Saturday, August 12, 2017

KADAICHA (1988) / INNOCENT PREY (1984) (DVD Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: 4 PAL Format
Rating: M (Mature) 
Duration: 91 Minutes / 90 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 (No subtitles) 
Video: 4:3 Full Frame
Cast: Deborah Kennedy, Steve Dodd, Tom Jennings, Zoe Carides, Martin Balsam, P.J. Soles, Kit Taylor, John Warnock, Grigor Taylor 
Director: James Bogle, Colin Eggleston 

In this derivative slice of late-80s Aussie horror, also known as Stones of Death, we have a group of suburban high school kids (all in their 20s) who discover that their quiet suburban neighborhood was built on top of an Aboriginal burial ground, very much akin to Poltergeist (1982), which it borrows quite a bit from. Each of the teens begin to have nightmares of "the kadaicha man', a weird aboriginal figure seen in an ominous cave, who in the dream hands each of them a crystal, when they wake in fright afterward they find that somehow the stone from their nightmares has appeared in their hands. While discussing the nightmare with a group of friends one of the teens shows them the stone, a nearby teacher sees the stone and informs her that what she has is a Kadaicha stone, something that aboriginal elders long ago would give to those they had cursed, and death would soon follow for that person. 

Turns out that the kids are cursed because one of their father's developed the land that was a sacred burial ground, and the "evil" comes back to haunt them in their dreams a'la Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), the film also has a bit of an eco-horror angle as the kadaicha spirit can take the form of a number of critters in which to kill the teens, which it does in the form of a barely seen snake, a wild dog, and most notably, a spider which leaps onto the eyeball of one unlucky kid, pumping him full of deadly venom. Most of the spider attack happens obscured by stacks of books, unfortunately, but we do get some keen POV shots of the spider crawling towards the intended victim. 

The movie is not at all original, but the Australian setting and mysticism does lend some atmosphere to the proceedings, the aboriginal mysticism and shaman aspect reminded me a bit of Peter Weir's otherworldly The Last Wave (1977), though much less attractively shot and executed. Originally planned for a cinema release this one went straight to video and TV, which is not a surprise, the direction is rather lacklustre, the cinematography is uniformly low-budget TV looking, and the performances are also TV-centric. Not helping, the special effects are ropey and low-budget, the best special effect would be the kids face all swollen-up after the a spider attack, and a young girl's throat ripped open after the dog attack, but most of the most horrific stuff is happening offscreen or just out of sight. 

If I'd seen this in '88 when I was fifteen it might have a bit more charm for me than it does, but as it is it felt stale and poorly executed. This is a movie I've heard about for years but never had a chance to watch, so the double-feature was appreciated, but this is the clear b-side to the next film, the 80's slasher Innocent Prey (1984).    

Here's another movie I've long heard about been never actually had the opportunity to watch, that is until now. In this mid-80's slasher/thriller we have P.J. Soles (Halloween) as Cathy, a Texan with the biggest most bountiful 80s hair you've ever seen - it's enormous. She lives in Dallas with her new husband, New Zealander Joe (Kit Taylor), who turns out to be a whore fucking/murdering son-of-a-bitch, which she finds one night while driving through town, where she spies her husband's car at the local no-tell motel and pulls over to investigate. 

Earlier that night Joe picked up a prostitute, who played Debbie Sue Voorhees (Friday the 13th v: A New Beginning), paid her $500 bucks for the night, and ended up at that hotel. Poor Cathy doesn't just catch him cheating, she spies them through a window and sees Joe throttling the whore from behind in the shower, there's a lot of thrusting going on, then he slices her throat with a straight razor! Cathy runs off home and confronts her husband about what he's done, he grabs a fire-poker and is about ready to bash her brains in when the local Sheriff (Martin Balsam, Psycho) and other cops show-up and stop him, sending him not to jail, but to the asylum. He escapes the asylum a short time later and heads back to finish off his wife, killing a few cops along the way, cutting head off their female cops assigned to protect her, leaving it on a shelf in the kitchen pantry. She manages to escape, as does Joe, who disappears into the night. 

After all that Cathy has had just about enough of Texas and heads for Australia to stay with her dear friend Gwen (Susan Stenmark), who puts her up in an apartment, run by landlord Philip (John Warnock), who seems like a nice guy, a bit peculiar, but seemingly harmless. Turns out he's a damn weirdo too, this lady just attracts the wackadoos I guess. Phil likes to watch and listens in on his tenants through a series of hidden cameras and microphones which are hidden throughout the complex, and so Cathy has another murderous loony on her hands. 

P.J. Soles is charming and has charisma but perhaps there's a reason she wasn't a lead in more film, this was her first, and last I know of, she's a great side character, but her acting here is a bit on the melodramatic side, there's a scene on the beach where she's speaking two a new lover named Rick (Grigor Taylor) about a pregnancy, it felt like a clip from the daytime soap The Days of Our Lives, dreadful stuff. The scene even has a suitably over dramatic score from Brian May (Mad Max), who has done some great scores for ozploitation classics, this time around he's channeling Bernard Hermann from some tasty Psycho-esque cues throughout when he;s not laying on a melodramatic veneer.

I think the main issue I have with the film is that it feels like two separate movies mashed together, at first we have a psycho-hubbie whore-slasher, that is pretty sleazy, but when she gets to Australia it changes gears dramatically, turning into a creepy psychological thriller about a wacko landlord along the lines of Crawlspace (1986), either one would have been a great turn by itself, but together they sort of cancel each other out, and the two are married together with the slowest sort of melodrama you can imagine, it saps the film of a lot of energy.

The movie was directed by Colin Eggleston, who directed the tense eco-horror film The Long Weekend (1978), the movie has some nice lensing, albeit obscured by the full frame presentation, but the story and script are messy and awkward, which is not to say that I didn't enjoy the film, it has it's charm, and it has a wonderful winky finale that had me in stitches, but it is a bit drawn out and conflicted by what sort of thriller it wanted to be. 

Audio/Video: Kadaicha (1988) and Innocent Prey (1984) arrive on a double-feature DVD from Australia's Umbrella Entertainment on a single-disc release, the presentations are both full frame, and from what I've read there are no prints or negatives available for either release, so what we get a looks to be full frame from something along the lines of a 1" video master, it's VHS quality, with Innocent Prey fairing the better of the two, Kadaicha looking murky and soft with poorer contrast, and some scanning lines appearing towards the end of the presentation. Color reproduction and black levels fare much better on Innocent Prey, all things considered the image looks damn decent, but sub-DVD quality. Audio on both comes by way of  English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitle options, sounding mostly clean and audible, it can be a bit tinny at times but it does the job. 

Extras on the disc include a full frame trailers for each film, plus a new 22-min interview with star P.J. Soles produced by Umbrella along with Cinemaniacs. The star looks back on her time on the film, being cast and meeting with the director, hiding her pregnancy during the filming, how pleasing it was to land a lead role, working with the cast and crew, and she even touches on her ridiculous hairdo.    

 Special Features: 
- Kadaicha Trailer (2 min) 
- Innocent Prey Trailer (2 min) 
- Looking Back on Innocent Pray: A Conversation with P.J. Soles (22 min) 

A fun double dose of 80s Ozploitation from Umbrella Entertainment, I don't think either ranks particularly high among my favorite kangaroo-cult classics like Razorback (1984) or Patrick (1978), but I love that we have them on disc, even if they're full frame and none too attractive. At least we have them on a digital format, and hopefully some better sourced prints will turn up at some point, I would love to see Innocent Prey in a restored widescreen presentation, that would be deserving of a re-examination.