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Director Retrospective

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.


Invasion of the Pod People

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to take Invasion of the Pod People seriously when it stars someone named Jessica Bork. That’s the sound the Swedish chef makes!

We start pretty by the numbers… A set of asteroids heading towards earth, and abandoned streets. We even get a news report about an asteroid hitting Monterey California. Wait a minute, isn’t that what happened in the Apocalypse movie we just watched?

It’s more than a coincidence probably, because pod people would be that directors next film. In fact, a great deal of this cast was also featured in Apocalypse… Not to mention an earlier film for the asylum called Transmorphers, which the director, Justin Jones, was an associate director on. That is to say, this cast is all very familiar with each other.

After some bizarre and gratuitous schtupping, we get a talent agent driving through California time eating with her boss. He’s demanding the pain new clients. She’s working at her desk, her boss brings in a strange plant to be passed along. It looks a bit like raw ginger or something (a quick check in the trivia section of IMDB reveals it’s EXACTLY that!). Of course, it’s an evil plant, and it walks away to go hatch a duplicate of the person that’s given to… then has to murder you.

Moran gratuitous boinking and a big argument between the girl and her boyfriend, because he travels for work. The thing is, she barely sees him when he’s not working either… she quickly gets her mind off of it though, when somebody breaks into her apartment and warns her if she’s not careful, they’ll be nobody like her left. Then he shoots himself.

Of course the strange thing is, she see someone who looks just like him standing on the street corner in the next day as she cruises through Hollywood. Probably best if she goes and buys a gun for protection.

People around her just seem to start getting weird… And one bunch of her friends invite her for a girls night out and get her drunk, Things get a little suspicious when they pull out our weird evil plant. Maybe some make out action will distract her?

Time to pass the plant on, while she steals some of the girls silverware to pass on to a cop. It’s supposed to come off as paranoid when she starts to describe them. Sexually aggressive, and vacant. She explains all this to the cop but he’s not entirely taking her seriously.

After another encounter with a pod people, she gets the cop the plant as well, warning her friends. Bad stock/CGI storm footage punctuates their escape. Is there? There’s no way of telling who’s in person or not… How can they possibly stop it?

We’ve got a very amateur sounding cast here. The delivery is stunted and fake. Most of these performances are just terrible, and made worse by the fact that we’re working with such low grade equipment. Tons of background distortion and it sure sound like he’s using the built in camera microphone rather than a boom mic. This really comes across in outdoors shots.

I still feel like I should still be cutting Jones some slack here. This is only his second feature film, and really hot on the heels of his first (I wouldn’t be surprised if these things were shot back to back) but on the other hand, he’s been in the industry for a while at this point, even if he hasn’t been doing the big job as much. Either way, the production values really drag this thing down. This story is not nearly well thought out enough to drive the sort of tension that you need for a body snatchers movie. It ends up being a fail on just about every level.

Transmorphers

 
Man, even the credits for Transmorphers is designed to evoke Transformers. But to their credit, they get the action going right away. Techy astroids, and transforming robots that look like they would’ve been cutting edge for Captain Power, but perhaps a little bit cheap for 2007. Still, you gotta give them credit for trying, and points for not easing us in with a long and convoluted origin story but plunging us right into the battle.

The machines are advancing, and preparing for war. It’s time for a strike at the heart of the defenses. It’s time to take the planet back.

They decide on a mission to try and capture one of these… zeta bots. The idea is if they can extract its power source, they can better understand it. We get a crack team in hockey pads and Nerf guns (actually, I’m not sure what these things are made out of… Nerf guns probably would’ve been prefreable! ) ready to go. Admit, the brief room is excellent. They’ve put some real effort into these sets. Far more than what I would see and stuff like Atlantic Rim. To be fair, they rented a few sets from the Firefly movie Serenity… But even the ones that they’ve created themselves out of ceiling tile, air conditioning conduit and fluorescent light bulbs end up looking surprisingly effective. The exteriors are interesting as well. Very Matrix like, underground high-tech cities.

The crack team goes in, but all of a sudden, they discover that there’s a bot waiting to ambush them… disguised as part of the terrain. It transforms into a robot, and then into a large cannon, even as other bots fly through the sky. It’s surprisingly clever and curiously compelling. I’m only 13 minutes in, and I feel like I shouldn’t be this invested!

Things are going horribly wrong, and there’s only one man that can save them… A renegade named Warren Mitchell… A cold calculating person who’s mind the machines can’t read. The general (she seems awfully young and pretty to be a general… Even a two star one)
is not happy about having him, but on the other hand, he’s not happy to be woken up into this cold in life this world either. He makes demands that his old cronies get unfrozen to eat him… The general gives him one.

There’s a fun bit of action as he breaks in his new team. There’s still a mission to try and grab one of those fuel cells… If they can alter it, perhaps they can alter the consciousness of the robots and control their thinking.
The post apocalyptic battle looks very Captain Power… But with better FX. Kind of as if somebody was trying to make a Terminator future drama but only had access to late 90s CGI. It’s always a problem when were using lasers instead of bullets, but they’ve done a good enough job of making me want to like these characters in this world that I’m still pretty well all-in on this slightly cartoonish adventure. (seriously, if I can put up with it in Leprechaun 4, I can put up with it here. ) They’re not skimping on the human versus robot gun battles either. In fact, the heavy sci-fi elements and set pieces have me enjoying this more than the actual Transformers movie. That’s not a high bar, but it’s still impressive to see the Asylum clear it.

They managed to grab a bot and discover that while they had always assumed the machines were created by an alien race… They were wrong. The machines are the alien race. Opening it up, there’s a mixture of technology and organic tissue… Surprisingly well realized. Now it’s a race against time to get the modifications made before the rest of the robot army comes down around them… but even if that fails, there’s a back up… And at twist waiting for us all.

The weird thing here is, this is the one we always make fun of. It’s the most high profile of Asylums mockbusters, trying to pass with a title just similar enough to Transformers that it might confuse your grandmother when she’s out buying you a birthday gift. The thing is, it’s really shouldn’t be compared to Transformers. It’s a completely different kind of movie… With the only similarity being that there happens to be robots. They don’t really transform, they just shift into a weapons mode. It’s such a completely different kind of fun, and such a completely different genre that now, a decade and a half later, it actually stands better on its own. I’m not going and expecting Transformers, and the level of storytelling that we get here is just surprisingly good. Seriously, if I had grabbed this off the shelf at the video rental store with my friends back when we were teenagers, we would’ve worn this thing out. I know, I’m just flabbergasted as you are  at how much I like this. And that’s really the true test. This thing passed the watch test completely, not once did I look at the clock or check the run time on the menu. I was engrossed for the full 86 minutes… And smart of it not to overstay as welcome like that too. Truth is, if One weekend afternoon, you gave me the choice between watching this or the Michael Bay Transformers movie again… Pretty sure I pick this.

Transmorphers
for a surprise recommend! Asylum is happy to pimp out the license for this thing, so you’ll find it on multiple streaming platforms, even on some of the legit movie channels on YouTube. But I’m gonna tell you right now, if I run across this at record exchange your half price books, I’m going to plunk down a couple dollars to get myself a copy of the physical media. I’m that impressed.
 
 

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.

Intro to Justin Jones

Justin Jones is a solid Asylum alum from way back. He was there when they made thier first Mockbuster – 2005’s War of the Worlds as first assistant director.

Since then, he’s racked up north of 70 credits as producer or assistant director or various crew positions over the years. In particular, he’s been a part of several notable projects that I’ve seen over the years, such as ;

2008 Doomsday (Video) (first assistant director)
2007 AVH: Alien vs. Hunter (Video) (first assistant director)
2007 I Am Omega (Video) (first assistant director – as Justin L. Jones)
2007  Universal Soldiers (first assistant director – as Justin L. Jones)
2007 would also be the year he would make his first film as full director – The Apocalypse.
 
What I find even more interesting is that abotu halfway through his career, Jones starts to team up with a directing partner named Chris Freeman. We start to see a shift there, but still a lot that’s distinctly Jones.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, I’d like to look at some of his early stuff where he’d be assistant director (alongside much of the cast that would appear in his first two films) on on of the most company defining films the Asylum would ever put out. Meet me back here in a week or two and we’ll ease our way into Jones’ career with…. Transmorphers.
 
 
 

Creature Cabin aka Tarnation

A girl, clad in white flees a very Evil Dead-looking cabin, pursued by Brown cloaked monks. She fights them off but then, ademonic unicorn shows up and stabs her with it’s horn.

I’m definitely in the right place.

Band practices are a pretty common feature of Anderson’s films, and we head straight into one where the lead singer is getting fired. Time to get away. Log cabin sounds good right now.

The cabin is in a weird town called Tarnation that has strange ponds and flying unicorns. I think. Things get a little weird here.  Unicorns need to be able to infect people with evil, and turns one of the locals who then gives our crew a lift to the cabin. That allows her to turn the first girl who zombies out while making out with her boyfriend on a big furry rug. That doesn’t go well, but it’s even worse for the new hunky boyfriend of our rock singer. He gets bugs up his pee hole, and the entire thing turns into a really bizarre homage to Evil Dead, ultimately enda up with rocker girl bound, and hung upside down, ready to be sacrificed to the demon flying unicorn and the eldritch powers it serves.

The paintings bleed when Oscar cuts them, and the demons taunt her from outside. The maniacal spider legged demon head that sounds like a gremlin and scrambles down the chimney almost made me plotz.

Rocker girl Oscar is going a little mad at this point? I mean you can’t blame her, she’s in the middle of a mad Australian exploitation picture where is zombie kangaroos in boxing gloves show up out of nowhere.

Still, she is on a quest to destroy the oil painting from the cabin… and when burning doesn’t work, the next best idea is to drop it in the bubbling pool of blood in the middle of the forest. But maybe, just maybe, instead of the painting going into the pool blood, maybe it’s Ozzie’s turn to plunge down the rabbit hole.

Truth is, this film is all over the place. It is a wild and bizarre ride. It’s got the bright colors and aesthetic tones of a full moon film, it’s got the humor and wit of the best horror comedies out there. It wears its Evil Dead influence on its sleeve, the homage is our fast and furious, not the least of which is the fact that the poster is on the wall! They’re not being subtle about anything. Yet despite this heavy influence, Anderson manages to strike a balance between being derivative and being original. It definitely has his stamp on it, and he takes it into places that Evil Dead never dreamt of. It’s funny and gory and bloody and it has an enormous amount of love behind it.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect film. Anderson relies perhaps a bit too much on the rocks score. then there’s the budget. Our demonic unicorn is obviously just a mask, we don’t get the full beast. But they sometimes fail to properly execute or light it and it ends up looking silly and wonky instead of terrifying. The cabin itself and the surrounding woods are obviously all built on a stage. Yet the production embraces it, and ultimately things like this add to the heightened reality. Even though I can tell that’s not a real sky behind the cabin, and those trees surrounding it aren’t real… It’s lit so effectively that I’m willing to suspend my disbelief because the imagery just fits with the world they’ve created.

The movie is sidesplittingly funny. It’s dark humor is usually in bad taste, but it’s not scatological, and it’s not stupid. There are gags like rocker girl pulling out the zombies intestines and the zombie looking alarmed and exclaiming “I’m pretty sure that’s not supposed to be on the outside of me…” it gets gross but it also finds itself so over the top that it doesn’t repel.

I can’t get enough of this. I watched the movie on streaming, but I’m off to Amazon to see if I can locate a physical copy, because something that’s ridiculous just HAS to stay in my collection forever!

 

 


Sheborg

Despite its initial shot on video look, Sheborg actually starts really good, with a couple of British teenage hoodlum girls spray painting graffiti on the wall and, then on a police cruiser. The police car’s already got a bit of a Mad Max look to it, and when the cops discover an anarchy symbol on their hood, they are none too pleased. They chase the girls into the credit sequence where the actual credits are integrated as graffiti on the burnt out ruins they run through. It’s almost a Scooby Doo monster chase, set over some surprisingly good music until the girls are finally taken in the custody.

In the skies, a council of greasepaint aliens (a sort of low budget version of the white aliens from Star Trek Beyond) pronounce judgment over the Sheborg, who escapes in a total Lilo and Stitch move and jumps in escape pod, headed for earth.

She lands at a puppy farm that our anarchist heroes are planning on raiding. But she is being hunted by the greasepaint aliens who also happen to know kung fu. They also have applesauce for blood, and the shborg does love her some gore. Chaos ad infinitum.

By the time our band of merry anarchist’s arrive, Sheborg has been  hard at work, and created other evil cyborgs. Quite a surprise for these kids who were expecting more human resistance. After a skirmish, they decide that freeing the puppyies is really more troble than it’s worth and run off. Only problem is, the guy with the car keys has been captured.

They fight off the cyborgs, who are licking phones and eating puppies (Sadly the puppy props don’t look that great, stuffed animals mixed with fake blood and guts) and along the way find a science nerd girl who has biological samples from the crash site.

After making their escape, they head to City Hall where the lead characters father is the mayor. They tell him the story, but he doesn’t believe them and instead locks up. his delinquent daughter and her friends.

That’s about the time that the Borg invades the joint, and they are pissed.As more and more people get assimilated and stalk our anarchist heroes, it’s a race back to the puppy farm to try and destroy the sheborg before the end of the world!

 

The Sheborg herself looks great. Assimilated victims are hit or miss, in various stages of decay, all having the same eyepiece to show the infection. There’s subplots and surprisingly endearing characters. It’s a fun low budget romp, and exactly teh sort of thing that I expect to find at the Dollar tree, but don’t let that daunt you. It’s trash and treasure rolled into one.

 

 


Apocalypse Ape and the Stop Motion creations of Daniel Armstrong



Looking through his résumé, you’ll notice a couple of music videos that incorporate stop motion animation in them. When the lockdowns began, Armstrong really seem to lean into stop motion videos as a way of staving off cabin fever. They are frequently very simple, fun, and to the point. If you have ever wanted to see Wonder Woman wrestle Angela, or a Borg to try to assimilate your desk…this is your chance!  It’s hanging out at home and playing with your anime and Roblox figures. Ash Williams taking a break from being the announcer at a women’s wrestling match to answer your telephone. Daleks fighting Marvin The paranoid android and Apes and the Borg for their turn on the arcade machine. There’s a half a dozen of these that are under 40 seconds and a bunch more under two minutes. There are some real gems, like Grimm Sludegrside, A creepy gothic tale atop a castle in a twisted wood, and Attack of the Bikini Girl From Outer Space… which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Only with zombies, and mostly in black and white .You know the whole Sin City vibe?

 
Things really start to take some shape once we get into Apocalypse Ape.
 
The title sequence is totally 1980s trapper keeper. Lisa Frank and Nagel illustrations… Pink grids and neon skies. A motley crew of toys drives in a pink Cadillac.
We cut to a gun fight between the heroes and villains… But even with bullets flying, Apocalypse Ape’s sidekick can’t help but ponder what kind of a person would see Superman flying and actually say “it’s a bird it’s a plane…”
It’s tragic. The fire fight has left a ding in Ape’s car. They head over to Scum City. It’s the kind of place where people shoot first and ask questions later. We’re about to learn their diabolical plan… Until oh no! It’s the to be continued sign!

When next we find our heroes, it’s episode four and they’re being chased by Harbinger on a motorcycle. They get into a fender bender with a time traveling DeLorean, but that allows them distraction enough to blast the biker. I’m also getting the distinct impression the entire point of these videos is for the sidekick to muse about comic book tropes!

Wonder woman and Angela show up to stop them and Apocalypse Ape looks up declaring “This is a revolting development.”
 
On episode 12 though, they’re back on the road… And Gwenpool is gunning down Roblox figures.The pink caddy crashes into the area while Gwenpool looks for more people to murder.

“Hold on, we don’t wanna go off half cocked…” Ape Says.
“Yes,’ his sidekick agrees “this is definitely a full cock situation.”

Things end badly. “Well isn’t that just a Poke in the eye with a sharp stick!”
 
We’re not quite done with the apocalypse though, Wonder woman and Angela get into the action as well in what feels like a related side story.  Unfortunately, the apocalypse is populated with mutant teddy bears…
 
Even with these bizarre little shorts, especially the post apocalyptic ones, I swear I’m still watching Ozsploitation and Armstrong’s bizarre style and sense of humor come through loud and clear. The thing is, the production values on these videos are insanely high. The quality grows with each successive short giving them an attention to detail that the subject matter absolutely does not deserve. They’re a great deal of fun, these quick diversions, and  totally worth a trip over to strongmanpics.com/stop motion to check out!
 
 

From Parts Unknown aka Fight Like A Girl

Scientist, jars of green stuff, soldiers invading? Zombies! Right out the gate, From Parts Unknown isn’t messing around and tells you exactly what kind of movie This is going to be.

After the zombie attack we get our title credits played  over a women’s wrestling match. The title song, song by the lead actress, actually gives it a bit of an 80s feel… That whole Rocky movie inspirational rocker sound.

We switch to a graveyard, where our female wrestler Charlie is mourning another wrestler, who’s head literally got punched off in the ring.”

Her friend is worried that she’s going to go back to wrestling, and he has a right to wonder since as she lied to him about it, and that night sees her back in the ring, being choked by a feather boa.

Back in the real world, mean girls and office jerks abound at her job, as she tries to manage a comedically tall stack of reports. The company has some seriously sinister lighting though, with a flag that looks a little too close to that of another evil party. They’re developing a video game called From Parts Unknown. It’s a fighting game, with wrestlers fighting zombies in the ring.

Of course they’re also creating zombies in the basement. Well, it’s accidental, testing the game and certain chemicals… But there’s a problem. Beefcake gas mask zombie is breaking free!

The infection quickly starts to spread… Avoid zombie Nookie at all costs! Despite the growing number of zombies in the company, inter-office squabbling going on.
As we push through some flashbacks, we noticed an eerie quiet in the air outside the building. Charlie is leaving for the day but is distracted by a magical glowing ticket from the sky and later into a wrestling gym and more flashbacks.

Basically, it’s just a really slow second act, but you got to get through it because it’s a connective tissue that will launch us into the back half of the film where things start to go wrong and get bloody.  A couple of guys escape the building and jump in their truck so they can go pick up Charlie at the wrestling match.

“Maybe instead of fighting, we could Just go run and hide?”

No, that’s not going to work. Time for  wrestling girl, psycho programmer and wimpy sidekick to go clear the building! Cue the metal soundtrack. Find the scientist, kill zombies, blast the computers, Kill more zombies. You know, by the numbers.

The thing is, the film knows when to be bloody, and it knows when to be funny. It knows wonder bring the gore and the action, and it knows when to go back for reinforcements. The one thing Anderson hasn’t quite got down yet is the drama… but to be fair, this really isn’t that type of film. The pathos he occasionally tries to inject just doesn’t fit the mold (though he does manage a surprisingly emotional moment at the very end). While the middle of the film is poorly paced, it’s definitely worth it once you get into the 40 minute mark or so, and the zombie mayhem begins in earnest.

More than his other films, this one has a much more Full Moon, comic book feel to it. It’s certainly his most polished and well thought out movie, and may be his best one to date. At least, until Nova Star comes out…

I can’t wait to see what Daniel Armstrong does next.

 

 


Metal Murder and Music Videos

Metal Murder 3-D was an entry on Armstrong’s IMDb that perplexed me. I was able to find an album by an Australian hard-core band that he works with, but not a film. It’s short film to go with it. That short film is sometimes referred to as metal murder 3-D, and other times it’s referred to as Alice in Zombieland.

Alice in Zombieland starts off with a girl in a cage, being pulled out by some men in black, then A film burn under credits. You may recognize Emma Wilson from Some of Armstrong’s other films, and the 70s exploitation style in the credits is charming.

Alice is in a blood stained hospital bed, surrounded by curtains and dark lighting. Zombie action starts immediately, as the undead begin to rise from the other beds.
For such a short feature, they put some real time and effort into making this hard look terrifying, both individually and as a group.

Alice screams and runs, fleeing zombie doctors and undead and corpses in fashionably cute corsets. In what appears to be the cafeteria, entrails line the buffet, and zombies pop out of nowhere.

Alice bludgens one zombie with a phone, and the out of order message is a really nice touch. The next-door leads her to the kitchen… Where a zombie screams at her. She screams back and starts throwing things, ultimately delivering a beat down the fryer. It’s amazingly awesome.

Ultimately, the entire thing is just an action set piece. There’s no dialogue, on your story. It’s Alice fighting her way through zombies, and finding her strength… As well as a really nice gun ultimately shooting her way through to the end credits.

What’s fun about this, is it a great way to introduce yourself to Armstrongs work and style. You can see a lot of what you’re going to get from his feature films in the short, which was designed to accompany kid crushers metal murder 3-D album. Absolutely worth the 10 to 12 minutes that it takes to sit through. While you’re at it, it’s time to go over to the Strongman pictures website to check out some of his music videos. Armstrong has worked with a variety of artists and shows a dramatic range in both concepts and execution. There’s an eerie one room haunted steampunk feel to Karly Jewll’s Dancing with the Devil. But then we get kind of country in Jenna Dwyers dodged a bullet, the feeling of orange filters at early morning in an old hotel room. Jenna would go on to do the theme track for Armstrong’s Fight like a Girl… a much simpler music video in a wrestling ring, but even that’s a vast difference from a video for her song Coma, a much rockier song in a dark Mad Max like warehouse.  Then there’s The Mercy Kills who Armstrong literally puts into a comic book for their song Supersonic.  Nathalie Gelle does in a uninspired cover of Vacation by The Go-Go’s, but Armstrong cleverly keeps you off balance with a blast of cartoon on green screen footage. The scrapbook pop-up feel suits the feel they’re going for. Kid Crusher delivers hardcore nightmares to the girl next-door over a television while a strobe light blazes behind them. As he screams in front of a white background, the woman stares into the screen, hypnotized. On the other hand, in the music video for Tied, they sing Reasons Why over a stop-motion fantasy. Stop-motion is a favorite of Armstrongs, and he has an entire section of his website devoted to it. In Long Way home for Ablaze, Armstrong manages a black and white road trip through the rocking chops. It’s a mixture of happy and melancholy that’s tough to pull off.

This is just scratching the surface, but absolutely a great résumé and reason enough to definitely be checking out the rest of his films.

https://www.strongmanpix.com/musicvideos

 

 


Murderdrome

Murderdrome opens in a roller derby locker room then jumps right into action. It’s a good way to get you engaged immediately. High energy music, a happy audience and skating sets the tone. There’s some flirting going on outside of the match, making one of the other the girls jealous. Then straight over to listen to the band,  followed by make out sessions in a vintage car.

All in all, it’s a very Daniel Armstrong way of opening the film, but I’m now about 12 minutes in and I’m still not sure what this movies going to be about. The roller punk with a Cleaver is a step in the right direction.

Back inside, the roller derby is in full swing. As an unseen lurker watches.

Leather clad Australian murderpunks lure pigtail rollerderby girl back into the roller rink where they engage in a brutal game of murder derby, where they end up setting one of their pillows on fire, and then just exploding out of existence… Leaving nothing but a talisman. Pigtail girl tries to pick it up but gets blasted into oblivion as well.
Don’t worry, it was just a dream. Or was it!?

When she wakes up, her hapless boyfriend, with a charm necklace for her… the one from her dream. That’s enough for her to fall for him, and drag him out on a rollerskating date. (Because that’s obviously a thing in OZ!)

Dead body, and creepy janitor cart dude explains that she’s unleashed a demonic force.

Then we go to a bizarre commercial for a frisbee hat… it’s all good, it’s just the ad before a murderdrone video on YouTube. She’s basically trying to research what she saw that night. Things go bad when one of the mean girl skaters comes and steals her necklace. Bad as in, a cleaver to the head for one of the girls when they try to escape.
Metal murder punk chase!

Meanwhile, the mean girls are looking for our heroes, but there are murder roller punks between them and the others.

Heavy on spectacle, Murderdrome is well shot and fun, though the lighting can get on the harsh side. It’s very much is the sort of ozsploitation that Armstrong is a great at. the problem is that it’s thin on the story. Even with its meager running time of about an hour, there’s quite enough to fill this whole thing up. There’s an a Normas amount of flair in style, that’s all it is. It’s all flash, but not enough substance. Of all of Armstrong‘s films, this is the one that felt the most confusing. Still, it’s a fun bit of shlock, (seriously, chick has to retrieve the talisman from a dismembered body that’s been tossed in pieces into a dumpster… That’s some pretty hardcore stuff !), drifting from set piece to set piece in a world that feels like it’s just beginning to intersect with the likes of Mad Max. This is one of those movies I’d really love to see a redo on – a remake with a thicker script and a more flushed out concept, more fully explain to the audience.

 

 


Daniel Armstrong

I first encountered Daniel Armstrong in a dollar tree film called Sheborg. It was such lunatic fun, that I felt like I had to discover everything else this guy had made. I wasn’t surprised to find out he’s based in Australia… His films have that sort of classic as exploitation deal from flaky films in the 80s… Not just Mad Max, but some of the really weird ones like Dead End Drive In. Armstrong’s use of blood and off kilter characters makes for entertaining fare.

You can see some of his trademarks, starting in the way that he presents credits… High-quality and integrated into the scene, much as was done in Zombieland. But there’s also a heavy musical influence in his movies as well. Veteran music video Director, Armstrong’s films generally feature live band performances, that is, if they don’t integrate the band itself directly into the story. It’s not unusual to see one of his featured players also doing the title song for his films.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still schlock, but it’s fun schlock and definitely a director that you really not know about.


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.

 


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.