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.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

'The Creeps' features classic horror monsters
as you've never seen them

The Creeps (1997)
Starring: Rhonda Griffin, Bill Moynihan, Justin Laur, Kristen Norton, Phil Fondacaro, Jon Simanton, Joe Smith, Thomas Wellington and Andrea Squibbs
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band and Kirk Edward Hansen
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A mad scientist (Moynihan) builds a machine that transports Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and Frankenstein's Monster from the books and movies they usually exist it, into the real world. But interference from a librarian (Griffin) and a wanna-be private detective (Laur) who were recovering an original hand-writen draft of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein novel that the scientist stole to use in his experiment, cause the process to go awry. The four monsters are brought to life as 3-foot-tall midget versions that are not quite as imposing as their fictional counterparts. Dracula (Fondacaro) doesn't appreciate his diminished height, and he sets about getting the scientist what he needs to redo the experiment.

"The Creeps" is a fun film, with creative well-written dialogue and full of creative and crazy ideas that are well-implemented. As such, it ranks as one of my favorite Full Moon movies. However, there is an air of cheapness to this film, an air that will grow more pervasive in Band's films through the first half of the 2000s, only starting to dissipate with the release of "Doll Graveyard" and "Gingerdead Man 2".

That said, this is not a Band production where the cheapness hurts. Instead of puppets and special effects to bring to life Band's obsession with stories about tiny terrors, we're instead, surprisingly, treated to "little people" taking on the roles of Universal Pictures' Big Four Monsters--Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man.

The script is fun and fast-moving and the story is populated by quirky characters that may be little more than two-dimensional cartoons, but they are great fun and being portrayed by talented actors who seem to be having a load of fun.

In the entire movie, there's only one actor who plays his part straight and that is Phil Fondacaro as Dracula. In fact, Fondacaro plays a more convincing and creepy Dracula than many actors in serious horror movies, giving a performance that is comparable to the Draculas of Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Jack Palance. It's a performance that shows that Fondacaro is a far more talented actor than he'll probably ever get a chance to fully show, because of his small stature. (I think he could be a great Hop-Frog, though, if that story is ever properly adapted to the screen.)

The only complaint I have about the film is that it's rather illiterate in its approach to classic horror. First off, as excellent as Fondacaro's Dracula performance is, the character design doesn't resemble Dracula as he has appeared in any movies nor as he is described in Bram Stoker's novel; the only Dracula design that springs to mind is the one that appeared in a small handful of comics from Marvel in the mid-1970s and late 1980s. The film also implies that the Frankenstein Monster that the mad scientists causes to manifest is somehow tied to Mary Shelley's novel. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Shelly's monster was intelligent and articulate while the monster here is a midget version of the Universal Studios Frankenstein Monster. (And Thomas Wellington does a great impersonation of the creature as it was played by Boris Karloff.)

"The Creeps" is Charles Band close to his craziest and it's a film that will be a perfect addition to any Bad Movie Night line-up (or to any movie night spotlighting weird comedies).

Watch the preview for "The Creeps",
courtesy of Full Moon Entertainment and YouTube...

'Robot Wars' squanders its potential

Robot Wars (aka "Robot Jox 2") (1993)
Starring: Don Michael Paul, Barbara Crampton, James Staley, Lisa Rinna, Danny Kamekona and Peter Haskall
Director: Albert Band
Producer: Charles Band
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

In 2041, decades after the Great Robot War and Toxic Gas Scare, the American Southwest has ceceeded from the Union and is at a state of war with the "Centros", a state of uneasy peace with the remnants of the United States, and a trading partner of China. When the last known surviving giant robot--now being used as an armored, heavily armed passenger transport, is hijacked--it's up to rebellious robot pilot Captain Drake (Paul) and the beautiful archeologist Dr. Leda (Crampton) to save the day by finding the burial site of the rumored second suriving combat robot, Mega-1.

"Robot Wars" is one of three movies produced by B-movie mogul Charles Band that featured giant robots piloted by humans ("Robot Jox" and "Crash and Burn" being the other two). I've wondered if they were inspired by Japanese cartoons or the then popular miniature and roleplaying lines from FASA called "BattleTech" and "MechWarrior".

"Robot Wars" answered my question for me. The costume designs and even the look of Mega-1 reminded me very strongly of "MechWarrior". Heck, the film even felt a little like a BattleTech/MechWarrior game with the robots and other technology being more interesting than the human characters.

This brief movie (it's barely over an hour long) is another example of a Full Moon picture that's too short. There is all sorts of back story that was needed for the film to be as good as it had potential for being. (What was the past history of Captain Drake and General Wa-Lee (played with sinister glee by Danny Kamekona)? It was obviously extensive, but we get to learn nothing about it. How did America disintergrate? Why do the Centros seem to be speaking something other than Spanish? These are just a few of the questions that popped into my mind as I watched the movie and I realized it was going to end without any explanations. (And some of the questions could have been answered if the script had been better. There's a scene that could have been easily been used to give us the Wa-Lee/Drake backstory, but it's instead wasted on some very unfunny jokes about how women can be horndogs, too.)

Although this is a film that's clearly made for young kids (or adults who are content if all a movie offers are neat stop-motion special effects featuring giant battle-bots duking it out and shooting laser beams at each other), I still think it could have benefitted from just a little more time being spent on developing the world in which it takes place. That could have at the very least made the film more memorable and lifted it from mediocre to okay.

'Lurking Fear' is among the worst
of Full Moon's releases

Lurking Fear (1994)
Starring: Blake Bailey, Ashley Lauren, Jeffrey Combs, Jon Finch, Allison Mackie, Vincent Schiavelli, Paul Mantee and Joseph Leavengood
Director: C. Courtney Joyner
Producers: Charles Band, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A recently paroled convict (Bailey) travels to an isolated California town in search of stolen loot buried in the cemetery there. Unfortunately, a crime lord and his coldhearted gun moll (Finch and Mackie) are hot on his trail and equally hot for the money. Even worse, they arrive in the town as its remaining citizens are taking up arms against underground-dwelling horrors who have been murdering them at night.

"Lurking Fear" is loosely (very loosely) based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft that is the origin point of what we think of as ghouls these days. Lovecraft stories are difficult to translate to the screen, and as successful as producer Charles Band's earlier forays into Lovecraft Country had been (the very excellent "Castle Freak" and "From Beyond") this film is a failure on every level.

So, while the poster image above says Lovecraft, and the preview featured below say "action-packed horror movie," the movie itself does not live up to the promises of the promtional material.

The problems start with the fact the film was shot in Romania, with a Romanian neighborhood trying to pass for a small Californian town and a Romanian church--complete with 400 year old eastern European Catholic iconography--trying to pass for a small-town church in the American west.

These problems are aggravated by a sloppily written script and even sloppier directed film that ignores plot points, common sense, and even characterization in favor of keeping an evermore incoherent plot moving forward.

Completing the trifecta of crapitude that sinks this movie is the lame performances given by just about every actor appearing in the film. There are several performers who'll you recognize from dozens of other A- and B-movies (like Ashley Lauren, Jon Finch and Vincent Schiavelli) and some Full Moon regulars (Blake Bailey and Jeffrey Combs), but only Finch and Combs give performances that even hint at the caliber of talent appearing on the screen.

The end result is there is no way even the most willing-to-be-pleased viewer will be able to find himself engaged with the movie, so it never manages to build suspense. The 71-minutes of running-time seem a lot longer than they are.

I realize that the actors must have known what an awful film they were appearing in, but they could have at least have had the self-respect and professionalism to earn their paychecks. It looks like Finch and Combs were the only true professionals working on this film, as everyone else didn't even seem to be trying. (And I can't even be sure about Finch; his voice was reportedly looped by a different actor in post-production.)

Everything else about this film is so lazy and sloppy that it ends up ranking with some of the worst that Full Moon released during the 1990s. (Of course, put it next to "The Killer Eye," and it looks like a masterpiece.)

Watch the preview for "Lurking Fear,"
courtesy of Full Moon Entertainment and YouTube...

The Mandroid Duology

In the mid-1990s, while virtually all of Band's productions were being filmed at studios and locations in Romania, a pair of comic-booky features issued forth. One quite good, the other pretty bad. They revolved around a remote-controlled robot known as the Mandroid.

Mandroid (1993)
Starring: Brian Symonds, Jane Caldwell, Brian Cousins, Patrik Ersgaard, Michael Della Femina, Curt Lowens and Ion Haiduc
Director: Jack Ersgaard
Producers: Charles Band, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

As the Soviet Union collapses, Dr. Zimmer (Symonds) decides to sell his remote-controlled, industructable robot--the Mandroid--and the wonder-materials that power it to the United States of American. But, as an American CIA agent (Ersgaard) and a dashing young scientist (Cousins) arrive to close the deal, Zimmer's collegue Dr. Drago (Lowens) decides to seize the robot in order to forge a deal of his own.

"Mandroid" is basically a live action comic book. It's full of one-dimensional characters, nonsensical science, and violence of a sort you only find in cartoon and comic books. (A car slams into a wall high speed and the occupant is barely dazed, a character is shot in the chest at point blank range is he barely bleeds, and the villain is horribly burned by experimental chemicals and all that appears to happen is that he developes a horrible rash and weird facial features. Oh... and an experimental treatment doesn't heal a character but instead turns him invisible.)

It may be nonsense, but it's fun nonsense. It moves along at a fast pace, with the 71 minute running time zipping by like no time at all. You'll have to park your brain at the door, but if you like old style mad scientist movies, you'll like this one. It's the sort of thing Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, George Zucco, Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill would have been featured in.

(An interesting bit of triva: The poster for "Mandroid", from which the image at the top of this post was adapted, features a concept that doesn't appear until the sequel.)

Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight (1994)
Starring: Brian Cousins, Jennifer Nash, Michael Della Femina, Curt Lowens, Aharon Impale and David Kaufman
Director: Jack Ersgaard
Producer: Charles Band
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Two scientists (Cousins and Nash) are working on finding a cure for a friend who was turned invisible during a lab accident (Della Femina) while continuing to develope the futuristic war-robot Mandroid. But their old enemy Dr. Drago (Lowens) is still lurking in the shadows, and a corrupt police commisioner (Impale) has decided he wants the Mandroid for his own purposes.

"Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight" is a Full Moon action extravaganza where the tiny budget is definately visible on the screen. There are several car crashes, car chases with running gun-fights, and two really feiry explosions.

Unfortunately, the explosions are the only fireworks in this film. The film suffers first and foremost from a lack of focus. While the villainous Dr. Drago's perverted lunatic minions are creepy, they don't fit with the tone of the rest of the movie... nor are any of the subplots tied to Drago effectively resolved. A more appropriate villain is the corrupt police chief who decides he wants the Mandroid robot for his own purposes, but not enough time is spent developing him, because Drago and his minions. (The highlight of Drago's involvement in the film is that it leads to him a sword-fight with Zanna while she is dressed in a skimply bellydancer's outfit. And, yes, it makes about as much sense as you think it does.)

Worse, the Mandroid is a complete waste of time and space in the film. Not only is nothing interesting done with it, but it seems smaller than it did in the previous film. I don't know if the guy in the suit is smaller or if they redesigned it, but it's just not as impressive as it was before.

Not nearly enough is done with the concept of Benjamin Knight's invisibility, nor is even that particularly central to most of the story.

In fact, nothing is particularly central to the story. The film is loose collection of ideas that never really coalese into anything that matters. The end result is a forgettable, empty movie that the only thing you'll remember about is the swordfight... just because it's so out of place. (Well, that and Jennifer Nash looks great in that red bellydancer outfit.)

'Dark Angel' makes interesting use of religious themes

Dark Angel: The Ascent (1994)
Starring: Angela Featherstone, Daniel Markel, Mike Genovese, Michael C. Mahon, Richard Barnes, Nicholas Worth and Kehli O'Byrne
Director: Linda Hassani
Producers: Charles Band, Debra Dion, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A rebellious teenaged demon (Featherstone) travels from Hell to Earth to see the Sun and the sky, but once here she takes up her God-given responsibilities of punishing sinners. Along the way, she also manages to find true love in the form of a young, pure-hearted doctor (Markel).

"Dark Angel: The Ascent" is an engaging horror/fantasy film from the Golden Age of Charles Band's film career that features a stereotypical rebellious teenager ("my daddy doesn't understand me, my teachers don't appreciate me") but gives her a very unusual background and circumstance: The teenager here is a demon.

The concept is well-implimented in that it offers a fully realized version of Hell based on actual mythology, with a heavy slant to the idea that it is a place populated by fallen angels who still serve and worship God. Stylish photography, well-done make-up, and witty dialogue further augment the film.

Unfortunately, star Angela Featherstone isn't quite up to the task of playing our heroine. She delivers virtually every line in the same flat monotone, and, while she is very pretty, she also seems to just have one facial expression whether she is sad, angry or happy.

Featherstone's weak performance drags the whole movie down, particularly when it is contrasted with the more lively performances of character actors like Nicholas Worth who plays the (literal) father from Hell and Mike Genovese and Michael Mahon who play homicide detectives trying to solve the rash of brutal murders the dark angel leaves in her wake as she punishes the wicked.

Despite a flawed performance from its star, "Dark Angel: The Ascent" is worth a look for anyone who has fond memories of classic Full Moon movies, or who enjoys films that effectively utilize Christian mythology in creative ways.

Band is at his best in 'Hideous!'

Hideous! (1997)
Starring: Michael Citriniti, Mel Johnson Jr., Jacqueline Lovell, Gerard O'Donnell, Tracie May and Rhonda Griffin
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band, Kirk Hansen and Vlad Paunescu
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A pair of rival collectors of "medical oddities" (Citriniti and Johnson) are trapped inside a sealed house with their staff with a bizarre mutant who has re-animated a collection of deformed fetuses and turned them into tiny killing machines.

"Hideous!" is a another very strange horror comedy from Full Moon that's full of random weirdness--with the sewer-born mutant giving life and intellect to pickled fetuses actually being less strange than the bizarre character portrayed by Jacqueline Lovell. (And if you're going to cast a character who commits a robbery while topless and wearing a gorilla mask, giving the part to a softcore porn star is a very good choice. The choice is even better if that softcore porn star happens to be a fine actress with excellent comic timing.)

Benjamin Carr wrote over 20 films for Full Moon, and this is not only one of the strangest but also one of the most effectively structured. He recognized how weird the film and its characters are, so he inserted a surrogate for the viewer, a stereotypical hardboiled detective (played with great flair by Gerard O'Donnell) who voices what's going through the viewers mind as the film unfolds, such as 'Doesn't anyone think this is strange?". Although he has plenty of funny lines, O'Donnell's character is the closest thing to a straight man in this crazy movie. Everyone else is in comic and over-acting overdrive, chewing on the scenery and playing as if to the back row of a very large theater. But, in this movie, it works and it works brilliantly. Just when you think the film has reached it's weirdness quotient, it gets stranger.

Although Charles Band has helmed some so-so movies in recent years, both as a director and a producer--okay, so most of his recent films have sucked hard--but "Hideous!" dates from a time when you could count on him to deliver the goods when it came to insane horror comedies.

This is a movie that will be a big hit as part of any Bad Movie Night you care to host. (Just remember that Jacqueline Lovell appears topless--except for a gorilla mask--for an extended scene if you're going to have young kids present and/or you're sensitive to nudity.)

"Hideous!" is available on DVD for around $10. That's the price to see a movie in the theater these days, but this film is much funnier than most so-called comedies that are being released now.