Saturday, February 25, 2023

#2,898. Rabid Grannies (1988) - Troma Triple Feature


With a title like Rabid Grannies, it has to be Troma!

Elizabeth Remington (Dany Daven) and her sister Victoria (Anne-Marie Fox), two sweet – and very wealthy – elderly ladies, are celebrating their birthday. Hoping to one day get their hands on the sisters’ fortune, a collection of greedy nieces and nephews descends upon the old girls’ estate for the birthday “celebration”, including Fred (Guy Van Riet), a factory owner who recently married a stripper (Francoise Lamoureux) half his age; wild playboy Roger (Michel Lombet); Catholic priest Father Percivel (Robert Du Bois); niece Helen (Catherine Aymerie) and her husband (Elie Lison) and two children (Caroline Braeckman and Richard Cotica); Harvey (Jacques Mayar), who works as an arms dealer; lonely spinster Bertha (Florine Elslande); and lesbian magazine editor Erika (Bobette Jouret), who brings along her newest “friend” Rachel (Francoise Moens).

As the party progresses, the cousins try to one-up each other, in the hopes of being mentioned in the sisters’ will. But a gift sent by Christopher, the black sheep of the family and a man who dabbles in Satanic rituals, will unleash an evil that, before the evening is out, will have most of the family running for their lives.

In his DVD introduction for Rabid Grannies, Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman tells of how, in the late ‘80s, he and Michael Herz were contacted by Emmanuel Kervyn, writer / director of Rabid Grannies, who grew up a fan of Troma and wanted very much to make a Troma-like movie in his native Belgium. Impressed with Kervyn’s two-page treatment, Kaufman and Herz agreed to distribute the film. Without a doubt, there are moments in Rabid Grannies that are very “Troma-Like”, with blood and gore aplenty, yet the opening scenes also feature an air of sophistication. The beginning credits play out over classical music, while the setting (the movie was shot primarily at Ingelmunster Castle in West Flanders) and introduction of the main characters could have been lifted straight out of Robert Altman’s Gosford Park. Kervyn does a fine job setting the stage in these initial sequences, and we find ourselves pitying the poor elderly aunts, whose relatives see them as nothing more than a potential payday.

Then, all at once, things get… crazy! Not to mention bloody. It’s at this point Rabid Grannies crosses into full-blown horror, with plenty of blood, gore, and even some well-crafted tension (like the relatives, we never know where the evil is lurking, or when it will strike).

Some of the effects are admittedly weak (though, for a low budget film, they really aren’t terrible), but in the end, Rabid Grannies proved the perfect blend of European refinement and Troma insanity, and I had a great time watching it!
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Saturday, February 18, 2023

#2,897. Combat Shock (1984) - Troma Triple Feature


As gritty as 1980’s Maniac and as unsettling as Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags you on a blood-soaked journey through hell.

Haunted by the horrific memories of his tour in Vietnam, Frankie (Rick Giovinazzo) lives in a rundown apartment in Staten Island, New York with his nagging wife (Veronica Stork) and infant child (which was born deformed). Unemployed and struggling to find work, Frankie, at one point, was forced to borrow money from drug dealer Paco (Mitch Maglio), who is now demanding to be repaid.

While walking the streets day in and day out, trying to find a way to make ends meet, Frankie experiences flashbacks of the war, including his stint in a POW camp and three years recovering in a military hospital. His back against the wall, Frankie will try to borrow money from his estranged father (Leo Lunney) and even resort to stealing, an event that will mark the first step on his final descent into madness.

Distributed by Troma, Combat Shock is much more than a cheapie exploitation film; Giovinazzo explores the crippling effects of PTSD in a manner few movies have before. From the moment we meet Frankie, played so well by the director's brother, we sense he has been irreparably damaged by his wartime experiences. This is further conveyed to us throughout the movie via flashbacks and dream sequences. While the Vietnam scenes aren’t particularly convincing (they look like they were shot in an abandoned lot), director Giovinazzo does a masterful job navigating the urban decay and squalor of Staten Island, drawing parallels between his lead characters’ past and present, and how both are taking their toll on his already fragile psyche.

As with Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Frankie narrates the film, clueing us in on just how warped his mind has become. We the audience know it’s only a matter of time before Frankie snaps, resulting in a blood-drenched final act that, for a low-budget film, features violence that is astonishingly realistic.

Combat Shock is one hell of a disturbing motion picture, and if you’re like me, you won’t have an easy time recovering from it. Yet I enthusiastically recommend the film. Combat Shock will, indeed, shake you, but it also stands as a testament to what can be accomplished with a vision and very little money.

Combat Shock is a low-budget tour de force.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Saturday, February 11, 2023

#2,896. Teenage Exorcist (1991) - Eddie Deezen Triple Feature


Written by and starring Brinke Stevens, Teenage Exorcist is notable, in part, because there isn’t a teenager to be found anywhere!

In her DVD commentary, Stevens said a late-minute change eliminated the movie’s lone teenage character, but it gave them a chance to cast Eddie Deezen in the movie, and though he appears briefly, he’s one of the most entertaining aspects of this 1991 horror / comedy.

College student and wannabe teacher Dianne (Stevens) moves into a spacious mansion, never once asking the landlord (Michael Berryman) why the rent is so cheap. The reason, of course, is the place is haunted by the evil spirit of previous owner Baron DeSade (Hoke Howell), as well as a demon from hell (Oliver Darrow, in make-up that looks pretty darn good).

Fearing for her life, Dianne invites her sister Sally (Elena Sahagun) and Sally’s workaholic husband Mike (Jay Richardson) to spend the night. Also turning up is Jeff (Tom Shell), who has a thing for Dianne. Unfortunately, by the time they all arrive, Dianne has been possessed by DeSade’s spirit, transforming her into a seductive temptress.

Father McFerrin (Robert Quarry) is called in to perform an exorcism, but when that fails, it’s pizza delivery boy Eddie (Deezen) to the rescue!

Teenage Exorcist favors comedy over screams, and while many of the jokes and situations are straight-up goofy, there are a handful of legitimate laughs here, most provided by Deezen and Richardson, who is perfectly smarmy in the part of Dianne’s brother-in-law (a spilled drink results in him spending the remainder of the movie in drag). Stevens is well cast as both the mousey Dianne and her succubus-like alter-ego, a throwback of sorts to her role in Nightmare Sisters, while Berryman, Howell, Shell and especially Quarry generate a few smiles along the way.

It’s when Deezen finally shows up (well after the one-hour mark) that Teenage Exorcist gets a bit wilder. He is in full Deezen mode throughout, with most of the laughs coming courtesy of his patented delivery.

Teenage Exorcist runs a bit longer than it should, and wears out its welcome well before the end. But with decent make-up and set pieces (the Demon’s basement lair is very cool), a catchy theme song, and of course Eddie Deezen, it’s a pleasant enough diversion.
Rating: 6 out of 10

Saturday, February 4, 2023

#2,895. Surf II (1984) - Eddie Deezen Triple Feature


Some movies confound me.

Take, for example, writer / director Randall M. Badat’s 1983 comedy Surf II. For starters, there is no Surf I… this is a stand-alone movie. Then there’s the strange blending of genres, merging a surf flick with a teen monster movie (zombies, to be precise). And despite its rather impressive cast, including a young Eric Stoltz (making only his second big-screen appearance, after 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High), the film is a jumbled mess, with only the framework of a story and no genuine attempt to string scenes together in any logical way.

Surprisingly, none of this prevents Surf II from being an entertaining film. I was scratching my head as I watched it, but smiling for hours after it ended.

Chuck (Stoltz) and Bob (Jeffrey Rogers) are gearing up for the big surf contest. But when two bodies wash ashore, police chief Boyardee (Lyle Waggoner) threatens to close the beach and cancel the competition.

To make matters worse, Jocko O’Finley (Tom Villard), a friend of Chuck’s and Bob’s and the brother of their girlfriends Cindy Lou (Corrine Bohrer) and Lindy Sue (Lucinda Dooling), has been acting strange, dressing like a punk rocker and drinking everything from motor oil to the very disgusting Buzz soda.

What nobody knows is that Menlo Schwartzer (Eddie Deezen), who is seeking revenge against all surfers, has changed the formula for Buzz. Now, whoever drinks it will become a mindless zombie! With the help of Chuck’s dad (Morgan Paull) and Bob’s dad (Biff Maynard), as well as his reluctant girlfriend Sparkle (Linda Kerridge), Menlo intends to make Buzz soda the official soft drink of the surf contest, and enter his zombie hordes as contestants! If Chuck and Bob do not stop him, Menlo may even take over the entire town.

Surf II was not Eric Stoltz’s finest hour. He’s passable as Chuck and nothing more. And despite being a comedy, the film doesn’t have all that many laugh-out-loud moments. In fact, I’m struggling to remember a single one. What it does have, though, is Eddie Deezen as a mad scientist. His scenes are the film’s most entertaining.

In addition, there are a handful of WTF moments scattered throughout Surf II that are so outlandish they’re almost intriguing. The best has Tom Villard’s Jocko, in full zombie mode, hanging out on the beach with his fellow punks. Chuck’s and Bob’s good friend, the always mute Johnny Big Head (Joshua Cadman), sits down across from Jocko, as if challenging him to an eating contest. With that, they start consuming seaweed, discarded debris, and pretty much everything they can get their hands on, each trying to out-do the other.

I also got a kick out of Cleavon Little, who plays high school principal Daddy-O, a clear (and pretty witty) reference to Glenn Ford’s schoolteacher in the ‘50s classic Blackboard Jungle. Also turning up in supporting roles are Ruth Buzzi (as Chuck’s mom) and Welcome Back, Kotter’s Horshack, Ron Palillo, who plays Chief Boyardee’s deputy. Another strength of Surf II is the music, which features hit tunes like The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A”, Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science”, and “Talk Talk” by the band of the same name.

When reflecting on Surf II in the 2010 book Destroy All Monsters, writer / director Badat said “We set out to make the most brain-dead movie of all time. In that regard, I believe we succeeded”. Sure, Surf II isn’t a great movie, or a smart one. In fact, it’s bad and kinda dumb. But in a fun way.
Rating: 6 out of 10