirit was inhabiting? He kills all these peoples, and, based on the rules of time travel the film set up, he probably did all sorts of damage to the time line.

Despite some sloppy scripting, the film is still interesting and worthwhile. Its social satire has even held up well over time and perhaps even gained more of an edge. The main villain is very Al Gore lie, and his whole organization is very reminicent of the face the modern ecological movement presents to the world. (It may be a little cult-like. If you've ever been annoyed by the hyperbolic idiocy that issues forth from the mouth of "leading environmentalists" or hypocrites like Al Gore, then Green World and its agents might amuse you.

Trancers III: Deth Lives (aka "Future Cop III") (1992)
Starring: Tim Thomerson, Melanie Smith, Andrew Robinson, Tony Pierce, Megan Ward, Helen Hunt, Stephen Macht and Dawn Ann Billings
Director: C. Courtney Joyner
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When an unstoppable army of Trancers threatens to destroy civilization in the 23rd century, stranded time traveler Jack Deth (Thomerson) is ripped from the life he is attempting to build in 1992 and sent to 2005 to change history and stop the Trancers from even coming into existence in the first place. This mission is going to be trickier than Trancer hunt Jack has ever undertaken, as he discovers the origin of the Trancers can be traced to a top secret installation opeated by the United States Marine Corps.

"Trancers III" is darker in tone and it feels like it was shot on an even lower budget than the first two installments of the film; we don't see the Trancers dissolve after they've been killed, for example. It's also the first installment that wasn't directed by Charles Band, but instead saw its screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner also taking on the directorial duties.

These changes could possibly have added up to an inferior film, but they didn't. "Trancers III" has a more cohereent storyline than "Trancers II" and it was the first first entry in the series that wasn't directed by Charles Band himself, and the darker tone makes it feel like the stakes are higher than they've ever been before. The only humor present in this film are Jack Deth's hardboiled detective-style wisecracks and narration but they're as sharp here as they've ever been.

While the film continues to play with the notion of tangled and confused timelines that was introduced in "Trancers II", it ultimately fails to take full advantage of these concepts, doesn't provide as strong an ending as it might have had, and even undermines the time travel rules that had established the series in the first place due to what I am certain is Charles Band's desire to keep the door open for more sequels.

The mission Jack Deth undertakes in this film is to stop the Trancers before they even become a threat in the future. I doubt I'm spoiling anything by telling you that he succeeds, but, according to what we've seen in other installments, that success should have resulted in Jack never being sent back into the past to begin with as there never would have been a Whistler for him to hunt or even a reason for Jack to be a Trancer Hunter.

The perfect ending for this film would have been if it had taken the series full circle by having Philip Deth, the man whose body Jack Deth's conciousness is actually inhabiting wake up to play out the scene where Lela and Jack first met, but this time without Jack's mind in his body. Failing that, future Trancer sequels SHOULD have dealt with why Jack's future even exists, as he should have unraveled it in 2005. They don't, however, but instead go off in a more fantasy-oriented direction, jettisoning most sci-fi elements as Jack Deth ends up in a parallel dimension where magic trumps his technological toys.

"Trancers III" should have been the end-point for the series, and I recommend that you make it so. The sequels that follow are far inferior to this one (despite two being written by Peter David, author of the very funny novel "Howling Mad" and a whole host of excellent comic book series) and I think you should be left with Jack's greatest adventure as the last outing you witness, even with the imperfect ending.

(The biggest problem with the David sequels is that they are more fantasy than sci-fi, probably written the way they were, because Full Moon's production facilities were at that time located primarily in Romania and the surroundings there don't lend themselves to the urban environments that Deth had up-to-that-point existed in.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

'The Occultist' is a big waste of time

The Occultist (1987)
Starring: Rick Gianasi, Joe Derrig, Richard Mooney, Mizan Nunez, Jennifer Kanter and Matt Mitler
Director: Tim Kincaid
Producers: Cynthia De Paula and Charles Band
Rating: One of Ten Stars

With one last chance to save the failing security company he inherited from his father, Barney (Derrig) takes a contract to protect the corrupt leader of a small Carribean island from terrorists, voodoo cultists and just about everyone else interested in overthrowing his government. It seems an impossible task, but Barney has help from the company's most valued agent, Waldo Warren (Gianasi), a man of many secrets and talents.

Behind that cool cover does not lurk a tale invovlving magic and hardboiled detectives, which is a shame because if there had been that sort of vibe to the film, I might have been able to forgive the wooden and amateurish acting on the part of the entire cast, the lame camera work, the incompetent lighting, the bad sound recording, the awful pacing, and the lack of a coherent story. As it is, this is a film with absolutely nothing to offer.

Okay, that's not entire true. There is the scene where Waldo (whose big secret is not that he's an occultist--that's a different character in the film--but that he's actually a cyborg/robot with guns hidden all throughout his body) shoots several of the film's villains in a public men's room with his fully automatic machinegun penis. It was so completely out of left field that I had to rewind the scene to watch it again, just to make sure that I'd seen what I thought I saw.

This isn't the worst picture that Band has been invovled in--that honor still belongs to "The Killer Eye"--but it is pretty close. Save your time and money, because this one isn't worth either.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stay away from 'Hell Asylum'

Hell Asylum (2002)
Starring: Tanya Dempsy, Debra Mayer, Sunny Lombardo, Stacey Scowley, Timothy Muskatell, Olimpia Fernandez and Joe Estevez
Director: Danny Draven
Producers: Charles Band, JR Bookwalter and Tammi Sutton
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Remember "Halloween: Resurrection", the movie where a reality show producer had contestants spent the night in the "infamous Meyers house"? Well, imagine a film that's dumber and more cheaply than that one, and which features and awful script and some of the worst gore effects ever included in a commercial production. If you can imagine that, you have an idea of the awfulness that is "Hell Asylum".

In "Hell Asylum", disgraced television producer Max (Muskatell) is given one last chance by a production company exec (Estevez) to deliver a hit show. He conceives "Chill Challenge", a reality show where five sexy girls are locked in a haunted house for a night where they must complete challenges set by Max in order to win a share of one million dollars. Needless to say, Max's carnival spookhouse tricks are the least of the worries the girls are going to have.

Released the same year as "Halloween: Resurrection", this film is either a case of not-so-great-minds thinking alike, or it's a case of someone trying to copy when they thought was a great idea. Whatever the origin of the idea behind the film, it's a lame one that's made even lamer by a bad use of the "helmet-cam" stchick that was also included in "Resurrection", where the actors are supposedly filming the footage as they move around. Here's it's used to show stairs. Nothing but stairs. And I even think it's the same set of stairs we're shown over and over.

Why not use the "helmet-cam" to show close-ups of the flesh-eating ghosts devour the contenstants? Why not use the device to evoke suspense and horror instead of boredom? Probably because it would require some degree of inventiveness in stretching a budget so low that they couldn't even afford raw sausages to double for intestines being ripped from victims. Instead, what we get looks a mophead dipped in spaghetti sauce (or maybe five cans of spaghetti and meatballs poured onto the chest of the actor. Whatever it is, the gore in this film is so unconvincing that I am amazed that professionals were willing to put their names to this movie. (And this goes for all the effects and costuming, with the exception of a fall down some stairs. It's the only place in the entire movie where any degree of inventiveness is shown, the only point where the film doesn't feel like it was made by a lazy crew who would really rather be working on some up-and-coming band's rock video.

Using the "helmet-cam" set-up for something more creative might have happened if the script for the film had been better. While the writerr did remember to put in some ghost attacks, he forgot to give us a reasonable explanation for why the ghosts attack. Why do the ghosts eat the people they attack? Were they starved to death by their evil, Bluebeard-style husband? Were they demons that were summoned and then trapped in the house? Are they the by-product of the rumored mad science experiments that also took place in the house? The complete lack of any apparent thought given to the "why" of the supernatural attacks in the film make it seem all the more bad.

The awfulness of the film is not the fault of the actors, by the way. The films leads all do a fine job, perhaps even better than the material warrants; it's almost a shame that Tanya Dempsy, Debra Mayer, Stacey Scowley and Sunny Lombardo are wasted in a movie like this, because all appear to be talented actresses.

Speaking of Lombardo, she happens to be the focus of the only sections in the film the truly work, the only time this supposedly horror movie manages to evoke a sense of dread in the viewer. At a point in the film, Lombardo's character is horribly injured and the fesh-ripped ghosts come upon her as she lays there in great pain. She begs one of them to kill her... and it doesn't. It just lets her lay there and die a slow and very painful death. It's a seriously unsettling scene, and it gives a little insight into what this movie could have been if its creators had bothered putting forward some real effort.

As it is, "Hell Asylum" is not worth your time.

'Head of the Family' is a sexual thriller like
you've ever seen before or ever will again

Head of the Family (1996)
Starring: Blake Bailey, Jacqueline Lovell, J.W. Perra, Gordon Jennison, and Bob Schott
Director: Robert Talbot (aka Charles Band)
Producers: Charles Band and Kirk Edward Hansen
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Smalltown coffee shop and grocery store operator Lance (Bailey) uncovers a dark secret harbored by the strange Stackpool family and uses this knowledge to blackmail them into "disposing of" the dangerous husband (Jennison) of the woman he loves and loves to boink whenever possible (Lovell). Unfortunately for Lance and his sexy sidekick, Myron (Perra), the figurative and literal head of the Stackpool family as his body is 90% head and he controls his siblings with mental telepathy, doesn't appreciate being threatened....

"Head of the Family" is a funky little film that spoofs the "erotic thriller" and "psycho Southerners in the woods" genres as only Charles Band and Full Moon Entertainment could have done. It may not have puppets or stop-motion animation, but the make-up and split-screen photography that turns actor J.W. Perra into a character that's nothing but a big head still embodies that Full Moon weirdness that makes the company's output from the 1990s so much fun to watch. And the perverse and twisted nature of the characters matches the level found in other of Band's best, like "Hideous!" and "Blood Dolls".

This film has the further benefit of being an effective spoof of both genres it's poking fun at, with satire and comedy running through every scene and every actor showing a talent both for drama and comedy. The film is especially hilarious when the genres collide at the movie's climax, creating a perfect end to a perfect script.

And, of course, it helps that Band took full advantage of the fact that his leading lady mostly appeared in softcore porn movies when this film was made. There is no skimping on the "erotic" as far as the "erotic thriller" part of the film goes--there is more sexy nudity in this film than any other Full Moon movie I've seen, with Jacqueline Lovell spending quite a bit of time on screen half-clothed, fully naked, and being one half of the Beast With Two Backs. That said, she, like the rest of the cast puts on a great show... she is fun to watch both for her gorgeous body and for her talent as a comedic actress.

From comments Charles Band made during a personal appearance here in Seattle, I got the sense that "Head of the Family" is one of his personal favorites. It should be.

'Blood Dolls' is full of perverse hilarity

Blood Dolls (1999)
Starring: Debra Mayer, Jack Maturin, William Paul Burns, William Draper and Phil Fondacaro
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Chales Band, Donald Kushner, Peter Locke and James R. Moder
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When an alliance of shady business people threaten to bankrupt reclusive billionaire Virgil Travis (Maturin), Travis sets about gaining bloody revenge upon them, using his trusty clown-makeup-wearing assassin and ordained minister Mr. Mascaro (Burns) and a trio of living killer dolls, the Blood Dolls of the title.

"Blood Dolls" is perhaps one of the most unusual movies that has issued forth from the mind of Charles Band. it is also possibly one of the purest manifestations of his creativity as he handled the producing, scripting, and directing of the film. The end result is perhaps the best movie to bear his name in the past ten years, and justifiable one of his personal favorites among all the movies he's been involved in.

There are some movies that a reviewer can ruin if he says too much about what happens in it; "Blood Dolls is one of those movies. Part of what makes it such an interesting experience is the strange and bizarre characters that populate it and revealing the secrets they hide or the fates they suffer as the film unfolds will rob it of much of its impact... as the main joy of watching this movie is its bizarreness. (In fact, even watching the preview reveals some things about the movie that viewers should come to cold.)

I will say this: If you liked the overall tone of "Head of the Family," you're going to get a kick out of "Blood Dolls." The same is true if you're a fan of the writings of the late Steve Gerber.

This film features an unusual mix of genres being spoofed (in this case, erotic thrillers, John Grisham-type dramas, and Band's own tiny terror films) and social satire that gives it a completely unique feel. It also has a (for a Full Moon/Charles Band movie) unusual, Gerber-esque theme running through it--that everyone wears masks and no-one is who they seem.

From the semi-protagonist Virgil Travis--there really aren't any traditional "good guys" in this film (who wears a mask to hide a most unusual deformity) to his most trusted henchman, Mr. Mascaro--(who feels that his real face is the clown make-up he wears unless he's "in disguise") to Travis's main adversaries, Mr. and Mrs. Yulin (who wear the most elaborate masks of all) to Travis' Blood Dolls, none of the main characters in this film are quite who or what they seem. (And, just to take the masks and deceptive appearances a step further, Mr. Mascaro plants evidence to convince the world that a man who is described as the "most heterosexual of all of us" was killed during a homosexual rendezvous, forcing a deception/mask upon someone else.) This running theme adds a very interesting dimension to the film.

Please don't assume that this is an "intellectual" horror film or comedy just because it's got an interesting subtext. It is not. The primary reason to watch the movie is to watch a billionaire freak so rich and crazy that he's got a goth-rock band trapped in a room that provides his life with a oh-demand soundtrack; to watch his midget major domo demand they perform properly ("Play #6! Louder! Louder!") and apply electrical shocks to them when they don't; and to watch Mr. Mascaro and the Blood Dolls execute Travis plan of revenge... unless they get outsmarted by the equally mysterious and strange Mr. & Mrs. Yulin. The bit with the masks is just the frosting on this very strange cake, like the social satire and deeper messages were added value to the monster stories Steve Gerber wrote for "Man-Thing" and "Tales of the Zombie".

Also, don't assume that the presense of Charles Band's trademark tiny terrors makes this an inferior copy of "Puppet Master" or "Dolls". You might be prone to think that way if you've seen "Doll Graveyard", but you'd be wrong. The dolls of the title play a relatively minor role in the film, their presence being little more than an excuse for Band to create and market tie-in merchandise (which he did, in the form of a Pimp Doll. I'm even prone to think the film might have been better if Band had stayed clear of his usual impulse and simply made Mr. Mascaro the lone assassin in the film and given him a range of unusual weapons. This film is more about characters than the vast majority of Band's movies, and the dolls detract more than they add.

(The girlband and their songs is another manifestation of Band's dreams of tie-in products; he had intended to create a record label and he was going to release a CD, but they fell through However, they fit seamlessly and hilariously into the film. The Blood Dolls, while amusing, do not.)

No one will ever mistake "Blood Dolls" for "Citizen Kane", but it one of Charles Band's best solo efforts to date. It's a film that you can feel comfortable about adding to the line-up of any Bad Movie Night, and it is bound to surprise and amaze those in attendance. (Oh... and anyone fanatical about political correctness is bound to turn purple with rage at the sight of the Blood Dolls, so that's another reason to get a copy of the film.)

Watch the preview for "Blood Dolls",
courtesy of Full Moon and YouTube...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bottom of the Band Barrel?

The Killer Eye (1998)
Starring: Jonathan Norman, Jacqueline Lovell, Costas Koromilas, Blake Bailey, Dave Oren Ward and Nanette Bianchi
Director: Richard Chasen (aka David DeCoteau)
Producer: Robert Talbot (aka Charles Band)
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

Dr. Grady (Norman) has discovered a way to look into the 8th Dimension using eye drops and a special inter-dimensional microscope. Unfortunately, a creature from that nightmarish realm has used his mehtod to cross into our world, possess the eyeball of a male prostitute and grow it to giant size, bursting free of his skull... and it is now roaming the building where Dr. Grady has his lab, seeking women to hypnotize and fondle with its tentacles.

"The Killer Eye" sounded like it might be a fun spoof a Lovecraft-style tale where scientists unleash horrors from distant dimensions. It is not. It is a film that fails on every level, and the only kind things I can say about is that the camera is never out of focus, the soundtrack is audible, and none of the actors are awful... but none are particularly good, either. (Blake Bailey, who plays an attic-dwelling weirdo, is the best of the bunch and the only player here who manages to deliver laugh lines in a way that actually manages to make viewers smile. Even Jacqueline Lovell, who plays Dr. Grady's slutty wife and the Killer Eye's favorite fondle target, gave a barely passable performance. This was surprising to me, because she was so great in "Head of the Family" and "Hideous!"... but I suppose this is just further proof that many actors are only as good as the material they have to work with.)

"The Killer Eye" fails as a comedy, because it's not funny. It fails as a horror movie, because nothing in it is scary. It even fails as a softcore-porn flick with live tentacle-monster action, because the sex and nudity scenes are shot in a timid, almost prudish fashion and are overly long and boring. It even fails completely as a movie, because, even with its scant running time of just over an hour, it's obvious that there's about 25-30 minutes of actual material here that's been stretched longer than the groping tentacle of a monster from the 8th Dimension.

If the comments above haven't warned you off "The Killer Eye", consider this: The director, David DeCoteau, is hiding behind the psuedonym of Richard Chasen; and producer Charles Band is hiding behind the pseudonym of Robert Talbot. So, if people like DeCoteau and Band, whose names have appeared on some real stinkers, didn't even want the Full Moon label associated with it, it should be clear that this film (hopefully!) marks the fetid bottom to which the quality-level of a Charles Band production can sink.
Watch the preview, courtesy of Full Moon and YouTube.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

'End of the World' shouldn't be seen until after the end of the world

End of the World (1977)
Starring: Kirk Scott, Sue Lyon, Christopher Lee, Liz Ross, and Dean Jagger
Director: John Hayes
Producer: Charles Band
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Take my advice: If you fully expect the world to end on 12/21/2012, then you want to wait to see this movie until 12/22/2012. You wouldn't want to waste your precious few remaining moments on this Earth with a film as awful as this.

In "End of the World", a young scientist (Scott) receives transmissions from space that warn of impending doom. He and his very gorgeous wife (Lyon) start to investigate... um... something. They eventually run into some aliens who want to return to their utopian homeworld, but who want to destroy the Earth before they do. And what does this have to do with the priest who causes coffeemakers to explode (Lee) and the nun he lives with at an isolated hacienda? Sit through all the padding and you'll find out.

The film unfolds as if someone took what was a script for a 30-minute "Outer Limits" episode and stretched it to 88 minutes with with establishing shots that go on forever, and scene after scene after scene of the main characters wandering about, driving around, or sitting around not doing much of anything. The end result is so mindnumblingly boring that if there even is a point to the film, you'll be in too deep a stupor to care.

There are three worthwhile moments in this film: The first scene of the movie, the sequence where the aliens are revealed, and the movie's eerie climax where our scientist heroes watch the world come to an end on dozens of TV monitors. However, these moments are nowhere near exciting enough to warrant sitting through the boring, badly acted crap that separates them.

Unless you've dedicated yourself to seeing every movie Christopher Lee has appeared in, or you want to see what Lolita looked like 15 years later and without a lollipop, you'll do yourself a favor by skipping "End of the World". Even if you decide you MUST see this misbegotten excuse for a movie, make sure you get it in the 50-movie collection "Nightmare Worlds" . At least that way, you'll get your money's worth via the other films the set.

Oh the other hand, maybe this is THE film to watch as the world ends. If you time it just right, when the exact moment the world ends rolls around--12:21 (AM? PM?) or 20:12 (if the genius Mayans operated on Zulu time)--you will be bored into a coma when the end comes so you won't suffer. Although... there are 24 time zones. Which ones did the genius Mayans use? And did they take Daylight Savings Time into account? How is a body to prepare when these questions remain unanswered?!

Ghosts of Mobster-run Vegas come back
in 'Dead Man's Hand'

Dead Man's Hand: Casino of the Damned (aka "The Haunted Casino") (2007)
Starring: Robin Sydney, Scott Whyte, Kristyn Green, Wes Armstrong, Lily Rains, Kavan Reece, Sid Haig, Michael Berryman, Jessica Morris, and Rico Simonini
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band and Joe Dain
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

After his mobster uncle dies in prison for five murders committed forty years ago, Matthew Dragna (Whyte) inherits his long-closed Las Vegas casino, the Mysteria. Together with four friends (Armstrong, Green, Rains, Reece, and Sydney) he starts restoring the place, hoping to reopen it while preserving its archaic look as a way to revive the spirit of Vegas' early years when the Rat Pack and mobsters ran the show. But, they soon discover that the spirit of mob-ruled Vegas is already very moch alive within the walls of the Mysteria, in the form of long-dead gangster Roy Donahue (Haig)... and he has score to settle with the Dragna family.

"Dead Man's Hand: Casino of the Damned" is a straight-forward, barebones traditional haunted house story. It unfolds quickly, with not a moment of screentime wasted. Unforunately, it's so barebones that several of the characters barely get any development and the ultimate resolution of the plot feels a little rushed and too easy.

Because of its very traditional and straight-forward nature, the film also is fairly scare-free for most of its running time. It's not rated, but I suspect it would be a PG-13 film, and even when compared to other horror films at that level it's tame. Even the teens will be unimpressed, as the first hour unfolds as a steady, but tension-free pace. There's just enough going on to keep your interest, but not much more than that. (The lack of ability for a character to "get it up" and the interaction with his bitchy girlfriend is the most interesting activity during the first part of the movie.)

As for the rest the cast and the film's effects, they're okay. As mentioned above, the actors are all well-cast. I wish the puppetry on the ghosts aside from the slot girl had been a bit more effective, and Sid Haig wasn't as impressive here as he was in "House of 1000 Corpses", but the puppets and his performance were passable.

"Dead Man's Hand: Casino of the Damned" is worth seeing primarily for Simonini and that really cool slot ghost; they earn it a full point on their own, lifting it from a low 4 rating to a medium to high 5. It's not necessarily a movie I recommend you go our of your way for, but it's got moments that make it worth checking out.

Watch the preview of "Dead Man's Hand: Casino of the Damned",
courtesy of Full Moon Entertainment and YouTube.