Sunday, September 17, 2017

#2,423. Malibu Beach (1978)

Directed By: Robert J. Rosenthal

Starring: Kim Lankford, James Daughton, Susan Player

Tagline: "Where The Ocean Sets The Motion!"

Trivia: The working title for this film was Sue Anne

Crown International Pictures, an independent distribution / production company formed by Newton Jacobs in 1959, specialized in low-budget B-movies and exploitation fare. One of Crown’s most popular subgenres was the sex comedy, and throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s the studio turned out a good number of them, including The Pom-Pom Girls, Van Nuys Blvd., and Weekend Pass. Released in 1978, Malibu Beach fits nicely into this particular subgenre, yet is different from other sex comedies in that it’s not so much a story-driven film as it is a reflection of the summer season, when hanging out at the beach is all the rage, and you don’t have a care in the world.

School is out for the summer, and good friends Bobby (James Daughton) and Paul (Michael Luther) intend to spend most of their vacation relaxing on the beach. Their plans are slightly altered, however, when they meet Dina (Kim Lankford), Malibu’s newest lifeguard, and her friend Sally (Susan Player). After pairing off (and then pairing off again), the guys find themselves falling for these gorgeous beach bunnies, and before long the four are inseparable. This doesn’t sit well with Dugan (Stephen Oliver), a self-absorbed twentysomething who had set his sights on Dina. Things get so bad, in fact, that Dugan and Bobby nearly cme to blows every time they run into each other.

Yet even this bit of drama can’t spoil the teens’ fun, and as the summer lingers on, Bobby and Dina fall deeper in love with one another.

James Daughton delivers a decent performance as Bobby (he’s a lot more likable here than he was in the 1978 classic Animal House, in which he played fraternity prick Greg Marmalard), and while she may not be the strongest actress, Kim Lankford makes for an appealing love interest. As the movie progressed, I found myself hoping that Bobby would teach Dugan a lesson, and that he and Dina would still be together when the end credits rolled. But this is as close as Malibu Beach got to telling a story; more than anything, it’s a film about the carefree days of summer, and it captured the season’s laid-back attitude perfectly.

Along with its lead characters’ love affair, Malibu Beach features a bikini-stealing dog (which, throughout the movie, swipes the tops off of unsuspecting sunbathers); a bratty kid (Marty Rogalny) whose penchant for practical jokes lands him in some hot water; and a series of other characters whose sole purpose is to lie in the sun, go to parties, and shoot pool at the local hangout. Even the cops in this beachside community are mellow; Rodney (Parris Buckner), a rookie on the force, smokes pot on the beach with a pretty blonde while his veteran partner Lyle (Bruce Kimball) downs a few drinks at a nearby bar.

Thanks to Dugan (well played by Stephen Oliver), Malibu Beach does have its share of drama, but for the most part its scenes reflect the movie’s easygoing nature. At one point, Dugan challenges Bobby to a race, but because he’s blocked by another vehicle, an agitated Bobby jumps into Rodney’s police car and speeds off, going as fast as he can to beat Dugan to the finish line. Moments later, Bobby crashes into a wall, totaling the squad car. In any other film, an accident such as this would signify a major plot development, and take the story in a whole new direction. In this movie, it’s just another day at the beach (Bobby gets away scot-free, and this incident is never mentioned again).

It may not be the funniest or even the sexiest comedy that Crown International ever released, but its relaxed style and sense of fun make Malibu Beach an endearing motion picture, not to mention the perfect film to put you in a summer kind of mood.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

#2,422. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

Directed By: Jonathan Levine

Starring: Amber Heard, Anson Mount, Whitney Able

Tag line: "Everyone is dying to be with her. Someone is killing for it"

Trivia: Emmy Rossum was offered the role of Mandy Lane, but turned it down, stating that she did not want to be in a slasher movie

On the surface, director Jonathan Levine’s All the Boys Love Mandy Lane has the makings of a fine slasher movie: horny teenagers travel to a secluded location, where their fun-filled weekend of debauchery is interrupted by a maniacal killer whose only goal is to finish the revelers off, one-by-one, in as gruesome a manner as possible. In keeping with tradition, the potential victims in this 2006 horror film are, for the most part, stereotypes: jocks, snobs, druggies, etc., so it’s not surprising that character development wasn’t high on the filmmakers’ priority list.

So why do we spend so much time in the company of these dolts? With All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Levine and his screenwriter, Jacob Forman, take things slowly, waiting until late in the movie to unveil its more horrific elements. Had the teens been even a tiny bit interesting, this strategy could have paid off. But they aren’t, and for at least half the film we’re hanging out with a group of one-dimensional imbeciles and a title character who, though more appealing than the rest, is a total enigma.

Every dude in high school wants to be the first to get with the virginal yet incredibly hot Mandy Lane (Amber Heard). Even Mandy’s best friend Emmet (Michael Welch) harbors feelings for her, and goes to great lengths to keep any potential rivals away from “his girl”. When cheerleader Chloe (Whitney Able) convinces Mandy to join her and Marlin (Melissa Price) on a weekend getaway, the three guys who are also going, Bird (Edwin Hodge), Red (Aaron Himelstein) and Jake (Luke Grimes) make a wager as to which of them will be the first to lure the elusive Mandy Lane into the sack.

Once they arrive at their destination (a ranch owned by Red’s parents), the guys get down to business, flirting openly with Mandy and even convincing her at one point to hop into the lake wearing nothing but her underwear. But unbeknownst to them, someone has crashed their party, and if this uninvited guest has their way, every single one of the teens, Mandy Lane included, will be dead before the weekend is over.

From top to bottom, the gaggle of supporting characters in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane look and act like typical slasher fodder; after stealing a keg of beer from a vendor they run into at a gas station (played by Robert Earl Keen), Jake, Red, and the others make their way to Red’s ranch house, where they spend the first day (and night) skinny-dipping, getting drunk, smoking dope, and trying to get laid. As is the norm with characters such as these, not a one of them is worth a damn.

A few do, however, show some promise, including Garth (Anson Mount), a handyman who lives year-round at the ranch; and even Mandy Lane herself, a gorgeous blonde who keeps her emotions in check, making her that mysterious beauty every guy wants, but none can have. Unfortunately, not even Garth and Mandy are well-defined. We do discover early on that Mandy’s parents died a few years back, and that she’s being raised by her Aunt Jo (Peyton Hayslip). As for Garth, he’s a former marine who saw action in the Persian Gulf, and he’s still reeling from the tragic loss of his beloved wife. But, alas, this is as far as the revelations go, so even the characters we’re supposed to latch onto in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane are a total mystery to us.

The opening sequence, in which Emmet convinces Dylan (Adam Powell), one of Mandy’s more aggressive suitors, to do something he won’t live to regret gets the movie off to a disturbing start; and the film’s kill scenes are, indeed, brutal (one victim has their eyes slashed with a butcher’s knife). And while the killer’s identity is revealed early on, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane does manage to throw a twist in at the end that I wasn’t expecting.

Yet because these characters never evolve, and very little is known about their backstories, this surprise actually raises more questions than it answers. Had the filmmakers given me a reason to care about Mandy and her chums, the movie’s more impressive elements (including the finale) might have been effective. 

But I didn’t care, so in the end, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane proved to be a total waste of my time.

Monday, September 11, 2017

#2,421. Virgins from Hell (1987)

Directed By: Ackyl Anwari

Starring: Enny Beatrice, Yenny Farida, Harry Capri

Tag line: "Virgins are raped . . . virgins are killed . . ."

Trivia: This movie was also released as Maiden's Revenge

Having already witnessed the insanity that was Lady Terminator and The Devil’s Sword, I found myself in the mood for yet another Indonesian sleazefest, and 1987’s Virgins from Hell (also released as Maiden’s Revenge) was the perfect movie to scratch this particular itch. In fact, with its story about a gang of heavily-armed biker chicks taking on an entire drug cartel, Virgins from Hell may just be the wildest of the bunch!

To avenge the murder of their parents, sisters Karen (Enny Beatrice) and Sheila (Yenny Farida), backed up by a gang of bad-ass biker chicks, declare war on drug kingpin Mr. Tiger (Dicky Zulkarnaen), who, after shooting their mother and father in cold blood, took over the girls’ ancestral home, which he now uses as a base for his illegal activities. But while Mr. Tiger is none too pleased that Karen, Sheila and their cohorts wrecked one of his most profitable casinos (in the film’s opening segment), he has more important things on his mind, including the manufacturing of an aphrodisiac that’s so potent it will turn any woman into a quivering mass of desire.

Figuring every man in the world will want to get his hands on this powerful elixir, Mr. Tiger gears up to mass-produce his aphrodisiac, only to have his entire operation threatened by Karen’s and Sheila’s marauding babes, who attack his hideout on a daily basis. But will the sisters reclaim their property in the end, or are Mr. Tiger and his personal army too strong for them?

From a technical standpoint, Virgins from Hell is an absolute mess. After destroying Mr. Tiger’s casino, the sisters and their pals climb on their bikes and tear down the highway, an extended scene that runs far too long (I’m guessing this was initially supposed to serve as the movie’s opening credits sequence, but there are no titles to be found anywhere). And while it’s not uncommon for a movie of this ilk to feature lots of gunplay with very few bullets hitting their mark, there are scenes in Virgins from Hell in which automatic weapons are fired at people standing a couple of feet away and do no damage whatsoever! In addition, there’s a clunky special effect involving a flying bike; and a good number of explosions that don’t make a lick of sense (though some of the blasts are, indeed, pretty cool).

But despite its rough edges, Virgins from Hell proved to be an entertaining mash-up of several exploitation genres, including the girl biker film (with all of the ladies decked out in lingerie, no less), women in prison (the sisters and their gals are eventually captured by Mr. Tiger and used as test subjects for his aphrodisiac), and a fairly effective revenge story. There’s no nudity to speak of (the girls even bathe with their clothes on), but Virgins from Hell does feature a few racy sequence (most centering on Mr. Tiger’s aphrodisiac) as well as a brief moment of lesbian love and even a little S&M.

Throw in plenty of kick-ass action and one of the strangest scenes involving a snake that I’ve ever experienced, and you have a movie that’s sure to win the heart of anyone who loves the occasional slice of ‘80s cheese.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

#2,420. Inner Demons (2014)

Directed By: Seth Grossman

Starring: Lara Vosburgh, Morgan McClellan, Kate Whitney

Tag line: "Exorcise caution"

Trivia: Premiered at the 2014 Los Angeles Film festival

In an effort to help their teenage daughter Carson (Lara Vosburgh), a former straight-A student whose recent heroin addiction is destroying their family, Steve and Beth Morris (Christopher Parker and Colleen McGrann) contact the producers of Step Inside Recovery, a reality-based TV program that, if all goes well, will convince Carson to enter rehab and get her life back on track. 

The show’s host/producer, Suzanne (Kate Whitney), makes a bet with her two cameramen Tim (Brian Flaherty) and newcomer Jason (Morgan McClellan) that Carson’s drug problem is a direct result of her father’s alcoholism. But as they spend time with the Morris’s and witness Carson’s occasionally-violent outbursts, the trio becomes increasingly convinced that the teenager’s issues run much deeper than disharmony at home. In fact, if Carson herself is to be believed, she needs the heroin to keep an evil spirit that lives inside of her at bay!

Eventually, Carson is taken to a rehab facility run by Dr. Prentiss (Richard Wilkinson), but her behavior grows more erratic as the drugs leave her system. Jason, who has developed feelings for Carson, comes to believe that the poor girl is, indeed, possessed by a demon, and, to help rid her of her unwanted guest, sets out to learn the reasons why she’s now host to a malevolent spirit. The question is: will he find the answers in time to save Carson, or will the devil inside of her win out in the end?

Much like The Taking of Deborah Logan (in which the lead character’s Alzheimer’s made her more susceptible to the influence of evil spirits), the creative minds behind 2014’s found-footage style horror film Inner Demons discovered an ingenious way to link drug addiction and demonic possession, with its lead character using heroin not for a personal high, but to suppress the monster inside of her. Later in the movie, when Carson is in rehab, we get to see just how powerful the demon truly is (there are eerie moments captured via surveillance video, though the truly effective scares occur when Carson is meeting with her support group). And while some of the film’s "horrific" sequences aren’t exactly fresh (we get yet another demon face-melting scene, a la The Exorcism of Emily Rose), Lara Vosburgh's excellent performance as Carson provides the audience with an emotional link to the story, and like Jason (also well-portrayed by Morgan McClellan) we root for Carson’s “recovery” every step of the way.

As with its scare scenes, the third half of Inner Demons treads in familiar territory; the mystery as to how the demon found its way into Carson, as well as a few late revelations about her home life, felt a bit cliché. And while the television program provided a reasonable explanation for utilizing the found-footage style early on, we have no idea why the cameras continue to roll once events spiral out of control. But thanks to its clever storyline, plus a fine performance by Lara Vosburgh, Inner Demons is just good enough to make it worth your while.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

#2,419. Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens (1964)

Directed By: Emimmo Salvi

Starring: Gordon Mitchell, Bruno Piergentili, Bella Cortez

Line from the Film: "I want to see the terror of death in his eyes"

Trivia: The editing for this film is different in the Italian and English language versions, with some scenes appearing in a completely different order

Released in its native Italy as Sinbad against the Seven Saracens, 1964’s Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens is a Sword and Sandal flick that, to be honest, isn’t much of an action film. But thanks to the outstanding work of its production crew, the movie still managed to impress the hell out of me.

Ali Baba (Bruno Piergentili) is leading a revolt against the tyrannical Omar (Gordon Mitchell), who is intent on becoming the ruler of the entire kingdom. One night, while he and his followers are meeting in secret, Ali Baba is attacked by Omar's men. During the fracas, Ali Baba manages to escape into the desert, where he is eventually rescued by the beautiful Fatima (Bella Cortez), a Princess who just so happens to be a key member of Omar’s court! Ali Baba and Fatima quickly fall in love, only to be captured by Omar’s troops and locked away in the dungeon.

But, much to his chagrin, Omar is prevented from executing Ali Baba by the law of the Magi, which states that the two bitter foes must face off against one another, as well as the best warriors of six other clans, in an upcoming life-or-death tournament, the winner of which will be declared king of the realm. As Omar and his henchman Sharif (Tony DiMitri) conspire to rig the competition in their favor, Ali Baba gains the support of fellow prisoners Meneth (Luigi Tosi) and the diminutive Jukki (Franco Doria), who stage a mass breakout that, if all goes well, will end Omar’s reign of terror before it has a chance to begin.

As mentioned above, Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens isn’t as exciting as it should be; the big tournament to determine who will be the next king doesn’t get underway until just before the 1-hour mark, and its first two competitions are as routine as they come. Only the third and final challenge shows any imagination at all (though even this was clearly inspired by the classic chariot race in 1959’s Ben-Hur).

Where Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens distinguishes itself is in its production design (handled by Giuseppe Ranieri, who also took care of the Art Direction) and costumes (provided by Giovanna Natili), both of which convinced me I was watching a movie set long ago in the Middle East (especially good is a late scene in an underground corridor, which Jukki navigates in an attempt to open a hidden gate in the city's wall).

The cast is also strong (with Mitchell standing out as the loathsome Omar), but when it comes down to it, the costumes and sets are what you’ll remember when you think about Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

#2,418. They Saved Hitler's Brain (1968)

Directed By: David Bradley

Starring: Walter Stocker, Audrey Caire, Carlos Rivas

Tag line: "The most incredible plot to conquer the world!"

Trivia: In the 2004 video The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made, this one ranked at #39

I’ve known of the existence of They Saved Hitler’s Brain for years (with a title like that, how could I not?), but had never seen it before. A made for TV film that combined 1963’s Madmen of Mandoras with about 30 minutes of additional footage (shot years later by UCLA film students), They Saved Hitler’s Brain is, alas, a science fiction movie that’s never as interesting as its title would lead you to believe.

While investigating the murder of a scientist (whose car blew up as he was transporting a secret formula), C.I.D. agents Vic Gilbert and Toni Gordon witness the kidnapping of a Dr. Coleman (John Holland), who has been working with a nerve gas powerful enough to wipe out an entire city. Hoping to rescue him, Dr. Coleman’s daughter Kathy (Audrey Caire) and her husband Phil (Walter Stocker) travel to the South American city of Mandoras, where a renegade group is supposedly holding both the good doctor and his younger daughter (and Kathy’s sister) Suzanne (Dani Lynn) hostage.

Aided by a handful of locals yet never quite sure who they can trust, Phil and Kathy eventually discover that the organization behind Dr. Coleman’s kidnapping is none other than the dreaded Nazi party, which, under the leadership of the reanimated head of its Fuhrer Adolf Hitler (Bill Freed), is once again trying to take over the world.

The additional footage created especially for They Saved Hitler’s Brain (the C.I.D. agents’ investigation) was done solely to pad the movie’s runtime; the sequences don’t gel at all with the rest of the movie (based on the fashions and hairstyles alone, it’s obvious these scenes were shot years later), nor do they add anything to the overall story. But then, most of the movie (including the entirety of ‘63s Madmen of Mandoras) just kind of sits there, spinning its wheels and never getting anywhere.

Not even the scenes featuring Phil’s and Kathy’s search for Dr. Coleman generate any real excitement; they uncover clues and interact with a few native Mandorans, including Police Chief Alanis (Nestor Paiva) and Camino (Carlos Rivas), an underground rebel whose twin brother Teo (also played by Rivas) was one of Hitler’s personal physicians during the war. Aside from this, not much else happens during their quest, and in the end, They Saved Hitler’s Brain is a thriller without any thrills, and an adventure that’s not the least bit stimulating.

The film does have its moments, including a gnarly car explosion early on (easily the best moment from the “newer” footage) and a brief yet intriguing flashback to Nazi Germany, 1945. But aside from these and a hilariously over-the-top performance by Bill Freed as Adolf Hitler (playing both the man and the severed head), They Saved Hitler’s Brain is a movie that will probably put you to sleep.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

#2,417. Don't Hang Up (2016)

Directed By: Damien Macé, Alexis Wajsbrot

Starring: Gregg Sulkin, Garrett Clayton, Bella Dayne

Tag line: "Be Careful Who You Prank"

Trivia: Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot's feature directorial debut

It's not unusual for a horror movie to have unlikable characters; I didn’t particularly care for the leads in either Welcome to the Jungle or Shredder, and felt that at least a few of those who suffered a grisly fate in these two films got what they deserved. Well, after the opening scene of 2016’s Don’t Hang Up, in which some college-aged buddies pull a prank on a poor, unsuspecting housewife (played by Sienna Guillory), I can honestly say that I’ve never disliked a group of main characters as much as I did the idiots in this film, and right off the bat I was hoping none of them would make it out of the movie alive.

Best friends Sam (Gregg Sulkin) and Brady (Garrett Clayton) are members of a group that specializes in practical jokes, putting ordinary people in horrific situations (children held hostage, death of a relative, etc), then posting their victim's reactions on-line for the world to see. Their prank show is wildly popular, and Sam and Brady, as well as their partner in crime Mosley (Jack Brett Anderson), have become minor celebrities as a result.

But Sam is down in the dumps; his relationship with longtime girlfriend Peyton (Bella Dayne) seems to be falling apart. To cheer him up, Brady spends the night at Sam’s house (Sam’s parents are out of town), eating pizza and pranking random people on the telephone. But when one of their pranks goes awry, the two find themselves being stalked by a man known only as Mr. Lee (voiced by Philip Desmeules), who seems to know an awful lot about them. In fact, Mr. Lee is so clever that he's even managed to track down their nearest and dearest, putting both Peyton and Brady’s parents (Alex Dee and Jane Ryall) in the greatest of danger.

Who is Mr. Lee, and why is he so angry? Before the night is over, Sam and Brady will figure out the answers to both these questions, but doing so may very well cost them their lives.

So, yeah, I hated the main characters in Don’t Hang Up the minute they popped on-screen during the opening credit sequence, and I was anxious to see what terrible fate awaited these douchebags as the movie progressed (their practical jokes weren’t just mean… they were downright illegal, and they should have been locked up for what they’ve done).

Still, the movie does have a few things going for it, including the remarkable cinematography of Nat Hill, who (with a little help from the Speicial FX department) put together some very cool shots early on. In one, his camera swoops through the keyhole of a front door, flies low over a few knick-knacks on a family room table, then comes to a rest in the kitchen, where Sam is staring at his laptop, contemplating his failing relationship with Peyton. It’s an ingeniously-staged sequence, and the camera continues to move freely throughout the movie, infusing each and every scene with an undeniable energy. In addition, the two main leads do a decent enough job playing a pair of morons (though Gregg Sulkin’s American accent does slip a bit when his character gets excited). As for the story itself, it’s definitely nerve-racking, and Don’t Hang Up had me poised on the edge of my seat right up until the final act.

Which is exactly when things begin to fall apart, thanks mostly to a series of late plot twists that are as predictable as they come. In fact, I was able to figure out three of the movie's major twists well before they were revealed (and If I can do it, anyone can).

I don’t usually assign ratings to a movie, but if I was to rate Don’t Hang Up, I’d give it two out of four stars. It’s not the worst horror film I've see this year, but it won’t be making any of my top-10 lists either.