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 Snyder, 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.