Sunday, August 24, 2008

THE MANEATER SERIES COLLECTION Volume 2 (2008) dist. Genius Products

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

There was once a time when “killer animal” movies thundered across the cinematic frontier like the Plains buffalo. During the 1960s and 1970s, nearly every genus of the animal kingdom, with the possible exception of sponges, was made out to be maneaters, sometimes even potential challengers for the Dominion of Earth. “Mankiller” films vied with “disaster” flicks for supremacy at the box office during those two decades, but when “political correctness” and the need for a “kinder, gentler nation” took hold of our country in the 1980s and 1990s, the “deadly beast” movie fell somewhat out of vogue. However, like any good predator, it lurked in the shadows waiting for its chance to pounce on its prey. Now that we are a more bloodthirsty people again, voracious creatures are once more tearing people limb from limb and splattering the Silver and Small Screens with arterial spray. THE MANEATER SERIES COLLECTION Volume 2 is a trilogy of “bad beastie” flicks, each from a different class of the animal kingdom. There is a ravenous reptile, a murderous mollusk and a malevolent mammal spreading stamping ruin and running amok through mankind’s’ efforts to get in their way as much as possible.

CROC (2007) d. Stewart Raffill

CROC is the story of Jack McQuade, the down-on-his-luck owner of an animal farm/zoo in Thailand. Jack is struggling with tax agents, creditors, bill collectors and the vicious Konsong Brothers, corrupt builder/developers who will stop at nothing to take away his enterprise for their own greedy land schemes. Adding to Jack’s problem is the sudden arrival of an enormous, man-eating crocodile, responsible for many deaths on Thai beaches and in Thai lagoons. Jack, his nephew Theo and his sister Allison are forced to team up with an Animal Welfare agent named Evelyn and a one-legged crocodile hunter named Hawkins. Jack, Evelyn and Hawkins must find and kill this malicious monster before anyone else is dragged off to his larder to become a snack.

CROC has a lot going for it. It is a well shot film that blends some spectacular Thai scenery and settings, a cosmopolitan cast and extras and a nice mix of real crocodile footage, some silly but appealing CGI croc animation and some reasonably good croc props and puppets to create some very attractive visual sequences and imagery. It also doesn’t hurt that the movie is simply dripping with beautiful Thai actresses, most notably Sherry Phungprasert who plays Evelyn. If you have a fondness for Asian subcontinent lovelies, CROC is a feast for the eyes, and with some moments of richly textured Thai culture and even more impressive Thai coastal exteriors, this is a very pretty film. When coupled with the generic bit still appealing orchestral score, CROC feels like the kind of TV Movie I would have sat down to watch on a Saturday night 30 or 35 years ago. From a purely visual standpoint, CROC is the best of the Maneater Series so far.

The story is very predictable and derivative at times. Jack’s character is a young, handsome blend of Chief Brody and Hooper from JAWS, while the Hawkins character is a tattooed, gravelly voiced but also more caring version of Quint. Despite these obvious conventions and the even more evident direction of “the croc must die” search & destroy main concept, there is some good tension between the Konsong brothers and the McQuade clan and allies, which helps to make CROC a little more than just a JAWS retelling. There is also a smattering of romance liberally but thoughtfully layered over the story involving the McQuade boys, but it does not hijack the action or divert story momentum. If anything, the romance seems to be a vehicle for showcasing the beautiful Thai ladies of CROC, and for that let us be glad. What is even more heavily sprinkled throughout the plot is gory croc killing galore. Whether its swimmers, beach-goers, bad-tempered brats or wealthy pool loungers, this croc has an insatiable appetite and as the story progresses the croc-spawned carnage gets more intense. What was a surprise was the climactic battle with the reptilian villain was more dramatic rather than an action-based, but that felt more refreshing than disappointing and helped CROC seem more like its 1960s and 1970s cousins instead of taking a page from today’s poor fare.

CROC’s main weaknesses stem from weak acting. Michael Madsen is the only veteran on the cast, and while he knows what he is doing and delivers his lines with timing and panache, his grunty growls and sneering snarls are sometimes a little hard to hear. The rest of the cast seemed to be chosen for looks over experience or talent and it showed at times. Peter Tuinstra (Jack McQuade) and his female lead Sherry Phungprasert (Evelyn Namawong) gave sincere performances but their craft still needs a lot of honing. Given time, they may be able to match their impressive looks with equally impressive acting talents, but for now they both come across as rookies. Not so with the actors who played the Konsong brothers. Both may be equally inexperienced, but they are also inept and their “performances” quickly took the viewer right out of the fiction and reminded you that this is a movie.

Being what it is, a TV Movie made by Sci-Fi for their network and that of RHI-TV, this production was going to be short on cash, so well-known actors and actresses would be a luxury no one could afford. At least the makers of CROC knew enough to cover that lack with gruesome killings in the jaws of a rapacious reptile and lovely Thai scenery, both wild and womanly. In the end, it was the right decision, for while not the best film I have ever seen, CROC was fun, over-the-top when it needed to be, occasionally dramatic and suspenseful and worth the 90 minutes I spent watching it.

EYE OF THE BEAST (2007) d. Gary Yates

EYE OF THE BEAST is the story of a small, Canadian fishing village named “Fell’s Island” and the horror that lurks beneath the surface of the lake. Marine Biologist Dan Leland, played by James Van Der Beek, is sent to Fell’s Island to determine why the fishing stocks are in such steep decline. Before long, Dan teams up with local fisheries officer Katrina Tomas, played by Alexandra Castillo, and as people start to disappear, body parts are found and boats are broken into matchsticks, the legend of Fell’s Island appears to be true.

Taken as just a drama, EYE OF THE BEAST has a story with some surprisingly complex conflicts intertwined into its monster movie premise. There is strife between the white local fishermen and their Indian counterparts. In addition, Dan Leland’s character becomes the focus of hostility as he is viewed as a potential threat to the deteriorating fishing industry. Dan is at odds with the reputation-conscious heads of his Science Department NORA, who are not interested in “tales about sea monsters”. Finally, Officer Katrina Tomas has her own demons buried deep within her memory which come forth even as her affection for Dan grows. All of these conflicts make the story a great deal more interesting than one would have expected from a low-budget “giant squid movie”. However, just like the monster flicks of old, EYE OF THE BEAST is more about the characters than it is about the monster and the archetypes created, some very similar to the characters in JAWS, are the real focus of the film. Another wise choice the film makers exercised was to insure that citizens either disappeared at the hand of the monster and/or we got to see it in action every now and then, keeping the premise upper most in the viewers’ minds. It is at the end of the film during the climactic battle with The Beast that mistakes are made.

Whether it was a function of a lack of funds or poor film-making skills or subscribing to the misbegotten philosophies of modern camerawork/editing or all the above, what should have been the pinnacle of the film was incomprehensible. All the final battle scenes were shot too dark, too close, were shot on the back of a leaping kangaroo and were edited too rapidly. The argument might be made that since the budget was low and special effects had to be used “judiciously”, the only way to make the battle scene work was to “cover up” the inherent visual weaknesses. If that is the case, I present Exhibit A: THE BERMUDA DEPTHS (1978). I can’t imagine that TV movie had much more of a budget than EYE OF THE BEAST, and yet the battles with the giant turtle in that film were easily seen. Hell, all of that film was easily perceived, because people still knew how to shoot scenes back in the late 1970s. It may also be said that part of the experience of watching a giant monster movie, or any horror film of yore on an old TV in the 1960s was the reality that the film was going to look like crap. That may be so, but it doesn’t have to be that way now. There is no reason that I had to replay the final battle of EYE OF THE BEAST five times to get a sense of some of what was happening. With today’s technology, it should have been a slam dunk.

GRIZZLY RAGE (2007) d. David DeCouteau

GRIZZLY RAGE is the story of recent high school graduates Wes, Lauren, Ritch and Sean, who decide to take a vacation “out in the wild” and joyride their way up to Saranac Grotto, which they break into since it is a “no trespassing” area. Tearing around the trails in their SUV at high speed, the foursome smashes up their vehicle while simultaneously running over a grizzly bear cub. Stranded and at the mercy of an angry grizzly mama bear, the youngsters must cope with all the fury of nature if they are to survive.

Don’t be fooled by the title or the premise of this film, it doesn’t even remotely live up to its potential. In fact, while I have enjoyed most of the Maneater Series so far on one level or another, this turkey unseated IN THE SPIDER’S WEB as the lead weight in the pond of these films. At least IN THE SPIDER’S WEB had a semi-coherent story and it looked good. GRIZZLY RAGE had very few strong points. The general theme of this film is sound and had the rest of the writing been up to par, GRIZZLY RAGE could have been as enjoyable as the recently released GRIZZLY PARK. The theme of GRIZZLY RAGE seemed to be that self-absorbed, vain and wild-child kids, stripped of their parents’ affluence, their technological toys and their false bravado, are no match for the power of the wilderness. On the surface, that seems like a great idea for a film. The problem is that the character concepts were flawed from the start. Asinine youths with no sense of respect or interest in anything but “fun”, roaring around in their extreme-sports vehicle may appeal to a small segment of the viewing population, but their shenanigans wore thin very quickly and before long they became unsympathetic characters who routinely did harm to themselves. As has been said before, making your characters jerks simply to see them drop like ducks in a shooting gallery doesn’t work. Even if the point of this film was to show what morons these kids were in the form of a cautionary tale, you have to build sympathetic traits in the characters before too much time passes, or the audience doesn’t relate, then they no longer care and the film becomes a pointless exercise in endurance.

Speaking of something pointless, the screenplay suffered from a series of useless subplots and long, irrelevant padded sequences. Early in the film, a subplot about the land where the kids were trespassing being a toxic waste dump seemed to be headed in a sort of CABIN FEVER direction, but that sub-story was never developed and never had any reason to exist. Even worse, three times characters ventured into a series of abandoned cabins stuffed to the wainscoting with rusted chains and other vaguely menacing contraptions. This subplot seemed to try to evoke a WRONG TURN feel, and was it a wrong turn. Nothing came of this plot addition except to lead us on a fruitless search for nothing of consequence except poorly lit sequences where nothing happened. There were three segments of the film where long stretches of time were wasted and nothing was achieved. The kids worked and worked to get their SUV running again, tried to extricate it from a pit and tried to fix its injuries. None of this moved the narrative forward. Sean’s character tried to run out of their wilderness trap only to sidestep into a needless subplot and then return to the point he started with nothing accomplished. Finally, Wes’s character climbed up and down cliffs to get better cell reception, but all to no avail. All the while nothing is happening in these story swamps and narrative bogs, there is a grizzly bear hunting them, a grizzly we see far too infrequently in the first two-thirds off the movie. By the end, the grizzly comes back with a vengeance, but he should have taken out his rage on the writers who first ignored him and then made him into more of a relentless slasher and not a force of nature. Had the grizzly been made into a brutal murdered and this flick not taken itself seriously, it could have been fun. I actually felt bad for the actors of GRIZZLY RAGE, for the morass of the story and the messes that were their characters weren’t their fault. They gave sincere efforts and their performances were given in earnest. When you don’t have much to work with as screenplays go, no performance in the universe can turn around the slip over the cliff side. Finally, the climax of GRIZZLY RAGE was so anti-climactic and thoroughly meaningless that it seemed like the film makers just threw up their hands and said “I don’t know how to end this story, let’s just end it on a sour note”. I love a good downer ending, but there has to be a reason for the depressing denouement. This just felt like people who had come to the end of their mental energy and were too spent to pick up their toys and put them back in the box, then decided to throw a tantrum and run out to the street corner. What a disaster!

In addition to the story problems, there were other troubles that plagued GRIZZLY RAGE. The camera work was inconsistent at best. In the beginning of the film, there were too many shots that were too close and too rapidly edited, making the film seem more like a music video. Even the bear was hard to see and when it was visible, the shots were too close and too stylized. For a short time, the photography improved and viewers could see the landscape, the characters and the bear, and I had hope. By the time the sun went down, problems returned with redoubled fury. In addition to it being too dark to see anything at times, which does not make a film scarier, it just makes it less comprehensible, a miserably obnoxious element was added. All through “that dark night” there was “lightning flashes” and the occasional rumble of thunder, but even that dissipated, but the foolish flashes continued. After a while, it felt like an attempt to add a strobe light so that the outdoor scenes felt more like a “rave” and we were back in the lunkheads’ world again. I have seen few visual effects that did less to add a sense of mood and did more to be simply distracting than those flashes of light. I was not in a forgiving mood by that point, but that little tidbit made me hate GRIZZLY RAGE even more deeply, but I had not reached the bottom yet. Music can sometimes soothe the heart of the savage beast, but in this case all it did was rankle. Too many soundtrack songs of the thrash or metal ballad variety were added to this pile of refuse. A title track would have been nice, but it has been thoroughly established by 50 or more years of cinema history that emotive orchestral accompaniment works best when you are setting a film in the wilderness. All the addition of the songs did was to continue to sidetrack any story momentum when any was present. The soundtrack felt like a showcase for bands and song writers and made the plot even more immaterial.

Like the rest of the Maneater Series, the extras menu of each film in this boxed set was empty. It is too bad for two out of three of these films were set in Canada, two out of three dealt with native peoples, two out of three were directed by veterans with interesting tales to tell, two out of three had actors with long or at least interesting pedigrees, all three had attractive female stars worth interviewing, so there should have been no shortage of ways to create bonus features that could have delighted a viewer and created some goodwill. Listen to me folks! Make bonus features a part of your discs or you won’t be getting thrifty consumers in this tough economy to buy your wares.

If we look at THE MANEATER SERIES COLLECTION Volume 2 from the perspective of a baseball analogy, this boxed set batted .660, which is pretty impressive. CROC is an extra bases hit, EYE OF THE BEAST is a single and GRIZZLY RAGE is a strike out. My advice when you pick up this pack is break it up. Keep CROC and EYE OF THE BEAST and trade in GRIZZLY RAGE at your local used DVD store. That way you’ll get two films worth watching and be able to put some cash toward something else you want. GRIZZLY RAGE can get flung into a wood chipper and the other films can take a rightful place on your shelf next to other films that made your smile or cheer.

Friday, August 22, 2008

THE GHOULIGANS SUPER SHOW (2008) p. Slack Pack Productions

Written by Rick Trottier

Variety shows have been a staple component of television since its inception. Some have been inspired by the daily foibles of life, others by contemporary music and others by urban life and culture. Some variety shows have been colossal successes and became icons of entertainment like Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, while others remained a little obscure, despite their positive qualities, like Bizarre with John Byner. A horror-themed variety show, that isn’t a horror-host show, and that has a monster cast isn’t a new thing but they aren’t that common either. THE GHOULIGANS SUPER SHOW is a blend of styles and themes that evokes shades of The Uncle Floyd Show and The Groovy Ghoulies and has a degree of success in doing so.

THE GHOULIGANS are a group of odd-ball monsters led by the vampire Count Farnham, a werewolf named Wolfgang, a zombie named Void and a Frankenstein’s monster named Boris. There is also a large number of secondary cast members including Krill Gill the fish monster and the Ghouligan girls Gia, Gi-Gi and Ginger, not to mention of selection of masked wrestlers, mummies, robots and other creatures. The Ghouligans seem to have a hard time scaring people and more commonly induce revulsion, dismay and incredulity from the people they meet. While spending most of their time within their creepy castle, they also haunt graveyards and monster beaches, or anyplace the fun is at.

Any backyard-based variety show produced in-house and created without the support of a studio or a powerful entertainment industry enterprise is going to be strapped for cash, short on resources and the talent pool will be limited. Keeping all of that in mind, THE GHOULIGANS has some notable strengths worth mentioning. First and foremost, the visual components of their SUPER SHOW are almost all very impressive. The segments and vignettes are all well lit, colorful and very attractive. The sets themselves are eye-catching, creative and while they are simplistic at times, fit the story concepts well. Whether it’s the monsters or the pretty girls, the costumes are also surprisingly appealing and show a lot of time and effort in their construction. Every one of the monsters has a look that is both comical and appropriately classic, and it doesn’t hurt to have the first rate eye-candy of the Ghouligan girls dolled up in some eye-catching retro-fashions. All these visual strong points add up to a show that looks the part and immediately sets you in the right mod if you are a horror-minded viewer. On the audio side, while the music may not always fit the scenes, whether it is originally composed or Soundtrack loops, the accompanying songs are well done and add a light-hearted and fun vibe to the imagery. Overall, THE GHOULIGANS has its heart in the right place and tries to create a feeling of goofiness and frolicking that seems to blend elements of Laugh-In and the live-action Filmation’s The Original Ghostbusters. If they used the “Banana-buggies” of The Banana Splits to chase each other about a scene, life would be even better for The Ghouligans.

The weaknesses of THE GHOULIGANS are clear but could possibly be ameliorated over time as the cast and crew gain more experience and hone their talents. Whether it is the acting, the writing or the timing of both writers and actors, the sketches are not terribly funny, or at least the humor produces more smirks than chortles and guffaws. The joke content is more juvenile and will appeal to a fairly narrow audience. It is nice to see a mix of sketch lengths and styles, but it seems like the jokes are a little low-brow at times, while at other times they are dependent on belittling someone or creating a fracas that doesn’t seem to really come from or go any place. There is nothing wrong with humor arising out of conflict. That kind of synergy was what made The Honeymooners work so brilliantly. If you are going to use cutting comedy though, it has to be satirical like All in the Family, or it is going to come across as snide. Weak acting is evident in the SUPER SHOW in that not all of the characters have their own stylized and unique voices that make them seem like a character. When monsters use “regular” voices, it just feels like “a guy in a monster suit”. The most convincing of the monsters is Count Farnham, even though his “costume” is the least involved. His character’s voice and demeanor is all vampire and as a result, he is in character and feels more authentic. With a little more work and practice, each of The Ghouligans could craft a smoother, slicker persona and that would add a great deal of impact to the humor of their show. A little more “variety” to the types of humor used in each sketch would also help. A mix of slapstick and tongue and cheek, cut down on the bodily-function jokes a bit, add tension and pratfalls without being mean-spirited, and the show could go far.

Another weakness that could be strengthened given time and practice is the camera work and editing. All the shots are framed properly, but they are almost all wide shots. While I am not suggesting that The Ghouligans adhere to modern filming principles, I am suggesting that a variety of shots patiently and carefully edited will make the show even more visually appealing. In addition to full-on wide screen frontal shots, add some close-ups, side angle, Dutch angle and other innovative camera angles that could be thoughtfully edited into the mix of each sketch. This could improve on some of the aspects of timing and writing so that emphasis is placed on the character who delivers the joke and emphasis is taken off of the reactions of the people around who may or may not be adding to the tone of the scene. Depending on the number of cameras available, this may mean re-shooting scenes in a variety of ways, but the time spent will be worth it. Which is better, shots that took twice the amount of time to get but made your show great or shots that kept your show from realizing its full potential?

In today’s incredibly competitive DVD market, above all it is essential to have characteristics that set your product apart from its innumerable challengers in the genre and outside as well. Having an extras menu may be expensive or costly in regards to time, but it is critical. In an economy where prices keep rising, leaving consumers to make hard choices, making buyers feel like they are getting their money’s worth is a moral imperative. Whether it is a bonus segment on the excellent costumes, interviews with cast and crew about their inspirations, “behind the scenes” gag reels or a dance track with the beauties, one or two bonus features is an advisable step. It creates a sense of connection to your viewers and is a goodwill gesture to thrifty consumers counting every penny.

THE GHOULIGANS is a TV Show with some real possibilities and it has come a long way since I first saw one of their DVDs in the fall of 2006. With a little more polish and attention to the finer points of writing, acting and editing, this band of wacky monsters could really tickle people’s funny bones and find a place in their hearts, just as The Uncle Floyd Show once did. Here’s hoping that Count Farnham and the gang are able to keep the fire’s burning and turn up the intensity on their creativity blow torch.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

THE PASSION OF THE MAO (2006) d. Lee Feigon

Written by Rick Trottier

Creating any type of historical film documentary poses many problems, not the least of which is how to present the subject matter. Taking the topic seriously is important, but it can lead to being ponderous, preachy and perilously dull. Over dramatizing the content can compromise the feeling of authenticity and lead to the viewer not taking you seriously. Too much humor can be seen as trivializing the information and then your film is regarded as irrelevant. Blending all these tonalities can make your documentary eclectic, but it can also lead to inconsistency, and it is that problem that keeps THE PASSION OF THE MAO from being as strong a film as it could have been.

THE PASSION OF THE MAO is the story of Chinese Communist leader and icon Mao Zedong and his rise to prominence through the early and middle stretches of the 20th Century. Working with mixed media of old film clips, a variety of animation techniques and interviewed intellectuals, as well as having a narrator and some stylized American folk and minstrel tunes, THE PASSION OF THE MAO charts Mao Zedong’s life in a chronological manner, starting with his humble beginnings at the Turn of the Century and tracing his life up to his death in 1976. All along this time line, Mao’s experiences with and influence on Communism are carefully depicted, as is the course of Chinese culture and its economy. All this is done with a mix of light-hearted humor, serious intellectual effort and a clear leftist leaning when it comes to political philosophy.

THE PASSION OF THE MAO has some clear strengths. In a time when American knowledge of and interest in Communist history has waned, even as the Cold War came to an end and has retreated into the mists of the past, Lee Feigon’s film is a gentle reminder of the powerful issues that dominated American newspapers, magazines and television broadcasts from 1945 to 1990. While China has never receded from being a major part of headlines, American understanding of or concern for China’s communist past has declined as such knowledge disappeared from 1o second sound bites. For those who know little of Mao’s history or the events that brought Communism to China, this will serve as a simple primer on the subject. The historical content of THE PASSION OF THE MAO is presented in a direct, clean and amiable manner. It does not dwell on deeper cause and effect relationships or pursue tangential topics as more densely woven documentaries generally do. However, for those who have a deeper understanding of the subject, this film may seem inconsequential, biased, blasphemous or ludicrous. Despite an attempt to humanize the Cult of Mao with some very crass, juvenile, sexually-based and even potty-style humor, mostly in the first half of the film but at times throughout, it is obvious where Mr. Feigon’s feelings about Mao fall. In THE PASSION OF THE MAO, Mao is portrayed as a flawed leader, but also as a champion of the true People’s Movement and his positive impact on the economy and culture of China is lionized. To aid Mr. Feigon in his task, he enlists a plethora of Chinese expatriate intelligentsia to illustrate that Mao does not deserve to be categorized as a monster with the likes of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin. While that may be the case and Mao’s legacy is more complex than most Americans have been made aware by our own propaganda machinery, it is Lee Feigon’s blending of tone that does his cause more harm than good.

Just as Julie Taymor’s FRIDA (2002) blended a variety of media to present a fascinating picture of the artist Frida Kahlo, Lee Feigon’s mix of media presentation helped to make his imagery of Mao Zedong livelier, irreverent and a bit more relevant to younger audiences today. For those not initiated in the cult of old black & white film clips or stylized Communist propaganda shorts, such fare may seem hokey to the young, and by mixing in a variety of animation techniques with jocular accompanying music, Lee Feigon made the subject of Maoist Communism less dry and tiresome. However, by blending the tone of this film, his overall direction is a little unclear at first when he seemed to be tearing down the façade of the Cult of Mao. After a fusillade of testimonial to Mao’s beneficial impact has been given and a feature film has run its course, praising Mao effusively over the last half, the end result is the feeling of being a little misled. In addition, to juxtapose bodily-function humor with serious commentary be Chinese-born college professors seems very clumsy and possibly a little disrespectful. I know that if I saw my thoughtful remarks placed beside animated images of Mao’s constipation problems, I might feel like my ideas hadn’t been taken earnestly. Adding well-informed “talking heads” lends an air of legitimacy to your historical content, but the dvd box cover tag line of “Who knew that Communism could be so funny” doesn’t jive with the overall character of this movie. It isn’t really that funny, nor do I think it really every wanted to be. Lee Feigon seems very sincere in his attempt to break through decades-old misconceptions about China and Mao, but to try to do this with simplistic animation, feces jokes and references to Mao’s sexual appetites just didn’t seem to work completely.

It was also not fully clear who Lee Feigon’s audience was intended to be. Viewers who are knowledgeable on the subject of Communist history and China will likely see THE PASSION OF THE MAO as being inconsequential. Older viewers, whose opinions and memories of Red China have crystallized, are unlikely to be swayed by Mr. Feigon’s polemics. Younger viewers may be attracted to Lee Feigon’s populist philosophies, although it seems as if many of today’s young people are more strongly in the camp of conservative, right-wing politics than ever. These same young people may also see the subject matter of Chinese Communism as passé and unconnected to the issues they champion. If Lee Feigon just made a film about a man and a subject that he is passionate about, so be it and give the man credit for being innovative and producing a motion picture that has a story to tell. If he was trying to be a revisionist historian and restructure American opinions about the past and Mao, he may have his work cut out for him. However, as the Red Chinese leadership preached, “nothing wrong with a little hard work now, is there?”

THE PASSION OF MAO has a rather thin extras menu. In addition to a series of previews from Indie Pictures, there is a text-based biography/filmography of the cast and crew and that is it. This may seem like nit-picking, but a liner notes booklet is a better way to read about people and the film. I much prefer to curl up with a book or booklet, rather than read from a TV screen. A “behind the scenes” featurette about the animation techniques used, accompanied by a liner notes booklet dealing with the subject matter of the “cast & crew” filmography would have been the better way to go.

Lee Feigon deserves praise for tackling a subject that just isn’t hip anymore, despite the fact that China has been in the news more than ever due to food contamination scares, resource depletion, its Tibet policies and the Beijing Olympiad. THE PASSION OF THE MAO is a good film for those who could use some “brushing up” on their 20th Century Chinese history. If you go into this expecting a Yale University study on Chinese Communism or a Ken Burns film, you’ll be disappointed. Don’t look for it to be as humorous as it would like to be regarded as being. Be charitable, turn the highest analytical centers of your mind to “low power output” and enjoy the imagery mixed with some facts you may have forgotten. It is a nice step back to a time when the words Quemoy and Matsu were terms that almost every American knew or the name Chou En-Lai was a moniker we all were familiar with. Spreading that knowledge around again, even if it is done in a light-hearted manner isn’t a bad thing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

PSYCHO KICKBOXER (1997) d. David Haycox & Mardy South “plus a second feature: CANVAS OF BLOOD (1997)”

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Double features at the cinema and at the drive-in, double features on dvd or on videocassette, or the old Ace Double science fiction books I used to devour as a youngster, whenever I see the words double feature my pulse quickens. The idea of getting two of anything for a reduced price or even “two for one” is an American Icon of Consumerism. What it took me a long time to learn, especially after the heady days of two short but good Ace sci-fi stories packaged in paperback form, is that a double feature in film form is not always a good thing; for example, PSYCHO KICKBOXER and CANVAS OF BLOOD. It is hard to find two more different films brought together on a double bill, but they have one thing in common. They are both bad movies that might find their audience and bring a smile to someone’s face that is looking for a specific “bad-movie” experience.

PSYCHO KICKBOXER is the story of Alex Hunter, the son of the Police Chief Alan Hunter, a kickboxing champion, and a nice young man who has just proposed to his sweetheart Julia. Unfortunately Alex’s dad is trying to bring evidence against Mr. Benjamin Hawthorne, the local crime boss who has the Chief’s deputy Harry O’Reilly in his pocket. Chief Hunter is sold out, brutally murdered and Julia is raped and murdered by Hawthorne’s thug “Hawk”, all while Alex is forced to watch. Alex is left for dead and then rescued by Joshua, a former soldier with an axe to grind against Hawthorne. Joshua trains Alex to be as badass a fighter on the streets as he was in the ring and before long, Dark Angel is born, a martial arts vigilante who takes down all manner of street trash, miscreants and evildoers. As Alex climbs the slimy stairway of sleaze to get to Hawthorne, his path crosses that of Cassie Wells, a local reporter who relinquishes her tendency towards yellow journalism to aid Alex in his quest. Finally, Alex has a reckoning with those who tore apart his life, and all of his fighting skills are needed to save himself and those around him.

Despite its multitude of grave weaknesses, there are a couple of things to like about PSYCHO KICKBOXER. When it goes all-out for over-the-top violence and ludicrous gore, there is a sick charm about this film, especially when the ridiculous music loop of “the hero’s theme” cranks up. It is brings to mind Bernie Casey’s line in I’M GOING TO GIT YOU SUCKA, “Every hero has to have theme music”. In addition, despite its 1997 release, between the pastel-colored neon lights that become more pronounced as the film goes on and the big hair of the female “actresses”, I felt like I had sidestepped the time stream and landed in the late 1980s. Not that such a field trip is totally a good thing, but I always like the feel of being swept back to the past. There are some who might find PSYCHO KICKBOXER appealing for the fact that it stars World Kickboxing Champion Curtis Bush and his fighting and training skills are regularly on display. Just as many fighting-film enthusiasts look back wistfully to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s BLOODSPORT (1988) and KICKBOXER (1989), both of which infinitely superior to PSYCHO KICKBOXER, there are some who will probably enjoy the fisticuffs and footicuffs of this feature film. It is at this point that all strengths of the movie end and the mountain of weaknesses must be ascended.

Let us start with the story, which is terribly derivative at best. There is the general concept of “revenge against the scum who killed my family”, which has been used in thousands of police, secret agent and superhero films, most notably the origins of “Batman”. Graft to that idea the aged “master and pupil” plot device, very much akin to Rocky Balboa and Mickey Goldmill from ROCKY or Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi from KARATE KID and you’ve got another oft-used story mechanism that is none the worse for wear. Another insertion to this tired story hybrid would be the masked martial arts vigilante that Sho Kosugi popularized in his NINJA films of the 1980s, and you get the sense that the makers of PSYCHO KICKBOXER had been impressed with many of the flicks they had seen in earlier years. Had the narrative of PSYCHO KICKBOXER been horribly derivative but taut and intense, this movie may have been passable, but there was so much FILLER in this film that I was simply astounded. There were so many drawn-out and pointless dialogue scenes and even the fight scenes became a little routine. To make matters worse, this film was so poorly edited and the structure was so haphazard that I began to wonder if this experience would ever end. The tone of the movie swerved erratically between being outlandish and bordering on humorous and then took itself deadly serious. That kind of failing in a weak film is usually fatal. Going the wacky route and with its tongue firmly in its cheek would have worked best, for I wanted to see more of what the box cover showed, a kickboxer booting people’s heads off! Even the sight of someone’s head being run over by an enraged motorist and the addition of the lovely Kim Reynolds in the role of Cassie Wells was not enough to distract my cruelly analytical thinking skills.

The story was not the only problem. Beyond a bad script, any viewer of PSYCHO KICKBOXER will be treated to the “double feature” of bad acting and bad camera work. When the wheel-chair bound Joshua Collins played by Rod Suitor is your most engaging performer, you’ve got a problem on your hands. Most of the cast played it straight and looked wooden or forced like Curtis Bush who played Alex Hunter or Rick Clark who played Private Eye Jack Cook. Too often there was miserably overdone performances by “actors” like Tom Story who played Benjamin Hawthorne. By the film’s end, I had pulled muscles in my face and neck from grimacing far too often, but that was nothing to compare with the eye strain I suffered from the appalling camera work. PSYCHO KICKBOXER was made in the days before the shakey-cam plague descended upon the film universe, and yet here we see too many close-ups that were far too close, poorly utilized hand-held cameras and atrocious framing. I am not a specialist in filming, but I work with some professionally trained men and have learned a thing or two. When I am seeing live bodies without heads and people’s backs without good reason, someone’s photographic skills are clearly questionable. Most of the sets were just places around town that the film makers found and used because they were inexpensive. Only a couple of nicely shot beach scenes and the “nightclub” set of the final act looked really engaging. Otherwise, there was a deeply pedestrian feel to PSYCHO KICKBOXER, the title character of which was never really a psycho. If he had been a psycho, I would have probably enjoyed this film a lot more.

CANVAS OF BLOOD (1997) d. Joel Denning

CANVAS OF BLOOD is the story of Professor Paul Hanover and his college-age daughter Julia. Julia is deeply involved in preparation for a violin recital/competition when she learns of a cyst on her hand. At this point she becomes mixed up with coke-snorting, drink-slugging, woman-chasing Dr. Miles Houston, who horrifically botches her simple surgery and covers himself for litigation with lies supported by the hospital staff he has bribed with either cash or sex. Enter injury lawyer Flanders Davenport, who promises the Hanovers he’ll get them restitution, but Dr. Houston and Mr. Davenport already have a past of arranging legal outcomes that are financially of benefit, and the deal becomes sweeter when Judge R. Bean, Davenport’s father-in-law, presides over the case. Suffice it to say, the case goes against the Hanovers, and Julia’s emotional state declines even more. Professor Hanover, an ex-Vietnam vet of the Special Forces variety takes it upon himself to exact revenge and does so in a manner that baffles the police and provides the punishment due such corrupt officials.

CANVAS OF BLOOD must have been a very small-time project because most of the cast is also the crew even when you get down to boom microphones, grips, music arrangement, composition and supervision, and every other corner of the production universe. Despite its small and independent nature, there are times when CANVAS OF BLOOD felt like it was trying to be more, but at other times it felt like a close relative of 70s exploitation cinema. The patient, often slow pace to the first two-thirds of the movie as it tried to build itself up to be the “revenge film” it was trying to become was clearly an attempt to be a more serious-minded motion picture. On the flip side, the sleazy actions of the primary villains coupled with the insertions of naked or nearly naked women spliced in simply to intensify the titillation factor felt very much like exploitation cinema of bygone years. When this flick finally got the retribution sequences, it definitely recalled one of the little known revenge classics of the 1980s, NAKED VENGEANCE (1985), with its creative methods of dispatching the villains. The most problematic elements was that the makers of CANVAS OF BLOOD seem to have watched the “King of Filler” cinematic debacle, ROCK & ROLL NIGHTMARE, and learned a lesson that crippled what was a venture with some merit, for this is clearly the better flick in this double feature. When making a film, even if you have a good concept and some good plot devices, if you don’t have a script that gets you to feature length, then you need to rewrite the script and not pad it out to feature length using gobs of filler. Aside from the fact that CANVAS OF BLOOD had a story told in a series of scenes that felt more like vignettes stitched together with some very stretchy yarn, there were immensely long holds on establishing shots, long scenes with some trite and pointless dialogue and even longer scenes that just didn’t make the movie better, like a puking scene, a couple of striptease scenes (despite the fact the girls were hot), MANY walk or drive up to exterior setting scenes and some PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) scenes. While most of these were meant to establish mood or emotional response, extending a scene just to get your film to a nearly 90 minute run time doesn’t make it stronger, it makes it slower and less engaging.

On a positive note, CANVAS OF BLOOD did try to be creative with its camera work. There were moments of stylized slow-motion, multiple or overlaid imagery, solarized effects, interesting camera angles and some EFFECTIVELY used hand-held camera shots. Not all of this worked perfectly, especially when it was used to elongate a scene, but the effort and sincerity was there. In addition, the film makers found some very attractive exterior sets with dynamic architecture in and around the City of Baltimore and its environs. Forceful exterior photography always helps to give a film an air of legitimacy, even when it is a low-budget production. The score and incidental music was surprisingly creative and effective, although not all of it worked either. Still, there were scenes where I found myself impressed with the blend of sights and sounds. Finally, while not Oscar-caliber, the performances of the principal cast members like Lance Irwin and Jennifer Hutt were strong enough to take this film out of the realm of abysmal and put it in the category of “good idea and effort, but needs more polish”. In the end, this film had some potential and was clearly a very early project for some people who have gone on to do other work. The combination of revenge film bloodiness at the end and some exploitation skin mixed in for good measure here and there may be enough to make this an enjoyable experience for those brave enough to try, but it will be a close shave.

PSYCHO KICKBOXER/CANVAS OF BLOOD has a very thin set of extras in the bonus features menu and that is probably for a pair of reasons. First, since this is a double feature, the obvious “bonus” is having two movies instead of just one. Second, since both films were made in 1997 and were low-budget to begin with, dvd extras were probably not high on the priority list. In addition to a plethora of Shock-O-Rama trailers and PopCinema trailers there are a series of three Curtis Bush TV News spots, each about 1 ½ minutes in length. For the Curtis Bush fan, these news spots will probably be a delightful find. One of the saddest realities of the low-budget film world is that once a few years pass and the cast and crew of such films slip into obscurity, they become exceedingly hard to find and putting together extras when sources are a challenge becomes a bigger and more costly project than the original film.

When I saw double features as a youngster at the drive-in or at the theater, unless it was a re-releasing of more classic fare, it didn’t take long for me to realize that there was a reason that the double feature had been arranged. While neither PSYCHO KICKBOXER nor CANVAS OF BLOOD were superior viewing experiences, I also didn’t hate either film and was able to laugh or cheer on rare occasions. The more I consider it, the more this was just like quite a few drive-in experiences and the only difference was that then; I was young, inexperienced and expected little. Now as a jaded and cynical old man, I expect too much more often than I should and could probably have been a little more charitable. Had I gulped down a few beers before watching, I might have been a bit kinder, but then again, alcohol puts me to sleep nowadays and I might not have been able to make it through both films or my review could have turned out incoherent. Which would have been worse I wonder?

Monday, August 18, 2008

DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS Volume 2 (2008) r. Navarre/BCI Eclipse

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Mega-Movie multi-disc packs can be a blessing or a curse. If a large number of films are crammed onto a disc that means the compression levels are high and the quality of the visuals could be compromised. In addition, the releasing company may have used a poor source or created a bad print transfer, thus further diminishing the viewing experience. Sound levels could be inconsistent and the authoring of menus could be uninspired. Fortunately, most of these problems do not afflict BCI Eclipse’s DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS Volume 2: Eight Movie Collection and as a result, this 8-disc pack is a blessing. Not only do most of the films look as good as they can and sound pretty good too, there is an eclectic mix of flicks in this pack that spans nearly 20 years of cinema history. There is a splendid mix of sub-genres within this “horror film” canon and there are celebrities of all types in this collection. There are well-known stars at the end of their careers, equally luminescent actors just starting out, classic “that guys” and “that girls” at the peak of their character-actor ascendancy and little known faces or nobodies who got their brief fling with fame. DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS Volume 2 takes you through a series of movies that may or may not have been “Drive-In Classics”, but most have that drive-in feel, others recall flicks you would have seen on late night or Saturday afternoon horror-host shows, and some feel like they were movies you saw at the $2 second run theater down the street when you were a teen. The aura of nostalgia is thick in this pack, which is a very good thing and there are some films that are very worthwhile in their own unique ways, so let’s begin the journey.

On disc 1A, we start with THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN (1963), which is a re-edited version of THE MADMEN OF MANDORAS (1963) on disc 1B. Starring Walter Stocker, Audrey Caire and Carlos Rivas, THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN is the story of a group of Nazis who escape Berlin in the final days of the Third Reich. Fleeing to a Latin American island nation called “Mandoras” with Hitler’s living head, these megalomaniacs try to rid the world of “undesirables” by stopping production of an antidote to a deadly nerve gas they wish to use to help restore The Reich and The Fuhrer. THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN is an inferior film to THE MADMEN OF MANDORAS for several reasons. Even though it says “1963” as its release date, THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN is a television film release that actually dates from the very late 1960s. The extra footage added of “Vic, Toni and the CID” is clearly from a date after 1963 due to the fashions and hairstyles evident. The new footage doesn’t add anything to the original story to make it more suspenseful, it just makes it choppier. The original concept of THE MADMEN OF MANDORAS is ingenious and fun and while the performances of the principal actors was usually pretty weak and more often overly melodramatic, it gives this film a campy feel that is quintessentially “drive-in” or “horror-host”. While more a “spy film” than a horror/sci-fi movie, there is just enough suspense and science fiction medical imagination to blend the genres and while the story winds in some illogical and improbable directions, it is an entertaining film in a mindless but delightfully warped way. The cheap interior and exterior sets in and around the hills of Los Angeles were effectively used to create a “Latin American Island” feel, while most of the actors and actresses were attractive or well cast older people who fit their roles quite well. Stick with THE MADMEN OF MANDORAS and skip the feature film THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN, but don’t skip that side of the disc completely. On either side of Disc 1 are some of the most enjoyable extras. Disc 1A THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN has four trailers; SECRET FILE HOLLYWOOD, DANGEROUS CHARTER, CATALINA CAPER and LITTLE LAURA & BIG JAKE. Disc 1B THE MADMEN OF MANDORAS has an even richer haul. It’s “drive-in” inspired menu leads to an authentic “Welcome Back to the Drive-In” spot, 1959 “rocket ship” and a “keystone cops” intermission opener spots, trailers for SECRET FILE HOLLYWOOD and THE HOSTAGE and an “And Now on with The Show” intermission closer. Sadly, the condition of the drive-in spots is very dicey and they are black & white in nature, probably to fit with the black & white films, but those animated drive-in spots were once in full color. Still, the vibe that is created is 100% drive-in and creates a lot of good will.

Disc 2A has one of the most enjoyable films in this pack, BLOODLUST (1961) starring Wilton Graff, Robert Reed and June Kenney. That’s right, you read it correctly, Robert Reed of The Brady Bunch fame. BLOODLUST is a retelling of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, and in this version, Dr. Albert Balleau is hunting people on his little private island. Two couples fall into his clutches when they land on the island as a vacation lark. Before long, they and other unfortunates on the island are fighting for their lives against a hunter whose craving for blood is insatiable. BLOODLUST has many elements that make it one of the most watchable “horror movies” of this 8-pack. It is an attractively filmed flick with compelling interior and exterior sets, especially Dr. Balleau’s “trophy room”. While the caliber of the performances is a bit mixed and the dialogue is a bit awkward and hokey at times, BLOODLUST has a palpable sense of menace and suspense, sprinkled liberally with some of the most intense gore to be found in this collection. Watching Robert Reed play the tough and resourceful he-man and Wilton Graff as the sadistic and diabolical Dr. Balleau and they track each other through a jungle of horrors is a great way to spend a dark night watching a scary movie. BLOODLUST feels much more like a film you would have seen late-night on Chiller Theater than at the drive-in, but who cares, it’s got the right mood and feel for this collection. Sadly, BLOODLUST has a generic Crypt of Terror main menu and nothing in regards to extras, but one can’t have it all.

On disc 2B is THE DEVIL’S HAND (1962), probably one of the most unusual of the films on DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS Volume 2, and has an indescribable air of old-style film for drive-ins or television purposes. It is the story of Rick Turner, a man who becomes embroiled with the Cult of Gamba, the Devil-God of Evil. Rick is bewitched by the intoxicating Bianca Milan and once under her power, he swears an oath of loyalty to the cult and they nearly steal his very soul. THE DEVIL’S HAND is an attractive and stylish film that is patient and surreal in building its unique blend of occult drama. It juxtaposes the imagery of ancient pagan practices and modernist décor and fashions of the early 1960s to achieve a compelling look all its own. It also stars some immediately recognizable actors for those steeped in the lore of the past, like Neil Hamilton of the 1960s Batman TV Show and Robert Alda of THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS, and father of Alan Alda. The print transfer of THE DEVIL’S HAND might be the best of this 8-pack, for this film has never looked so good. THE DEVIL’S HAND also has one of the deepest extras menus found in the drive-in inspired main menu. In addition to a classic Woody Woodpecker cartoon Pantry Panic, there are six short drive-in concessions ads for ice cream, candy, soda pop and pickles. The cartoon and the concessions reels all evidence the same poor visual quality of earlier seen such tidbits, but it is all about atmosphere and these add-ons fit well with this feature film. There are two trailers for CARNIVAL OF CRIME and DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE and we end with the “And Now on with The Show” intermission closer.

Disc 3 has two of the weaker films in this collection, but depending on your tastes, there could be some redeemable qualities to them. Disc 3A has THE CREEPING TERROR (1964), which is arguably one of the worst films ever made and right in the same class as PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and MANOS HANDS OF FATE. THE CREEPING TERROR is the story of husband and wife Martin and Brett Gordon, who are forced to battle an alien invader, which lands its ship in the California hills and proceeds to gorge itself on whatever people are too slow, too stupid or too stunned to run from it. If you have every seen IT CONQUERED THE WORLD or FROM HELL IT CAME, you got to see two of the more ludicrous and wonderfully entertaining monsters ever unleashed on the viewing public. Those carefully crafted beasties were as Michelangelo’s sculptures when compared to the slouching pile of rugs that is the monster of THE CREEPING FLESH. Some monsters are created to look bad to add humor to a film like the sea creatures in HORROR OF PARTY BEACH or CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, but this monstrosity was meant to be seriously frightening and it is just seriously ridiculous. It looks like a cross between a horse costume with two men inside, a Chinese New Year’s dragon costume and an avalanche of shag carpeting all rolled into one, and it moves VERY SLOWLY like a giant inchworm with bowel problems. Add to this cinematic nightmare the fact that there is an atrocious voice-over that runs throughout this meandering and glacially-paced “story” and the fact that the acting is terrible, the dubbing is worse and the camera work is grainy and overexposed and you’ve got a train wreck of Biblical proportions on your hands. Here’s the good news though; this is exactly the kind of drek you’d get at the drive-in every now and then and if you want to invite friends over to mock a film while you swill down a beer and eat some pizza, this is the film to do it with. You will get to revel in loads of pointless dialogue, horrifically padded action sequences where the monster squelches and trundles its way across the screen and thrill to the sound of incessantly looped screams of victims and the roar of a monster that sounds suspiciously like Ethel Merman getting her prodigious rear-end pinched by an angry lobster with ten claws. It is for that reason alone that this pile of dung is a “good-bad” film and can be enjoyed on some level if you go into it knowing what to expect. Like BLOODLUST, THE CREEPING TERROR has the Crypt of Terror main menu and nothing in regards to extras, but that’s okay because you may need to take a break for a bit after this “drive-in gem”.

On disc 3B is the hardest film to review, TERRIFIED (1963). TERRIFIED is the story of Ken, David and Marge, a trio who become ensnared in the villainous machinations of a masked killer whose favorite pastime is to inspire deep terror in his victims before he takes their lives. The strength of TERRIFIED is that it is a dark, psychological drama dealing with the essence of what creates profound fear and at various times during the film, the mood matches the underlying concept beautifully. There is tension between the characters and the interior and exterior settings, especially the cemetery and the interiors of the ghost town, create a “dark and spooky nighttime viewing experience” aura that is conspicuous. Added to that is a diverse score that is at once emotive and dramatic, but then can become almost dreamlike, and you’ve got a film that hits some of its notes brilliantly. At other times, TERRIFIED is very “talky” and the intensity slows and the story becomes quite sluggish during many of those stretches. The acting is weak at best during TERRIFIED, the casting of “good looking people” obviously being the focus, and Rod Lauren and Tracy Olson certainly fit the bill. What isn’t too good from a sensory standpoint is the audio and visual condition of TERRIFIED. The audio quality of this movie is quite poor, as it is crackly and low. The print condition and/or transfer is one of the poorer ones of this collection. Just like BLOODLUST and THE CREEPING TERROR, TERRIFIED has the Crypt of Terror main menu and nothing in regards to extras. All in all TERRIFIED is an enjoyable experience if you go in with a patient mindset, allow yourself to be swept away by Tracy Olsen’s lovely face and figure, groove to the somber and creepy feel of the “terror” segments of this movie and watch it very late at night with all the lights turned off in a house where you are the only person around for miles.

On disc 4A, LAND OF THE MINOTAUR (1976) is the feature film, which is the story of Father Roche, played by Donald Pleasance, a priest trying to save three young people who are his friends from the clutches of a pagan cult run by Baron Corofax, played by Peter Cushing. Along the way, Father Roche enlists the aid of Milo and Laurie, who have their own reasons for helping Father Roche, but who almost fall victim to the bloodthirsty cult. LAND OF THE MINOTAUR is a serious departure from the essence of the other offerings in this pack. It is one of only two color films, is the only film from the 1970s and has the most European feel and cast, since it was shot in Greece and has a mostly Greek cast and crew. Despite these “differences of tone”, LAND OF THE MINOTAUR has many things going for it. Due to its European pedigree and the presence of three English performers (Mr. Pleasance, Mr. Cushing and Luan Peters), this movie almost feels like one of the later and slightly lesser Hammer Films. The costumes are colorful and the performances are relatively well-acted. When you have star-power like Donald Pleasance and Peter Cushing, even if they were both comatose, the flick would have a legitimacy that others wouldn’t. The exotic interior and exterior sets are another great strength of LAND OF THE MINOTAUR as is the fact that it is the most salacious of the set. Crown International films had a history of being marketed as “super-sexy”, but not really delivering on the goods. While there is no overt nudity in LAND OF THE MINOTAUR, you do get to see Luan Peters and Vanna Reville (aka Gelsomina) arrayed in short shorts, sexy tops and high-heeled wedges that would have made Catherine Bach and her “daisy dukes” exceedingly jealous. These two curvy blonds are a feast for the eyes and when coupled with the high profile actors and the lavish settings, it is an attractive end result. The story of LAND OF THE MINOTAUR is thin and predictable, but still atmospheric and creepy at times. Typical of a lot of Crown International’s later productions, the pace is very slow and talky at times, but in the end, it doesn’t matter, this film is all about its visual impact. Sadly, there are some splicey moments here and there and the heads and tails of the reel changes show some damage, but fortunately there are not too many of these issues. LAND OF THE MINOTAUR has no main or extras menus at all and you go straight to the film when the disc is inserted, which felt a little cheap and unworthy.

On disc 4B is the most recent of the films in this 8-pack, THE HEARSE (1980) starring Trish Van Devere and Joseph Cotton. THE HEARSE is the story of Jane Hardy, who leaves behind sorrow in San Francisco to find meaning in the mists of her past in the little town of Blackford. Upon arriving, she finds that the stories about her late aunt and the house she once lived in out on County Road have made Jane a very unpopular girl with the superstitious townspeople. Before long, supernatural occurrences and frightening dreams cause Jane to question her sanity and ultimately she must face a choice offered by Evil Incarnate. THE HEARSE has a lot in common with some of the films in this 8-pack from the earlier 1960s, but what seemed so charming and enjoyable twenty years earlier felt old hat and out of place by the early 1980s. Possibly that was the fault of the film makers. The timing of the scares and the creation of atmosphere and mood seemed very tired and late in THE HEARSE. The old conventions and vehicles for fear, unfriendly townsfolk, the sense of being watched, unexplainable phenomena and things seen out of the corner of the eye just didn’t work as well as they should have in this motion picture. Part of the problem is that it seemed to be less of a horror film and more of a supernatural drama/romance. THE HEARSE needed to dig more deeply into the horror roots it was trying to tap and had it done so, it might have been a movie with more impact. THE HEARSE is most definitely a perfect example of why Crown International Pictures had become a name synonymous with boring movies by the time the 1980s had dawned. THE HEARSE has its own title menu with a small cache of trailers as extras. You can see the theatrical trailer for THE HEARSE as well as trailers for BLOOD MANIA and DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE. Being the last film in this pack, I had expected a better send off, but just as Crown International quietly faded into the shadows, DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS Volume 2 went out with a gentle spark instead of a bang.

Despite the less than rousing finish, DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS Volume 2 was an enjoyable experience. It was an appealing selection of films that sampled a wide variety of drive-in fare, most of which I had seen in just as diverse a manner. If you have never seen any of these films before, be sure that what you are getting is very different from what you will see in theaters today. If you have been initiated to the cinema of the early 1960s, especially what are considered to be B-movies, you will probably enjoy this trip down Nostalgia Boulevard and with the additions of drive-in style extras sprinkled about along the way, DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS Volume 2 is a worthwhile addition to anyone’s collection of cinematic ephemera.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

LUCKER (1986) d. Johan Vandewoestijne

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

The word appalling has many definitions, among them “dreadful and shocking”, “causing shock or horror”, “very bad”, “causing dismay” and “horrendous”. Any and all of these descriptions apply to LUCKER (aka LUCKER THE NECROPHAGOUS: The Director’s Cut). One might ask, “How does a film descend to the level of being appalling?” All you have to do is watch LUCKER, study it carefully, and Johnny you too can make an appalling film and cause shock or dismay in viewers. It won’t be easy, but with a little effort and a lot of intestinal discomfort, you can become an appalling film maker and reach levels of appallingly miserable artistry.

LUCKER is the story of John Lucker, a serial killer who escapes a coma, then escapes a private mental institution to go back to his shades wearin’, gruntin & grimacin’ and eventually his killing ways. His ultimate goal upon escaping confinement is to track down and brutalize Cathy Jordan, the female victim who escaped him after his last rampage. Along the way, John Lucker kills people who cross his path, people who remind him of Cathy or people who just don’t seem to come into focus properly in his eyewear. Lucker’s hope is to continue to kill, season, decompose and then make love to his female victims once they’ve become properly rancid. By the end, John Lucker has disrupted the Belgian nightlife to a small degree, inconvenienced a prostitute and her friends and genuinely been incomprehensible.

When I noticed that “The Director’s Cut” was actually several minutes shorter than the original 1986 VHS release, I was immediately suspicious, but I soldiered forward. I had another pang of concern when I realized that a 2006 re-editing of LUCKER was going to run just 69 minutes. Neither of these film characteristics are to be seen much nowadays, but I steeled myself to what I suspected was going to be something akin to a “prison rape” and I was not wrong. LUCKER is an appalling pile of cinematic refuse closely related to what you might step in if you were walking through a well traveled urban park. From the opening credits which were long, ponderous, self-important and poorly shot, we went right into a feature film rife with terrible dubbing, even more poorly shot scenes and frightfully edited sequences which felt like a camel ride on a merry-go-round as the beast of burden jumped from one fanciful creature to the next. While director Johan Vandewoestijne seemed to be trying to create atmosphere by using colorful composition on rare occasions, interesting camera angles every now and then and point of view segments here and there, all of his efforts were cancelled by innumerable mistakes. First, the “film” was dark, grainy and looked like it had been projected on a blanket. Too often I could sense what I was looking at and assumed it wasn’t terribly compelling, but I wanted to make sure. Whether these difficulties were the fault of the film maker or a bad transfer doesn’t matter as the damage was done. Next, frequently we were too close to what was going on to see it clearly, it was badly framed, the actors were poor at their craft and the director insisted on tirelessly using visual and audio loops during action scenes. The loops didn’t make the scenes more intense by lengthening them, those scenes just became even more wearisome. Finally, at 69 minutes, one wouldn’t think that padding and filler would be an issue with a movie, but LUCKER was crammed full of both. Had this film really been cut down to its proper running time, it might have worked as a 30 minute episode on some Belgian TV horror anthology. What we were treated to for most of the 69 minutes was Lucker walking down alleys, Lucker staring down halls, Lucker peering through his sunglasses and sub-vocalizing, Lucker rocking in a chair, Lucker bashing people in a thoroughly uninteresting manner and Lucker rubbing his wearied eyes. While the overall story premise doesn’t lend itself to a deep, complex or intricate narrative, the screenplay of LUCKER was even more paralyzingly dull than could be imagined and the gore scenes were done for shock effect alone. There wasn’t a sense of style to be had during those penultimate moments at any time during the film. To end this parade of travesties was possibly the slowest and most tedious credit crawl I’ve ever seen. As each name dragged across the screen, I had a sense of what it must have been like for Cro-Magnon Man to watch the continental ice sheets creep across the lands. At least Dror the Bison-Head would get to see a valley carved or a mountain shattered by The Ice. All I saw was white letters breaking the face of a black background after a film I loathed.

The extras menu does have a couple of tidbits that may or may not be of interest to the viewer. In addition to the modern re-edit, there is the original 1986 VHS release in English with Dutch subtitles. There is a 36 minute mini-documentary called “Lucker: The Story Behind the Film” where the director tells his tale of the making of Lucker. Much was explained when I heard Johan Vandewoestijne aka James Desert say that LUCKER was made as revenge on the Flemish Film Council for their nixing of some of his earlier projects. I suppose one can consider this review revenge on the director, who was also the producer, writer and editor, for stealing 69 minutes of my life that will never be returned to me.

Normally my reviews stretch past four pages and for good reason. Whether it is a good or bad film, I like to explore the various components of the movie, find strengths and weaknesses and analyze them in a fashion that can help viewers to understand whether a film might be right for them or not. I highly recommend LUCKER as a sleep aid if you love gore films, for this will disappoint. If you have tender sensibilities, some of the content of LUCKER may act as a purgative. For those who need coasters or like to shoot skeet, LUCKER may serve as a material benefit. Whatever you do, don’t sit down to LUCKER hoping for an enjoyable experience. I have seen a lot of “bad” films that are good in some way and this isn’t one of them. Watch DANGEROUS SEDUCTRESS or LADY TERMINATOR, Frisbee LUCKER into the wood chipper and then e-mail me your thanks.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

NOBODY LOVES ALICE (2007) d. Roger A. Scheck

Reviewed by Simon Oakland

I have no love for the "torture porn" genre, but obviously many, many other people do. Otherwise, films like SAW or HOSTEL would never have struck enough box office gold to inspire so many lesser knockoffs such as CAPTIVITY or CARVER. Judging from the cover, with it's "unrated" status proudly and prominently stamped upon it and featuring a naked man bound and gagged with duct tape, the "torture porn" crowd is precisely who they're attempting to market NOBODY LOVES ALICE to.

Big Mistake.

First off, calling the film "unrated" is completely misleading and disengenuous. It concocts images in your mind of a balls to the wall, blood and guts torturethon, but all it really means is that the movie is so low budget (and since the plan was always to release it "direct to video" anyways) the filmmakers had simply never bothered to submit it for a rating to begin with. Despite the premise of a crazy woman kidnapping a co-worker's fiance, taking him as her own fiance, and then torturing and amputating him when he attempts to escape, there is almost no on-screen violence... ever. Sure, there's plenty of blood, but all of it is used as set dressing on walls, beds, curtains, etc. If anybody gets a leg sawn off, or mutilated, stabbed, or whatever, it's off camera. Don't get me wrong: I'm an old school kind of guy. I don't need to see any of the visceral stuff to appreciate a good horror movie. Not every film needs to be directed by a prodigy of Fulci or Argento. It's just that the market they're aiming for will never appreciate what NOBODY LOVE ALICE is and will only find the experience boring.

How would I have sold it? Honestly, I haven't the foggiest idea but thankfully that isn't my job. I will, however, say that regardless of how botched I think the promotion of NOBODY LOVES ALICE was, it is a well made independent feature that is well shot and acted. The cast and crew should be very proud of their accomplishments in spite of an obviously limited budget. Go in with lowered expectations, ignore the cover, and you just may walk away pleasantly surprised.

The lone extra on the disc, "Somebody Loves Alice" is a short featurette detailing the production history of NOBODY LOVE ALICE and very informative of the movie's origins. The director, Roger A. Scheck, relates how he was inspired partly by a real life event and partly by modern Asian horror. He doesn't name any films specifically, but I can only guess that Takashi Miike's AUDITION was a primary influence. However, I can't help but feel that Stephen King's MISERY was a more obvious one.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

WIDE AWAKE (2007) d. Lee Kyu-Maan

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

There is something deeply unsettling about handing over the health and safety of our bodies to another person (a doctor) and allowing that person to stick needles, knives and other instruments into us, often in a painful fashion. For children it is even more terrifying, for the young lack knowledge and the ability to override unreasoning panic. It takes a long time for our childhood fear of doctors and hospitals to fade, and for some that terror never abates. Deeply invasive surgery needing anesthesia is even more frightening, because there is the outside chance of waking up before the surgery is finished, never regaining consciousness or experiencing full consciousness during the surgery due to what is called “anesthesia awareness”. Such a thought is unbelievably horrifying and initiates some of our profoundest phobias of torture and human experimentation. WIDE AWAKE (aka RI-TEON) is another Korean horror film that mines some of our most deep-seeded fears and this time it deals with madness brought on by hospital trauma connected to “anesthesia awareness”.

WIDE AWAKE begins 25 years in the past with the story of 9 year old Sang-u Na, a boy being operated on for heart trouble and who is accidentally and inappropriately anesthetized, result in a “conscious” state where he is unable to move or cry out during the procedure. While the boy survives the trauma, his mind is permanently unhinged. Twenty-five years later, Dr. Jae-u Ryu is working as a surgeon with colleagues Seok-ho Jang and Chi-Hun O and is making a life with his wife Hui-Jin Seo and a returning friend Uk-Hwan Gang. A madman enters Dr. Ryu’s days, hurling threats and terrorizing patients and doctors at the hospital. As shadowy figures menace Dr. Ryu and his friends, a race against time to find out who the maniac is and who he will strike next ensues, enmeshing everyone in a web of deceit and death.

WIDE AWAKE is probably the best of the Korean horror films I have seen thus far and while all of them have been enjoyable to varying degrees, this one is probably the most complete. Blending murder mystery, medical thriller, gore film and hospital drama seamlessly, WIDE AWAKE plays on nearly every emotion and reaction it can. The viewer’s heart is engaged by the character interplay, the secrets, the lies, heartbreak and traumatic shocks. There is friendship established and broken, families smashed on the anvil of tragedy and a cat and mouse game with an unknown killer. At the same time, WIDE AWAKE has some wonderfully repellent scenes of murderous intent utilizing medical science, actual surgical footage and all the tools of the medical trade brought into play with the same effect as a blade held to the eye. Sadism, revenge, doubt, faith misplaced and horrendous mistakes made in situations where no other choice was open make this an intricate tapestry of plot twists and turns, told mostly in a linear fashion, but with a hefty helping of flashbacks and sidesteps to keep the viewer guessing.

As has been the case with all of the Korean horror films distributed by Genius Products, WIDE AWAKE is well shot with a great deal of thought going into the composition of scenes, maybe more so in this film where the look of the face, a glance of the eye, the poise of a scalpel and the angle of a needle are all needed to build suspense, suspicion and revulsion. While not an overly colorful film, the subtle gradations in tone and shade help to delineate between past and present, waking and memory, fury and sorrow. There are some wonderful set locations outside the environs of the hospital that help to develop a richer sense of imagery. The soundtrack and incidental music of Korean films continue to be a splendid mix of orchestral and semi-classical scores that help to enlarge the emotional impact of each scene and create a rousing sense of mood. The cast all give excellent performances that run the gamut of distraught to soulless, building a palpable sense of connection to the characters. WIDE AWAKE hits the gold on every front and did it without feeling long, as this was nearly a two-hour film. It had a powerful start and maintained a steady but carefully considered pace throughout and never disappointed me when it came to its expressive intensity and visual appeal.

Like many of the CJ Entertainment offerings, WIDE AWAKE has an excellent bonus features menu crammed with a surprising number of extras. There is a 38 minute mini-documentary on the making of WIDE AWAKE called “Memory Removed: The Making of Wide Awake” that is an excellent behind the scenes look at the entire project through the eyes of the crew and cast. Crew members are brought back for a 13 minute featurette on “Production Design” where special effects, props and settings are explored. A 10 ½ minute set of “Actor Interviews” with Myung-Min Kim (Jae-U Ryu), Yoo-Seok Jung (Seok-Ho Jang), Jun-Sang Yoo (Uk-Hwan Gang) and Tae-U Kim (Chin-Ho O) and the director Lee Kyu-Maan take a look at the script and the daily production. A 5 ½ minute mini-featurette called “Anesthesia Awareness: About Interoperational Awareness” utilizes interviews with the cast (including actress Yoo-Mi Kim who played Hui-Jin Seo looks at the grisly concept of being “wide awake” during anesthetized surgery. Finally there is a 12 minute segment of 4 deleted scenes, all of which are lengthier than usual and quite surprising, not the least of which was the graphic sex scene that was cut from the final release. Just as WIDE AWAKE is the best of the Korean horror films I have watched this year, its extras menu was the deepest and the most interesting, although some of the editing was extremely choppy.

It isn’t often that I rave about a film for I am at that stage of life where cynicism and a deeply jaded nature have greatly diminished my ability to be swept away by wonder and joy. Once in a while though I am reminded of the many elements of life that can still bring a sparkle to the eye, one of them being a film that causes me to concentrate on it to the exclusion of all else. While there are probably some who will find fault with this film, for there is fault in all that human-kind does, I thoroughly enjoyed it, recoiled when I was suppose to, felt bereft when it was appropriate, cheered for the hero at the right times, made predictions and drew conclusions as I tried to anticipate the story’s direction, was impressed by the sights and sounds at all the right times and was entertained. Isn’t that the essence of what should happen while watching a film, that I should enjoy the experience? When I put on my reviewer’s cap, it is more common for me to find fault, analyze it and then exploit that weakness for the benefit of the viewer. This time around, my prognosis is a good one, this is a strong patient and no one need be desensitized by Novocain or any other pain-relieving narcotic. You won’t need them. See WIDE AWAKE with all your senses in tact and let it manipulate you the way a film should.

Monday, August 4, 2008

MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION (2007) the Complete Television Series

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Anthology series with episodes incorporating science fiction themes have been around since the dawn of television. While there have been many fine examples of such fare, the original TWILIGHT ZONE, THE OUTER LIMITS and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS are some of the best examples of well-regarded story-driven compilations. The beauty of science fiction, beyond its capacity to be imaginative and to provide momentary escape, is its ability to wrap powerful story concepts dealing with morality and philosophy around a setting and plot that highlights the theme and makes its impact weightier and its vision more stark. Contemporary realistic fiction can often seem too bland or it can cut too close to home. Science fiction has the unique faculty of being able to blend impossible actions and places with everyday issues that cut across time and space. It is for those reasons that some of the greatest minds like Isaac Asimov, David Brin and Arthur C. Clarke have explored the limits of space while still examining the roots of the human experience. THE MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION takes a page from THE MASTERS OF HORROR series and classic anthologies like ONE STEP BEYOND and enlists an ensemble cast of directors and writers to create six episodes that do what science fiction always does best, hold up a mirror to mankind so that we can see what is there.

THE MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION is comprised of episodes titled “A Clean Escape” based on a short story by John Kessel and directed by Mark Rydell, “The Awakening” based on a short story by Howard Fast and directed by Michael Petroni, “Jerry Was a Man” based on a short story by Robert Heinlein and directed by Michael Tolkin, “The Discarded” based on a short story by Harlan Ellison and directed by Jonathon Frakes, “Little Brother” based on a short story by Walter Mosley and directed by Darnell Martin and “Watchbird” based on based on a short story by Robert Sheckley and directed by Harold Becker. “A Clean Escape” deals with the subject of accountability and is a futuristic look at a world ravaged by nuclear apocalypse. “The Awakening” explores the topic of antagonism, war and the path to peace in a world suddenly exposed to extraterrestrial visitors. “Jerry Was a Man” examines uniquely negative human traits in a future where genetic engineering has rewritten the definition of life. “The Discarded” is a futuristic look at leper-like colonies in space. “Little Brother” takes a hard look at a high-tech justice system run by “impartial” machines. Finally, “Watchbird” poses the age-old question of what is the price of security, in a world not that much different from ours right now.

The strength of THE MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION the writing is based on real science fiction stories created by authors who know their craft. One of the reasons why THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS were such superb anthology series was that writers like Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch were writers who had already transformed the genre and knew how to tell a tale. While not all the narratives of THE MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION are of award-winning caliber and not all stories translate ideally to a one-hour small-screen format, they are all interesting in their own way. All of the stories take an unflinching look at authority, responsibility, values and the essential nature of humanity and being a “morality play” leave the viewer in a position where they must wrestle with the themes presented. Since each episode has a powerful moral point, like any weighty subject, it is going to have an impact and it may not be easy to listen to or accept the message. That is the beauty of science fiction, it is meant to be powerful. Too many people equate the genre with “space opera” like STAR WARS or BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Science Fiction can be action-oriented and it can provide thrills and chills, but it doesn’t have to and some of the most important and inspiring science fiction is more contemplative. While the teleplays of THE MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION are not the finest sci-fi ever created and some of the plots are a bit obvious in their direction, they do the genre proud. It is probable that THE MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION only lasted six episodes because it was smart, it tried to tell a worthwhile tale and was not all about “bangs and flashes”.

In addition to having a very strong story base, there is also some strong directing and acting. Since it is a one hour television show, the special effects are not going to be up to the level of theatrical film quality, but they are still quite good. What is better is the sense, created by a mix of solid directing and acting, that we are observing an unfolding stage drama. The onus of each episode is on the character development and interplay and that is aided by some careful use of cameras, judicious choice of small, focused interchanges between actors and intensified by some small but thoughtfully constructed sets which were augmented by the special effects. The outcome is imagery that looks and feels authentic, fits the story idea and allows the actors and directors to do their job of selling the story to the viewer. The outcomes are a bit uneven at times, but that is partly due to the fact that the tone of each story is meant to be different. When you read a short story collection, even if the overarching genre is homogeneous, the tone of the stories will differ. The same is true of THE MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION. Some episodes like “A Clean Escape” and “Watchbird” have a grimmer and more intense nature, while others like “Jerry Was a Man” were more satirical. Just as a person at an art exhibit will not find every work their cup of tea, not every episode in an anthology series is going to resonate either, but it will still make the viewer think if that person keeps an open mind.

In addition to having some fine writers and some solid directors, THE MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION has quite an eclectic collection of actors. Some, like John Hurt and Malcolm McDowell, are living legends, while other screen veterans like Brian Dennehy, Sam Waterston and James Cromwell add talent and recognizable faces meant to connote steadiness. Still others are recent luminaries meant to add an immediacy of star power like Jamie Denton, Terry O’Quinn and Elisabeth Rohm. One of the strengths of older anthology series like THE OUTER LIMITS and DARK ROOM was that they blended up and coming stars with well-traveled masters of the craft. THE MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION tends to lean in the direction of more familiar faces in the major roles, but at least the choices were a reasonable mix of ages, backgrounds and acting styles, they were generally well cast and no “flavor of the month” choices were made that would detract from the quality of the outcome. Fortunately, the roles these actors were chosen for either allowed the thespian to immerse themselves in the part so that viewers wouldn’t constantly be forced to separate the name and the face, or they were the kind of face that just blends into the role.

THE MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION does not have a bonus features section and that is likely due to the fact that like most of its kin, there is never a clear sense how long something like this is going to last. The focus was probably on producing each episode effectively and inexpensively, with little time or cash left over to do cast and crew interviews or some such thing. It is too bad, for the amalgamation of talent and names in this project is pretty impressive and there probably won’t be many chances left to sit guys like Harlan Ellison down with Brian Dennehy. I can only imagine what a pairing like that would have created, but it is still an intriguing thought.

I have tried to interest friends in science fiction novels and stories over the years, and have had only limited success. In many cases, my friends could not, as Coleridge said “suspend their disbelief” and let the currents take them where they would. I feel intensely sad for those who say they can’t enjoy science fiction, for many of my favorite stories have come from that genre and have left some of the most lasting impressions upon me. THE MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION is not THE TWILIGHT ZONE and will not leave an indelible mark on television history, but there were some very good themes in this anthology series raising some very worthy points about the actions, thoughts and beliefs of humankind today. A few of these episodes should probably be viewed by some of our political and business leaders, not that such a thing would do any good. To actually gain anything from film or literature, you have to actually internalize the message, process it and then synthesize new understanding. Too many at the helms have liquidated those skills from their mental repertoire in their lust for power and wealth. We must hope that science fiction will do as it has always done, expand the mental horizons of those average folk who partake so that they are left a little wiser and better by their brush with The Great Unknown.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

BLOOD & SEX NIGHTMARE (2008) d. Joseph R. Kolbeck

Reviewed by S. Melvin Swebster Esq.

There is no question that filth of every imaginable description has run rampant through the dvd market today. Once upon a time, a person of good breeding could pick up any number of fine offerings dealing with impeccably dressed gentlemen and lavishly garbed ladies sitting down to tea in a finely appointed drawing room, or at least one could view a film with noble equestrian events or the fine sport of yachting. Now it is nothing but squalor and depravity of the most unthinkable varieties. If I don’t do a few deep knee bends to fortify myself before venturing onto the internet and mingling with commoners at dvd sites, I am likely to swoon over the images that one sees. For instance, I happened upon a title with a simply deplorable box cover called BLOOD & SEX NIGHTMARE and my dander was raised to such an apex of dismay that I simply had to see for myself what was being foisted upon the peasantry.

BLOOD & SEX NIGHTMARE is a story about a young Asian girl named Amy who is feeling a tremendous degree of understandable trepidation over the subject of “coupling” and her insufferably insistent and miserable cad-of-a-boyfriend Nick who is nothing but a masher and a wastrel. Nick plucks from the most primitive corner of his mind the idea of taking Amy to this “Adult Camp” called Pleasure Mountain Adult Resort. I was actually surprised at how quaint and adorable the simplistic white and yellow cabins were and I thought that with a little inspiration, that they could be transformed into adorable servants’ quarters. Of course, Nick is thoroughly disappointed that his ham-handed, Neanderthal ploy brings no results. What’s worse for Amy is she keeps having these beastly dreams that drive her into even higher emotional states, just like I get when I see a flaw in the aspic. As the quandary between Nick and Amy reaches a crescendo, a vile and degenerate ghost starts murdering the other deviants who’ve come to the camp, all of which are no better than the basest of troglodytes ready to engage in any fetid behavior no matter how unsavory. Eventually the spectral slayer runs out of victims and has to turn his unsightly gaze on Nick and Amy. Amy comes up with a rather ingenious plan, utilizing décor no less, which is able to roust that specter out of her life.

BLOOD & SEX NIGHTMARE made me feel so absolutely soiled that no amount of eau de cologne, baths drawn by my body servant or use of the finger bowl could ever leave me feeling fresh again. The film starts out with young “ladies” in an unclothed state and continues on that vein throughout the duration. My Goodness, has no one any sense of propriety anymore? Just as disgusting were all the tools for killing paraded about as if one was walking through a hardware store, which is an appalling thought in and of itself. Even though I hate to use a term that smacks of egalitarianism, at least it wasn’t just the fairer sex who gets carved, stabbed or sliced like the Christmas ham. Many of the men get the same unforgivable treatment. Despite their shameful array, I was surprised at the cuteness of the young ladies, even though they were clearly of the common classes. One of my more aesthetic complaints is that the lead actress, Julia Morizawa, was far too emaciated and wasn’t nearly as comely as the other girls. If you are going to cast actresses, you must take a page from Baroque painters like Ruebens or Rococo painters like Fragonard and give your ladies a femininity that is reflected by a womanly shape and appearance. Another technical failing of this “film” was that obviously the actors had spent little or no time in summer stock or in Shakespearean drama. I can’t imagine any of them playing Shylock or Orlando. They were immensely hard to hear and as stiff as my polo mallet, although the one actress named Tina Krause caught my eye. She seemed to have some experience and knew how to at least hold herself in an appealing way, although a gentleman should not admit such things in a public manner. I most astonished at how very delightful the outdoor photography was. The people who made BLOOD & SEX NIGHTMARE picked a sylvan glade that evoked a sense of a mannered English Garden, in a plebian fashion I suppose. However, there was a sinister feel to the surroundings because they seemed so remote and detached from “civilization”. During the daylight hours, there were sparkling ponds and rippling streams and the trees were colorful and bright with autumnal tints, but at night it became depressingly ominous and some of the other buildings were in such a state of disrepair that I certainly would require any self-respecting gardener to demolish such an eyesore. Most unpleasant of all were the “action” scenes of people being chewed by the dastardly teeth of chainsaws and slashed by the sickeningly bright blades of knives. Blood was spraying all over and in such a frightful manner that I had to engage the pause function on the remote and procure a snifter of cognac to brace me. By the end of this abysmal descent into the mouth of madness, I fully understood what the Lords Salisbury and Landsdowne meant when they talked of the obligation of the Upper Classes for leadership.

There were a few of those “extras” in the bonus features’ menu, although I sincerely considered whether or not I wished to probe this dvd any further. There were two short films, one called “Chef Boyardee Man” and the other was “The Roarin’ 20s”. They were a tad less violent than the feature and they seemed to be trying to capture a degree of a nostalgic facade, but I couldn’t say that they assuaged my guilt in my dealings with this disc. There was a music video called “Devils Everywhere” that certainly made me feel like I was slumming and had nothing to do with the kinds of music I prefer during Opera Season. There were scads of previews by Bloody Earth Films that looked just like the kind of movies that those who liked BLOOD & SEX NIGHTMARE might wish to see. There was also this little booklet on the inside of the dvd case that my butler referred to as the “liner notes”. The only liner I am familiar with is the silk embroidered one in my waistcoat. Reading those notes was illuminating and was probably the most urbane moment in this dreary affair.

They say that the masses prefer much “earthier” fare when it comes to entertainment and if that is the case, I am sure there are those rapscallions and rogues who will find BLOOD & SEX NIGHTMARE as comforting as the gruel they do so like to wallow in for sustenance. I found it to be a sobering experience, but there was a crumb of satisfaction to be had. It is only by knowing the mindset of laborers and other underlings that they may be lead and controlled. Unpleasant as was this excursion into depravity, it was a learning experience that will aid me in my charge of furthering noblesse oblige. Only by safeguarding the power of the landed gentry through greater knowledge of those who live upon their land can stability and order be maintained. If I must achieve such knowledge at the cost of feeling soiled, it is my duty as an aristocrat to do it.