Archive for the Horror DVDs Category

Transmissions to Earth Presents: LAID TO REST (2009)

Posted in 2013, Horror, Horror DVDs, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer, Serial Killer flicks, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , on February 7, 2013 by knifefighter





Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Look out! Here comes ChromeSkull!

Yet another in the “Unstoppable Killer Who Keeps Coming” Sweepstakes, ChromeSkull is the antagonist of the 2009 movie LAID TO REST, directed by Robert Hall, who is probably better known as a special effects makeup artist who has worked on everything from television series like THE X-FILES to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL to recent movies like THE COLLECTION and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (both 2012).

To say there’s a plot to LAID TO REST is a bit of an exaggeration. But here goes:

A girl (Bobbi Sue Luther, who was also in the 2009 remake of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS) —we never learn her real name, and she’s simply called “The Girl” in the credits—wakes up inside a coffin and struggles to get out, knocking the casket to the floor. The mortician (Richard Lynch), freaks out and runs away. The girl runs around, trying to determine where she is (how hard is it to figure out you’re in a funeral home?) and at one point, she sees the mortician killed by a psycho who wears a chrome mask that looks like a skull. The guy also has a video camera he attaches to his shoulder, so he can tape all his murders. We learn later he’s sent some of his “home movies” to the police to taunt them. So he’s been doing this for a while.

Somehow, the girl escapes and flags down a guy named Tucker (Kevin Gage, who some people might recognize as the title character from the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT rip-off, CHAOS, in 2005), who takes her back to his house. For some strange reason, nobody in this movie has a working phone, and Tucker and his wife Cindy (Lena Headley) are no exceptions. They tell the girl they can’t call the police, but they’ll bring her to the sheriff’s office in the morning, and that she’s safe for the time being. Of course, she’s not. ChromeSkull followed them there and is soon going on another killing spree. Tucker and the Girl escape and drive away, but Cindy isn’t so lucky. Soon after they escape, Cindy’s brother Johnny (Johnathon Scheach) and his girlfriend show up, and are promptly murdered by ChromeSkull as an appetizer, before he goes after the ones that got away.

Look out! Chromeskull's on the rampage in LAID TO REST.

Look out! ChromeSkull’s on the rampage in LAID TO REST.

Tucker and the Girl show up at the house of Steven (Sean Whalen, who’s been in everything from HANNAH MONTANA to LOST and movies like MEN IN BLACK, 1997), a goofy-looking guy who reminded me of  a young Steve Buscemi. Steven tells them he doesn’t have a phone (of course), but he does have a computer and can email the police for them (WTF?). It doesn’t take ChromeSkull long to track them down and they get away, heading back to the funeral home (where Steven’s mother is, since she just died the day before).

The rest of the movie involves everyone trying to stay one step ahead of ChromeSkull, who kills other people who get in his way as he tries to get these guys, and most specifically, the Girl.

All the big names here (big for indie horror movies, I guess) don’t last very long. As previously mentioned, they include Richard Lynch (who just died last year and whose long career included everything from Larry Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO, 1976,  to the upcoming Rob Zombie movie THE LORDS OF SALEM); Lena Headley (who was Queen Gorgo in 300, 2006, Sarah Connor in THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES TV series, and is probably best known as Cersei Lannister in the HBO series GAME OF THRONES); and Johnathon Schaech (who we saw as the killer in the PROM NIGHT remake in 2008, and in movies like THE POKER CLUB , 2008, and “The Washingtonians” episode of the Showtime series MASTERS OF HORROR, 2007).

There’s not all that much to LAID TO REST. It’s just people trying to stay one step ahead of a maniac who wears a mask. It must have been successful, because it spawned a sequel (2011’s CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2). But I didn’t find it to be particularly memorable, aside from that shiny mask of his (it does look pretty cool, but it  keeps slipping off, and he keeps gluing it back on, so it’s not very practical). We learn that he has tons of videotapes of his victims from cities and towns all over America, that he likes to use super-sharp hunting knives and that he kept lots of bodies in caskets in a house back behind the funeral home (it’s not really clear what his relationship with that mortician was, but they knew each other). We never get a good look at ChromeSkull’s real face, and it’s hard to see him as anything more than just another one-dimensional boogeyman.

As I said before, nobody seems to have a phone, every car seems on the verge of running out of gas, and nobody seems to have any brains, which means that LAID TO REST isn’t the most satisfying horror movie you will ever see. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have its moments. Director Hall is able to generate some suspense, and he keeps the pace brisk enough, but by the end, it’s hard to really care about what happens, since the characters make so many dumb decisions.

Overall, there’s not a lot about LAID TO REST to distinguish it from other movies of its ilk.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

A cool foreign poster for LAID TO REST.

A cool foreign poster for LAID TO REST.


The Ghost of Christmas Past Presents: BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Posted in 2010, 70s Horror, HOLIDAY CHEER, Horror DVDs, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer with tags , , , , , , on December 21, 2012 by knifefighter

Review by L.L. Soares

Who would have guessed that the guy who gave us PORKY’S back in 1982 would also be the guy to give us two Christmas classics. Yes, TWO. The first one that comes to mind for most people is the movie Bob Clark made in 1983, and which has gone on to become a Christmastime juggernaut – A CHRISTMAS STORY. The story of Little Ralphie and his BB gun seems to be playing in a constant loop in the latter part of December. It’s become as much of a holiday staple as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and A CHRISTMAS CAROL. And I’ll admit, it’s a fun movie, as long as you don’t sit in front of the television for days on end watching it 150 times in a row.

But Clark also gave us 1974’s BLACK CHRISTMAS (also known as SILENT NIGHT, EVIL NIGHT), one of the first of the Christmas slasher films. And one of the best.

It may be the most famous of Clark’s early horror movies, probably because it was remade (badly) in 2006.

In BLACK CHRISTMAS, a deranged killer breaks into a sorority house, hides in the attic, and takes his time killing some of the girls who are left behind during the holiday (most of the girls have gone home to see their families). The killer has contacted them before this— by way of obscene phone calls that have plagued the house for a while. The killer says his name is “Billy” and his phone calls are pretty damn weird: he speaks in different voices and seems to be totally wacko.

One of the girls, Claire (Lynne Griffin) disappears, just before her father (James Edmond) comes to the college to pick her up, so he goes to the police, who are at first not very helpful, but grow more concerned as other murders pile up.

The other “girls” include Jessica (Olivia Hussey), the sensible lead; Barbie (a young Margot Kidder—most famous as later being Louis Lane in the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movies—and I have to admit she’s pretty hot in this movie!), who likes to drink too much and tell dirty stories; Phyllis (known as “Phil” and played by Andrea Martin of SCTV, in a rare dramatic role) who is the nerdy one; and house mother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), who’s always sneaking drinks and shouting for her cat. And the cop who investigates the case, Lt. Fuller,  is played by genre icon John Saxon.

The movie is unique for its camera work (the killer is never shown, and the camera is often from his point of view in his scenes) and weird sound effects (the killer’s phone calls are downright weird and unsettling). This is one case where the killer actually seems frightening and totally unhinged. The fact that not much is explained actually works to the story’s benefit, building suspense. The identity of the killer is also a source of much suspense. Is it Jessica’s boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea), who seems a bit unstable after a piano recital that fails to impress his professors, and who is angry that Jessica plans to abort their unplanned baby? Or is there going to be a twist as the story develops?

Bob Clark had a real talent for simple little horror flicks that were also very effective. It’s too bad he didn’t seem to be a big horror fan (he treated these early films more as a way to build his film resume). His biggest successes were  comedies like the PORKY’S movies and A CHRISTMAST STORY. Then, later in his career, he turned out, almost exclusively, family films like BABY GENIUSES (1999) and KARATE DOG (2004).

BLACK CHRISTMAS is a classic of its kind and a real pioneer, since it pre-dates another “mysterious killer” movie, John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. Also, its famous “the phone calls are coming from inside the house” storyline was ripped off years later in 1979’s WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (which Bob Clark seems to feel both flattered and annoyed about in a Q&A session that’s one of the extras on the DVD).

The 70s horror films Clark made (especially this one,1974’s DEATHDREAM and CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS from 1973) are all worth checking out. They’re all entertaining and suitably creepy. Clark had a very unique vision for these kinds of things, and I wish he’d made more horror films.

I think DEATHDREAM is the best of the bunch, but BLACK CHRISTMAS probably has the biggest profile of his horror work. Watch it this Christmas with someone you love (and who scares easily!).

© Copyright 2010 by L.L. Soares

Cinema Knife Fight: THE UH-OH SHOW! (2009)

Posted in 2011, Campy Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Dark Comedies, Gore!, Herschell Gordon Lewis Films, Horror DVDs, TV Shows, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2011 by knifefighter

By L.L. Soares and Nick Cato

(THE SCENE: The set of a game show, with a live studio audience. People are screaming and shouting in their seats as NICK CATO comes out from behind a curtain and stands before the crowd)

NICK CATO: Today’s movie deserves a little background. Hit it, Billy Cyclops!

(The lights dim down and a projection screen lights up with images from old horror movies)

NC: Herschell Gordon Lewis is the epitome of “Love Him or Hate Him.” He is responsible for the world’s first gore film (1963’s BLOOD FEAST) and directed over forty other exploitation and horror films from the late 1950s through the early 70s. He took a break after his last film of that period, THE GORE-GORE GIRLS (1972), to become a successful author of books for the advertising world (to date he has written over thirty-five). A much-requested speaker at motivational business conferences, Lewis once again gained fame for his exploitation films during the 1980s video revolution. His fan base became so large that in 2002, he got back together with old friend/producer (the late) David Friedman and made BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL U CAN EAT, the long-awaited sequel to his notorious classic.

(The audience “oohs” and “aahhs” as scenes of laughable gore effects splash across the screen)

NC: And now, Lewis has unleashed his latest celluloid atrocity, THE UH-OH SHOW. Released in 2009, the film played the festival and convention circuits for two years before finally coming to home video just this past August.

(The lights come back on to reveal that L.L. SOARES is now also on the stage, wearing a cowboy hat and clown make-up. The audience hoots and boos at him)

L.L. SOARES: Aw shut up, you ingrates! How much did you pay for the ticket to get in here? Nothing! So stop your belly-aching!

(NC shows the crowd his WIZARD OF GORE tattoo as LS drinks from a large glass of Guinness)

LS: Okay, okay, we get it. You’re a huge fan of Herschell Gordon Lewis. So am I. Which is why we’re doing this one together. Let’s see if the old master still has what it takes.

NC: I’ve been fascinated with Herschell Gordon Lewis since reading about him in the fourth issue of FANGORIA magazine. My old man even saw BLOOD FEAST down in Georgia in 1963, a couple of weeks before he went to Korea with the Army. I guess you can say Lewis’s films have been hereditarily handed down to me.

LS: Yeah, BLOOD FEAST is a real classic of its kind. No argument there.

NC: I was happy to see BLOOD FEAST 2 when it was released, although it was on a DVD. I had asked David Friedman at a Chiller convention in New Jersey how Herschell managed to make all the girls look like it was still the 1960s, to which he answered, “Beats me!” I thought it was a fun enough sequel, packed with plenty of classic Lewis-splatter and goofiness, although I thought Jackie Kong’s unofficial 1987 sequel, BLOOD DINER, was a much better film.

LS: I dunno, I’m on the fence about BLOOD DINER. Sure, it’s a homage to Herschell, but it’s a little too silly for my tastes. One thing about Herschell’s best, early films are that they took themselves totally seriously, which is why they were so cool. It was the effects and the bad acting that made them kind of funny, but it wasn’t until later in his career that he started to serve the gore with a wink, and that wink turned into a spasmatic eyeball! If only he’d stuck with the serious approach!

(Audience “boos” LS again)

LS: Aw shuttup, you pack of mangy dogs!

NC: I had been reading for years that Lewis’s next film was going to be titled GRIM FAIRY TALES, a collection of short, gory films based on Grimm’s classic stories. So when I heard he had changed the premise to a violent game show, I had no idea what the ‘ol Wiz was up to. When the title THE UH-OH SHOW was announced, my initial reaction was Lewis must be going for an all-out comedy. How about you?

LS: I’d heard the rumors about GRIM FAIRY TALES, too, and I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited. Sure, it would be cool to see another new movie by the Wizard of Gore himself, but something about fairy tales didn’t really grab me. When I heard the movie’s title was changed and it was about a violent game show instead, this actually sounded better to me. I couldn’t wait to see it. Of course, it took two whole years for it to finally get a decent DVD release.

NC: THE UH-OH SHOW deals with a televised game show (on a basic cable channel) that gains popularity due to its unusual angle: contestants who answer their questions wrong are forced to spin the “Wheel of Misfortune,” and whatever body part the spinner lands on is then cut off. In classic 2,000 MANIACS (1964) style, the first contestant loses her arm, then one guy is decapitated, all by THE UH-OH SHOW’s evil henchman, “Radial Saw Rex,” a scary-looking black guy with a huge portable chop saw. More bloody mayhem ensues, although most of it is as unconvincing as most of Lewis’s classic films.

The best scenes of the movie take place on a super gory game show called THE UH-OH SHOW.

LS: Yeah, but back in those classic films, Herschell was trying to make real horror flicks. Now he’s making pure camp. The thing is, however, I really liked the concept of THE UH-OH SHOW. A game show where contestants lose their limbs and other body parts is actually a brilliant idea. Even though it was a more comedic film right from the get-go, I bought this one right away and was really digging the game show scenes. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more going on in this movie, and it’s not all good.

NC: You bet! Lead bad guy Fred Finagler (played by Joel D. Wyknoop) says most of his lines obnoxiously loud, making him neither funny or frightening, but just plain laughable (and not in a good way). The majority of the cast are Florida locals, including star/UH-OH SHOW host Brooke McCarter, who does an okay job here, although the Oscars won’t be calling him anytime soon. Female lead Nevada Caldwell hands in a decent performance as reporter Jill Burton, and there are a few local model/strippers as the show’s VannaWhite-ish co-hosts. A cameo is even made by Floridian horror authors Jeff Strand and Lynne Hansen, but you’d better keep your eyes peeled or you’ll miss ‘em!

LS: See, I liked Brooke McCarter as the show’s host, Jackie, a lot. I thought he was suitably smarmy and pretty good in the role. I liked his sexy cohorts as well, especially Krista Grotte as “Champagne.” It was when the movie veered away from the game show that I started to get disappointed. The game show was so cool – why ruin it? Once that annoying Fred Finagler took center stage, I thought the movie went downhill, which is too bad. That said, I also liked Nevada Caldwell as reporter Jill Burton, too. She reminded me a lot of H.G. Lewis’s strong female characters from his 70s films like Nancy Weston (Amy Farrell) from 1972’s THE GORE GORE GIRLS and reporter Sherry Carson (Judy Cler) from 1970’s THE WIZARD OF GORE. The way she looked, the way she acted, Caldwell was another in a long line of Lewis’s classic heroines.

And I have to admit, it was kind of fun to see Jeff Strand and Lynne Hansen in this one. They’re friends of ours and it must have been a real thrill for them to appear in a Herschell Gordon Lewis film, even if it’s not one of his better efforts.

NC: The film takes a turn when a major network requests a spin-off. The show ends up being called GRIM FAIRY TALES, hence tying in what us Lewis geeks had been reading about for so long. And while these quick fairy tale clips are entertaining, they lack the humor that could’ve been expanded on THE UH-OH SHOW itself.

LS: This plot twist makes absolutely NO SENSE. They’ve got a hit game show. So they go on another network and instead of doing another violent game show, which is what people obviously want, they do a fairy tale show where that annoying corporate slimebag,Fred Finagler, with his sidekick Coco (Lauren Schmier), reads from a book while horror versions of fairy tales are reenacted. What do fairy tales have to do with a game show? Looks to me like Herschell might have started making GRIM FAIRY TALES, stopped half-way through, and then combined that story with THE UH-OH SHOW for some bizarre reason. The two plots have absolutely nothing in common except for Fred and Coco. And if there was a real UH-OH SHOW, and I was a fan (which I probably would be), I’d be pretty annoyed if my show went off the air and was replaced by a lame fairy tale show!

(Audience cheers)

LS: It’s about time you people got smart! You know I’m right about this!

NC: You’re theory isn’t that far-fetched. For those new to Lewis, several of his films feature pieced-together segments from other films, admitted filler, and all kinds of stuff that scare mainstream audiences away. But those were a product of the time, minimal budgets, and Lewis’s gung-ho attitude to get a film produced and out for public consumption as quickly as possible.

With the UH-OH SHOW, it’s apparent Lewis flung things together as quickly as he always has, although there’s far less thought put into things this time around. And there’s a patronizing aura throughout (especially when Herschell himself appears, telling stories to a group of young kids) that mocks the intended audience (I’m hoping this wasn’t intentional). If I hadn’t met Lewis a few times and can honestly say that he’s a GREAT guy, I would have been quite aggravated about this. But I’m guessing Lewis did this for fun AND for his legion of fans. I just wish it wasn’t so painfully . . . unfunny.

LS: I don’t know, I kind of liked the beginning of the film where “Uncle Herschell” tells stories to the kids. Sure, it was hokey, but I was just happy to see one of my favorite directors onscreen, and it was a lot more entertaining than the GRIM FAIRY TALES show-within-the-movie later on. If you want to talk about unfunny, how about Troma Head Honcho Lloyd Kaufman’s totally unfunny cameo in the middle of the film as a pimp. While I like some Troma films, it’s that wink-wink sensibility that Troma is famous for that is the downfall of movies like THE UH-OH SHOW.

NC: And despite THE UH-OH SHOW’s wild premise, the whole thing is just soooooo boring.

LS: I hate to say it, but I kind of agree with you there. Like I said before, when they lose interest in the game show concept and go on to other things, that’s when I kind of lost interest in the movie.

NC: I guess we can’t explain what it is about Herschell Gordon Lewis that so many of us low-budget film freaks love so much. But THE UH-OH SHOW isn’t a good example of why we do. The gruesome nature of BLOOD FEAST (1963) and THE GORE-GORE GIRLS (1972), the surreal experimentation of SOMETHING WEIRD (1967), and the combo of gruesome and surreal found in THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970), are much better places to start if anyone is interested in seeing what all the fuss is about. Or better yet, check out Frank Henenlotter’s recent documentary, HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE (2010) for a concise, comprehensive view of the director’s entire career.

LS: Considering how old Herschell is, it’s a wonder he’s still making films at all. So I find myself not wanting to be too hard on this one.

NC: I don’t know. While it’s always exciting to hear about a new Lewis film, the disappointing UH-OH SHOW only made me yearn for the glory days of the Godfather of Gore. It saddens me, but I give it half a knife.

LS: I swear, if they’d stuck with the game show premise, I might have really enjoyed this one. But this movie is all over the place, and when it turns completely silly half-way through, I found myself getting bummed out. When you like a director as much as Nick and I like Herschell, you want the guy to hit a home run every time he makes a movie. But no such luck. It saddens me as well. I give it one knife.

But if you’re a hardcore Herschell fan, you might want to check it out anyway, just because the man just doesn’t make movies very often anymore. At least there were some scenes I liked about this one. I just wish it had stayed focused and stuck to one plot.

NC: Oh well, it looks like we’re done.

(RADIAL SAW REX suddenly bursts onto the stage, chasing NC and LS with his giant power saw. The audience shouts and screams as a spray of blood shoots out at them, and the curtain goes down.)


© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares and Nick Cato

L.L. Soares gives THE UH-OH SHOW! ~ one knife

Nick Cato gives THE UH-OH SHOW! ~ half a knife

Transmissions to Earth: DEAD SILENCE (2007)

Posted in 2011, Evil Puppets!, Horror DVDs, LL Soares Reviews, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , on November 8, 2011 by knifefighter

Review by L.L. Soares

Just who is Mary Shaw and why does she love puppets so much?

For the answer to those questions, you’ll have to check out DEAD SILENCE from 2007.

Directed by James Wan, who gave us such movies as the original SAW (2004) and, more recently, INSIDIOUS (2010), DEAD SILENCE is the story of ventriloquist Mary Shaw and her collection of dolls. Just don’t call them dummies!

There is a long history of fascinating films about ventriloquist dummies. Dating back to 1929’s THE GREAT GABBO, a personal favorite of mine, where Erich Von Stroheim plays a ventriloquist whose dummy, Otto, ruins his work and his personal life, to the classic dummy story from the 1945’s DEAD OF NIGHT (featuring Michael Redgrave as a man haunted by his dummy), to 1978’s MAGIC, starring Anthony Hopkins as yet another ventriloquist at odds with a hostile/jealous dummy (and one of the few cases where the commercial was even scarier than the actual movie!) It’s a subgenre I’ve always enjoyed.

DEAD SILENCE isn’t exactly in the same league as those films, but it does get some things right. First off, it’s very atmospheric.

It begins with Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten—who you might know better as Jason Stackhouse on the HBO series TRUE BLOOD) and his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) in their new apartment. The buzzer rings and Jamie finds a mysterious package outside their door. Inside is a creepy-looking dummy, in a box that looks like a coffin. Jamie is perplexed (who would send such a thing to them?) but the couple doesn’t seem particularly disturbed by it. Lisa even makes plans to scare Jamie with it when he returns from getting takeout food for their dinner—except something happens and she ends up dead before he gets home. Her jaw is cracked open like a dummy’s and her tongue has been removed, when he finds her—sitting up in bed the same way she had posed the dummy to scare him.

Jamie goes back to his old hometown of Ravens Fair to bury his wife—it seems she’s from there, too, although we don’t meet any of her relatives there. There he visits his estranged father, who has recently had a stroke, and the man’s new young wife, Ella (Amber Valetta). He also has a cop on his trail, Detective Lipton (Danny Wahlberg, who has been having a decent acting career since his days in New Kids on the Block). Lipton seems to be following Jamie, and keeps popping up when least expected. He almost seems like a comic-relief character in some scenes.

Intent on figuring out who sent the dummy to him, and what it had to do with the death of his wife, Jamie delves into the legend of Mary Shaw, a creepy old ventriloquist who was killed by an angry mob that blamed her for the disappearance of a child (in a flashback reminiscent of a similar scene in the ”origin” of Freddy Krueger from the original 1984 version of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET). Shaw vowed to silence the men who killed her, and their descendants, just like she was silenced (thus the movie’s title). The murders attributed to her curse leave a string of corpses with doll-like hinged mouths hanging open without tongues inside, posed in strange ways. An effective image.

The film leads up to a big showdown in the ruins of Mary Shaw’s old “theater” – a decrepit mansion where Jamie and Detective Lipton find out what happened to the 101 dolls that Mary Shaw insisted be buried with her. If that sounds odd, what about the other part of her burial demand – that her corpse be made into a doll as well!

There were several times when DEAD SILENCE reminded me of classic Dario Argento films. From the use of surreal imagery and strong atmosphere to the Goblin-esque synthesizer score in some scenes, to a scene toward the end where Jamie finds himself in a basement room submerged in water that seemed like a nod to Argento’s INFERNO (1980). There are also scenes where Mary Shaw’s corpse moves around much like the witch from “The Drop of Water” segment from Mario Bava’s 1963 horror anthology film, BLACK SABBATH. So it seems like James Wan might be a big fan of classic Italian horror films.

Despite mostly strong acting and an effective use of atmosphere, however, there isn’t much in the way of scares in DEAD SILENCE. If you’re afraid of dummies, then this movie will play on those fears, but if not, you won’t feel the chill as much. The “twist” ending is clever enough, but won’t be giving me nightmares anytime soon.

I liked the look and feel of DEAD SILENCE, but I wasn’t crazy about the big showdown scene taking place in a house without electricity (with just a flashlight to clue us in). Still, this was a film that at least tried to be something different in an age of retro-slashers and paranormal activities. I liked that the dummy (and Mary) “stole the voices” of their victims and how Mary’s hand-written journals give instructions for “Making the Perfect Doll,” that take a particularly creepy turn.

Not a great movie, but a somewhat enjoyable one, despite its flaws. Worth a rental, at least.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares


Posted in 1960s Horror, 2011, B-Movies, Classic Films, Documentary, Drive-in Movies, Exploitation Films, Extreme Movies, Gore!, Grindhouse, Herschell Gordon Lewis Films, Horror DVDs, Low Budget Movies, Nick Cato Reviews, Psychos, Slasher Movies, Sleaze, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2011 by knifefighter

By Nick Cato

After recently viewing the documentary AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE, where exploitation director H.G. Lewis has a brief (but memorable) appearance, my appetite was set for more from the “Wizard of Gore.”  Directors Jimmy Maslon and Frank Henenlotter do a phenomenal job of satisfying that appetite with HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE, a 106-minute look at the life and career of a man who is both worshipped and loathed in horror film circles.

There’s a lot of time spent on Herschell’s pre-gore films, which were mainly nudie movies.  Herschell’s old partner, David Friedman (who passed away this past February of 2011) shares some hysterical stories of what they went through when they got into the nudie film market, and confesses they were coming in on the heels of what Russ Meyer was doing at the same time.  But where Meyer shot his women in an innocent, almost artistic way, Lewis and Friedman always featured their women in ways that could more easily be taken as something more than a tame peepshow (and hence a precursor to their coming extreme horror films).  And the duo’s explanations of how nudies (as well as all independent films) were distributed back in the early 60s will give modern filmmakers a whole new appreciation for what Lewis had to go through to sell his product.

For those fascinated with the evolution of the “splatter” film, it’s simply amazing how Lewis came up with BLOOD FEAST (1963).  He and Friedman had wondered to themselves, “What is something that NO ONE else is doing right now?” (in the world of exploitation films).  They had been in Florida staying at a hotel with an Egyptian theme, and before long they started writing/shooting BLOOD FEAST on the fly.  Fans of the film will be glued to the screen when star Mal Arnold (who plays the film’s killer, Fuad Ramses) is interviewed (there’s even footage of some early nudie films he had done for Lewis), and when Lewis speaks of the difficulties they had working with Playboy Playmate Connie Mason, who had zero acting abilities and refused to do a nude scene despite being a Playboy centerfold.  There’s also much about actor William Kerwin, who plays BLOOD FEAST’s main detective (and starred in many other Lewis films) and was also  Lewis’s “do everything else” guy on several projects.  Kerwin died in 1989, and his presence as a commentator would surely have added to this film.

The success of BLOOD FEAST (despite horrendous reviews—some critics are interviewed) made Lewis and Friedman a lot of money, and set them on a course they never thought would catch on.

If you’re a fan of  Lewis’s second gore film, 2000 MANIACS (1964), you’re in for a treat.  Directors Maslon and Henenlotter cut footage from the original film’s opening sequence with new footage of Lewis and Friedman re-visiting the small Florida town where they shot MANIACS, making it look like the original cast is welcoming them back to town.  They visit the hotel and some rooms where the film takes place, and there are interviews with some of the cast (including and adult Vincent Santo, who played young Jimmy in the film).  Lewis says 2000 MANIACS is his personal favorite film, the one he wishes he’d be remembered for, although he knows BLOOD FEAST will forever hold that title.  There are also some great stories of what went on with some of the gore effects, and a near-fatal accident Lewis almost had while filming the infamous boulder-drop sequence.

One of the funniest interviews comes from director Frank Henenlotter.  He claims one of his favorite scenes in any movie—ever—is in  Lewis’s COLOR ME BLOOD RED (1965).  And when you see the scene he’s speaking about, you’ll laugh as hard as the audience I saw this with did.  Henelotter’s commentary is always interesting, as are memories shared by director John Waters (who shows off his rare novelizations of two Lewis films) and the legendary Joe Bob Briggs.  Former Playboy photographer Bunny Yeager shares some great stories and explains why she refused  Lewis’s offer to star as Connie Mason’s mother in BLOOD FEAST.

Being a huge fan of  Lewis’s 1970 epic THE WIZARD OF GORE, I was happy to see plenty of interview time with its star, Ray Sager.  Every time he imitates Herschell the crowd cracked up, and his story of a blooper he caused on the set of  Lewis’s JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT (1968) is priceless.

Every one of  Lewis’s gore films get coverage (there’s even a lot of time spent on A TASTE OF BLOOD (1967),  Lewis’s attempt at a modern Dracula film), and gorehounds will be happy to know they show all the blood and guts in all their karo-syrupy glory.  An audience favorite seemed to be stories told about THE GRUESOME TWOSOME (1967), as well as the dual nipple-slicing scene from THE GORE GORE GIRLS (1972).

While I would’ve liked to have heard a bit about some of the director’s more obscure titles (such as 1969’s LINDA AND ABILENE), Lewis does spend some time explaining what caused him to “shoot” a kiddie feature in 1967 titled THE MAGICAL LAND OF MOTHER GOOSE (and it’s a doozie!).  There’s also no mention of BLOOD FEAST 2 (2002) or THE UH-OH SHOW (2009), two recent films directed by Lewis (which I found odd), although they do go a bit into his post-film career as a money-marketing expert.

There’s also a genuine treat IN the film itself:  Henenlotter and Maslon managed to get footage of a film Lewis never finished titled AN EYE FOR AN EYE, and pieced it together as a mini-movie (which stars BLOOD FEAST alumni William Kerwin).  It’s a supernatural-type thriller and actually seemed to be of higher quality than most of  Lewis’s other films.

I’m not sure how interesting THE GODFATHER OF GORE will be to the average horror film fan; surely the history of BLOOD FEAST and  Lewis’s early gore films should have respect from any genre fan, but it’s no secret that the majority of horror fans find  Lewis’s work too bad to watch and too cheap to even mention.  But love it or hate it, BLOOD FEAST started something (and yes, I know a film from Japan released in 1960 has recently been claiming the title as the world’s first gore film—but I’m willing to bet it’s not a quarter as entertaining—or gory—as  Lewis’s epic . . . and it didn’t inspire the slasher films to come in the 70s and 80s).

Packed with more gore and nudity than any documentary I can think of, THE GODFATHER OF GORE is almost like watching a “Greatest Hits” list of  Lewis’s films, so I’m hoping newcomers will be enticed to go back and check out these precursors to FRIDAY THE 13th (1980) and HALLOWEEN (1978), and the haters may see what a great guy (if not the greatest director) Herschell Gordon Lewis was (and still is).

Even though I’ve been a fan of Lewis since reading about him in the fourth issue of FANGORIA Magazine way back when, have read three books about him, and have met and spoke with him and David Friedman, I still learned some things about him in this wonderfully entertaining and educational tribute that any horror fan interested in the roots of modern horror cinema would be crazy to miss.

(The film is dedicated to the late Daniel Krogh, who filmed a few of Herschell’s later films and co-wrote the first book about him titled THE AMAZING HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS AND HIS WORLD OF EXPLOITATION FILMS [1983 Fantaco] ).

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

Lewis and Friedman discuss BLOOD FEAST in THE GODFATHER OF GORE

HATCHET (2007)

Posted in 2007, Horror DVDs, LL Soares Reviews, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on February 16, 2011 by knifefighter

(Here’s a blast from the past – my review of the original HATCHET from September 2007, during HATCHET’s brief theatrical release before it went quickly to DVD ~LLS)

by L.L. Soares

I saw the movie HATCHET, and I have two reactions to it. The first reaction is that it’s the equivalent of a fun (but dumb) amusement park ride. My second reaction is that I feel like I’ve been cheated.

You see, I was really looking forward to HATCHET because it’s been advertising itself as “Old School American Horror.” To some of us, that phrase means something. It hearkens back to the golden decade of the 1970s, when we got treated to intense horror classics like the original THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), the original HALLOWEEN (1978), the original DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) (Don’t you just hate that I have to put the word “original” in front of each of those movies, so you know what I’m talking about?), and the soon to be “original” LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) (since we all know it’s inevitable that will get the official remake treatment at some point too)  (EDITOR’S NOTE: AND I WAS RIGHT!).

HATCHET was building up a lot of buzz on the premise that it was a throwback to the horror films of the ‘70s, and me being the silly person I am, I thought this meant suspenseful, brutal, edge-of-your seat filmmaking. But it turns out I was wrong.  “Old School American Horror” wasn’t meant to imply the 70s at all in this context. Instead, HATCHET is  like the horror films of the ‘80s, especially stuff like FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (1982) – you know, when slasher films were getting a bad name and were becoming jokes because of all the damn sequels and cliches?

Which is kind of funny, because the monster in HATCHET is played by Kane Hodder who played Jason in FRIDAY THE 13TH Numbers 7 – 10. See how everything comes full circle?

HATCHET revels in the whole “jokey horror” genre, where we get as many jokes and one-liners as we get thrills. And frankly, I’m getting a little tired of that, since it’s seldom done well.  The story is simple enough – hell, it seems a bit too simple. A bunch of friends are at Mardi Gras. One of them, Ben (Joel David Moore) refuses to have a good time because he’s a whiner who’s devastated over his recent breakup with his girlfriend (who can blame her?). So his buddy Marcus (Deon Richmond) agrees to go with him on a late night “swamp tour” through the spooky bayou to lift his spirits. There are other people on the tour, including an older couple, a sleazy filmmaker and his two “actresses” (who constantly pull their tops down “Girls Gone Wild” style), and a weird girl who won’t say much. The guide for the tour is an Asian guy who talks in a cajun accent and pretends to be a local – but he has no idea what he’s doing. While out on the swamp, their boat gets damaged and they have to run to shore before the alligators get them. But, in the woods, there is a worse danger. His name is Victor Crowley.

Victor (Kane Hodder) is a deformed freak who looks an awful lot like the monster in Tobe Hooper’s THE FUNHOUSE (1981) with some ELEPHANT MAN (1980) thrown in for good measure. As a child, Victor was taunted by other children because of his tragic appearance. One Halloween, some kids threw firecrackers at his house to torment him and ended up burning the place down by accident. Trapped inside, poor Victor panicked and struggled to get out. His father, trying to get inside, used a hatchet on the door. Unfortunately, Victor’s face is pressed close to the other side….and you get the picture from there.

For some untold reason, Victor’s still alive. And, after being born deformed, then burned, hatcheted and left for dead, you can understand why he’s boiling mad!

What happens next is just what you think. The group of morons who got stranded in the woods get picked off one by one by the deranged freak.

Once Victor appears, the movie does take a big leap forward. Let’s face it, no matter how flawed the movie is, he’s a cool character who deserved a better storyline. But, until he shows up, it’s just a lot of lame jokes and annoying characters. And it is kind of fun how he constantly pops up when people least expect it, to kill and mutilate. There were rumors that this movie was going to get an NC-17 rating originally, and you can see why. There’s tons of decapitations, bodies getting cut in two, and arms being ripped off. But it’s more cartoony than scary.

A little Victor Crowley goes a long way, but unfortunately, he’s not enough to save the movie. And it certainly wasn’t good enough to justify the ten dollar ticket price I paid.

Sure, I laughed a few times, and I dug the carnage, but HATCHET was ultimately a disappointment. If they’d actually played it straight and emulated the films of the 1970s – you know, real OLD SCHOOL AMERICAN HORROR –  then maybe HATCHET would have been a film worth recommending. I know I was expecting something much more intense. If this sounds like the kind of goofy fun film you’d enjoy, then by all means, check it out. Everyone else, you can wait for the DVD.

Another lesson in “Don’t believe the hype.”

© Copyright 2007 by L.L. Soares

HATCHET 2 (2010)

Posted in 2011, Controverisal Films, DVD Review, Horror DVDs, LL Soares Reviews, Sequels, Slasher Movies, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on February 15, 2011 by knifefighter

HATCHET 2 (2010)
DVD Review by L.L. Soares

I’d originally planned to review HATCHET 2 last October, when it was released in theaters. There was some controversy at the time, because it was released unrated in mainstream movie theaters.This was the first time a mainstream horror film was released unrated because of violence since George Romero’s classic DAWN OF THE DEAD in 1978.  I guess the big theater chains weren’t ready for this, though, because they pulled HATCHET 2 after only three days. It was a big deal at the time. I just missed seeing it in time to review it, and had to wait for the DVD, which just came out this month.

So, with all the controversy and hype, was HATCHET 2 worth it?

Well, yes and no. First off, let’s address the previous film, Adam Green’s HATCHET (2007), which was reviewed on this site awhile back. I remember being very disappointed with it at the time. The marketing strategy at the time was all about calling it a return to “Old School American Horror,” which I mistakenly thought meant a throwback to the meaner, more violent films of the 1970s. But it was way too jokey and downright silly for most of its running time to be genuinely scary. I didn’t like a lot of the characters, and when Kane Hodder popped up onscreen as the deformed monster, Victor Crowley, it gave the movie a boost, but not a big enough one to save it.

That said, the original HATCHET is one of those movies that has grown on me over time. I still don’t think it’s a great movie, but it is a fun movie.

Watching HATCHET 2, I noticed one thing right off the bat— that things have a more serious tone this time around. There are some goofy characters in the mix, but they don’t dominate the proceedings, and strangely, the plot of HATCHET 2 actually kind of makes sense!

The movie begins exactly where the last one ends. In the first movie, a bunch of people taking a boat tour through the bayou end up trapped when the boat breaks down in Honey Island Swamp, and local legend/boogieman Victor Crowley turns out to be real and picks them off one by one, in increasingly gory ways. At the end of the original HATCHET, everyone has been killed except Marybeth (Tamara Feldman), who somehow escapes a gruesome fate.

At the beginning of HATCHET 2, Marybeth (now played by Danielle Harris) is found by the old Cajun gator hunter named Jack Cracker, who saves her and brings her back to his shack in the middle of the bayou. He’s helpful enough until he finds out Marybeth’s last name, Dunsted, and realizes that her daddy was Samson Dunsted, one of the casualties in the first HATCHET movie. He immediately demands that she leave his house, and even pulls a gun on her to make his point.

After she’s gone, Victor Crowley shows up keep Jack’s mouth shut – for good.

Marybeth heads back to New Orleans and seeks out Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd), who we saw briefly in the first movie, when Todd’s character just had a cameo. The Reverend tells Marybeth the story of Victor Crowley, how he was born as a kind of monster due to a curse and how Marybeth’s father was one of three boys who set Crowley’s house on fire years before, leading to the boy’s death.

So how is Victor Crowley able to pop up and kill people if he’s dead? Because he’s a ghost, and not just any kind of ghost. He’s a “repeater.” Which means that he comes back every night, over and over again, until he’s able to get his revenge and the curse is finally lifted.

At least this is Reverend Zombie’s theory. But he’s so sure of himself that he gathers a bunch of local fishermen and gator hunters to help him. He tells them it’s an expedition to find his damaged tour boat and bring it back, but his real plan is to offer up the two men who were, as kids, Samson Dunstan’s accomplices in burning down the Crowley house. Zombie figures if he can appease Crowley, all this ghost business will go away, and he’ll be free to cash in on the swamp (Is there really that much money in late-night swamp tours?).

Of course, things don’t go according to plan, and over the course of the movie, people die in lots of awful ways, including:

  • Strangled with their own intestines
  • Getting a hatchet to the head
  • Having an electric sander scrape off the back of a skull
  • Being chainsawed between the legs and up, until they’re cut in half
  • One guy having his mouth pressed against a table and then Victor kicks the guy’s head from behind (kind of a variation on the old “curb job”)
  • Getting chopped in half and having their skin pulled off

As you can see, the reason this movie was released unrated was because of all the gore. And while HATCHET 2 is an okay horror flick overall, it’s the gore that’s the draw here, if you’re into that kind of thing. Although I saw the original HATCHET in a movie theater and I remember it being pretty gory as well, that one somehow got an R rating.

But as we know from  those “Director’s Cut” DVD releases, the difference between an R Rating, and the MPAA rejecting a film for that rating, can be just a matter of two or three minutes’ worth of explicit violence. That violence, in HATCHET 2, is exaggerated and cartoony, and I can’t imagine anyone could really be offended by it. And I think director Adam Green and his studio should be applauded for bypassing the MPAA and releasing HATCHET 2 unrated, even if they didn’t fully succeed at it and the movie got pulled early.

Overall, I thought HATCHET 2 was an improvement over the first film. The tone is more serious. The acting is better. We’ve got Tony Todd in a main role here (instead of just the cameo he had in the first film) and he’s always entertaining  – even in stuff like this, and the even worse ARE YOU SCARED 2 (2009). I just wish the guy could get better movies to be in! Danielle Harris as Marybeth is pretty good, too, and is sympathetic as the last of the Dunsteds.

And the Victor Crowley scenes are way over the top, just as they should be.

I reviewed the first movie before we started giving ratings. But if I gave the first HATCHET one knife, let’s say, then HATCHET 2 certainly deserves two or even two and a half.

In other words, HATCHET 2 is worth the price of a DVD rental. Check it out.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares