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.