Wednesday, September 29, 2010

DVD Review: Laid To Rest - Unrated Director's Cut (2009)

LAID TO REST - Unrated Director's Cut  (2009)
Anchor Bay Entertainment

RATED: Unrated
RUN TIME: 90 Min.
DIRECTOR: Robert Hall
CAST: Bobbie Sue Luther, Kevin Cage, Sean Whalen, Jonathon Schaech, Thomas Dekker, Nick Principe, Richard Lynch, Lena Headey

SUMMARY: A young woman wakes up in a coffin with a traumatic head-injury. She quickly realizes she has been abducted and is being stalked by the masked serial killer ChromeSkull, a knife wielding maniac in a skull mask that brutally slays anyone who tries to come between him and her.

THE FILM: The film opens as an unnamed woman we'll call The Girl wakes-up inside a casket in the funeral parlor of a mortuary. Mr. Jones, the funeral director walks into the parlor and takes notice of the commotion inside the casket and leaves the room, seemingly startled, we find out more later. He is played by actor Richard Lynch, creepy-ass Harris from the film BAD DREAMS (1988). The woman rocks the casket until it tips  off the table spilling her onto the floor. She tries to leave the parlor but Mr. Jones has locked it. He returns momentarily, and while fumbling for the keys he is run-though by a length of rebar by our masked killer ChromeSkull. Leaving through another door the woman escapes the mortuary runs down the road barefoot, confused and frightened.

The Girl does not know where she is, who she is, or what is happening to her. She is picked-up by Tucker (Kevin Gage, MAY), a nice enough fellow with a gruff voice and a kind demeanor. He's on his way home, runnin' on fumes. He tries to figure out who she is and what's happened to her but it's just not happening, her head is pounding, she's out of it and has trouble stringing words together, she barely musters the vocabulary to inform him that someone trying killing her. Low on gas and nowhere else to go he takes her home, and his wife Cindy (Lena Headey, Queen Gorgo from 300) is none too pleased by this. Nonetheless, she takes a hand at helping the girl recall what's happened to her, with no success. In a scenario typical of the slasher genre there's no phone available to call for help, the phone's been disconnected and no cell phone, of course. This is always a hurdle for genre films, to establish a reason no one can call for help, and it's a but clunky here, too. They offer The Girl the use of the shower and she accepts. While in the shower she takes notice of a nasty head-wound that's been hidden by the length of her hair, explaining her memory loss and disorientation. Afterwards she sits on the couch and chats with Tucker, his wife having gone to bed for the night. The Girl recalls  playing with a princess doll and Tucker begins calling her Princess. With that modicum of success he calls it a night and goes to the bedroom, the doors locked, he calls out for his wife, no answer. Concerned he breaks through the door and discovers ChromeSkull has followed them there and has taken his wife through the window. He bolts outside where his wife is being held by the skulled-masked killer, garbed completely in black,  there is a shoulder-harnessed video recorder filming the event from his POV. he wants The Girl, Tucker tried to strike a bargain which displeases ChromeSkull, he plunges the largest most heinous knife I've ever seen through Cindy's temple driving it clear through to the other side and impaling her to the side of the house, he then twist the knife around breaking bone and pulping her brain. Quite a kill, ultra-graphic and grotesque. Tucker and The Girl run to his truck and speed off to find the ea rest home with a  phone. That house belongs to Steven (Sean Whalen, Roach from THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS), a nerdy lil' man who's mother has just recently passed away, like yesterday. Guess what, no phone, but he's got an internet connection and they decide to email the police on his decade old computer. They decide to take Steven's car as Tucker's is out of gas, and drive to the local Sheriff's department, once there it is painfully obvious that the sheriff, the inmates, and deputy have  fallen victim to ChromeSkull, in fact, he's still there and after the girl. I won't get into too much more detail as this is a film worth watching, especially this time of the year, so get on it.

I really enjoyed this film quite a bit. Bobbie Sue Luther as The Girl is great in the role, very likable, though there are revelations in the film that darken her image. Kevin Cage as Tucker was my favorite character. I was just rooting for this guy throughout the film, so damn likable. The addition of Sean "Roach" Whalen was so great, you see him and immediately think "That's Roach! I like this guy!". The SFX of the film are top notch and bloody as hell, this film is steeped in gore, both practical and CGI, both components are used fantastically. This is the bloodiest film I've seen in a while, great stuff. Director Robert Hall has done make-up and special effects for dozens of films including THE CRAZIES (2010), QUARANTINE (2008) and the X-FILES (1998) though he gave those duties to Erik Porn for LAID TO REST and it's just a home run from the start. Great character design for ChromeSkull, very basic, no frills, and memorable. Something that didn't work for me was the killers MO of recording the killings, it served to get some back story out of the way and put forth some expository plot points, but I just didn't care for it Also, the final third of the film takes place in a road-side market and it just didn't work for me, particularly the handling of ChromeSkull's character and some truly mystifying shit that transpires.

CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2  is set to begin filming this November with director Robert Hall returning  as well as actor Thomas Dekker and Nick Principe as ChromeSkull and will feature a new line-up of character including Brian Austin Green (TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNER CHRONICLES), Christopher Nelson (KILL BILL VOL. 1), Daniell Harris (HALLOWEEN, HATCHET 2) and Jennifer Blanc (THE VICTIM).  That's a pretty great cast. In the meantime I'll be checking out Hall's previous film LIGHTNING BUG (2004).

DVD: LAID TO REST comes to us by the way of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film is presented in the original 1.78:1 anamorphic wide screen aspect ratio. The film is shot almost entirely at night and the black levels were deep, and the image was crisp and clean. The 5.1 Dolby Surround mix is very active and has decent depth to it. Special Features include an Audio Commentary with writer/director Robert Hall and Actor/Producer Bobbie Sue Luther, whom I believe is Hall's wife. A couple of decent featurettes are included: Postmortem: The Making of LAID TO REST is a 30 min. behind the scenes look at the film, looks like a lot of fun was had on the set. There is also the Torture Porn: The SFX of LAID TO REST, a fun 15 min. look at the fantastic gore effects of the film. Plus we get Deleted Scenes, Bloopers and a trailer. A very good overall package from Anchor Bay, good on 'em.
 VERDICT: A really enjoyable modern take on the 80's slasher genre. ChromeSkull is a  strong entry to the masked killer pantheon, the character are well rounded and likable, which is a switch. In the past 10 years few films provide us with likable character with any depth to 'em. The highlight of the film for me were the amazing gore effects, a good mixture of both practical and CGI, totally brutal and well executed. ** * (3 out of 5 stars)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

DVD Review: Death Warmed Up (1984)

PURE TERROR 50 Movie Pack (2010)
Mill Creek Entertainment

 "I'll get you, I'll get you all."

DIRECTOR: David Blyth
CAST: Michael Hurst, Margaret Umbers, William Upjohn

THE FILM: At the start of the film teenager Michael Tucker (Michael Hurst) is brainwashed by the evil Dr. Howell (Gary Day), who's hell bent on defeating death itself and creating a army of the living dead ...I think, it's a bit confusing to be honest. The plot and narrative are not this films greatest strength. That night Michael goes home and bloodily shotgun blasts his mum and dad to death under the direction of Dr. Howell's reprogramming. Afterwards he is sent to an asylum for the criminally insane. Seven years later he is released and sets out to exact revenge on Dr. Howell. Along with three friends he returns to the remote island where the evil doctor has continued his pursuit of creating a zombie army using corpses from the psychiatric brain-surgery center he runs. This low-budget export from New Zealand has the distinction of being the first NZ-horror film, it would be several years before Peter Jackson's BAD TASTE (1987), and I have to imagine this would have been a major influence on the young director. David Blyth makes great use of existing locations, fun set pieces and garish lighting to give us something cheap, fun and interesting while not altogether coherent. What struck me 1st about the film was the great use of colored lighting reminiscent of 80's films like DEMONS (1985) that were influenced by Dario Argento and master of the macabre Mario Bava before him. We get a lot of  great gore and splatter, including several awesome exploding heads, brutal impalement, and power drills to the head. Definitely a splatstick comedy with a bit of zaniness that will appeal to fans of Peter Jackson's 1st two films or the more recent BLACK SHEEP (2006). The finale, much like the rest of the film, is disjointed and a bit ambiguous, but a fun watch nonetheless.

DVD: This comes to us by the way of Mill Creek Entertainment's PURE TERROR 50 movie pack. The transfer leaves quite a bit to be desired and looks to be taken from a full frame VHS cassette, not great, but it'll do as it is the only Region 1 release of the film. The audio is mono and there are no special features. I would love to a properly transferred wide screen version of the film.

VERDICT: If you enjoy madcap b-movie splatter films in the vein of Peter Jackson's early stuff I think you'll find a bunch to enjoy here, just don't expect the Citizen Kane of splatter films, this is a strictly lo-budget affair with on-the-cheap effects and a visible boom mic, but it's fun, fast and wonderfully demented. Definitely check out the PURE TERROR 50 Movie Pack, if you're a fiend for b-movies, schlock, euro-horror and obscure awesomeness there's great stuff in there including MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE, THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE, HANDS OF STEEL, HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMBS, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, including several Paul Naschy films. **1/2 (2.5 Out of Five Stars)


Friday, September 24, 2010

DVD Review: The Devil's Nightmare (1971)

"Can You Be Possessed By The Devil?"

DIRECTOR: Jean Brismee
CAST: Erika Blanc, Shirley Corrigan, Daniel Emilfork, Colette Emanuele, Frederique Hender, Ivanna Novak

SUMMARY: When a group of tourists gets stranded in the Italian countryside, a stranger offers them shelter for the night in his castle. But his family is cursed: The eldest daughter in each generation is destined to become a handmaiden of Satan. The horror begins when the current eldest daughter (Erika Blanc) turns up and begins exploiting the guests' weaknesses to make them damn themselves.

THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE begins in Nazi Germany 1945 as the wife of a Nazi is giving birth to a daughter, the woman loses her life during childbirth. The father takes the child's life by plunging a dagger into it's body. Two decades later a group of tourists are the stranded in the Italian countryside when former Nazi Baron Von Rhomeburg offers them lodging in his gothic castle. As Hans the butler shows each of the guests to their rooms he goes into great detail how people have died in the very same rooms over the centuries, it's very creepy and a nice touch. That very day a reporter doing a story on the castle dies mysteriously after being chased by an unseen pursuer. The groundsmen surmise she's died of fright, and she bears the mark of the Devil. As the guests are gathered for dinner the Baron reveals that the eldest daughter in each generation of his bloodline is destined to become the handmaiden of Satan, a Succubus. During dinner an 8th gues arrivest, the mysterious red-haired beauty Lisa (Erika Blanc, KILL, BABY...KILL!). The guests are comprised of a priest, Father Alvin, two bombshell lesbians, a troubled couple, a seductress (Ivanna Novak, SEVEN BLOODSTAINED ORCHIDS), elderly chap Mr. Foster and a gluttonous man with an unhealthy appetite. Similarly to the film SE7EN the guest are representations of the 7 deadly sins and are damned for their sins as Lisa exploits their weaknesses. We get several varied and fun deaths throughout the film;  guillotine, iron maiden, snake bite, suffocation, impalement, poisoning ...none of it's overly gory but it's effective stuff. Particularly effective is Lisa is transformations from fire-crotch beauty to a ghoulish demon with mottled gray flesh.

We also get some of that infamous Euro-horror nudity. Some of these euro films of the 70's were pretty schlocky but there never seemed to be a shortage of gorgeous European beauties willing to flaunt their natural gifts on film. There's also no shortage of b-movie shtick: dripping blood, doors opening and closing on their own, books falling off shelves, a laboratory. Good stuff.

After the other guests have met their fates at the hand of Lisa Father Alvin is the sole-survivor having resisted the temptations of Lisa's sexual advances. When she finally exposes her true self to him he is horrified and slashes at her face with his crucifix leading to a hilarious and protracted string of facial contortions that goes on for far too long. The priest runs from the castle and is greeted by a dark stranger having just arrived in horse drawn carriage, it's Old Scratch himself played by none other than Daniel Emilfork - Krank from one of my most treasured films THE CITY OF THE LOST CHILDREN (1995) - just brilliant! Father Alvin offers his soul in exchange for the lives and souls of his seven companions. Satan agrees, and the priest signs a contract in his own blood, dipping a quill into his opened vein to do so. The contract immediately burst into flames.


Is Satan willing to spare their souls? Is any deal with the Devil ever so cut and dried?

Satan or Deiter from SNL's Sprockets?
DVD: This film is part of Mill Creek Entertainment's PURE TERROR 12-Disc Set of 50 films. The film and sound elements probably aren't from optimal sources but the presentation looks quite good. The film is presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio with mono audio. No special features. I'll have a full review of the entire boxset forthcoming, but I enjoyed the film quite a bit and wanted to throw up a quick stand-alone review for the blog. The set also includes a few notable inclusions, THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (1969), HANDS OF STEEL (1986), Lucio Fulci's absurd HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) and a film in particular I've long heard tell of but never seen MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966). I can't wait to dig in!

VERDICT: I really enjoyed this film. Great story, gorgeous scenery, beautiful women. These 1970's Euro-Horror films are all over the place in regards to quality, but this one is a winner. Definitely worth a look if you love b-movie schlock, obscure classics and especially Euro-Horror as this set is chock full of it.  RATING: *** (3 Out of 5 Stars)


A letter from Dark Night of the Scarecrow writer J.D. Feigelson

A follow-up on the recent Dark Night of the Scarecow review here. On September 23rd I received an email from J.D. Feigelson the writer of DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1980). In the brief letter he speaks a bit about the lack of onscreen gore in the film. I thought it was interesting and have posted it here on the blog for any fans of the film to read. Mr. Feigelson has written other filmed projects including RED WATER (2003), THE LAKE (1998), NIGHTMARE ON THE 13th FLOOR (1990), CONVENANT (1985) and Wes Craven's CHILLER. He also directed several episodes of the '85-era THE TWIGHLIGHT ZONE and ONE OF THE MISSING (1979), both of which he wrote. Read my review of Dark Night of the Scarecrow  here .

Dear Mac, I just wanted to thank you so very much for taking the time to view and review "Dark Night of the Scarecrow." You are very observant of the time and love put into the restoration of the original movie. What a lot of people surmise, but wrongly, is that the lack of on-screen violence was because of television. Actually, I wrote to original to be an atmospheric morality tale. That the script had so little on-screen violence is WHY CBS bought it not the other way around. So, there you have an inside insight. But above all it was a labor of love and a gift to the revelers of Halloween.

From the pumpkin patch,

J.D. Feigelson
Writer/Creator DNOTS
J.D. Feigelson

Thursday, September 23, 2010

DVD Review: Eden Log (2007)

EDEN LOG (2007)

"Escape from Darkness."

Magnolia Home Entertainment

RUN TIME: 98 Min.
DIRECTOR: Franck Vestiel

CAST: Clovis, Cornillac (Tolbiac), Vimala Pons

SUMMARY: A man wakes up deep in a cave. Suffering amnesia he has no recollection of how he came to be there, or of what happened to the man whose body he finds beside him. Tailed by a mysterious creature, this forgotten man embarks upon a journey through this strange and fantastic world, struggling to find his way to the surface.

THE FILM: From French filmmaker Franck Vestiel comes EDEN LOG, a sci-fi mystery adventure. The premise?  Stop me if you've heard this one before.... a man wakes in unfamiliar surrounding with no idea how he got there or who he is... definitely a post CUBE (1997). A man awakens in a darkened cave, he's covered in mud and laying naked in a pool of dirty water, a dead body lies next to him. He doesn't know who he is and neither do we, which is the initial intrigue of the film. Who's this guy, where is he, who's body is that, why's he naked? The answers are revealed to both character and viewer simultaneously, albeit at a slothenly pace. Be forewarned, you have to pay attention to this film, this is not a casual watch. So, put on your thinking cap and sharpen your sense of observation cause you're gonna need 'em. It is revealed through various discoveries that the cave is actually a facility called Eden Log that harnesses the power of an enormous tree whose roots are prevalent throughout the film, they infiltrate all areas of the facility. The sap of the tree produces an energy source for a nearby city center. How? I have no idea. The facility is in shambles, something catastrophic has happened here, there are bodies everywhere. The man strips a few corpses and clothes himself, he also obtains a flashlight to illuminate the cluttered labyrinth of tunnels and rooms. Setting out to find answers within the subterranean facility he encounters small squads of armed men roaming the facility in bio-suits killing anything that moves. The more I watched the film the more I felt it played out like a BIO SHOCK-esque video game, moving from level to level, progress hindered by mutated C.H.U.D. like creatures and armed opponents, meeting a lab technician along the way, picking up snippets of information and slowly piecing together the bigger picture. I was with it for about half the film, then I found myself tuning out. The intrigue of his identity and what happened in the Eden Log facility only held my attention for so long, and the pace at which details are revealed was too slow for my tastes.
This is a  film of limited means budgetarily, and the director made keen choices visually to mask any shortcomings, as the film looks great. It's monochromatic color scheme is very limited, almost black and white with a moss colored patina, deep shadow and harsh light are used to great effect. An eerie and haunting filmscore goes a longways towards complimenting the claustrohpobic atmosphere. The sets are extremely dark, saturated in inky black shadows, dank and wet, proliferated with the roots of the massive tree. Visually, an exciting and attractive film, I was reminded of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's DELICATESSEN and Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL or 12 MONKEYS with the low-tech futuristic designs. I could imagine what the director would be capable of with a larger budget, and a better script. I won't spoil the films ending and revelations and I'm not sure I could as the storyline was a bit hard to follow honestly.

DVD: The DVD comes by way of Magnolia Home Entertainment and Eden Log is presented in the original 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio with a very good English and French language 5.1 surround sound design. The surround speakers are utilized well creating a claustrophobic and immersive viewing experience, the film score is effectively eerie and haunting. Sadly, the only special feature is the ability to view the original French language version of the film which really isn't a special feature now, is it? Great image and sound presentation, no extras - kinda lame.

 VERDICT:  Eden Log is not a horror film, as it's not frightening in the least. It's not truly a sci-fi film either as the science is never explained, its pretty low-tech in fact. And it's far too slow paced to be considered a thriller. While it's intriguing it's not very entertaining and a bit confusing. The film looks great, the acting is decent, nothing outstanding.  A great technical film, but a bit hollow in the story department. That said, Eden Log is decent calling card from a talented new director, I'll be interested to see what's next for him.
** (2 out of 5 stars)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

DVD Review: Bleeders (1997)

"It's in the blood."

RUN TIME: 89 Min.
DIRECTOR: Peter Svatek
CAST: Rutger Hauer (Dr. Marlowe), Pascal Gruselle (Vermeer), Roy Dupias (John Strauss), Kristin Lehman (Kathleen Strauss) Gillian Ferrabee (Eva Van Daam), Jackie Burroughs (Lexie Crungle )

SUMMARY: John, a young man with a mysterious blood disease travels to an island off the coast of Maine to seek relatives in hope of finding a cure to his illness. Once there he discovers that his relatives have died ...or have they? Somethings living in the catacombs  beneath the island, something living on the flesh of the deceased. What does this have to do with John's blood disease, mysterious cravings and his ancestors incestuous past?
THE FILM: What drew me to this movie was the writing credit from Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shesett - the writing team that brought us ALIEN (1979), DEAD & BURIED (1981) and TOTAL RECALL (1990). I've read that the film is loosely based on the H.P. Lovecraft short story "The Lurking Fear", yet more Lovecraft I need to read. Add to the O'Bannon factor that Rutger Hauer (BLADERUNNER, THE HITCHER, LADYHAWKE) received top-billing and I couldn't resist taking in a viewing. Hauer's been in my mind a lot as of late after checking out the teaser trailer for HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN which looks stupefyingly amazing.

During the prologue of BLEEDERS we are introduced to the Eva Van Daam, a woman of the 16th century so gorgeous and narcissistic that she deemed no lover good enough for her except her own twin brother. It's pretty funny, as we are shown the two making love we seen the man's broad shoulders and masculine physique, the close-up of her face is obviously the woman with a goatee, nice. When the King of Holland outlaws incest in 1692 the Van Daam's pull up roots and re-settle on an island of the coast of Maine where they can just keep that incest going full-on until they've inbred themselves into unsightly gargoyles. Three hundred years later John Straus and his wife travel to said island in hopes of finding clues to his rare and debilitating blood disease.

John arrives on the island in ill-health and is taken to Dr. Marlow, the islands doctor with a reputation as a bit of a drunk, played by the venerable Rutger Hauer. Oddly, Hauer receives top-billing in the film, but then again when the bland Roy Dupuis is the alternative...  Dr. Marlowe takes an interest in John's strange affliction and takes a blood sample to run tests.

"Wow. Looks like I'm making some guests for the hotel ...and with any luck, a burial plot too" - Byrde Gordon / Bleeders

It turns out there are no Strauss's on the island and Dr. Peterson whom delivered John has since passed on. However, his crotchety nurse Lexie Crungle (Jackie Burroughs) is alive and rollin' around in a wheelchair, packin' a shotgun and conveniently resides at the Van Daam mansion that burned down 75 years earlier, killing off the last of the Van Daam clan. I love mean elderly people in films and Mrs. Crungle is a great one. She's a mean ol' bitch and serves only to unload a ton of expository dialogue here, but I loved her scenes just the same, great stuff. It's too bad she doesn't hang around long.

About the same time a mutilated corpse in brought into Dr. Marlowe's office. It fell into the harbor and was torn apart by the blades of an outboard motor. Upon examining the mangled mess of flesh Dr. Marlowe discovers that it's deformed, hermaphroditic, and strangely shares the same blood disease as John. A short while later a child is dragged underground by a hideous creature while playing hide n' seek at the cemetery. Several townsfolk and Dr. Marlowe head underground and discover the previously undiscovered catacombs and the cannibalistic, inbred inhabitants therein.

The creature effects are top notch considering the limited budget of the film. They're appropriately grotesque,  misshapen goblins with bulbous deformities and extraneous eyes, nnostrils and primitive tools used in the capture of prey. Hauer is really good, if subdued, but Roy Dupruis is quite terrible as the lead. What really enhanced the film for me was the setting. Filmed in Vacouver B.C. the island location is gorgeous and showcases the island's scenic natural beauty. The story is written by Dan O'Bannon so you know it's a well-crafted story.  O'Bannon also scripted another stellar seaside village script, the highly recommended DEAD & BURIED (1981). And for the hormone driven segment of my readership I am pleased to say both Kristin Lehman and Gillian Ferrabee are filmed in their naked splendor, not hard on the eyes at all.  The downside, Peter Svatek's direction is lackluster and the cinematography is  bland and has the look of a made-for-tv film, some of which I could put on the pan & scan transfer. There's also a plot device involving substandard wood used in the construction of coffins that was might laughable though key to the film, oddly enough. The tension in flaccid throughout and I couldn't help but wonder what this film could have been in the hands of a more skilled and nuanced director.

DVD: Bleeders was released on DVD by Fries Home Entrainment. It's a 1.33:1 pan & scan presentation with 2.0 stereo soundtrack. No special features are included. The image and sound quality are very decent, nothing special, not overly crisp or clear, but sufficient.

VERDICT: This is a truly underrated creature feature despite the flat direction. I've heard mention of it here and there and usually in a mediocre light. A great story concept done an grave injustice by the uninspired direction and mediocre acting talents that is saved in part by the presence of Rutger Hauer and great creature effects.  *** (3 out of 5 stars)

Friday, September 17, 2010

DVD Review: Stuck (2007)

STUCK (2007)
"Two destinies are about to collide"

RUN TIME: 85 Min.
DIRECTOR: Stuart Gordon
CAST: Mena Suvari (Brandi), Stephen Rhea (Thomas Bardo), Rusell Hornsby (Rashid), Rukiya Bernard (Tanya), Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Peterson)

SUMMARY: Brandi is a hard-partying, overworked, nursing assistant desperate for a promotion at the retirement home where she works. After a night of drug-binging and partying, she accidentally hits a certain Thomas Bardo a deadbeat and recently evicted man who gets stuck in the windshield of her car. Not wanting to call for help since she is driving under the influence, Brandi, chooses not to get Thomas medical help and instead drives home and leaves him clinging to his life in the windshield of her car. While Brandi frantically tries to decide what she is going to do, Thomas, tries to free himself knowing his time is running out.

THE FILM: Stuart Gordon has made some phenomenal films, particularly in the mid-late 80's, classic genre cinema including RE-ANIMATOR (1985), FROM BEYOND (1986), DOLLS (1987) and DAGON (2001). Outside of his theatrical work he's also directed some decent genre TV fare like Showtime's MASTERS OF HORROR series of which he directed two episodes, the H.P. Lovecraft inspired "Dreams in the Witch House" and the Edgar Allen Poe adaptation "The Black Cat" featuring longtime collaborator Jeffrey Combs. After the demise of MoH he went on to direct an episode FEAR ITSELF,  the Cajun-cannibal episode "Eater". Between these television projects he directed this "ripped from the headlines" revenge thriller featuring Mena Suvari (AMERICAN BEAUTY) and Stephen Rhea (THE CRYING GAME). The actual crime involved a registered nurse in Fort Worth, TX striking a homeless man. The man is trapped in the windshield, mortally wounded but still alive, she drives home and leaves him in the garage for several days until he dies. Afterwards she attempted to burn the car and the body in an effort to dispose of the evidence. WTF, right? An act so heinous and unbelievably callous that it boggles the mind, forget about serial killers and imagined bogeymen, this is the true evil of the world. Director Stuart Gordon gives this man the filmic revenge that he deserved in life, the script is about half fact-based the rest is pure revenge-fantasy.

As the opening credit role we're treated to a a cool hip-hop tune which kind of threw me. I don't associate Gordon films with urban music, I think of the great film scores for RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND by Richard Band, but I'll role with it as it suited the film. We meet Brandi, a nursing assistant at a assisted living facility. What a job, it's bad enough cleaning up after incontinent old men but when they ask for you by name to do so? After work she and gal pal Tanya (Rikiya Bernard) blow off steam by hitting the club and tripping on ecstasy courtesy of boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby). Afterwards, Brandi gets behind the wheel and heads home, visibly inebriated. Enter Thomas Bardo (Stephen Rhea), he's been evicted from his apartment and is plagued by the phrase "It's your choice". Fate is transpiring against him, there are no real choices, just the cold fact that he's newly homeless, alone and desperate with nowhere to go.  While he's wondering the streets pushing his newly acquired shopping cart and contemplating the woes life he's viciously slammed into by Brandi at an intersection. She's swerving all over the road and fucking with her cell phone, she doesn't see him until it's too late. It's a brutal scene as his knees and shins break against the car, face smashing through the windshield. Knowing she's drunk and at fault she speeds home, shockingly unnoticed by anyone except a homeless man. She parks the car in the garage and makes no effort to help as he pleads for assistance, it's difficult to watch. Leaving him alone in the garage she's shaken but no so much so that she can't fuck her man as Tom lays dying in her garage just a few yards away. Rusell Hornsby as Brandi's lover is awesome, he's a funny cat and his portrayal of her drug-dealing,  philandering boyfriend is good stuff. Stephen Rhea is amazing, you feel his suffering throughout the film, as well as his rage. It's torture watching him as he extricates himself from her car, a windshield wiper piercing deep into his side. While one can't help but feel sadness at the tragedy of this film I couldn't help but elicit a few laughs at the complete dumbassery of Brandi and Rashid's actions throughout the film. She's always going on and on about how could HE do this to HER -  it just boggles the mind how self-obsessed she is. Tom's revenge is is slow in the coming, he suffers a lot and it's excruciating to watch, but it's thrilling to see.

DVD: The DVD release of STUCK is released by Image Entertainment. Presented in it's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with a 5.1 surround audio track. No special features, not even a commentary. Sad really as I would have loved to hear director Stuart Gordon's thoughts on the crime that inspired the film. The image quality and sound are quite good, no complaints there.

VERDICT: This is a first class revenge thriller/dark comedy with some truly inspired performances from Stephen Rhea, Mena Suvari, and Russel Hornsby.  It was a surprise how much I enjoyed Suvari's performance after the steaming-turd that was Steve Minier's DAY OF THE DEAD remake.  Stuart Gordon's still got I'm happy to report.  
**** (4 out of 5 stars)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

VHS Review: Xtro (1983)

XTRO (1983)
"Not all extra terrestrials are friendly"

RUN TIME: 84 Min.
DIRECTOR: Harry Bromley Davenport
CAST: Philip Sayer (Sam Phillips), Bernice Stegers (Rachel Phillips), Danny Brainin (Joe Daniels), Maryam d'Abo (Analise Mercier), Simon Nash (Tony Phillips)

SUMMARY: Three years after the disappearance of Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer), his young son Tony (Simon Nash) pines for daddy's return when mom Rachel (Bernice Stegers) takes up with another man. The fractured household, which also includes a sexy babysitter (Maryam d'Abo), is further upset when Sam mysteriously returns and has a nasty habit of attacking local residents and seeping mysterious fluids from his body. A grisly, fast-paced blend of sci-fi thrills and gut-churning horror, Xtro became an instant audience favorite and remains one of the most popular British cult films today.

THE FILM: XTRO begins as father and son are playing fetch-the-stick with the family dog. As dad throws the stick over the cottage it strikes something unseen midair. There's flash of electricity and day turns to night as father is abducted in a beam of bright light in the sky, a real CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND on a really low budget kind of moment. Tony has always insisted that his father was taken by a light in the sky, however, mom believes that Sam's run off with another woman.

Later that night a UFO is flying over a nearby woods and deposits something into the ground, setting a small wooded area on fire in the process. Something is stirring, a pool of ooze is morphing into a gross-looking grasshopper-esque creature. This is our first taste of some awesomely cheesey 80's practical special effects via a man in a fairly terrible rubber suit. A passing vehicle strikes the creature and when the driver of the car goes to investigate what he has struck he is killed by the injured creature. The female passenger of the car is also killed. It then makes it's way to a  small cottage where it attacks and  alien-rapes the occupant, a young woman. A proboscis of some sort emerges from the creature and cups itself over the victim's mouth transferring it's alien-semen into her body.  She awakens hours later to the body of the rotting, dead creature and something growing in her womb. In a nice touch as her dog is eating the creature's corpse. Whatever it is inside her it's rapidly growing. As she lies on the floor her stomach distendeds several times that the size of a pregnant woman, a disgusting birth ensues as a full grown man emerges from between her legs, chewing through his own umbilical cord. The man is Sam, Tony's father, whom disappeared three years earlier.

At the same time Tony awakens from a dream covered in a bucket load of blood seemingly from nowhere. She calls the doc who comes to the house right away, gotta love the British health care system. He's suffered no injuries, no explanation whatsoever is offered, just one of many bizarre and unexplained goings on in this film.

The Sam clone/creature tries to call his wife from a payphone but it seems his vocal chords have not fully matured and she can't understand him. When he hangs up the phone it melts away, another bizarre goings on never explained. Rachel's assistant is Analise, the super-hot Maryam d'Abo (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS). She gorgeous, frisky, and kind enough to have several gartuitous nude scenes throughout the film. 

Rachel heads to school to pick-up Tony and shockingly finds out he's been picked-up by Sam. She tracks them down and Sam reveals himself to her, he says he's no memory of where he's been since the abduction 3 years prior. She takes him home where he meets her new man Joe, it's an uneasy meeting  and Joe is suspect of Sam's intentions. With nowhere else to go Rachel invites Sam to stay in their home.

Tony walks-in on his dad eating his pet snake Harry's rather runny eggs and runs off in fright. Dad gives chase through the apartment buildings basement level, catching up to him he explains that since the abductions he's visited far away worlds and has changed and come back for him. Once he's gained the child's confidence he puts his mouth on the boys neck and transfers more mysterious fluids into him. Afterwards Tony discovers he's gained new powers, the ability to control objects. Powers he uses soon after to dispatch the elderly neighbor who kills his pet snake after it escapes into her apartment. In yet more bizarre goings on Tony's method of revenge is somehow transforming his 12" army action figure into a 6' assassin. It's a fun scene, and the way the old had bayonetted through the bed and blood squirts out from underneath is a gloriously cheap thrill. The same can be said for this entire film, I guess.  

Wow, I'm writing way too much about this film. It's an effects n' gore extravaganza, and the plot is a bit meandering, serving only to link the numerousand bloody effects scenes together. Don't come to this film expecting a coherent plot, it's not there. In fact, the entire film is a bit nonsensical, but the cheap special effects are a blast, full of strange fluids, blood and a killer clown that Tony conjures during a trippy, hallucinagenic scene.

DVD: I didn't have the pleasure of watching this film in the digital glory of DVD, instead I picked it up on 1.33:1 full screen VHS at the local Goodwill for incredible price of  .99, you now you're jealous, admit it. I haven't watched a VHS in years, what a nostalgic blast. The DVD is readily available and I'm sure I'll be picking it up in the near future. All three Xtro films are available on a triple pack DVD, FYI. The film as presented on DVD is 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with a Dolby 2.0 audio track. The DVD special features include 2 alternate endings, a deleted scene and an interview with the director, which I hear is hilarious.

VERDICT:  Of all the exploitation flicks that came after E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind this is definitely one of the strangest cult & sci-fi exploitation flicks out there. The atmosphere of the film is quite deranged, you never know what might happen next. If you crave alien rape, full frontal nudity, awesomely terrible special effects, this a true treat. A must see even if only one time. Be forewarned, there are a lot of bizarre goings on here that are never explained. Just kick back with a few beers and enjoy. Now I'm in the mood to see GALAXY OF TERROR or INSEMINOID. *** (3 out of 5 stars)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

DVD Review: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)


RUN TIME: 100 Min.
DIRECTOR: Frank De Felitta
CAST: Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Lane Smith, Tonya Crowe, Larry Drake

SUMMARY: In a rural town a man with the mind of a child is wrongfully accused of a child’s death. After his demise at the hands of a brutal lynch mob it is realized too late that he is innocent, and in fact, saved the girls life. Afterwards, the men responsible for his death are stalked and killed by a vengeful apparition.

THE FILM: DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW was a made-for-television horror film that aired on the CBS network the week before Halloween 1981, what great timing, truly a classic Halloween film. I was 8 at the time, and the film affected me deeply. Much like in the film, I grew up a rural area that was blanketed in fields of corn and agriculture. Afterwards I had quite a few nightmares about scarecrows and cornfields, and I hadn’t even seen THE CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984), yet. The film is directed by Frank De Felitta, the author/screenwriter of AUDREY ROSE (1977), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

The film opens with Bubba (Larry Drake, DR. GIGGLES), a 36 year old man with the mind of a child, as he plays with Mary-Lee (Tonya Crowe), an adolescent girl and his only friend. As they play they are watched through binoculars by Otis (Charles Durning, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?), the meanest mailman since Crum Petree in FUNNY FARM, he disapproves of the relationship despite it's innocence. Durning is amazing in this film, he's just so damn unlikeable.   Soon thereafter Mary-Lee is attacked by a vicious dog after sneaking into a neighbors yard. Otis takes Mary-Lee's seemingly lifeless body to her mother, trying to explain the situation, she panics. That bastard Otis forms a lynch mob, arming themselves with  firearms and bloodhounds, they track Bubba to his mother’s home. Otis' mom, Mrs. Ritter (Jocelyn Brando, sister of Marlon) sends them away, but the hounds are onto his scent, which leads them to a scarecrow on a post in a field. This is the pivotal moment in the film, and it is extremely well done. Otis walks-up to the scarecrow to investigate, it’s a chilling sight. Bubba’s eyes stare out of the eerie burlap mask, his eyes tearing up and trembling with fear. The men open fire, executing him in a hail of gunfire. For am '81 TV film it's a bloody sight, I must say. Right on cue the truck radio gurgles to life, informing the men that the search for Bubba has been called off, the girl is all right, and Bubba may have saved her life. Acting quickly Otis takes a pitchfork from the truckbed and places it in Bubba’s hands, thereby claiming self defense. There’s a short trial afterwards and the men are cleared of murder charges in a true travesty of justice. Soon thereafter the men are dispatched one by one in a series of chilling revenge killings, each foreshadowed by the appearance of a scarecrow in a field outside the men's homes.

I don’t want to spoil the film for those who haven't been initiated so I won’t go into much detail about the murders, but they are awesome. This is a TV film, as such it is absent of gore, but they way that Harliss (the always great Lane Smith) is killed horrified me as a kid, truly great stuff. We get a classic tale of revenge, probably the first scarecrow film to my knowledge, and some decent character development, particularly Charles Durning's Otis. Larry Drake is amazing, his role is limited but what a performance. I love the entire film, but the last 10 minutes are above and beyond amazing, the final chase/stalking though a pumpkin patch is brilliantly shot, and creepy as hell.

DVD: This is the first time-ever that this classic made-for-TV film is being released on DVD thanks to the fine folks at VCI Entertainment. It arrives on September 28th, 2010, just in time for Halloween! It's hard not to get excited by this as it is one of my all-time favorite Halloween films, and to see it so loving restored to it's original glory is priceless. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 broadcast aspect ratio with a newly created 5.1 surround sound, the original mono track is also available. Special features include an audio commentary with the writer J.D. Feigelson and director Frank De Felitta, it's a great, informative listen, especially when you enjoy the film as much as I.  Also included is the original world premiere CBS Promo which brought back a flood of nostalgic made-for-tv memories. The restoration that VCI Entertainment has bestowed upon Dark Night of the Scarecrow is nothing short of stunning. I've watched this film several times from a VHS-rip in years past and seeing the crisp detail and vibrant colors here was revelatory. Barring a Blu-Ray release which this totally deserves, this is the definitive edition of Dark Night of the Scarecrow.

VERDICT: DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW is a must buy, no thought required. I surely can trace my love of all things horror to seeing this film the week before Halloween '81, and I cannot wait to watch this with my kids this Halloween. Not just a great made-for-TV film this is a classic of the horror genre, period.
****1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)

A follow-up on the review here. On September 23rd I received an email from J.D. Feigelson the writer of DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW. In the brief letter he spoke a bit about the lack of onscreen gore in the film. I thought it was interesting and have posted it here on the blog for any fans of the film to read. Mr. Feigelson has written other filmed projects including RED WATER (2003), THE LAKE (1998), NIGHTMARE ON THE 13th FLOOR (1990), CONVENANT (1985) and Wes Craven's CHILLER. He also directed several episodes of the '85-era THE TWIGHLIGHT ZONE  and ONE OF THE MISSING (1979), both of which he wrote.

Dear Mac, I just wanted to thank you so very much for taking the time to view and review "Dark Night of the Scarecrow." You are very observant of the time and love put into the restoration of the original movie. What a lot of people surmise, but wrongly, is that the lack of on-screen violence was because of television. Actually, I wrote to original to be an atmospheric morality tale. That the script had so little on-screen violence is WHY CBS bought it not the other way around. So, there you have an inside insight. But above all it was a labor of love and a gift to the revelers of Halloween.

From the pumpkin patch,

J.D. Feigelson
Writer/Creator DNOTS

Monday, September 13, 2010

DVD Boxset Review: Blood Bath 12 Movie Collection (2010)


Mill Creek Entertainment

ANGST aka PENETRATION ANGST (2006) “Some Girls are to DIE for” Directed by Wolfgang Buld/Starring Paul Conway, Fiona Horsey, Phil Hayden/Color/R
ANGST is a low-budget British horror/comedy from 2003 starring the quite attractive Fiona Horsey (TWISTED SISTERS, THE CHAMBERMAID) as Helen, a young woman afflicted with a carnivorous vagina, a real man-eater in the vein of TEETH(2005). Helen is on a date, making out in a car it's getting pretty heavy and she gives in to the gents sexual demands. Not happy enough to just have at it as she positions herself in the compact car the asshole roles her head up in the window. She's stuck there hanging out of the car as he stands through the sunroof, and basically date-rapes her from behind. She's screaming away in protest and THWAP! - he's gone. Only a pile of clothes left behind, apparently absorbed into Helen's twat, I kid you not.  Shaken and disturbed by what has transpired Helen goes to the her OBGYN to have it checked out, he’s skeptical but offers to give her a pelvic examination. The creepy doc the proceeds to sedate and rape her unconscious body, and you guessed it - THWAP! …more flesh for the angry snatch. She wakes hours later, still strapped to the exam table, to a pile of clothes and a condom. I really enjoyed this madcap film, her pussy is like Belial from BASKET CASE, constantly imploring her "Feed Me!". To satisfy her murderous coochie's blood lust she takes up prostitution which leads to more zany hungry-hole action. Sadly, the budget did not afford the filmmaker the effects that could have enhanced the scenes in which the would-be partners are “devoured” offer no blood nor gore, only the clothes left behind, the process of which is never explained. While we follow her and the hungry snatch we meet a colorful cast of side characters including Dennis (Paul Conway, THE LAST HORROR MOVIE), who’s madly in love with Helen, conjoined twins Sonia and Silvia, and a stripper turned murderous robber. This was a fun film, and I highly recommend it to fans of madcap horror/comedies. Horsey is an attractive gal, and if you are a fan of horror films with a decent amount of nudity you shant be disappointed. RATING ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)
A BRUSH WITH DEATH (2006) "Your blood will run cold" Directed by Wolfgang Starring Seanna McDonald, Missy Sturges, Nicholls Melancon Color/Unrated/83 Min.
Five cheerleaders hit the road and head to a countryside mansion for a weekend getaway. Because they’re dumb and they run out of gas (it’s a plot device so that can meet…) and are assisted by a passing gas station attendant and his stuttering sidekick Caleb. The disgusting old man is licking his lips, making lewd suggestions and generally being a creepy pervert. While Caleb is making conversation with one of the girls we are treated to a poorly edited flashback of the old man back at the gas station blowing the head off of a young man, knocking out his female companion and then coercing Caleb into posing with her unconscious body and while he takes a series of lewd pictures. It’s the first of several bizarre and confusing flashbacks throughout the film. So, the creepy dude tops off the girls Jeep with gas and leaves them on their way. The gals arrive at the mansion and head straight for the pool and the film promptly misses the first of several opportunities for some nudity, cause this film needed a diversion, and nudity would’ve really helped right about now. Once there they meet a creepy neighbor who tells them the tale of a nearby house where thirty years earlier a family was slaughtered by their son. The film is fairly incomprehensible after this and were inundated with confusing flashbacks, fully clothed actresses, and mind numbing dialogue. The script is atrocious, the acting is abysmal, and the cinematography terrible. How do you fuck up a film about five cheerleaders in peril being killed off? This film fails on every level imaginable. Fail, fail, fail. RATING *1/2 (1.5 out of 5 stars)

THE CHAMBERMAID aka LOVESICK: SICK LOVE (UK)(2004) "Who can you turn to when you can't even trust yourself?" Directed by Wolfgang Buld/Starring Fiona Horsey, Paul Conway, William Rowsey/Color/R
Another film from director Wolfgang Buld (TWISTED SISTERS, ANGST) and his collaborators Fiona Horsey and Paul Conway. Horsey is Julia, and chambermaid at a hotel managed by Michael (Paul Conway), his mother owns the hotel, however, she has taken ill and has been hospitalized. Julia is dating Istvan (William Rowsey), Michael has a crush on Julia, Julia is a bit of a slut. She is fired when it is revealed that she has performed sexual  favors for the hotel's clientele for money. Istvan runs into trouble with the a loan shark and lays low, the rents not being paid and Julia finds herself evicted from their apartment. It's at this time that she takes advantage of Michael's infatuation, getting her job back and moving into his home in the process. Michael is a strange, awkward fellow, and I love Conway's depiction of the character, aloof and obsessed. Julia is only faining interest in Michael to serve her needs and is still seeing Istvan on the side. Paul puppy dogs after her, unknowing of the betrayal, while Julia denies him sex for a myriad of reason. Eventually, Michael suspects Julia is up to something, that's when things get super dark. Horsey is fantastic in her role, I've only seen her in the three films in this collection, and I was sad to hear she's left genre film making to pursue acting on a Colombian soap opera ...WHAT!?! THE CHAMBERMAID is a highly satisfying dark comedy/thriller. Recommended!  
RATING ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

 DEATH ON DEMAND (2008) "Turn On. Log On. Watch Out." Directed by Adam Matalon/Starring Jerry Broome, Elisabeth Jamison, Suzannah Lawson Matalon/Color/R/90 Min.
Sean Mcintyre is a mountaineer having just returned from the Hymalyas where he apparently killed two people, believing them to be Yetis. Apparently, if you go out of your mind  in Tibet and kill people under the assumption their Yetis its all right, cause next we know its 3 months later and he's at home having Thanksgiving dinner with his family, snaps, and brutally kills them all before hanging himself. A few years go by and a young internet entrepreneur arranges a contest wherein 6 people, the usual array of college-aged douchebags, including a porn actress, spend the night in the haunted house while being filmed and broadcast via the internet for a $5,000 prize. Uh-oh ...this sounds a bit similar to HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION doesn't it? I almost forgot, one of the contestants is psychic, so we get a bit of FRIDAY THE 13th PT. VII: THE NEW BLOOD feel as well ...oh Lord.  Okay, so this isn't a good film, but it is stacked heavily with breasts and gore, and for your average teen it will be a lotta fun.  The acting is uniformly sub-par throughout, the characters are of the worst kind of cliches, and the film is just generally lazy in it's generic set-ups. I'll say I enjoyed Jerry Broome's portrayal of Sean Mcintyre, the murderous mountaineer who returns from the grave after the contestants reach-out to him via Ouija board. On the plus side, the kills are surprisingly brutal, not for the squeamish. My problem here is that there's no tension, even by slasher standards, it's a line 'em up, who's next sorta affair. RATING **1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)
DEMONIC aka FOREST OF THE DAMNED (UK) (2006) “Thrown out of heaven …they’ll take you to hell…” Directed by Johanne Roberts/Starring Tom Savini, Daniel Maclagan / Nicole Petty/Sophie Holland/Color/R/83 Min.
A young couple are parked in a wooded area, making out. The woman hears a rustling in the forest, we see quick moving shadows dart through the trees, and the man goes to investigate. Personally, I say "honey, get in the car, we’re leaving", but few horror films are based on good decision making. He’s confronted by a gorgeous naked woman, apparently bewitched by her unearthly charms. they embrace and deeply kiss. It is revealed that the woman’s mouth is toothed with gnarly razor sharp teeth as she tears a chunk of flesh from the young man’s neck. A great start, well done, I was on board immediately. From there we are introduced to five friends on a road trip to a countryside lake. Along the way they get lost, as youngins are apt to do in films such as this. They pull into a darkened gas station to get directions and are accosted by a crazed fella spouting warnings about fallen angels who were banished from heaven for having been infected by an earthly lust and how they now prowl, seduce and kill people in Miranda Forest. A total “It’s got a death curse” moment, right outta FRIDAY THE 13th. No one ever believes the crazy guy, and the group tears outta there quickly and proceed down the road through the forest. After a bit the driver is getting sleepy, he notices something strange in the woods. Momentarily distracted he doesn’t see a woman in the road, violently striking her. The van is damaged beyond drivability, the woman in need of immediate medical attention, and the cell phones don’t work (OF COURSE!). Miles from anywhere, on a desolate road, the group splits into three groups in search of assistance. Once separated the groups each encounter the nymph-like creatures and a mysterious man named Stephen (Tom Savini, GRINDHOUSE, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, DAWN OF THE DEAD) who is aware of the creatures and has a sinister agenda of his own. A promising start, not a bad idea, but the film is spoiled by shoddy stylistic decisions regarding editing, cinematography and film score, and a thin script. A particularly poor choice is the night vision camerawork which pulled me out of the film and the painful electronic score. On the plus side, this film is genuinely eerie at times, there’s an abundance gorgeous naked woman from start to finish and the special effects are well executed for a low budget affair, not gory but pretty bloody. ** (2 out of 5 stars)

HALLOWED (2005) "Say your prayers" Directed by Rocky Costanzo/Starring Corey Foxx, Rosslyn Roberson, Andrew Martin Color/R/80 Min.
Witnessing the murder of his mother at the hands of his father causes 10 year-old Gabriel to lose his sanity and be institutionalized. Twenty years later, the now-grown boy leaves the clinic and sets out on what he believes is his sacred duty in life. Seeking out those around him who he feels is in need of spiritual help; Gabriel alleviates their woes through murder. Wow, talk about a film steeped in HALLOWEEN homages. This murderous bible thumper rides past several key locations from HALLOWEEN, including the Doyle House, the Meyers House, and the Strode house. Quite a few of the shot selection are also obvious homages to the film as was the score. It was a lot more interesting spotting the homages in this film than actually watching it. Not to be unfair, but this slasher was none too original, it's a tribute to the classic slashers of the 80's and it has its share of decent kills and effective atmosphere but the terrible acting destroyed it for me.
RATING *1/2 (1.5 out of 5 stars)
HARVEST OF FEAR (2004) "Terror is growing" Directed by/Starring Ryan Deal, Justin Ament/Color/R/95 Min.
HARVEST OF FEAR opens with a couple camping in the woods, perhaps making up for the lack of nudity in A BRUSH WITH DEATH, we are treated to some gratuitous breasts right from the start. A masked killer takes out the boyfriend and chases the woman through the woods. It’s a cliched and unimaginative beginning to a cliched and unimaginative film. The annual Harvest Fest is about to begin, but the killings are eerily similar to the unsolved murders that happened two decades earlier, a retired police officer fears the killer has returned, but the authorities won’t listen to him, of course. There’s little I can say positive about Harvest of Fear. It holds little intrigue and fewer scares, the characters are one-note clich├ęs, that acting it terrible across the boards, the FX are of little interest. 
RATING **(2 out of 5 stars)


 Directed by Olaf Ittenbach/Starring Natacza Boon, James Matthews, Daryl Jackson/Color/Unrated/86 Min.
This film was fantastic right out of the gate as a clown-masked killer enters a hippie compound and just starts hacking hippies to shreds. Chock full of gore galore, nudity and flashy editing, fun stuff and a great intro. The lone survivor is young Rebecca (Natacza Boon, AEON FLUX), whom falls into a coma after the attack.  Awakening 2 years later she is adopted by her aunt and uncle. All seems to be well, then ten years after the massacre she begins seeing grotesque visions of her dead father and dead hippies, they're out for revenge and bloodthirsty. I don't think I've ever seen ghosts portrayed  as such violent, revenge starved spirits, let alone hippie ghosts, man. Peace, Love and Bloody Fucking Revenge! They tell her she needs to bring the killer to the compound so they may take their revenge. The kills are completely over-the-top splatstick, almost comical in a DEAD ALIVE kinda way. What this film has working in its favor is German special effects maestro turned director Olaf Ittenbach. He gets the most possible gore for the low-budget buck, the FX look amazing. What doesn't work?  I thought the ghost story/murder mystery aspect of this film was overly convoluted and it's slightly derailed by the flat acting, trite dialogue, and overly convoluted storyline, but the over-the-top gore held a lot of sway for me. Not a great film, but this supernatural horror-thriller was a lot of fun when it was on it's game.
RATING **1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)

RED RIDING HOOD (2004) "Don't tell this tale to your kids" Directed by Giacomo Cimini/ Starring Kathleen Archebald, Susan Satta/Color/R/92 Min.
Jenny (Susanna Sattas) is a precocious 12 year-old girl residing in Rome. She tries to deal with her father's murder and her mother's abandonment by becoming a twisted vigilante. Jenny and her mysterious companion torture and kill their victims to punish them for their perceived crimes, and the punishments are extremely brutal. I adored Susanna Satta's portrayal of the 12 year-old psychotic child with a mad sense of justice. When pursuing the guilty Jenny dons a black shroud, red gloves and boots, the RED RIDING HOOD persona she inhabits while on the prowl. This is a twisted fairy tale indeed, it's brutal and blood splattered, full of gore, much more than I expected. We get beatings, decapitations, limb severances, stabbings and even a nail gun to the eye - this film does not shy away from brutality. When her grandmother (Katheen Archibald) arrives to take her to New York City, Jenny must find a way to stay in Rome by keeping her grandmother incapacitated, and does she ever. She drugs and restrains her grandmother throughout the better part of the film, and these scenes are quite brutal, even I squirmed a bit. Sadly, I looked up Susanna Satta and she's not acted in any other films. RATING ***1/2 (3.5out of 5 stars)

SHADOWS OF THE DEAD (2004) "We'll be together, 'til the end" Directed by Carl Lindberg/Starring Jonathan Flanigan, Beverly Hynds, Nick Schirmer/Color/R/92 Min.
In a typical horror film set-up, a couple is driving to the countryside for a weekend getaway and instead find a horrific nightmare when they bust a tire and end up staying the night in the foggiest wooded area I've ever seen. They discover a "dead" body not far from where they busted their flat, they choose to ignore it and grab a few winks 'til morning comes. Later that night they notice the body has disappeared and the man goes to investigate and is bitten by something while taking a piss. The next day they seek medical attention for the infected bite and are alarmed to discover that the man's heart has ceased to beat. The Dr. suspiciously excuses himself and the two bolt from the hospital in fear of being made lab rats. The two sequester themselves in a cabin,  it seems the bite carried a mysterious virus that infects the couple and ravages their bodies. Their skin begins to discolor and blister, so much so that they bandage their faces like mummies, and they describe (not show, a budgetary decision, no doubt) how their skin is tightening around their skulls, we also see his eyes turn opaque. Soon they discover that their bodies are rejecting food and are developing a lust for human flesh. The woman adamantly refuses to kill, and this causes tension between the two. So, this sounds pretty good as I'm writing it, and it's not without merit, but the films is slow moving and heavily dialogue driven, which is not always a detriment, but in this case ...yawn. The films comes across as more an examination of the lovers relationship than a horror film, and the ending is highly unsatisfying. RATING *1/2 (1.5 out of 5 stars)

TWISTED SISTERS (2006) "Nobody get in her way..." Directed by Wolfgang Buld/Starring Fiona Horsey, Andrew Southern, Paul Conway/Color/R/97 Min.
Who's excited? Another partnering between director Wolfgang Buld and actors Fiona Horsey and Paul Conway. This time out the always attractive and more often than not nude Fiona Horsey portrays both Jennifer and Norah, twin separated at birth. Jennifer lives a good life, a good family, and a loving fiance. Things are great until one day she's fingered as the suspect of a brutal slaying. Someone's going around picking-up men at bars and slicing off their wieners after banging 'em. It is revealed to Jennifer that she indeed has an evil twin sister who's escaped the asylum, it all very Brian DePalma-esque (DRESSED TO KILL). Her twin is out to frame her for the murders, hoping to steal her identity as she takes the fall. This is a very dark thriller, the comedy is not as prevalent as previous Buld films, but then again, can lighting a rocket up a man's arse and blowing his intestine out through his abdomen NOT be funny? RATING ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

 UNINVITED (1993) "Only the brave would dare to awaken the guardian of the dead" Directed by/Starring Christopher Boyer, Bari Buckner, Jack Elam/Color/R/90 Min.
 This is the last film of the legendary Jack Elam (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST), a man known for his western persona, he gets top billing, and he's in the film for maybe 3 minutes. UNINVITED is that most rare of horror sub-genres the western-horror, most recently visited by THE BURROWERS. This is the tale of several disparate folks who've pooled their money and to lay claim to a goldmine, intending to split the profits. A good cast of characters; the hooker with a heart of gold, the couple looking for a down payment on a homestead, a priest with a past, and a cagey survivor of the Donner Party. Along the way they disturb an ancient native American burial site, and that's never a good idea. Afterwards, violence and tension erupts between the group as one by one they die off at the hands of angered spirits and each other. I feel the filmmaker overstepped the films meager budget trying to capture the look and feel of a gold rush-era western here and it hurts the film and it feels thin in parts, but the film is steeped in mountain mist and a sense of doom for all involved. It works to a point, but the film is too slow moving. RATING ** (2 out of 5 stars)

DVD: These 12 films contained in this set are presented in their original non-anamorphic widescreen aspect ratios with stereo sound. The image quality is good throughout, a sight better than most of Mill Creek's public domain collection without a doubt. It's great to see Mill Creek Entertainment licensing films and releasing them, as I think a lot of people assume they only release public domain films from inferior source materials, and this is a misconception.

VERDICT: A definite buy in my estimation. While I rather disliked A BRUSH WITH DEATH and HARVEST OF FEAR I was pleasantly surprised by the three Wolfgang Buld films starring Fiona Horsey and Paul Conway. The other highlight for me was RED RIDING HOOD, really interesting stuff. Great titles I'd never heard of 'em til now. That's the beauty of the budget box sets, it's a give and take proposition, but it only takes a few gems to make a collection shine.  OVERALL RATING *** (3 out of 5 stars)