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Director Retrospective

The Apocalypse

Apocalypse starts off with campers watching a shooting star. Well, it’s not just a shooting star, it’s not just a little meteor, it’s the end of the world! Teeny fiery meteors falling from the sky, killing people individually with the smaller ones, and smashing houses with the bigger ones, until finally one large enough to destroy a city vaporizers Monterey.

They’re messing with the radios as well, and disrupting atmosphere.
Because of this pollen meteor, all eyes are in the sky… The one that fell already was as big as a house. And the one that’s following it in four days is as big as the size of Texas… An extinction starter.

We are introduced to A park ranger and his estranged wife, who’re trying to get to their daughter and her college friends down in LA. But right now they have got bigger worry… Toxic ash and a landslide near their home, And a tornado near their daughters. Even stranger, people are vanishing.

I don’t see any real story here. The film just drifts from scene to scene with the disaster as the background rather than being the main thrust.
It’s a very talky movie, with some strange religious overtones. Not specifically Christian… But more, someone who maybe thinks they know what Christianity is from watching Hallmark movies and UP TV? Considering the Asylum makes terrible horror and sci-fi movies, trust them to mess up religious one too huh?

Ultimately, It serves as a good example of how boring a rural disaster movie can be. That’s really more the province of urban films. Buildings collapsing, cars crashing, fire and smoke in… The end of the world! This is just a tornado here and there superimposed on the background. A sinkhole… CG cracks in the street. People huddling in the wreckage, but no real spectacular destruction. Even when L.A. gets flooded by title waves… It’s quick and terrible CGI. Oh, and everyone dies at the end when the big one hits.

I really don’t know who this movie is for. I’m not a disaster movie fan, so OK, maybe that’s part of my problem, but it’s not for the horror fans. And if you were going to make a movie for Christian audience, you’ve got to actually get the theology right. And the theology in this thing is all over the place…(People don’t get raptured here and there just as they die….or suddenly believe.. I know of no beliefe like that. Even the mid-trib folks don’t go there) I don’t really feel like this was made by believers, but rather by somebody who saw the Left Behind films and thought they’d take a crack at it.

Part of me really wants to give Jones a bit of a pass, because it’s his first film. I think you’d be more likely to get that pass from me if it weren’t for these so severely botched theology in here and the pandering attempt at a religious movie when you obviously knew nothing of their beliefs. This thing is just bad. Pass. Skip. Runaway. Avoid at all costs.
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Assistant (Dirty Work)

Assistant is a strange film, unlike anything Louisa Warren has done. What makes it stranger is that it’s her first directorial attempt, and while I can see some of her DNA in it, it’s not the sort of horror or  fantastic storytelling I usually associate with her.

It’s a story of a young woman who is trying to break into the fashion industry, and lands a job as a personal shopper for a new author. She quickly finds herself sinking into an S&M world of degradation and depravity. The film Effortlessly glides from the Devil wears Prada into Fifty Shades of Grey, into full on Eyes Wide Shut territory.

This is where things are a little unusual. Warren’s films never seem to have any nudity. There’s been sex in a lot of them, but it’s not generally designed me really titillating. Rather, it’s perfunctory and design to underscore a plot point. This film however, is definitely designed to be a erotic, particularly from a woman’s point of view. We have slow long shots over chiseled abs and statuesque features, with just a hint of 5 o’clock shadow. The truth is, it is central to this plot, even as the domination and sexuality goes more extreme.

Nevertheless, there’s also a feeling like the actual act isn’t dwelt upon. The imagery is, but It’s more about pretty pictures than the actual schtupping. It’s uncomfortable.

The film lacks the budget of a film like Sliver, to make it classy and respectful. Nevertheless, it never quite sinks to the level of porn. But the cheap lingerie and flat lighting does make it feel trashy. On the other hand, that may well be the intent. We spent a lot of time focusing on the eroticism. The film is built around that, but nevertheless, the third act still goes a little crazy. Pushing a crime of passion, and culminating in a climax that was predictable, is more than proficiently pulled off. There’s some intriguing machinations that play out, elevating this to more than just late night Cinemax fare.

I’m glad that I found this last. It goes by the name Dirty Work as well as Assistant, and I had a hard time locating it until it finally popped up on Tubi. The fact that there is a more recent film also called Assistant, didn’t help any. It’s a sort of movie I probably would’ve turned off very early on and never sought out this director again, but finding it at the end of my film reviews, it becomes an interesting juxtaposition of what Warren would do as she progressed as a filmmaker in her career. I can’t say its a recommend, unless you’re genuinely interested in where Louisa Warren came from as a director.

 

 


Louisa Warren

This year we’re focusing on Louisa Warren, a european indie filmmaker who have been especially prolific over the past few years. She burst on the scene in 2018 with three films, and then released a staggering six movies in 2019. Since then, she’s consistently released a couple of films every year, at a pace that’s shockingly impressive for an indy studio.

What I’m really enjoying is the shared universe she is trying to create as she transforms traditional fairy tale creatures into monster franchises, such as her Scarecrow, Tooth Fairy and Leprechaun series. Working with the same sets and a repeating troupe of actors, Warrens films quickly become familiar and comfort food. She’s not shy about gore, but goes hard on lore and really plays to her strengths.

It’s going to be a fun year as we explore her significant filmography.

 


Dance macabre

o_dance-macabre-dvd-90s-gory-horror-movie-0135I’m going to flat out say this – dance macabre may be Graydon Clark’s greatest film. Robert England as the centrepiece here is magnificent obviously, but the Russian setting and the ballet and the atmosphere… It all works so well. It’s a magnificent spectacle overlaid on an inspired mystery. This is not horror.  This is not adventure, it’s not even mystery. It’s a thriller. It’s one of those rare moments where Clark has everything working – all the engines are firing on all cylinders and it just comes together beautifully.

The story is about an American Dancer who arrives at the Russian ballet school (with her father twisting her arm all the way) to study ballet. It’s the first time they’ve opened the doors to outsiders in ages…. Possibly ever. All around her though, people begin to die – until the schools closes and she remains the only student, with an obsessed instructor hellbent on getting her an audition. Its brilliant drama, highly atmospheric and engauging the whole way through.

There’s talk that this was originally meant to be a sequel to Englund’s Phantom of the opera. I’m not sure of the truth or baseness of this tale, but I can certainly see where someone might get that idea. It’s not just Phantom that I see influences from though, I get glimpses of Susperia her as well. It all melds together to create a supremely satisfying package. Seriously, Clark has no better films on this.


Bad Folks

 

“from the childhood hour it conceived a ring, from the fatherhood hour I met the thing. It feast on sin and there it grew, the demon I made, a death in view.”
 
Can I just say that’s a little pretentious and high value For a Michael Crum film? (also for a production that lists itself as “saka marbles films” )

This graffiti is scrolled on the bare wall near door 147, and sits there, stark at we begin our film

Someone’s taking a beating out there from  Carlos, a Sort of Indian gangster type who heads into the bar. There’s a couple people there. All ordinary architects. Selfie girl, a dopey blonde with her token gay friend, bartender, and preppies after a business deal. There’s a stage for band’s, but nobody’s playing tonight, just the jukebox it sounds like

Carlos gets a little obnoxious with the girls, Although I gotta say,  the verbal Pacing is a bit off, And that’s something that crumb should be able to catch by now in the edit.

The business deal isn’t going to well either. The 2 guys were trying to sell porn to a distributor… except the guy is just a drunken mess, and the dialog just gets increasingly bizarre.

Thanks to the little stranger from there, and we learn a valuable lesson – never arm wrestle with somebody who’s getting belligerent with you. Things get a little stabby, and a fight breaks out. But that’s just normal bar side shenanigans. What isn’t, is the guy at the end of the bar Suddenly coughing blood and dropping dead.

And there’s the set up. 6 strangers in a bar with a dead body. And things are gonna get a lot uglier before they get any better, as all the secrets come out.

The shotgun blast to the leg, and the stabbed arm are good, bloody effects. Exactly what I expect from Crum, but the photography is off. The whole thing is run off of a very shaky stedi cam, And the framing is wild. People’s heads are constantly getting cut off, the camera isn’t panning and following enough, I understand this you’re supposed to come off as stylized, but to do stylized, you have to do  It with style. This comes off as sloppy.

It’s an interesting subject with slightly more elevated material, and Crumb is swinging for the fences here, trying to make a tense thriller. It’s all about these people trapped together, who’s gonna take the blame, who was the murderer and who is innocent. It’s a locked room mystery. That’s smart too, Crums using his resources efficiently with a small cast and a single setting, but I’m not certain that hes quite talented enough to pull it off. There’s still a lot of his grindhouse horror style pervading it. Basically hes sticking with what he knows. In a lot of ways, it feels very similar to VFW, but with smaller stakes and a more closed space. It’s one of those movies where I’m glad I saw it, but I can’t imagine seeking it out if I weren’t specifically watching this director’s catalog. Still, it’s the sort of thing where I still want to watch Crum grow, and see where he goes from here.
 





 
 
 
 
 
 

Anna Two aka The Devil’s Fairground aka Freaky Links

Anna two starts off with something horrible happening in the dark. I’m not sure what, because it’s too dark. Flash over to a graveyard where our hero in glasses (Jacob, part of our pair of heroes from the previous film) is standing over someone’s freshly dug a grave. He then mournfully rides his bike off into the sunset. Or the credits. We appear to be in the middle of a pitch session for Freaky Links – the YouTuber’s site name. Flash back to the previous film, to get us context… But this time they’re off to a haunted amusement park… after the crashing a rival ghost hunters investigation.

Turns out, that this group, Spooky Links, used to work with them… They were all employed by Ryan, the gentleman in the grave from the beginning. He left the business and equipment a Spooky Links and Freaky Links are not real happy about that. But now they’re also trying to bury the hatchet, on the anniversary of Ryan’s death, and maybe recruit them to all work together to tackle the park.

They start things off with a stop along the way to visit a demon possessed girl. It kind of goes badly.. there’s blood on the ceiling, gory make up and several gags thrown in. Apparently you don’t make holy water just by soaking a Bible and a bowl of water…
I mean, you kind of can, but it seems to more just piss them off. They’ve definitely got the evil’s attention now, even as they defeat the possessed girl, the haunting follows them to the Local bar.

Anyhow it’s time to investigate the devils fairground.  

Inside, the fairground looks more like your local Haunted House than an actual amusement park. It’s ramshackle buildings with smoking lights and lots of bloody, grotesque monsters. Crumb is going for uglier and more shocking monsters than he’s ever done before. It’s all about imagery. Seriously, we’ve left story well in the rear view mirror. But something interesting happens around the hour mark.

We got some foreshadowing a while back about the ghost hunters wondering what ghosts really are… What happens when you cross over… That sort of stuff. The third act attempts to explore that, sending a team into Crumb’s vision of the netherworld. It’s a bold move, the sort of thing we see very rarely, Hellraiser two, or The Beyond. He attempts to pull this off with sheer audacity and force of will, and while he doesn’t entirely succeed, he doesn’t entirely fail either. It requires a normal suspension of disbelief, but at this point I’m kind of ready to cut him some slack. He also has a good sense not to linger too long before moving onto the next threat, and get back to ghost hunting.

Or is it that the ghosts are hunting them?

You know, this is actually a better movie then it seems like. It’s got flaws, massive flaws, but there’s some interesting stuff to unpack and you can actually see the development of Crum as a filmmaker. I kind of want to revisit around Halloween when I’m hitting the haunted houses, because the imagery is just so familiar. It’s one of those movies were I’d kind of like to see what he could do with a bigger budget, I think he’s almost ready for it.

 

 


Digging up the Marrow

mv5bmjm3ndc3mjc1ml5bml5banbnxkftztgwmjm4mja5mze-_v1_sy999_cr00672999_al_Of all of his films, Digging up the Marrow maybe my favorite Adam Green feature. But there is a caveat, I’m a fan of the director….we’ll get that in the moment.

Digging Up The Marrow is a mockumentary done in a semi found footage style about a man chasing monsters. Real ones. Actually, more like deformed people with some spectacular deformities that have established an underground culture that is very rarely discover. The man, Dekker, has enlisted the help of a filmmaker – Adam Green himself – to document and uncover these creatures. Along the way we discover Adam is not the first film maker he’s tried to enlist, and that there is more to this story then he’s telling.

It’s a wonderful tale, creepy and suspenseful. There are twists here and there and it keeps you engaged the whole way through – but here’s the thing, because Adam chose to use himself and his studio as characters in the film, it really appeals to his fan base.  For those of us who have kind of gotten to know him through things like his podcast and Holliston and the shorts on his Ariescope website, we already have a connection to the character that he is playing. We walk into it with that affection and interest. This is not to say that the film is inaccessible to the casual viewer, however it is going to be more work for an outsider to develop that sympathy for the character than it is for the fans. Adam is a very sympathetic character indeed, and I think this is still going to work whether you know who he is or not. But it really does work so much better if you do already know him. For Adam Green fans, I think this is really is epitome – it is his masterpiece and is love letter to the fans. I’ve saved this for last for a reason – I want you to experience his other films, I want you to watch Holliston, and I want you to understand him as a filmmaker… And to some extent as a person. That’s what’s really going to make this film pop for you it’s what’s really going to make you care about it. It really is my favorite of all of his films, with the best monsters and creepiest creatures that you will see.

 


Garfield

garfield-a-tail-of-two-kitties-2006-medium-coverThe Garfield films get a lot of hate and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s just the normal backlash at the kids films with CG characters….I don’t know. What I do know is that when the first Garfield film came out, I was hooked. I’m a lifelong fan of the character and I loved what  Iwas seeing. It was funny and sassy and it really FELT like Garfield (apparently a lot of people disagred). My main complain was that the dog Odie, was real and not CG (not enough budget for him to also be a cartoon apparently)

I was shocked when I heard there would be a sequel.

Director Tim Hill has taken a lot of the criticisms from the first movie and addressed them. Odie is still not a cartoon, but there’s WAY less of him. Garfield doesn’t dance (except for a goofy bit at the end) and there’s more of him. Twice as much in fact.

It’s a simple twin swapping story, Garfield takes the place of one of the royal cats of England, trying to save the family manor. Our villain, in a brilliant bit of casting, is Billy Connally who manages not to die in a film for once.

I kind of feel bad for Hill on this one, because while he crafts a funny and entertaining film, this one seemed doomed from the start with the bad press from the first and Bill Murry’s reluctance to come in for the voice – I think the studio expected this to do meager numbers. The movie deserves better. Hill treats the material with respect and is more than just a hired gun on this one. Seriously, if you have good memories of watching the Garfield holiday specials on TV, you should check this out – especially if you have kids!


Lake Fear 3

You know how a lot of the times, these dollar store movies have a spectacular cover that the film can’t possibly live up to? Sometimes it’s the opposite, and the cover just doesn’t do the movie justice.

At first glance, Lake Fear 3 looks like it’s going to be a ghost hunters knock off. We begin with spooky intro credits from one of those ghost hunting shows on discovery, complete with a goofy cameraman doing his thing. We pull out of the TV and into a bar where people are watching the program. A man wanders in, ripped shirt, and bloody. His name is Remmington and he brings  some surprise gore and demons with him. While I’m confused and don’t know for the life of me what’s going on, I sure do like it.

We cut to the credits burning in the sky over a spectacular drone shot, and switch to a desolate phone booth and gas station. A girl is trying to post “missing” posters in this one horse town, and one of the locals tells her that if the person in those posters was lost around here, she’s just dead.

The girl, Revol jumps in the car with her friend Chloe and they race off to plaster their missing signs all through downtown. One of the places there, a local opera house is hosting an appearance by the ghost hunter, Vincent, from the opening credits. He’s unsuccessfully trying to hock autographs, but opportunity and another great drone shot are laying right around the corner for him, as the girls come to meet him.
“Can you find her sister who’s been missing for three years?” Chloe asks. She’s sure he’s a scam, but is willing to pay his expenses if he’ll even just make something up to give Revol closure
Suddenly, a shotgun blast rocks tonight and everybody runs to the window. There’s a woman holding a man at bay, it’s our bloody torn shirt guy Remmington from the beginning. She tells him to go back where he came from,  declaring she’s heard talk about a man who shows up at night and brings only death with him
“It’s my right to refuse service to anyone! Especially Hellspawn!”
Remmington warns that they need to get inside, and Revol tries to grab the gun from the woman… But it goes off in her shoulder. The shotgun wound is the least of her worries though as she melts into a terrifying monster who attacks Chloe. Remmington just looks sad as Vincent stares in shock and awe. He turns and flees into the restaurant, with the monster in pursuit. He grabs up the nearest object to use as a weapon… It happens to be somebody’s leg. The Revol creature speaks noise and its eyes glow looking into his soul. It’s almost a laughing, mocking sound. Suddenly the leg morphs, becoming a creature itself and attacking the ghost hunter, who struggles with it through the misty darkness of the restaurant.

The next 10 minutes are full on, gore fueled, relentless, monster attacks. It’s largely practical as well, with Aftereffects really only providing glowing elements to the whole affair. And just when you think they can’t keep this pace up, they do.

Vincent and Remmington toss Chloe into the backseat, bandaging her up as best they can and head out. No one‘s talking much, everyone’s pretty well in shock. Everyone that is, except Remmington. It’s not enough to flee though, monster Revol materializes in the car and goes after Chloe again. The evil is following them. A quick shotgun blast to the face is enough to propel her through the window and out of the car, but monster Revol picks herself up and puts her self back together, getting ready for another go around.

46 minutes in, we get our explanation. Apparently Remmington went on vacation to a cabin and unleash some unspeakable evil from the TV that now follows him (The flashback is inexplicably told in a bizarre and cheap looking flash animation). Now his plan is to lure it back to its own home, and he’s going to need Vincent and Chloe to help.

Remmington creates a circle of protection, then summons the evil which looks like a fleshy bloody garbage bag, spitting and growling at them. The shotgun does no good. Chloe breaks and flees as Vincent stands confused. Remmington is blinded by the blood the creature is spitting, and takes time to recover; then attacks, charging the creature which vanishes into the darkness. Vincent is bitten though, and the wound begins to twist and morph, a monster emerging from the shoulder. He gingerly picks at it with his fingers removing it as the possessions spreads over the side of his body. The creature re-emerges and Remmington bludgeons it with the shotgun. Vincent seems to be free of its hold once Remmington has administered the beat down.
Time to return to the cabin, (We never actually see a lake Do we? Because of the name of the film, I assume there’s a lake outside the cabin but really, we can’t be sure!) where the final battle will be fought. It plays out mostly in darkness, and mostly by the Foley artists. Still, considering everything we’ve seen so far, leaving us in the dark is quite effective here, allowing our imaginations to supply us much of the climax, and makes the sudden monster reveals that much more effective.
Unlike Lake Fear 2, Lake Fear 3 is in fact an actual honest to God sequel, made by Michael and Gerald Crum who show an enormous amount of growth both in technical skill and the storytelling ability in the four years since their original effort.

I’ve read in several synopses that Revol is looking for her sister who originally went to the evil cabin… I can only assume they’re referring to one of the four girls in the original film, because this movie was shot in Texas (and it LOOKS like Texas), where as part two is obviously in Florida. Still, the connection is never firmly made, and the film could’ve benefited from a stronger tie to the original Lake Fear. Likewise, I’m perplexed at why our flashback scenes were these weird flash animations rather than simply cutting to shots of the original film. It’s been the same distributor all along, I would hope that that would smooth over any rights issues.

The filmmakers very much wear their influence on their sleeves, you can totally see Evil Dead and The Thing represented here. While I criticize the make up in the original, Gerald Crum’s creature FX in this are stunning and excellent. The monsters are every bit as chaotic as what we see in Carpenters The Thing, and many of these effects shots are comparable. There’s a definite Evil Dead vibe once we get to the cabin, but these creatures supersede anything that I ever saw in Raimi’s classic. I love it when people succeed, and Michael and Gerald Crum have both knocked it out of the park with this one. It’s astonishing what a difference four years makes.

Of the three films, this is far and away the best, and worth sitting through the first two to discover this one, And it’s enough to actually make me want to go back and take a second look at the original Lake Fear!


Kenny and company

Kenny_&_Company_FilmPosterI will readily admit that I can’t exactly call this the first film entirely though it’s one of Coscarellis earliest released works – it’s preceded by Jim the worlds greatest, but I’ve never got my hands on a copy of that one… This is a quintessential 70s film – and in a lot of ways it’s childhood in the 70s as viewed through the eyes of someone who was a child in the late 50s… There is still an idealized neighborhood, where everyone knows everyone else on the street and children all played together, building soapbox racers in planning their Halloween costumes… There’s always​ The younger kid tagging along with the older ones wanting to see how things work and be a part of the world. Kenny and Company also documents the first awakening of romance, that first crush and the desire to get to know the girl – and kiss her. It’s from a period, where childhood and adulthood are still far more firmly separated than they are today.
tumblr_inline_nea2y1jZsm1sqr9zcMike Baldwin from Phantasm is in this film, but he isn’t the supporting lead… he’s the secondary lead. However he is very much playing the prototype of the character that he would later immortalize in the phantasm films… Indeed I can see this as being what his character would have been like in those films if he hadn’t been haunted by the mysterious tall man. He’s handy with a hammer, foul mouthed, Brave and brash.

There is a sort of dreamlike quality to a lot of the film, a Coscarelli trademark.  Still, the dialogue ring is very true and it’s definitively in Coscerelli’s style. In the end, I found myself entranced– completely sucked in.  I genuinely didn’t expect to like it as much as I maxresdefaultdid… These days, this is a perpetual Halloween watch… And interesting drama, mixed in with my normal slate of horror films. This is a must watch, if you can get your hands on it.


Fall of Grace

Fall of Grace starts off well enough. Interesting credits that shiver and shake over news reports of a demonic attack. There’s a weariness about our characters, as a fight goes on under a blue filter. They don’t waste any time getting our victem possessed on the other side of the credits. She talks through a mirror to a shadow behind her, and it’s painfully casual.

Fight club still going on in the darkness of rooftop, and we cut back-and-forth between that and the girl talking to her imaginary friend. It’s almost reminiscent of the child that speaks to the demonic pig in the Amityville horror. Green glows from her closet, and its door opens by itself. She leaves the room, and wanders the empty house, searching for her wayward mother. A light snaps on in the kitchen, but there’s no one there. Just her imaginary friend in the green glow. It wants to go somewhere. 

What happens next is actually pretty shocking.

We fast forward to a month after the horrifying events and the parents are still recovering. Mom’s drinking and dad studying the occult. Dad tells Mom he’s going to get their daughter back… as he plunges the knife into his arm. She’s drunk enough that it doesn’t even phase her. He heads out to the garage and draws a circle in blood and begins a ritual. The effects are bloody with flashes of scary imagery, and really the exact thing that Crum excels at.

Dad shifts the demon into his drunken wife, and proceeds to torture it. To be fair, the demon has it coming… It’s got a mouth full of smack talk, and disturbing images.. it’s really what Trump does best, reading grotesque imagery… But at the same time he makes a rookie mistake and lingers on it for far too long. Fortunately, it pauses once the chainsaw comes out. He’s now in a garage full of dead girls, lit only by a lantern. It allows them to throw a jump scare here or there and go subtler.

And that’s just the first half hour!

Back in the girls room, creepy dolls open their eyes and stare at him. The closet opens, and something comes out. It claws him and flashes in an out of existence,  there is the sound of a music box in the distance and it’s long white teeth create a mocking and garish grin.

Chainsaw. Threats. Time for real exorcists to get involved.  We have an old priest and a young priest! Of course kid exorcist’s elder tells him it’ll never work. You can’t trust evil. It doesn’t matter, he’s going to try and rescue the girl. For a spiritual battle though, this is awfully physical, with some serious violence going on… And a flair for the fantastic.

While kid exorcist is getting beaten up and his eyes ripped out, the dad is getting worked over by the cops, one of whom was having affair with his wife. Finally they let him go, and he comes home to discover the bloodied priest there… Still offering to help him get his daughter back.
It’s the old priest’s turn next, and it ends up as bloody as any of the previous encounters. Dad comes to the rescue with chains and a stake through the heart. The young priest, now blind, prays and a fiery portal to hell erupts out of the ground. It’s still not enough, and the demon gets away. 

“What gives you the notion that pathetic humans could take me down?”
 
Time for the final boss fight. He’s waiting for Dad in the girls room with her.
 
Crum is working with some new techniques here, really experimenting with compositing and camera speeds to create a stuttered jerky look. Nevertheless, it’s got his distinct touch to it… Particularly when we look at the monsters. Their bloody and misshapen, gruesome to the extreme. There’s some discipline though, creating several distinct looks and recognizable monsters. It’s a film that shows all polish and some restraint on crumbs part. Rather than the unfiltered lunacy that we get in his Lake Fear movies. It’s and unmistakable growth as a filmmaker, and one of the better films he’s done.
 
 

 

 

 


Jim, the Worlds Greatest

 

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The “teen movie” really came into its own in the 80s with the John Hughes series. Jim the worlds greatest predates that. It’s a sort of film that lays the groundwork for what the teen movie would become. Don Coscarelli’s touch really shows through in this movie with his signature dreamlike quality, tracking a non-linear path through the story. In this way you can actually tell this is from the same director that made Phantasm.  Such themes are only reinforced by the fact that it’s a story of an older brother watching out for his younger brother… Indeed the entire thrust of the film is an older brother, probably a senior in high school who is already taking on the responsibilities that really should belong to the delinquent father of this piece.

Jim World’s Greatest also has a sort of meandering slice of life quality to it… There’s no 18A-Rory-1024x774real narrative or story here, there’s just life as we drift from set piece to set piece. It’s much  the same technique he would employ in his next film; Kenny and Company. Just drifting, at least, until the third act – when things get serious.

I didn’t expect this to be a comedy, but I’ll admit I didn’t expect it to get as intense as it did either. Angus Scrimm gives a performance of a lifetime here, grim and depressing as the out-of-work father who occasionally gets drunk and beats his kids. We really only get to know the present-day father, the failure… and we know it wasn’t always like this. We get glimpses of him during happier days trough flashbacks – it’s an impressive juxtaposition that Scrimm delivers brilliantly.

Reggie Banister (who apparently never had hair on top) shows up as well, giving one of hqdefaultthe most lunatic and wacky performances I’ve ever seen him do. It’s a little more than a cameo as a crashed wind rider, but man it’s always nice to see a familiar face.

In the end, it’s quite an emotional film – and it really shows Coscarelli’s skill. It almost makes me sad that he transitioned into low-budget and horror, and yet this is the kind of film that was ideally suited for the 1970s, and that era  would not last forever. It genuinely makes me wonder though, what Coscarelli would do with such material today. I’m not sure that he could even get it made – the era of emotional low-budget dramas in the theater seems to have passed, and thanks to Coscarelli’s negative experiences during his brief sojourn in to the studio system, he’s been jaded enough to never venture there again.

There is a definite evolution present here, a direct line from Jim the worlds greatest, through Kenny and Company, directly leading into Phantasm. Seriously, THAT’s the trilogy. You can see Coscarelli and his sensibilities develop while staying very true to the concepts that intrigued him, and it only reinforces my belief in how underrated this filmmaker is.

jim-the-worlds-greatest

 


Anna

Nicely creepy doll for this, and it actually looks like the one on the cover. You get points for that. Also get points for not including any horror posters or dvds in our character’s room… Romcoms on the shelves, typical books and stuff. They lose points though for the shot on video tape look and the warning at the beginning that it’s “based on a true story”.

It’s a bare room… It looks like somebody tried to make up a basement space as a set. The sleeping girl finds the evil doll next door… And weird sounds.… It’s all just a very very bad memory.

A couple of paranormal fanboys discovered that the doll has been removed from the house and put in a paranormal museum. They take the tour, distract the guide and swipe the doll.

Turns out they are YouTubers… They’re going to do the seven days with a haunted doll. Except nothings really happening. Suddenly, they certainly realize the problem is, all the victims have been women.

They hit the bar and pick up a lady that just might be a working girl, and invite her back. She shows up in their basement hang-out early, while the guys are out grabbing a couple last-minute supplies. She chucks the doll out the door, and that’s when things go wrong. She killed in a disjointed blaze of images, and then vanishes. As far as the guys know, she just never showed up, and their next trip is out to a local witch. The witch summons the spirit of the doll, who kills and possesses her, a bizarre and bloody spectacle.

The guys wake up dazed and trapped in the witches underground basement layer… With the doll sitting in the corner and a message written in blood. “Find her, kill her”.
Time to put their paranormal tools to work. The Witch has been turned into a bizarre, head splitting monster that walks on all fours and is hunting them. The problem is, they can’t leave. The basement has trapped them, and the doors don’t actually lead out. It turns into a cat and mouse game in a possibly large seller, with occasional interesting set pieces.

The doll agrees to let them go if they’ll send her more women. They agree and run away, hoping to figure out something or just escape. They then visit a psychic to see if she can exorcise the doll, but she just becomes another victim. The monster in the house is growing, and when the guys realize their mistake they break back in to try and rescue her. But the monsters aren’t playing games anymore.

This feels to me like it was made by haunters. The maze-like quality of the cellar sets and the bloody set pieces, the dark and slimy monsters, the back lighting, it all feels like haunted house techniques. These guys are very good at their set pieces and I feel like this would be a great Halloween party movie… Plenty of creepy imagery that you can enjoy with the sound turned off.

The story is just about adequate, but never quite knows what it wants to be. They drift back-and-forth between horror and humor, never quite blending the two and frequently falling short with the humor. I feel like these guys have read some of David Wong’s books like John Dies at the End, and they wanted a couple of slacker losers as their funny main characters. It never quite tracks though. They’re held back by their location as well. It feels like they really only had some person’s basement to shoot in, and were constantly re-dressing it.

It’s worth seeing if there’s nothing better on television, and really for some of the effects. However, it fails to be funny or scary, and that’s a shame… Because in better hands, this might just be something.

 

 


The Hills Run Red

index.jpgOne of the things that I ‘m always struck by in Parker’s work is how he evolves and grows as a filmmaker. The Hills Run Red is the kind of film I almost expect him to make when not bound by the house style of Full Moon. There’s horror and thriller mixed together in this, with a grittier take than the sort of thing we’d seen before with him.

The Hills Run Red is the story of a young filmmaker trying to research and document the making and existence of a notorious cult film by the same name. To this end he tracks down the director’s daughter who is the only surviving cast member (shades of Manos!) and together with his small crew, they make the pilgrimage to where the movie was born.

There’s still buckets of blood and a masked killer in this film, but it’s far more layered images2.jpgthan The Dead Hate the Living. It’s not as straightforward a story, and it’s not really until you get to the end that you realize just how much misdirection there’s been here.

Mixing obsession, degradation while it twists the heroe’s journey archtype, the Hills Run Red may just be Parker’s best work.


I Like To Hurt People

indexI like to hurt people was billed as a documentary, and maybe it is… But Donald Jackson presents it as a linear narrative – far more like a feature than a documentary. It lends itself to this format, because of the inherently staged nature of wrestling, pushing a story line  right alongside the gladiatorial combat. Indeed, this feels familiar, with plenty of ringside interviews and grandstanding to inter cut between staged scenes .

We get backstage imagery of one Wrestler threatening the cameraman, spectators at the snack bar discussing the current match, backstage antics and the like. The most notable of these kind of scenes is one with wrestlers waiting in their car to meet their opponents. The camera captures perfectly, their shock when Andre the giant emerges, gargantuan and bigger than life from his ride. I’m going to go on record right now and say this movie is worth the watch just for this and to see more Andre.

In great part, this is the story of heel wrestler Edward Farhat, better known as the Sheik. In the early days of television, the Sheik almost single-handedly escalated the violence and commercial appeal of professional wrestling with a style that was “Hardcore” long before that genre of wrestling ever existed. Steve Slagle, a student of wrestling, wrote in The Ring Chronicle that ”perhaps no other wrestler is more responsible for influencing the current generation of ‘hardcore’ wrestling than the one and only Arabian madman known as the Sheik.” “I like to Hurt people” follows the 6 foot tall, 247 pound villain as he cuts through the wrestling world, changes managers and fights his way through with a showdown against Dusty Rhodes : the American Dream on the horizon. This is professional wrestling, it’s old images2school. It’s not the glitzy polished events we’re used to seeing with the WWE. These wrestlers are a barrel chested, big guys with less muscle definition, but every bit as much attitude and big personality as you have ever seen in any pro wrestling event. There is blood here too, not quite as much as you might see in the underground hard-core wrestling circuit that 42nd Street Pete promotes , but more than what you are probably  used to in your average royal rumble!

I find it particularly amusing to watch Andre the giant literally lift people up over his head and then toss them out of the ring.

In the background, we have the President of the “Stop the Sheik” movement attempting to derail the upcoming match, and get the Sheik out of the circuit. It’s a subplot that helps to hold the entire story together between matches. Interestingly enough, this wasn’s part imagesof the original pitch, but was added in years after the footage was shot to pad the run time and give the film more structure. Eventually the “Stop the Sheik” movement ends when the man behind it just… disappears!

Contrived subplots aside, there’s still plenty of interviews, giving you a clearer picture of why the wrestlers do what they do and what it means to them. It keep the film feeling like a documentary, even as it unfolds as more of a hybrid.

“It’s how I found true meaning. I like to hurt people”

Jackson isn’t content to just cover mainstream wrestling though, we get a side story about a female wrestler named “Heather Feather” who really wants to wrestle a man. Jackson documents  the arm wrestling match that leads to the images.jpgreal thing. We follow her into the ring for what is billed as the first pro wrestling match between a woman and a man. It’s a novelty act, but an Ernest one. Jackson not only covers women’s wrestling but also matches with little people – as brutal and pitched as any fight you can imagine.

Back on the mainstream circuit, trouble arises, and the shiek’s manager quits and has to be replaced by an even more colorful character. The Sheik continues on, bringing his boa constrictor with him to the ring and bowing to it before the matches. He rarely speaks, and what he does say is in Arabic, spoken in sinister tones. In the back on his limo, he and his manager ride off to the future.

When we talk about Donald Jackson, we usually like to focus on the bad films. But I’m going to come straight out and say this is a good movie. How can I tell? Because I don’t like wrestling. I may know some of the names because they are pop culture, but I do’t have any interest in the form or genre. Nevertheless, I was completely sucked in. I was riveted by this film on a subject I don’t care a bit for. It goes on Ebay from twenty to fifty dollars.Do your self a favor and scour the goodwill, salvation army and other thrift stores to find a battered old VHS copy of this.

 


Allegiance of Powers

From IMDB:

“Groups of super powered people begin a war that will bring the city they live in crumbling down. Allegiances of super powered people fight for control of a young girl, who holds the ultimate power to control anything and everyone in the city. They will begin a war that in the end could bring the entire city crumbling down.”

Flat out, I’ve been looking forward to this one. Allegiance to powers from its description and cover looks very much like a big departure from what Crum has done before. He begins in a heavily edited green screenshot of our heroes legs arriving in 2025. He seeing the aftermath of a battle. That’s when we flashback and we see the bomb drop. It destroys entire city intimate press of stock footage.

But that’s kind of what I’m talking about, Crum’s trying something different (in fact, it’s feels more like what I would expect from Daniel Armstrong – the post-apocalyptic punk feel). Trying to elevate this film and throw his ring in to the post-apocalyptic superhero fare, with something that at first glance there’s a passing resemblance to Roger. The credit fly over the post-apocalyptic, masks and goggles and grim looking people,  then plug it into some more abstract imagery before coming out the other side of the moon pulling back on a badly rendered CG city and landing on our heroes.

They all deliver soliloquies to try and give us some context, in this in enormously  filtered hyper-real environment. It’s almost the sort of video game looking environment that we see in films like Sucker Punch and Sin City. Interesting designs, and some impressive use of digital effects, but we need some story and fast.

It’s a very confusing beginning. Talk of innocents, and deadly red rain, introduction to characters and super fights, but no context. It’s a high concept an art film, but not necessarily ready for prime time.
We seem to be watching this song is it worth a video replay, I think that he was trying to figure out what happened… And he’s searching for a special young woman – actually I know that from the IMDb description. But the way things are still nonlinear and disjointed, it’s for a very difficult watch.

That’s really the big thing that disappoints me here. This really should’ve been a few YouTube videos, some short films. Because it seems like the entire point of this is to dive into digital FX and experiment with superhero concepts. This could be really interesting, even in its stylized form if there was just a good solid script here. The problem is, there’s not.
It’s brilliant visuals in dazzling eye candy, but it’s also the same feeling as watching a video game, and there’s sadly nothing of substance here. Visually and may becomes strongest work, and yet he magically it’s also probably his weakest.

 

 


Gone in 60 Seconds 1974

I’m actually a big fan of Gone in 60 Seconds with Nicolas Cage. In fact, I much prefer it to The Fast and the Furious, which feels like a very similar movie to me – at least the first one did before the franchise turned into ghetto James Bond. There’s something charming about Nicolas Cage when he’s on his game and surrounded by good people. It’s one of only a handful of films that Angela Jolie stars and where I don’t feel like punching her in the face. I mean, I don’t know a thing about what they’re talking about when they’re describing the various cars or engines, but man it sure does makes me wish I did. There’s also something just charming and the filling about a good heist movie where you’re not sure who you’d rather root for – the detective or the thieves. Gone in 60 seconds is absolutely one of those films that I’ll drop everything and watch whenever I’m flipping through the cable channels.

Imagine my surprise to discover that it’s a remake.

Back one year before I was born, H B Halicki was plotting his cinematic debut. He was a mechanic who fixed cars, ran impounds and was a general competent gearhead all around. They say to write what you know, so that’s exactly what he did. He crafted a story around cars and high-speed chases and threw in as many car crashes as he could possibly get away with. He spent the previous years buying up as many cars as he could from auctions and impounds and etc. most of which were purchased for the express purpose of destroying them within his debut film, Gone in 60 Seconds.

You’ll recognize a lot from this film if you’re familiar with the Cage movie. There are a few changes of course. Halicki is an insurance adjuster who moonlights as a car thief, but it’s still a massive car heist on a deadline. They specifically target cars that are insured, that way the owners will be made whole, but this puts him at odds with his brother and his job. We get other elements from the Cage film as well – the scene with the drug dealers car where they have to blow away the heroin by gunning the exhaust is here, as well as the relationship with Eleanor. Also much like the Cage film, the final chase takes up much of the film – this one goes on ridiculously long clocking in at right around 40 minutes, and culminating in the same type of epic jump that Cage manages in the remake… only in the original, the jump isn’t a CG monstrosity against a blue screen, it’s the real thing that ramps up Eleanor 30 feet into the air and 130 feet in distance, landing with an earth shattering crash that jammed 10 vertebrae in Halicki’s spine. He never walked quite the same again, and never regretted a moment of it.

It’s a fairly rough film, and you can tell that it’s Halicki’s first effort. It took a while to complete and occasionally they’d have to shut down production and fix cars in the very garage they were shooting at to raise funds. A great deal the film is overdubbed and shot on extremely grainy stock. The hair and fashions are 70s in the extreme, and I don’t mean Hollywood 70s either. Some of the stunts aren’t actually stunts either. For instance, when Halicki wraps Eleanor around a telephone pole towards the end of the film, that’s not a stunt, that’s an accident. The driver in the car behind him tapped him on the back and sent him spinning out of control. Halicki blacked out as the car came to a teeth rattling stop. When he woke up his first words were reportedly “Did we get coverage?”.

Despite all of its flaws that I can’t help but really digging the movie. The film just has so much heart and I genuinely admire this guy for really going for it. This is a dude who created a film out of nothing, doing his own stunts and creating his own world, and ultimately crafting something that would last forever.

If you dig the Nicolas Cage Gone in 60 Seconds I can’t recommend this enough… If you enjoy 70s films or car chase movies it’s once again an incredibly high recommend and I cannot for the life of me understand why this man did not have a much bigger career.


The Junkman

Firing up the junkman, I’m starting to get the impression that Halicki could be repetitive. It’s almost like if you’ve seen one of his films and you’ve seen them all… Then again, the junkman does have a fun meta-twist.

Halicki stars as Hollis, a gearhead turned actor coming out the success of his first film gone in 60 seconds, and beginning work on his next movie. It’s not so much biographical as it is wish fulfillment. In the film, Gone in 60 Seconds is a huge hit and a household name, and Halicki himself is now working with Hollywood stars on his next movie – A good excuse to give Hollywood mainstay Hoyt Axton a nice meaty guest role. However, there’s murder in the air and someone is trying to kill Halicki on his way to the James Dean festival where he’s a guest.

That about sums up the plot, and once again we are treated to a film that is essentially one very long car chase spread over a couple of different vehicles. I like that he uses both his prior success and his new connections to his best advantage – we get some interesting glimpses into his life and his garage. We even get a cameo from Eleanor, all dented and crushed in her former glory, now with Gone in 60 Seconds painted across the side to commemorate the film.

Junkman ends up being just as entertaining of a film as Gone in 60 Seconds, but the meta-connection to Halicki’s previous film hurts it – it effectively keeps it from standing on its own as a movie and turns it into a mere sidequel. Casual viewers will probably feel like they’ve missed an important part of the story if they haven’t seen Gone in 60 Seconds previously. Halicki would have probably been better off crafting a completely separate story with new people and new situations – we’re constantly reminded that despite his alias in the film, it is in fact, his garage and his cars being used in the film. His name is everywhere – on billboards and garage addresses and such. This overall connection may also have held Halicki himself back, with producers not being certain that he could break away and do something new.
Still, it works as part of the Gone in 60 Seconds series and if you enjoyed his other films, you’ll have fun with this.


Lake Fear

Michael crumb is one of those filmmakers that kept popping up in my stack of movies from the dollar tree.  I surprised was to discover three entries the Lake Fear series, but even more intrigued finding out that he had directed both the first and third. When his name turned up again on the Anna haunted doll movie, I decided it was time to investigate.

Crum feels like a filmmaker in the very early stages of his craft. A lot of what he does is unpolished… More like student films then production. However, whereas while other artists might bury their early work, or remake it into something more professional, Crum seems to go the other direction… putting it all out there, and then making sequels to show he can improve on a theme.

Crum’s work feels like a little a haunted house, with amazing set design, and grotesque, incomprehensible monsters. He’s not shy about gore or harsh colored lighting.

What I find the most fascinating though, is to watch his growth, particularly in the sequels that he makes to his own original works. It’s a fascinating progression and leaves me intrigued as to where he will go from here.

Lake Fear has a nice, interesting looking cover, but I could tell I was in trouble almost immediately when they started blasting loud metal. You could also see it in the amateur levels of cinematography in the stilted performance given by the mother, dropping her daughter off. I strapped in, knowing this is going to be a rough one.
The credits are in heavy metal fonts, with satanic imagery and creepy pictures behind them. A car, innocent mom is dropping off her daughter. Yeah,  it could be a college or dorm. It’s all sweet and lovely, and then the daughter, Tina, rushes away, changing into much more revealing clothes and obviously getting ready for her weekend, scoffing  all the way. She meets up with a guy who’s handing off his car to her and rushes off to pick up her friend Kathy who is supposed to remember to bring the beer. They keep heading on, grabbing two more girls, Jordan, with the overprotective father, and Stephanie who they referred to as a furry because she wears cat ears and a tail pinned to her short shorts. They’re all heading out to a cabin in the lake, remotely located… So far out that they can’t drive up to it. They park the car and start their hike into the woods.

The first main obstacle is a foggy river with no passable bridge. It’s really just an excuse to strip the girls down to their underwear… There’s no nudity in this film… But at the same time, the filmmakers are going for some symbolism as well, they say the girls are crossing the river Styx. That may be just a touch too pretentious for this film, but I certainly do see how it marks them leaving the normal world and crossing over into whatever darkness  is fueled by the evil cabin. Symbolism yes, but mostly, girls in their skivvies.

Finally, they emerge from the woods into a clearing, and spy the cabin in the distance. There’s still plenty of light, but the day is fading and nobody is there. Fortunately, the door has been left unlocked for them. 

As night falls, cat girl is the first to get it. While one of the girls is outside and exploring the outbuildings looking for a place to relieve herself. She finds a creepy button a doll, and this seems to kick off the bad juju. Cat girl wanders outside looking at the foggy night air, and starts to see a figure, moving unnaturally in the woods. This flickering ghoul lures her deeper into the night, where she sinks into the wet darkness and mud, ultimately dispatching her.

The other girls are asking where cat girl has gone and noticed some strange footprints on the wood floor of the cabin.

There’s screaming outside.

They go to investigate, trying to best to find Cat girl. A tape recorder starts to play in another room, ala Evil Dead. It warns of the evil presence in the cabin, and yet when the lights go out, they’re still convinced it’s just a power outage. In the living room, the TV flickers showing images very reminiscent of The Ring. The girls are almost hypnotized by it, and in the corner, The doll watches. Jordan collapses and Tina rushes over to her, she notices a figure in front of the TV… and a ghost girl with dirty long hair turns menacingly, then charges her. We cut and see Tina staring aimlessly, Jordan looking strange, and weird lights continue from the TV along with unnatural movements. There’s more people now in the cabin then we started with, in the haunting itself gets strange… Disjointed . There’s flashing lights and crawling and chains and strange haunted house noises going on all around. Kathy trips and falls and gets a rotary saw stuck in her hand. The doll is sitting in this corner as well, and there are rubber monsters With slimy teeth in the dark.

We cut to zombie cat girl with a zipper face dragging Tina out to the woods, covering them both with blood. Tina breaks free, swinging  a large stick and fleeing back in to the cabin with Jordan. The tape player continues to recite it ominous commentary. The TV shines with such brightness and fog that it is practically a portal now. In the kitchen, a bloody figure strokes for dolls hair, and quick flashes of eyeless faces keep us off balance. Headless bodies, bodiless heads, random dire inserts coming from the television. And the girls are hypnotized again, until the fiendish creatures around them start to go wild. They’ve finally had enough and smash the TV.

At this point, our hero Remmington shows up… he’s a strapping young man with prodigious sideburns and a very Texas belt buckle and he informs them that when they smashed the TV, they let the evil out. He explains that he was the one who trapped the evil in the television. I’m not entirely sure how that works, but even more confusing is where Remmington came from. I don’t understand. Was he also stuck in the TV? Was he just walking by? Did aliens drop himdown the chimney with Santa Claus?  This sudden inclusion of another character, our demon fighter, is confusing  to say the least, especially happening as it does, at the 56 minute mark of an 81 minute film.

Remmington and the girls are in for the fight of their life, in this blue tinted horror cabin with Demons sensuously dancing and crawling around them. We get some stitch face make up and the horrifying spectacle of a tongue split on naked blade, before Remmington gets fed up with this nonsense and flat out stabs the demon in the head.

There’s blood and monsters and blue fog all around them. The demons move in jerky staggered ways, taunting them in disturbing, distorted voices. 

And the rag doll sits and watches.

 Remmington does his best Bruce Campbell, slashing and slicing through the demons and getting hosed down by various color fluids. 

“It looks like we’re about to get a lot better acquainted” he says, then turns to the doll. “What else you got?”

That’s really about it as far as the plot goes. But this movie is not about the plot. Sometimes I’ll notice that a movie got made because there’s a bunch of make up artists who really want a vehicle to showcase their talents. These movies tend to be over the top in gore, and they tend to linger on the fantastic shots of torn flesh and bloody carnage. You can spot one of these by the lack of story and the bad acting. This film is in the same mold, only in this case, we’ve got some people who know some visual effects and want to show off their time lapse warps and quick cutting skills in the editing bay.

They brought on some people who kind of know make up and lighting, but it ends up being sufficient, but never quite professional. It’s haunted house skills… Minor make up with blood and stitches… Even an honest to God super face. Stark lighting that gives color but not mood. I genuinely felt like I had walked out of a haunted attraction after this movie.

 

The end result is they managed to create some interesting imagery, but never create a story, or develop enough sympathy with these characters for me to care when they get knocked off. It’s the sort of thing you put on in the background at a nightclub because there’s great visuals, and no story to follow. Unfortunately, Lake Fear is just a disappointment.

How the heck are there two more of these???


Deadline : Auto Theft

Deadline Auto Theft begins with a daring helicopter hijack. The thieves though have the bad fortune to land right where police chief Hoyt Axton is having lunch with his porn star daughter and her sleazebag husband. The hijacker jumps into a sports car and begins the first chase of the movie. We get lots of high speed and crunchy car crashes as they race down the concrete spillway that we’re so familiar with from Terminator 2, Grease, not to mention countless Donald G Jackson films. It’s around this point, with Hoyt Axton hot in pursuit and singing into his CB that I notice this whole thing is beginning to sound just a little bit familiar…

What were watching is actually the scene that was being filmed at the beginning of the Junkman – that’s right, we are in director Hollis’ follow up to the fictional version of gone in 60 seconds! This is actually kind of cool.
Axton finds himself dressing down his police force for crashing too many cars during the chase and present them with their new assignment as we cross fade to our hijackers at a very familiar looking wedding. Axton is looking for a group of hijackers that are responsible for a rash of car theft, and back at the wedding we find H B Halicki telling his brother that they’ve got a big order – 40 cars in record time… Wait a minute, what? I’ve seen this movie too!

Deadline Auto Theft is a strange remix of Gone in 60 Seconds with the addition of that early car chase and where hockey has swapped out the police chief Hawkins for the most part with white Axton‘s Detective Gibbs – complete with a whole new subplot involving his porn star daughter and scumbag son-in-law who’s car Halicki stole as part of the whole affair.

It’s a bizarre mishmash – it’s nine years later and not only has Halicki visibly aged, but his camera skills have gotten better with the newly shot footage comes off as much cleaner and slicker looking than the old footage that’s being mixed in. All the character moments are still there, the heroin scare, the epic jump, the 40 minute car chase – but now it’s been repackaged in this sort of parallel universe director’s cut that makes the continuity police in me want to tear my hair out.

In all fairness, between Gone in 60 Seconds and Deadline Auto Theft, Deadline Auto Theft is the superior production – it benefits from Halicki getting some more time behind the camera and some experience doing what he does. However, this strange attempt to re-edit and re-package his first try also has the effect of killing his career. It would be another six years before Halicki would attempt his fatal come back.

Ultimately this collection of films creates an interesting footnote as far as low-budget film making goes – but I can’t fault the man. Gone too soon, he left us this fascinating collection of movies and I’m better off for having explored them.

 


Dark Image

That’s odd. Justin’s name isn’t anywhere on this thing, but Dark Image (also released as Mirror Image) is listed as one of his films, co directed with frequent collaborator Chris Freeman.
I like the cast – Leslie Easterbrook and even an Eric Roberts cameo lent it a bit of street cred, and the film opens in a nicely eerie black and white. Ferris wheel….girls on swings and a pair of sisters – with one murdered.Years later, she’s trying to cope with the death of her sister and off on a getaway to help jog here memory about what happened. So is the cop (suspended for tampering with the evidence) that investigated the case, and he’s trying to drag his partner back into it. The captain (Roberts) warns him off but he’s determined.
Meanwhile, the girl is seeing things – maybe her meds are out of synch?Her shrink warns her that if it keeps up, he’ll have to send her back to the institution.That’s not stopping the flashes of bloody hand prints and dead sister in the shower though….. It’s a good and creepy CGI haunting that pops up sporadically though the film while the cops stalk them, trying to perhaps pin the murder on the sister. The  whole haunting has a strange Dante influence – curiously artsy for a film with such frequently flat lighting. Still, it’s the setup for what happens next – and all secrets are revealed when the devil opens her memories.
The thing is, this thing really isn’t sure if it want’s to be a police thriller or a horror movie – and it’s not quite sophisticated enough to balance those two things like a Giallo would. Perhaps wit ha bit more length and intrigue. I know I’, the LAST one to say a movie is too short, but at 76 minuets, there’s time to misdirect and ratchet up tension, or lean into the possession aspect. Freeman and Jones manage a  few spectacular images towards the end, and I’m definitely glad I watched it…but there’s not enough repeat value here for me to really consider returning to it.


Rivers 9

Looking at the credits for Rivers 9, I see C. Thomas Hall, Vinnie Jones and Jamie Kennedy. Bad. The whole poker motif going on under the credits also gets my attention. I enjoy Vegas style stories.

We got a new casino moving into a small town and sucking all the finances out of it. One of the really squeezed is a car mechanic named Jake Rivers finally takes out his frustrations on the windshield of one of the casino employees well the local sheriff (C Thomas Howell in an audacious wig and fake mustache ) is trying to make time with his wife
Vinnie Jones, the casino owner doesn’t take Carlie to Jakes assaults, and strikes back – burning his home, blocking the roadwith a down tree, and making a bit of a threat to his sister, Who works at the casino as a cocktail waitress.

Solid first act set up. Time for a mechanic to get some payback. He grabs one of the guys that hangs out in the shop and get some to introduce him to the person who installed One of the systems in the casino… You’ll have the blueprints… And… Oh my God. You’re kidding me…”River’s 9”.

Seriously? This is an Ocean’s Eleven mockbuster???

Seriously I can’t believe it took me halfway through the movie to realize it.

They start together of the crew, locals and disgruntled casino employees, and get ready for the heist. Hire an actor to distract the main guy in a poker game while they steal the casino money.

There’s no tension in this poker game. I think this thing needs a score and some drama… Because quite frankly I feel nothing. Then again, there’s not enough attention as our guy climbs through the air ducts to get to the safe room either… We occasionally get a jazzy score in the background, something to evoke Ocean’s Eleven, but the very low tech backwater style of this film is pretty much enough to constantly remind you that this ain’t that.

Ultimately, that’s really the problem. I don’t know who this was made for. In a world where Ocean’s Eleven exists, I don’t know who’s gonna watch this instead. It’s really not fair to compare it either, they such different kinds of movies, but the film invites a comparison in some of the styles that it tries and fails to emulate as well as the name and general mood of the peace. I think this might’ve been better served in trying to give it its own identity rather than piggybacking on a popular franchise… especially with the more action oriented double-cross showdown at the end.  It’s a shame that they went this rout instead of trying to mock buster something they didn’t have any hope of coming close to.

Sorority Party Massacre

Look, I really don’t care who the Director is, if you give me a title like Sorority Party Massacre, I’m coming in with certain expectations. A college coed lost in the country near an old car garage is a good start. Scream style phone call from the killer helps too. Gas mask killer with acid is a definite promising start.

Sorority Party Massacre is a Chris Freeman and Justin Jones collaboration. That definitely gives it a different style and polish than some of the other Jones films. The credits are done over a nice collage of bloody gloves and severed limbs. These guys are totally trying to sell us on the hard-core horror aspect. For me, all you had to say was Richard mall and Kevin Sorbo.

Super Bowl is a place captain dressing down a maverick comp… Lethal weapon style. Sorbo is making the most of his cameo, but it may actually distract little bit from the cop was going to be one of my main characters. Ron Jeremy is a cop in this department too… Inexplicably. Anyhow, Sorbo is sending our detective out to check on his sorority daughter, to make sure she’s OK in this backwater town of Grizzly Cove. Richard Moll will take him on his boat. The thing is, Moll’s boat is the only way to get to this island. And he doesn’t remember seeing the sheriffs daughter. Neither did the local cops… They use us as an excuse though, to introduce us to the girls that did arrive…. Not only does it serve to get familiar with the arc types will be watching die, but it’s also a good opportunity to throw some gratuitous cheesecake at the screen.

Cop’s daughter never showed up to this… an event that brings girls from different sororities together to compete for a grant. It’s a little vague what the grant is for… But that’s fine. It’s really just an excuse to line up a bunch of bikini-clad victims.

Someone is sleeping in the stables. Also, one of the sorority girls has just been sent to clean the stables. Guess who gets killed next ?

With an hour runtime left, it’s time for the cop to start his investigation in earnest. There’s still plenty of hot codes to investigate, even if the Chiefs daughter is dead. The head of the competition seems kind of sketchy and I miss congeniality way, and so does the mentally challenged groundskeeper.

There’s actually a lot more law and order/CSI detective work going on here and I would’ve anticipated. I almost feel that down. Really, with a title like sorority party massacre, you’re expecting nudity, and gory kills. Our second act is almost entirely the detective’s show. Like, I’m kind of glad that we got those long intros to each of these girls at the beginning… Because I feel like I’ve barely seen them since then. And where is the cool killer I saw the beginning of the movie??? It’s literally been an hour since I’ve seen it! (yeah…sadly, he’s not coming back)


Quantum Apocalypse

With my previous experiment with Jones and Apocalypse fare, I feel like this is going to be painful. An asteroid is heading to earth in a very syfy looking monitoring center. Suddenly the comet shifts it’s path.  The screens go blank and alarms blare as the satellite connection is lost.
HOW MANY ASTEROIDS ARE YOU GOING TO TOSS TO EARTH JUSTIN? HOW MANY?

This thing is so Asylum and TV movie and SyFy that it hurts. Disaster movie, melodrama…dogey CGI…The dollar store is too good for this thing!  In fact, acording to IMDB, The title “Quantum Apocalypse” was the result of a joke: Writer Leigh Scott had an e-mail conversation with Dread Central reviewer Scott “The Foywonder” Foy (a frequent harsh critic of Sci-Fi Channel Original Films) about the Channel rejecting the previous title “Judgment Day”. Foy remarked the reason that the title was rejected was that it didn’t have a colon like many other Sci-Fi Channel films (such as “Caved In: Prehistoric Terror” and “Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep”) and jokingly suggested the title “Judgment Day: Quantum Apocalypse”. Scott liked the title “Quantum Apocalypse” and asked for permission to suggest it to the Sci-Fi Channel which approved it.  
In addition to a CGI Aurora Borialis in the sky, it’s going to mes with cell phones and radio waves – and we may be looking at something else to create an extinction event. But the weird part is something is out there changing these things course – something that looks a lot like the vortex from Transmorphers….. and in  a few days it’ll be in position to affect the Earth.
We cut back and froth fro the government bunker to the Mayor of the city of Parish and his family -Wife,  the typical teenage boy, the cute little girl and the Mayor’s rain man autistic adult brother. It’s a charming group and honestly I’m actually more interested in their story than the asteroids. Still, while the Mayor’s wife complains about the phones being down and the son is trying to make time with his girlfriend, a couple of quirky scientists arrive at the bunker to try and figure out how to stop this outer space anomaly from destroying the world. What they really should be doing though, is talking to the autistic character. He’s brilliant and has this thing cold figured out.Big props to Rhett Giles by the way, for taking a character that could EASILY have been a stereotype or a parody and giving him some real heart. This character, Terry, is the single most interesting and compelling character in the movie.
While the punk rock scientists are throwing in the towel and calling it the end, Terry is watching the skies with his telescope. Birds darken the skies (I swear,  I feel like we’re back to Biblical epic again….) Terry has a plan and he buying parts to assemble a machine. Hopefully it’s a good plan, because Russia and China want to nuke the vortex. (and yet, I’m equally involved in the son trying to work up the nerve to kiss his girlfriend).
Terry convinces his brother Ben to drive him to Houston because he’s got the answer on how to save the planet…but is it too late? The vortex is here and it’s brought  tsunami with it.
At the end of the day, this thing gets real points for some good characters. The town’s first family really humanizes the global threat, boiling down a big picture disaster into something more manageable and effective. And that’s really the thing. If this movie has a real flaw, it’s at the beginning – it’s all the stuff at the space center. It’s all weak – the characters and the look. It’s kind of like when you’re looking at something forced perspective – you mind knows somethings wrong, but you can’t quite reconcile it. That’s what all this space center stuff looks like. cramped with Jone’s signature flat lighting doing nothing for them. (we could also drop ALL the stuff with the president too. he’s never convincing in the role and it does nothing to move the film along). Some moody atmosphere and warmer filters would go a long way there. But it’s also the lack of connection with the government characters – ESPECIALLY the scientists. Quirky girl and straightman  have no chemistry. Interestingly, neither did Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in Independence Day, but we invested in those characters long before they teamed up because we spent time with them individually. Even more importantly, we spent time with them BEFORE the crisis. Outside of it. Give me a couple scenes with these two individually before the skies darken,  and I think the bunker scenes get much better.

Perhaps it seems like I’m being overly hard on this film. Perhaps I give off the impression of a hateful troll, pecking away on a basement computer covered in cheeto dust. But the thing is, if I hated this thing, I’d just say “Pass” and move along. I’d just forget it. What frustrates me here is I see the potential for a GOOD movie here – even with these same budgetary and time limitations. This is arguably Jones’s best work and it has the ability to stand up with any summer blockbuster in terms of story and emotion. Why do I think this? Because the movie changed my mind while I was watching it. A little past halfway through I went from “Awful syfy film, pass” to “Actually good movie – provided you can turn off your brain on the ridiculous overworked premise and get past the flat bunker scenes” It’s still a recommend, despite the Playstation one CGI and goofy premise, because it really does stick the landing and gives us a clever ending that would feel equally at home in a good episode of Doctor Who.

This is one of those I’d love a redo of – reediting and fixing the bad parts, because despite some subpar element,s the good character bits and over all story still manage to shine through.