Tuesday, December 18, 2018

'Evil Bong 666' breathes new life into the series

Evil Bong 666 (2017)
Starring: Mindy Robinson, Robin Sydney, Sonny Carl Davis, Michelle Mais, Jessica Morris, and The Don
Director: Charles Band
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

After the mysterious disapperance of the former owner, Eebee's Magical Weed Dispensary is purchased by the devil-worshiping goth chick Lucy Furr (Robinson). When she opens to Sexy Hell, Rabbit (Davis) and the Evil Bong (Mais) join in an uneasy alliance to stop her mellow-harshing schemes... and a new hero emerges. But will even his pot-powered might be enough to save the day?

"Evil Bong 666" is a sequel to "Evil Bong High-5" and it picks up the story roughly a year after the events of that movie. It marks the end to a cycle that started with "Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong" and starts a new one... and if future films continue the trend started here, we're in for some fun times.

There are several things that the folks at Full Moon did right with this one. First of all, this is a complete movie, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sure, it doesn't stand completely alone--viewers who watch this without having seen, at the very least, "Evil Bong High-5" won't get all the references and jokes--but at least some effort was made to provide a well-structured script. Secondly, by replacing Larnell and/or Rabbit as the shop owner, they gave the series a new tone and an all-new life. Lucy Furr is hilarously short of patience with the drug-addled morons who come into her shop and her exaperation is a lot of fun to watch. Thirdly, Full Moon cut back on the pointless cross-overs with other properties that were only there to sell merchandice. There is product placement in the film, but it's more subtle than in previous entries (well, with one notable exception, but it's incorporated nicely into the film so it's at least not obnoxious), and the one major cross-over is part of a running gag in the film.

Speaking of that cross-over, it marks the return of Luanne (played by Robin Sydney) to the Evil Bong Series. She was last seen as the replacement for Batty Boop on Killjoy's Psycho Circus TV show (in "Killjoy's Psycho Circus"), a gig she was fired from when the real Batty returned, and she keeps up the Batty routine in this film. Mostly. There are fourth-wall-breaking references to both Mindy Robinson and Robin Sydney having played other characters in the Evil Bong films, to which the actresses react rather than the characters, and these "continuity gaffs" are very amusing.

What's also amusing is the dialogue. This is the wittiest script since the original "Evil Bong", with virtually every joke working and every zinger that Lucy Furr fires off in reaction to another character being stupid stricking home with malicious hilarity. Mindy Robinson, who has just sort of been present in the past few "Evil Bong" pictures gets to show off her knack for comedy in this one, and I hope she'll have similar opportunities in future films.

On the downside, I was disappointed that the Frankenstein spoof that was such a major part of the preview I saw is actually a minor part of the overall film. It's a high point of the movie, and I wish more of it had been this spot-on and well put together. Further, as funny a concept as Sexy Hell was, the concept was crippled by the film's low budget. Most of the effects dollars appear to have gone into the film's three creatures (Gingerdead Man, Evil Bong, and a new character that's added in the third act), so there wasn't much left to bring Sexy Hell to life--as was done with the animated scenery for Bongworld. Instead, we see the actors performing on a cramped green screen set without even animated "long shots" to provide even the slightest illusion of there being something beyond that little corner. This goes great damage to the whole concept... but maybe it will undergo a fix similar to what Bongworld received.

In the final analysis, this film was more of a joy than a chore to watch. I am looking forward to finding time to watch the final entry (so far) in the series, hoping the upward quality curve will continue!

Friday, September 14, 2018

'Evil Bong: High-5' is low quality (but an improvement over the last entry)

Evil Bong: High-5 (2016)
Starring: John Patrick Jordan, Sonny Carl Davis, Mindy Robinson, Bob Ramos, Chance A. Rearden, Rorie Moon, Amy Paffrath, Robin Sydney, and Raylin Joy
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band and Nakai Nelson
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Rabbit (Davis), Larnell (Jordan), and the Gingerdead Man (Ramos) are forced by the Evil Bong to market her magical weed as part of her latest scheme for world domination. They must sell one million dollars worth in one month, or Sarah (Sydney) and Velicty (Paffrath) will suffer terrible fates in the Bong World. The task seems impossible... until old friends reappear and offer their assistance.

"Evil Bong: High-5" is a direct continuation of "Evil Bong 420" which ended with our "heroes" being drawn back into the Bong World after smoking magic weed that Rabbit had absconded with. The film also continues the format of the previous two films in the series in that it is basically a string of loosely connected skits where proprietors of a business (pot shop, bakery, bowling alley... whatever) interact with the weird and/or unpleasant characters that enter into their shop.

While I am weary of this format, it found it less annoying than I did last time out because there was less of a sense of filler this time. Each vignette either advanced the plot, provided character development, or was just outright funny. Yes--for the first time in a while, this is an Evil Bong movie that is funnier than it is boring. It felt like some actual effort went into writing the script, from the sharper dialogue through the obvious self-mockery of how blatant Charles Band has gotten about marketing novelty items and toys through product placement in his film. (The gag related to this wore a bit thin by the end, but it didn't outstay its welcome.)

I particularly appreciated that some thought went into providing a little development of the main characters in this film, with the way that Gingerdead Man was handled being especially well done. I also liked the bits involving Rabbit and his new power of Emptyhead--he's so drug-addled and his mind so devoid of reason that he can tap into a universal genius when he clears what little is in there. Once again, Sonny Carl Davis gets to be the most interesting part of an Evil Bong movie, even if John Patrick Jordan gets more screen-time.

Speaking of John Patrick Jordan, even though his character Larnell has more meat to it than it's perhaps ever had, Jordan gives the weakest performance he's given so far in the series. He's always tended toward being flat in this delivery, but he feels so detached in this outing that he becomes a dead spot in several scenes, becoming a drag rather than just a straight-man around which craziness unfolds. He even only gets to do his "eeep!' reaction--the one thing he did previously that was funny--once in the film.

Jordan's lackluster performance is one reason I ended up giving "Evil Bong: High-5" a Three Star-rating. Another factor was, for all the improvements in the script, the writer (and director for that matter) failed in one important area. Larnell and Rabbit are racing against the clock to save the girls who are still trapped in the Bong World, but there is never any sense that time is passing. While a month passes over the course of the movie, it feels more like a just a few days. I think even resorting to an old timey technique of showing pages falling off an calendar while transitioning between scenes would have gone a long way to heightening the tension in the film.

In the final analysis, I can't say "Evil Bong: High-5" is a good movie, but it is better than the previous two entries in the series. It features another non-ending and a promise that the story continues in yet another sequel ("Evil Bong 666"), but because this film actually had some story content and character development, I wasn't angered this time out. God help me, but I'm actually curious to see how Larnell and Gingerdead Man will get out of the situation they've been placed in following Rabbit's discovery of the Ultimate Level of Emptyhead.

Is this the beginning of the alleged improvement of the "Evil Bong" series? Here's hoping it is!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The sequel to three Full Moon classics is a disappointment

Dollman vs. Demonic Toys (1993)
Starring: Tim Thomerson, Tracy Scoggins, Melissa Behr, Phil Fondacaro, and Phil Brock
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band and Keith Payson
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

When the demonic toys once more menace the Earth, disgraced  police detective Judith Grey (Scoggins) recruits under-sized alien cop Brick Bardo (Thomerson) and the human victim of an alien shrink ray (Behr) to help her stop them once and for all.

"Dollman vs. Demonic Toys" is a film I've looked forward to watching for a long time. Seeing that it's a sequel to not one, not two, but three of the best films Charles Band has produced--"Dollman", "Demonic Toys", and "Bad Channels" -- how could it not be great?

As it turned out that it isn't great. It's not even good.
The biggest problem isn't that about 15 minutes worth of stock footage that recaps the three movies this is a sequel to, because, while the recap was full of extraneous information, some of the recap was useful, because Band ret-cons who was left shruken by the aliens at the end of "Bad Channels" possibly because it would be inappropriate in the extreme for Bardo to bed a high school cheerleader. The biggest problem isn't even the horrible rear-projection special effects that are used to make Bardo and Grey share the screen.  Hell, the fact that two subplots are introduced in the first act of the film that then completely dropped isn't even the biggest problem the film has. No, the biggest problem is that for roughly half of its running time, it's mind-numbling, teeth-achingly boring. Worse, it runs barely over an hour (including the typical drawn-out Full Moon credit sequences) and the first 30-45 minutes or so feel padded. Even worse, the character of Judith Grey is all but wasted here.

Yes... the sequel to three of the best, funnest, and most action-packed films from Full Moon is an almost total dog.

I say "almost" because if you suffer through the first half, things begin to pick up. Once the fight between Bardo and the Demonic Toys get going, we finally get material that is fit to follow in the way of the great movies that "Dollman vs. Demonic Toys" sprang from. During the final 20 minutes or so, we get the sort of action we should have been seing from the beginning, even if the special effects and doll animations are among the worst of any Full Moon movie. (Band smart to use actors in costumes for many shots, especially when the dolls fight we Bardo, because every shot where the toys are toys is pathetic in its execution.)

The Three Stars I am giving this film are entirely for the last 20 or so minutes, with a Star being knocked off for dropped subplots. This is not a film to go out of your way for unless your a fanatical completionist. If you are craving more Demonic Toy action, you're better off checking out "Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys" (a film I apparently like far more than most other reviewers) or "Demonic Toys 2" (which, although it's not evident in the title, is as much a sequel to "Hideous" as it is to "Demonic Toys).

It is interesting to me that "Demonic Toys" has never had a sequel that hasn't been a crossover with some other Full Moon property. I wonder why that is? The original film had lots of sequel potential, I feel, especially if a film were to be made about Judith Grey's son.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

'Evil Bong 420': A Bad Trip!

Evil Bong 420 (2015)
Starring: Sonny Carl Davis, Chance A. Reardon, Mindy Robinson, Robin Sydney, John Patrick Jordan, and Amy Paffrath
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band and Nakai Nelson
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Rabbit (Davis) returns to Earth from the Bong World and opens a bowling alley where customers may bowl topless in between smoking bowls. On the night of the grand opening, the bowling alley is flooded with assorted weirdos and stoners, and it looks like Rabbit's dream of being a successful business owner while spreading joy and happiness is coming true. Then Gingerdead Man and the Evil Bong decide to crash the party...

I once declared "The Killer Eye" as the worst movie Charles Band has ever inflicted upon the world. It still holds that distinction, but "Evil Bong 420" comes close to matching it in awfulness. Everything that was wrong with "The Killer Eye" can be found here with the dearth of actual story content being prime among them, and bad performances from usually reliable actors being a close second.

The majority of "Evil Bong 420" consists of barely connected skits involving Rabbit talking to customers, employees, or bowlers behaving badly; or the Evil Bong and Gingerdead Man exchanging weak insults in the Bong World. Scenes that involve actual plot or character development (yeah, I know... what I am doing, expecting character development in an "Evil Bong" flick; well, character is king even in movies like this!) comprise maybe 12-15 minutes of the film's run-time while the rest if taken up with the aforementioned skits. This is similar to the format in "Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong", so it's not entirely unexpected, but at least there was a little more coherent story in that one, as well as something approximating and ending. With this film, the only decent actor who really has a chance to do anything with the part is Sonny Carl Davis (who has more screen time as Rabbit in this film than perhaps ever before)... while Chance A. Reardon gets almost as much time and stinks up the screen as Hambo in a pointless and timewasting "Ooga Booga" crossover.

To add injury to insult, after mostly spinning its wheels in place for an hour, the movie stops just when it seemed like it was finally getting started. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know how much that bothers me when a movie does that, and how often Band engages in this bit of bad storytelling. In the case of "Evil Bong 420" it really is insulting to the audience, because most of the running time was wasted on garbage scenes.

I almost gave "Evil Bong 420" a One Star-rating--which should surprise no-one given the nonstop negativity of this review--but I liked Rabbit so much here that I settled on a perhaps-too-generous Two Stars. The gags surrounding his invention--the Weedblower--cinched the rating, as they not only helped advance the plot, but they were actually funny.

I am told this is the lowpoint for the "Evil Bong" series. God, I hope so, because I've got three more in my "unwatched" stack...

By the way, if you've ever wondered if a gingerbread man animated through black magic and the soul of a psychopath can ejaculate, you will find the answer in this film. You can take this is a selling-point or a warning to stay away.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

'Axis Termination' is Quality Puppet Master!

Puppet Master: Axis Termination (2017)
Starring: Paul Logan, Tonya Kay, Kevin Allen Scott, George Appleby, Tania Fox, Alynxia America, and Lilou Vos
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band and Dale Cooper
Rating Six of Ten Stars

As a pair of Nazi mystics (Kay and Scott) and their band of psychopaths are on the verge of unlocking ancient secrets that will allow them to create unstoppable super-soldiers, an elite force of psychics in the employ of the United States Army (America, Appleby, and Fox), together with their new liaison officer (Logan), launch a desperate attempt to stop them once and for all. Meanwhile, Toulon's puppets sqaure off against their Nazi-animated counterparts.

The first two entries in the three films that have made up the latest reboot of the "Puppet Master" series were disappointments. But, since I remain ever-hopeful that Charles Band will give me another "The Creeps" or "Blood Dolls", I keep coming back for more. (Also, there's usually JUST enough in whatever film I've most recently been regretting to give me hope for the next one.)

 When the film opened with a clumsy and perfunctory elimination of the main characters from the first two movies, I feared I was in for more of the same disjointed story-telling that helped drag those previous films down. Those fears became greater as those were followed by a pair of talkie, over-long scenes that swept aside much of what the two previous films had been about.

But THEN the film got going in earnest, and I realized that the restaging and the introduction of an entirely new set of characters and a new plot direction in this third and final part of what had been described as a "trilogy" was all about picking up some of the plot threads from one of my favorite Puppet Master films--"Retro Puppet Master"! While the film still dragged a little here and there, and the acting left a little to be desired at points, the return of the full-tilt mysticism and expansion upon the Eldritch Horror Roots of the puppets more than made up for this.

The film even featured honest-to-god Puppet Masters, which the previous two didn't really, and the Nazi Mystics vs. Allied Mystics also helped the film a great deal. The puppets were also better animated than they've been for a long, long time, something which made up for the fact that Blade's design didn't match what had been present in the past two movies. (I have seen some comment they were disappointed that some of the puppet "animation" was done using actors in costume against a green screen. It didn't bother me at all, but then I've been watching Band productions for 30 years now so I've seen far worse.)

Another minor plus is they even got the hairstyles on the female characters right for the period in which the film was set. It's not that I'm a fashion expert... I just watch a lot of movies from the period the last few Puppet Master films have been set in, so little things like that stick out to me. Check out my Shades of Gray blog for reviews of black-and-white movies and more!

While the acting was generally not anything to cheer about, George Appleby and Tonya Kay gave nice performances as the lead good and evil mystics respectively. The characters had history, and while it's not fully explained in the film, he was felt in the performance and it made the characters more real. Kevin Allen Scott and Lilou Vos were also scary as the lead Nazi psychopaths... with Scott being particularly impressive, even with his magical powers being expressed through supremely cheesy digital effects.

While "Puppet Master: Axis Termination" is far from a perfect movie, it ended this go-around with the killer puppets and dolls on a high note. I, once again, find myself encouraged by what I perceive as a general upward trend in the overall quality of Band's productions. Maybe we've hit rock bottom, and it will only get better from here.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

'Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong': A Bad Trip?

Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong (2013)
Starring: John Patrick Jordan, Robin Sydney, Sonny Carl Davis, The Don, and Michelle Mais
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band and Nakai Nelson
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

When Larnell (Jordan) and Sarah Leigh (Sydney) happen to open a pot shop and a bakery within walking distance of each other, their dark pasts--his involving an evil, sentient bong; and hers a homicidal, enchanted cookie--collide with lethally moronic results.

As the title makes clear, this film crosses Full Moon's Gingerdead Man series (slasher movie spoofs) and Evil Bong series (stoner comedies). I sat down to watch the film with high hopes but low expectations, as Charles Band has disappointed me more in recent years than not. Sadly, my hopes were yet again dashed.

"Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong" features a script that gives us less or a story and more a string of loosely strung together jokes and puns--few of which are funny; and which has weak dialogue being delivered by actors who for the most seem to be struggling to bring their characters to life. To add insult to the injury already done, the film feels padded because of an overlong recap of every single high point of the three "Evil Bong" pictures that preceded this one, even though most of that was completely unnecessary back story for this picture, that because there are some exchanges among characters that are redundant to ones the audience sat through moments before.

The worst part, however, is that the implied clash between Full Moon's weirdest characters is little more than an exchange of insults. Even after he goes to Bong World, Millard the Gingerdead Man doesn't do anything that's a threat to Eebee the Evil Bong in any way. Even the non-ending ending of this film (which annoyed me here as it has on so many other Band productions) didn't even feel like it was teasing an interesting sequel where the fight promised by the premise would occur.

The film is not without good points, however. Sonny Carl Davis is even funnier as Rabbit than he's been in previous films (and he's traded in the priest collar he was wearing when last seen for a name-tag and a briefcase and a job as a traveling salesman of Evil Bong-branded merchandise), and the scene where Luann (from the first couple "Evil Bong" films) and Sarah Leigh (from "Gingerdead Man") meet each other is lots of fun. Both characters were played by Robin Sydney, and she gets to trade insults with herself while playing both characters appear on screen via the magic of trick photography. Also, John Patrick Jordan has perfected his startled Larnell "eep!" and delivers it with such comedic timing that he delivers some of the films best laughs. Finally, more effort is also put into animated the film's titular creatures than in previous sequels, even if the Gingerdead Man looks like a hand-puppet in a couple of scenes.

So is "Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong" worth your time? If you're a fan of the loose structure and sophomoric humor that was  the hallmark of the "Evil Bong" pictures so far, yes. If you're a fan of the slasher spoofs and sophomoric humor of the "Gingerdead Man" pictures, probably not. Despite the fact that I get the distinct sense that Sarah Leigh will be stepping into Luann's shoes in future installments of this series (which I will be watching and reviewing in this space), the Gingerdead Man franchise is the loser here as it gets absorbed into the Bong World.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

'Axis Rising' was a disappointment

Puppet Master X: Axis Rising (2012)
Starring: Kip Canyon, Jean Louise O'Sullivan, Oto Brezina, Scott King, Stephanie Sanditz, and Brad Potts
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band,
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Two all-American kids, Beth and Danny (Canyon and O'Sullivan), and everyone's favorite homicidal dolls must stop Nazis (King and Sanditz) and their captive scientist (Brezina) from using Toulon's magic serum to create an army of super-soldiers.

Puppet Master X: Axis Rising" is a direct continuation of "Puppet Master: Axis of Evil" and it was yet another decline for Charles Band as a director and story-teller. The story is chaotic, the characters do things that make no sense except they have do or the plot stalls (this is especially true of Stephanie Sanditz big-boobed, sexy Nazi sadist), and there is literally not a single scene in the film that doesn't end up dragging because Band lets it go on too long.

 I THINK Band and his screen writer were attempting to make this movie feel like something that might have been made in the 1940s, with its pure-hearted heroes and utterly depraved and evil villains. This doesn't work because very little of the dialogue is snappy enough and the heroes so bland, and made more-so by the weak performances from  Kip Canyon and Jean Louise O'Sullivan. Of course, these characters were so bland to begin with that I didn't even realize the roles had been recast until I sat down to write this review. That might have been to the credit of the casting director... if the new Danny and Beth hadn't been so lame.

As uninteresting and bland as the heroes were in this film, the Nazi villains were all lots of fun, with Scott King, as Commandant Moebius, and Stephanie Sanditz, as his lieutenant and lover Uschi,  giving performances that were so over the top that I'm surprised their scenery-chewing didn't leave teeth marks in my television set. These actors and characters, along with the pathetic scientist played by Oto Brezina, go a long way to making the tough slog that this film is bearable and give it the somewhat strong finish that it has.

Aside from King and Sanditz, the only good thing I can say about "Puppet Master X" is that Band didn't leave us with yet more unresolved Puppet Master story threads (as happened with "Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge") or an unfinished reboot/prequel storyline (as happened with "Retro Puppet Master"). This film delivered on MOST of the implied promise made with the non-ending ending in "Puppet Master: Axis of Evil". I further appreciated the fact that it picked up on the mysticism thread that was introduced in "Retro Puppet Master". If the story-flow had been more finely crafted, I think I may have been more forgiving of the weak acting on the part of O'Sullivan and Canyon because of the effective callbacks to previous films in the series.

By now, I'm sure you've noticed that I've not talked about the killer puppets. That's because, while they are present, they don't do much and when they do, it's generally uninteresting. The animation/puppetry is a little better than it has been in recent installments, but overall they are mostly here just because they have to be. This includes the new Nazi puppet additions as well, with one notable exception and another that appears to have promise but ends up being lame in the end because of bad writing. (I can't go into exact details here without spoiling things.)

Over all, "Puppet Master X: Axis Rising" is a disappointment. If only Band had emulated B-movies like the best of Monogram Pictures instead of the worst of Producer's Releasing Corporation.