Friday, December 31, 2010

'Killjoy 3': Best Band production in a decade

Killjoy 3 (2010)
Starring: Trent Haaga, Spiral Jackson, Jessica Whitaker, Darrow Igus, Victoria De Mare, Al Burke, Olivia Dawn York, and Michael Rupnow
Director: John Lechago
Producers: Charles Band, Henry Luk, and Tai Chan Ngo
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Four college students (Jackson, Rupnow, Whitaker, and York) become the latest victims of the demonic clown Killjoy (Haaga) when they inadvertently place themselves in his clutches. Killjoy, together with his newly created clown posse that includes Punchy (Burke) and Batty Boop (De Mare), is seeking revenge on their professor (Igus), who is in turn seeking to control Killjoy for his own mysterious reasons.

Finally, a film that is a solid reversal of the ten-year downward-trend that's been evident in the vast majority of Charles Band production. Not only is this a really fun movie, but it's what the original "Killjoy" film SHOULD have been!

As 2010 has wore on, I have been growing increasingly depressed in regards to the future outlook of my favorite source of movie madness--the Charles Band Film Factory. After two less-than-impressive sequels to films from his glory days--Demonic Toys 2 and Puppet Master: Axis of Evil--and a dearth of decent finds as I turned to Band's more obscure efforts in collaboration with producer JR Bookwalter, I was getting ready to call this blog "good enough" and turn it into an archive.

But then the good people at Full Moon Features sent me a little care package, which included "Killjoy 3", their final release of 2010... and my hope for more Full Moon viewing in the future has been restored!

"Killjoy 3" is not only the movie that the original "Killjoy" should have been--a weird and colorful romp of evil clown-driven supernatural murder and mayhem--but it also captures the darkly humorous mood of classic Full Moon films like "Demonic Toys", and "The Creeps". It's a fast-moving, sharply focused story that doesn't waste a second of screen time and which keeps accelerating and growing more intense and insane until it reaches its gory climax. And writer/director John Lechago even manages to throw in some bits of characterization for both the demons and the victims without slowing the film, making this one of the best scripts for a Full Moon feature in a while. Heck, it even features a denouement that is dramatically appropriate and not just a half-assed sequel set-up.

A large portion of the credit for this film's success rests with Trent Haaga and Victoria De Mare, half of the demonic clown act that kills its way through the the college kids who get caught between Killjoy and the professor that is the object of his wrath. Although Haaga didn't originate the role of Killjoy, he makes a vastly superior killer clown to Angel Vargas from the first film. Vargas was one of the best things about "Killjoy", but he his performance was unfunny and more annoying than scary... he only looked as good as he did, because everything else was completely awful. Haaga on the other is both hilarious and scary, often both at the same time. He has some nice lines and he delivers them with great gusto. The same is true of De Mare, who plays a succubus in clown make-up; writer/director Lechago praises her as "fearless" in the behind-the-scenes material included on the DVD, and she would have to be as her costume consists of hooker boots, a feather boa, and full-body make-up. But in addition to being courageous, she is also able to deliver a performance as crazy and scary as the one given by Haaga. De Mare's best moments as Boop comes during a sequence scene where she is trying to seduce straight-arrow football quarterback Michael Rupnow and him him betray his fidelity to his good-girl girlfriend Jessica Whitacker, while Whitacker is trying to trick Killjoy by pretending to seduce him. De Mare, like Haaga, is both scary and funny during these scenes.

Other nice performances come from Spiral Jackson (as shy football player Zilla) and Al Burke as Punchy the Clown, especially during the scene where Zilla tries to convince Punchy that it's time for him to throw of the yoke of servitude to Killjoy and fight for the emancipation of demonic clowns everywhere.

Finally, Darrow Igus turns in another excellent performance for Full Moon as the enigmatic Professor. The plot twist and tie-back to the first "Killjoy" film wouldn't have been nearly as effective is a lesser actor had been cast in that part

However, as fun and enjoyable as this film is, it's not perfect.

Although demonic realm of Killjoy is far better realized in this film, it still feels cramped due to the film's small sets and budget. Also budget is the one truly weak spot in the film--the demonic clown known as Freakshow (and played by producer Tai Chan Ngo). The character is supposed to be a conjoined twin, but the person supposedly growing out of his side is a virtually unaltered, off-the-shelf baby doll. The film would have been much stronger if this character had been cut, since it add anything significant to the story and there wasn't money to do it right.

On the flip-side of this, I felt like the film would have benefited from a little more set-up of the main characters. While Lechago took more time to do this than in any other Full Moon film in recent memory, there were still some elements that could have done with a little more development. For example, one of the girls (played by Olivia Dawn York) is presented as the "slutty one" by inference in some of Killjoy's comments, yet there is no actual evidence of this in the film. Everything surrounding this character would have been so much stronger if it had been her caught with a guy in the closet during the film's opening scenes, even more-so if she was being "eaten" by the guy. Everything surrounding her would make more sense and be more dramatically appropriate.

Despite these flaws, however, this is a film I feel great about recommending to all fans of classic Full Moon efforts. This final film of 2010 gives me hope for Charles Band and his co-horts for 2011 and beyond.

Click here to check out the "Saturday Scream Queen" profile for Victoria De Mare at the Terror Titans blog.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

'Kraa!' is a patchwork picture with future star

Kraa! The Sea Monster (1998)
Starring: R.L. McMurry, Teal Marchande, J.W. Perra, Coltin Scott, Alison Lohman, and Candida Tolentino
Directors: Michael Deak, Aaron Osbourne and Dave Parker
Producers: Charles Band and Kirk Edward Hansen
Rating: Two of Three Stars

Kraa, an inter-stellar planet-wrecker-for-hire, is set loose upon Earth, and the local agents of the Planet Patrol (Lohman, Scott, and Tolentino) are sidelined in a coordinated strike by the evil Lord Doom. A renegade biker/scientist (McMurray) and the owner of a small diner (Marchande) emerge as the world's only hope for salvation when they team up with a Planet Patrol scout who managed to make it to Earth (Perra).

"Kraa! The Sea Monster" is one of a handful of films made by Band during the late 1990s when he was trying to make a mark (and a buck) in kids' entertainment. This is the first of those efforts I've seen, but if it's any indication of the quality of the rest of them, it's easy to see why that initiative failed.

This movie has the disjointed, patchwork feel of a Godfrey Ho movie. There are three distinct parts of the movie--the teenaged cops of Planet Patrol who start out seeming like they are the film's heroes but who quickly get stranded on their space station and are reduced to a role mostly as observers, and their nemesis, Lord Doom; the Earthlings who become involved with the alien effort to save Earth from Kraa; and the rampage of Kraa, in the form of a guy in a costume stomping around on a bunch of miniatures. While all three parts of the film reference each other, there is virtually no overlap between them, with the teens of Planet Patrol never interacting with the Earthlings helping their colleague, the Earthlings never interacting directly with Kraa or his rampage, and Kraa being referenced by everyone but no character is ever tricked into any shots featuring him, or visa-versa. It causes the film to feel very disjointed, and because the parts are all so disconnected from each other, there are no threads for the viewer to grab onto and be pulled into the story.

And that's a shame, because there are actually some good concepts here.

First, there are the Planet Patrol kids. They had the potential to be a Tomorrow People or Power Ranger sort of outfit, but they are kept from any real involvement in the main plot except at the very end when they apprehend Lord Doom... and even then they are mostly figures of ridicule as they end up chasing Doom's midget sidekick around some pillars. I can't help but wonder why Band & Company would include kid heroes and then not let them be the actual heroes of the film. They are completely wasted here. (Well, except for those out there who would want to use this film for a Bad Movie Night and a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" sort of riff-fest. There is a amusing/disturbing scene where the leader of the Planet Patrol detachment (Coltin Scott) seems to be undressing and then nailing rookie Planet Patrol Officer Alison Lohman (in her first film role, by the way) with his eyes. I'm sure the intent was for the character to be appraising her in a detached, superior officer kind of way, but that's not at all how the scene looks when one views it... it's a jail-bait-rape moment worthy of the Roman Polanski Memorial Award. More time should also have been spent on the why and how such young kids are in such dangerous and important jobs.

Second, there's the character of Bobby, a long-haired, bearded biker who is a brilliant, well-educated Renaissance man who dropped out of the scientific community for reasons that are never explained (or even touched upon, except by implication). He makes references to both having attended medical school and having worked on NASA's Voyager program, and he is able to convince scientists at a nuclear facility that he is one of them. Most of all, he is able to grasp the concepts of an alien weapon that needs to be assembled to fight Kraa. This is an interesting character that deserved a better vehicle, not to mention more screen time. Which he could have had, if it hadn't been for those Planet Patrol kids taking up space in the movie. (And the reverse is true as far as the Planet Patrol goes; if Bobby hadn't been in the movie, more time could have been spent developing them and their backstory. Two good ideas crushed the life out of each other through the incompetent execution of this movie.)

Finally, there is the title creature, Kraa. Commentary from Lord Doom and the Planet Patrol kids set describe him as a galactic mercenary whose specialty is laying waste to planets. It's a great set-up, and it's one that I would love to see in a movie--a Godzilla/Gamera-like monster for hire who has left a trail of devastation in his wake and now some under-gunned heroes have to find a way to stop him. The idea of KraaKraa costume. Would it really have been that much more expensive to give the creature eyes that blinked? Or at least closed when he was supposed to be unconscious after the Planet Patrol kids remotely crashed a spaceship into him? A few more dollars spent on Kraa would have helped make him more closely resemble the fearsome, inter-planetary marauder he was supposed to be. It might even have helped give him a personality, something which was completely lacking.

The film would also have benefited greatly from simple competence in directing, especially where Kraa and his rampages through miniature sets are concerned. The miniature work is well-done, and the filming of Kraa is also well-executed, but a complete lack of "reaction shots" from people supposedly fleeing and/or about to be stomped on means that there is never any sense of realism surrounding Kraa. Even the best effects shot in the film--featuring a panicked tanker truck driver crashing into a building and causing it to explode before Kraa's scaly feet--falls flat, because we are left to assume that the truck was crashed by a driver panicked by the sight of a giant monster by the side of the road. Would he really have cost that much more to even just put a cap and a fake mustache on Alison Lohman and have her sit in a truck cab and twist the wheel to and fro and scream, and then cut that scene into the miniature crash and explosion? It would have made a huge difference in the final product.

Of course, the disjointed and disconnected nature of the film is brought about by the fact that three different directors worked on the three pieces of the film I've described. Michael Deak did the monster/miniature scenes, Aaron Osbourne the material with Bobby the Genius Biker dodging government agents while trying to help an alien space cop create the means to destroy Kraa, and Dave Parker did the Planet Patrol and Lord Doom scenes. I would like to think that if any one of those directors had been involved in the entire movie, they would have realized that some pick-up shots were desperately needed here and there--and that said pick-up shots were actually very important to the overall quality of the film. But, since it seems none of them had such an overview of the project, I can only blame the producers for creating this miserable squandering of good ideas.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Band back on the big screen April 20, 2011!

Charles Band and Full Moon features has announced the writer/producer/director's first theatrical release in decades, with the release of "Evil Bong 3-D: The Wrath of Bong."

In a press release published Tuesday, December 7 (giving perhaps another reason for why it's a day that will live in infamy), Band says: "'Evil Bong 3-D: The Wrath of Bong' will feature the record amount of naked alien beauties, boobies, and reefer hits to ever be presented in 3-D”.

No stranger to the 3-D format--having produced 3-D features "Metal Storm" and "Parasite" in the 1980s and "The Creeps" in the 1990s--Band also stated, "Audiences go to 3-D movies for one reason; to have things thrown at them, to be thrilled, to duck and to reach out to touch things, and we’re not going to let them down.”

In “Evil Bong 3-D: The Wrath of Bong” an evil alien bong crashes on Earth and sets out to conquer our planet. The stoner heroes from the first "Evil Bong" pictures are transported to the alien bong home world and held captive by nude alien beauties. Their only hope to escape and save Earth is to ally with EBee, the original Evil Bong.

Most cast members are returning from the first two "Evil Bong" films, including Sonny Carl Davis as Delivery Guy, Mitch Eakins as Bachman, John Patrick Jordan as Larnell, Brian Lloyd as Brett, Robin Sydney as Luann, and Jacob Witkin as Cyril. The part of Alistair has yet to be cast, so it could be that three different actors will play the character in as many movies. (And if this is the case, and they don't make a joke about it, I'll be disappointed.)

"Evil Bong 3-D: The Wrath of the Bong" will be released in theaters on, appropriately enough, National Pot Day, April 20, 2011. According to Full Moon Features, audience members attending screenings will not only receive the classic 3-D glasses, but it also takes advantage of "Smell-O-Rama," which Band describes as Full Moon Feature's take on the "long lost technology of scratch-and-sniff." At certain points in the film, the audience will scratch the card and produce smells to go along with the visuals on the screen.

Band hopes to audience participation along the lines of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" as the movie unfolds.

Current plans call for "The Wrath of Bong" to open in 10-15 cities, with more screens to be added later. The film will also have advanced screenings in select cities, with an April 9th date for a preview screening already set for Chicago. Charles Band intends to be present at select screenings, leading the film with a live performance that he described as a mini-version of his "Full Moon Road Show."

Click here to read my reviews of the first two Evil Bong movies, and check back for more information as it becomes available.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

'Groom Lake' should probably remain secret

Groom Lake (aka "The Visitor) (2002)
Starring: Amy Acker, Dan Gauthier, William Shatner, and Tom Towels
Director: William Shatner
Producers: Charles Band, JR Bookwalter, William Shatner, and Chuck Williams
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A dying woman (Acker) and her boy friend (Gauthier) travel to Groom Lake, Nevada where she hopes to see a UFO. They become embroiled in an effort by an Air Force officer (Shatner) to return an alien visitor to his home world before the government shuts down his top secret base.

"Groom Lake" has all the makings of classically "bad" sci-fi movies. It's got the US military up to secret things in the desert, it's got creepy townies hunting for aliens, it's got an attractive young couple in the middle of it all to serve as a combination of heroes and victims. It's even got an honest-to-God space alien with an interesting back story.

Unfortunately, all these elements aren't put to their best possible use.

Ironically, part of what does this film in is what I so often fault Full Moon productions for lacking: Character development. Shatner, who conceived the story as well as directed and co-produced the film, takes time to give us background on all the major characters, as well as providing scenes that defines key relationships between them. Unfortunately, he does it in such a haphazard and disjointed fashion that it lends an air of confusion to the entire film.

The worst of this is manifested in the development Kate and Andy, the young couple at the heart of the story. When they first appear in the film, we learn they are on a road trip to work through some issues in their relationship. After cutting away to deal with other business, we come back to Kate and Andy to discover that the "issue" is the fact that Kate's dying and wants to experience proof of life on other planets. We also learn that Andy is a bit of a jerk. After dealing with stuff at the secret military base, we return to Kate and Andy to find that Andy isn't just a jerk but also an idiot as he rolls their jeep in the desert, just to show off. But we also discover that he loves Kate deeply and visa-versa.

And so it goes, back and forth, with the film unveiling character backgrounds and relationships in bits and pieces. This works well with Shatner's enigmatic General Gossner and connection with the alien he is trying to help, but it is frustrating and annoying when it comes to Kate and Andy, because there is no need to be mysterious or vague as far as they're concerned. In fact, the opposite would have been more effective, as they are both pretty straight-forward characters. They are so straight-forward that a twist I was anticipating never materialized... there's nothing about them other than what is right on the surface.

A big problem comes from the film's budget. It was made for roughly $750,000, but that clearly wasn't enough to create a convincing military base; the special effects shots of strange lights in the sky and an alien ship and spirit coming and going; cars crashing in the desert; and the explosive finale of a town being shot up with laser beams. Clumsy attempts are made to hide the budget issues in the editing room and with creative camera angles on the set, but that doesn't change the fact that the hi-tech secret military installation is being run from a command center featuring a bank of iMacs, nor the low-grade digital effects. More often than not, I am willing to overlook the various fake-looking laser beams and fireballs in Full Moon pictures because they've been a staple for so long that I have come to consider them a feature not a flaw, but most Full Moon pictures have an atmosphere that is slightly askew, something of a goofiness not matter how "serious" the film might be. There is very little of that goofiness here, as almost every second of this movie comes across as deeply earnest and serious in its intent, so it needed convincing effects to match which it doesn't have. (I don't fault the film for its earnestness--the message running through the lives of the main characters that love lasts forever is a nice one--but it isn't being served by the overall package.)

Finally, as if the haphazard manner in which some of the story elements are introduced wasn't bad enough, Shatner throws in a scene which drags the rest of the film down. After being stranded in the desert, Kate is sexually assaulted by some local weirdos, possibly even raped. It's a repulsive moment that's out of step with the rest of the movie, and the mechanism is serves in the plot could have been handled in a far better way: Kate didn't have to get assaulted and/or raped by weird desert-dwelling UFO fanatics by to be taken captive by the military.

For all that is wrong with this film, it does have some good points.

The small town filled with UFO fanatics is interesting in that it's even weirder than one might expect. I'm usually a little put out by the "everyone in a small town is a dangerous nut and/or hates outsiders" template that Hollywood is so fond of, but it's amusing here, because while the town is full of dangerous nuts, they don't hate outsiders... only outsiders who don't believe in UFOs the way they believe in UFOs. I also thought that Shatner's character and his relationship with the alien was well done and lent the film an aspect that it needed.

On the acting front, everyone does a decent job and gives performances that are a notch above the Full Moon standard, especially for the 2000s decade. Of particular note Shatner, who is very Captain Kirkish but effective in what is probably the last serious part he'll play; and Tom Towels, who is great fun as a psychopathic tow truck driver who is obsessed with proving the Truth is Out There. You just know that it's going to end badly when Andy decides to team up with him in order to rescue Kate after she's imprisoned at the secret base.

"Groom Lake" is a flawed film, but it still has enough going for it to make it worth watching if you're a big William Shatner fan--he's not in the film a whole lot but he is in the good bits--or if you're a lover of the "weirdness in the desert"- or "aliens are among us, but the government keeps them hidden"-type movies.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fondacaro is the best thing in 'Sideshow'

Sideshow (2000)
Starring: Phil Fondacaro, Jamie Martz, Michael Amos, Jessica Keenan, Scott Clark, Jeana Blackman, and Brinke Stevens
Director: Fred Olen Ray
Producers: Charles Band and Gary Schmoeller
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When a group of teenagers insult the evil master of a travel sideshow (Fondacaro), he turns the force of his magical carnival upon them.

It's hard to go wrong with a creepy carnival/cursed freak show movie. All it requires are a cast of unpleasant "heroes" to serve as victims, neat costumes for sufficient gross circus freaks, and a charismatic and scary ring master to draw the elements together and deliver thrills and chills to a willing audience.

And Full Moon and Fred Olen Ray almost pull it off, producing a better movie than I would have expected based on the obscurity of "Sideshow" and the bringing together of the rapidly declining production capacities of Charles Band and a director whose output, up to that point, amounted to little more than a steaming pile of crap. In fact, this film marked a turning point for Ray, as his output seems to be slightly better in the 2000s than it was in the 1990s. OF course, it was also the final angle in a turning point for Band, as he was launched into a downward trajectory as fas as quality goes that continues to this day.

But with "Sideshow", director Olen and producer Band deliver most of what Full Moon fans have come to expect, as well as dread.

The cast of heroes/victims of the evil sideshow are an assortment of teenaged stereotypes, although only two of them are exactly what you'd expect. There's the over-sexed bully, who in less than ten minutes into the film is established as a misogynistic asshole who likes to pick on anyone and everything that isn't exactly like him, and there's the somewhat frumpy girl with the self-esteem problem that the popular and beautiful girl keeps around to make herself look more beautiful. The remaining three teens are just as one-dimensional, but they are slightly different spins on the characters we expect to find in this sort of film, so they bring a small degree of freshness to the proceedings. The two likely heroes--a pair of brothers who seem to be a little smarter than the other characters--turn out to be too flawed to fill those roles; one is too cowardly and the other turns out to be a spiritual weakling that's as easy prey for the carnival master as his friends. And the gorgeous popular girl, whom we expect to be slutty, is instead so in love with herself that she won't allow any dirty boys to lay a hand on her and taint her perfection. These are nice twists, and I think these characters could have been even more interesting, even if the script remained as relatively thin as it is, if they had been brought more fully to life by actors with talent beyond merely looking good and who perhaps were closer in age to the characters they're supposed to be playing. As with so many other Full Moon productions, we have actors in their mid to late twenties trying to pass for high school students and failing.

One thing that is done absolutely correctly here is that the film gets underway immediately and never breaks the forward momentum until the final frame. While I might have liked a little more development of some of the characters, I can also appreciate the fact that the film stayed focused and that no attempt was made to make it anything but a fast-moving B-picture about carnival freaks and obnoxious kids who get "what's they deserve."

On the unquestionable plus-side is the fact that the film's story gets underway immediately and there is no pause in forward momentum until the final frame.

We also have Phil Fondacaro turning in yet another great performance. He's not quite as good as he was in "The Creeps", but he pretty much owns this picture as he's the actor who brings any real personality to his role. If only the rest of the cast was as good as he is, this film might have been as entertaining as "Blood Dolls" or "Hideous!" (It might not be entirely fair to compare this film to those others, as they featured seasoned actors while everyone in a major role except Fondacaro has this movie as the first entry on their IMDB resumes. But the point still stands as a sound one... the off-kilter characters in this film required actors of more talent to do them proper justice.)

It also would have been nice if there had been just a little more money in the budget for bigger and more elaborate sets. However, Ray did make sure that every dollar he had at his disposal showed up on the screen. The creature effects and the sideshow freaks are all extremely well done for a film at this level. Some are outright gross, and I add this film to the list of those I regret watching while having dinner.

Fans of movies featuring freaks, or of the "classic Full Moon flavor" will find "Sideshow" a pleasant way to pass 70 minutes. Yes, it's lacking in some areas, but it's still lots of fun.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

'Retro Puppet Master' fouled by sequel dreams

Retro Puppet Master (1999)
Starring: Greg Sestero, Brigitta Dau, Stephen Blackehart, Jack Donner and Guy Rolfe
Director: David DeCoteau (as Joesph Tennent)
Producers: Charles Band, Kirk Edward Hansen, and Vlad Paunescu
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

It's 1892 and Andre Toulon (Sestero), the young owner and operator of an avant-garde puppet theater in Paris becomes smitten with Ilsa (Dau), the daughter of the Swiss ambassador, when she attends one of his shows. But before romance can bloom, Toulon and Ilsa become the targets of an ancient cult of demon worshippers attempted to retreive the secret of animating dead matter with the spririt of the living that was stolen from them by an Egyptian mystic (Donner). Even as the minions of the cultists destroy everything Toulon holds dear, they place him on the path to his destiny as the beloved and feared Puppet Master.

"Retro Puppet Master" is the seventh entry in Full Moon's most successful franchise, the Puppet Master series. It's actually a decent movie that offers a level of fright that I haven't seen in the series since the original "Puppet Master" film, as well as featuring a decent script and a talented cast of actors (including Guy Rolfe, in his final role). The gore is low, but the tension and excitement is high, as we witness the creation of Andre Toulon's first set of magical puppets and they go on a rampage in defense of their master and his lady love.

Although the heart of the movie is strong, it still has some fatal flaws.

First, we have the usual Full Moon sloppiness as far as continuity goes. The seventh Puppet Master is a prequel that gives fills in more of Andre Toulon's backstory, but its pieces don't quite fit with what we learned in "Puppet Master", "Puppet Master II" or "Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge". (Of course, ignoring "Puppet Master II" counts in this film's favor, as it doesn't fit with any other film in the series, presenting Toulon and Ilsa both as evil psychos.) I've been been a bit bemused by Charles Band's apparent purposeful disregard for continuity in the movies he produces... it's one thing for Universal or Hammer to not give a rat's ass for continuity in the 1940s and 1950s when movies weren't readily available at the corner drugstore or from, but why Band and Company--whose films have been direct-to-video/DVD for most of his career--can't get with the times where it's easy to watch an entire film series back-to-back is beyond me.

Second, "Retro Puppet Master" offers an incomplete story. It ends without explaining a mystery that was set up in the film's framing sequence--how was Toulon's first set of puppets destroyed?--and it ends on the cusp of what sounds like a far more exciting adventure than the one we have just watched, one that will see Toulon and Ilsa in a showdown with the demon cultists. When I see a movie, I expect it to come to a satisfying close, even if the filmmakers are already planning a sequel. This film comes to a close, but it's far from satisfying. (And, to make matters worse, it's over a decade later now and we still haven't gotten a continuation of the tale in this film.)

If you're a fan of the "Puppet Master" series--particularly as it manifested in "Puppet Master III" and "Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys"--I think you'll enjoy this film, despite its flaws. I also think you'll find it a nice addition to a selection of films to screen during a Halloween party.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

'Killjoy' is an aptly named movie; it's not any fun

With another sequel promised (threatened?) before the end of the year, there seems to be no better time than now to review the original Charles Band-produced Killer Clown movie.

Killjoy (2000)
Starring: Vera Yell, Lee Marks, Angel Vargas, William L. Johnson, Dee Dee Austin, and Jamal Grimes
Director: Craig Ross
Producers: Mel Johnson Jr and Charles Band
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Hapless nerd Michael (Grimes) falls in love with Jada (Yell), a local gang-banger's girl friend, and summons a demon to help him get her. However, when the gang leader (Johnson) accidentially kills him, the demon takes the form of Killjoy (Vargas), an ice cream truck-driving clown, and sets about killing everyone that Michael felt crossed him, including the girl he loved.

"Killjoy" was Charles Band's first entry into the "killer clown" genre, as well as another entry in the string of "horror blaxploitation" films that Band created in the late 1990s/early 2000s. And it is a weak example of both, with Killjoy's antics being nowhere near clownish/circus-y enough, and it being far below 1999's "Ragdoll", and even a slight step down from "The Horrible Doctor Bones," which was released the same year as this film. On the bright side, though, we only have to sit through one pointless second-rate pop tune, unlike the excesses in the two previously mentioned films. Band must have either given up the dreams of a music side-business at this point, or someone related to the production got a clue that inserting lame music videos into the films wasn't helping anything.

The biggest problem with "Killjoy" is it was made with only a fraction of the budget needed to do this film right, a mere $150,000. The concept of a demonic clown recreating a mystical sideshow/fun house in an urban environment has the potential to be very creepy and visually very cool, but that potential is wasted here, as it only manifests itself with a few badly done signs and a couple of garishly lit, cramped sets that look more like generic alleys than part of a demonic fun house with an inner-city theme. The lack of budget also meant a minimizing of make-up and special effects needed to make the trio of gory kills committed by Killjoy as powerful as they could be. The filmmakers clumsily try to make up for the lack of effects budget with creative camera angels, but there was no Mario Bava or Alfred Hitchcock within miles of this production. I think there was even an occasion where the editing made the cover attempts look even clumsier, such as when Killjoy runs into one of the characters with his ice cream truck.

Second, the script is badly written and relies almost entire on the characters being dumber than snot while uttering some of the worst lines of dialogue I've come across in a Full Moon picture. I've no doubt that most inner-city gang-bangers are idiots--if they weren't, they'd be able to hold down jobs and make honest livings--but you've got to be a special kind of idiot to not noticed a revolver is loaded... and downright retarded to get into the truck of a freak dressed like a clown just because he promises you free drugs. There are also a few continuity issues, but I'm not sure whether those arise from a sloppy script, sloppy editing, or missing scenes--such as the sense of disconnect between Jada getting a panicked phone call from her friend following one of Killjoy's murders and Jada arriving at her friend's apartment. And then there's the magical, mystical appearing/disappearing homeless man. What is he supposed to be, other than a vehicle for exposition that they writer was either too lazy or too artless to think of a scene that could have provided it while perhaps even giving some depth to the film's characters and the supposed neighborhood they live in.

And finally, there are the actors. I don't think I've ever expected great performances from the stars of Charles Band films--even if sometimes they do deliver just that--but I do prefer to get something a cut above what we have here.

Admittedly, the featured actors don't have much to work with in this film, but most of them show so little life and talent that they manage to drag the material down even further than it already is. Dee Dee Austin (the heroine's best friend) and Lee Marks (the heroine's new boy friend) are particularly bad. Austin has limited screen time, which is a blessing, but Marks' bump-on-sidewalk performance is like a dead spot in every scene he's in.

The only two actors who are even close to decent in this film are Vera Yell and Angel Vargas. Yell is passable in most scenes--which is a good thing, since she is the most prominently featured actor in the film--but she does very well during the film's climactic fights in Killjoy's "fun house." And Vargas is just a lot of fun as the psycho killer clown... although I think he might come off as good as he does because he is surrounded by so much drabness.

I am giving "Killjoy" what is perhaps a generous Three Star-rating, because the only time I felt the urge to reach for the remote control was during the shoe-horned song/music video/ad near the end. Although far from good, the film did remain mildly entertaining for its 80-minute or so running time.

This film proved to be a tipping point for me. I realized that I was not so much looking forward to viewing it, as dreading it. More and more, I'm coming to feel like there is very little that Charles Band has touched post-1999 that's worth going out of your way for (or even watching at all).

Does anyone out there have a recommendation of a Full Moon or Charles Band-produced film from the past ten years that is good and that I haven't reviewed yet? I've had a long streak of bad movies here. Can someone point me to a good one? Please?

Monday, September 13, 2010

'Horrific' is an apt description of this film

Horrific (2005)
Starring: Patric Flood and Debra Mayer ("Crypt of the Undead" segment); Jonathan Norman and Jacqueline Lovell, and Costas Koromilas ("Terror of Vision" segment); and Marissa Tait, Tyler Anderson, Alicia Lagano, and Jason Faunt ("Masters of Death" segment)
Director: David DeCotaeu
Producer: Charles Band
Rating: One of Ten Stars

If you're Charles Band, and you want to make a quick buck off the more obscure, less-successful direct-to-video horror films, picking three, recutting each down to half an hour, and using them to make a "new" anthology film isn't such a bad idea. It gets you that quick buck, and you might even stir up interest in other films you own.

But not if that sensible and good idea is put into practice as it was with "Horrific."

To begin with, the movies recycled to make this picture were mostly not very good to begin with. They were "Prison of the Dead" (which I've not yet seen), "The Killer Eye," and "Totem". Secondly, while it might have been possible to actually improve on both "The Killer Eye" and "Totem with judicious editing that is not what happened here.

Horrific opens with "Crypt of the Undead" (the reshaped "Prison of the Dead") where a group of unpleasant idle rich kids are possessed by the spirits of witches executed during the 1600s and then slaughtered by resurrected executioners. Maybe it's because I haven't seen the full movie, but it looked interesting enough that I've put it on my list, because I would like to see some of the missing plot elements are that are incoherently referred to as the film unfolds. While a bit of expository dialogue gives us the back story of all the various characters in the opening scenes, there is more to their relationships, as evidenced by nonsensical exchanges between characters later on. These exchanges are rendered nonsensical because of the scenes that set them up are missing. Given the incompetent way the other two films used to make this movie were chopped up, I think "Prison of Dead" probably isn't as bad as it seems based on "Crypt of the Undead".

Which brings me to "Terror Vision", the second segment, which is a butchered version of "The Killer Eye". Given that this tale of giant horny eyeball from the 8th Dimension is one of the worst movies to ever issue forth from Full Moon, I figured they couldn't do anything but improve on it. I was wrong. The way they cut the film, they managed to make it every bit as boring as the original while making it incoherent to boot, with key expository scenes being hacked out. I thought that "The Killer Eye" could be improved if it was shorter, but I was apparently wrong. There is probably no way to get anything decent from this pile of garbage.

Closing out this anthology is "Masters of Death", a film about six beautiful young people who are drawn to a remote cabin by supernatural forces and then are tormented by monsters and forced to kill each other. In its original form, it's a far better movie than "The Killer Eye", but here it seems just as incoherent and just as lame. In fact, it's more incoherent, because we don't know how our six killers/victims find out they are the subjects of some bizarre supernatural force, nor why one of their dead bodies is strangely chained to a table rather than just covered with a blanket as would be the decent thing. Instead of reducing the presence of the lame puppet creatures that serve absolutely no point in the story, the editor instead hacked out important expository scenes.

"Horrific" is a failure on every level, with the possible exception of the fact that all three films used to create were originally directed by David DeCoteau (under the names Victoria Sloan, Richard Chasen, and Martin Tate), so all segments have a similar look to them. It's a cheap, garish look (nothing says "cheap" like actors delivering lines about how their names have been mysterious carven into stone while looking at a pair of wooden boards where the screws that joined them together are obvious), but it's a look nonetheless. And for that I'm giving this sad cash grab One Star... and a very small one at that.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

'HorrorVision' is not worth looking at

HorrorVision (2001)
Starring: Jake Leonard, James Black, Maggie Rose Fleck, Brinke Stevens, and Chuck Williams
Director: Danny Draven
Producers: J.R. Bookwalter and Charles Band
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

After his girl friend (Fleck) and business partner (Stevens) mysteriously vanish after viewing the HorrorVision website, Dez (Leonard) finds himself locked drawn into a battle against a mysterious entity that has been born from the collective negativity on the vast expanse of internet and other digital media.

"HorrorVision" is yet another Full Moon movie with a great idea at its core, but which is killed by a combination of lousy execution and bad acting. While it's more inventive than some of the other Full Moon/Tempe Entertainment, it's still far below the best of what Charles Band brought us in the 1990s, and not even up to the level of J.R. Bookwalter in the 1990s. (Which reminds me... one of these days, I really need to get around to watching "Kingdom of Vampires.")

This movie might more properly be featured at Movies You Should Die Before You See, but the idea of all the negativity, vitriol, and hatred being put forward on the internet coalescing into a self-aware being bent on humanity's destruction is worth a ratings point all by itself. The Obi-Wan Kenobi-like character (amusingly named Bradbury, twice as amusing ten years later now that Ray Bradbury has expressed a dislike for the internet and the web) who teaches Dez about the emerging threat and how to fight also helps life my opinion of the film, especially since he is being portrayed by the best actor in the film, James Black. Not that I can be too hard on any of the actors featured... I think they all probably did the best with the awful lines they were called upon to deliver, and star Jake Leonard probably also did his best with his hollow, badly conceived and even worse developed character of Dez. (We never get to understand Dez... we're told he wants to be a scriptwriter whose talent has been sapped away by his involvement with creating made-to-order pornography, but we're really made to believe that he has any talent except for being a moron.)

However, what really ruins this movie is the excessive padding--you'll rarely see more pointless driving scenes set to third-rate metal music than you will in this movie; the fact that it features techno-horror monsters that required special effects beyond the film's meager budget to fully bring to life--although I give director Danny Dravin and his crew a tip o' the hat for almost pulling it off... the bizarre creature that materializes in the desert was very well done, considering; and the fact that this is yet another imcomplete Full Moon film that is completely lacking a third act.

Yes. Dez is stranded in the desert, the world is descending into cyber-induced destruction, and our hero is still pretty clueless as to how to effectively fight back. And that's where the movie ends. After a run-time that's barely over 70 minutes--including long credit sequences and lots of padding--the film ends with no major plot threads resolved and only one subplot done with. It's annoying and unforgiveable that the hope of a sequel loomed so large in the minds of Band and Bookwalter that they'd foist such a half-finished effort on the public. (Of course, with Charles Band, it's not a mistake but an unfortunate pattern that continues to this day. Look for the "Where's the Ending?" tag on this blog to see just how many films he's produced that have this particular obnoxious flaw.

The good news is that you can see just about everything that's cool about "Horrorvision" in the preview below. After watching it, there is no need to seek out the movie, unless you're a guy with a blog devoted to reviewing Charles Band productions.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dolls that play deadly games

Dolls (1987)
Starring: Carrie Lorraine, Stephen Lee, Ian Patrick Williams, Guy Rolfe, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Hilary Mason, Bunty Baily and Cassie Stuart
Director: Stuart Gordon
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars
Producers: Brian Yunza and Charles Band

Stranded travelers spend the night in an old mansion inhabited by an elderly couple (Mason and Rolfe) and their magical dolls... dolls that don't take kindly to abusive adults or house-guests that behave badly.

"Dolls" is a comedy/horror flick that has the feel of a fairy tale. In fact, there are seveal sceens and shots that echo fairy tales fairly directly, such as the shot of an elderly woman stirring a pot of stew that makes her look like she's a witch stirring a cauldron, and this atmosphere makes the movie that much more interesting viewing.

The fairy tale feel is perhaps not all that surprising, as it's from the writer who did the script had just finished "Troll" (review here) for B-movie mogul Charles Band, who was also the producer of this picture. This film is a little gorier than "Troll", but if you liked that film, you're bound to like this picture as well.

The film has other classic qualities about it. The setting feels like the manor houses that were the settings for numerous mysteries from the 1930s and 1940s of the subgenre that get's referred to as "dark old house movies". The pacing of the story and the "just rewards" given to the characters in the course of the story have a "Tales From the Crypt" or "House of Mystery" feel to them that makes the film even more fun to watch.

At the same time, the film also ends up being groundbreaking. If not for this film, "Puppet Master" might never have come into being, as much of what goes on here feels like a rough draft for that movie and franchise. (There's even a bit from here that is echoed in the "Puppet Master" films but not surpassed and that's the surprising appearance of filmdom's most unusual firing squad.)

The film is artfully shot and edited, features an excellent score and has a cast of actors that are all perfect in their parts. Comic actor Stephen Lee has a nice turn as a man whose childlike wonder and innocence protects him from the rampaging killer dolls; veteran British character actors Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason are great as the elderly masters of the dark old house; and the rest of the cast present characters so obnoxious that you can't wait to see them get bumped off. Even child actor Carrie Lorraine is far better than most children her age. It's a shame she quit acting after this film.

If you're a fan of "Troll" or of the output of Empire Pictures and Full Moon pictures from the 1980s and 1990s, this is a movie for you. It's definately a movie you can't go wrong with if you included in the selection for a Bad Movie Night. It might even be a film for the entire family if you have teenagers in the house, although I think youger kids might be freaked out by the killer toys and the intense creepiness of certain part of the film.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

'Puppet Master: Axis of Evil' offers little
but pale reflections of past glory

Puppet Master: Axis of Evil (2010)
Starring: Levi Fiehler, Taylor M. Graham, Jenna Gallaher, Tom Sandoval, Ada Chao, and Aaron Riber
Director: David DeCoteau
Producer: Charles Band
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

As America goes to war overseas against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, a young man (Fiehler) finds himself facing off against an unholy union of Nazi and Japanese saboteurs (Chao, Sandoval and Riber) in California, with Toulon's legendary magical puppets as his allies.

If there ever was a movie I sat down wanting to like, it's "Puppet Master: Axis of Evil."

Although I was disappointed to learn that Charles Band didn't direct it himself--despite the film's full title being "Charles Band's Puppet Master: Axis of Evil"--David DeCoteau did previously direct one of the very best entries in this series, so I still had some level of hope for this film.

Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge" was also set during the 1940s, and while it stood perfectly well on its own, it was a film I wouldn't have minded seeing a real sequel to. Although I have panned almost every DeCoteau, I still hoped that he would surprise... just as I had hoped that Band was telling the truth when he implied the puppets in this movie would be truly and fully animated for the first time in many years.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed in all counts. And the disappointment was almost nearly as bad as the one I experienced over Band's other recent trip to the well of past glories, Demonic Toys 2.

The most glaring problem is a continuity issue that undermines literally everything that follows the title card that establishes the events of the film take place in 1939. Yet, one character is about to be deployed to fight overseas, and another character gives repeated speeches about his desire to join the U.S. military to fight "Japs" and "Krauts." That's all good and well if the film had been set in 1942 or 1943 or even 1944... but in 1939, America was not at war with either Nazi Germany nor Imperial Japan. No regular American would be carrying on the way the characters in this film carry on the way they are here--the ignorance and historical illiteracy displayed by whoever approved the final cut of this film is beyond tragic. And the tragedy is made even more-so by the fact that if continuity had been maintained with DeCoteau's previous, and superior, contributions to the "Puppet Master" series--like if this film had been set in 1944--the one thing that makes this movie nearly unwatchable for anyone who has ever read anything about the United States' role in WWII would have been avoided.

Another problem, one almost as bad, is that the puppetry featured here as at the same level of everything else that has been present in Full Moon pictures for the past few years. The animation that made Toulon's puppets so cool in the first three "Puppet Master" films is nowhere to be found here, except in instances when stock footage from the original "Puppet Master" film is incorporated in a clumsy attempt to make it appear that more skill and effort was put into the puppetry than just some prop-man off camera shaking a doll.

Finally, and perhaps worst of all, this is not a complete movie. It's like someone forgot that a movie needs a third act to follow the first and second. The film basically ends on a cliffhanger, with only a single major plot-point resolved and one of the villains in possession of several of Toulon's puppets. Sadly, in every prior case when a Full Moon picture has shown this particular defect--such as "HorrorVision", "Huntress" and "Retro Puppet Master"--a continuation or completion of the story has never been materialized.

I hope that "Puppet Master: Axis of Evil" breaks the pattern, and that Band has the funding and cast for the next Puppet Movie locked down. Hell, I hope they're shooting it as I write this. If not, I have to wonder if the many folks I've encountered over the years who portray Band as a huckster who gets by more on luck and charm than skill and creative talent. I may also have to finally surrender my belief that Band still has an interest in making the best movies possible rather than just trying to milk his properties for a final few bucks before retirement. What other explanation might there be for him not learning the lessons of the previous "half movies" he's produced?

For all that is bad with this movie, it actually one of the best films DeCoteau has made for Full Moon. It pales when compared to "Puppet Master III", but DeCoteau gets better performances from the cast here than in anything since that aforementioned film. With the exception of Ada Chao, who gives a performance almost as embarrassing as the Kabuki theater/geisha outfit she spends the entirety of the film in.

I wish I could have given a more glowing review of this film, but it's barely worth watching for even the most hardcore fans of Toulon's puppets. Or, I suppose, if you're like me and still hold out hope that Band will bring us something approaching the movies he used to make, it might be worth supporting just in the hopes that success will motivate the "part two" this film needs.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

'Totem' has good ideas, lousy execution

Totem (1999)
Starring: Marissa Tait, Tyler Anderson, Alicia Lagano, Jason Faunt, Eric W. Edwards and Sacha Spencer
Director: David DeCoteau (as Martin Tate)
Producers: Charles Band and Kirk Edward Hansen
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A dark, arcane force draws six teenagers to a remote cabin where they discover that some of them are fated to be sacrificed in order to unleash murderous demons upon the world, while others are fated to perform the sacrifices. But who are the victims and who are killers? And what does the mysterious, vaguely totem-pole like sculpture in the nearby cemetery have to do with anything?

"Totem" is a film with a supremely creepy premise at its heart, and it sets up the story nicely, but then it quickly goes off the rails.

The problems start with the cast. They seem to have been hired first and foremost for their good looks with any actual acting talent being entirely secondary. Even allowing for the wooden, shallow acting that is so very common in the minor Full Moon efforts like this one, what we have here is still pretty weak. The only members of the cast I didn't want to send back to community theater or to full-time modeling were Marissa Tait and Alicia Lagano. They also happen to be the only two who have had substantial acting careers since this movie--although I suppose Jason Faunt's 44-episode run as a Power Ranger counts. The other three cast members have very limited or no other film or TV credits to their names. (Hmmm... three to do the killing, three to die... maybe there IS more to this movie than one might think!)

As if a lack of talent wasn't bad enough, whether or not the actors in question were appropriate for the role they were cast also appears to have been entirely secondary. It's the only explanation for Tyler Anderson being cast as a Native American who looks more Eastern European or Italian than Native American--and whose accent is more Euro-trashy/Eastern European than anything that ever came off a Reservation anywhere in North America--yet somehow the other characters in the film can TELL he's Native American by just looking at him. (There MUST have been someone in that book of modeling agency headshots this cast was derived form who looked more convincingly Native American. I've no idea why they would've gone with Tyler, unless he was related to someone who invested money in the production.)

The acting in this film is so bland, and the performers and their characters so interchangeable that I doubt you will remember who did what to whom five even as the end credits start to roll.

The bad acting might not be entirely the fault of the actors, however. They didn't have much of a script to work with, and they are portraying characters whose development extends to "and then he does this because the plot says so... and does that because the plot says so. This Benjamin Carr-penned effort was so lazily written that not only does every character sound alike because no care was taken to give them personality through their dialogue, and the back story for the demonic critters motivating the action has to explained in a lame-ass dream sequence that may or may not have been included because the producers said, "we've got this footage of rampaging Vikings... work it into the picture somehow."

Finally, the ending here has got to be among the worst on any Full Moon production, save that of "Huntress: Spirit of the Night". Perhaps in the hands of someone competent, or at the end of a script that had actually been taken through more than one draft, the sick sort of romantic vibe I think they were going for might have worked. Here, it just feels like a bit of randomness tacked onto the end of a half-developed story. It's feels almost as forced and pointless as the presence of the totem critters.

Speaking of the critters... once again we have a Charles Band production where the neigh-obligatory puppet creatures feel as if they've been forced into a story where they don't belong. The immortal, imprisoned demons lurking at the heart of the story have the ability to manipulate the film's characters by altering their thoughts and perceptions, and they can animate their corpses after they're dead, so there is no reason for them to be flapping around and generally looking like cheap-jack prop puppets. Yes... this is the beginning of the point where Band continued to produce movies with Tiny Terrors in them, but didn't even have the budget to make them look as convincing at the original Ghoulies.

(That said, the totem puppets are better than many of their fellow on-the-cheap Tiny Terrors from Band's productions of the past decade. They're even better animated than the Blood Dolls from the film of the same title and the same year as this one, even if "Blood Dolls" was a far better movie overall.)

There is two moments in the film that saves it from a Two Rating (and the honor of being featured on my Movies to Die Before Seeing blog). The first is the point where Alicia Lagano's character is revealed as the psycho we pretty much knew her to be--it's not surprising, but it is one of the better-handled moments in the film--and the sudden and very startling death of Robert and its aftermath. While I suspect Robert's surprise death primarily arose from sloppy writing more than anything else. But, whatever the way it came about, it worked.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The 'Evil Bong' Double Feature:
The more wasted you are, the funnier the films

Evil Bong (2003)
Starring: David Weidoff, Brian Lloyd, John Patrick Jordan, Kristyn Green, Robin Sydney, Mitch Eakins, Michelle Mais, and Tommy Chong
Producers: Charles Band
Director: Charles Band
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

When his pot-smoking roommates and the lovely Janet (Green) fall victim to the mysterious powers of the Voodoo-cursed Evil Bong, it's up to the nerdy, straight-laced Allistair (Weidoff) to save them all.

"Evil Bong" is part stoner comedy, part horror movie spoof. It's also a far more effective anti-drug movie than most films that are made to exclusively be anti-drug screeds. None of the potheads in the film are very likeable and Tommy Chong (in a role as the vengeful owner of the Evil Bong) provides a hilarious charicature of what someone becomes after too many years of smoking too much pot.

When "Evil Bong" is on its game, it's quite funny in a stupid sort of way. Unfortunately, it's not on its game most of the time.

Most of the time, this movie screams "Wow... this could have been excellent if a there had been a few more tens of thousands of dollars in the budget" because more money was needed to make the sets better and to buy the time and craftsmanship needed on CGI and props.

This is the first Charles Band film I've seen where his vision overreached his budget, and, as is always the case when this happens, the movie suffers greatly for it.

The Evil Bong (nicknamed EeeBee) isn't animated to the point where it should be--the eyes move and the lips twitch occassionally, but more facial animation was needed to bring it fully to life... the puppetry eithe needed to be far more elaborate than what we have, or lips needed to have been CGI'ed onto the bong model for it to be effective instead of just cheap-looking. EeeBee makes the Gingerdead Man puppet (from Band's 2004 effort of that same title) look impressive.

The Bongworld, the nightmare dimension into which EeeBee draws the souls of those who take hits from her, also suffers from the film's apparent lack of budget. It's a drab and unimpressive place that needed a lot more set decorations and patrons to fully bring it to life. Like EeeBee herself, it's little more than a sketch of what it should have been. It should have rivaled the cantina from "Star Wars" for the craziness of its patrons, particuarly since EeeBee seems to have been collecting souls for a long time, but instead it feels like a skidrow strip club at 10am in the morning.

Partially related to the film's budget restrictions--if I understand comments made in the making-of documentary correctly--this film's concepting, writing, pre-production and principle shooting all took place within a two-month period--is a bit of obvious padding to the script. There's a fairly long and completely irrelevant scene where one of the pothead's grandfather comes for a visit. It's a funny scene, but it has nothing to do with the action line of the film (and it even strikes a discordant note with Bongworld, as the grandfather appears there too, along with characters from other Band-produced movies), and it's a scene that woud have been replaced by something else if a proper number of revisions had taken place on the script.

It's a shame that Band didn't have the money or time to give this film its proper due, because there are a number of good things about it. Although the characters aren't particularly likeable, the actors protraying them all do a great job. Robin Snyder is particularly funny in a scene where a hit on EeeBee gets her all "hot and bothered". Tommy Chong also puts on a good show as... well, Tommy Chong.

"Evil Bong" is only for the hardest of the hardcore members of the Full Moon fanclub or for those who can't get enough of stoner comedies. (Actually, it might also be a good candidate for a Bad Movie Night Double-bill with "Reefer Madness".)

Evil Bong II: King Bong (2009)
Starring: Brett Chukerman, John Patrick Jordan, Sonny Carl Davis, Mitch Eakins, Brian Lloyd, Amy Paffrath, Jacob Witkin, and Robin Sydney
Producers: Charles Band, Dana K. Harrloe, Thomas Smead, and Garin Sparks
Director: Charles Band
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Three friends (Eakins, Jordan and Lloyd) were cursed by smoking from a demonically-animated bong and are now suffering from exaggerated symptoms from smoking pot--one is perpetually horny, the other is wracked by monstrously intense munchies, and the third from severe narcolepsy and memory loss. Together with their straight-laced friend Allistair (Chukerman) They travel to South America to uncover the bong's origins and hopefully find a way to lift the curse. Instead, they become embroiled in a fight for control over the most powerful marijuana crop ever discovered... an idealistic doctor wants to use it to cure cancer (Paffrath), an evil capitalist wants to distribute the pot to stoners everywhere (Witkin) and the sexy members of the Poon Tang Tribe, the Amazon slaves of the mighty King Bong.

The set-up for the film is convoluted, but the film itself is a simple collection of simple-minded pot jokes and stoner stereotypes. If you liked "Evil Bong," I suspect you'll like this sequel, as it delivers more of the same... even if it's crasser than the first movie, both with the level of profanity and the level of nudity in the film. (The Poon Tang Tribe girls are all topless during their scenes, and they confirmed for me once and for all that I prefer looking at natural breasts than ones that are "enhanced." At least if they're not covered up.)

Like the original "Evil Bong," this is more of a comedy than a horror film. In fact, Band doesn't even try to evoke any horror here, going instead for all-out blue humor of the crassest and most low-brow kind. Unfortunately, the jokes are more crass than funny... although I suspect the more intoxicated you are while watching the film, the funnier it becomes.

When I wrote my original review of "Evil Bong," it included a note about how this sequel would be worth watching if it showed the same level of quality improvement that existed between "Gingerdead Man" and "Gingerdead Man 2."

Well, it that improvement didn't manifest itself. While there are a number of points where "Evil Bong II" is superior to its predecessor--Eebee the Evil Bong is better animated than she was in the first film (yes, she was blown to bits, but she gets repaired), and Band doesn't let his vision overreach his meager budget. The Bongworld present in this film is pretty well done, considering my apartment is probably bigger than the sound stage this film was made on. The make-up and special effects are also superior to what we were subjected to in the first film.

On the downside, this film isn't as funny. While the Poon Tang Tribe shows up to provide a little nudity to distract from the overall lameness of the script, they can't hide the fact that there are precious few laughs in this comedy. In fact, the inside gags--such as when one character remarks to another who is being played by a different actor than in the original film that, "I hardly recognized you" or that Sonny Carl Davis' character is named "Rabbit" like the one he played in "Trancers II"--are funnier than any of the set-piece jokes. Well, with the exception of the bizarre "Who's On First"-type routine that Davis and Jordan perform at one point, and Eakins prat-falls as he falls alseep without warning; those bits are midly amusing.

All in all, "Evil Bong II: King Bong" sees Charles Band end the 2000s decade as he started it... with a movie that is a far, far cry from earlier efforts like "Blood Dolls", "Hideous!" and even "The Creeps". Like the first one in this series, it's a film that only hardcore Full Moon fans should bother with. (Of course, for all I know, it plays like "Bringing Up Baby" or "Blazing Saddles" if you're stoned. If someone wants to conduct that experiment, let me know how it turns out.)

One more thing... there's the theme song from the "Evil Bong" movies set to a fan-made video. It's a catchy little tune.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A trip to Sherwoood Forest you should skip

Virgins of Sherwood Forest (2000)
Starring: Gabriella Hall, Shannen Leigh, David Roth and Amber Newman
Producer: Charles Band
Director: Cybil Richards
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A B-movie director (Hall) bumps her head and wakes up in Sherwood Forest, where she must work with other buxom wenches to thwart the evil scheme's of the Sheriff of Nottingham's sister (Leigh) while using their sex and other womanly wiles to restoring some righteous fire and energy to Robin Hood (Roth) and his Merry Men. (Not to mention engaging in the occassional lesbian fling.)

I'm not sure how or when I got this movie. I don't even know if I watched it before this evening, but if I did, I didn't retain anything about it in memory. And that's because there's nothing worth noticing here.

"Virgins of Sherwood Forest" wants to be a sex comedy, or maybe it wants to be a soft-core porn flick... but it fails to be either. It's one of dozens of sci-fi/fantasy flavored softcore films that an uncredited Charles Band produced for his Surrender Cinema venture, and it's one of a handful lurking within the piles of unwatched DVDs stacked around my office. By most accounts, Band's venture into blue movies was mostly unsuccessful both creatively and financially, but I sincerely hope that this is one of the worst that he made. It's almost as bad as "The Killer Eye," which is the worst movie from Band I've seen yet.

The movie is dull and decidedly unsexy, the acting is almost as bad as the boob jobs on prominent display, and the sets and camera work are even worse. (In fact, Amber Newman is so bad in this film that it's hard to believe that she's the same actress who was so amusing in "Satanic Yuppies.")

There are a few chuckles here, but they are so few and seperated by such vast expanses for crap that they're not worth waiting for.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A trio of movies recut and recycled

Urban Evil: A Trilogy of Fear (2005)
Starring: Darrow Igus, Larry Bates Sarah Scott Davis and Rhonda Claerbaut ("Demonic Tunes); Russell Richardson, Jennia Watson, Freda Payne and Bill Davis ("The Killing One" segment); and Shani Pride, Ted Lyde, Kyle Walker and Austin Priester ("Hidden Evil" segment)
Directors: Ted Nicolaou ("Demonic Tunes", "The Killing Kind") and James Black ("Hidden Evil")
Producers: JR Bookwalter and Charles Band
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Some anthology films are written and planned as such, like "Asylum" and "Tales from the Grave 2: Happy Holidays". Others are created by packaging sperately-produced short films with host sections or other framing sequences, such as the "Goregoyles" films from producer Alexandre Michaud. Still others come about when producers re-edit films that were unfinished due to loss of funding or that they couldn't find distribution for and that are packaged together in an efffort to get some return on investment and/or get them to the public. The third kind consists of already-released films that are abbreivated through editing, retitled, and packaged together under a single main title.

An example of the third kind of anthology film is "Urban Evil: A Trilogy of Fear" from the Charles Band-helmed Different Worlds. It consists of three African-American themed horror flicks that Band had previously released under his well-known Full Moon label. "The Horrible Dr. Bones" (2000) is retitled "Demonic Tunes", "Ragdoll" (1999) becomes "The Killing Kind", and "The Vault" (2000) becomes 'Hidden Evil".

Out of the three movies that were condensed to make up "Urban Evil", only "The Horrible Dr. Bones" makes the transition with any sort of effectivenes. The other two feel like what they are--the butchered remains of longer movies, and It'll be obvious to even the most inattentive viewer that there's something missing in both of them. "The Killing One" comes off the worst of the two, with murder and mayhem happening off-screen and the viewers merely getting some tantalizing hints about what might been included.

In "Demonic Tunes", the Urban Protectors, an up-and-coming rap band is chosen for stardom by super-DJ and "community organizer" Doctor Bones (Igus) to be the lead act on his new record label. Unfortunately for the band, and the world, Doctor Bones is a near-immortal voodoo sorcerer with grand plans for merging zombie-creation rituals with music and mass-media.

There are very few signs that this is a longer version of an abridged film which might hint that "The Horrible Doctor Bones" is not worth seeking out. I imagine that the full-length version is heavilly padded with bargain basement rap and pop performances--given that it's about a band and it takes place partially at a talent show and a concert--and that there is probably a subplot that was easily exciszed, because one might think that this film was always intended to be this length. (There's also the fact that Darrow Igus portrays the only interesting character in the entire movie. Although "Demonic Tunes" isn't all that good, Doctor Bones has enough flare as played by Igus that we can add him to the list of Cool Horror Movie Bad Guys.)

Next up, we're treated to "The Killing Kind", where a young club owner (Richardson) uses voodoo magic to call forth an evil spirit to avenge an assault on his grandmother. You know things are going to end up badly when he offers the demon "anything he wants" to perform the task.

Unlike "Demonic Tunes", this film did not fare well during its transformation. Although it's got good acting and the plus of a very attractive leading lady in Jennia Watson and the Charles Band-trademark killer doll, watching the film is not a satisfying experience because time and again you have the sense that you left the room for a minute and came back to find that you'd missed something really cool. (We get to see two muders done by the doll, but references seem to imply there are at least two that we don't get to see. We also get to see Jennia Watson's bare back, but the sense is that we may have gotten to see a lot more if this had been a complete movie. That may not be the case, but the impression is there and that's all that's needed to lend an even more incomplete feeling that is projected by "The Killing Kind."

The best thing I can say about "The Killing Kind" is that it gives you enough to decide if "Ragdoll" might be worth seeing. (Speaking of which,

Rounding out the trilogy promised by the sub-title, we have "Hidden Evil", a tale of a well-meaning inner-city teacher (Ted Lyde) takes a small group of high schoolers to an old school that is about to be torn down in the hopes of finding and saving historical artifacts perhaps dating as far back as when the school served as a transfer terminal for slaves being brought in from Africa. They end up releasing an angry spirit that's been trapped there for over 150 yeas.

Like "The Killing Kind", this film feels mained and butchered, as we lose all the scenes that build tension, we are obviously skipping huge chunks of the story--how did two of the characters get from the second floor to being lost in the basement?--and the characters make discoveries that they refer to but we never quite get to understand what those are. However, unlike with "The Killing Kind", what is here seems like a highlight reel and not a very good one at that. We probably ARE getting everything that's worth seeing in this film in the 25 or so minutes that's included, and it doesn't look like the rest is worth going out of your way for.

With one film that boiled down decently and two others that didn't, "Urban Evil: A Trilogy of Fear" is one anthology film you can safely ignore, even if you love the format like I do. This is one recycling effort that does nothing to improve life on planet Earth.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

That which has once been seen,
cannot be unseen

Characters in an H.P. Lovecraft story never saw anything as horrible, as mind-shattering as this...

That's a promotional image for "Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver" that was forwarded to me by someone at Full Moon. On my birthday, no less! In this, the second sequel to "Gingerdead Man," the cookie animated by the spirit of dead serial killer travels to the 1970s and busts some moves (and heads) on the dance floor.

Charles Band and the staff of Full Moon are still looking to lock in production dates for the film.

Monday, May 10, 2010

'The Alchemist' is so-so early effort of Band

The Alchemist (1986)
Starring: Lucinda Dooling, John Sanderford, Robert Ginty, Robert Glaudini and Viola Kates Stimpson
Producers: Charles Band, Lawrence Applebaum, Billy Fine and Jay Schultz
Director: James Amante (aka Charles Band)
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When a farmer (Ginty) sets out to rescue his wife from an evil sorcerer (Glaudini), she ends up dead and he ends up cursed with immortality and occassional transformation into a monster. Nearly a century later, the reincarnation of his long-dead love (Dooling) and a hitchhiker at the wrong place at the wrong time (Sanderford) are drawn into a final showdown between farmer, sorcerer and a gaggle of demons.

An early effort from Charles Band this is a film that's hit and miss in the quality department... with more misses than hits, I'm sorry to say. Nonetheless, the film is a great example of how Band used to be able to create a suitably eerie atmosphere and make the most of his low budgets, an ability that seems to have left him in recent years, both as a director and a producter. There are still enough glimmers of the old Band that I hope a new Full Moon will rise, but it's been about a decade since he's even been as good as what we have in this film.

The film's biggest drawback is its slow-moving plot that's made even slower by obvious padding and by one of the clearest displays of Stupid Character Syndrom ever put on screen. (Lucinda Dooling keeps wigging out at the wheel of the car and almost crashing several times, yet hitchhiker John Sanderford keeps getting back in the car with her. Why? Well, because if he didn't, the film would be over. Once would have been enough to establish the gradual reawakening of the reincarnated soul, but Band and the writers drives the point home over and over to stretch the film to meet a minimum running length.)

Still, when the film gets going and the monsters start popping up and dimensional portals are opened thanks to cheap special effects, that old time Charles Band Magic is in full effect and we have a film that ends on a note far higher than everthing that led up to it indicated.

Everything except the acting that is. For the most part, the film's cast does an excellent job with what they have to work with. Ginty in particular does an excellent job as the emotionally tortured immortal, while Stimpson manages to effectively convey the fatigue of a woman who has spent her entire life tending to a sick family member. Dooling and Sandford are rather bland, but I can't blame the actors as their parts are written that way.

In final analysis, though, this film is really only for the Full Moon/Charles Band completists like myself. The rest of you are better off looking at the movies filed under the "High Rating" tag on this blog.