Archive for the 1980s Horror Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: LIFEFORCE (1985)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 1980s Movies, 2013, Aliens, Ancient Civilizations, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Science Fiction, Space, Special Effects, Tobe Hooper, Vampires with tags , , , , , on July 4, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

LIFEFORCE (1985)

bbblifeposterWelcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

It’s summertime, and my series on the Golan-Globus years of Cannon Films continues with a movie that arrived with an enormously high pedigree.  Based on a brilliant science fiction novel by Colin Wilson, directed by Tobe Hooper, one of the hottest horror directors on the planet, written by Dan O’Bannon,  the man who penned ALIEN (1979), musical score by Henry Mancini (who won four Oscars and wrote scores for BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, 1961, THE PINK PANTHER, 1963 and VICTOR/VICTORIA, 1982), photographed by Alan Hume (EYE OF THE NEEDLE, 1981 and RUNAWAY TRAIN, 1985), and with special effects by John Dykstra (STAR WARS, 1977, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, 1979 and DJANGO UNCHAINED, 2012).  A budget of $25,000,000 was awarded to Hooper, and the largest sound stages in London were rented to accommodate the gigantic and elaborate sets.  What was the story these incredible filmmakers were set to create, using such a distinguished group of creators?

Naked space vampires attack London.

Yep, LIFEFORCE (1985) is a big budget B-movie that pulls out everything except the kitchen sink to entertain you.  Hell, there may actually be a kitchen sink in the middle of this glorious mess. 

When Halley’s Comet makes its side-swipe of Earth, a spaceship is sent to scientifically analyze the rock, but the crew instead discovers an ancient ship hidden in the tail of the comet.  Steve Railsback (HELTER SKELTER, 1976 and THE STUNTMAN, 1980) plays Col. Tom Carlsen, and he makes the decision to lead an exploratory crew into the ship to investigate it, since it will be seventy-six years until the comet returns.  The group invades the ship, which seems very organic and looks a lot like the pictures my doctor gave me of my colostomy!  Near the spaceship’s “rectum,” they find desiccated corpses that resemble giant bats.  Outside, the ship starts to unfurl a huge device that looks a lot like an umbrella, while inside, Col. Tom discovers three nude corpses, two men and one full frontal in your face female (Mathilda May, who bravely remains unclothed through pretty much the whole film, causing fifteen year old boys everywhere to instantly fall in love).  The three space nudists are sealed in glass cases, perfectly preserved, so they are brought back to the ship for further examination.

Open up and say ahhh!

Open up and say ahhh!

Thirty days later, the same ship enters the Earth’s atmosphere.  A fire has destroyed the interior, and it appears as if the entire crew has perished, but the three naked people are still in their coffins.  So, the humans do what they always do in these movies—they bring the aliens back to Earth, to the European Space Research Center in London, to be precise.  Did you know that an early word for ‘comet’ is ‘disaster’ which means ‘evil star?’  That’s what the news is saying about Haley’s Comet as it gets closer and closer to its flyby of Earth.  Fun factoids like that abound in LIFEFORCE!

The casing around the bodies pops open, and Dr. Hans Fallada (Frank Finlay of MURDER BY DECREE, 1979 and CROMWELL, 1970) and Col. Colin Crane (Peter Firth of EQUUS, 1977, TESS, 1979 and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, 1990) intend to dissect the bodies.  Before they can, one of the guards is compelled to touch the female, which makes her wake up and clutch him in an embrace of death.  Green lights shoot around them as she sucks the lifeforce out of the man, leaving him a shriveled husk.  It’s a terrific scene, scary and cool, and it allows for her escape.  This is witnessed by Dr. Fallada and another man, Dr. Bukovsky, who is approached by the girl, who tells him to “Use my body.”  And, yes, a naked girl walks right out of the space center, stunning several guards in the process with a lightshow of blasting electricity.

The Army is called in and informed that the escape pod was missing from the retrieved spaceship.  The doctors decide to autopsy the weird husk of the guard, but Bukovsky is ill (uh-oh!) while Dr. Fallada believes that the girl (“The most overwhelmingly feminine creature I have ever encountered.”) is dangerous (duh) and loose in London.  Meanwhile, those two naked guys blow up their crystal coffins and try to walk out of the building, even after being shot several times.  The two male models, er, space vampire minions, are fed a grenade, which leaves nothing but little bits behind.

A husk comes to life!

A husk comes to life!

As the autopsy on the guard is about to begin, the husk sits up, moaning like a zombie, and it motions the surgeon towards it.  Compelled, the man steps into its arms, and those wild blue lights start again as the surgeon’s life is sucked from his body and the husk grows back its skin to become the guard, all healed and confused now.  It’s another terrific scene, with the guard looking incredibly happy and satisfied once he has returned, then he goes into shock as he sees what he has done.  So, the abilities can be passed on, within two hours!

A naked girl is discovered in Hyde Park, little more than a husk, but it’s not the vampire.  So now she has clothes and looks like anyone else.  The guard who was revived goes crazy two hours later in his cell, and then, in agony, he withers into a husk and dies.  Dr. Fallada says, “As I suspected, once the victims are transformed, they need regular infusions, otherwise…”  And the huskish guard dies while the pathologist he attacked explodes into dust.

The desiccated girl they discovered in Hyde Park is hooked up to electrodes and strapped down in a lab.  In a horrific scene, the scientists watch as she awakens and struggles with the bonds before exploding.  At the same time, the spaceship’s escape pod re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere in Texas, and Col. Tom Carlsen is rescued and immediately flown to London.  Tom relates what happened on the ship.

When the three specimens were transported aboard the ship, everyone starts feeling drained with the exception of Col. Tom Carlsen.  On the trip back to Earth, the astronauts begin acting strangely, destroying the radio and controls, and then they start dying one by one, their very lives sucked out of them.  Finally, Carlsen was the only one left, and he knew somehow that the girl was causing the deaths, so he torched the ship and launched himself in the escape pod.  But, he also felt attached to the girl, almost as if he was leaving a lover. 

Col. Crane is informed that a needle-like shape has emerged from the tail of Haley’s Comet and is headed toward Earth!  Meanwhile, Col. Carlsen is having weird, erotic dreams in which the female vampire exchanges her lifeforce for his, giving and taking, making him into a creature like herself. 

Dr. Fallada hypnotizes Carlsen, and he discovers the girl is in contact with Carlsen’s mind and vice versa, so Carlsen can see where she is.  She now inhabits a different body, and she is searching for a man to draw energy from, but only enough to feed, not to kill.  When she picks out a victim, Carlsen spots the license plate number so they can track her. 

Meanwhile, that alien needle thing in space is getting closer.  And it looks like a big space-asparagus.

Dr, Fallada starts discovering several parallels between the space vampires and the vampires of European folklore.  Plus, the girl the vampire inhabits is a nurse at a hospital for the criminally insane, where Dr. Armstrong (Patrick Stewart of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and X-MEN, 2000) is the head doctor.  Together, they visit the possessed nurse, and Carlsen discovers the vampire girl has stepped into another body.  Carlsen roughs her up to find out where the creature has gone, and he discovers she is now inside Patrick Stewart!  They dose him up with sodium pentothal before hypnotizing him to track the original vampire girl’s location.  Of course, during the sessions, Carlsen is again struck with that same overwhelming sexual urge he gets whenever he is around the girl’s presence, as if she is the feminine in his mind, and this leads to a male/male kiss complete with crazy blue lights and poltergeist activity.  Carlsen and the Army learn the infection is spreading through London.  The two males didn’t die; they jumped into the two guards who shot them.  Luckily, Dr. Fallada knows the true way to kill a vampire – by shoving a steel sword through the center of life, two inches below the heart, and he manages to kill one of them.  The other male escapes into the city.

Time to suck out some lifeforce.

Time to suck out some lifeforce.

While transporting Dr. Arnold back to London, he loses all the blood in his body, and it escapes to form a figure of the girl, a great scene, gruesome and uber-cool.  This is when Carlsen reveals the truth about what occurred on his spaceship, a tale of lust, murder, and spiritual awakenings. 

Soon, London is on fire.  Zombies and husk-monsters are running through the streets.  The plague is spreading.  The weird spaceship is swiftly approaching.  NATO is called in and quarantines the city.   The prime minister tries to life-suck his secretary!  And the Earth’s future lies within the libido and sexual prowess of Col. Carlsen.  Will true love be able to stop the spread of alien-vampirism? 

LIFEFORCE isn’t perfect.  Steve Railsback overacts shamelessly, chewing the scenery and spitting it out with a veracity usually relegated to low rent small-town Shakespeare Theater.  Also, if you couldn’t tell by the synopsis, this is one complicated and convoluted plot.  You really must pay attention to keep track of all the players on the board. This is, after all, a story about naked space vampires.  It’s not King Lear

However, the screenplay, especially in the extended director’s cut, is quite intelligent for a genre picture, even though it never quite gets as good as the novel on which it was based.  It has an abundance of references to the Quartermass films of the 1960s, especially the brilliant FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967).  Dr. Fallada is our Quartermass stand-in, and Frank Finley does a more than capable job. 

Mathilda May and Steve Railsback do some dirty dancing.

Mathilda May and Steve Railsback do some dirty dancing.

The special effects range from very good to dazzling, especially in the insane ending when London erupts into chaos as the vampires collect lifeforces from humans.  Henry Mancini’s music is full of great majestic marches, reminiscent of John Williams’ scores, elevating the movie to a higher level.  Also, Tobe Hooper does a good job of reigning in all the various plot elements so that it all (almost) makes sense.  Hooper has taken a lot of flack in recent years for becoming a hack, with such dreadful movies as CROCODILE (2000) and MORTUARY (2005) to his (dis)credit.  LIFEFORCE, however, shows that the man could direct a big picture and that POLTERGEIST (1982) was no fluke.  He frames this movie as a wink at the audience, providing ample scenes of monsters, destruction, sex, and just sheer audacity, while never taking himself (or the film) too seriously.  These are, after all, say it with me, naked space vampires.  All in all, it’s a campy, fabulous good time.

Scream Factory has released LIFEFORCE in a great Blu-Ray/DVD set filled with interesting extras.  The complete version has also been color-corrected by Tobe Hooper, making this the best this movie has ever looked.  And the sound is especially amazing on this disc.  Crank it up for those final twenty minutes of insanity.

I give LIFEFORCE three naked space vampires out of four. 

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

Transmissions to Earth: DEADLY FRIEND (1986)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, Cyborgs, Family Secrets, LL Soares Reviews, Medical Experiments!, Morgue Hijinks, ROBOTS!, Trasmissions to Earth, Twist Endings, Wes Craven Movies with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH Presents:

zontar_sage_2
DEADLY FRIEND (1986)
Review by L.L. Soares
Deadly-Friend-movie-poster

It’s no secret that I’m not much of a fan of the SCREAM movies by director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson. And I think their collaboration, CURSED (2005), is even worse. But I wasn’t always down of Craven’s films. There was a time when I was actually a fan. Just not lately.

He started out his career with one of the most intense and disturbing horror flicks ever made, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), which remains one of my favorite horror films ever. This one had a real edge to it that made it one of the high points of 1970s horror. And after that, Craven made some other solid movies, like the original THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) and the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), which isn’t perfect, but was, as we now know, influential as hell. It gave the world Freddy Krueger.

But once Craven drifted into the mid-to-late 1980s and the 90s, his output wasn’t that impressive. This was the time of movies like SHOCKER (1989), THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991), and NEW NIGHTMARE (1994), which a lot of people thought reinvigorated the Freddy series, but which I didn’t care for, and then, of course SCREAM (1996) and its sequels.

I can’t say all of his output from this period was awful. I am a big fan of his 1988 voodoo movie THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. But for the most part, I just stopped being that interested in what Wes Craven was putting out anymore.

Somehow, I completely missed DEADLY FRIEND (1986), when it first came out. And rediscovering it now, so many years later, I find that it is pretty dated, especially since its plot has a lot to do with computers and robotics. And yet, it has a kind of creative spark and charm to it that is lacking in most of his later films.

Based on the novel “Friend” by Diana Henstell, DEADLY FRIEND is the story of computer nerd Paul Conway (Matthew Labyorteaux, probably most famous before this as Albert Ingalls on the TV series LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE), who moves into a new neighborhood with his single mom, Jeannie (Anne Twomey). Even though he’s the age when he should be in high school, Paul is a genius who has skipped a bunch of grades and has just enrolled in the local Polytechnic Institute. And he has already built his first robot, a clunky, goofy bucket of bolts named BB, which he claims has the power to learn. He even calls it an “A.I.” which is pretty amazing, since he’s a kid who built a robot in his basement, and major experts in the field of computer science have not figured out how to give a computerized brain the ability to think on its own.

But hey, that just goes to show you how smart Paul is. Not only has he built a fully functioning robot – which is an achievement on its own – but his can think!

Loveable robot "BB" is fun, playful, and he has a fully functioning mind!

Loveable robot “BB” is fun, playful, and has a fully functioning brain!

Right away, moving into their new house, Paul makes a friend: the local paper boy Tom Toomey (Michael Sharrett), who sees the robot and asks what it is. So much for computer nerds not being social. Paul and Tom hit it off right away, and Tom tells Paul all about the neighborhood he’s just moved into. Other local highlights include the spooky, gated house of the reclusive Elvira Parker (Anne Ramsey, who also played Mama in THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN, 1987) who clearly doesn’t want any visitors, and Samantha Pringle (Kristy Swanson, also in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, 1986), who goes by Sam, and who lives next door to Paul with her drunken, abusive father, Harry (Richard Marcus).

So Paul seems to fit in right off the bat. Not only does he immediately find a buddy, but he gets the pretty girl, too. Sam comes over with a housewarming gift of store-bought donuts (explaining that her father wouldn’t let her bake something), and you just know where that’s headed. Paul spends a lot of time with Tom and Sam, but it’s clearly Sam he’s most interested in, and who can blame him. She is the original BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992) after all. And Sam seems more than eager to spend a lot of time hanging out at Paul’s house, since it gets her away from her creepy dad, who’s always drinking and shouting, and who comes into her room late at night (we never really see him do anything to her, and she tells him to get out when she wakes to find him hovering over her bed, but, well…).

Then things start to go bad. It begins on Halloween night when they get BB to open the gate to Mrs. Parker’s house, so they can play a prank on her. She comes out with a shotgun and blasts poor BB to kingdom come. So much for Paul’s revolutionary robot. Maybe he should take better care of his toys! Especially if they are scientific marvels!

Then, during an especially drunken binge, Harry Pringle berates Sam for sneaking out of the house on Thanksgiving (imagine that! She would rather have a normal Thanksgiving dinner with Paul and his mom than cower in her room while Daddy drinks and shouts at the television!). He slaps her, and she falls down the stairs, hitting her head against a wall, and dies. Harry tells the police that she tripped.

Paul can’t accept that she’s dead. So when she is taken off of life support, he sneaks into the hospital and performs some quick surgery on her corpse, imbedding the memory chip from good old BB into her brain. He and Tom take her away and put her in the shed behind Tom’s house.

Sam comes back to “life,” but at first she’s little more than a zombie, with big circles around her eyes and limited responsiveness. She has to learn to sit up, stand, and walk around, all over again. Then she sees her father through the shed’s window and learns something new – the desire for revenge. It’s not long before people start turning up dead, starting with dear old Dad and moving on to that cranky old bitch, Mrs. Parker (the scene where Sam kills Elvira Parker by throwing a basketball at her head, and squashing it like a melon, has become a classic). The police are baffled as to who is doing these things, and Tom threatens to go to the cops (he can’t live with the knowledge anymore), but it’s not long after that that the secret is out, and the police are tracking down the resurrected Sam in a parking lot.

You can tell she's the evil reanimated Sam because of the dark circles around her eyes.

You can tell she’s the evil reanimated Sam because of the dark circles around her eyes… oh and the stiff robotic movements!

There’s a lot about this movie that is pretty goofy, from the robot BB in the beginning (it’s so cutesy-looking, it looks like a refugee from the movie SHORT CIRCUIT, 1986) to the fact that Sam’s abusive father, Harry, seems more quirky than scary. He almost seems like a comic relief character until you realize exactly what he’s doing to his daughter when the lights are off. Imagine how much more effective this movie could have been if his character was played by an actor who could actually make him as serious and disturbing as he should have been?  You think that maybe the filmmakers here were too uncomfortable to show Harry for what he really was – and then you realize – this is the guy who directed LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!!

The science in this movie is pretty laughable, and the computer talk is outdated and just plain silly at this point. But somehow, the movie is still very watchable. The acting, for the most part, is pretty good in this one. Matthew Labyorteaux is goofy but likable as Paul, and he’s believable as some boy genius who’s emotionally stunted. Anne Towmey is equally likable as Paul’s mom, and Michael Sharrett is fine as Tom Toomey.

The real reason to see this one, though, for me anyway, is Kristy Swanson. I’ve always liked her, and her character Sam is extremely likable here, with an awkwardness that comes from constantly hiding family secrets from the outside world. When Paul first meets Sam, he notices a bruise on her arm, which immediately defines her for us, and I was actually bummed out that Sam and Paul never really get to go “all the way” before Sam’s untimely death. Their relationship maintains a kind of odd innocence throughout.

I just wish that the rest of the movie was up to the performances. The script by Bruce Joel Rubin (who also wrote the incredibly sentimental GHOST, and the much more interesting JACOB’S LADDER, both from 1990) is lighter and a bit sillier than it should have been. A little bit darker, and more serious, take on this this subject matter would have helped this become a much more substantial movie. And the light touch Wes Craven uses with the direction doesn’t help. You can tell that this was made during the same decade as THE GOONIES, 1986, and E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL). By this point in time, too, you could already tell that Craven was much more interested in making easily-accessible commercial films than the hard-edged movies of his youth (that harder edge would have actually made DEADLY FRIEND much more effective).

I liked DEADLY FRIEND much more than I expected to, and I recommend that fans of 80s movies seek this one out, but I’m also disappointed that it wasn’t handled better. It just seems like a missed opportunity, which happened a lot in Wes Craven movies around this time (which makes THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW all the more fascinating, because it stands out so much from his other films of this period).

Oh, this one also has a “shock ending” which was pretty typical of horror movies from the 1980s. I almost hate to spoil it here, but it’s so damn silly, I have to mention it. After poor Sam dies a second time, Paul goes to find her in the morgue. He pulls out the drawer she’s in and looks down at her, and she grabs him. But it is then revealed that an evil version of the robot BB is underneath her skin and pops out.

Evil BB makes a shocking appearance at the end...

Evil BB makes a shocking appearance at the end…

What the hell?? There is absolutely no logical reason for this ending. I would say it was a crazy dream, but there is nothing to show us Paul is dreaming. How would imbedding a microchip into a corpse’s skull transform it into a complete robot underneath its human skin? This has to be one of the stupidest endings of all time.

But it sure did make me laugh out loud.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

deadlyfriend_poster

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: XTRO (1983)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, Aliens, B-Movies, Cult Movies, Just Plain Weird, Nick Cato Reviews, Science Fiction, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, UFOs with tags , , , , , on May 16, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 63:
Not all E.T.’s are Friendly…
By Nick Cato

XTROposter 

 Released less than a year after the success of Steven Spielberg’s E.T., low budget British sleaze-fest XTRO (1983) exists basically to support its infamous tag line, “Some extra-terrestrials aren’t friendly.” And in the case of XTRO, not all E.T.’s make much sense, either.

A father (Sam) and son (Tony) are playing around on their isolated farm when the son witnesses his father being abducted by a UFO. Three years go by and the poor kid is still having nightmares, and worse, no one believes his story, figuring his old man took off on them. His mother, convinced her hubby has met another woman, grows tired of waiting for him to return and gets involved with another man, leaving young Tony not too happy.

From here on out, XTRO is a bit difficult to follow because it truly doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense.

A space craft crashes in a wooded area, setting most of the place on fire. We see a humanoid/spider-like alien emerge from the wreckage and examine its new surroundings and it’s eventually hit by a car (apparently these XTRO’s aren’t only unfriendly, but are rather stupid considering they’ve traveled from space to get here). The alien doesn’t die, and manages to make it to a small house where it rapes a woman, which leads to one of the most absurd sequences I’ve ever seen on the big screen: the woman gives birth to a full-grown Sam, apparently now returned to earth in a most strange manner (don’t bother to ask why…it’s just not worth it). The scene is truly gross and still sticks with me thirty years later.

Sam is now on a mission to find his son, who is living in an apartment with his mother Rachel and new boyfriend Joe. He starts to pick Tony up from school, pissing off Joe and causing Rachel concern. Sam claims he can’t remember a thing that’s happened in the past three years (where he has been, his former job, etc), so against the Joe’s wishes, Rachel allows him to move in with them for the time being.

One night, Tony catches his father eating his pet snake’s eggs, and high-tails it out until his old man catches him and bites into his shoulder (we later learn he’s planting alien seed in his son).

And the film gets even more asinine: Tony discovers he has gained a bunch of new powers, including the ability to make his toys come alive. He puts this skill to use when one of his neighbors kills his pet snake. He makes one of his toys turn into a midget (dressed as a clown) and it attacks people with a lethal yo-yo-type of weapon. He also sends a toy soldier after his neighbor for some snake-revenge.

If the theater I saw XTRO in (the now defunct Fox Twin Cinema) had a bar, I would have definitely pounded down a few shots at this point.

For some reason Sam and his wife (ex-wife?) decide to visit the farm they used to live on and leave Tony home with a gorgeous nanny (played by Maryam D’Abo of the 1987 007 film THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS), who of course has her boyfriend come over for a shag session (and Bond fans might want to note Miss D’Abo does a generous nude scene here).  Tony keeps bugging them to play hide and seek, and they eventually do, but during the game the nanny is knocked out by the aforementioned midget clown and impregnated with alien eggs (remember, I told you this thing makes little sense) while Tony sends one of his toy army tanks to deep-six her boyfriend.

Meanwhile, back at Sam’s old farmhouse, he manages to have sex with his wife (ex-wife?) but during the act his body starts to bleed profusely and transform.  Joe shows up with Tony looking for Rachel, and this is when total chaos ensues: Sam and Tony follow the light from a UFO, and Sam turns into an alien, who manages to kill Joe with his ear-shattering screams.  The alien Sam then takes Tony and heads toward the space craft as a confused Rachel goes back to her apartment … and is raped by the same alien who raped the poor woman earlier in the film.

The more you consider XTRO, the more you’ll be convinced the makers of it were determined to create the exact opposite of E.T.: where Spielberg’s film was family friendly and featured a positive, wholesome ending, XTRO is a mess of gore, splatter, alien slime, and one of the most nihilistic, depressing endings to ever grace a sci-fi/horror film.  All the strangeness with the toys still baffles me, but it did provide some laughs for the grossed-out audience.

I recently watched this film for the first time since seeing it theatrically upon its release, and found it even more confusing than I had remembered. I’m surprised this one has such a healthy cult following, especially since stretches are a bit slow and the acting stiff, with the exception of Rachel (played by Bernice Stagers, of Fellini’s 1980 CITY OF WOMEN), who most of the film revolves around, despite an ad campaign that would let you believe Tony was the focus.

XTRO is a real mess. It’s gross, nasty, and ends on such a low note some might consider the director to have been a manic depressive. Yet at the same time, lovers of B-movie schlock should enjoy it well enough. This here’s one father/son relationship tale I doubt any parent would approve of. I still haven’t seen the sequel.

Live long and SUFFER!

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

 

Ever see a woman give birth to a full grown man? Yeah, XTRO goes there!

Ever see a woman give birth to a full grown man? Yeah, XTRO goes there!

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: CROCODILE (1981)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Horror, 2013, Animals Attack, Bad Acting, Giant Monsters, Grindhouse, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , on April 4, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 61:
Godfather of the SyFy Channel Movies…
By Nick Cato

CrocPosterWhile anyone can turn to the SyFy channel on any given Saturday to see an endless list of horrible, made-for-cable killer shark/alligator/piranha/octopus films, back in the late 70s/early 80s, JAWS-inspired rip-offs had to be seen in your local theatre. 1981’s CROCODILE is one of the more memorable of this hokey sub-genre.

I hit the (now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema one chilly afternoon in late November of said year for a solo-viewing, and while films like GRIZZLY (1976) and PIRANHA (1978) were better made JAWS rip-offs, CROCODILE has that certain low budget charm that makes it more memorable … at least if you’re a trash film junkie.

A hurricane destroys a small island somewhere off the coast of Thailand. As houses become rubble, we see crocodiles scampering around trying to survive the chaos. Then the quick opening credits feature a couple of naked women being eaten by the crocodiles, causing applause from the small daytime crowd who chomped popcorn around me. A doctor and his family are then seen eating dinner, wondering if the hurricane had been caused by an atomic explosion (and just why they think this is anyone’s guess).

They use this as an excuse to travel to a resort beach-side hotel where the doctor’s wife and two daughters are eaten by an over-sized croc. Pissed, the doctor, along with the fiancé of one of his daughters, vows revenge. You can almost hear JAWS’ famous theme music kick in at this point.

The men visit a crocodile expert who says the only way a crocodile could have survived in the sea would be due to radiation, which caused much deserved laughs among my Saturday afternoon creature feature brethren. The film then goes into a few badly edited sequences of the croc wiping out some waterfront towns and eating a bunch of people, and in the film’s most memorable scene, the sucker consumes an entire water buffalo! Good thing PETA members were unaware of this or the film would’ve probably been picketed.

THIS is when the JAWS rip-off-ness kicks into high gear: our two heroes employ the help of a local fisherman who agrees to use his boat to hunt the croc down. Meanwhile, my fellow suburban grindhouse mates laughed for a good ten minutes when the local police set a trap for the croc underwater in a river: a king-sized bear trap stuffed with a huge chunk of meat. Of course it doesn’t work, so our trio heads out to sea along with an irritating news reporter (a.k.a. LUNCH) to track the monster croc.

Most of the scenes of the croc attacking the villages are quite phony, and there are times you can’t tell if the close-ups are cheap stock footage of a real croc or a sad attempt to make a latex croc head. Another PETA moment features someone stabbing a regular sized croc in the head, making me wonder if the director had some kind of real-life vendetta against aquatic animals.

The JAWS rip-off goes so far as our makeshift seamen using brightly-colored barrels to attempt to lure the croc to their boat! The only thing missing was the fisherman telling the boys a spooky night time story about his experiences with a croc swarm during World War II.

The continuity in this flick is ridiculous, especially when you have the croc, in some scenes, almost as big as Godzilla, then in others, maybe a few feet larger than the people it’s eating (one poor guy has his legs chomped off and tries to swim with stumps in a particularly cruel, but effective, scene). And speaking of Godzilla, this Thailand import features atrocious overdubbing and acting that’s better left forgotten.

With an abrupt ending that leaves the audience wondering if the croc and the main hero are dead or alive, most people at this particular screening booed and tossed the rest of their popcorn at the screen. Me? I loved every second of this terrible croc-caper despite all its shortcomings.

Who knew three decades later films like this would be big money makers (such as LAKE PLACID (1999) and regular fare on cable TV stations such as the SyFy network.

If you want a killer croc film that works, try ROGUE (2007). If you want a JAWS rip-off that’s insanely entertaining, is so-bad-it’s-good, and will actually make you cheer for the monster, CROCODILE is your film.

Remember to watch your step next time you visit Thailand…

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

Great original poster for CROCODILE from its 1980 Thailand release.

Great original poster for CROCODILE from its 1980 Thailand release.

QUICK CUTS: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SAM RAIMI MOVIE?

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, Classic Films, Crime Films, Demonic Possession, Demons, Drive-in Movies, Fun Stuff!, Horror, Indie Horror, Marvel Comics, Quick Cuts, Sam Raimi, Superheroes with tags , , , on March 15, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SAM RAIMI MOVIE?
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel Keohane, Kelly Laymon, and Paul McMahon

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With Sam Raimi’s latest movie OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) now in theaters, we’ve decided to celebrate the occasion by asking our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters to name their favorite Sam Raimi film.

Okay Cinema Knife Fighters, What’s your favorite Sam Raimi movie, and why? 

*****

DANIEL KEOHANE:  I’d have to say SPIDER-MAN (2002), being a major web-slinger fan as a kid. Granted, ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992) was a hoot when I saw it at 2:00 am during a 24-hour film festival… but overall, his first SPIDER-MAN is on top of the list.

Spider Man poster

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Yeah, I have to agree with you.  My favorite has to be the first SPIDER-MAN (2002), as well.  True, SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) might be the better movie, but I remember being so blown away and impressed by the first one, for me, it remains my favorite Raimi picture.

Sure, there are his EVIL DEAD movies, and his thrillers like THE GIFT (2000), and the current OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is pretty amazing, but personally, I prefer Spidey over the Wizard and a bunch of munchkins any day of the week.

KELLY LAYMON:  I have zero interest in the new OZ flick. Partly because I thought it was released four weeks ago when they had the giant premiere by my old apartment and I had to see James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Michelle Williams in a true giant hot air balloon above my apartment.

simple_plan_poster

But as much as I enjoy the EVIL DEAD films and the SPIDER-MAN flicks, I might have to go A SIMPLE PLAN (1998) on this one. (And I’m overlooking his baseball flick, which people know kills me!) But I just love a good crime movie where money and some dead bodies muddy the entire situation. I love stories about people who are presented with an opportunity and act drastically.

PAUL MCMAHONTHE EVIL DEAD (1981) is my favorite Raimi film. I had a co-worker hand me a VHS tape of it.

“This is the worst-looking movie you’ll ever love,” he said.

I watched it twice in a row that night and ordered my first copy the next morning. The rest of his work is pretty good (with the possible exception of SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007), but I can’t imagine living in a world where THE EVIL DEAD doesn’t exist.

the-evil-dead-original-1981-poster

L.L. SOARES: Yeah, I have to agree with Paul. I remember seeing THE EVIL DEAD the first time at a drive-in theater. It was the second feature after George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), which I had seen about 10 times by then. I’d heard about EVIL DEAD but hadn’t seen it, and it was a real treat. It was just gory and insane and Bruce Campbell was amazing as Ash. While I’ve enjoyed Raimi’s work since then, including his often-overlooked slapstick flick CRIME WAVE (1985) and the underrated DRAG ME TO HELL (2009), nothing comes close to the original EVIL DEAD for me.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well that’s it for this edition of QUICK CUTS. See you again next week with reviews of more new movies.

—END—

Meals for Monsters Feeds THE LAUGHING DEAD (1989)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Horror, 2013, Bad Acting, Evil Spirits, Jenny Orosel Columns, Just Plain Bad, Meals for Monsters, Occult, Reanimated Corpses, Zombies with tags , , , , , , on March 13, 2013 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: THE LAUGHING DEAD (1989)
Movie Review and Recipes by Jenny Orosel

The Laughing Dead 1989 online

There are horror movie fans who can appreciate a good scare, a well-crafted look at the darkness of the human soul, perfectly paced suspense. This one is not for those fans. No, this time I present a Meals for Monsters for those of us who love garbage. Yes, you, with the TROLL 2 T-shirt, the well-worn VHS of WEASELS RIP MY FLESH, the ones who have every line of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE memorized. For those of you eagerly searching, hoping that there might be one movie left out there even worse than the ones you’ve seen before. Whatever the worst one is that you’ve seen, here is one to top them all: THE LAUGHING DEAD (1989).

A priest leads a group to explore some Aztec ruins. The cast of characters include some obnoxious New Agers, an obnoxious runaway, a couple of obnoxious frat-boy-style tourists, and an obnoxious former nun kicked out when she gave birth to a now-obnoxious teenager. Oh, and that teenager is the secret love-child of said priest in question. Luckily, the former nun kept the parentage quiet so, while she was defrocked and defamed, he happily got to keep his post (something which embittered her to no end). Did I mention the priest was no prize either? They get to the ruins and come to find that an evil doctor is trying to bring the evil Death God to life, and in the process, raises a bunch of the dead. Cue battle for the fate of humanity.

How painful is this to watch? Let me count the ways: poor performances, poor dialogue, poor pacing. Not a single character is remotely likeable, so there’s no one to root for. And by the time they’re killed off, you’ve got such a ‘blah’ feeling about the movie as a whole, it’s hard to bring yourself to cheer. What makes it even more painful is that the director should have known how to make a halfway decent fright flick. THE LAUGHING DEAD was directed by horror writer and one-time Horror Writers Association president S.P. Somtow. So it’s not like this was directed by a sixteen year old who’d never crafted a story before. And the majority of actors aren’t professional…actors, that is. They’re writers, which makes for some interesting trivia (Tim Powers, Bruce Barlow, Gregory Frost, Wendy Webb, Ed Bryant and Forrest J. Ackerman all show their faces), but let’s face it: unless you’ve seen them around or at conventions, you’ll have no idea who’s who, especially the ones in zombie attire. Playing “spot the writer” isn’t as much fun when you wouldn’t recognize them in front of you.

There are a few things you can do when encountering a movie this painfully bad. You could block it from memory and pretend you never witnessed it. You could dedicate a small portion of your life warning others to stay as far away as possible. Or you can have a party with your other bad film fan friends and share your pain. And what better way than throwing an Endurance Party? You all gather around to watch the flick, and each person who groans, curses at the screen, or runs screaming from the room is eliminated. The last person holding in their pain wins.

Alcohol would definitely help make THE LAUGHING DEAD more enjoyable to watch. But, during an Endurance Party, that is the last thing you want to do. But what if your friends refuse to watch without some adult beverage refreshment? I recommend the Faketail. They’ll think they’re getting a good, strong drink, but they’ll be left sober enough to experience every painful frame:

THE FAKETAIL

drink

Ingredients:
Cherry Juice
Apple Juice
Gin

Directions:

Pour one part cherry juice and one part apple juice. Gently float one tablespoon of gin on top of the drink. The drink will smell like an alcoholic beverage, and for the first few sips, taste like one.

*****

I pondered making an authentic Aztec meal. After all, the movie is based on the Aztecs, right? Plantains were a staple in ancient Aztec cultures. Then I started thinking about how well-researched and historically correct the Aztec references are in THE LAUGHING DEAD, and adjusted my recipe to the movie’s level of authenticity. I present to you:

MEAT BANANA SPLITS (aka Stuffed Baked Plantains)
(Serves 3, adjust the recipe depending on how many people are in attendance.)

dinner

Ingredients:
3 green plantains
3 tbsps. Butter
1 ½ pounds various meats (I used 1/2lb taco meat, 1/2lb chicken sausage and 1/2lb pulled pork)
Salsa
Cheese

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut a slit in each plantain, through the peel, about halfway through. Stuff 1 tablespoon butter into each slit. Bake for an hour, or until the plantains soften.

Peel the plantains. Half the plantains lengthwise, using the slit as a guide. Arrange on a plate with three scoops of meat. Place the cheese directly onto the meat and top with salsa. Add a vegetable or salad for a side if you feel the need to make it a somewhat rounded meal. Otherwise, enjoy!

*****

After enduring the entirety of THE LAUGHING DEAD, a reward is definitely in order. I leave it to you whether or not the ‘drop-outs’ at your party deserve cake. Not just any cake, but…

BLEEDING CAKE

dessert

Ingredients:
1 box lemon cake mix (plus ingredients as directed on the box)
1 jar cherry jam
1 package unflavored gelatin
1 tub vanilla frosting

Directions:

Bake the cake in a 13” x 9” pan, as directed on the package. Cool in pan for an hour. Meanwhile, melt the jam down over medium heat. When it just begins to bubble, dissolve the gelatin package into the jam. Heat and stir until completely dissolved.

Using the back of a wooden spoon, poke holes in the cake of varying deepness. Spread the melted jam over the top of the cake, making sure to fill the holes. Refrigerate for an hour or until set. Spread the frosting over the cake until you can no longer see the jam layer. Can be made up to two days in advance.

I’m not normally one to advocate putting your friends through pain. But, as many other bad flick fans can attest, there’s a certain thrill at finding one that’s even worse than any you’d ever experienced. And that is one thing I can give THE LAUGHING DEAD, and one thing that makes me sad. I think I might have truly found the worst of the worst, and it’s going to be a long haul trying to top this one. And, in a sick, masochistic way, I look forward to the challenge.

© Copyright 2013 by Jenny Orosel

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: GIRLS NITE OUT (1982)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, B-Movies, Grindhouse, Killers, Nick Cato Reviews, Psychos, Slasher Movies, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on March 7, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 61:
I’ll Take a Couple of Bear Claws, Please…
By Nick Cato

Girl's Nite Out poster Among the endless list of 80s slasher films is GIRLS NITE OUT (1982), a semi-dud that at least tried to be a bit different from the crowd. Tried to be. The above newspaper ad made it seem much more exploitative than it is, and did a fine job of luring high school sophomores like myself into the theater, which in this case was the (now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema.

A young man is found hanging at a sanitarium in his bathroom. When two gravediggers are digging his grave, they’re both attacked and buried. The film quickly had the crowd’s attention.

We’re then taken to a college where the basketball team has just won a championship game. The entire school is in a festive mood, and we learn the female students will be having a scavenger hunt the next day (because, you know, what better way to celebrate a sports victory than with an all-female scavenger hunt?). But of course the night of the game there’s a serious party, where everyone talks about the poor guy who is now at the local nuthouse for killing his girlfriend, unaware he has hung himself. Then the film takes a tedious nose-dive as the students fight like junior-high students over girlfriends and boyfriends and generally act like idiots for approximately 20 minutes (although it seemed like an hour).

After the party, the guy who is the team mascot is murdered in his dorm room, and the unseen assailant steals his bear costume. I need to pause (paws?) here to say that my friends and I laughed our butts off over this development and didn’t hear a word the police were saying when they came to investigate the next morning.

Later the next day, a local DJ starts giving clues as to where the scavenger hunt items are, and our goofy “college” students listen in on their small portable radios. Meanwhile, our mysterious killer customizes the bear suit by attaching serrated knives to a wood block then placing it where the claws should be (NOTE: this predated Freddy Krueger) and prepares to go on a rampage.

It takes a good half hour or more for the killings to begin, as GIRLS NITE OUT tried a bit too hard in its first section to make us sympathetic to these throw-away characters. There are also a few subplots that don’t amount to much, and although most of the kill scenes are dark, they are gory, but I just couldn’t help myself from giggling whenever the bear-suited killer shows up. Neither could the crowd.

Like most 80s slashers, there are suspects all over the place, and a couple of kill scenes are quite brutal (especially one poor lass who is ripped to pieces then left to die chained up in the shower). But again, whenever the bear-suited killer is seen, the face is just so silly-looking, it’s hard to take any of this seriously (and you can forget about any genuine tension).

In the “shock” ending, we discover the killer is the sister of the guy who hung himself at the beginning of the film. She is told by our hero cop that her brother is dead, but she claims he’s fine, and shows him his corpse in a freezer. Yep…it’s multiple personality time again, folks (sorry for the spoiler).

I guess the only people who will enjoy this are serious slasher completists and those with an unusual thing for bear costumes. The killer, played by Rutayna Alda, does a good enough job despite her non-threatening countenance (which she later used to her advantage the same year in AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982) and on soap operas like SANTA BARBARA and AS THE WORLD TURNS). Fans of cutie-pie Julia Montgomery (of the REVENGE OF THE NERDS films) might also want to take a look, as she’s the main star here.

In the end, the crowd seemed indifferent, I left still laughing over the idea of a slasher in a bear suit, and one of my friends’ hatred of the horror genre was strengthened.

GO TEAM!

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

Don’t go near the window…especially when a maniac in a bear suit is at large!

Don’t go near the window…especially when a maniac in a bear suit is at large!

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