Tuesday, September 26, 2017

#2,427. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991)


Directed By: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper

Starring: Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Hopper, Martin Sheen



Tag line: "The magic and madness of making Apocalypse Now"

Trivia: Fragments of Orson Welles' radio broadcast of "Hearts of Darkness" are used as a narrative device







“My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It *IS* Vietnam. It’s what it was really like… it was crazy. And the way we made it was very much like the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the Jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane”Francis Ford Coppola discussing Apocalypse Now at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival 

Inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novel Hearts of Darkness, Apocalypse Now had been in development since the late 1960s, when John Milius first wrote its script (at that point, there was talk about shooting the movie in Vietnam, with George Lucas directing). It was shelved until 1976, when Francis Ford Coppola, the driving force behind the project, decided to direct it himself. With the U.S. military refusing to support a film about the Vietnam War, Coppola struck a deal with Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, who agreed to lend the production troops and equipment. Shooting began in the Philippines in February of 1976 and was scheduled to last a few months, but due to inclement weather, trouble with the actors, and other issues, 236 days would pass before Apocalypse Now finally wrapped.

For Coppola, these production woes were only part of the hell he experienced while making the movie. Deciding to use Milius’s original script as a guide, Coppola ended up rewriting much of it, turning it into a story about warfare in general, and the effect it has on both the individual and society as a whole. But as shooting dragged on, Coppola realized Apocalypse Now was falling short of his ultimate goal, and on top of everything else he had no idea how to end his movie. Over time, the director became increasingly convinced he was making, as he put it, “A $20 million disaster… a failure”.

Using footage shot by Coppola’s wife, Eleanor (who was by his side throughout the production) as well as conversations she had with her husband about the film (which she secretly recorded), Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse takes us behind-the-scenes of Apocalypse Now, pulling the curtain back on its troubled production and the personal trials and tribulations of the man who made it.

The problems that plagued Apocalypse Now started almost immediately; Harvey Keitel had been cast in the pivotal role of Capt. Willard, but after a few days’ shooting Coppola wasn’t happy with Keitel’s interpretation of the character, and decided to replace him. So Martin Sheen was brought in, but Sheen himself would suffer a major heart attack during production, resulting in further delays. In addition, the Philippines were rocked by an enormous typhoon, which shut Coppola and co. down for two months (so sets could be rebuilt). Not even the equipment on-loan from the Philippine army was reliable; right in the middle of shooting an important battle sequence, five helicopters were called away to fight rebels in the nearby hills. On top of all this, Marlon Brando was insisting he start on-time, and threatened to pull out of the project (and keep the $1 million that Coppola paid him in advance) if his scenes were pushed back.

At home, the trade papers reported on the never-ending insanity, mocking Coppola and his many delays with headlines such as “Apocalypse When?” and “Apocalypse Forever”. Before long, even those involved in its making wondered if Apocalypse Now would ever see the light of day.

And then there was Coppola, writing notes on cards and toiling away at his typewriter, trying desperately to turn Apocalypse Now into a personal endeavor, yet realizing he was coming up empty at the most crucial times. He argued with Dennis Hopper (who played an American photojournalist and one of Kurtz’s disciples) about what his character should say, and spent days on end discussing Kurtz with Brando (both actors would ad-lib their lines). An entire scene set on a French plantation, which Coppola had hoped would link the country’s past with its present (a glimpse, as it were, into the history of warfare in Vietnam), didn’t work as the filmmaker intended, and once shooting on this sequence wrapped he announced to the cast and crew that he was cutting it, and they should forget it ever happened. We sense Coppola's frustration in moments such as these, as well as the many talks he had with his wife; at one point Coppola even said he wanted to kill himself.

In my opinion, Apocalypse Now is one of the all-time great war films, and Coppola’s message about the nature of warfare rings loud and clear. This is what makes Hearts of Darkness such a fascinating documentary; it is proof positive that even in the midst of chaos, something truly extraordinary can be achieved.

As for Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, it is, without question, one of the most revealing documentaries ever produced about filmmaking, and stands as a testament to both the artist and the creative process in general.







Monday, September 25, 2017

#2,426. Father's Day (2011)


Directed By: Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, et al

Starring: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney




Tag line: "Sons, lock up your fathers... vengeance arrives on... Father's Day!"

Trivia: Initially, this film was banned in both its uncut form and a censored form in Australia







The opening sequence of Father’s Day gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect from the rest of the film. 

In a secluded apartment building, a killer dissects the remains of someone he’s just finished off (after using his victim’s head as a masturbation toy, this clearly psychotic murderer gnaws on some exposed intestines). The killer’s “fun” is soon interrupted, however, by another man, armed with a shotgun, who marches down the hallway and breaks through the door. But the killer is already gone; having sensed the man's approach, he climbed down the fire escape. Rushing to the window, the armed man spots his prey limping into an alley across the street, and gives chase. 

Moments later, the killer is struck by a speeding car, and the pursuing vigilante (who was driving it) gets out, aims his rifle at the murderer’s head, and, before shooting, says “Happy Father’s Day”.

And with this bloody bit of mayhem, Father’s Day, a 2011 grindhouse throwback written and directed by a group of Canadian filmmakers known as Astron-6 (aka Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, and Steven Kostanski), is off and running.

The shotgun-wielding dude in the opening scene is Ahab (Adam Brooks), who, as a boy, watched a deranged killer known as Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdock) rape and murder his father. It was Fuchman he was after in the above-mentioned sequence, but instead of getting his revenge the overzealous Ahab shot an innocent man. As a result of his mistake, Ahab was arrested by Det. Stegel (Brent Neale) and sentenced to 10 years in prison, during which time Fuchman continued to rape and kill every father he came across.

Over a decade passes, and Fuchman is again making headlines. His latest victim was the father of a street hustler named Twink (Conor Sweeney), who just so happens to be friends with Ahab’s younger sister Chelsea (Amy Groening). When his attempts to console Twink fail, Catholic priest Father John Sullivan (Matthew Kennedy) is instructed by his mentor, Father O’Flynn (Kevin Anderson), to seek out Ahab and ask for his help in defeating Fuchman once and for all. Though reluctant at first, a now-free Ahab eventually agrees to assist the good father.

Ahab’s first stop is the strip club where his little sister Chelsea works, and to his amazement she is also after Fuchman, and has done extensive research into his crimes in the hopes they’ll shed some light on where the sadistic killer might strike next. Despite her insistence that she tag along, Ahab refuses to put Chelsea in harm’s way, and instead enlists the help of Twink and Father Sullivan as he sets out to find and kill Fuchman.

But what the trio doesn’t realize is that Fuchman is not a “man” at all; he’s a demon from hell. And if Ahab and the others do, indeed, destroy him, a more powerful Fuchman will take his place!

Produced by the gang at Troma Films, Father’s Day is sheer, unadulterated, brilliant insanity from the word “go”, a blood-soaked, nudity-laced sleazefest with moments so disturbing that I had to occasionally look away (chief among them a scene where Fuchman mutilates his own penis with a carving knife). Yet underneath all the gore and debauchery (including incest, male prostitution, and anal rape) lies an intensely funny movie, with several laugh-out-loud moments (some involving the manufacturing of maple syrup). In addition to the humor, Father’s Day is very creative; there’s a hallucination sequence (brought on by Ahab’s “Toxic Berries”) that’s damn cool, but best of all is the finale, in which the three leads travel to hell to take on the Fuchman demon itself!

Adam Brooks delivers a solid performance as Ahab, who has dedicated his life to destroying the monster known as Fuchman, and Matthew Kennedy is also strong as Father Sullivan, who quickly abandons his goody-two-shoes persona once he’s in the thick of things (he freaks out at one point while delivering a sermon at mass, which ends when he pulls a gun from under the pulpit and runs out the front door). Troma’s frontman, Lloyd Kaufman, even has a brief but memorable cameo towards the end of the film, playing what amounts to two different characters.

The real star here, though, is the special effects work of Steven Kostanski (who would eventually lend his talents to such big-budget productions as 2015’s Crimson Peak and 2016’s Suicide Squad). What’s amazing about Kostanski’s effects is that he accomplished them all with next to no money; the estimated budget for the entire movie was a mere $10,000 (with its over-the-top violence and realistic gore, you’d think Kostanski had ten times that much at his disposal).

Even without the superior effects, Father’s Day would have been a funny, entertaining schlockfest. With them, it’s something quite special. If excessive gore and wildly original storylines are your thing, then check out Father’s Day; trust me, you’ll love it!








Saturday, September 23, 2017

#2,425. Joysticks (1983)


Directed By: Greydon Clark

Starring: Joe Don Baker, Leif Green, Jim Greenleaf




Tag line: "More fun than games"

Trivia: The opening scene with Eugene was shot without permits in less than an hour









Directed by Greydon Clark, Joysticks is yet another ‘80s teen sex comedy, this time combining the then-current phenomenon of video arcades with the usual doses of toilet humor and topless beauties. Yet despite its built-in nostalgia factor (I frequented a number of arcades in the ‘80s, some of which looked exactly like the one in this movie), Joysticks proved to be a tedious motion picture; a limp comedy with a trite storyline and nudity so gratuitous it makes Porky’s seem subtle by comparison.

Jefferson "Jeff" Bailey (Scott McGinnis) is the manager of Bailey’s, a video arcade owned by his (mostly-absent) grandfather. With the help of his friend / co-worker, the slovenly Dorfus (Jim Greenleaf), Jeff has managed to turn the arcade into a popular teen hangout. It’s so popular, in fact, that he’s had to hire a third employee, the nerdy Eugene (Leif Green), to work the snack counter.

But the good times may be coming to an end thanks to local businessman Joseph Rutter (Joe Don Baker), who is none too happy that his teenage daughter Patsy (Corrine Bohrer) spends all her free time in Bailey’s Arcade. Along with his two dim-witted nephews, Arnie (John Diehl) and Max (John Voldstad), Rutter tries his damnedest to dig up some dirt on Jeff Bailey, and even forms a tentative partnership with punk rocker / videogame aficionado King Vidiot (Jon Gries, aka Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite) in the hopes he will help him shut the arcade down once and for all.

With screenshots from a number of ‘80s-era games, including Pole Position, Centipede, Defender, and, of course, Pac-Man (I even spotted a Berserk machine in the background at one point), Joysticks did bring back some memories. But the majority of these screenshots occur during the opening credits, and had I known then what I know now, I would have stopped watching once they were over!

Despite being a so-called “comedy”, Joysticks is not the least bit funny; I didn’t laugh once during the entire movie (I did chuckle, however, when Joe Don Baker and Jon Gries were discussing how they were going to put Jeff Bailey out of business). As if to make up for their feeble attempts at humor, director Clark and his team toss plenty of nudity into the mix (even when the girls are fully clothed the camera never wanders far from their chests or backsides). As for the characters, they’re stereotypical and dull (though Jonathan Gries’s over-the-top portrayal of King Vidiot has its moments, as does Corrine Bohrer’s Valley Girl interpretation of Patsy), and the ending sequence is as predictable as they come.

As with any subgenre, there are good ‘80s teen sex comedies (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Porky’s, The Last American Virgin) and bad ‘80s teen sex comedies (Private Resort, Screwballs). Without a doubt, Joysticks falls into the latter, and even those who harbor fond memories of hanging out in arcades will want to steer clear of this debacle.







Friday, September 22, 2017

#2,424. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)


Directed By: Emilio Miraglia

Starring: Anthony Steffen, Marina Malfatti, Enzo Tarascio



Tag line: "The worms are waiting"

Trivia:  Wasn't released in the U.S. until a year after it's debut in its native Italy








This film's poster is classic: a skeletal-faced woman, wearing only a nightgown, holds aloft the severed head of a man. It’s a gruesome bit of artwork, to be sure, but not even a display as horrific as this will adequately prepare you for what The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, a 1971 Giallo / Gothic horror movie directed by Emilio Miraglia, has to offer.

British aristocrat Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) has been an emotional wreck since the death of his beloved wife Evelyn (who, it turns out, had been cheating on him for quite some time). Haunted by her memory, Alan lures red-headed strippers and prostitutes (the same hair color as Evelyn’s) to his dilapidated castle, where he ties the poor girls up, whips them unmercifully, and, believing them to be the reincarnation of his unfaithful late wife, murders them in cold blood. His good friend, Dr. Richard Timberlane (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) has tried to convince Alan to seek professional help, and has even suggested that he get married again, in the hopes a new bride will take his mind off his past troubles.

Alan does eventually follow Richard’s advice and marries a beautiful blonde named Gladys (Marina Malfatti), who he met at a party his cousin George (Enzo Tarascio) dragged him to. After paying a small fortune to renovate his family’s castle, Alan and Gladys take up residence there, and with the help of his Aunt Agatha (Joari C. Davis) and personal assistant Farley (Umberto Raho), both of whom are close by at all times, Alan is finally able to put the past behind him. But when his new bride spots a red-headed woman wandering the halls at night, Alan starts to believe his late wife has returned from the grave, an eventuality that, if true, could very well push him to the brink of insanity.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is, at least in part, a Giallo film, presenting a very intriguing murder mystery (with plot twists aplenty) that gets more complex as the movie progresses. Soon after Alan remarries, people start to die, often in violent fashion (one victim, after being bitten by a poisonous snake, is buried alive in a fresh grave, the dirt hitting their face as they gasp for air). We have no idea who is committing these murders (it might be Alan himself), and this central mystery keeps us guessing until the very end.

Along with its mystery, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave has all the makings of an excellent Gothic horror film, thanks in large part to the superior set pieces designed by Art Director Lorenzo Baraldi. Early in the movie, the Cunningham castle is a dank, abandoned building, with cobwebs filling the empty spaces in many rooms (even after the estate has been restored, there are scenes set in an underground crypt that keep the Gothic atmosphere alive). The film also has its share of supernatural elements, resulting in moments so profoundly creepy they’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention (aside from a well-staged séance, in which Alan attempts to contact his late wife, he has several encounters with what we are led to believe is Evelyn’s ghost).

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave features psychological terror as well, with Alan so distraught over the death of his wife that he himself becomes a killer (it’s to the filmmakers credit that, over the course of the movie, they somehow manage to transform Alan from a beastly murderer into a sympathetic character).

Thanks to its various elements, all juggled wonderfully by director Emilio Miraglia, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is a film that’s overflowing with creativity, and even if some of its plot twists leave you scratching your head (a few don’t make a lick of sense), the journey itself makes this movie a rewarding experience.







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.







Friday, September 1, 2017

#2,416. The Slayer (1982)


Directed By: J.S. Cardone

Starring: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook




Tag line: "Anticipate a web of diabolical terror"

Trivia: This film was also released as Nightmare Island








The Slayer, a 1982 horror movie directed (and co-written) by J.S. Cardone, has a handful of gory kill scenes, yet it’s not what I would categorize as a full-on slasher flick. It was certainly inspired, at least in part, by the ‘80s slasher craze (its makers have admitted as much), but the story goes beyond that formula, and at times the film feels like a psychological thriller with just a hint of the supernatural thrown in for good measure.

However you classify it, The Slayer is, without a doubt, an interesting genre entry, and there are moments in the film that are truly inspired.

Kay (Sarah Kendall), a well-respected artist, has been experiencing a series of violent nightmares, all set in a location she has never visited before. Hoping a change of scenery might do her some good, her husband David (Alan McRae) convinces Kay to take a vacation, and along with Kay’s brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook), the couple makes its way to a remote island, where they plan to relax on the beach and maybe even do a little fishing.

Moments after they arrive on the island, however, Kay begins to recognize buildings (including an abandoned movie theater), and realizes this idyllic vacation spot is actually the place she’s been dreaming about! To make matters worse, the pilot who flew them there, a guy named Marsh (Michael Holmes), has informed the two couples that a bad storm is moving in, and suggests that they turn around and head home. 

But they decide to stay, and while David, Eric, and Brooke try to make the best of the situation, Kay grows more convinced with each passing hour that her nightmares are coming true, and that a killer is watching their every move.

One of the biggest strengths of The Slayer is its setting; director Cardone shot the majority of the movie on Tybee Island (which is situated off the coast of Georgia), a beautiful yet seemingly abandoned landmass that boasts a number of genuinely creepy locales. Chief among them is the dilapidated theater I mentioned above, where one of the film’s most intense moments takes place (the theater has since been refurbished, and hosted a screening of The Slayer earlier this year).

Even more impressive are the various kill scenes. The first victim is a fisherman (Paul Gandolfo), who, while sitting on the beach cleaning his day’s catch, is struck on the head with an oar. It’s a grisly sequence, but is merely a precursor for the violence to come (one kill in particular, involving a pitchfork, is so well-handled that it reminded me of Tom Savini’s early work on movies like Friday the 13th and The Prowler).

Of course, the fact that The Slayer is essentially a story about four people does limit the number of “slasher-esque” scenes. As a result, large chunks of the film are dedicated to the characters and their plight (including Kay’s ever-growing sense of impending doom). Fortunately, Kay and the others are plenty interesting, and their exploits carry us through the slow times. This, as well as its effective location and gory kills, helps make The Slayer a worthwhile horror film.