Friday, August 31, 2018

Review: The Night of the Virgin

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

The Night of the Virgin (aka La noche del virgen)
Directed by Roberto San Sebastián
Cleopatra Entertainment / MVD Visual
116 minutes, 2017

This is the kind of film you are not usually going to find coming out of the English language zone. It’s beyond quirky, and has a sensibility and pacing all its own. In Spanish with English subtitles, it all takes place in one New Year’s Eve night into day, and certainly will not be a good memory for, well, any of the participants.

Javier Bódalo
Our titular… well, okay, let’s say hero, Nico (Javier Bódalo) is a mousey lookin’ guy who is a 20 year old virgin, and he’s no Steve Carell. He has the social skills of Sheldon Cooper without the brains to match, and he’s at a rave party getting drunk and on the prowl. Meanwhile his so-called friends have abandoned him and are off somewhere in the room, insulting him via text, as they do throughout the story; we never see them. This is where and when he meets Medea (Miriam Martin), who is closer to the old Greek legend than a man dressed up like a raucous grandmother.

Medea takes a fancy to him, despite his maaaaaany shortcomings (and I’m taking about personality, not physicality here), and takes him home. Thing is, she’s a bit of a psycho in an apartment that’s a mess and filled with huge cockroaches that she treats like the Hindi respect cows. She’s obsessed with a strange goddess from Nepal, and he’s thinking with his dick, so you know it’s not going to end well.

Enter an angry boyfriend named Araña/Spider (Victor Amilibia) on the other side of the front door trapping them inside and threatening to kill them both, and the downward, furious and bloody night-into-day just keeps on getting stranger and more painful for everyone involved.

Speaking of which, for a small central cast of three (though there are numerous momentary passersby), there is a lot of gore and especially a lot of body fluids from nearly every possibly hole, including one you may not have thought of before.

Miriam Martin and the Nepal goddess
Of course, this is a genre film, so hopefully what I’m going to say is hardly anything close to a spoiler alert, and I will not give away any key points, I promise. You just know right from the onset that there is more to this Nepal religion than just a weird vegan-like devotion to an obscure goddess. It kind of makes sense in a twisted way, as some traditional Spanish dresses (the kind worn behind hand-held fans) are a bit similar in style to North Indian wedding regalia.

This is considered a comedy, but it’s dry as solid carbon dioxide; yeah, there is a definite chance to laugh more at what is happening than with the characters, but it definitely does a bit to temper the action going on the screen to get you to not overload until the next gross-out.

All the actors do really well, especially the two leads. While Bódalo frequently tends to act through his eyes and teeth, it actually works for this particular character as he goes through varying waves of shock, fear and anger). Martin also does well going back and forth between MILF, mother figure, and monstrous. The thing is, not one character in the film is likeable, and yet – especially the leads – manage to keep the viewer interested in what is happening to them despite lack of any kind of real backstory, and that’s good acting.

For such a tight space, the camera moves really well among the characters both emphasising the narrow apartment and yet not making it claustrophobic until it’s meant to do so. Other people pop up here and there, and are like water flowing past the story as ersatz Greek Choruses, commenting on (or using a cell phone camera to record) what they observe rather than taking any steps to do anything about it; as I’m not familiar with Bilbao or Madrid culture, I don’t know if this is device or comic or ironic social commentary.

As I was saying, the camera work is quite sharp often focusing in on extreme close-ups of faces via Sergio Leone style, quick zooms like Sam Raimi (few POV, though), or micro-shots of whatever gross is occurring at the time. There tends to be a tint towards the yellow, but it is also effective to be purposefully off-putting, I am assuming.

The extras are a couple of this films trailers, a bunch of other Cleopatra Entertainment coming attractions (some reviewed on this blog), and a 2:14 slideshow which are stills taken directly from the film.

My only real complaint is that this could have certainly been trimmed by at least 20 minutes, as it overruns its story in nearly two hours. But it will probably still keep your attention even as you occasionally wince at the actions, or just stare at the screen and say, “What did I just see?!”

What I really liked about it, despite its length, is that it doesn’t always take either the easy or obvious route. You’re bound to see some of what happens coming, but odds are there’s a trick or two up Sebastián’s cinematic sleeve, as it were.
Certainly I would call this body horror, but again, sometimes not in ways one would expect; but like I said, it could still be considered quite squeamish for most other than die-hard fans. But, isn’t that part of the beauty of the whole enchilada?

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Review: The League of Superheroes

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

The League of Superheroes (aka ABCs of Superheroes)
Written and directed by Jens Holzheuer and Oliver Tietgen
Boesewicht Film / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
86 minutes, 2015 / 2018

Oh man, the cinema and other mass media have just been inundated with superhero films. These mega-monsters are as big on CGI and they lack in story, or soul. As someone who grew upon comic books from the Silver Era into the Modern, who got to hang out with Jim Steranko and Grey Morrow in a semi-private manner, I find it just too… overwhelming is the word that comes to mind. Each film seems to need to add more heroes, bigger villains, more destruction, and it all becomes numbing. In the similar way as we drown in Freddy-Jason-Michael-Leatherface franchises, the same is true with the Marvel Universe (and to a lesser extent the DC Universe as they have generally been less financial successful than their rivals in the past couple of decades).

Every once in a while, a non-major, independently sponsored superheroes release makes it out there, and they tend to widely range from the excellent (such as Kick Ass, and the obscure and goofy Surge of Power mini-franchise) to the pretty bad (e.g., Rise of the Black Bat). There are lots of phenomenal fan videos out there as well, including the “Super Power Beat Down” series on YouTube. That’s why I was interested in seeing this German film, which began its life as ABCs of Superheroes. Alternative superheroes films are definitely a mixed bag, and then combine that with Euro-trash sensibility that has replaced Expressionism, I’m going in hoping for some wild rides.

Well, the original “ABCs” title makes way more sense than the new “League,” as like the ABCs of Death series, these are short tales of about 5 minutes each that follows in alphabetical order. One seriously needs to think about how you’re going to approach this film on a few different levels. For example, it’s recorded in English with some definite German dialect; it’s not hard to understand, fortunately. Next, the acting is atrociously bad and campy (I’m going to say purposefully), the effects are quite amateurish albeit fun, and the writing is kinda hokey; in the right frame of mind, however – and I’m there – one can see this for the amount of fun that it is.

There is also a bit of a wit about it among all the tomfoolery. For example, there is a He-Man send-off where the Skeletor (all with different names, of course) character goes through a portal and arrives on modern Earth, to become a hero; He-Man and She-Ra realize how boring their lives are without him.

Bai Ling
What’s used as a framework to join all these stories together, which we return to often, is an inattentive mother and her young daughter trying not to be bored by reading a comic given to her by mom to quiet her called, what else, ABCs of Superheroes. Each of the stories comes from this comic, and we see the girl’s reactions to them while her mom either ignores or chastises her.

There is certainly a level of social commentary that can also be found if one scratches down, such as a Yul Brenner-ish Westworld character (“Cowboy Man”) who goes against a Mexican Villain (Cheddar Guevara… get it?), which turns into a reality television show somewhat like Storage Wars. A great quote in this segment is, “This is how I roll: I got one hand on my Bible, one hand on my gun, and one hand on my credit card.” So you can see that while it’s not very serious and lots of WTF moments, it still occasionally manages to keep a level of witty smarts on some level. That’s what I like about the film.

There is lots and lots of female nudity of various body types, the blood splatter effects are almost all digital, and the costumes are, well, pathetic (one looks like the Muppet Grinch Who Stole the Hulk If He Was an Ape). There is a certain cheapness level, which adds to the fun, such as someone shooting people with his fingers as he makes a gun shape with his hand.

Playing with convention and clichés is common by turning them on their heads, such as a an electric eel being bitten by a radioactive human, which turns it into a beautiful woman (mostly nekkid) fighting evil, including a cameo by action actor Bai Ling. Throughout, other cameos are the likes of Lloyd Kaufman and Fred Olen Ray. I’m sure there are some that fans in Germany are going wow about, but I don’t know them.

There are certainly more superheroes than there are letters, and some are way more bizarre than others, such as MenstruGirl and Queen Osiris (interesting change of gender for the Lord of the ancient Egyptian Underworld). There are a number of different “leagues” here, including the First Fuck Force (Power Rangers), a bunch of martial arts pandas that certainly must be (more) profane Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (including a product commercial to mock the saleability of hero toys), and one group of topless women which comprises one who is pregnant, an older one who is “Bored Woman,” and a boy with a cat nose.

Each short has a particular focus, such as a profane version of an “Alf”-like television program, and sometimes weird combinations such as “Gerry Atricks vs. Hitler’s Brain” and “Jesus Space Missionary vs. King Satan (Star Wars).

The whole film, honestly, is just ridiculous, from the writing to the reading by the actors. However, and this is important, it is more towards why it works rather than works against it. When you’re dealing with pure insanity, sometimes it pays to go over the top, and this one goes waaaaaaaaay over. In fact, there was only one bit that didn’t work for me and was quite unsatisfying, which was a The Terminator spoof called “Rape Robot,” which is uncomfortable in so many different ways.

Another important note is even with the different styles for each segment, because it was directed by the same two people, there was a motif of consistency in feel throughout, defining this as a single piece in different chapters, something that sometimes gets lost when a film is a compilation of individual shorts by various directors. What’s also nice about this is that it’s easy to have characters overlap and show up unexpectedly in different stories.

Cool Jeebus
The film takes no prisoners. While no real animals are involved, we see the bloody killing of men, women and children indiscriminately, as well as the elderly. That being said, it’s also pretty even-handed when it comes to reflecting the large Afro-German population, including a Black Jesus. This was brave.

There are some nice extras, including a 35:56 Making Of featurette, which essentially is the two directors talking individually and spliced together going back and forth – in German (with subtitles). It’s actually quite interesting as they take the viewer through the usual inception, writing, financing, shooting, post-production, and showings. Rather than being dry, they both have an enjoyable sense of humor and come across as nice guys. Other topics include shooting anecdotes, how they got some of their cameos (there is a brief piece by Uwe Boll, also speaking German), and they even address the female vs. (lack of) male nudity.

Other extras are the original trailer, some of the great Wild Eye collection, and part of the “Hero Boy” segment (the one with Kaufman) at 4:31 which includes outtakes inserted. The last are two short films by the directors individually: “Licht aus Licht” (2012; 1:59, translated as “Light of Light”), which is similar in theme to the infamous Swedish short from 2013, “Lights Out”; “T is for Testicle” (2011; 2:55) that was titled “Testicular Apocalypse” in the 2016 anthology film, World of Death. In this quickie, a man’s testicles become sentient and escape while he’s watching some softcore film, and he goes chasing after it. It’s both gross and humorous.

Sometimes goofy fun is just what is needed in a world where superhero films just seem so serious in its wider zeitgeist, rather than some snappy Ant-Man / Iron Man / Deadpool quips within a gazillion dollar extravaganza. Like Badass Monster Killer (also 2015), the CGI was used for the good and cheesy, and makes it all the better for its off-the-wall, see if any of it sticks to the wall, WTF! G'wan, take a chance.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Review: Boss

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Boss (aka Boss N****r)
Directed Jack Arnold
Dimension Pictures / 3P Productions /
JACS Films / Kit Parker Films / MVD Entertainment
87 minutes, 1975 / 2018
A subgenre that seems to have disappeared since at least the 1980s, is the one referred to as Blaxploitation. This style was so much fun, even when it went a bit over my head (i.e., inside jokes to a specific audience). With pun-ish names like Coffy (1973), Blacula (1972), Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) and arguably the most culturally successful one, Shaft (1971; “that cat Shaft was a bad mother…”), they tended to be shown in certain neighborhoods in selective markets¸ or on Times Square during its Golden Era, which is where most of my friends caught them. What most people don’t realize is that these films tended to be written and directed by white people who appropriated and cashed in. In this case, the film was written and produced by its star, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson.

While the packaging understandably has a slightly different name than the original that I choose not to say outright because I don’t feel I have the right, the actual film here uses the initial 1975 moniker. What interests me is that this technically came out a year after Blazing Saddles [BS], which is also a Western centered on a black man who arrives in a town that is whiter than gerrymandered Mississippi. What I wonder is, as Richard Pryor was one of the writers of BS, was there some influence in one direction or the other. However, Boss feels more like a one-on-one response to BS, even if you just count the amount of times the N-word is evoked.

Fred Williamson and D'uville Martin
Another influence seems to be the great Spaghetti Westerns that were often in theaters around that time, such as those by Sergio Leone, but also smaller productions such as the Trinity series. Throughout much the film, Williamson has a “Man With No Name” stogie sticking out of his mouth. My guess is that this film was a culmination of all these influences.

It’s pretty clear early on that this and BS definitely overlap, as Williamson’s character, a bounty hunter, becomes sheriff. His sidekick, Amos (the late, great D’Urville Martin, d. 1984) of course is more Charlie (Charles McGregor, d. 1996) than The Kid/Jim (Gene Wilder, d. 2016). Here, Boss and Amos are trying to get Jed Clayton (character villain William Smith getting to show up his muscular arms often) for a big bounty reward, and he regularly comes to that town. He’s sort of the Taggart (Slim Pickens; d. 1983) of this one.

Carmen Haywood
There are only a few white characters that are nice to the new sheriff, and one is the prudish school teacher, Miss Pruitt (Barbara Leigh; her initial BS equivalent is Harriett Johnson/Carol Arthur); she mentions how she’s from Boston and used to love when her Black servants used to sing and dance, the equivalent of saying “Like a member of the family.” This character is definitely a political statement by Williamson, which I applaud, because I remember our elementary school teachers expecting the one Black student in our class to sing, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” in front of the group (she became militantized just before Middle School with a huge afro and dashiki), which in retrospect I am embarrassed to be even indirectly a witness.

Speaking of social commentary, Williamson also bravely takes on the way Latinos are treated, bringing them into town much to the dismay of many of the townsfolk (in BS terms, “…but we don’t want the Irish!”). However, and this is more rear-view mirror thinking because I understand what was happening at the time, both the Boss and Amos kind of abuse their power, too, by being overly strict in a nearly totalitarian way. I’m willing to bet that those for whom this film was directed had reason to cheer watching them get the Man after so many centuries of oppression, but it’s also important to remember that people who are oppressed learn the mannerisms of control from one end of the power dynamic, and may enforce the other way when things get reversed (Boss and Amos mention that they were freed slaves, at some point early on). I believe Williamson’s spirit was in the right place when he wrote this, yet looking back, it seems a bit heavy-handed. I would love to know what he thought about this now.

RG Armnstrong and William Smith
An interesting dynamic is the burgeoning lustfulness of white Miss Pruitt and the Black woman who is the real obvious love interest, Clara Mae (Carmen Hayward). One throws herself at Boss a la Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn), and the other is more… resourceful . Pruitt shifts from an upstanding prude to a lip-glossed horny-toad in moments of the arrival of Boss. It is when bad man (usually dressed in white; perhaps another social commentary?) Jed’s actions put Clara Mae in peril (gotta be a woman in peril, right?) that starts the third act leading to the violent showdown that you have to know is coming even before starting the film. This was true of Westerns even before The Wild Bunch (1967), and yes, BS sort of ended that way, too. But even gangster Blaxploitation films like Shaft tended to end with a big blowout.

Barbara Leigh
(image not from this film)
There is also a high level of misogyny that goes beyond the Pruitt/Clara Mae rivalry, as women as nearly all seen as fodder for the men to grab, use, rape and generally be in constant hazard, though Clara Mae shows she is smart and wily enough to know how to use her looks to get out of certain situations. What I find amazing, even among films I like across genres, is the way a particular group will be shown in a particular light, but still view women as less than secondary, and merely there for the men to either use, abuse, or ignore, even those they love. I respect Williamson’s take on the Black and White power dynamics he manipulates so well, in the time period in which this is filmed/written, but I’m now also grateful for seeing more powerful female characters of the modern era (even when it comes with exploitive nonsense like Bridesmaids, Bad Moms, and yes, the Melissa McCarthy film, The Boss).

Among the pretty broad acting at times, there are little gem roles, such as a Latina mom, played by the great Carmen Zapata (d. 2014; she kinda looks like a Spanish Tyne Daley), who if you are of a certain age, you saw in multiple movies and television shows. Also appearing as the Mayor is stalwart RG Armstrong (d. 2012), who also stands out, even when spitting out likes like, “I wasn’t questioning you, I was just askin’.” He’s kind of a Trump trickster character who plays sides against others for his own gain.

Carmen Zapata
(Image not from this film)
There is a moment towards the end that took me a bit by surprise, I’m happy to say, and it isn’t an easy ending, but that’s part of some of the moments that make the film special.

There are four extras, which I will describe in the opposite order listed because I followed my interest. First is the 27:09 “Conversation with Fred Williamson,” hosted by Joel Blumburg (d. 2010). Filmed in 2008, Williamson is asked a lot about his football, how he got into filmmaking, and it’s easy to see how much of his persona is built on his personality and self-image (“I never get killed, I always get the woman if I want…”). However, this is a generic interview rather than directed for The Boss, and while it’s interesting, it doesn’t answer my questions about this particular film (e.g., the BS connection, or not).

The Jack Arnold Tribute is 3:49, which is quite lovely. Myrl Schreibman, who was Associate Producer and now UCLA Film Professor, puts some really nice perspective on the director of Boss, as well as some of Arnold’s most important B-films of the 1950s and ‘60s, including Tarantula, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and The Mouse That Roared. Arnold’s impact today is nicely explained in the brief amount of time.

Next to last is “The Boss Memory” with Schreibman, at 7:53. While he never answers my questions about the Boss/BS, he does tell some fun production stories and anecdotes. The last extra is the original trailer.

This is a particular film in from a particular time of some strong political and social change, and it’s a mostly enjoyable view into that changing world.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review: Flesh & Blood – The Hammer Heritage of Horror

Text © Robert Barry Francos / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Flesh & Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror
Written and directed by Ted Newsom
Narrated by Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee
S’more Entertainment / Bosustow Media Group / Hammer Films / Act 3 – Heidelberg Films / MVD Entertainment
100 minutes, 1994 / 2015 / 2018

Before I started watching this update of a reissued 1994 British documentary television show about arguably one of the three most important horror film companies in the 20th Century – the other two being Universal Pictures and American International Pictures (AIP) – I tried to think back to the first Hammer Film Production I can remember seeing in the theater. It could have been She, The Nanny (which began my crush on Pamela Franklin for a couple of decades), Die! Die! My Darling!, or One Million Years BC (all released in 1965). However, I have a vague memory of seeing The Creeping Unknown as a second-bill feature years after its original release as Quatermass Xperiment (1955), probably as a back-up for one of the AIP Poe releases with Vincent Price; they helped cement my love of the genre through the decades. Since then, I saw so many of their films and franchises, Dracula and Frankenstein, especially.

It makes good sense that the narrators of this documentary are the biggest stars Hammer helped introduce to Western cinema: Christopher Lee (d. 2015) who was best known as Dracula in Hammer Films, and the man with the world’s greatest cheekbones, Peter Cushing (1994, soon after this was released; I was a member of his British Fan Club), who reimagined by Dr. Frankenstein and Van Helsing. It should be noted that Cushing’s career dates back to appearing in the Laurel and Hardy feature, Chumps at Oxford.
Wisely, it starts off right at the beginning, with how the name Hammer originated (which I did not know, or perhaps did not remember), into its formation as a viable force during the post-World War II period, and how they attained their admirable talent, such as director Freddie Francis.

There is a nice compendium of archival footage and early ‘90s modern interviews, so many of the stars of the early releases, as well as the classic ones, such as Francis (d. 2007), Hazel Court (d. 2008; one of the few to be in both Hammer and AIP films), Ingrid Pitt (d. 2010) and Veronica Carlson are present for first-hand accounts. We see original footage and modern interviews of both actors and crew. Also enjoyable are interviews with some American directors, and how they were influenced by the Hammer collection, such as Joe Dante, John Carpenter, and Martin Scorsese.

A point they make here but don’t dwell on (consider the name of the documentary, after all), is that early on there was hardly a genre that Hammer didn’t tackle, including swashbuckling, crime dramas, and science fiction. It was the Quatermass mash-up of sci-fi and horror that got them noticed to an Ameican audience, which is where the larger money was, and from there it was the revitalization and reboots of the classic Universal monsters where the studio became financially sound. Peter Cushing says at one point, paraphrasing the name of one of his films, “Frankenstein Created Hammer.”

Rather than follow the releases merely chronologically, wisely break the film up into “groups.” For example, there is a whole segment that just focuses on the Frankenstein films, some more successful in quality than others, in my opinion, and thankfully everyone looks at it both nostalgically and with a sense of whimsy, including David Prowse (he would go on to play Darth Vader in the original three Star Wars films) and Cushing himself, who comments at some point that his hair in a later film looked like Helen Hayes. Needless to say, this is an exciting part of the film for me.

After Frankie-Baby, there’s “The Count Also Rises,” discussing, well… Dracula (are you surprised? If you are, you need to see this and learn your horror history, Jack… or Jill). Actually, I do agree and disagree on a point they make in this segment. They comment that what makes Lee’s Dracula so special is the level of sexuality he brings to the character. Well, yes, onscreen he definitely made some in the audience swoon (both female and male, from those I’ve talked to), but to imply that Lugosi’s Big-D wasn’t sexy is just wrong. Lugosi was a major sex symbol in the 1930s and ‘40s (pre-drug addiction), and while there was no blatant sexuality on screen as there was with Lee (e.g., a woman lying in bed pulling down her neckline to be bitten), Lugosi’s portrayal just burned with sensuality, using his voice – as is true with Lee’s baritone – and eyes, specifically. Can I get an Amen?

Younger people may think of Lee as Saruman, but for those “kids” of my g-g-generation, Lee is Dracula and Dracula is Lee; and I say this with the utmost respect and admiration. When he plays other roles, such as Lord Summerisle in the wickedly great The Wicker Man (1973; not the Nic Cage travesty remake), it’s easy to accept. But when Lee’s name is mentioned, it’s his cape and red eyes that come to mind. The Dracula-based series was also extremely popular for the company, though Lee pulled the plug on himself continuing the role after the cartoonish and garish Dracula AD 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). He explains why here, which is good to hear dripping from his lips directly.

The second half of the documentary is a bit more esoteric, covering many bases. For example, there is a look at a few films that did not make money, such as the sensationalist courtroom drama Never Take Candy From Strangers (1960) and the sci-fi thriller The Damned (1963) to how Hammer had one of the first full-time female producers with Aida Young (though Freddie Francis sorta poo-poos her role). On more a more technical side there is discussion about how Hammer used exceptional crews and eventually had their own look (they definitely did), and how they managed to score major talent, such as Oliver Reed, from both the UK and the US.

Adaptations of classics (e.g., Phantom of the Opera in 1962 and The Devil Rides Out in 1968) are discussed, including an interview with my personal favorite horror writer, Richard Matheson (d. 2013).

Now, Hammer kinda hit its stride, especially with me, in the late 1960s and in the early ‘70s, and I have no doubt looking back that part of it had do so with what is covered in a chapter here called “Hammer Glamour.” The stars were good looking; there were bountiful cleavage, and a strong sense of both horror sexuality and sensuality. Films like Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1971) were fine examples of what fed a teenage boy the equivalent of what many superhero films do now with the same formula using Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Wisely, this film looks at both the good (marketing) and bad (sexism/gender politics, as well as the overuse of the theme of sexy lesbian vampires*) of this aspect, though because it was filmed in the early ‘90s, perhaps not as deeply as it might since the emergence of the #metoo current history.

This logically leads into the prehistoric releases that seemed to begin with One Million Years BC, including interviews with its two major stars, Raquel Welch and the underrated Martine Beswick; the latter would go on to other dinosaur-and-human releases that seemed to come out quite often, and were often over-acted and over-melodramatic in joyful exuberance. There are also a couple of brief interviews with the man who designed many of them, the king of pixilation himself, Ray Harryhausen (d. 2013).

This was actually getting close to the end of the Hammer phenomenon, with their the horrible but (unintentionally) hilarious last horror film To the Devil and Daughter in 1975, and the 1979 horrible and not hilarious (unintentionally) comedy The Lady Vanishes. But thanks to extended footage added to this new version of the documentary, we are told of its somewhat limited revival in 2008, with the likes of Let Me In (2010) and The Woman in Black (2012).

This is a fun and informative way to spend a couple of hours of horror film history, and with the 40 minutes of added footage, all the more bettah. It’s well thought out, extensive in its clips and interviews, and pretty thorough.

I do need to add a comment, however, about something I felt was left out. In the late 1960s and through the ‘70s, Hammer wisely chose to go into the home distribution market, well before the advent of VHS. It was common to see 8mm and Super 8mm short versions of Hammer Films in 50’ (4 minutes) and 200’ (15 minutes) versions, both with sound and silent. I still have a batch of the silent ones somewhere, though no projector anymore. This was some solid marketing.

* It should be noted that one of the very first horror stories ever published in modern history, even before Dracula, was the 1871 Joseph Le Fanu novella, Carmella, about a lesbian vampire.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Review: Abominable (Special Edition)

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Abominable (Special Edition)
Directed by Ryan Schifrin
Red Circle Productions / MVD Rewind Collection
94 minutes, 2006 / 2018

Some form of the Sasquatch, or big foot, has been the subject of horror films for so many films over a span of decades that it could easily be classified as a sub-genre on its own; for example, there is another film called Abominable due out in 2019, which features an animated and kid-friendly Yeti. Personally, I feel the reason for the proliferation of this monster is a move that mixes the mystery of the dark and dangerous woods and a bit of the werewolf motif, i.e., a creature that is not normalized in culture (such as a lion, or wolf), but still human-line and… possible. Director Schifrin also points out during the commentary that  the Bigfoot is one of the few well known monsters that is not under copyright. More times than not – okay, nearly always – the beastie is a guy in suit (including here), which is okay with me because it depends on how it looks and how it’s used that matters.

This re-release version of the 2006 film is a two-disc combination of Blu-ray and DVD, both discs identical with one exception which I’ll get to in the next paragraph. For point-of-reference, I only put in the Blu-ray disc.

Right off, there is an option for an 8:35 minute contemporary introduction by the director, Ryan Shifrin, who discusses how the film was taken from its original format and made into 2K HD from the original camera negative, with some extra production values (e.g., redoing the CGI glowing eyes). For this reason, there is both the original and HD version available on the Blu-ray disc only, hence the two-disc difference.

Matt McCoy
Starting the film, there is a prologue about some scared farmers, namely Dee Wallace Stone, who I think of more in The Howling than the overrated ET, and veteran character actor whom you’d recognize in a sec, Rex Linn (that’s just the start of the many cameos, but I’ll get to that later, too). After, we are introduced to the protagonist, Preston, played by Matt McCoy who most people probably remember from many television appearances, but to me he’ll always be Lloyd Braun (“Seinfeld”). After an mountain climbing accident that cost him his wife and the use of his legs, he has now returned to a cabin he owns in a wooded area, doing the Jimmy Stewart / Rear Window thing, seeing all through a window with binoculars. He’s caught on that there is something literally afoot out there in the dark.

The others in the locale are Preston’s nurse and caretaker, the obnoxious and creepy Otis (Christien Tinsley, who also did the effects and make-up for this release, is a master make-up artist on the likes of “American Horror Story,” “Westworld,” and he won an award for Gibson’s The Passion of Christ), and a group of five young women partying in the cabin next door, which is apparently the only two in the vicinity. Soon, one of the women becomes missing, and only Preston has an idea of what’s going on.

As for Biggie, we see him in bits and pieces, such as his glowing eyes, and the inside of his mouth, but we do get the classic monster-in-woods-POV-shots with starburst flare around it, as he watches his potential prey. A group of attractive and nubile women in peril; isn’t that special. Dare I say shower scene? Well, it is way back in the good-old-days of 2006. Make Horror Movies Great Again?

Haley Joel
Okay, okay, I know I’m kinda mocking this as a throwback to the ‘80s, and yeah, in some ways it is, but don’t get me wrong: considering some of the hokey bits, such as the way the creature looks when we finally get to see it in full, it’s still a very effective film and honestly, quite enjoyable.

I read a review recently about the horror genre in general (sorry, but I can’t remember the source…if you know it, tell me and I’ll add it in), and it posited that jump scares are overused and they customarily have sudden loud sounds and spiked, dissonant shrieks in music to enhance the effect. Well, this film definitely relies on that formula, but they manage to use it quite effectively. Also, what Hitchcock liked to do is leave some cinema “space” on one side so you expect the jump to come from there, and then come from the other side. This is another tool that this film uses effectively because it doesn’t overdo it, unlike Carpenter did in the original Halloween, which kinda ruined the fear in the film for me.

A large cast means a numerous kill count, and this one goes hog wild. Not only are there the people in the two houses as potential fodder for the freak, but there is also a string of very impressive cameos (see, told ya I’d get to it) that show up throughout, such as those I mentioned before, Lance Hendricksen, Jeffrey Combs (the Re-Animator, himself!), Paul Gleason (the principal in The Breakfast Club and a high level police officer in Die Hard; he passed away the same year this was originally released), Phil Morris (who was the Martian Manhunter on “Smallville,” and best known as lawyer Jackie Chiles on “Seinfeld”), the underrated and yet arguably the one with the longest film credit list Tiffany Shepis as one of the members of the inevitable slumber party Bigfoot massacre. The entire cast does incredibly well for the budget we’re talking about at the time, considering it was shot on film stock. And may I say, Haley Joel’s sustained lip gloss in both volume and longevity considering the activity is impressive.

Dee Wallace Stone and Rex Linn
Speaking of body counts, the deaths are nice and gruesome with some fine effects. The gore looks great and there’s lots of it, building up to near the end. Despite the addition of some CGI in post-production, most of the SFX by Tinsley are practical and look great.

As with most Blu-rays, as I’ve said numerous times, there is a teeming of extras, so let’s get to the ones I haven’t mentioned yet. Because they had all the original negatives, they were able to put together some nice raw footage for the “Deleted and Extended Scenes” (6:13). Everything that was excised feels right, especially the last one as it gives out too much infomraiton; it’s left in much more subtly, which works better. Then there’s the “Outtakes and Bloopers” (4:09), which is time-coded footage with errors. Some of it is quite amusing and during one scene filmed over and over due to laughing, I kept thinking, “This is film stock and I bet the director is pissed.”

Some of the minor extras are different sound choices, two trailers for this film (and a few for other MVD Rewind releases), a “Poster and Still Gallery” and “Storyboard Gallery.” On a larger scale, there is the original cut of the film, which I saw parts of and there is a definite difference is some aspects and the way scenes are present, but I just skipped and jumped.

Jeffrey Combs
It starts to get more serious with “Back to Genre: Making Abominable” featurette, a 37:15 documentary of the making of the film from story to distribution, broken up into chapters filled with interviews with most of the cast. Now, long making-of documentaries tend of be tedious, but this really was interesting all the way through. It kept a nice pace and also avoided the fluff. Nice!

There are two short films included by the director, one of them being the 8:07 student film, “Shadows.” Shot in black-and-white, which follows a paranoid, wealthy artist who is afraid to leave his house hearing about local murders on the radio (the only voice you hear throughout). He is not nice guy to others, but is that his fear or sense of privilege? The other one is “Basil & Mobius: No Rest for the Wicked” (16:16), which follows two British scallywags as they try to steal some secret plans from a mob boss who runs a gambling house in Jolly Olde (played by Malcolm McDowell). There is gunplay, martial arts, quick repartee dialogue, and even a couple of zombies (one is Kane Hodder). These films are touched with some humor, and quite excellent fun.

Last up is the full length commentary, which I found very impressive. Just so you know, I usually write the main part of the review before watching the extras, so it was nice to hear some confirmation on some of my comments (e.g., the Rear Window connection and the lip gloss). Recorded in June 2006, it features Schifrin, McCoy, Combs and the film's editor Chris Conlee. Now, what I thought was remarkable was that while McCoy was there for most of it, Combs and Conlee’s comments are edited in (sans McCoy) for just the scenes with Combs’ Clerk character. This cut down on the over-talking and made everything clear. What’s more, the content of the conversation was kept to the film, so while there is some humor, it’s pretty straight forward and hardly any filler. A great commentary from beginning to end, and I don’t say that very often.

There is a folded, printed poster that also comes with the Special Edition, which is neat. The only thing missing, that I could think of, was captioning, but I’m not holding that against anyone.

I have to say, for a throwback via homage of some of the great horror films of the 1970s-1990s (though Rear Window was 1954), this is an effective thriller, and a fun time all around on so many different level.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Review: Faces of Schlock

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Faces of Schlock
Various directors
Independent Entertainment / MVD Visual
~90 minutes, 2009

Grossly speaking (pun unintended), independent cinema is usually represented in three genres: first is the documentary, and these are usually high class and low cost (e.g., Michael Moore’s stuff, and so many others worth watching); second is comedy, and those are usually Porky’s level fart jokes and mostly a waste of time; and lastly is horror, which runs from astoundingly good (e.g., The Evil Dead series, Re-Animator) to just plain unwatchable (too many to mention).

However, I would rather watch the horror indies more often than the majors, because the larger studios have so much to lose and tend to take themselves waaaay too seriously, whereas the indies tend to have a clear head about who they are and what they are doing. Usually their products are done on the fly, with limited budgets and effects that are more wha? than whoa! (if I am making any sense at all).

The plurality of this release’s title is reflected in the four short films that make up the bulk of the DVD, organized by Henrique Couto. All the directors, producers, and other cast / staff either share each other’s services, or are friends.

First up is “Blood Witch” (written and directed by Andrew Shearer), which I believe is the most nuanced of the four pieces, as far as characters are concerned. Essentially a witch is murdered centuries ago in Spain, and now she has been called back by a goth Satanist-wannabe / sadist-lite who doesn’t truly know what she is doing. The moral question of who of many of the characters are actually evil (including a telemarketer) is a key element here. Countess Samela (referred in the bonus material as “Sam”; this is her only credit on IMDB) plays the wannabe with a churlish grin, even as she is bathing. Monica Puller, as the title character Isabella (other credits include Satan’s House of Yoga, Cannibal Sisters, and Psycho Vixens), plays her role with just the right touch of pathos. The gore effects are effective and not overdone, and the writing is in "The Twilight Zone" morality story mode. A quick shout out to a great nom de acting, Priscilla Lee Press-On; yes, that is her name, not the character.

The second short is “Mike Wuz Here” (produced, edited and directed by Justin Channell), about a not-too-bright ghost named Mike (T.J. Rogers, whose credits include Die and Let Live - that is not a typo) who is haunting the cinema where he was fired, and then hanged himself. The slacker staff know him both when he was a person, and now as a ghost. A new manager is hired (after Mike’s spirit did away with the old one), who is put in charge of this bunch of losers. He decides that he wants Mike out because he is scaring off patrons, hence the theater is losing money. When he tries to “fire” Mike, the spirit enters his body and he starts to do away with the other staff members who agreed he – as a ghost – should be let go. A bit gruesome, of course, but more funny (intentionally) than anything else, such as one usher being tortured by being forced to watch Step Up 3 (his comments are hilarious). This short definitely has its fine moments.

The third was my least favorite of the four, “One Foot in the Grave” (directed by Chris LaMartina), about a dancer played by Sara Cole (other credits are Dead Hunt and Almost Invisible), who loses her foot due to a doctor’s negligence. She seeks revenge via the local witchy woman, Virginia Frank (credits include Grave Mistake), who is actually in cahoots with the slimy doctor (no secret there), portrayed by George Stover (whose awesome credits include a number of early John Water’s films, as well as the likes of Attack of the ’60 Centerfolds, Sleepy Hollow High and Ninjas vs. Vampires). To show you the level of writing here, the foot doctor’s name is – wait for it – Dr. Sholes. Yep, it’s that desperate.

The main tale is saved for last, which is “Slay Ride” (produced and directed by Henrique Couto, who put the whole collection together). The central character, as a spoiled goth girl, is DVD covergirl Ruby LaRocca (who has an impressive list of over 50 credits in 10 years, including Satan’s School for Lust, Spiderbabe, Dr. Horror’s Erotic House of Idiots, Bikini Girls on Dinosaur Planet, An Erotic Werewolf in London, The Lord of the G-String: The Femaleship of the String, Batbabe: The Dark Nightie, and, well you get the idea). She’s the kind who pierces her nipples without anesthetic (we get to see that, even though it’s an effect), while her parents are walking out the door for the weekend. Seems, of course, there’s a killer on the loose, ready to strike her and/or her hyper schoolmate, Debbie (Sandy Behre; only credit). Could it be the guy with the chainsaw next door (a fine turn by the director)? Santa? Who knows, though I figured it out somewhere along the way. Nice effects here, and as with just about the entire film, done with appliances rather than CGI.

And then there is the wraparounds, presented with glee by the hostess with the fangs, Slutpira, a really nice turn by Izzie Harlow, who jumps in and out of character a la Uncle Floyd, to make sarcastic comments like, “Oh great, another title that’s a pun.” Despite the lengthy fangs they give her, she manages to talk normally, and has a really fine sense of timing. I looked forward to her bits of intro and outro of the short films. Kudos.

There are a lot of bonus features, some good, some whatever. The commentary track is cool, because each segment has its own director, writer, actor, whomever, including the wrap-arounds, so we hear from the – err – minds of each creator on their own pieces. Nice touch. The outtakes and bloopers were mostly fun, though some went on too long, and the music video was, well, tiring. The two clips that seemed way too long were of the premiere night (including lots of footage of “the gang” hanging out and getting drunk before, and hanging around in the lobby of the theater (the one from “Mike Wuz Here”) before and after the showing. There is also a looooong bit revolving around a horror convention that seemed to never end and have no point other than for them to have yet another reason to get drunk.

So skipping most of the extras, I would say this meets the indie needs of a low budget, DIY horror comp, and I actually look forward to seeing more of their work.

This review was originally published in