Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review: Lust of the Vampire Girls

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Lust of the Vampire Girls
Produced and directed by Matt Johnson
Some Hero Productions / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
77 minutes, 2014 / 2017
As with everything else, there are multiple levels of cinema: the big budget and the lower end. This was also true of the Euro-trash films of the late ‘60s into the late ‘80s. For every Dario Argento there was a Jesse Franco. This release models itself more after the latter than the former.

There certainly is a trend over the past few years to mostly honor and sometimes lovingly mock these now classics, be it the ones that were so-good-it’s-good or the so-bad-it’s-good. Most of these, though filmed before its fame, came to prominence in the Western Hemisphere with the rise of (i.e., a quick need for new product) video stores during the 1980s.

Most of the more recent batch of “throwback” style to Euro-horror is over the top in dialogue, in reading by actors and in style, such as purposefully putting in extremely obvious errors like the sound boom in the shot, or a crew member being in the background. A superb example of this is Richard Griffin’s recent Seven Dorms of Death.

While Lust of the Vampire Girls [LothVG] also does a lot of that, it does it a bit more subtly, so it actually looks like errors, rather than a nod-nod-wink-wink shared with the knowing audience. As I will describe later, it actually took me a while to catch on that this is what they were doing, so kudos to the production team.

Victor Medina and Amy Savannah
The basic story is that Pretty Girl (Amy Savannah) and Man (Victor Medina), as they are billed in the credits, are having a fight. She wants to go to a party, and in a very douchey and controlling way, he refuses, insisting she should be happy spending her time just with him. She goes anyway, and apparently her “friends,” all of whom wear party masks, are a cult led by a Romanian Nazi named Gunter (Dave Nilson) who worked beside Mengele in the camps. While there, Gunter invented a serum that turns women into snarling (there is a lot of snarling) vampires who do not age. The drug only works on women, but Dr. Gunter is still working on it.

Pretty Girl is kidnapped by the group, and Man goes to rescue her, in a passive-aggressive manner (“I’m here risking my neck for her tedious ass”). Meanwhile, Man falls for one of the more sentimental vampire women, Lead Vamp Girl (Ashely Eliza Parker).

Ashley Eliza Parker
One of the many interesting choices made by the director is to have one of the camp’s growling, nightgown clad (very Hammer Films style) vampires be African-American; note that I use that specific term because even though they were supposed to become vamps while in a Polish concentration camp, this was filmed in Utah. Don’t remember hearing much about people of color in the camps. But I digress…

The film takes place somewhere in the late-1960s or very early ‘70s, considering the cell phones, typewriters, and magazine covers (e.g., Look magazine from 1986…yes, I do my research). There are some anachronisms, though, such as a nose piercing or modern artistic tattoos on the backs and wrists of more than one character.

Now, when I started watching this, I thought perhaps they were trying too hard to get the feel of the style, with bad acting and one lead character that is a creep and another that is too – err – girly, but about a third of the way through, I had a realization that changed my mindset and actually made this film make more logical and additionally fun. Now, I’m not sure this is intentional, but simply put, I was comparing it to the likes of Italian releases by Argento or even Franco, but in actuality it makes more sense to see the likeness in the even lesser B-versions, if you will, such as Spanish/Mexican films starring Paul Naschy. Not as low as the Luchador ones with, say, Santo or Mil Mascaras, but yet not quite classic giallo.

One thing that is consistent with Italian giallo, though, is the humming and stepping-on-nerve soundtrack, which is more like an electronic pulse. There are also some intentional errors (again, I’m assuming), such as occasional shots that are actually in reverse (is there a reference for that for which I don’t remember?). Then there is the time padding of other clips, such as long and drawn out bits of said snarling vampire women, or someone walking through the woods.

Dave Nilson
Relying on the macho/feminine ethos of films from the period this is supposed to take place (i.e., when it is supposed to be shot), the gendered roles are heightened and exaggerated in hyper-sexualized ways: think of Jane Fonda in 1968’s Barbarella or Steve McQueen in…well, just about anything).

For example, Man comes home to an empty apartment and complains that Pretty Girl has smoked a joint while at the same time he came drunk and carrying a bottle. Then he smokes the last of her joint! He’s very controlling, not wanting her to see her friends. It’s hard to like him: he’s clearly unfaithful and ambivalent about rescuing her. He also falls for Lead Vamp Girl way too quickly. She’s unlike the other vampires in that she’s sweet, needs a man to love her, and is a bit too clingy and needy, unlike that damn Pretty Girl who has a mind of very own and wants something beyond the company of Man. The nerve! Damn those feminists (yeah, this is sarcasm on my part, and arguably on the film’s, as well).

The bad guy, Gunther, has a haram of vampire women that he created with his formula, like a Nazi Superfly; that is devotion-wise, rather than prostitution, though the vampire women definitely show their cleavage and beauty with their flowing nightgowns, as mentioned earlier.

The extras are a bunch of Wildeye Releasing trailers (always fun), including for this film, and a 4+ minute short showing how LofVG’s storyboard translates into the film. Not very deep, but fun.

My uptightness as the film unspooled was because of my own blindness. LotVG is so close to what it’s trying to reflect, that it took me a while to realize what it was doing. That is not the fault of the director, but of my own subjectivity. That is the reason I started it over after about 15 minutes, to watch again with a new set of eyes, as it were. I smiled a lot more, and it was much more of an enjoyable experience. Fans of either Euro- or Mexi-horror are bound to find much to like, especially if you are familiar with the paradigm Johnson used to build his story.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Review: Grindhouse Gutmunchers

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Grindhouse Gutmunchers
Deadly Indie Entertainment / World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM) / MVD Visual
150 minutes, 2017

This double-DVD set contains two repackaged anthology films, including two bonus movies, from the pro-KISS and Alice Cooper, liberal-antagonizing Scarlet Fry (this liberal reviewer still likes him, even though disagrees often), who owns and runs the World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM) organization that puts out some amazing and oft overlooked releases. In other words, there is a heeeeell of a lot to see here.

But first this message: there are varying levels to cinema, with the top of the chain being the multi-million dollar sagas, and at the bottom some kid with a camera filming his friends. Scarlet’s work, especially the earlier stuff shot on VHS, is closer to the former than the latter. And yet…no, wait now… and yet, his output is so much fun that it really doesn’t matter in the long run. Personally, I would rather see one of these relatively amateurish anthology collections than, say, any of the Paranormal Activity films, or some of the same old rehashing of older films again and again. There is quite a bit of originality here, through the cheesy effects, corny jokes, and the occasional questionable acting skills. But I’ll delve into all that in a bit more detail as we go along.


Scarlet Fry’s Junkfood Horrorfest                                                      
Directed by Brian Crow and Walter Ruether (aka Scarlet Fry)
Chained to the Wall Productions / Chemical Burn Entertainment
75 minutes, 2007
From the brief opening segment, which is not technically part of either the wraparound or the six stories that make up the main body of the film, we are introduced to a stoned out drug dealer sitting by a dumpster, who is approached by a woman who demands him to give her some dope. He gives her a bag and she gives him a warning that it better be the real thing. What it turns out to be is the video tape that is Junkfood Horrorfest. What makes this even more special, I’m sure especially to Fry, is that the junkie is played by Calico Cooper, the talented and attractive offspring of the infamous Alice. This is quite the coup for Fry, and certainly a thrill for us.

We are then introduced to the wraparound, hosted by Scarlet Fry who uses his own name (stage name anyway) – as a hillbilly kidnapper with a partial leather facemask (assuming human). Every anthology film of Fry’s/Ruether’s has himself, sometimes with others, as some form of host to introduce the tales in Tales from the Crypt fashion (though comics have been doing it since at least the late ‘40s, of course). It’s filled with puns and groaners, as it should be, and I’m cool wid it.

Before I start on the stories, I have to say that even though it was shot on video (I’m guessing sVHS), it has a very clean and nearly digital look that made me happy, too… well, on my television anyway, which still has a cathode tube… don’t judge me; rather, send me bucks to get a newer one!
Scarlet Fry hosting
As with the other films on these discs, I won’t go into great detail because these stories are about 10 minutes each so that my going into great depths would reveal too much of the shenanigans. However, I will pick out some standouts.

There are some stories that are merely there, it seems, as an excuse to show some appliance effects, more than dependent on an actual narrative, such as “The Bloodthirsty Butcher” and “The Devil Made Me Do It” (with the very cute Sasha Lightstone). In many, the acting is quite borderline, some of it even terrible, but there are shining moments, such as the psychological study with Fry doing a solo in “Wasted Life.” I can see some people may see this particular non-action filled piece as the weak link in the film, but I thought it was among the strongest for just that reason. Fry does a great job in stoicism (yes, that’s a compliment).

A couple of the stories, the aforementioned “Wasted Life” and the trippy-albeit-obvious-ending “The Solution,” (which I enjoyed), as with a surprising number of other short horror films, have little to no dialog. This can be viewed as a good thing, as some of the dialog can be cheesy, and others downright (purposefully, I’m sure) offensive. For example, there is the totally nonsensical (and my least favorite) “Griptape Spank,” where a gay man pays a trio of skater duuuudes to hit his thonged ass with their boards, hence the title. One of the duuuudes is afraid of being thought of as enjoying it too much. The “F” words are thrown around a lot (no, I mean “fag” and “faggot” – and “gay,” as in “that’s so gay,” while we’re at it). Even in 2007, using these terms is of questionable taste (what, me PC?). I also believe that is the point of the story, to be offensive, so in context I guess it’s acceptable? I just believe that many people viewing this may actually share the sentiments espoused, rather than thinking about it. Truth is, even if the term wasn’t used, it’s still not among what I would call the best of stories.

Considering the age of the film and the assumption of its (lack of) budget, the effects look really decent, most of the time. Yeah, there’s some fakey looking stuff, but much of it looks beyond its budget, such as with (again) “Wasted Life,” and the final piece that was added on later in an amusing way (i.e., the sixth tale), “Love is Blind,” which is one of the better written bits, though not the best acted (Danielle Fisher definitely comes out the better through most of it).
As an early film, there has to be some forgiveness, especially considering the constraints of budget and acting (for most of the cast, this is their only credit listed). Believe me, I've seen much, much worse from people who have had more filmmaking experience than Fry at this point in his career. In all, it’s a good introduction to his work and this DVD(s) collection. Oh, and stick around after the credits for some cool outtakes.

Scarlet Fry’s Horrorama
Directed by Walter Ruether (aka Scarlet Fry)
Black Mass Entertainment / Pegasus Productions
27 minutes, 1989

Going back even further in time is this collection made when Fry was a mere 19 years of age. There are five tales shot on VHS, although that is pretty obvious from the visual video noise.

Once again (though this predates the feature above), Fry hosts our viewing under his own name in a gruesome Lon Chaney London After Midnight-ish outfit with nicely designed and disgusting teeth (especially when he eats in them).

Considering his age at the time, this release actually looks better than it may sound in my description. Yeah, it’s amateurish, grainy (again, VHS), and the story are not too deep which is reflected in the acting ability, but it has heart and some laughs (it is considered a comedy).

For example, “Manwich” and “Kiss Kiss Me New Wave Zombie” don’t really have proper stories, just set pieces, though the effects look decent (except for the wigs which have an ‘80s hair band level of poofiness). For “A Day in the Park,” an abusive tool finds a gun in the park and puts it to questionable use (“when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail” syndrome?).

The twist in the opening – and best – sequence of “In the Sack” is a hoot. Llana Lloyd (who also wrote this, I believe) is in Rhonda Fleming territory while waiting for her date, a putz who purses his lips (now it would be called duck face) and keeps popping his collar. The acting here is atrocious from all involved, but it’s still satisfying. The last piece, “R.I.P. Rest in Peace” is another subliminally (or perhaps pretty blatant) anti-gay screed as a leather-clad motorcycle hoppin’ woman (well she dresses like it, anyway) in Captain Sensible “Wot” mode is woken from her sleep by her effeminate hubby (also played by Fry) who is ineffectively trying to chop a log.

Thing is, ya gotta start somewhere, and this definitely shows some promise that was pushed forward. I’m glad Fry has kept making films, because you can certainly see some growth along the way. This is also what makes the collection fun, as you can see the trajectory of his career so far.

The last film presented on the first DVD is a somewhat fuzzy rerelease of the public domain cult horror classic from 1962, Carnival of Souls. Definitely worth watching, even if it’s to see that, yeah, even back then sometimes the acting and filmmaking are not up to A-level speed, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a benchmark. The intro and outro of the dreamy CoS is presented as a television program called “Scarlet Fry’s Cinemacabre, with three horror hosts making snarky comments and bad puns, led by Fry again, in a costume that looks more Boy George than horror (though for some of us, it’s a negligible difference).

Also added on are a few trailers for the films on this DVD.


Scream Machine: Unrated
Directed by Walter Ruether III
Deadly Indie Entertainment / World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM)
71 minutes, 2015
The main feature of the second disk has already been reviewed by me during its pre-DVD release, HERE

But there are also some nice extras on the disc that were not included when I saw it the first time (yes, I watched it again). There are also two different trailers for Scream Machine, but the smile-maker for me is a five-minute outtake compilation of Lloyd Kaufman trying to get through a promo for the film. It’s hysterical.

It takes a particular mindset to watch films of this caliber, and I know most of the people who are reading this are just of that ilk, so sit back and enjoy. Yeah, there will be some “WTF” and mocking comments, but that’s part of the fun, and more than likely there will be some amusement and certainly some on-screen disembowelments for all to enjoy.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: WTF!

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Directed by Peter Herro
Midnight Releasing / Cthulhu Productions           
75 minutes, 2017

This film has just been released on VoD today (August 1, 2017), which makes sense since it’s definitely summer fare. To sum it up and categorize it in a single descriptor that is to be further deconstructed, it’s a cabin-in-the-woods-slasher flick.

In my humble opinion, what the twin-subgenres needs to be anywhere interesting, considering the umpteenth version of it, is some form of originality mixed into the formula. Right from the start, they begin well with an obvious nod to the godfather (godlessfather? godlessmother?) of all cabin in the woods films, The Evil Dead (1981). Got my attention, for shizzle (yeah, I’m that old). Not to mention the nudity in the first 30 seconds. Maybe a great start.

There is the mandatory – albeit brief – flashback bit, but there also seems to be a flashforward to the future piece at the beginning, as well. Ever more interesting.

As we get into the meat-and-gravy of the core story, we meet a couple of… I want to say overage college students? A pool party is raging, and we are introduced to the mostly male doofuses that are also obligatory, including the king of the cameos Shawn C. Phillips and (of all people) Perez Hilton. Is he still alive? A decade ago or so he was omnipresent. Now, well, this is the first time I’ve seen anything associated with him in a very long time. I don't have anything against or for him, just an interesting choice for a semi-celeb walk-on. Anyway, yeah, the guys are your typical genre skuzballs whose choice of topics are sex (here, one says, “You still haven’t done anal? That’s Jesus’ favorite!”), being drunk, hitting on women (even Donnie, the gay character played by Hilton, hits on the “hot chick”), and drugs – in this case pot. A bit too cliché, methinks.

Callie Ott
Into the party walks the queen of the group, Bonnie (Andrea Hunt in full Paris Hilton mode (”Those oldies but goodies remind me of you-ah-ooo…”). Meanwhile, Bonnie’s best friend and the protagonist of the story (aka The Good Girl) is Rachel (Callie Ott), who was The Last Girl after a bunch of her friends were slaughtered by a serial killer three years earlier. We get to see short clips from then strewn through the film. Perhaps eventually to be a prequel? Hey, this is all on the film’s description; I won’t give away anything that is not already avowed by the production team itself. And now, Rachel and her band of…jocks and Rich-Girl friends are heading to a cabin in the woods to party.

Some of the other cliché characters include The Stoner Jacob (Benjamin Norris, who is actually quite good in the role), the ambiguously and possibly gay Bevan (Adam Foster), and the Mean Girl, Lisa (Sarah Agor). Rachel’s boyfriend Sam (Johnny James Fiore) joins in, just in case she has (in her own truly clever wording) “a spring breakdown.” What could possibly go wrong, right? In total, the group includes four doods and three chicks (as opposed to four men and three women).

Even after the obligatory old guy at the gas station warns them to stay away, they go on ahead. If I were rich, I would love to just own a lone gas station in the middle of nowhere so when people ask for directions, I could say, “I’d turn back ifn ah wuz you.” But I digress… Instead, they head on to the cabin where they continue to act like complete asses. When Rachel thanks them for being supportive, one guy responds with “Show us your tits!”

Now I have to say, for a cabin, this is certainly a huge step up from the rustic ones you usually see in these kinds of films. Perhaps it is a mile in the woods, with no Wi-Fi or hardly any phone signal, but it’s huge, modern and has most of the amenities, having been owned by Jacob’s uncle, before he…well….

About half way through the film, the gristle starts to fly as these dum-dums get picked off one by one. Now, I want to be clear, while I feel justified to be mocking these characters, I do not want to give the impression that this film is lacking for entertainment value. Rather, there is a lot going on, some of it amusingly self-reflexive of the genre, which is a good thing. For example, while a lot of the dialog is – pun intended – WTF, it has a nice snarky tone, and some lines that are definitely quotable, such as, “C’mon, my balls are like fuckin’ Smurfs right now!” And if one were to make a drinking game of every time someone says, “Are you serious?!” in some form or another, you’d be plastered by the end.

What I get out of this is that rather than falling into merely formulaic characters, director Peter Herro is acknowledging the stereotypes that perpetuate this kind of film. What leads me to believe that is a number of things, such as two women having a pillow fight at a motel (seen through the window during a pan shot), and one character doing that added vowel at the end of sentences when annoyed, such as “You should dump him-muh!” and “I don’t know-wah!”

Then again, this is the director’s first film, so perhaps he’s being careful, rather than striking out with too much originality, i.e., playing it a bit on the safe side? I’m hoping to find out at some point. If there is any real flaw to the film, specifically the script, it’s that there is way too much talking during the first half of the film, especially before the killing starts. Parts of the party scene at the very beginning were painful in their over-sexualized tones. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all the nudity, it’s the constant hitting on by the men and the relentless ridiculing by the women. It goes beyond stereotype into drooling. But that’s easily solved with script editing in the next film; I’m hoping there is more for the director as this shows a large promise of things to come.

The acting is quite well done, especially Ott and Norris (as I said earlier), though everyone hits the mark with a decent reading and timing. The picture certainly looks great, with some sharp photography and editing. The gore is not abundant, and doesn’t need to be, but more important is that it looks good.

As for the ending, yeah, I figured it out pretty quickly, though there was a specific twist I did not see until near the end. Actually both guessing correctly and not getting it made me happy. Be sure to stick around for the credits and follow the art, as it continues the story.

Lastly, and this is my own snarky humor that’s neither here nor there, and it’s meant for a laugh, shouldn’t it be WTF? rather than WTF! If it were me, I’d take the easy way out with WTF?!

If you’re a slasher fan, I sincerely believe that you won’t be disappointed. There is just enough humor and tension – and even at least one jump scare – that make a viewing worth seeking out.