Monday, October 31, 2011

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Night of the Living Dead is my favorite movie of all time. It has always creeped me out and always delivers every time I watch it. I always seem to save a viewing for Night of the Living Dead just for Halloween night. A bit of a tradition if you will.

George Romero’s first film was filmed in 1968 on a very small budget of around $100,000. The movie introduced the idea of flesh eating zombies to an unsuspecting film audience. It’s stark black and white photography added to the creepiness and macabre scenes. It’s charm is timeless and has been a cult favorite for over 40 years. 

The pic that started it all
I first discovered this movie through an article in what I believe was a “Weird Tales” magazine back in the late 70’s. I remember being at school and excited to have a chance to buy a book at the book fair that was being held in the school library. I had found the novel version of Star Wars and was pretty set on what I was going to spend my parents money on. I mean Star Wars was HUGE at the time! Then out of the corner of my little eye I saw this magazine. It intrigued me so I opened it. I cannot tell you one story that was featured in this magazine but I do remember a still shot of these people on the front porch of a house. They looked to be clamoring about the doors and windows and one even had what looked like a large stick or club in its hand. The picture just hit me for some reason and I read the heading and found out the picture was from the movie Night of the Living Dead. The “Monster Kid” in me was already starting to bloom so I chucked the Star Wars book and bought the magazine instead! I remember reading about the movie and thinking that I had to see this one day! At the time home video had not been introduced to our family so I would have to wait several years before finally laying eyes to what would become a staple in my horror viewing habits.
Ben....good guy don't mess with him

I’m not going to review the movie here but I am just going to point out all the stuff that makes it great. Oh and there will be spoilers so if you haven’t seen this film you may read at your own risk. The opening scene is classic, period. From the opening credits and shots of the car driving up to the cemetery to the point where Barbara finally finds safety in the old house is one of the most brilliantly filmed sequences in horror film history. You get creepy atmosphere right from the start and introduced to two nice characters and one lone zombie that is trying his damnedest to get to his prey. The scene where Barbara flees the car, makes it to the road and then begins to run towards the camera and the camera begins to pull away from her is my favorite shot in the whole film. Romero gives the viewer the feeling of helplessness much like the old recurring dream where you try to run but it feels like you are going nowhere.

Harry Cooper, a real a-hole.
Then you have the banter between the characters, especially between Ben (Duane Jones) and Mr. Cooper (Karl Hardman). The dynamic between these two is well played out and completely defines Cooper as a real a-hole who deserves to be shot and then eaten by his zombiefied daughter. Everyone seems to want to work together except Cooper. He is hell bent on trying to preserve his own life no matter what the cost is to others. Is he trying to be a good father and husband by protecting his family? Nope that idea is completely thrown out the window with the exchanges between him and his wife Helen (Marylin Eastman). Helen tells Harry “We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn't going to solve anything”. That pretty much tells us what the dynamic is between these two.


And who can forget Kyra Schon, the little girl who plays the Cooper’s daughter Karen. Karen’s been bitten by a zombie and mainly hangs out on the makeshift table resting throughout the film. She delivers one classic line, “I hurt”. But that is all she needs to say because she more than makes up for it in the finale when she finally turns to full zombie and attacks her mother with a spade. The scene is an all time classic with tilted camera angles, chocolate syrup splattered on the wall (it was filmed in black and white remember?) and a bizarre soundtrack that features the creepiest of screams and squeals.

Marilyn Eastman and Bosco chocolate syrup.
The ending of the film is a complete downer. It works don’t get me wrong and I would have it no other way but to have the hero of the movie, the one man who had it all together. The one who talked reason to everyone in the house, he gets mistaken for a zombie and gets a bullet between the eyes. The posse that was out killing zombies and trying to make the county safe makes one of the biggest gaffes in horror movie history. Well Ben was smart. He knew how to handle things and was a quick thinker. He took no crap from anyone and put Cooper in his place but he was mistaken about one single thing. The cellar was the safest place to hide from the zombies.

Night of the Living Dead also holds a special place in my Halloween heart because I first added it to my collection from a T.V. airing back in the mid 1980’s. A local channel aired the Hal Roach colorized version doubled with the T.V. premier of John Carpenter’s Halloween II. I didn’t really care that the version aired was the colorized version, I just wanted to add to the shelf for future viewing and cutting the cost of constant rental fees. I also found it pretty ironic that Night of the Living Dead is seen and heard in Halloween II. It is one of the movies playing on Halloween night during the “Dr. Dementia” Marathon. So to me it is completely fitting to watch Night of the Living Dead on Halloween night. It delivers the creeps and takes me back to a more simple time.

So turn down the lights, grab your popcorn and enjoy!!

Happy Halloween everybody!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Alan Parsons "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" (1976 Polygram)

In my junior year of high school way back in 1988 I discovered The Alan Parsons Project’s “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”. My 11th grade English teacher is actually to blame…well I shouldn’t say blame. She had it on her desk and I inquired about it being that I saw the  words “Edgar Allan Poe” after the title. She let me borrow the cassette and I completely fell in love with this album. I let her borrow one of my cassettes just to be fair. I gave her Slayer’s speed metal classic “Reign In Blood” to check out. I have a feeling I got the better end of the deal because she was in no way a fan of anything of Slayer’s nature.

Right from the start the first track sets the mood for the rest of the album. Orson Welles reads from Poe’s “Dream Within a Dream” which is also the name of the first track. Welles voice is perfect of course and the music has a dreamlike quality and subtle but still driving bass line which leads into “The Raven”.  This track is pretty unique because Parsons actually sings on this song. Something he usually never does on any APP album. The album now takes on a progressive rock type feel and moves on into “The Tell Tale Heart” which is a more “rock” tune. “The Cask of Amontillado” is a slower song which mixes fine melody with the macabre subject matter of murdering your rival by walling them up to slowly die.

“The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” returns to the progressive rock mode and features some great vocal work by John Miles and Jack Harris. The album takes a completely different turn on “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Narrated again by Welles, the song is presented in five sections; Prelude, Arrival, Intermezzo, Pavane and Fall. The song also features some wonderful orchestral work arranged and conducted by Andrew Powell. 

The last track is “To One In Paradise”, a slow and dreamlike piece of work that has that Alan Parsons Project “sound”. It’s the kind of song that can lull you to sleep as your mind harkens back to days gone by. At least that’s what it does for me.

For a debut album this is a brilliant and huge undertaking to put the feel and atmosphere of Edgar Allan Poe’s work to music. The Alan Parsons Project nails it! So thanks to my 11th grade English teacher, Linda MaColl for turning me on to this incredibly awesome album and to those who haven’t encountered it yet; take a listen to some of these youtube grabs! Great October listening indeed!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Back in 2006 I discovered a really cool blog called Scar Stuff. The blog belongs to Jason Willis, a true "monster kid" if there ever was one. He mainly featured links to downloads of cool Halloween inspired albums of the 60's and 70's. He had a knack for really capturing the memories of Halloweens of days past. A time when everyone seemed to celebrate the holiday and there were no "fall festivals". It just an all out Halloween assault! The way it should be! Each October Jason brings something new to the table of spooks and this year he has really "knocked the ball outta the part" to quote one follower of the Scar Stuff blog.

In 1969 a children's Halloween album was release called "Halloween: Games, Songs and Stories" by Kay Lande and Wade Denning on Den-Lan Records (later re-released on Golden Records in 1974). The first track was a song called "Halloween". It was based on the classic piece entitled "Danse Macabre" by Saint Saens. The song completely captures the feel of Halloween. Well Jason took this a step further and armed with his i-phone and the hisptamatic app, Jason created a visual that also completely captures the essence of Halloween. Enjoy this incredible piece of original work and don't forget to drop by Jason's blog Scar Stuff for more Halloween spookiness guaranteed to take you back to days gone by!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

One of the great things about the Halloween season is that satellite and cable channels show more horror films. My favorite of these channels isTurner Classic Movies (Channel 256 for you Direct Tv subscribers). Each season many of the same titles get shown but there are always some newbies that I haven’t seen and I eagerly search the schedule to see what is in store for me in my favorite month of October.

Most everyone knows the story of Jekyll and Hyde. Jekyll is a scientist researching the possibility of being able to separate the two sides of man, good and evil. Jekyll is successful with his experiment by creating a potion which transforms himself into an evil and animalistic incarnation of himself. He is able to transform back into his rightful self with another potion. Even though the experiment is a success, Jekyll realizes the dangers of such a potion. Another transformation occurs without the help of the potion and all bets are off as Hyde goes on a murderous spree and is finally killed in a wonderfully filmed finale.

Fredric March plays the role of both Jekyll and Hyde. The Hyde make up is well done for it’s time. The transformation effects are extremely well done as well utilizing a makeup that can’t be seen in one type of filtered lighting but as another filtered lighting is turned on the makeup appears giving the effect that Jekyll’s skin is changing color. The full transformation makeup is very ape like complete with simianesque fangs. Fredric March completely changes character giving the impression another actor could be playing the role. A portrayal so well done it earned him his first Oscar. 

What really surprised me about this film was it’s concentration on deviant sexuality. Early in the film Jekyll meets Ivy (Miriam Hopkins), a prostitute who he rescues from the hands of a violent man near the boarding house she lives in. Jekyll carries her to her room where Ivy flirts and pretends to be injured. She undresses in front of him, tempting him with her body and slipping under the covers of her bed. A pretty racy scene for 1931 I must say. Jekyll resists temptation since he is engaged to be married to his love Muriel (Rose Hobart). This seems to be the tipping point for Jekyll as soon after he takes his first taste of the mind and body altering elixir and goes looking for Ivy under the guise of Hyde. Hyde forces Ivy to do as he pleases and keeps her prisoner in her boarding room. Miriam Hopkins’ portrayal of a distraught and fearful prisoner is very well acted. Hyde’s existence seems to be built upon Jekyll’s own sexual frustration with his fiancĂ© and wanting to up the date of their wedding. Muriel’s father will not budge on the date. Jekyll is able to live out a sexual side of him that actually plunges into depravity and violence.

The sets are well done and capture the feel of Victorian London very well. The slum neighborhood were Ivy lives is especially dank and seedy adding more to ambience. Jekyll’s laboratory is so chock full of beakers and test tubes it’s almost ridiculous but still adds to the overall feel of the good doctors lab. Supposedly the movie had a budget of  $1.14 Million which was a huge amount of money for a  horror film at the time. The film did very well for Paramount Pictures.

This is a true classic horror film that any fan of the genre should seek out. It is available on a double feature DVD with the 1941 remake starring Spencer Tracy. Go get it!!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It's that time of the year all you fiends and ghouls!

It's that time of year again! October is here and of course that means it's Halloween time! I am going to try and post as much Halloween related things as I can during this month.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love the fall and I love the colors that the season brings out. It makes me smile to see the sight of pumpkins on doorsteps, scarcrows and Indian corn. Throw in some homemade haunts and I am golden for October. As each day goes by my mood gets spookier. My listening habits begin to drift from the standard hard rock and heavy metal that permeats my life and I begin to indulge in songs like "Monster Mash" and "The Mummy's Bracelet". Of course I also have to have a good dose of The Misfits and other rock tuneage to satisfy the rock n roll beast within!

  When I was a kid I had one of those Fisher Price Movie Viewers and just like the picture here it came with Disney's "Lonesome Ghosts" cartoon. There was no sound just the cartoon which was on actual film and housed inside the cartridge. I have no clue what millimeter size this was but you could control the speed with the crank handle and also run it forwards or backwards. This thing fascinated me to no end! It also fueled my love for spooky entertainment.

So hats off to October! I will try to post more Halloween stuff as the month progresses and hopefully a nice big post concerning my favorite horror film of all time! Happy Halloween everybody!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The House on Sorority Row (1983)

Slashers come and slashers go but few make as much as an impression as The House on Sorority Row did on me. A title I had seen for many years in the video stores but never got around to renting finally found it’s way on my shelf via ebay. I ask myself one question; why did it take so long for me to see this?

The House on Sorority Row was released in 1983 during the initial boom of the slasher genre and seems to follow the basic formula that almost all of these films were built upon. House starts out with a flashback filmed in the standard “dreamlike” cinematography that we all have come accustomed to, featuring a traumatic childbirth where a woman’s baby is stillborn. Fast forward 20 years to the present day… well 1983 present day. We are introduced to six sorority sisters who live under the strict house rules of Mrs. Slater (pssst….the lady in the flashback who gave birth). They are planning a graduation party but these plans are poo pooed by the house mother Mrs. Slater. It seems that the woman always closes the house every June 19th. This date happens to coincide with the birth of her dead son. Mrs. Slater also seems to have some mental issues as well as we are made aware of by her physician, Dr. Beck.

The girls decide to prank old Mrs. Slater but the prank goes awry and Slater is accidentally shot….or drowned. I’m not sure since the prank included a gun that shot blanks. The scene where Mrs. Slater falls into the pool after the gun goes off wasn’t filmed as well as it could have been and really is my only beef with this movie. The girls decide to hide Mrs. Slater’s body in the dirty swimming pool and go ahead with plans for the graduation party. The party goes as planned but all the girls are worried that the body will be found. When a partygoer decided to take a dare and dip in the pool, the girls discover that the body is missing. They dare not mention a word to anyone and thus their demise begins.

One by one, they are picked off by some unseen killer. Many are killed by the cane of old Mrs. Slater, giving the impression to the viewer that Slater is not dead at all but alive and well and taking revenge. When Mrs. Slater’s body is found, the girls decide to bury in at a nearby graveyard. Still though, they are all still being stalked and slashed by someone who knows their secret. In the last reel of the film, Katey (the good girl who didn’t want to go through with the prank or the hiding of the body) discovers that Slater had a son named Eric. This son didn’t die at childbirth but was horribly malformed both psychically and mentally, a result of some experimental drugs used by Dr. Beck during Slater’s pregnancy. 
Katey.....the final girl.

In the final reel the son is revealed and kills Dr. Beck. He also goes after Katey (the final girl played by Kate McNeil) to enact the revenge that is due. Katey is able to flee into the attic where all of Eric’s childhood toys are hidden. It seems Mrs. Slater kept Eric in the attic for 20 years. Katey finally stabs Eric several times and sends him falling out of the attic door and to the floor below. In the final shot, when all seems to be over, Eric’s eyes suddenly open……..and the screen goes black.

The House on Sorority Row is completely open for a sequel but thankfully they left this little low budget gem alone. This film delivers on all fronts. It runs at a nice pace and never stalls. It delivers some nice kills that contain just enough blood letting to satisfy most of the gore hounds. There is one great shot of a decapitated head in a toilet that is so well executed, it should be inducted into some type of slasher hall of fame. A simple shot yet it delivers the goods! The characters are also well played out which is something that a majority of these slasher films always tend to lack in. The House on Sorority Row is a very fun and entertaining classic of the genre.

The movie was released to DVD through Elite Entertainment in 2000 but is out of print. It was re-released in 2003 as well and is also out print. You can find it on ebay but be prepared to spend some cash on it. In 2009, director Stewart Hendler remade the film under the title Sorority Row and starred Carrie Fisher as the house mother. Yes, Princess Leia was in the remake. I wonder if she contemplated wearing that bikini from Return of the Jedi?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Final Exam (1981)

1981 was a good year for horror. Movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th had paved the way for what would be eventually know as the “slasher film” and by 1981, just about every movie studio was cranking out at least one a year. The year had produced the long awaited sequel Halloween II and several other now iconic favorites My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday To Me and Nightmare (Nightmares in a Damaged Brain).

Final Exam was a very low budget entry in the slasher genre and I’m not sure how well it did in the theaters. However it was released to home video from Avco/Embassy which is how I came across it in the VHS rental boom of the 80’s. It didn’t satiate my bloody pallet of the time period but did provide 90 minutes of entertainment on a Saturday afternoon.

Final Exam begins promising enough with a couple out parking out in a wooded area near their college. The two are attacked by an unknown assailant who pulls the boyfriend out of the car through the convertible top and stabs him with a butcher knife (ala Michael Myers). The story then cuts to Lanier College where many of the students are taking their mid term exams and leaving for their break. We get the usual collection of college kids; the cute, studious and straight laced Courtney, the frat boy Mark, the big dumb jock “Wildman” and of course the mousy nerd “Radish”. I would say the rest of the cast is just fodder for the killer’s butcher knife but they are actually fleshed quite well despite the amateur acting. It’s an aspect that I like about Final Exam. Director Jimmy Huston opted to actually develop his characters instead of just filming bloody death after bloody death to fill up the running time. A good portion of the film is spent getting to know the characters and giving the viewer moments to let them know the killer is nearby and stalking them all. The body count doesn’t start until around the 40 minute mark.

Final Exam is also very restrained as far as bloodletting is concerned. Several deaths are hinted at more than anything else and bodies are discovered in aftermath style. The heroine is pretty easy to figure out in the beginning of the film, which is pretty standard for a slasher film of the era. However the killer’s motive is never explained in this one. Most slasher films have a psychopath that kills for a reason be it a childhood trauma or something else. This killer however just kills for no reason. He also never tries to hide his face with a mask, which seemed to be the status quo by 1981. Director Huston did a great job of hiding the killer’s face with shadows and objects in the foreground, a feat that was rather difficult to achieve in a fight scene with one of the victims in the college weight room. The killer also uses one weapon, a simple butcher knife and dresses pretty ordinary in jeans and an old army jacket. Even though some have complained about the killer having no motive, this actually works for me because Huston was able to create a character that is actually pretty imposing and menacing in its purity.

Final Exam was filmed in Shelby, North Carolina through Earl Owensby Studios a studio that is still operational to this day! The studio was also used to film scenes for the 20th Century Fox blockbuster “The Abyss”. The crew also filmed at Gardner-Webb University and Limestone College which really gave the film an authentic college campus feel.

Final Exam was released on VHS through Embassy Entertainment and also on DVD from Code Red . Both of course are out of print but you should find some around at Ebay Happy hunting!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Diggin' this German one sheet!
When A Nightmare on Elm Street first debuted in theaters, my older brother went to see it. I remember him telling me it was one of the scariest films he had seen in a long time. I immediately wanted to hit the theater to see it but alas I was young and unable to get someone to get me into an R rated film. I would have to wait until it hit HBO and get a friend of mine (who had cable) to tape it for me before I could experience what, in my opinion, is Wes Craven’s pinnacle film.

Right from the start of the film Craven throws us into a world of shadows, bizarre imagery (what’s up with that goat in the beginning sequence?) and hair raising sounds that can only be found in our wildest nightmares. The dreamscape in which Craven has painted really leaves the door open for just about anything the imagination can come up with. This is why the film works so well. The line between the dream world and real world are entirely skewed and in many instances blend so well together you begin to wonder is this a dream or not?

Not even the tub is safe in Craven's imaginative tale!

The sequence in which Nancy encounters her dead friend Tina outside her English class doorway is especially well filmed. As a fellow classmate is reading an excerpt from Shakespeare, Nancy falls asleep and the dream begins. Tina calls her name and is seen standing in the doorway, still in the blood splattered plastic body bag. A nice touch is hearing the other classmate’s voice descend into a very slow deep guttural tone while reading the passage and mentioning “bad dreams”. I still need to find out if that was actually from Shakespeare or not. (I’m sure someone can tell me!) Nancy follows the blood trail down the hall and runs into the hall monitor who is wearing a sweater identical to Freddy Krueger’s, the films villain.
The icon......Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund)

Krueger (Robert Englund), as fans know, is a child killer who was lynched by parents in the town many years ago and burned alive in the old boiler room of the factory he was employed. Years later Krueger returns in the dreams of the children of those parents and begins to murder them in their nightmares, a revenge aspect of the story that is finally revealed in the last reel of the film. Craven came up with a great “gimmick” for Freddy, the glove fitted with finger knives. The glove alone is now iconic to horror fans and casual movie fans alike.

A Nightmare on Elm Street was made a little less than $2 million, a budget it supposedly made back in its first week run in U.S. theaters. It was proof that a low budget, independent film could entertain with the best Hollywood blockbusters at the time. Craven knew he had a hit and that eventually would lead to eight more Nightmare films (I’m counting the Freddy Vs. Jason crossover and the remake of 2010) and place Craven in the forefront of horror directors even though he only directed two other Nightmare sequels (Part 3: Dream Warriors and New Nightmare respectively). Craven was already well known in the horror genre for his gritty early efforts and cult classics such as Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). The success of Nightmare seemed to restart his directing career and Craven directed two television movies and three theatrical films, which included The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1985) in the span of two years!

So to you Mr. Craven, I tip my ratty, moldy and blood spattered hat. Thank you for giving us horror fans a nightmare we never want to wake up from!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Legend of the Werewolf (1975)

What do you get when you make a movie with Peter Cushing, a werewolf and Paris, France as the main location? You get a Hammer knock off made by Tyburn films.

The action takes place in 19th century France but it’s inhabitants are clearly British actors, some with extreme “cockney” accents. A traveling side show comes across a feral boy in the woods. His family was attacked and killed by wolves when he was an infant. He was raised by the wolves until the gypsies who own the traveling side show take him in as an added attraction. The boy, Etoile, grows into adulthood (played by David Rintoul) and begins to transform into a wolf during the full moon, a side effect of being weaned on wolf milk perhaps?

Etoile takes up work at the Paris zoo, which seems to be an alley way with a couple cages, one with wolves no less. At each full moon Etoile transforms into a “Curse of the Werewolf” (Hammer 1961) inspired wolfman. He is befriended by one of the local prostitutes, Christine (Lynn Dalby) but is enraged when he finds out what she does for a living. This truly triggers the beast within and thus sets up the “beauty and the beast” aspect of the tale……although not really that well done. Peter Cushing finally makes an appearance in the film as Prof. Paul, the city’s coroner. He knows the current string of murders is being committed by an animal and finds the truth. In the end Etoile is finally killed by the traditional silver bullet… least I think so, at this point my eyes were getting pretty hazy and I was finding it hard to stay awake. This production didn’t exactly grab me by the throat and keep my attention.
Ahh Dr. Prof. Paul.....paycheck whatever.
 Based on Guy Endore’s novel, The Werewolf of Paris, Tyburn films fell flat on what could have been a very entertaining lycanthropy film. Freddie Francis’ direction was typical “workman-like” which I come to expect from his films. The sets are believable, except the zoo, the acting is pretty good, Cushing being the brightest light and the werewolf makeup was well done for the time.
Grandpa No!!
There could have been more action in the attacks though. We get some “wolf vision” sequences but too many close ups of werewolf eyes and bloody werewolf teeth. I would have to say that the most distracting aspect of the whole film was the lack of any French accent! I would have thought maybe Cushing would have taken his character in with some appropriate accent but since no one else was playing “frenchie” I guess he said screw it, it’s a paycheck. Track down the Interglobal VHS release, it’s pretty cheap on ebay. As far as a DVD release goes, I believe there are some bootlegs out there to be had. There was a UK DVD release however but I believe it is out of print.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Hatchet (2006)

Just when you thought slasher flicks were pretty much dead along comes one that reinvigorates the genre and gives a nice dose of Friday the 13th inspired bloodshed!

Hatchet starts off with a prelude that includes a cameo by Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund. Englund portrays a New Orleans gator hunter. He and his son are attacked and brutally murdered by an unseen assailant. It’s a nice opening sequence that harkens back to the opening of the original Friday the 13th (1980).

The story then shifts to Ben (Joel David Moore) and Marcus (Deon Richmond), two college buddies out on the town in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Ben is in the dumps since he and girlfriend split and Marcus is trying to cheer him up by taking him to Mardi Gras. The two find themselves taking a “haunted boat ride” into the swamp. The boat ride is captained by a young Asian man with a really bad “Nawleans” accent. Here we are introduced to the film’s cannon fodder. An older couple, a sleazy film maker and his two starlets and a quiet girl named Marybeth. Ben tries to hit on Marybeth but fails miserably. It turns out that Marybeth is the daughter of Robert Englund’s character at the beginning of the film and she has taken the ride in order to get out in the swamp and find her dad.
While on the trip the boat passes by an old shack which is supposedly haunted by a local legend by the name of Victor Crowley. Crowley is a disfigured man who was accidentally killed by his father, portrayed by Kane Hodder. Hodder is of course famous for portraying the maniacal, zombiefied killer in the Friday the 13th series. Here is plays the father of Crowley in a flashback explaining his tragic death and the present day Crowley who haunts the woods. 

Victor Crowley Hatchet's man about town.
The group’s boat runs accidentally runs aground and they are forced to try and make their way back on land. Unfortunately they are stuck right by the house of Crowley. Here is where the movie takes off at full throttle. I’m not sure what else to do other than go for a body count. One of the first to die gets a multitude of hatchet blows to the shoulder. Crowley keeps hacking away while the guy is screaming. His wife gets off’d immediately following his demise. This has got to be the greatest head ripping effect I have ever seen. There is a quick cut where the camera revolves around the action and it completely makes the entire effect one of the most believable and nasty beheadings ever committed to film. I’m not going to go into each and every death but this first set of killings really hits you like a ton of lead. A couple of other highlights include a belt sander to the face and shovel decapitation.

Marybeth and Ben are the only two left after being chased throughout the woods and witnessing their friends die in various gruesome ways. The two lure Victor back into the old house and attempt to set him on fire, which works well until it begins to rain and the fire is extinguished. Victor chases them into an old cemetery where they finally impale Victor on an iron rod. The two try to make it to safety by boarding a John Boat and heading across the lake. The ending, which is kinda cool but I saw it coming a mile away, leaves avenues open for a sequel which went straight to video by the way.

Overall this is a great tribute to the great slashers of the 80’s and plenty of fun to watch. I didn’t find myself annoyed by all the characters, a flaw with many of the slashers that spilled out in the theaters and video shelves and I actually was rooting for Victor! Well, I think I always root for the killer in these movies so I guess that’s nothing new. One of these days I will have to check out the sequel. Hopefully it’s somewhere near as good the original.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Devil’s Plaything (1973) (aka Vampire Ecstasy)

What the hell? really what the hell? I’m still trying to make some sense out of this movie. The plot is pretty simple but so buried under lesbian sex scenes and nudity that it’s very easy to lose track of just what is going on here.

A group of travelers arrive at a castle in Germany. Why I’m not quite certain but the castle is the residence of a long dead vampire known as the Baroness. The castle is run by the somewhat manly Wanda (Nadia Henkowa). Wanda and her “staff” spend their nights in the bowels of the castle, half naked and jiggling their breasts to the beat of conga drums while performing some type of satanic ritual. The rituals cause the guests to get rather horny and naked. Wanda turns out to be a vampire servant to the Baroness and has kept her spirit alive. She targets one of the guests as a vessel for the spirit of the Baroness and one by one recruits the other guests until her task is complete. Of course the only way to do this is to turn all the women into horny naked vampires. Like I said, a pretty simple plot is it not? Well it was pretty hard to discern amongst the horrible dialog, chop shop editing and lack of any kind of direction whatsoever. It there hadn’t been a copious amount of nudity and lesbian sex scenes, this movie would have been a complete waste of time. 

Three playthings and the the devil is not the man-thing with the tie.

Now for giggles the writers threw in an incest sub plot with two characters. Nico (Peter Malenkow) and his sister/cousin (the relationship wasn’t explained well or either I missed it entirely) who happens to be an expert in the occult. So there’s a lot of almost grouping and kissing between two especially at night when the vampires are dealing out their hip beat in the basement. In the end, the reborn vampire Baroness is quickly disposed of with a stake in the heart and signals the only bit of blood letting in the entire film.

The Devil’s Plaything was a disappointment in just about every facet of the genres it tried to play towards. The eroticism was low. You just can’t throw a bunch of naked chics on the screen, have them dance around in the basement with penis shaped candles and call it erotic. The execution was poorly done. The vampire story line was pretty weak and the violence was anything but. All in all a huge fail but one of those movies you have to see at least once to get a good chuckle out of it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Lost Artwork of VHS Part 4

I’m a huge fan of the Wizard Video releases from the 1980’s. This is one of the releases that I do not have in my collection. It is also a great piece of VHS nostalgia. Sister Streetfighter (1974) was released by Wizard in the “book box” format. This is a format that didn’t last very long in the VHS hey day. MGM made good use of the design for many of their early VHS releases. Wizard only released two other titles in this format, Parasite 3D and Bad Georgia Road. On the inside flap is a still shot of the movie and a caption. You can see why this didn’t fair well in the rental store market. I’m sure many of these didn’t survive because the flaps were torn and beat to oblivion due to mishandling by patrons.

As a casual fan of martial arts films, I possibly would have walked right past this one but if I was in the mood for some kung fu, I’m pretty sure I would have given it a rent. I remember seeing some of Sonny Chiba’s films on the old Black Belt Theater that used to air on WTVZ Channel 33 back in the mid 1980’s.

What I like most about this release is the amount of butt kicking that is going on here. Chiba looks to be “one up’d” by Shiomi. He’s only taken out two bad guys while she has laid out three! Apparently a “one man army” is no match for a “one woman death squad”. I also like the use of the phrase “got’m”. I’m guessing the illustrator felt that if he put the letter e in there, the m and exclamation point would have gotten lost in the poor fella receiving a face full of female foot? Hmmm….maybe the illustrator had a foot fetish and was just distracted.

Seeing this box on the shelf would have granted a rental. Heck it grants checking out the trailer on youtube! Enjoy!

(Love the bridge scene around the 1:10 mark!)

A shout out goes out to the facebook group Horror VHS Collectors Unite! and the fellow collector who let me use the picture of his incredibly rare Wizard Video release of Sister Streetfighter.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Survival of the Dead (2009)

In 1968, George A. Romero directed a little independently produced film about the dead coming back to life and eating the flesh of the living. Little did anyone realize that his film, Night of the Living Dead, was going to change the world of zombies forever. Flash forward 40 years and 4 sequels later and the living dead are still going strong.

I have always been a fan of Romero’s zombie films. From Dawn of the Dead (1978) to Land of the Dead (2005), I was on board with the directions Romero’s films were going. Diary of the Dead (2007) however left me feeling that Romero’s zombie storyline had run it’s course and should possibly be given the headshot that would put it to final rest. Survival of the Dead made me re-think that option.

Survival picks up as a continuation of the storyline and action of Diary. Sergeant Crockett (Alan Van Sprang) leads a small group of National Guardsmen through the every growing wasteland of the East coast of the United States. His group, Kenny(Eric Woolfe), Francisco (Stefano Colacitti) and Tomboy (Athena Karkanis) were introduced in Diary of the Dead, and are now on the run from their post and trying to survive.

We are also introduced to Patrick O’Flynn, an Irishman living on Plum Island off the coast of Delaware. His family has been feuding with Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) and his family for many years. The plague of the undead has done nothing to bring them together. O’Flynn’s posse is ready to shoot down all the zombies on the island while Muldoon wants to keep them “alive” until a cure is found. After a standoff, O’Flynn and most of this posse are exiled from the island.

Crockett and his group discover O’Flynn through a rare internet connection. O’Flynn is advertising Plum Island as a safe “utopia” and is instructing anyone that is watching to come down to the docks and make their way to the island. Crockett and his group head that way only to be greeted by gunfire. It turns out O’Flynn is sending people to the island but at a steep price. After a zombie attack O’Flynn and Crockett’s group make it to Plum Island on a ferry. Here they discover that Muldoon has been killing off the strangers O’Flynn has been sending over. O’Flynn gathers up his own posse of friends that had stayed on the island.

It is soon revealed that O’Flynn’s daughter Janet is a zombie. She spends her time riding a horse around the island much like she did while she was alive. Crockett’s group starts to dwindle down. Kenny is shot in a fire fight with Muldoon’s men. Francisco has been infected and is starting to feel the effects of the zombie plague. He is put down by Tomboy who is then captured by Muldoon’s men. As a nice twist we find out that Janet is a twin and her sister Jane is the zombie on horseback.

O’Flynn’s group and Crockett are soon captured and taken to Muldoon’s compound. Muldoon wants to prove O’Flynn wrong about the zombies. He believes the zombies can be conditioned to eat something other than human flesh. Muldoon uses Jane as an example by trying to get her to eat a horse. Muldoon has been keeping a livestock barn full of the living dead in order to experiment. A gunfight starts after Janet helps to arm Crockett and the men. Soon the zombies breech their confines and in true Romero fashion we are treated to lots of headshots and gut munching. In the melee Janet is bitten by her sister Jane. Muldoon and O’Flynn shoot each other Muldoon dies while O’Flynn is seriously wounded. Janet sees her sister actually bite the horse and takes off to find the fleeing Crockett and the rest of his group but as she is about to tell them what happened, O’Flynn arrives to shoot his daughter, saving her from becoming a zombie. Crockett and his group leave the island to find refuge somewhere else.

On the island the zombies are seen attacking the horse that Jane had bitten, proving that Muldoon must have been on to something. The zombiefied Muldoon and O’Flynn are seen on a hill together, silhouetted by the moon. The both draw their guns and pull the triggers but their guns are empty but their feud continues even in death.

Whew! That’s a lot going on and that is why Survival of the Dead stands out as one of Romero’s best zombie films since possibly Dawn of the Dead. I was not prepared for such a storyline and character development that was jammed packed into this film. Romero created a great blend of action, drama, gore and human social commentary that kept my attention throughout the film’s running time. There are no idle moments. There is always something going on to keep your attention. There are also a few jump scares that work effectively as well. Romero made great use of his locations. Lots of green rolling farm land to give you that open range feel and plenty of creepy wood land to make you feel secluded and trapped, not know what may pop out from behind a tree or brush.

Romero has proved to be the undisputed king of zombie mayhem. Survival of the Dead ensures that he can dish out the dead and give you a zombie film that actually makes you think.