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 (aka "Gingerdead Man Man 2: Bakery of Blood") (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.