Archive for the Grindhouse Category

MANIAC (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Based on Classic Films, Cult Movies, Disturbing Cinema, Exploitation Films, Grindhouse, Indie Horror, Intense Movies, Joe Spinell Films, Kinky Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer, Remakes, Serial Killer flicks, Sleaze with tags , , , , , , , on July 16, 2013 by knifefighter

MANIAC (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

 Maniac

Yet another in a long list of  movies that do not need to remakes, William Lustig’s original MANIAC (1980) featured the amazing Joe Spinell (who also provided the story and co-wrote the screenplay) as Frank Zito, a violent psychotic who kills women and then scalps them, so he can attach their hair to mannequins that surround his bed like lovers. Visceral stuff, made all the more effective by the teaming of Lustig, Spinell, and effects maestro Tom Savini at the peak of his powers. This was one movie that lived up to its title, and yet there were tender moments as well, focusing mostly on the friendship (and blossoming romance?) between Spinell’s Zito and Caroline Munro’s photographer, Anna D’Antoni. It didn’t hurt that Munro was one of the most beautiful women to grace celluloid at the time. But Spinell somehow, through this relationship, made you sympathize with a man who is otherwise a deranged animal. You somehow cared about Zito and wanted to see him redeemed. Of course, in these kinds of movies, redemption eventually gives up and steps aside, so that punishment can take control of matters.

In the new version of MANIAC (2012), Franck Khalfoun gives us a strange recreation of the original film, with just enough quirks and differences to make it enjoyable on its own terms. Even if it comes nowhere near the gut punch of the original. This time, the script is co-written by Alexandre Aja, the director who has given us such recent horrors as the HILLS HAVE EYES remake (2006), MIRRORS (2008) and who is currently adaptating Joe Hill’s HORNS for the big screen. As for Khalfoun, he previously directed the murder in an underground parking garage flick, P2 (2007) and has acted in Aja films like HIGH TENSION (2003) and PIRANHA (2010).

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The new MANIAC stars Elijah Wood, oddly enough, perhaps the exact physical opposite of Joe Spinell. Where Spinell was genuinely creepy and yet always had a strange vulnerability to him, Wood seems slight and wimpy, but has a kind of strangeness to him that could easily be perceived as a capacity for violence. This aspect of Wood has been exploited previously in SIN CITY (2005), where he played an intense and merciless hit man with a penchant for eating human flesh. So this is hardly the first time someone saw Elijah Wood and thought “Hey, he might actually be an effective psycho.”

In MANIAC, however, Wood’s appearance and attributes are given only a small chance to shine, since the movie also adopts the rather odd gimmick of giving us the story from the killer’s point of view. What this means is that, throughout most of the film, we see everything through Frank Zito’s eyes. So whether or not Wood looks the part, we only see him occasionally, when he happens to look at himself in a mirror, for example.

Elijah Wood is actually quite good in the remake of MANIAC. I just wish he was onscreen more.

Elijah Wood is actually quite good in the remake of MANIAC. I just wish he was onscreen more.

This POV seems very artificial, making us very aware that this is not a gritty tour of the gutter like the original film, but something different. The new MANIAC strives toward art, towards being something more than just another killer on the loose flick. And yet, considering the subject matter, this arty direction doesn’t always work. We’re not watching a MANIAC film for artistic merit. We want to see a psychotic on the verge of complete madness, and the POV actually distances us from the meat of the film, even as it thinks that it is bringing us closer to the madman, by showing the film from his eyes.

The POV works some of the time. It’s not a bad thing, per se. There are some scenes that use this to nice effect. But in a movie like this, it doesn’t really elevate the story in any way. It’s just a fancy trick that tells us “No, you don’t have to really see Frank get his hands dirty.”

I actually like Elijah Wood. I’m not really a fan of projects like the LORD OF THE RINGS movies (or the HOBBIT films), but he’s been in plenty of other things that have impressed me. I think I first noticed him in Ang Lee’s THE ICE STORM (1997), and he has a kind of intensity that gives him a lot of range. I even enjoy him in the odd FX TV series WILFRED, where he plays a man whose best friend is a man in a dog suit (the rest of the world sees it as an actual dog). But the point is, Wood is kind of fearless and open to playing a wide variety of roles, however offbeat, and for what he does in MANIAC, I think he does a decent job. In a way, though, I would have preferred to see the whole “from the maniac’s eyes” viewpoint ditched, so that we could have really enjoyed Wood’s performance to the fullest.

In the new movie, Anna is played by Nora Amezeder as a French photographer who is drawn to Frank via his strange little shop where he carries on his family’s business of restoring antique mannequins. She uses mannequins in her photographs for artistic effect, and his equally artistic display of actual mannequins might just be the perfect complement to her photos in her upcoming gallery show. Can she borrow some of his work? He catches her taking pictures of his shop’s display window and invites her inside. The fact that she sees beauty in the same objects he does creates an immediate connection. And the groundwork is there for the one normal relationship in Frank Zito’s life.  Sadly, whatever normality there is between them won’t last for long. There’s no way it could.

Unfortunately, no matter how good Elijah Wood is as Frank Zito, he can never come close to Joe Spinell's performance in the original film.

Unfortunately, no matter how good Elijah Wood is as Frank Zito, he can never come close to Joe Spinell’s performance in the original film.

Wood’s Frank Zito has mother issues, after all, that go as deep as Norman Bates’s. We see flashbacks to Frank as a child, forced to watch as his mother has sex with all comers, whether its two sailors at once in her bedroom as he peers out from between the slats of a closet door, to a late night assignation in a parking garage, Frank wants his mother as much as he is repelled by her, and it is only a matter of time before relationships he has with other women dovetail into his feelings for his mother—even the one he has with poor Anna.

Feeling a possessive jealousy for whatever woman he comes across that he finds attractive, that same need to have them always turns into a stronger need to punish them. And therefore, he can’t really have any enjoyment with them while they are alive. He can only truly possess them (and come close to “loving” them) when they have been recreated, with their bloody scalps stapled onto the heads of his mannequins. In the darkness of his apartment, he convinces himself that the mannequins are the real women, and that they are now in an environment he can control. It is only then that he can show them that he cares.

So he drives around the city late at night, picking victims at random based on how they elicit lust in him, and making quick work of them. He tries to break the cycle, even joining an online dating service and meeting Lucie (Megan Duffy), a tattooed beauty who actually seems to act motherly towards him (uh oh!) when he complains of a migraine at the restaurant they agree to meet at, and who takes him back to her place afterwards for some almost-successful seduction. You really think Frank might finally loosen up and enjoy himself, but in the end, we know that’s impossible.

There are some interesting set pieces, including Frank hunting down Anna’s agent, Rita (Jan Broberg), breaking into her glorious Manhattan apartment to kill her in her bath tub. This sequence is done quite well

I liked this new version of MANIAC. It’s a good film, despite its flaws. It’s just easier to judge it as a stand-alone film about a psycho played by Elijah Wood. To compare it to Lustig’s original is to its detriment. There is no way this movie could deliver the goods like the original movie did.

I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives the 2012 version of  MANIAC ~three  knives.

 

(Despite being made in 2012, the new version of MANIAC is only now getting limited release in theaters in some cities. It is available on cable OnDemand in some markets as well.)

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Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes on DEADLY PREY (1987)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 80s Movies, Action Movies, B-Movies, Bad Acting, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Exotic Locales, Grindhouse, Independent Cinema, Just Plain Fun, Tough Guys!, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on June 6, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

DEADLY PREY (1987)

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Welcome 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.

The 1980’s offered a veritable cornucopia of action heroes at the drive-ins and the grindhouses.  If you had a good set of muscles, an unidentifiable accent, and a glorious mullet, you could star in your own action movie.  We saw the likes of Dolph Lundgren, Rutger Hauer, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Oliver Gruner, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and, of course, Arnold Schwartzenegger.  You also got Ted Prior.  “Who?” you may ask.

Ted Prior’s brother, David Prior, was one of the owners of Action International Pictures (you know, the other AIP that made ultra-low-budget flicks).  When you are also the head screenwriter and director for the studio, what do you do to help your family?  You make them into action stars, foisting them onto the general public like huge slabs of meat.  With mullets.  Ted had starred in a few other low budget movies, including SLEDGEHAMMER (1983), KILLER WORKOUT (1987), and SURF NAZIS MUST DIE (1987), all of which I recommend, but his career was stalled in direct-to-video-Hell.  David wrote a screenplay for him, a FIRST BLOOD (1982) rip-off called DEADLY PREY (1987).  Shot on the extremely cheap, this must be one of the greatest bad movies of all time, the kind you can watch dozens of times with friends and (hopefully) a few cases of beer.  You will never forget it.

We open on a man in rags, fleeing from a small group of what look like National Reserve members in a thin forest.  As the terrible synth music pounds away, the rock-band-meets-military-looking group close in on the man, shooting and throwing hand grenades. One of the hunters shoves a gun into his navel, claiming, “You’re dead meat, fat boy.”  The fat boy hits him with a rock, knocking him out, but soon a black-tank-top-wearing, Rayban-sporting, mulleted guy shoots him and then shoots the poor jerk he hit with the rock!

David Campbell (KILLZONE, 1985, THE KILLING MACHINE, 1994) plays Colonel Hogan, who recruits men who like to hunt other men for fun, recruiting them for his own private army of mercenaries.  However, they need practice, so they randomly kidnap people so the new recruits can stalk and kill them through the aforementioned thin forest.  He tells Black Tank Top Guy to go find another victim, “a mean one this time!”

This prey fights back!

This prey fights back!

Mike Danton (Ted Prior), complete with the greatest mullet ever sported in any movie, is awakened by his wife Jaimy (terribly played by Suzanne Tara).  Half asleep, he takes out the garbage wearing tiny cut-offs and a long sleeved t-shirt.  The evil dudes hit him over the head and throw him in a van as Jaimy watches.  She runs inside and calls – no, not the police – her father, played by the great Cameron Mitchell (CAROUSEL, 1956, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, 1978, NIGHTMARE IN WAX, 1979, WITHOUT WARNING, 1980, and over 225 more movies and TV shows!).  He’s an ex-cop, and he tells Jaimy he’ll see what he can do.  The actress playing Jaimy can barely remember her lines.  She is truly dreadful, and Cameron Mitchell just looks like he wants to strangle this bimbo, like he is yearning for the times when he co-starred with Jayne Mansfield.

Meanwhile, Col. Hogan gets a visit from the man who pays the bills, Don Michaelson, played by the a sleep-walking, barely awake Troy Donohue (A SUMMER PLACE, 1959, MY BLOOD RUNS COLD,-1965, and CRY BABY,-1990 ), who gives Hogan three months to get these mercenaries trained…”Or else!”

Black Tank Top Guy has taken Mike Danton’s shirt away, leaving him in just his cut-offs.  He growls, “Run.”  Mike growls, “You’re gonna die.”  But, he does run, and the rest of the movie is pretty much Mike running from these mercenary-wannabes and setting traps and killing them off by what seems like the hundreds!  You see, Mike Danton was a Vietnam Vet ex Green Beret (never mind that he looks about twenty-three years old).  He starts leaping out of bushes, and from behind trees, stabbing them one at a time until only one man is left alive.  He questions the terrified man, and it turns out Mike knows Col. Hogan. 

Another group of soldiers is sent out after Mike, looking suspiciously like the actors in the first group.  I think they could only pay twenty stuntmen, so they just keep reappearing.  This time, Mike is hurling sharpened sticks and twigs at them, killing them like flies.  Curiously, he never takes their guns so he could shoot at his enemies.

More than once, Mike is four feet off the ground in a tree with no leaves and nobody sees him until he leaps on them.  Sometimes, he wears a little garland of leaves as a disguise, but sheesh, people!  Look up sometimes…or at least raise your eyes.  You’re supposed to be soldiers!

Cue our clueless bad guys!

Cue our clueless bad guys!

Coming across a couple dozen bodies, Col. Hogan remarks, “I know this style.  Mike Danton?”  Black Tank Top asks, “You know him?”  Of course, the music swells, and the Colonel answers, “Know him?  I trained him.”  Cue audience groaning.

Meanwhile, Mike drowns some guys, pops out of hiding holes in the ground to growl at people, shove more twigs through men’s chests, snap his dislocated shoulder back into place, eat a live worm for nourishment (ew), and, in one of the greatest scenes in movie history, he rolls a bunch of obviously Styrofoam boulders off a ridge at a mercenary.  The rocks miss the dude, but he looks around, probably embarrassed, and then just falls over dead.  I suppose the boulders scared him into a heart attack!

There’s even a touching part where Jaimy sits by her fire at home, yearning for her husband, while Mike sits by a fire, roasting a rat he’s caught.  Ah, romance!

Mike sneaks up on Hogan and threatens him, though he doesn’t look too scary in those cute little cut-offs.  Instead of killing the head bad guy, he talks some trash then leaves him alive so he can return to the woods and slaughter a few hundred more mercenaries.  If you think I’m kidding, you haven’t seen Mike Danton in action.  This movie must have one of the highest body counts in the history of crappy action flicks. 

At one point, a mercenary actually shoots Mike, but his pecs deflect the bullets.  There’s also a Rambo-esque scene in which Mike rises up with a machine gun from the water and blasts ten men away. 

These pecs deflect bullets! In DEADLY PREY

These pecs deflect bullets! In DEADLY PREY

Yes, Jaimy’s going to get kidnapped.  Yes, her father will try to infiltrate the compound.  Yes, one of the mercenaries will switch sides to help Mike because he saved him back in Nam.  No, nobody ever does call the cops, who could’ve easily handled the situation. 

But who needs cops when you have Mike Danton?

DEADLY PREY is chock-full of bad acting, hilariously clichéd dialogue, dubbed gunshots,  ridiculous fight scenes, terrible synthesizer music, headbands galore, continuity errors (the director couldn’t keep track of who was dying either, as bodies move position and the same soldiers keep popping up), and mullets galore.  There’s really nothing good in it—and that’s what makes it so ludicrously wonderful!  Everyone acts like they’re making SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993), the screenplay delivered with such gravitas and earnestness that it ratchets the film up to a whole new level of awful.  A glorious level!  I mean, there’s this huge compound with tanks and trucks and helicopters everywhere, located seventy five miles from Los Angeles, and nobody’s suspicious?  Mike fights five bad guys, but when we cut back to them there are now seven and when we cut back again there are five!  Not to mention the speech Cameron Mitchell gives about the way the rich treat the poor in a vain attempt to add some kind of theme to the film.  Or the trap Mike sets in which a soldier steps into a lasso, the rope tightens around his foot, pulls him across the ground, and then flings him into a tree full of spikes!

AAARRRG! Our hero in action!

AAARRRG! Our hero in action!

And according to IMDB, later this year, Ted Prior and David Campbell will be reuniting for a sequel, DEADLIEST PREY!  Be still my heart! 

I wonder if he can still fit into those cut-offs?

I give DEADLY PREY three and a half mullets out of four. 

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

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.

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!

“”

Nick Cato’s TOP 5 FILM EXPERIENCES OF 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Best Of Lists, Foreign Films, Grindhouse, Martial Arts, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , on January 3, 2013 by knifefighter

Top 5 Film Experiences of 2012
By Nick Cato

I spend more time each year seeing retro-screenings of older films than new films, but this past year featured some solid, new grindhouse-quality releases. Here are my top 5 favorite film “experiences” of the year, featuring both new and old titles.

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5) 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH (2012): As a huge fan of Willem Dafoe, I’m always thrilled to see his latest project, especially when it’s an independent film. This downbeat apocalyptic drama by cult director Abel Ferrara features a different demise for mankind and has a tone all its own. I caught a Q&A session with Ferrara on opening night in Manhattan, which greatly enhanced the evening.

Vulgaria-Movie-Poster-Large

4) VULGARIA (2012): This comedy from Hong Kong had the crowd floored on opening night of the annual Asian Film Festival in New York City this past July. The director stated AMC theaters had acquired the rights to distribute this in limited release across the USA, so hopefully that’ll be happening soon. It centers around a film producer who lectures his class on the crazy things he has done over the years to finance some films. It’s sheer hysteria from beginning to end, all the more amazing as the print I saw was subtitled. Don’t miss it.

switchblade sisters

3) SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975): Jack Hill’s legendary, off-the-wall all-girl gang epic was featured in a rare 35mm screening at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn this past fall. Being able to see this on the big screen for the first time was a highlight of my filmgoing year (and life). If you’ve never seen it, you have yet to live.

The_Raid_Redemption

2) THE RAID: REDEMEPTION (2011): This action-packed Indonesian film had limited distribution in the USA in 2012, and even showed up at some major multiplexes around the country. A SWAT team raids an apartment complex a local drug gang has turned into their headquarters. The action and fight sequences are nearly non-stop, and a particularly brutal form of martial arts is used by the entire cast. A couple of knucklehead teenagers saw the subtitles and left during the first three minutes. They have no idea how GREAT a film they missed. The director even managed to sneak a couple of cool twists in-between the barrage of violence and suspense. Simply incredible.

salo

1) SALO: THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975): Possibly the most controversial film of all time, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s dark epic came to NYC’s IFC Center in June, 2012 for a one-time showing and a sold out crowd. If you have seen it, but not on the big screen, words can’t describe how much more INSANE everything looks (and sounds), especially on this vintage 35mm print. While slow and repetitive at times, brutally mean spirited, and just downright depraved, Pasolini’s artistic look at a bunch of fascists who kidnap, torture and humiliate a bunch of teenagers into submission at an isolated Italian villa is as beautifully shot as it is painful to watch. SALO isn’t a pleasant or even enjoyable film to sit through, but it’s one any lover of obscure cinema should see at least once in their life…and if they can do it in a theater, all the better. Hearing a sold-out crowd giggle through one of the more disgusting sequences made it a bit easier to go down. Love it or hate it, SALO is a film that once seen can never be forgotten. (Editor’s Warning: SALO is not for the squeamish)

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

Cinema Knife Fight’s Monstrous Question: BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS WHO NEVER MADE IT

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 50s Horror, 70s Horror, 80s Horror, 90s horror, Campy Movies, Grindhouse, Hammer Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mad Doctors!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Monstrous Question of the Month, Movie History, Paul McMahon Columns, Universal Horror Films, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MONSTROUS QUESTION
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, William D. Carl, and Paul McMahon

MICHAEL ARRUDA:   Welcome to this month’s MONSTROUS QUESTION column.  Today we’re asking our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters:  Who’s your favorite actor, or actress, in a horror/science fiction movie who didn’t make it big?

In other words, that person who never quite became a star, yet in this one movie or perhaps movies, you just loved him/her.  Name the actor, the movie, and what it was about his/her performance that you liked so much.  You can also comment on why you think this person never became a star.  Of course, in some cases, it’s obvious (the person died suddenly, for example).

So let’s get started.  William, let’s start with you.  Who’s the actor or actress you most wished had made it big?

WILLIAM D. CARL:  Thanks, Michael.  I’m going with Deborah Foreman, who burst onto the screen in the hot VALLEY GIRL in 1983, but she almost immediately gravitated toward the horror genre.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Cool.  Deborah Foreman was one of my picks too!

CARL:  Well, she was a terrific comedian, with a beautiful face and bod to match the bubbly personality; she nearly always played the perky girl next door type who got into some kind of trouble.

Deborah Foreman in VALLEY GIRL.

Deborah Foreman in VALLEY GIRL.

In DESTROYER (1988), she faced a crazed Lyle Alzado in an abandoned prison where she was to play the lead in a women-in-prison film. In 1988, she played ‘the girlfriend’ in WAXWORK, facing off against vampires and her own sexual urges when confronted by De Sade!

L.L. SOARES:  My kind of woman!

CARL:  SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT (1989) found her in another thankless girlfriend role, but she held her own against Bruce Campbell and David Carradine. Later that year she played, yes, another girlfriend in the comedy/horror film LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS. In my heart, however, the lovely Deborah Foreman will always be the twins Buffy and Muffy from 1986’s APRIL FOOL’S DAY, a fun slasher comedy that is buoyed by her dual performance to a point where it makes the movie’s ludicrous twists (almost) palatable.

Foreman had a real knack for comedy and scares, and she knew when to be the growling animalistic twin and when to be sweet and innocent, as she was in most of her roles. I think if someone would’ve let her play something other than the girlfriend, she could have really become a huge star in either comedy or horror. Somehow, she never made it. After a few TV episodes (hello MACGYVER!), she’s disappeared from the scene. Nowadays, she’s a graphic artist and she makes and designs custom furniture.

Sigh.

In my heart, she will always be the beautiful, but mussed Muffy, attacking the last guy alive with one wickedly huge knife. Deborah, we miss you!

MCMAHON:  We certainly do.

ARRUDA:  I miss the Lobster Man from Mars.  Whatever happened to him?

SOARES:  He’s selling fish and chips in New Bedford.

Anyway, my favorite actor who never made it big would have to be Seamus O’Brien, who played Master Sardu in the 1976 movie BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. He is brilliant in the film, and has been described as a kind of a “poor man’s Vincent Price.” But I thought he was so much more. By turns spooky and darkly funny, his performance is nothing short of inspired.

The late great Seamus O'Brien in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS.

The late great Seamus O’Brien in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS.

Born in London in June of 1932, his short film career includes only one other movie credit: a small role in 1975’s THE HAPPY HOOKER, but he also was a stage actor, and was performing in an off-Broadway production of “The Fantasticks” when he died.

And how did he die? He “was stabbed to death while trying to hold a burglar at his apartment on May 14, 1977,” thus ending a promising career in horror/exploitation cinema.

He was only 44 years old.

ARRUDA:  That’s sad.  Some of my picks had tragic ends as well, but we’ll get to those in a moment.  Paul, you want to weigh in?

MCMAHON:  Sure.

The one actress I’ve never been able to forget is Deborah Foreman, who William spoke about a couple of minutes ago.

Deborah Foreman in APRIL FOOL'S DAY.

Deborah Foreman in APRIL FOOL’S DAY.

As he said, Foreman played Muffy/ Buffy in the original APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986). It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I remember her having a screen presence that flipped from inviting to evil and back again. I always thought she deserved a more meaningful acting career than WAXWORK (1988) and LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS.

While we’re at it, I’d like to give a shout-out to Emily Perkins from STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990) and the GINGER SNAPS TRILOGY (2000 – 2004).

Emily Perkins in GINGER SNAPS

Emily Perkins in GINGER SNAPS

ARRUDA, SOARES, CARL:  Yo, Emily!

MCMAHON:  Where the heck did she go?

SOARES:  She ran off with the Lobster Man, and they had little Ginger Lobster babies.

ARRUDA:  Really?  I thought the Lobster Man from Mars had a thing for the DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS (1954)?

SOARES:  That was just a fling.

ARRUDA:  Oh.  And here I was thinking Mars was just this ANGRY RED PLANET (1959).  Who knew there was so much lovin’ going on?

MCMAHON:  An actor that leaps to mind is Kevin J. O’Connor, who played Joey in DEEP RISING (1998) and Swann in LORD OF ILLUSIONS (1995). In both roles he disappeared into his character and commanded your attention whenever he was on screen. He works only sporadically now, and doesn’t usually get much to do. I’d love to see him find a role to carve himself into everyone’s memory.

Kevin J. O'Connor in LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

Kevin J. O’Connor in LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

SOARES – Wait a minute here, what’s with all the choices? The question says “Who’s your favorite actor, or actress,” so I obviously assumed it meant one person.  No fair!

ARRUDA (dressed as the Joker): Wait til they get aload of me.

SOARES: Did you say something, Michael?

MCMAHON (ignoring them): Topmost, though, I have always been, and will probably always remain, stymied at the lack of respect for Jeffery DeMunn. DeMunn displayed a hell of a lot of talent as the serial killer Andrei Chikatilo in the underrated CITIZEN X (1995).

Jeffrey Demunn is probably best known as playing Dale on THE WALKING DEAD.

Jeffrey Demunn is probably best known as playing Dale on THE WALKING DEAD.

I saw the remake of THE BLOB (1988) afterwards, and DeMunn impressed me again, playing a Sheriff who genuinely cares for every member of his town. He was given a small role in THE X FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE (1998), in which he had nothing to do.

Lately, he seems to have found favor with Frank Darabount, landing roles in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), THE GREEN MILE (1999) THE MIST (2007), and most recently as Dale on THE WALKING DEAD, but I think the guy deserves a lot more. He’s a top-tier talent who’s been overlooked far too long.

And a bonus…

SOARES: Another one? WTF?

MCMAHON: Brian Yuzna’s first film SOCIETY (1989) featured some of the wildest, most outrageous make-up designs I’ve ever seen. The job was credited to “Screaming Mad George.” His real name is Joji Tani, and while he worked off and on for a while after that, his trail evaporates after 2005.

Special effect genius, Screaming Mad George

Special effect genius, Screaming Mad George

Where the heck did he go?

SOARES: To be honest, he’s not an actor, so he really doesn’t count as an answer to this question, but I still have to agree with you. I’m a huge fan of SOCIETY, a completely underrated movie. And I used to look forward to seeing “Screaming Mad George’s” name in movie credits. He was terrific at making cool effects, and for awhile, you’d see his name everywhere. He was even in the creature effects crew of the original PREDATOR (1987). Where did he go?

ARRUDA:  That’s a good question.  A lot of folks just disappear from the scene.  Often they simply leave the business and continue on with their lives in other careers.

I’ve got a bunch of choices today.  Most of them are well-known, I think, but not as leading actors.

SOARES: A bunch??

ARRUDA: Robert Armstrong, for example, in KING KONG (1933) is quite famous among movie buffs for his role as Carl Denham, and while Armstrong was in fact a very successful character actor, appearing in over 160 movies, he never really made the jump to leading man.  He’s great as Denham in KING KONG, and I’ve always wished he’d played the lead in more movies.

Robert_Armstrong

From the Universal movies, I’m going with Dwight Frye.  Sure, Frye is known today for his scene stealing performances as Renfield in the Lugosi DRACULA (1931) and the hunchbacked assistant Fritz in the Karloff FRANKENSTEIN (1931), and you can find him in bit parts in other Universal monster movies, but that’s it.

Dwight Frye in his most iconic role, as Renfeild in DRACULA (1931).

Dwight Frye in his most iconic role, as Renfeild in DRACULA (1931).

Watch him as Renfield in DRACULA and you can’t help but wish he’d gone on to bigger and better things.

He died young, just 44, of a heart attack, in 1943.

SOARES: Dwight Frye was terrific! Also check him out as Herman Glieb in THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933), another memorable role. He also had a small role, as Wilmer Cook, in THE MALTESE FALCON (1931). He really deserved to become a leading man/villain in horror flicks. He’s better than Lionel Atwill or George Zucco, who got their shots as leads!

ARRUDA: And speaking of DRACULA, I’d also go with Helen Chandler in DRACULA (1931).  She’s often and obviously overlooked in this movie because of the presence of Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, and Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing, but she makes a terrific and feisty Mina.

Helen Chandler as Mina in a famous still from 1931's DRACULA.

Helen Chandler as Mina in a famous still from 1931’s DRACULA.

After a successful stage career, she never quite made it in the movies.  She lived a tragic life, struggling with alcohol and sleeping pill dependency, becoming disfigured in a fire, and eventually living out her days in a sanitarium.

From Hammer Films, I’ve always liked Francis Matthews, who appeared as Peter Cushing’s young assistant Hans in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958), and as heroic Charles Kent in the second Christopher Lee Dracula movie, DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).  He’s been described as an “ineffective” leading man, but I’ve always found his performances topnotch.  Sure, he sounds just like Cary Grant, but so what?  I would have liked to have seen him hit it big.

Francis Matthews with Peter Cushing in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Francis Matthews with Peter Cushing in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Then there’s Andrew Keir, who appeared with Matthews in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, as Father Sandor.  Keir was a very successful character actor, but as Father Sandor, the lead hero in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, he dominates his scenes, as he would again in arguably his most famous role as Professor Quatermass in FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967).  But he never reached the level of a Peter Cushing or a Christopher Lee in these movies, but based on his performances, he certainly could have.

Andrew Keir

Andrew Keir

Into the 1970s, I’d go with Jason Miller from THE EXORCIST (1973).  He’s great as young Father Karras.  I would have loved to have seen him act in many more movies, but he kept himself busy as a successful playwright.  He died in 2001.

Jason Miller as Father Karras in THE EXORCIST.

Jason Miller as Father Karras in THE EXORCIST.

SOARES:  I agree about Jason Miller, too. But I’ve got a problem. Bill Carl and I totally followed the rules and chose one person. I thought Paul was bad, but you’re listing so many people it sounds like you’re writing a book on the subject. What’s going on here?

ARRUDA: Where have you been?  We always get carried away with these things.  This is nothing new.  Why haven’t you been paying attention?  Have you been busy writing novels or something?

SOARES:  Yes.

ARRUDA:  There you go.

And from today, I’d go with Idris Elba.  He’s starred in a bunch of movies, including PROMETHEUS (2012) and THOR (2011), but mostly in supporting roles, which is too bad because he’s great in every movie I see him in.  He’s busily acting today, so there’s still time for him to make it big.  This guy needs to make it as a lead actor, and I’m hoping he does.

Idris Elba

Idris Elba

SOARES: Another one! But I have to agree about Elba, he’s great in everything he does. He is more appreciated in his native England, by the way, where he plays the lead in the compelling TV series LUTHER (worth checking out on BBC America). In America, he was pretty memorable as Russell “Stringer” Bell on the HBO series THE WIRE (2002 – 2004), but he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He was even turned down for the lead role in the recent movie ALEX CROSS, so that the role could go to “bigger name” Tyler Perry, who was awful!

ARRUDA: And that’s all we’ve got.

SOARES: Finally! I thought you were doing your dissertation or something!

ARRUDA:  Now that you mention it, it would be a fun idea for a book.

SOARES:  So, until next time, remember that there’s always something new here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. Tell all your movie-loving friends to check out the site!

ARRUDA:  That’s right.  Well, thanks for joining us for this week’s MONSTROUS QUESTION column.  Good night, everybody.

—END—

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: HIDE AND GO SHRIEK! (1988)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2012, 80s Horror, Grindhouse, Horror, Kinky Killers, Nick Cato Reviews, Slasher Movies, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2012 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 58:
Generic, but FUN
By Nick Cato

The late 1980s were a semi-sad time for grindhouse aficionados. The VHS craze had left theaters a barren-wasteland for horror and exploitation film fans. But every once in a while something interesting was granted a theatrical release: 1988’s slickly-titled, late-to-the-game slasher outing HIDE AND GO SHREIK was one of them.

I took a solo-trip to the (now defunct) Fox Twin Theater around Thanksgiving of 1988, as most of my friends were either in college or passed out drunk somewhere by this stage of the game. Despite being opening night, the theater was relatively uncrowded. I noticed several other people my age (all guys) in attendance, and there was that certain “I hope this doesn’t suck” expectation on all their faces. Be it desperation or some act of otherworldly celluloid intervention, by the time the film had run a mere five minutes, the place was applauding and cheering on this low budget stalk-and-slash fest like we were at some kind of sporting event.

The “plot” here is simple: a bunch of high school graduates (who, of course, look 10 years older than high school graduates) decide to celebrate by having an overnight party at one of their father’s furniture stores (yes…you read that correctly). The humongous, multi-floored store features mostly beds, so I’m guessing this was one of the guy’s ideas. In fact, this place could easily have been called BED DEPOT. After some drinking and horsing around, someone suggests they play a game of hide and seek, and everyone agrees (I’m guessing alcohol clouded everyone’s judgment here). Naturally, there just happens to be someone else in the store who begins to kill those he finds. Most of the cast are typical big-haired 80s types, as well as your token nerd. (NOTE: we DO learn earlier that an ex-con is living in the building as one of the stock workers, so naturally he’s the prime suspect. You have to give the boss of this place a hand for helping out those trying to readjust to society. One scene of this guy cooking dinner had the audience laughing out loud…he really made those veggies his bitch!).

There are plenty of goofy sexual situations (none too graphic), so it’s safe to assume the director was as inspired as much by PORKY’S as he was FRIDAY THE 13th. One strip-tease seduction sequence is laughably bad, and one poor guy is insulted for not “lasting” long enough. There’s not much nudity but most of that can be blamed on the film’s poor lighting.

Then there are the kill scenes (which, after all, is the main reason to see a slasher film), but unfortunately about half of the teens survive the ordeal. Our killer does manage to off the few he catches in inventive ways (one is deep-sixed by a mannequin arm, and one poor girl loses her head via elevator in the most crowd-pleasing scene).

Like any classic low budget 80s slasher, HIDE AND GO SHREIK has its moments of confusion (the killer dresses in drag in one scene, then in S&M leather in the next) and the opening sequence of him raping and killing a hooker left everyone dumbfounded. I’m guessing they had to explain his craziness somehow? And despite its R-rating, the gore level is kind-of low and the language used by annoyed teens is laughable (perhaps the screenwriters had an aversion to profanity?). Either way, “teenagers” haven’t spoken this calmly since LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. There’s also an attempt at the killer blaming his actions on someone else, which leads to a showdown finale that has been done a zillion times before (it’s sort of like SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983).Sort of. Kind of. Trust me on this one).

With all this one has going against it, it’s hard to pin-point why it manages to work. Perhaps it’s the setting; what horny teenage guys wouldn’t want to spend the night in a huge bed warehouse with a bunch of cute babes? Or maybe it’s some genuine suspense seldom seen in films of this type: a few stalk scenes build solid tension and lead to gut-cringing murders (one girl has her head smashed into a sink, filmed from the bottom of a see-through prop!). There are also several shots of mannequins staring at you that bring TOURIST TRAP (1979)to mind and further increase the film’s spooky atmosphere. Either way, HIDE AND GO SHREIK is one of the last of the truly fun 80s slasher films, complete with a very latent gay theme and a rare appearance by the beautiful Annette Sinclair (Google her).

While this was released on VHS, an official DVD release is still eagerly awaited by we legions of the obscure…but ah, the memories.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

What’s a slasher without issues? HIDE AND GO SHRIEK’s has plenty!