Sunday, December 30, 2007

THE LORELY’S GRASP (1974) d. Amando de Ossorio

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Fables, Folklore and Fairy Tales have long been the wellspring from which modern literature, paintings and films have derived their inspiration. Using any ancient legend as the basis for a screenplay can be a powerful tool, for mythological creatures and tales play upon some of the most primal human responses. Setting a folktale-based narrative in the present and juxtaposing modern imagery with primordial myths can be a gamble, but when it’s done right, the payoff can be substantial. Amando de Ossorio’s THE LORELY’S GRASP overcomes some obvious faults and plays upon its considerable strengths to be an entertaining experience.

Set in the Rhine Valley, THE LORELY’S GRASP is the tale of a town and a girls’ school struggling with superstitious fears and mounting scientific evidence that the legendary Siren Lorelei is real and is killing the inhabitants in her quest for human hearts. To protect their charges, the teachers of the girl’s school hire a hunter to protect the grounds, but it seems that nothing can halt the bloodshed. Before long, hunter, teacher and Siren are caught up in a triangle of love and violence where hearts and souls hang in the balance.

THE LORELY’S GRASP has many superb elements, most notably its camera-work, sets and cast. The enchanting Helga Line and the hypnotic Silvia Tortosa torch the Silver Screen with their smoldering glamour and beauty. While both actresses were equally incandescent in HORROR EXPRESS, there they had secondary roles. In THE LORELY’S GRASP, these two are the central figures, the perfect compliment to Tony Kendall’s insouciant charm. Set amid scenes of grandiose, modern Euro-architecture and haunting ruins of past splendors and filmed in lavish color, THE LORELY’S GRASP is a feast for the eyes. Coupled with the dream-like incidental music and some truly spine-chilling scenes of the killer stalking helpless beauties from the hedgerows, this film has atmosphere to spare. All this is too the good, for the story has its gaps and logic is lacking at times as well. For the viewer who is looking for a story of such cohesive strength that it would stand up to the scrutiny of a Calculus professor armed with his slide rule, you may be disappointed. While the film is set in Germany, the landscapes are Spanish of course and if you are looking for location shots of Deutschland, they are not to be found, only stock footage of castles and boats on the Rhine. All of these breaches in reason add to the allure of this picture. If you let the luxuriant backdrop of European vistas and even more luscious European starlets sweep you away on its glittering tide, the effects are pleasant and lasting.

THE LORELY’S GRASP is a disc with a fairly thin extras menu including a small stills gallery, the original Spanish credits sequence and the U.S. theatrical trailer. There are two audio tracks though, the English dubbed track and elegant Castilian track with English subtitles. However, the liner notes are a treasure trove of information about Helga Line, Silvia Tortosa, Tony Kendall and Amando de Ossorio’s production of the film. Helga Line lore is not easy to come by and the fascinating anecdotes sprinkled throughout the notes about the principal cast and crew are quite enticing. While an interview with one of the cast members would have been nice addition the extras, the copious details of the liner notes make up for the lack.

Looking better than it has ever done, presented in its widescreen format and with its proper language track, THE LORELY’S GRASP is a bright gem worth digging for. It is not the finest example of Euro-Horror ever made, but if we use the analogy of jewels, it is a semi-precious stone like an amethyst; beautiful, sophisticated and worthy of being treasured.

Friday, December 28, 2007

UNHOLY (2007) d. Daryl Goldberg

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

It has been said that the ability to enjoy fiction is dependant upon the reader’s capacity for “suspending their disbelief”. The same is true of film and the more bizarre the film, the harder the filmgoer has to work at being “swept away” by an implausible or incomprehensible story. UNHOLY, starring Adrienne Barbeau and Nicholas Brendon, is certainly a bizarre film, and while it may not be an “enjoyable” experience, it is an intriguing one.

UNHOLY is the story of a mother whose daughter has just committed suicide under peculiar circumstances. As Martha digs deeper into the evidence, she uncovers conspiracies that enmesh her son Lucas, the town of Downington, PA, the U.S. government, Nazis and the occult. In a surrealistic swirl of events, Martha becomes more deeply embroiled in scientific/paranormal experiments involving time travel, invisibility and mind control, leading her to self-discoveries that are impossible to accept.

Imagine a film that has its conceptual roots in movies like DONNIE DARKO, TOTAL RECALL and FIGHT CLUB and then add to the mix influential dabs of David Lynch and Takashi Miike and you’ve got an idea what UNHOLY is like. The fascinating underlying premise of this film takes a long time to unfold, but the patient plot isn’t the problem. The story is told in a semi-reversed order ala MEMENTO, but the spars of the story are so inconsistently thrown out to viewers trying to keep afloat in the plot’s waters that the effect is more unsettling than gripping. In addition, UNHOLY is a short film, less than 85 minutes, so there isn’t enough time to really explore the absorbing elements that are awkwardly referenced. For example, Ms. Barbeau’s character Martha, tries to extract information from a pair of young experiment participants/victims while poisoning them and herself in a car rapidly filling with carbon monoxide. Between the gasps, wheezes and lapses of consciousness, the evidence Martha extorts spills forth like spittle from a baby’s chin, lumpy and infrequent, but horribly enthralling none-the-less. Anyone interested in a story that involves time travel, Nazis and government conspiracies will be drawn into this film against their will and will find it not fully satisfying but leaving a lingering taste of expectation on their tongues akin to “was there something I missed that I need to reconsider?” If a film gets you thinking, it hasn’t totally failed in its mission or its promise.

The extras menu on UNHOLY is pretty lean, including a commentary by director/writer Sam Goldberg and writer/producer Sam Freeman. There is a poster/stills gallery, the film trailer and trailers for other Anchor Bay/Starz titles. After a film that raises more questions than it answers, a lean extras menu doesn’t help a viewer to “scratch the itch”.

Kudos must be given to Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Freeman for their efforts at undertaking an ambitiously complex story and trying to create imagery and action to support it. While they were not entirely successful, watching UNHOLY was a more thought-provoking experience than a lot of big-budget theatrical garbage I’ve had to endure in recent years like the remake of THE FOG. That film made me as angry as I’ve ever been, left me feeling soiled and violated. UNHOLY left me in the pose of “The Thinker” and while I didn’t rush to e-mail my friends imploring them to see this film, at least I felt it was 85 minutes fairly well spent.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

HIDEOUT IN THE SUN (1960) d. Doris Wishman & Larry Wolk

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Any creative endeavor like a novel or a painting is influenced by the times in which it was made and therefore becomes a record of that era. Film is an even better representation of the past, for as long as the integrity of the print is maintained, accurate visual imagery continues to be the historical yardstick by which all authenticity is measured. Film takes images and freezes them, good or bad, and as such, we can look back and remember with clearer vision than simple memory. When HIDEOUT IN THE SUN was made, its purpose was to display images of nude women and men on the big screen and in the process make some cash for the people involved in its production. In the early 1960s, the only way people could see Silver Screen nudity was in “nudie cutie” films done by pioneers like the late, great Russ Meyer or in “nudist camp” films done by exploitation film makers like Doris Wishman. Who would have ever thought that a “nudie” movie would become a historical icon, but that is exactly what HIDEOUT IN THE SUN is.

HIDEOUT IN THE SUN is the story of bank robbers Steven and Duke Martin, whose get-away plans hit a snag and who are forced to kidnap a pretty bystander named Dorothy. Continued troubles force the thugs to “hide out” at the Hibiscus County Club where Dorothy lives and works. The Hibiscus turns out to be a nudist camp, and to blend in with their surroundings Steven accompanies Dorothy out and about amongst the frolicking naturists while Duke sulks and steams in Dorothy’s cabin. Before long, the Martin brothers try to make a break for it, but they are caught up in fiascos with snakes and babes and little turns out right for them in the end.

HIDEOUT IN THE SUN is not “high cinema”, and those expecting CITIZEN KANE or THE SEARCHERS will be disappointed. It is also not pornography and those expecting incredibly buff women ludicrously sculpted by surgeons and scientists and having sex with anything that moves will be doubly disappointed. HIDEOUT IN THE SUN is a very simple film, but it does have many wonderful qualities. The first 20+ minutes is the “suspenseful” story hook that is suppose to establish the “drama”, but was really there to whet 60s filmgoers appetites for the nudes. I spent this time drooling over the 1950s cars that I so dearly love and looking at scenes of Miami and South Florida that have long since vanished. Once the nudist camp scenes began, I was inundated by 16mm early 1960s colors that have no equal today. You can see those same heartbreaking blues of water and sky, greens of grass and trees and buttery yellows of sun and skin in Russ Meyer's films too and there are few things that bring me back to my youth more effectively than glorious film colors that are so ABSENT from today’s movies. Towards the end when the “story” tries to reassert itself, there are fabulous scenes shot of the grounds and the reptiles at the Miami Serpentarium that are splendid. Over all, there is the canned score which is a mix of an original title song, lounge jazz, whimsical orchestral pieces that would have worked just as well in YOGI BEAR and “dramatic” incidental music that could have easily been heard in JOHNNY QUEST. Between the music, the cars, the colors, the “girl next door” cuteness of the “actresses” and the none-too-gently applied naturist philosophy of the dialogue, one can’t help but come out of this film with a deep sense of nostalgia and an even deeper sense of history marvelously preserved. Thank God that Doris Wishman found a surviving print of this film in her closet.

As is the case with many PopCinema offerings today, the dvd extras menu is crammed with historical goodness. The 2-disc set has the original full frame and modern anamorphic versions of the superbly preserved print. Disc 1 has a commentary by Doris Wishman biographer Michael Bowen, a short interview with Ms. Wishman, as well as a short interview with exploitation icon Dave Friedman. While short, any interview with either of those two is always worth the price of admission. In addition, Disc 1 has a compilation of 1960 news reel footage which would be helpful for younger viewers to put into perspective the events of the year that HIDEOUT IN THE SUN was made. Disc 2 has a 27 minute French nudist film featurette re-titled POSTCARDS FROM A NUDIST CAMP which is a bit more explicit than American “nudie films” of that era. Both discs are replete with retro-seduction trailers to help the viewer get into the nostalgic state of mind.

There are many film experiences I have had that are more intellectual, more spiritual, more sensual and more mind-altering, but this was one of the most enjoyable when it came to spinning me back to the past. As I often say to friends and co-workers, “I live in the past, I’m happy there”. HIDEOUT IN THE SUN was one of those wonderful experiences when I was back in the past for a little while and for anyone who wants to time travel in such a simple way, this is well worth the effort.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1973) d. Carlos Aured

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Most European horror films of the 1960s and 1970s were seen in the United States in a very different form than they were in Europe, especially Spanish horror. European horror films usually received extremely limited releases and when they reached video cassette, widescreen films were often pan & scan, while transfers were usually murky and miserable. The English dubbing of European languages added a layer of silliness to the mostly serious tones, while atmospheric imagery was often cut so that the gore and girls took center stage. Fortunately, American distribution companies are now offering dvds like HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB where you can see the original aspect ratios, restored prints, authentic language tracks and uncut foreign distribution scenes, providing Euro-horror film lovers with an experience that is unforgettable.

HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB is the story of a Medieval sorcerer, Alaric de Marnac, who is executed along with his vampiress attendant, Mabille de Lancre for crimes against God and humanity. Hundreds of years later, the descendants of Alaric de Marnac unwittingly provide the means of his return and that of his vampire collaborator, who begin a reign of terror and blood throughout the French countryside. Only the powers of a sacred amulet and arcane knowledge wielded by a beautiful young woman can stop the insidious pair from spreading carnage and carnality.

HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, written by Jacinto Molina (Paul Naschy) uses the familiar plot device of Mr. Naschy playing a duel role of historical villain and present-day hero enmeshed in a story of sorcery and sin. Combined with spooky, rural castle sets, moodily colored lighting, gory death scenes rife with scarlet stained skin and a delicious array of beautiful European actresses, HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB is a feast for the eyes. Alternating between hip, modern Continentals and murderous Middle Age monsters, and dappled with scabrous zombies and salacious starlets, Carlos Aured’s imagery more than makes up for a tale that is characteristically the pillar of Paul Naschy’s films. Whether you watch the English-dubbed track or glory in the original Castilian language track, HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB is as enjoyable a film as any of the other splendid iconic offerings from the Naschy canon.

The extras menu on HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB may not be as lush as some of the other Naschy dvds that have come out in recent years, but it doesn’t have to be. There are only so many interviews available with the Master himself, and going over old ground does not make it fresher. What is included is still worthwhile. There is an introduction by Mr. Naschy as well as an audio commentary by Naschy and director Carlos Aured. A sizable stills gallery with lobby card and poster art will delight any fan of Euro-horror. In addition to the alternate language tracks, there is the original Spanish credit sequence and the U.S. theatrical trailer. Since Spanish films made during the rule of the Franco fascist regime censored nudity and violence, the alternate “censored” scenes can be viewed. Most importantly, HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB can be viewed widescreen and in glorious, crisp color.

HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB is another fine addition to the dvd cabinet of any serious collector/lover of Spanish horror at a time when Euro-horror was still the gold standard. It has the charismatic Jacinto Molina at his height, a bevy of beautiful actresses including the incomparable Helga Line and all the atmospheric mannerism worthy of an El Greco masterpiece.

Monday, December 24, 2007

IN THE SPIDER’S WEB (2007) d. Terry Winsor

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Making a horror film “on the cheap” can be done successfully, but you’ve got to choose one of two paths for it to work. If you go with the “low brow” path, your horror flick needs to have a few scares, lots of skin and scads of silliness. HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND (1960) is a perfect example of a bad, “low brow” film that works in many good ways. To ascend the “high brow” path, you’ve got to have a good story and some good performances to pull off a fine film like TARANTULA (1955). If you don’t choose a path at all, you don’t go anywhere, and that is the problem with IN THE SPIDER’S WEB.

IN THE SPIDER’S WEB is the tale of a group of westerners traveling through the jungles of India who run afoul of spiders, scientists experimenting on spiders and spider-worshipping natives who do the spiders’ and scientists’ evil bidding. Before they know it, our hapless tourists are wound tightly in the machinations of Dr. Lecorpus and are unable to extract themselves from the clingy cords of his wily weavers. It takes some pluckiness and police to save their skins and souls.

IN THE SPIDER’S WEB is a SciFi production that was shot in Thailand using a very inexperienced cast with the notable exception of Lance Henrikson. As the malevolent Dr. Lecorpus, Henrikson gets it right, but he is one man against too many things wrong with this film. There is too little story stretched like gossamer gauze over too much film. At times the story seems to be going for grins and giggles, but it never really commits. At other times the story tries to descend into serious horror, but there aren’t any plot twists and compelling ideas to anchor the drifting dinghy. With such a thin tale spun so scantily, the onus is laid upon the actors and actresses to hold up the now two-legged table. Whether it’s the script or the talent, things go bad right from the start and are never able to fully recover despite Mr. Henrikson’s best efforts. For example, Gina, played by Emma Catherwood is a trim-figured cutie who is peevishly petulant for part of the film, then becomes a tough little tigress, only to meander miserably between grittiness and girlish screams, sobs and sulks. Most of the rest of the cast is wooden at best with the notable exception of Sohrab Ardeshr, whose portrayal of Seargeant Chidhri was wonderfully comic. Sadly, since IN THE SPIDER’S WEB did not take the “low brow” path and did not include a lot more laughs, parade Miss Catherwood and a half dozen other beauties around naked and splash the screen with a lot more arterial spray, Mr. Ardeshr’s performance is wasted. Since the performances aren’t strong, the one-legged table is going to topple and this one does.

Sadly, like most ineffective films, there are always a few worthy elements that leave the viewer scratching their heads wondering “why couldn’t this film have been better”? The Thai exterior sets have an authentic “jungle movie” feel and the webby cave tunnels were effectively constructed and lit so as to be creepy and cool. The mix of real spiders, puppets and CG spiders made for some less than genuine imagery, but I’ve seen worse in much more expensively made films. The set designers and make up teams for IN THE SPIDER’S WEB put together backdrops that would have effectively supported a better written script and stronger acting.

The last bad taste in the mouth was that IN THE SPIDER’S WEB is a bare bones disc. Possibly the spiders stripped it clean, but there is NOTHING to be had beyond the “play film” and “scene selection” menu options. Including some interesting extras on any bad dvd can save the experience to some measure, but obviously that may have cost too much money and the makers of this film evidently wanted to pinch as many pennies as they could.

SciFi produced films don’t all have to be like this. For example HAMMERHEAD (2005) and ABOMINABLE (2006) were both entertaining flicks. IN THE SPIDER’S WEB walked aimlessly through the jungle, found the path that lead to the quicksand and sank out of sight leaving not even a ripple.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

THE OTHER SIDE (2006) d. Gregg Bishop

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Being the director of a film means accepting much of the responsibility for the film’s success or failure. Being the director, writer, editor and one of the producers means the buck stops with you if the film is acclaimed or not. Gregg Bishop took on the mantle of writing, directing, editing and producing THE OTHER SIDE and as a result deserves much praise for a job well done, but must also shoulder some of the blame for the weaknesses in a film that could have been even better.

THE OTHER SIDE is the story of Sam North, who is brutally killed on the night he is to reunite with Hanna, his longtime girlfriend. Sam is consigned to Hell and somehow escapes from “The Pit”, returns to life to solve the mystery of his murder, discover the whereabouts of his missing girlfriend, evade demons called “Reapers” sent to bring him back to Hell and unravel the convoluted twists in a promising existence gone horribly wrong. Along the way, Sam must face bullets, blades, bewilderment and betrayal to find a way through to the Other Side and restart his future.

THE OTHER SIDE has many worthwhile qualities. The multi-layered story has predictable and unpredictable elements that peel back like the skin of an onion, but that twist and turn in delightful ways, leaving the viewer’s mind and emotions fully engaged. The primary characters of Sam, played by Nathan Mobley and Hanna played by Jaimie Alexander are likable and compelling and have a chemistry that is intriguing and tragic. The film is paced effectively, moving along briskly when it needs to, but slowing down at the appropriate times to allow the viewer to reflect, consider and catch their breath.

For being an independent film shot on location in Georgia with a fairly inexperienced cast and a young director-writer-editor calling the shots, many of the production qualities of this film are praiseworthy. Gregg Bishop’s establishing shots and atmospheric photography are very strong and blended with Kristopher Carter’s emotive orchestral score and the intensity of the story, THE OTHER SIDE lives up to its billing as a thriller with dabs of horror and mystery added in for good measure. There is a sincerity to this film’s soul and roots that is palpable and aids even a jaded reviewer in accepting the weaknesses and seeing the overall value of this energetic project. This film does have weaknesses though.

As is the case with most young film makers today, the action sequences are shot too close, edited too rapidly and do not allow the viewer to easily “see” what is happening. What allowed George Lucas’s light saber battles at the end of PHANTOM MENACE to be the best fight scenes in the two trilogies or Yimou Zhang’s HERO to have some of the most exciting fight scenes of all time was the manner in which the photography was done in the “old school” of pulling back so that everything could be perceived. Maybe given time, experience and a bigger budget, Gregg Bishop will be able to shoot action scenes in a more “epic” manner and abandon the “commando” shooting style and the “music video” editing techniques. All these “ifs” are in vain though, for though the action sequences are done with energy and verve, they are a visual flaw in this film.

In addition, casting an actor to be comic relief who is not funny but is grossly irritating was an additional mistake. Cory Rouse’s character Mally was as uncomfortable as sitting in a worsted wool suit on a hot summer’s day after you’ve soaked that suit due to an accident brought on by a neglecting a screaming bladder. Sound appalling and implausible? That was the effect of Mally’s character on this otherwise serious and wonderfully grim and heartbreaking story. The silly, wisecracking “buddy” has run its course and needs to be taken to the glue factory and put down. Somebody please kill it, because it has outlived its day. Like the action sequences, this character detracts from a film that had so many positives.

What does help the viewer to rise above these failings is a small but enjoyable extras menu on this dvd. There is a “Visual Effects” featurette that is interesting, but better still are the “Entering The Other Side” featurette and the Deleted Scenes with commentary. Both of these allow you to see the mindset and choices of Gregg Bishop during the creative process. The “Entering The Other Side” featurette also gives the viewer a chance to hear from cast and crew and see the process of crafting a truly independent feature film. While this extras menu is not a treasure trove of goodies, what is available is worth your time.

Since THE OTHER SIDE is not a horror film, but an action thriller with the elements of a horror movie mixed with a drama-whodunit, it may not totally appeal to “hard core” horror fans, but it will appeal to a wider audience. It will also appeal to viewers who don’t mind treading over some familiar supernatural ground to eventually get tangled in the threads of a pretty good yarn. It is usually the story that determines a film’s success and fortunately THE OTHER SIDE has its eggs in the right basket.

Friday, December 21, 2007

MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD (1982) d. Jess Franco

Reviewed by Simon Oakland

A quartet of strippers go away on vacation to frolic in the sun and get jiggy with the local male population. When the sea resort they made reservations to turns out to be almost entirely devoid of human life, they decide, in turn, to get jiggy with the only people they can... each other! But down the beach a ways is a creepy old monastery inhabited by ancient undead templars who's goal in (un)life is to visit punishment upon women with loose morals by raping and murdering them. Oh, fun!

I've never been a fan of Jess Franco. While he has gathered a rather large and rabid cult fan base over the decades, he has always struck me as a filmmaker with a severe tendency to overextend himself ( lists 187 directorial credits to him over the past 50 years!). If only he chose his projects better and took the time and effort to fully actualize them rather than perpetually doing rush jobs, he could have potentially been in the same league as that other great Spanish director, Luis Bunuel. Whether or not he was ever in a position to do so I couldn't say. What I am clear on, however, is that even though I've only seen a small portion of his filmography, by my estimates, 95% wouldn't even be worthy of lining a cat box with if such a thing were possible. Only 5% of his catalog is worth checking out.

I would place MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD among that top 5%. While not a "great" film by any stretch of the imagination, it is nevertheless fully entertaining from start to finish. At no point during it's runtime was I ever bored or wanted to nod off, and unlike every other Franco film I've seen, MANSION seemed to be produced and written with a sense of humor. The dialog is (intentionally?) consistently tongue-in-cheek and the situations frequently absurd. For instance, the main characters are habitually parading and gallivanting everywhere and down hotel hallways stark naked as if it were completely normal behavior. (Yeah, I know this is Europe, but still...) And given the subject matter of the movie, the rape scenes are rather tastefully done, which came as a surprise to me. This could have easily turned into one vile, disgusting piece of shit, but it never descends to that level. A lot of fun and recommended, especially if you've seen Amando de Ossorio's BLIND DEAD series, of which MANSION is obviously an homage to.

Severin Films did a wonderful job mastering this DVD. Picture quality is top notch and the original mono soundtrack is nice and clean. Included as an extra is an insightful 19 minute documentary "The Mansion that Jess Built" that features interviews with Franco and lead actress Lina Romay (billed in the credits as Candy Coster).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

CHANTAL (2007) d. Tony Marsiglia

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

The “cautionary tale” has long been a staple of film and literature. Beyond its potentially altruistic purpose, the cautionary tale can be a wonderful vehicle for exploring seedy topics and delivering verboten imagery. When a cautionary tale is wrapped up in packaging that is glamorous, grotesque and produces a guffaw or two, you’ve got a story that will probably appeal to everyone who is strong of heart.

CHANTAL is the story of a pretty, young hayseed, played by Misty Mundae (aka Erin Brown), who flits into Hollywood on the winds of immense hopes and dreams. After landing in Tinseltown, Chantal quickly runs afoul of the loathsome denizens of the rotting underbelly of the Film Industry and the scaverngers who prey on the Lost Souls drawn to its illusory marsh light. Nearly every person she meets is willing to use and abuse Chantal in some way until the cruelties begin to wear away at her reason, leaving her even more exposed to the bloodsucking leeches that surround her.

CHANTAL is not an easy film to watch because of its delightfully seamy nature. At times, the story and performances are so over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek that the film seems to be a satire. At other times, the imagery is even more subtle, just before the edge of the cliff arrives and the viewer is unceremoniously dumped into a morass of Hollywood’s filth and squalor. Such a roller coaster of emotions and scenery might be unsettling and at times it is too much so, but it also patterns the emotions of the main character as she rides the waves of euphoria and misery. Throughout CHANTAL there is Misty Mundae, whose acting talents continue to impress. Not just a pretty face and a trim figure, Miss Mundae’s portrayal of the title character is able to elicit dual responses from the viewer. Miss Mundae’s Chantal is both appallingly innocent and naïve, affected and insufferable, but you can’t keep from rooting for her every time she is reduced to tears by the grimy refuse around her. Chantal’s descent into the abyss is uncomfortable and Misty Mundae gets the viewer to identify with her character somehow. As she did in Lucky McKee’s “Masters of Horror” episode SICK GIRL, Miss Mundae puts on an impressive show that leaves you scratching your head saying, “Why don’t we see more of this actress in mainstream films?” Maybe Miss Mundae is a lot wiser than her character Chantal and knows how to use the industry rather than be used by it.

The rest of the cast of CHANTAL is a collection of Pop Cinema’s regular stable of performers and their skills are utilized well in this film. They are able to deliver the niche performances that support the story and the main character effectively. The direction and cinematography is surprisingly good at times. There are scenes of otherworldly creepiness that give the underside of Hollywood an abhorrent sheen like a corpse-light. At other times, the shaking camera adds a less impressive air to the outcome. No doubt, director Tony Marsiglia was trying to add an emotional instability to the imagery reminiscent of IRREVERSIBLE, but since that film didn’t work, the effect does not always work here either.

CHANTAL is a two disc set with an amazing collection of extras. On Disc 1, in addition to the feature film, there are separate commentaries by the director Tony Marsiglia and Misty Mundae. There is a “making of CHANTAL” featurette and the CHANTAL camera test. On Disc 2 there is the original 1969 feature film CHANTAL directed by Nick Philips, who also does a commentary for the feature and has a separate short interview. There is a bonus featurette from 1956 – THESE GIRLS ARE FOOLS, a Nick Philips trailer vault and a Misty Mundae trailer vault. Such a juicy repertory of fascinating goodies makes this dvd set quite an adventure worth exploring.

CHANTAL is not for everyone. There is some graphic sexual content, foul language and even fouler story content, but the film works. There are times when you will laugh and times when you will cringe. At other times, you will be drawn in against your will to a story that is as old as the hills, but is still relevant today. CHANTAL updates the age-old myth of the “sweet young thing and her demise at the hands of corrupt users”. In the modern age, most “sweet young things” know full well what they are getting themselves into, but the stories of girls like CHANTAL are still out there and they still resonate.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Reviewed by Rick Trottier & Mark Nelson

Creating a film that has a foot in two genres simultaneously can end up as a smashing success or a dismal failure. The horror/comedy RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is an example of just how good a dual genre film can be. On the flip side, the action/horror regurgitation BLADE 3 was a train wreck of epic proportions. BLOODRAYNE 2: DELIVERANCE is able to bridge the gap between vampire/horror films and westerns fairly well. In fact, it is the fusion of these two genres that keeps the film from sinking below general mediocrity.

BLOODRAYNE 2: DELIVERANCE is the story of Rayne, the half vampire warrior and her quest to hunt down vampires who spread their evil throughout history. This time Rayne is stalking the Old West in search of a vampiric Billy the Kid, whose murderous ways are leaving a trail of blood-drained husks instead of bullet-ridden corpses. To fight Billy the Kid's growing legion, Rayne enlists a small force of pistol-packing cowboys who are willing to sell their lives to stop the carnage.

BLOODRAYNE 2: DELIVERANCE has a lot wrong with it, but in the end there is enough that is done right to make it enjoyable [passable?]. In his audio commentary, director Uwe Boll admits that the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone were his main inspiration for the western feel of the film, and indeed it is the western elements that are BLOODRAYNE 2's greatest strength. The film was shot in some authentic-looking locations and the sets feel very much like stages right out of THE RIFLEMAN or HIGH CHAPPARRAL. The patient pace of the film coupled with its brooding, Morricone-style music gives BLOODRAYNE 2: DELIVERANCE a gunfightin', cattle rustlin' feel that helps divert attention from the less than scary vampire elements and unimpressive fight scenes. There is one scene where children are menaced by the villain that is actually pretty effective (bringing to mind similarly perverse scenarios from Euro Westerns of yore), and it is that smattering of successful moments that keeps the viewer coming back for more in this film.

BLOODRAYNE 2: DELIVERANCE has some very mixed performances. Most of the actors in this film pretty pedestrian or downright miserable, but Natassia Malthe and Michael Pare save the cast from total disaster. Ms. Mathe's performance as Rayne is not stellar, but her dour, smoldering look and equally grim delivery of her lines fits the haunted nature of her character. Sadly, Ms. Malthe cuts a very slender figure as Rayne. One wants the badass girls to be built a little more impressively so that the eye is just as happy as the mind. As Rayne's sidekick Pat Garrett, Michael Pare delivers a workman-like performance as the tough, high plains veteran of the six-shooter wars. Zack Ward's performance as Billy the Kid/vampire is more problematic. His hatchet-thin face and sunken eyes look the part of a centuries-old blood sucker, but his youthful characteristics and unpleasant faux-European accent do not hiss with menace, rather they induce a chuckle. His efforts to make the part work are noteworthy though. It is the rest of the cast whose acting festers like an old boil, most notably Chris Coppola as Newton Pyles, whose every utterance and bug-eyed reaction make you at once want to rip the disc out of the player and summon the spirit of Lou Costello to bitch-slap him into oblivion.

BLOODRAYNE 2: DELIVERANCE the dvd has an impressive extras menu that consists of an audio commentary by director Uwe Boll (who comes off as a far more intelligent and likable guy than most media accounts would lead you to believe), a digital comic book, extended scenes, deleted scenes, interviews with the director and cast, plus a bonus Bloodrayne Videogame DVD – "The complete Bloodrayne PC Videogame on DVD". All of these goodies make the BLOODRAYNE 2 experience even more interesting, for there is a lot here to sink your teeth into.

Overall BLOODRAYNE 2: DELIVERANCE is truly the definition of the cotton candy film. It does not satisfy the innards properly, but is passably sweet on the lips for a short span. If you go into this film expecting a vampire film that resets all the high expectations of that genre's canon, you will be intensely disappointed. However, if you approach this film like a stick of gum, knowing it will not change your life or the universe, you may find something entertaining about it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Remakes of classic films are always a chancy enterprise at best. Sequels of a remake are an even riskier undertaking, especially if time has passed and the embers of memory's fire are no longer hot. RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL revisits the grounds of the 1999 remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, the 1959 classic made by the late, great William Castle. Despite having a tough row to hoe, RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is able to succeed where other sequels/remakes often fail.

RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is the continuing story of the Wolfe family. Ariel Wolfe is the younger sister of Sarah Wolfe, one of only two survivors to escape from the Ghoulish House eight years earlier. Ariel becomes entangled with devious treasure hunters searching for a priceless statue within The House. It doesn't take long for the sinister spirits of Hill House to arise from the murky depths of the former asylum and led by the ghost of Dr. Vannacutt, the specters begin to eradicate the living one grisly killing at a time.

RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL has an eclectic cast of screen veterans led by Jeffrey Combs, reprising his role as Dr. Vannacutt, attractive starlets Cerina Vincent and Amanda Righetti and promising newcomers like Erik Palladino. Directed by Dagon's special effects wizard Victor Garcia, this film is an interesting mix of Raiders of the Lost Ark action, modern death scenes of impossibly spectacular gore, some appealing plot twists among the predictable story elements and some genuinely visceral moments of unsettling imagery. While struggling with many of the filming-technique evils that beset today's movies like overly dark settings, needlessly rapid editing and uncomfortable close-ups, these weaknesses do not overwhelm RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and in the end, it is an entertaining film that probably should have seen a theatrical release but wasn't, probably because its cast did not have a "bankable" star.

RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL has an appealing set of extras including a "Character Confessionals Gallery" with interesting anecdotes from the principles, a documentary, deleted scenes and the movie music video. On the hi-def version of the dvd is Warner Home Video's "Navigational Cinema" feature which is a sort of "choose your own outcome" which can be engaged at various exciting moments of the film. This was an especially fun feature that we enjoyed.

All in all, RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL breaks no new ground and does not leave an indelibly lasting impact, but it does entertain. It has the kooks and spooks with the thrills and splashy spills that make it worth the Return Journey to that oh-so Spooky House.

For an exclusive 30 minute Saturday Fright Special interview with Cerina Vincent, click HERE.

Monday, December 3, 2007

BELIEVERS (2007) d. Daniel Myrick

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

What is it about a film that makes it an enjoyable experience? Is it the story, the acting or the special effects? There are a lot of examples of successful films that have only one of the prior mentioned qualities. In the case of BELIEVERS, from director Daniel Myrick of BLAIR WITCH fame, the story is the overwhelming strength behind this subtle, patient and engaging film.

BELIEVERS is the story of two EMTs played by Johnny Messner and Jon Huertas who respond to an urgent need for assistance in a remote town. They are swiftly swept up in the machinations of a Doomsday cult and its followers. The paramedics are pressured to join this cult so that they can avoid the inevitable destruction of Earth that is believed to be approaching. The Quanta Group, whose creed is a complex mix of science and religion, use a variety of tactics to seduce Messner’s and Huerta’s characters. In the end, choices are made that determine the outcome of life and death.

BELIEVERS is a very successful mix of carefully crafted storytelling and visual imagery and unhurried but relentless pacing that makes for a satisfying experience. This is a thoughtful tale that has small bursts of action, mixed with compelling photography and precise editing that creates a visceral yet contemplative film. Viewers will be emotionally engaged, but will also be forced to examine own personal beliefs as well as their perceptions of cults and religion. Myrick’s story winds it way through intentionally obvious plot twists so that the real switchbacks in the story are more rewarding. The performance of the principal actors is the only detracting quality of this fine film. While some characters have an intentionally static affect necessary to the conflict, Messner and Huertas are not consistently moving, nor do they create sympathetic resonance with the viewer. Daniel Myrick clearly has a genius for coaxing sincere performances from less experienced actors, but in this case, he is not completely able to draw forth the sword from the stone.

BELIEVERS the dvd is packed with all kinds of interesting extras like commentaries by Myrick and writer Julia Fair, interviews, “hidden camera” segments and other glimpses into the mythology of the film and the techniques of the filmmaker. After watching BELIEVERS, the extras allow you to delve deeper into the craft and the creation of this worthy addition to Daniel Myrick’s canon. For some strange reason, this film did not receive a theatrical release and is only available on dvd. It was probably too smart a film.

For an exclusive 30 minute Saturday Fright Special interview with Daniel Myrick, click HERE.

FALLEN ANGELS (2007) d. Jeff Thomas

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Just as it is hard for a waitress to deliver a tray of fifteen full-course meals without dropping something, it is hard for a director to deliver a feature film when you are trying to juggle many actors, story components and visual effects. Something will drop, and it won’t just be the other shoe. FALLEN ANGELS director/writer Jeff Thomas admits early in his commentary that he has Attention Deficit Disorder and his condition is obvious in this film.

FALLEN ANGELS is about a demon-infested derelict prison that is slated for demolition, until a ghastly discover is made. The prison has been the scene of grisly violence in the past and is now becoming the focal point of grotesque murders in the present. A team of law enforcement professionals work against time and terrible conditions to unravel the mystery of this sleepy rural town and the secrets it holds.

Beyond having a topic that will interest most horror fans, the immediate draw of this film is its huge cast of film “icons”. Among the luminaries, there is Kevin McCarthy, Reggie Bannister, Martin Kove, Ruth Buzzi, Michael Berryman, Kane Hodder, Christopher Knight and Adrianne Curry, all of which have very small roles in this film. It is only screen veterans Bill Mosely, Michael Dorn and “that guy” legends Joel Polis, Paul Linke, and Daniel Zacapa that have “sizeable” roles behind rookies Michael Kaliski and Farah White, who are truly the leads. Juggling such an unwieldy cast and the accompanying story built around such a large number of actors has its benefits and its drawbacks. Seeing such an intriguing list of celebrities will probably get viewers to rent or buy this film. Some of the performances, most notably Kevin McCarthy and Ruth Buzzi, are engrossing and add much needed support to FALLEN ANGELS. However, the hyperactive bouncing between characters and their story lines might be soothing to the director/writer and other ADHD persons, but most people will find the result jarring and hard to follow. Kaliski and White make good efforts at sincere performances, but their inexperience is evident, especially when they share scenes with the venerable McCarthy and Buzzi. Casting a film in such a way, that it creates a kind of “Hollywood Squares” effect usually does not work in the end.

The filming techniques, setting and lighting of this film is just as inconsistently successful. Any film set in a labyrinthine, leviathan of a building can potentially be a benefit, but in addition to interesting external architecture, the internal shots have to be lit well enough to see what is happening. That does not always happen. Some scenes are atmospherically illuminated with ominous reds or moody blues, but most of the time, the lighting is a mix of ponderous blacks and murky grays, so that the end product is often, “what did I just see?” Add to the troubled lighting are death scenes that are shot too close and are a mix of rapidly edited sequences depending on Fulci-esque blood baths, making the impact even more disconcerting. The outcome is unfortunate because this film has its heart in the right place.

At no time does FALLEN ANGELS descend into the abyss of the “horror-action” flick as too many movies do today. Despite some trite lines and exchanges at times, there is actually some occasional substantive dialogue and the underlying themes of the story, while well-trodden, are still effective and worthy. Even though the scares aren’t terribly scary, some of the story imagery can be entertaining, as is the atmosphere of the some of the set pieces. This film uses “old-school” special effects techniques rather than CGI, which lends a degree of charm. Polychrome Pictures touts itself as an “independent” and the old-style effects makes this film feel very “independent”, but in the end, that is a good thing. This film will probably appeal to a majority of younger, modern horror fans that are either unfamiliar or unimpressed with the work of directors of the past like Mario Bava, Dario Argento, William Castle and even John Carpenter. To the older eye, this film had potential that was unrealized and promise that did not fully bear fruit.

Included on the dvd is a small but interesting “extras” menu that has a segment with short “interviews” and/or “comments” by most of the cast. There is also “special effects” section where much of the “how to” of the masks and puppetry are explained. Finally, there is an audio commentary with director/writer Jeff Thomas and two other crew members. All of the extras add a layer of interest to the dvd that make the overall experience of watching FALLEN ANGELS entertaining, if not fully satisfying.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

BLACK ROSES (1988) d. John Fasano

Reviewed by Simon Oakland

Even if you've never seen BLACK ROSES before, if you're old enough to have lived through the '80s you'd almost certainly know of it as "that video at the rental store with the 3-D packaging". I personally was never suckered in by the gimmick, as back in the day I loathed 80s pop culture in general and heavy metal specifically. It was plain as day to me that BLACK ROSES just wasn't going to be my cup of tea. Yet flash forward nearly 20 years and somehow through the cosmic power of nostalgia (or possibly the power of brain damage and the onset of dementia) I have learned to take this kind of stuff with a grain of salt and have even gone so far as to now enjoy some of the cheesy, camp value inherent in the era and it's music. The same, however, cannot be said of my fellow compatriots here at Saturday Fright Special. Seeing as how I was the only one in our group that "got" the majesty and splendor of the über-masterpiece that was ROCK 'N' ROLL NIGHTMARE (starring rock god Jon-Mikl Thor), it was only fitting that I should be the one to review this, director John Fasano's follow up hair metal feature, now available on DVD courtesy of Synapse Films and Ryko distribution.

In the town of Mill Basin, parents are up in arms over the upcoming series of concerts to be performed by the popular Heavy Metal band Black Roses, who strangely have never appeared in public before. Why is it that they have chosen Mill Basin, a quiet little hamlet, of all places to be the starting point of their worldwide tour? Is it just to fine tune their performance as they claim? Or is their agenda more insidious in nature?

Well.. Yeah! No real surprise there. Nor is it any surprise that Synapse has done wonders with BLACK ROSES, either. I'm not the kind of guy that would buy every DVD they release, but whenever I get wind that Synapse has acquired the rights to a film I love, I can sleep well in the knowledge that it's in the right hands. No, what surprised me is that unlike ROCK 'N' ROLL NIGHTMARE, this actually looks and feels like something that could've gotten theatrical distribution at one time. Bigger budget, bigger cast, less excessive van filler... the silly, fake looking, animatronic hand puppet demons are still here, but at least they're not so shoddy as to look like people are fighting against Halloween masks on coat racks and Play-Doh ninja stars. Plus, BLACK ROSES features an early role by the guy who played Big Pussy on THE SOPRANOS. How could you go possibly go wrong with this purchase?

Definite keeper.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

THE NUDE VAMPIRE (1969) d. Jean Rollin

Reviewed by Simon Oakland

Self proclaimed sleaze merchants The Salvation Group (probably best known in the U.S. for their "Redemption" line of videos and for featuring modern-day models in S&M lesbian vampire garb as misleading cover art) have switched distributors from Image to Ryko and have just released the latest in their long line of classic Jean Rollin titles: THE NUDE VAMPIRE, his second feature film. Like all of his movies, THE NUDE VAMPIRE relies heavily upon atmosphere and rather bizarre erotic imagery. Plotting is secondary, so much so that by the end of the 88 minute runtime I had such difficulty remembering exactly what it was all about that I had to consult the back of the box in order to write this review. Now, you could take that as a slight against Rollin's work, but in fact I can't help but really enjoy his stuff, even if at times it makes me fall asleep. (Well, Monsieur Rollin, when you overload your films with dreamlike imagery what the heck do you expect to happen?)

From the back of the box: "THE NUDE VAMPIRE is centered on a doctor's obsessive desire to find immortality by replicating the blood of a female vampire he is holding captive."

Couldn't have said it better myself. Actually I couldn't have said it at all! Is that what was happening? Dear lord. I guess I was too distracted by all of the gyrating topless chicks to notice, but in all honesty, as long as you have that and a keen sense of mis-en-scene, who really cares about plot? Talk about eye candy! Hoot!

Image-wise, this release looks great...if you're viewing it on a standard definition television. If you're one of the lucky souls who own HD (I'm not) then you're bound to be disappointed as the picture looks a bit soft and lacking in fine detail on my computer monitor. It's also apparent from the lack of an anamorphic transfer that this is merely a port over from a region 2 release several years old. THE NUDE VAMPIRE is up to DVD standards circa 1999, but definitely not for 2007. The original French soundtrack is also strangely MIA from this package.

Overall, do I recommend this release? It depends. If you've seen Jean Rollin before then you know what to expect. If you haven't, then I have a word of advice: Don't go into THE NUDE VAMPIRE expecting to be as frightened or as creeped out as you might be from any other horror movie. Despite it's dark subject matter it's very much an "art" film, more in tune with the work of Luis Buñuel than Dario Argento. But that said, this DVD could be better, but it could also be much worse.

Purists among you who have all region players will probably want to seek out the PAL release which includes the original French dialogue. Everyone else will have to settle with what we see here and, sadly, I'm guessing that it will be a long time coming before we see a substantial upgrade over this domestically.