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.