Monday, June 25, 2012

'Decadent Evil II' improves on the original

Decadent Evil II (2007)
Starring: Jill Michelle, Daniel Lennox, John-Paul Gates, Jessica Morris, Ricardo Gil, Mike Muscat, James C. Burns, and Rory Williamson
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Dana K. Harloe, Bill Barton, and Joe Megna
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Kindhearted vampire Sugar (Michelle) and her would-be paramour Dex (Lennox) follow the trail of a master vampire to Little Rock, Arkansas, hoping to obtain the means to restore their deceased, vampire-hunting friend Ivan (Gil) to life. But identifying the master vampire turns out to be harder than they had imagined, and soon the hunters become the hunted.

Daniel Lennox and Jill Michelle reprise their roles from the original film

"Decadent Evil II" is an improvement over the original film in the series in several areas, but it is still a weak effort and a far cry from what we all know Charles Band is capable of delivering.

Like the first film, this one is a cheap and sleazy effort--more sleazy than actually decadent... and even more sleazy than the original because from the "gentleman's club" where most of the action takes place to the motel where the main characters are holed up, to the junkyard where the final confrontation takes place, the film has a rundown, cheap feel to it. Decadence is still somewhat in short supply, but there more evil present than in the previous film.

There's also a better script, with some nicely sinister bad guys and enough of them and nicely done misdirections that it's not completely obvious who the vampire lord is before the Big Reveal near the end. (That said, it turned out to be the character I thought the most probable, but dismissed because the script was by August White who has turned out some real dogs over the years. Turns out, though, that I for once was assuming sloppy randomness where some thought and honest-to-God plot was on display.)

The stronger script also results in some actual moments of horror in this film, and a general atmosphere of dread that permeates everything once the film gets going. If not for an ending that is somewhat botched story-wise, atrociously edited, and just all-around badly staged from an action point of view, this could well have earned a low Five rating instead of the Four it's getting.

The actors are all decent in their parts, even if Daniel Lennox reminds me of the bland leading men from the 1930s B-pictures I review over at Shades of Gray. Jill Michelle did a better job at playing the lead than I figured she would have based her performance in the first film, but Jessica Morris still out-shined her in the few scenes they have together; Michelle may be pretty but she doesn't have much of a screen presence. The cast and the film in general did benefit from the fact that all the characters have at least one moment of importance as the story unfolds. Even Marvin the Humonculous, who in the original was just the obligatory Band Puppet/possible toy fodder without any real purpose beyond that, serves a key role in the story. (The downside here is that he hasn't improved much as a puppet.)

This film is still a far cry from some of the great flicks during the 1990s, but if you're a fan of Charles Band, and if the preview embedded below looks at all appealing, I think you'll find the film entertaining enough, despite its terrible ending.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Charles Band-produced Frankenfilm!

Savage Island (aka "Banished Women" and "Prison Island") (1985)
Starring: Anthony Steffan, Ajita Wilson, Stelio Candelli, Christina Lai, Luciano Rossi, Linda Blair, Leon Askin, and Penn Jillette
Directors: Edoardo Mulargia and Nicholas Beardsley
Producer: Charles Band (as Roger Amante) and Mark Alabiso
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

An escapee from a hellish work camp (Blair), where enslaved women mine emeralds, holds its owner (Askin) at gunpoint while she relates the tale of how her allies (Steffan and Wilson) infiltrated the facility and destroyed it.

"Savage Island" is a Frankenfilm in the grand tradition of so many Godfrey Ho-assembled ninja pictures. It's made with pieces from a pair of commercially-failed South American women-in-jungle-hell-prison movies, "Hotel Paradise" and "Escape From Hell", sandwiched between footage featuring Linda Blair and a vengeful she-demon in a cheap fur coat, and kinda-sorta glued together with narration from Blair.

Unlike many Frankenfilm's this one benefits from the fact that three actors (Anthony Steffan, Ajita Wilson, and Christina Lay) are featuring prominently in both the original films, playing largely similar roles in each. The same is true of several of the supporting cast members. Further, both films were directed by the same man, and set in nearly identical locations, so the "meanwhile, in a different movie" sensation that so often creeps into Frankenfilms--where locations and tone and focus characters change back and forth--this one comes across as, more or less, a unified whole.

That's not to say that whole isn't a mess. To start with, the pieces from which "Savage Island" is assembled came from films with highly illogical plots that feature characters going through the motions to make sure all the standard elements of a "women in jungle prison" exploitation flick get included; character actions are dictated more by plot and genre needs than anything that even comes close to sense. Combining the two films--one about revolutionaries infiltrating a diamond mine worked by enslaved women, and one where the abused prisoner's in a women's prison convince the prison doctor to help them stage an escape-- while adding the third element of Linda Blair "masterminding" a jewel heist didn't improve matters at all.

Further, while it appears characters remain present throughout the film, they only do so with some bizarre continuity glitches. Anthony Steffan switches back and forth between outfits with no apparent rhyme or reason, and Ajita Wilson's hair gets longer and shorter and longer between scenes. I also think the same supporting actress was murdered by angry prisoners twice.

In the end, as Frankenfilms go, this isn't a bad attempt. In fact, it probably ranks among the better of its kind. However, it might not be worth going out of your way for, unless you're a big lover of cheesy jungle films, or a huge fan of Anthony Steffan or Ajita Wilson--although in the case of the latter, you'd be disappointed because her assets are nowhere near as fully on display here as in other films she's been in. Fans of Penn and Teller might also be curious to witness the first film appearance (and on-screen death) of Penn Jillette.

(Full disclosure: This review is based on a screener copy of the film given to me by Full Moon Pictures.)