Saturday, June 25, 2022

Review: Row 19

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2022
Images from the Internet

Row 19 (aka Ryad 19)
Directed by Alexander Babaev

Central Partnership; KIT Film Studios; Monumental Film; Red Media; Lka Film; Well Go USA Entertainment
78 minutes, 2021 / 2022
www.wellgousa.com/films/row-19

Hmmm. Sometimes one must separate art from what is going on in the world. Normally, I would boycott things Russian at the moment, in solidarity with Ukraine, but this is an independent film, so I will give it a shot. Plus, it is being publicized by an American company, Well Go USA Entertainment, so here we go – er – well.

I recently saw a German film called Blood Red Sky (2021), which starts with a very similar premise: a troubled woman on a plane with a preteen, when weird things begin to happen. Except, in this case, of course, they are speaking Russian (subtitles alert). In the prologue, a woman and her preteen daughter are sitting in a near empty airliner, which crashes in South Central Russia. The daughter is the only survivor and becomes, of course, a media sensation.

Marta Kessler, Svetlana Ivanova

For the main crux of the story, it is 20 years later, and the girl is now a woman, Katerina (Svetlana Ivanova), who has her own preteen daughter that is about the same age she was when she crashed, Diana (Marta Timofeeva, aka Marta Kessler).

Of course, for our story, a similar situation occurs: Katerina and Diana are on a nearly empty plane that needs to be deiced traveling to the center of the country (to visit grandpa and his big dog), sitting in the same seats (the titular Row 19) in the same order (mom on aisle, daughter in center). We also start to get to meet others on the flight, as I am sure we will get to know their motivations for being on that very voyage.

Wolfgang Cerny

But there are also strange things happening on the new flight, like the cryptic acting and blank stares of the stewar… I mean flight attendants, to there being someone named Evgeni, as there was on the one that crashed. Some of the others on the flight are an ex-reporter, Alexey (Wolfgang Cerny), who sits across from and befriends Katerina and Diana, and an uptight, whiskey-drinkin’ right-wing business man, Nikolay (Anatoly Kot), the seemingly psychic bearded “hipster” Pavel (Denis Yasik) who is constantly drawing frantically in a notebook, along with an elderly couple, which includes Evgeni (Ivan Verkhovykh, whose wife, Galina (Iringa Egorova) is afraid to fly. I can’t speak for any other Russian plane or airline, but there are no televisions on the backs of the seats, considering it’s an hours-long flight.

With horrifying dreams and flashbacks, things seem to be repeating for the now adult Katerina that echo 20 years ago, or is it all in her head as the plane flies through a lightning storm and bad turbulence? I once flew through turbulence so bad I hit my head on the overhead even while buckled in, so I could empathize the fear.

One by one, the people on the plane start to perish in sometimes gruesome ways, all reflecting on a “witch” (Yola Sanko) who was on the first plane. Is this some kind of Final Destination deal, or are they all really dead or in Purgatory already like in Carnival of Souls (1962) or Jacob’s Ladder (1990)? Whatever it ends up being, it is effectively creepy as hell, and plays well with memory, imagination, and/or destiny. How much of it is real and how much is in Katerina’s mind? And what is the darken shadow person(s) that keeps popping up, and the little prescient girl (Katerina’s past self?) that Diana keeps talking to that only they can see, individually? Katerina says it clearly that her visions are “becoming more and more real. I’m starting to confuse reality with my nightmares.”

The tube of the plane is claustrophobic, and yet due to the lack of people, it also feels quite roomy at times. But no matter what, there are feelings of déjà vu and that there is nowhere to escape whatever fate has in store for the survivors, which decrease as time goes on. There are a lot of really nice effects and even some blood, and it all works well in the story, which is taut right to the end.

The acting is solid all the way around, including the two young girls who hold their own with the adults. Ivanova is especially a stand-out. The cinematography by Nikolay Smirnov flows well, and the effects by Eugene Antsiferov and Nikita Ovchinnikov, which are quite complex considering all that is going on, are outstanding.

This may not be for people who are afraid to fly, or are politically triggered by what is going on in the world, but as a piece of art on its own, it is quite thrilling. I understand there is also an English version floating around somewhere in the sky.

IMBD Listing HERE 

 



Monday, June 20, 2022

Review: Blight

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2022
Images from the Interne


Blight
Directed by Jeff Van Gerwen
Strange Door Films
75 minutes, 2022
www.facebook.com/BlightFilm

When starting out as a filmmaker, as this is Van Gerwen’s debut feature after a music video for Joystick and a few shorts, the style he employs makes total sense. Blight is essentially broken into three intermingled parts.

To start, there is the found footage type of style where a gaggle of seven twenty-something friends get together to go camping on the subtext of hopefully seeing aliens because there is to be a solar eclipse. The second, in spurts, is that same scary night and whatever happened then to members of the group. Then the third, and main body of the story, is a coming home party for Logan (Ashley van Kirk), who had mysteriously disappeared during the camping trip for a while, spent a year in an asylum, and has now come back as a shell of her former outward self. This section is not found footage per se, but it is obviously done on a hand-held camera.

Our initial grouping is: Logan and her boyfriend and the person doing the found footage filming, Luke (Joel Crumbley). The obnoxious self-leader of the group is Mark (Tripp Karrh), whose girlfriend is Tara (Kaylee Griffin). Then there is Harrison (Kristin Calhoun), whose musician boyfriend is Tien (Han-Sam Park). The seventh-wheel to start is Harper (Erika Ramirez).

Ashley van Kirk

This group is loud, obnoxious, and full of themselves, but they are also curious about what happened to Logan, who is reticent to disclose both the events of that night, and what has been going on since. And when she gets upset, things begin to happen, like lights flickering and the house shaking, for a start. I was amused when Mark asks “Was there a launch?” This wasn’t really explained, but I knew what he meant because, according to IMDB, it was filmed at Cocoa Beach, FL (does Jeannie and Major Nelson live nearby?).

To be honest, at first, I was a bit dismayed by the whole found footage part, and even the welcome home party dragged through a game called “Mafia,” but then it started to pick up nicely into the second act, until being really taut and suspenseful for the third act. So, despite the slow start, it really revved up by the half-way point. Being a relatively short film, that isn’t too long a wait.

Most of the cast are relatively new to film, but they all do a good job, especially considering that most of the dialogue is ad libbed. The range of emotions is wide, and they all certainly hold their own. That helps the film enormously.

Joel Crumbley

I have always wondered why on found footage releases, the camera keeps cutting out with digital noise. Mine has never done that. Is it supposed to be an indicator of its own style? As the director has stated, the film was shot over a 4-night and single afternoon period, with only 20 minutes of dialogue pre-determined. It was finished as the 2020 COVID lockdown began. Being locked in your house is a good way to get through post-production (every cloud…).

This is part social construct between these friends, part mystery, part horror. There are a couple of really nice red herrings leading to a thrilling tie-up that may not be what one is expecting; I saw it coming, though, but it did not hamper my enjoyment of the second half.

The film is available for free on TubiTV.

IMBD Listing HERE 



Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Review: The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2022
Images from the Internet

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (aka No profaner el sueño de los muertos; Let Sleeping Corpses Lie; Don’t Open the Window)
Directed by Jorge Grau
Synapse Films; Star Films SA; Flaminia Produzioni-Cinematogrpahiche;
MVD Entertainment
95 minutes, 1974 / 2022
www.MVDentertainment.com

Despite using “Manchester” in the title, it sounds like this is a British film, but au contraire, it is actually of Italian Spanish origin. Which means it can be either really good or really bad, or so bad it’s good. I am a fan of Italian giallo films from the period, and also of the absolutely crazy Spanish-origin releases of the period, such as The Blood-Splattered Bride (1972).

To be fair, parts of the outdoor scenes of this was filmed in England, such as Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper (1982) was filmed in, well, you know, but most was in Madrid and Rome. However, both the English and the European actors are all dubbed into English, as was the style at the time.

Cristina Galbo, Ray Lovelock

On a road trip to deliver a small statue, obnoxious antique shoppe owner and future protagonist George (Ray Lovelock; d. 2017) has a fender-bender with redheaded and obvious future love interest Edna (Cristina Galbó), and so ends up sharing Edna’s car. For a liberal, he’s a real macho moron, full of toxic masculinity (“I’m driving!" he declares without asking, though it is her auto). He better chill out, or I’ll be on the side of the living dead. The gender roles are codified into “Me Man You Woman” kind of thinking, which I’m so glad that, as a culture, we are starting to break out of, if you’re not a modern Republican.

After a brief set-up of how the dead come to life via farm experimentations with radiation, I kid you not, and Edna being attacked by an obvious dead person reminiscent of Bill Heinzman in Night of the Living Dead (1968), they manage to find the farm of Edna’s sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre) and her photographer brother-in-law Martin (José Lifante) farm. Just in time for the dead guy to make another appearance (George and Edna drove…how did the dead guy beat them to it?; this happens a few times with various zombies).

Jeannine Mestre

Anyway, the point is that it brings the police, including a Sam Spade-meets-Dirty-Harry type of hard-bitten cliché Sergeant Inspector (American actor Arthur Kennedy on the other side of his Oscar-nominated career; d. 1990), who uses a gay slur word and bemoans the loss of being able to act violently against suspects who he deems guilty until proven innocent. You can tell by the tan trench coat.

While there are a nice number of flesh-eating zombies scattered throughout, though usually 3-4 at a clip, they indeed feed on the living, but also have quite a bit of strength (e.g., two of them pick up a grounded tombstone) as they stumble around. They also have an ulterior motive to what they are doing that is actually kind of uncommon for the genre; for that, I will happily give the filmmakers credit. One of the zombies even rises vertically stiff as a board, reminiscent of Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922).

Arthur Kennedy (right)

There is a lot extrapositions used, such as obviously the living vs. the dead, but there is also the modern youth vs. the fascist elders (relatively speaking), and the strongest point may be the natural environment vs. agricultural technology that is polluting and killing the land.

The name of the film is actually a bit of a misnomer, as it doesn’t take place in Manchester (other than the opening montage), though there is a truck seen more than once with the name on it. It actually takes place (but not necessarily filmed in) the beautiful countryside near Southgate and Windermere in the U of K. This new 4K restoration of the original 35mm negative really shows off this visage. In general, this is a very good looking film, being stylish without being overly “arty,” making it more accessible, thanks to the amazing care of cinematographer Francisco Sempere (d. 1979).

The gore is plentiful when it is employed and looks great (possibly real offal and organs), and there is little nudity other than a seemingly gratuitous scene right off the bat (explanations about streaking as a political movement is given in the Blu-ray’s Extras Section). No complaints, but had me scratching me noggin.

There are tons of Extras on this Blu-ray, some may argue more than is necessary for a secondary-level release, but let’s dive in: It starts with a featurette about the director, who passed away in 2018: “Catalonia’s Cult Film King: A Documentary About Jorge Grau and His Manchester Masterpiece” (89 min.). This comprehensive coverage of the career of Grau includes a number of interviews, including Grau himself (in Spanish with subtitles) and numerous British film historians. They discuss his career, his entrance into horror, with The Female Butcher/The Legend of Blood Castle (1973) about Lady Bathory, and especially focuses on The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. One of the writers notes that this film came out before the “zombie rules” were codified, so there are some notable differences from other general Living Dead inspired films to come. But what interested me the most is the discussion of the fact that Grau was coming out of the transition of Fascist Spain, and he represented some characters to reflect that, namely the modern and liberal (and douchey is you ask me) George, which was Grau’s leaning, and the Fascistic police inspector. Also, I was happy to hear the lone woman on this documentary, a critic, comment on the subservient and hysterical woman/strong and in-charge man stereotype. It kept me watching the entire length.

Another featurette is “The Scene of the Crime: Giannetto De Rossi in Discussion from Manchester” (16 min), which is new for this Blu-ray. De Rossi (d. 2021) is the make-up and special effects artist, who is interviewed by writer Eugenio Ercolani. This is in English, though De Rossi is subtitled due to his heavy accent. He also famously worked on a bunch of Fulci films, such as Zombie (1979) and The Beyond (1981). He discusses how he got to work on this film as well as Fulci’s, and what he feels about his accomplishments. Another Extra that also focuses on him is “Giannetto De Rossi: Q&A at the Festival of Fantastic Films, UK” (43 min.) recorded in the same year and at the same festival as the previous interview, in 2019. This is also moderated by Ercolani, and goes into more detail thanks to the larger time given. It also goes over much of the same territory as the first one, but without the video clip examples. I did a little skimming on this one.

However, the highlights are two full-length audio commentaries with film historians. The first is with Troy Howarth, an American who writes books about European Cult Cinema. Honestly, this sounds like every other historian’s commentary in every other Blu-ray for every other film. That being said, I found it interesting because I love film history and this guy is obviously more knowledgeable than I am on the topic, so give it a listen, but know what you are getting into (as the Herman’s Hermits sang in paraphrasing, “It’s into something good”). The second commentary is with film critics Nathaniel Thompson and Bruce Holecheck, who cover similar ground as the one with Howarth, but manage to cover even more material despite some overlap, and they also add some humor to their descriptions. As for other bits and pieces, there are the likes of the Original Theatrical Trailer, Original TV Spots, and “Radio Spots.”

While considered B-level in the Italian zombie giallo genre, this really should not be missed, because it has become a classic, and there are so many connections to the likes of Fulci and Argento that it certainly is now part of the storied canon. Besides, it is a hoot. Strong SFX, decent story, stirring music all combined into something eminently watchable. Enjoy. Mangiare!

IMBD Listing HERE 

 



Friday, June 10, 2022

Review: Don’t Let Her In

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2022
Images from the Internet

Don’t Let Her In
Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Full Moon Features; MVD Entertainment
61 minutes, 2021 / 2022
www.facebook.com/fullmoonfeatures
www.fullmoonfeatures.com/
www.MVDentertainment.com

For those of us who either grew up in the ‘80s VHS video boom, or are a fan of that prolific period, this release has a definite draw. It was directed by Ted Nicolaou, who set off the infamous Subspecies franchise and gave us TerrorVision (1986).

I am assuming we have all heard the expression “roommate from hell,” and some may have even experienced this phenomenon. Well, what if that were more than just an expression? Imagine if the person sharing your flat was, say, the nanny who hung herself in The Omen (1976), or one of the building tenants in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). That is the starting point of this release.


Kelly Curran

A young couple live in a loft (at the iconic Nate Starkman & Son building in Los Angeles) that is freakin’ huge, and that they can’t really afford. There is Amber (Kelly Curran), who designs posters for indie horror films and looks like she popped out of an Archie Comic, with a blonde bob and teeth for miles. Her boyfriend is Ben (Cole Pender), a guitarist for an up-and-coming band. They need a roommate, and that person shows up in the form of Serena (Lorin Doctor), a dark and mysterious New Age-y artist who works with herbs and minerals, and also can be found chanting a lot. The direction this is going is pretty obvious from the start.

Of course, there is an ulterior motive for Serena being there while there is a stranger, Elias (Austin James Parker), who looks a bit like The Witcher, that is hanging around outside the building.

Lorin Doctor

We soon get to see Serena’s true nature (and often her boobs at the drop of a lingerie). She easily seduces the couple one by one, setting up the evil plan to spring forth from her involvement.

And now that Amber is pregnant, obviously with something beyond human, how will our young couple, who are about as committed to their relationship as they are to their breakfast cereal, deal with this situation?

Well, honestly, it’s pretty predictable, but please, keep reading. Even though the ending can be seen a mile away, this is a fun romp and so typical of the fare of Full Moon, short at an hour’s length, and to the point. You get what you wish for, and that is a Full Moon production. They aren’t known for rocket science, and that’s just the way it should be. This film definitely keeps on brand: nudity, gore, and demons. There is little to no fat that needs to be trimmed; it’s going in a direction and successfully gets there.

Cole Pender

Doctor has a kind of weird, almost Mortician Aadams kind of stroll when she’s in evil focus mode, with arms tight down at her sides and hands at nearly 90 degrees to her body. But everyone does their role well.

This is a very small, COVID-period cast of just four characters, but it’s Curran and Doctor who hold up the film. It’s sensual and bloody, with some really top notch practical demonic SFX.

There are essentially two extras added on the Blu-ray. The first is a bunch of Full Moon Production trailers of their newer stuff, such as The Resonator: Miskatonic U and Blade: The Iron Cross. This film is also represented. The other is a 9-minute Behind the Scenes featurette, that starts off focusing on the career of the director (including his work on the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), and then delves into the make-up and production of this film, with an interview with Curran.

Full Moon has a reputation for films just like this, that are quickly done and are effective, with extremely low budgets (but look really good) and tend to be a tad goofy. This is not a comedy, but there is an auteur feel to all their releases, and this one works. Also, there are a few times when characters are watching movies on the television, and you will never guess what production company they are from…

IMBD Listing HERE 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Reviews: 5 Various Giant Insect Films: Insecticidal; Insectula!; Bug Buster; Tsunambee; Dead Ant

Reviews: 5 Various Giant Insect Films

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2022
Images from the Internet

Giant insects in films were common during the 1950s and ‘60s Cold War period with the threat of mutation via nuclear radiation, with such fare as Them (1954), Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), etc. Sure, there were a few after that craze died, such as The Giant Spider Invasion (1975) and The Mist (2007), which seemed to mainly effect spiders, but slowly yet surely it fizzled out as a major theme, becoming more of a sub-genre. But luckily, there are still films being made, sometimes concerning a number of creepy crawlies and others a single beastie; and that’s what this blog is all about. Bugs and insects.

These films below are not ranked, but are listed in the order in which I watched them, all from TubiTV. Note that my snark is truly meant to be fun and rib-poking with a touch of stream of consciousness. I had just the right low-budget expectation for these films, so I was not blindsided by anticipating a theatrical extravaganza experience. After all, when it comes to the cheese level, there are times when ya want melted brie on toast, and at others, Cheez-Whiz on animal crackers. I enjoyed these films for precisely what they are. Links to the coming attractions for all of them are at the bottom of each review.

 

Insecticidal
Directed by Jeffrey Scott Lando
Riptide Entertainment; Incisor Productions; Way Below the Line Productions
81 minutes, 2005

Before even starting out, I am going to assume this Vancouver-filmed flick is a comedy, due to the volume of cleavage and the fact that every female’s name end with an “i”. For example, there is lead character, Cami (girl-next-door cute Meghan Heffern), her bosomy bestie and sizzling sibling Sophi (Samantha McLeod), and her rival/bully, Josi (Rhonda Dent). They all live in the sorority house (of course) of Eta Epsilon Gamma – though it would be better as Beta Epsilon Gamma, or BUG – where all the residents are bikini-ready model types, Cami is studying entomology. Her room is full of live experimental insects in glass enclosures to whom Cami has named, such as “Boris,” including a scorpion, a horned beatle – er – I mean beetle, and a praying mantis, while being hit on by her nerdy hanger-on who is more interested in trying to date Cami than actually be her friend, Martin (Shawn Bachynski). The latter mentioned insect scares Josi as she’s doing the wazoo with her boyfriend, football player Mitch (Travis Watters). Surprisingly, the sex scenes and nudity are visually fuzzed out, which is a bit annoying. If the actors are going to go through the trouble of taking off their clothes and doing extra-curricular activities, including the obligatory gratuitous shower scene – both females and males, in this case –, the viewer should be able to appreciate their hard work. I’m just sayin’. Fortunately they leave in the blood and gore rather than visually edit them out. So, Josi sprays all the critters with insecticide, supposedly destroying Cami’s work, that in the real world would have gotten Josi kicked out of the university, but here she’s just another bully. And this is all before the credits. No one seems to care that Cami’s life work may be destroyed by some sorority bully, which honestly pissed me off. The insects become larger and badly CGI’d, (although not too bad for the budget and the technology at the time this was filmed over 15 years ago) thanks to a mixture of DNA experimentation by Cami and, for some reason, the insecticide, rather than killing the creatures, it makes them grow, and more intelligent. One of the great things about sorority (or fraternity) houses, is an unlimited number of victims – both the residents and their boyfriends – for the titular creatures to sting, munch and run amok over. Meanwhile, over time, the buggies are getting increasingly dangerous, and starting to use at least one person as a host for what looks like tapeworm larvae, like the guy with the spiders in The Mist. There really is a lot of silliness throughout, though it seems much of it unintentional, and the film focuses a lot on Sophi’s push-up bra (no complaints there), but there actually is some nice kills throughout as the story builds. By the halfway point, all is clear as to what is happening to those that are left, and the aim is to survive as they get picked off one by one, as is the rule of the jungle, or at least of the lairs. In all, this is a pretty silly film with an ‘80s style of over-emoting acting and, given the setting, reminiscent of the flavor of Night of the Creeps (1986). Lots of cheesy gore, a ton of (blocked out) nudity and sex, so in the right frame of mind, this could be a fun ride if you don’t take it anywhere near seriously. It seems like the actors were having fun making this, especially Dent, so why not watch it?
Trailer is HERE 

 

Insectula!
Directed by Michael Peterson
Digital Mèliés; Adler & Associates Entertainment
101 minutes, 2015
https://www.facebook.com/insectulamovie
http://insectula.blogspot.com/

While the last film I reviewed above was a throwback to the ‘80s, this one delves even further to a ‘50s-type fetish/quirk. You can tell by the exclamation point in the title and the unblinking introduction suggestive of many William Castle releases, right off the bat. On another planet of CGI monsters, one of the creatures spits out something into space that is reminiscent of the creatures firing weapons at Earth in Starship Troopers (1997). Only this time it’s a mutant giant mosquito type beastie who lands in White Bear Lake near St. Paul, Minnesota (where this was filmed) rather than an ocean, as with Cloverfield (2008). It is attracted to Earth by CO2 and global warming. I like how they incorporated the name of a blood-sucking insect with Dracula; that was quite clever. Yes, this is a comedy, and a bit on the broad side as there is zero subtly here. When Insectula kills its first victim moments after landing in the lake (her floating head looks really cool in a cheesy way), it has already made a mistake by doing in the (unrequited) love interest (Hanna Hudson) of our hero, balding and fake mustachioed EPA Agent Del Delbiondo (Pasquale Pilla). Meanwhile some FBI forensic scientists get on the – er – head case, such as pervy Dr. Heinrich Kempler (Harrison Matthews), and his assistant, Brittany Sax (stunning Arielle Cezanne, for whom this is her only IMDB credit to date; her character reminds me of both Lee Meredith’s Ulla, from 1967’s The Producers, and Traci Lords in 1988’s Not of This Earth). Bug – I mean but is Kempler there to help the victims or the insect? Hey, there is a reason he has a German accent. The creature itself actually looks pretty good, as a cross between a mosquito, a spider, and a scorpion; well, after all, it is from outer space, not from local pond scum. And, apparently, it’s fast enough to land on a flying commercial airliner in mid-flight, in a possible indicator of the infamous episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” on “The Twilight Zone” (1963). There is also a brute of a man who is mostly mute, a bald baddie named Lobo (Joel Thingwall), who is certainly modelled after Tor Johnson. For a low budgeter, the level of effects – and there are lots of them – run from looking really cinchy (such as a building which is obviously a model; again, a throwback nod, as is the outside of Kempler’s house, reminiscent of the Aadam’s family abode) to really good gore practical SFX, and some CGI as well (the titular insect is both, depending on how it is shown). The gore is abundant and effectively meant to gross out the viewer, certainly a saving grace for others who have issues with throwback films (I enjoy a good romp into retro). Speaking of which, while there is no sex, there is a lot of sexuality, such as multiple shots of cleavages, beautiful women, and even a slow-motion pillow fight (yeah, you heard me) by two women in lingerie. The film is, however, a tad too long, and there is lots to choose what to excise and put into the Deleted Reel, such as an extended sequence of a grief-stricken and drunk Del near the beginning, that looks really good, but adds nothing to the story. There also some fun inconsistences that I am sure were done purposefully, such as Brittany’s name badge not only switches back and forth between FBI and EPA, but also from left to right side of her jacket, and back, sometimes all within the same scene, kind of like Vincent Price’s switch from jacket to vest and back in The Last Man on Earth (1964). This is the director’s sole feature film helming credit, as his history is of commercials and industrial films. I would like to see him do more.
Trailer is HERE 

 

Bug Buster
Directed by Lorenzo Doumani
DMG Entertainment; Shoreline Entertainment
93 minutes, 1998

Considering the relative star power in this film, some on their way up and some on their way down, I’m amazed I’ve never heard of it before! It stars the likes of right-wing conspiracy nut Randy Quaid (as the titular exterminator), George Takei, James Doohan, Katherine Heigl, Meredith Salenger, Bernie Kopell, Anne Lockhart, MTV’s annoying Downtown Julie Brown, the underrated Johnny Legend, and more! How did they get so many? My guess is because this is a very broad comedy, and on paper seemed like fun. Filmed in Big Bear Valley in California’s San Bernadino National Forest, it’s kind of a cross between Arachnophobia (1990) and especially Ghostbusters (1984); this film’s tag line, for example, is “There’s something creepy in the neighborhood…” Subtle, right? This film may be approaching being 25 years old, but that is not to say that it is not prescient. What I mean by that is in the story, in order to take care of the medfly problem, a state’s government uses a pesticide, despite the warning of a scientist, Dr. Fujimoto (Takei). Is the governor a possible role model for anti-science anti-learning DeSantis? The introduction to our exterminator, General George (Quaid), is a television commercial that is a cross between said Ghostbusters and George of the Jungle (the film version came out in 1997, the year before this; the cartoon is from 1967-‘70). Meanwhile, the bugs are acting up much like the amphibians did in Frogs (1972), which seems to be a strong influence on this release, in retaliation for the actions of humanity…well, at least that (I am assuming Republican) governor. The first we see acting up are roaches, so if you are squeamish about those little buggers (pun intended), this is your trigger warning. And these are the bigger, South American roaches with the segmented backs that are often used in horror films, rather than the more common American roaches (aka waterbugs) or the smaller German roaches, which are most prevalent (at least in New York). These roaches are seen crawling all over a woman in bed, and they are not CGI. The main focus of the story is on a family, Gil (Kopell), Cammie (Lockhart) and their daughter, Shannon (Heigl) who buy the Black Forest Lodge in Mountview, a burg in rugged Northern Califor-ni-yay, which you just know is going to be in the heart of bugsville. Almost like it is switching topics, suddenly there is something in the lake that is attacking people, such as porn-star named Veronica Hart (Salenger), who is the local sexpot, Sherriff Carlson (a normal voiced Doohan; d. 2005), the pretty town Doc Casey (Brenda Epperson), the crazed ex-preacher and perv Judediah (Dennis Fimple, d. 2002, whose last feature role was Grampa Hugo in 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses), the lodge’s manager, Allen Lulu, who is all over Canadian television as the representative of A&W Burgers for over 20 years), and the possible love interest for Shannon, auto mechanic Steve (David Lipper, who was Viper on “Full House”) who is cool (you know that because he’s usually wearing sleeveless shirts and has just the right amount of hair oil to be slick but not greasy looking). Meanwhile, damn, I’m not even 15 minutes into this thing. One of the aspects I enjoy about films from this period revolve around technology: old computers with laughable graphics and modeling, and what now might be known as a Siri voice, but it was not really available back then as far as I know to have the computer read out what is on the screen (though it helps the audience who may have issues with reading skills). Anyway, people are dying from these mutant and large (relatively) roaches and centipedes. But once that Medfly insecticide gets used, the mutations go out of control. And when it gets even worse because of it, who they gonna call? Not John Goodman, but rather General George, natch. The third act kicks into gear with the arrival of over-emoting George (a decade after Quaid won the Golden Globe for portraying LBJ). What gore there is looks really good, and other practical SFX are quite decent. The large bugs are puppets or man-in-costume, but with the exception of a brief and laughable by today’s standard CGI when it flies, all the rest seems mostly physical. As for sex stuff, there is one awkward and unexpected lovemaking scene that I’m sure will not turn anyone on, and the one shower scene, it’s pretty obvious Heigl had a body double, even through frosted glass that obscures any bits. The theme of the film is kind of reminiscent of releases like Squirm (1975), where the little beasties overwhelm a town. Most insect/bug rampage films tend to be comedies, and this one is more on the quiet side, but it is definitely present. The attempt made by Downtown Julie Brown as a callous news reporter (that she is from station FUFU, or FU2, is funnier than her), however, falls flat on its face. Speaking of which, there is lots of bad ‘70s-style television acting by just about everyone that, with some exceptions, is part of its charm.
Trailer is HERE 

 

Tsunambee (aka Tsunambee: The Wrath Cometh; Waspnado)
Directed by Milko Davis and Thomas Martwick
Churchill Film Group; Artist View Entertainment; Wild Eye Releasing
82 minutes, 2015
www.facebook.com/tsunambee
www.wildeyereleasing.com

This release definitely has the feel of the apocalyptic genre, such as 2012 (2009), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), and Geostorm (2017). Perhaps this was inspired by real-life Murder Hornets and the films Sharknado (2013) meets [Fill in the Blank] of the Living Dead. For this lovely, it is obviously large bees that are the issue, to start. Now, in full disclosure, I have a fear of bees, though not to the level of a phobia. What I do have a phobia about is religious films, and I am worried about this one, which begins with a person making and carrying a cross, and an opening title card that quotes Revelations, from that book of fairy tales and historical fiction that many people take way too seriously out of fear of retribution. I am hoping that will not be a consistent theme throughout. Dialogue is along the lines of “What do you suggest we do out there?” “Pray. Pray hard.” Oy vey. The tone of the religious overbearingness is as washed out as the visuals, which have a yellowish tint, as this looks like it was all filmed with the camera’s aperture open just a bit too much. Some modeling is used, and there is a lot of CGI; the bees do look cartoonish (but then again, to be fair, the real Murder Hornets do, too), and are about the size of cats. Between natural disasters like earthquakes, and swarms of these stingers, our cast is in danger. There are three groups of people who hate each other who have to work together: there’s the main protagonist of the story, Sheriff Feargo (Stacy Pederson), three African-Americans just trying to pass through the small town (filmed near Colorado Springs, CO), led by religious non-believer JB (Ruselis Aumeen Peery) and the rednecks represented by bully/coward Jesse (Shale Le Page). What is fun is that the sting does not kill the victim, but turns them into murderous zombies (zom-bees?). The religion really starts to grab hold when our motley crew end up at the farmhouse of religious fanatic farmer (Jeff Pederson, who I’m assuming is related in real life to the Sheriff) who spouts Bible passages like Psalm 23 and claims “The Lord will protect you.” Yuck. And the farmer’s young pre-teenage daughter, Cassandra (Thea Saccoliti) seems to be a prophetess who talks to god, so of course she is named after the seer character in Homer’s The Odyssey. I’m happy to say the two adult women – the Sheriff and Chica (Maria DeCoste), of JB’s group – bond first, and slowly but surely, they all start to work through their particular issues (racism, past histories, etc.) At the end of the second act, I have to wonder, what good is guns and ammo going to do against a swarm of a million…bees? Wasps? This is total Republican thinking, that guns can solve anything. And that the Lord (there is no mention of Jeebus) will protest those who believe. I understand why they had the original subtitle of “The Wrath Cometh,” and also why they removed it for the general audience. The story, stripped of religiosity, is pretty enjoyable, and the zombie effects look great. Of course, there is no nudity, no sex, and not even cursing. All in all, this would have been a much better film without all the damn preaching throughout. I felt like I was watching a Kirk Cameron/End of Days pieces of nonsense, and found myself often annoyed by the Christian symbols and comments that came way too often. Even the end credits are shown over a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Speaking of which, if you make it as far as the credits – and again, storywise by itself it may be worth it if you can get through all the preachy dialogue – there is an extended epilogue in the middle of the final scroll of names.
Trailer is HERE 

 

Dead Ant
Directed by Ron Carlson
August Heart Entertainment; Arctic Zebra; Little Stephie Films
87 minutes; 2017

This comedy takes place in 1989, concerning a hair band called Sonic Grave (sounds more hardcore punk than hair metal, but whatever), who had but one hit in their career. Rather than giving up the ghost, they stick together and go on a road trip with their manager, Danny (Tom Arnold) to what the band believes is Coachella, to revive what’s left of their calling, and relative dignity. Their plan is to stop off at Joshua Tree and write a hit song to premiere on the stage that will wow everyone, and bring them back to fame. Best laid plans, right? Along the way, the drummer Stevie (Leisha Hailey, of the bands The Murmurs and Uh-Huh, and the television show “The L Word”) and bassist Art (Sean Austin, in a really bad wig, who mentions at one point that he’s from “the shire”), purchase some powerful peyote from a vegan Native Person, Bigfoot (Michael Horse) and his partner, Dynamite (Danny Woodburn, who was recurring character Mickey on “Seinfeld”), who warns them not to kill anything while they are on the drug, or they will be cursed. And, as the title of the film will inform you, that doesn’t happen, leading to a near-Them (1954) experience. The other band members are vocalist Merrick (Jake Busey), and dark-haired guitarist Pager (Rhys Coiro), who has a great tattoo on his hand of a 45-spindle adapter. Also along for the ride is Merrick’s groupie, Love (Cameron Richardson). Along for the astral experience are hangers on Sam (Sydney Sweeney) and Lisa (Joi Liaye). Hey, the more the merrier, and the more the carnage by the killer CGI fire ants that are the size of hamsters at first but grow to automobile sized. I have to admit that this film is ridiculous (well, Tom Arnold…), but it is engaging and certainly humorous (again, Tom Arnold, who appears to ad lib a lot). The ending is a bit fantastical, but then again, we are dealing with giant, intelligent ants. The characters are oddly sympathetic in most cases, and are true to their characters. There is some interesting incidental music, such as criminally underrated Slade doing “Cum Feel the Noize” (rather than the mediocre Quiet Riot cover). And make sure you stick around for the song that begins the final credits. There are a lot of films about bands being threatened by the likes of killers (2015’s Green Room), the Debbil (Devil’sMusic, 2017), vampires (Suck, 2009) and so on, but this is a first for giant ants (perhaps inspired by the Blondie song?) 
Trailer is HERE 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Review: Human Lanterns

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2022
Images from the Internet

Human Lanterns (aka Ren pi deng long; Human Skin Lanterns)
Directed by Sun Chung
Shaw Brothers; Celestial Pictures; 88 Films; 88Asia Collection; MVD Entertainment
99 minutes, 1982 / 2022
www.MVDEntertainment.com

Back in the mid-1970s through the 1980s, if you were not there, it is hard to describe the effect and influence of the Shaw Brothers kung fu films, especially the ones taking place in some mystical time, long, long ago, when warriors with long hair could fly through the air, elderly people were the best fighters, and moustaches indicated evil.

Bruce Lee has survived the ages as far as legacy goes, but back then, it was the Shaw Brothers releases that were nearly omnipresent. There were theaters that dedicated themselves to showing them (such as one at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge), and a local New York station played their films every weekend at pre-set times.

But what I think helped popularize them were the sheer wackiness of the story mixed with a lot of martial arts action. Most were the equivalent of Roger Corman releases: you really needed to let go of any pretense towards art, and just enjoy the over acting and high drama for what it was: sheer entertainment. I have never seen this particular film before, so I am looking forward to it…

Tony Liu

The main theme of the story here, which is the complete and uncut version, is social jealousy in the feudal period of Phoenix Town. The main protagonist is wealthy warrior with classic Spock-like eyebrows, Lung Shu-Ai (Tony Liu), who is in rivalry with the local mustachioed Third Master T’an-Fu (Kuan Tai Chen). T’an provokes him by choosing Lung’s favorite prostitute, Yen Chu (Linda Chu) as his own concubine at a big feast, therefore causing Lung to lose face. To be fair, Lung is not a nice guy, who is consumed by competitiveness.

To retaliate, Lung decides to use the upcoming Lantern Festival contest (for best lantern, natch; remember the film’s title) by getting a skilled lantern maker, Chao Ch’un-Fang (Lieh Lo), who was Lung’s previous rival for Lung’s present wife, Lady Chin (Ni Tien), to create a masterpiece for him.

Then, again considering the title, there is a horror aspect to the story, represented by some dude in a mixed monkey/skull mask and costume who wants to destroy Lung. He kidnaps a woman and brings her to his underground lair, reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera. There he very graphically does a Buffalo Bill/Leatherface on her. There is a reason the original name of the film was Human SKIN Lanterns. I don’t believe I’m giving anything away. I figured out almost instantly who was, as Lux Interior of the Cramps sang, “What’s behind the mask.” Actually, it’s given away pretty early, but I will not be the one to do it.

Kuan Tai Chen

Add an assassin into the mix to increase the action in the form of bearded Kuei Szu-Yi (Meng Lo, He does a lot of the fighting in the picture, which has its fair amount of martial arts, and yet less than usual for a Shaw Brothers release, though it certainly picks up by the third act. What is there, however, is imaginative, uses many different tools such as arm knives and fans, and there is a lot of wire work as they fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Meanwhile, the police, led by Sergeant P’an (Chien Sun), is trying to stop the jealousy-fueled violence and figure out why people are going missing.

Of course, the film is in Mandarin, with English subtitles. One thing that is not included in this package is the English dubbed version. Shaw Brothers films often used the same voice actors over and over, so they became easily recognizable by sound, if not by name. For me, it was one of the hallmarks of a Shaw Brothers release, but I can forgive them. I would have watched the film in the original Mandarin, and then again with the English dub, but that didn’t happen this time. Not a complaint, just an observation.

Lieh Lo and Hsiu-Chun Lin

Okay, let’s talk about some of the extraordinary Extras that are included with the new Blu-ray, both the physical and the digital. I’ll start with the latter. To begin, there is a full-length commentary by Kenneth Brorsson and Phil Gillion of the On Fire Network podcast. Both men are heavily accented (Swedish and British, respectively), and it was a bit of a strain to make out what they were saying, but it was worth the focus. At least until I gave up about halfway through.

Next is the featurette “A Shaw Story: An Interview with Susan Shaw” (14 min.), filmed in 2005. In this, the actor, who had a small role in the film, tells of her tumultuous career before Human Lanterns thanks to international politics, what it was like to work with the director and her opinion of the film, and her career after. She kept my attention. The next featurette is for one of the bigger stars of the film, “The Beauty and the Beasts: An Interview with Linda Chu” (14 min.). Chu talks about how she became involved with the Shaw Brothers films and her career there, and especially on her opinion about nudity. Again, it’s a good interview, but she does come off a bit vain here and there. Part of the charm, I guess. Both interviews are in Chinese with subtitles.

The last featurette is “Lau Wing: The Ambiguous Hero” (51 min.) And who is Lau Wing? That is the real name of this film’s star, Tony Liu. He goes into great detail about the art of acting, and his place in that, all while chewing gum. Of course, he discusses the film and the director, but he was working three films at the same time, and he admits his memory is hazy. It’s his relationship with actors and the studios that make this the most interesting. Lastly on the digital end is the Trailer, that the film is in HD (1080p), and the English subtitles have been retranslated.

On the physical side, there is a nice slipcover with new artwork by Robert O’Brien, a double-sided case cover with the original poster, a two-sided folded paper poster insert included with the clamshell, and lastly a lush, multi-page booklet with text and photos.

The trailer’s quality makes the viewer appreciate just how gorgeous this release looks now, with vibrant colors, incredible cinematography by An-Sung Tsao, and sharp editing. The sets by Ching-Shen Chen are shown in great and sharp detail. All of this brings up the value of the release that was most likely missing from the earlier VHS copies.

While the fighting throughout most of the film often feels like under-played and Kung fu-interruptus, the final battle royale certainly makes up for it. It is beautifully staged and includes everyone of importance that’s left alive at this point. It alone makes the rest of it worth the wait, but I should add that the whole story is pretty intense and enjoyable. My old pal, Mariah Aguier (2005), who was an infamous person on the New York punk scene in the 1970s and also a martial arts film aficionado, would have probably loved this (or already did). Now, so do I.

IMDB Listing HERE