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.