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Bloody Murder 2

index.jpgThere’s pros and cons to Bloody Murder 2… Pro, Tiffany Shepis is in this… Con The mask is different, and is in fact pretty uninspired compared to the hockey mask of the previous installment. It’s just one of those plain white face masks you see at the craft store – and it’s not even the one they feature on the cover of the videotape!

We open to what is pretty obviously a dream sequence, a young blonde woman in a misty woods – I’m pleased to see that they’ve retained that same look from the last film, at least this carries over. It’s the sister of Jason, the final victim from the previous film and she is dreaming of bringing her brother back. It’s a good enough set up and it brings us back to the camp. This time however, they aren’t getting ready to open the camp, but rather they’re closing Camp Placid Pines up for the winter. We don’t get a proper opening kill on this one – the dream doesn’t count – but they do mention a wood chipper… That’s Checkovs gun if I ever saw one!

This time, it’s Tiffany Shepis who suggests the game of bloody murder as the campers set around the bonfire. We get a little bit more of the lore concerning Trevor Moorehouse. It’s a good thing because he was woefully under developed in the previous film. Back in the woods, we get the same fake outs from the previous film – a camper with ketchup and another one in a fake plastic hockey mask.

Still, I can’t complain because it does lead to the first kill – and I gotta give these guys props… It’s a lot more graphic than what we saw before. At its heart, Bloody Murder couldn’t decide if it was a slasher or a mystery, but Bloody Murder 2 goes straight for the gore and does so before we even hit the 18 minute mark. They need to go hard on the scene as well, because it’s the films set piece. They’re still creative kills and blood splattered throughout the film, but none as flesh rippingly intense as this one. Best to go in knowing what to expect.

images4.jpgThe next morning, we are still following the structure set down by the first movie – that first kill isn’t missed because they believe he’s left the camp for the year. In the meantime, the local cook gives us an idea of just how pervasive the Trevor Moorehouse urban legend is around these parts. It gives us a better feel for it and makes it more real than what we had seen previously. They mix it with some of the Meta dialogue that scream had made so popular – a discussion of who gets killed first in horror movies, the black dude or the women, then top it off with a little nookie so we can be reassured about who is going to die next.

After the next kill, the skeptical sheriff shows up to address ingenue Tracy’s concerns that she saw Trevor Moorehouse. It doesn’t matter, with the body count piling up, she is increasingly suspicious and decides to take the remaining campers to go search the campsite. Tiffany by the way, isn’t having it and storms off. It’s early in her career though which means this is just a good excuse to get her naked.

The rest of the campers searching the campus don’t find anything, but Tiffany certainly does – a desiccated corpse with an arrow through its neck lies on her path and her screams bring down the cast. At least it’s enough to convince the sheriff there’s a killer amongst us.

index5.jpgWhile the sheriff searches, it’s time to hit the showers to clean off some of the blood, right? Of course, as we all know, the shower scene is like a dog whistle for a slasher and our killer shows right up, hiding in in a new stall to lure his victim out. There’s a clever twist here, and for all of my complaining about them changing from the hockey mask, the blood splatter really does look good on this plain white face – especially under the high contrast of the overhead fluorescent lights. Needless to say, the cops are not pleased.

The plot thickens when our ingenue discovers a video camera pointed at the dorms, potentially revealing the identity of the killer! This leads to the rest of one of the campers, and yet, surprise! The killer is still out there! (after all, we still have about a half hour left) meanwhile, it’s time for another spooky dream sequence.

The head counselor admits that the camp is over and offered to send the girls home, but they’ve got just a little bit more investigation to do – checking pagers, figuring alibis, and getting murdered in the woods. There is still more twists before the killer is revealed as images3.jpgthe third act ramps up.

It’s curious, the first time I watched this movie years ago, my initial thought was how much it was like an early Friday the 13th film… Now I’m struck by just how much this movie is like the first bloody murder film. They both have very similar structures, very similar beats – they’re not just checking off elements of the slasher film this time, they’re also checking off beats from the first movie, down to the final surprise appearance by Trevor Moorehouse. There is also a sort of backhanded attempt to create continuity – rejiggering the timeline and connecting the ingenue to Bloody Murder’s final victim.  It’s a blatant attempt to wedge this in line with the previous film – I’m not complaining, but it’s obvious that The continuity was invented after the bag rather than being planned out from the first film, and I’ve got to say it would be a lot more convincing if they were using the same mask in both movies. The radical changes a bit jarring. Still its interesting to see how they work it and it practically guarantee is that if you like the first one, you’ll like the second one, but there’s not much going on here that’s new or that pushes the franchise forward any. Bloody Murder 2 is a good, solid slasher that you can enjoy as part of the series or on its own.


Bloody Murder

index.jpgI can’t believe that Bloody Murder starts off with the old running out of gas gag, but it sure does… It starts right off on a good note though, – the husband walks over to a darkened van to ask for a lift to get some gas… Out of the van steps our killer complete with hockey mask and chainsaw, and a chase ensues!

It’s actually just a fantasy, as a couple of new camp counselors talk over the urban legend of Trevor Moorehouse, the area’s local bogeyman, but it’s still a good start.

We get a pleasant 10 minutes of getting to know you fare, complete with a doomsayer in the woods and a fake out with one of the boys peeking into the girls dorm while wearing a hockey mask.

The title of the film comes from a game that the campers play where one person hides in the words, and then tries to tag the others as they separate to search for him. The game is images3.jpgcalled bloody murder, it is pretty much the best scenario ever for a campfire serial killer. The woods are filmed beautifully, well lit so you can see the green in the trees, with blue mist Low to the ground, contrasting the dark and cloudless night sky. It’s here that we get our second fakeout, ketchup blood on the shirt and our counterfeit mask scaring one of the campers.

Elsewhere in the woods, we hit all the slasher trope checklists – one girl smokes weed, another couple gets naked. The filmmakers definitely did their research on the formula, but let us down a little bit because the first murder happens off screen. The missing counselor is noticed the next day, but people blow it off as him just abandoning the camp and taking off on the road. 23 minutes in is way too early to start panicking , after all.

That night, or killer infiltrates the camp and we get an eerie moment when one of the campers notices a knife missing, just before it used to slash her to death. Ritz crackers in highly reflective blood is a nice artistic touch. The head counselor decides it’s to time to images4.jpgcall the sheriff in. The sheriff is understandably skeptical, even moreso when the Trevor Moorehouse urban legend is mentioned. One of the campers has his own theory on how the second murder happened, and that’s an interesting addition to the formula, but ultimately a misdirect.

We get another long talky stretch, where we repeatedly reference the legend of Trevor Moorehouse but don’t actually add anything to the story. When the killer appears there are a lot of shots of shoulders and hands, a sort of giallo feel like we got in the first Friday the 13th, which is weird because we’ve already seen this character is hockey mask. Still, the next kill serves exonerate our first suspect, he was in police custody at the time – now suspicion falls on the first camper killed, after all he is missing!

images5.jpgOur next appearance of the killer has him chasing the engineer across the field in broad daylight Before slicing the throat of one of our other unhappy campers. It’s genuinely surprising how much of this film occurs in broad daylight, but fortunately the powder blue jumpsuit and edgy hockey mask look pretty good in full light.

Slowly, our ingenue discovers the camps terrible secret – a young man named Nelson Hammond went mad and committed murder there decades ago… Back when her father was a camp counselor there.

Later that night she’s startled by her ex-boyfriend Jason, the guy we thought was the first murder back at the beginning! Since he is the murder suspect, he’s taken into custody, but there is still half an hour left so we know this ain’t over yet…

Using a photograph she found in a hidden cabin, Julie the ingenue discovers the identity of the killer and it’s not who you would expect. Or maybe it is, this thing manages enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. I actually really dig this – it has all of the bits and cues of Friday the 13th movie, but manages a twist at the end that generally satisfies me. Even with that knowledge, it’s still a nice average slasher with everything you could possibly expect from the genre.

But what about the sequels?


The Prophecy : Forsaken

index.jpgThe first thing I noticed about prophecy five is that the runtime is only about 75 minutes – and they waste the first three of those with flashbacks from the previous film. Still, I noticed that Tony Todd will be in this one, so I’m hoping it’ll be cool.

It looks like he’s an Angel this time, hiring a hitman to go after Kari Whurer, the current guardian of the prophet’s lexicon. The long black angel cloak gives him a very candyman vibe – which I have no doubt is intentional. Because he’s an angel, Todd, can’t get his hands dirty, but his assassin, Dylan, for him, the dirtier, the better. Angel John is back at the beginning here as well, delivering Wuhrer a message through a dead girl.

Our hitman Dylan is quite intense, loading his guns and prepping his gear, he obviously doesn’t want to work for Todd, even committing suicide to try and escape. But the angel bring some back, and now, with a vision of hell in his mind, the hitman is more bound to the angel than ever. We cut to Kari’s apartment, where Dylan has very suddenly arrived, threatening her as he searches for the Prophet’s Lexicon. Wuhrer assures him that he won’t find it if she’s dead.

His hitman turns on him, and he whisks Kari away. it’s an attack of conscience that transformed him into her protector. In the meantime, Todd’s  Angel finds her apartment and searches for the book – he finds the hiding place almost immediately, hidden behind a layer of drywall, but the book stash there is merely a dummy copy, and the chase is onin the warm orange tones of Bucharest.

Everyone drives such small cars!

Dylan makes a quick stop to find iron pills that will alter the smell of Kari’s blood (making it harder for the Angels to hunt her), and a new dress, complete with a wig to throw everyone else off. (better to look like a cheap hooker I guess then be angel fodder). He explains that there’s a chance he can still denfend her and hurt the angels stalking them if he can squeeze off a good kill shot… Right through the third eye.

“The one you use to see God.”

imagesIt’s interesting to turn this into something more like a road film, along with a dash of paranoia – we are constantly looking around to try and figure out if the people on the street are angels or not. We get a cameo appearance from the angel from the previous installment, as Kari goes to investigate what the Prophet’s Lexicon actually is. Even disguised, The other angels are onto her, Curiously enough, they don’t seem to have the supernatural speed that I’m used to seeing from the first three installments- More evidence to me that this is a completely separate tangent.

It doesn’t stop them from being creepy and intimidating. Tony Todd in particular is perfect for this sort of role, and every time he’s on screen he elevates the film with that deep, true voice of his. He truly exudes the sense of superiority that has always been index.jpginsinuated with these creatures.

Wuhrer heads back to the mansion from the previous film, looking for more information. There she finds Angel John lurking in the darkness. He explains some of the theory (such as Angels being bound by rules) as well as some of the plot in case you may have missed the previous film… all while devouring a Twinkie.

“I have a weakness for these.”
“Maybe it’s the angel food cake?”
“God forbid.”

Well Kari hides in a funeral procession, Todd tortures Dylan, attempting to drive him back to his cause. He’s valuable because Wuhrer trusts him now and he can get close to her. A storm rages outside the small church Wuhrer has taken shelter in. Lightning flashes, thunder rumbles, wind blows out the candles and then… there’s the dead girl. Standing before her. She tells Wuhrer that she died for her, so that she could use her funeral to escape the angels but now she has to wait in the cold ground, because the bad angels won’t let her into heaven. She implores Wuhrer not to give them the book… even if they tear her apart. Once again, I feel more Hellraiser vibes off of this than I do The Prophecy, not that I’m complaining. As soon as the ghost vanishes, Assassin Dylan arrives. Outside, the angel start to gather, and Dylan betrays her, leading her out and into their clutches. Wuhrer is now face-to-face with angel Todd, while Dylan goes off to try and drink his guilt away.

The problem is, the rules come in to play. Todd can’t kill Kari, and he can’t drive the information out of her, so he lets her go…

Wuhrer just sort of wanders into the next scene, it’s a clunky transition to a park where she spends some time talking to Angel John. Kari is conflicted – because Todd’s Angel wants to prevent Armageddon, where as Angel John wants to start it. It’s hard for her to pick a side and that internal conflict takes center stage in this installment. She makes a decision to head off and retrieve the profits lexicon from its hiding place, but Angel Todd and assassin Dylan are right on her heels.

I’ve got to admit, the film has an ending that I did not see coming – and yet it’s completely satisfying. Four and five together make a really fun narrative and create their own little series within a series – it’s very strange, but I dig it. Again I feel the need to mention this doesn’t feel like the first Prophecy, it doesn’t feel like that first trilogy – it shares some of the same DNA but it’s definitely it’s own thing… and that thing isn’t bad. I’m probably more likely to watch four and five again then I am to ever crack out one through three.


The Prophecy : Uprising

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After checking out two and three for other reasons, I was pretty much done with the Prophecy series. The reason I’m back, it’s because of an interesting looking cast that includes Kari Wuhrer , Doug Bradley and Sean Pertwee. We are back in Romania, and missing Christopher Walken. I knew that coming in as well, but it’s okay – by the time we hit Movie number three, he was superfluous and really just being shoehorned in there for name value.

This time around we open up with some footage designed to look old, a dictator watching the parade, and the angel in the background – it’s affected the dimension logo itself which immediately got my attention. When we fast forward to present day, we see a petty thief as he races through the town occasionally getting glimpses angelic statues at the top of the buildings. He slams into Sean Pertwee, a cop of questionable morals – considering he roughs the punk up and shakes him down for his cash. The film quickly backpedals though and tries to prove to us he is not such a bad guy since he gives it to the offering box at church. On the side, Kari Wuhrer keeps watch, handing out votives and watching the parishioners. For his part, Pertwee is being watched by an angel named John who then attempts to recruit him. Meanwhile in the basement of the church, a priest watches as scripture writes itself – burning into the pages of an old manuscript. It’s enough to give him a heart attack. The book it self is the prophets lexicon, our macguffin for this film.

In his adorable tiny little car, Pertwee and his angel sidekick are called to the scene of a murder. What he finds is the small time crook he had been shaking down earlier. He’s been thrown from a roof with his heart ripped straight out of his chest. It’s some pleasant gore for a series that’s usually mostly bloodless. Inside the church towers, he encounters two other cops, including Doug Bradley, and an ominous greeting scrolled on the wall in a suspiciously red color.

Across town, a woman in a waitresses uniform is someone being mauled by a dog in the park. She runs over to help, but the victim looks up evily. It’s just a guise, and behind it, the spirit of Belial , she possesses the woman. In the distance, the barking at the dog stops. Reliable sets off, beginning for mission to find the profits lexicon. She invites the church to find it, but it’s too late… Kari is already stashed away back at her dreary little apartment.

Back in the car, Sean Pertwee explains the finer points of police work to the engine. How index4to beat Suspect property. This is before Sean for it we got respectable on shows like Gotham, so he’s dropping a lot of F bombs and really relishing it.  He drops Angel John off, and calls in a favor from the station for the facial recognition and background on this guy. Something about him doesn’t set right.

At the next crime scene, still being presided over by Doug Bradley we have another victim with no heart… This one had voices in her head driving her to file her teeth down. Angel John seems to know a little bit too much about what’s going on here. For we continues to research the case, looking for other incidents were removed. We got a nice touch here where he does some instant messaging with an unseen competent, one who goes by the name of Joseph 1995. It’s absolutely a reference to Steve Hytner (better know from his Kenny Banya role n Sienfeld) from the previous prophecy films, layering in just enough continuity to be endearing. Joseph 1995 mentions that these entities, these angels always take the heart, because it renders the body uninhabitable.

Next stop is a creepy old abandoned mansion. Pertwee is confused and annoyed.

“Nobody’s here!”
“There will be.”Suddenly, the basement is filled with visions of the past, the medical atrocities that occurred in this mansion, and it’s all tied to Pertwee’s past, before the revolution, when his parents were declared enemies of the state. It’s his secrets that are being revealed, not just the minor acts of torture he inflicts on petty thugs, but the great secret buried in his past, that as a child he turned in his parents. The angel knows it all. But somehow, his sister was saved… A nurse removed her to treat the deep gash on her upper cheek, one just below her eye… A gash which matches a scar on Kari Wuhrer’s face.

In a small cafe, Wuhrer is consulting a priest friend who confides in her that Revelations is not just another book in the Bible, it’s still incomplete and waiting to be finished by the dictation of God. That dictation will happen in the Prophet’s Lexicon and whoever carries it basically holds the fate of the world in their hands. It’s no wonder that Belial , now having jumped into yet another body, is after it. The best way of course, would be to assume the guise of someone close to her, and he now jumps into the body of her priest friend, but bright voices in Wuhrer’s head urge Kari to run. She flees in a city bus.

Belial’s last body shows up, once again without a heart and Wuhrer’s priest friend is in custody. The cops are confused, and Doug Bradley is getting irritated at all the mystery. They put them in an interrogation room with the angel to interrogate, and they seem just a little bit too familiar with each other. Belial finally shows his true colors there, with a large monster bat flying out of his mouth. Angel John rips out his heart to make sure he can’t backtrack, end when no one‘s looking, Belial possesses Bradley. It’s time for Pertwee and the angel to go find Pertwee’s sister. People flood into the road, making the passage impossible.
“Just shove them out of the way!”
“Theyre human beings, not sheep!”
“That one looks like a sheep.”

It’s showdown time, Doug Bradley, versus Kari Wuhrer versus Sean Pertwee and his angel.

A fun cameo to watch for here, make up designer Gary Tunnicliffe is the one driving the cab that Wuhrer takes.

What makes this very unlike the other Prophecy films is how much it’s really more a police procedural then it is a horror film. Not a straight mystery, and the chase aspect with the Demon trying to grab the book from Kari is still there, but we are far more focused on Sean Pertwee’s Character and his angel partner trying to solve the mystery of a string of murders where the heart has been removed from the victim. It’s an interesting direction, but I’m not sure why they chose this one – it feels incongruent with the previous films – even when Dimension chose to change direction with the Hellraiser movies turning them into more head trips, they still felt in some way connected to the greater mythos. This feels like something different. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, Pertwee’s character in particular has great depth and I’m actually digging the angel a lindex3.jpgittle more in this one, the way he acts as a sort of Oracle. But the two elements clash – as if the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be. I wonder if this was adapted from another script – Dimension was doing a lot of that around this period. That’s not necessarily a criticism. I like a lot of the stuff that dimension was putting out around this time. If you had good producers who were passionate about the project, we would see some interesting films come about in some pleasantly exotic European locales. If you’re a fan of that whole style and the way those movies felt, you’re going to like this. It’s a good role for Wuhrer as well. Much of what I’ve seen her in has her playing the hard edged tough girl, but she’s charmingly vulnerable in this film. She’s playing against type and given a chance to show some range as she goes from passive to frightened to digging down deep to find some sort of inner strength. It’s a good journey for her

Ultimately I actually kind of enjoy this film – it’s good background noise and was a lot more fun than some of the previous entries. That may be because I’m not a devotee of the series, and this new take on it is far more appealing to me.

I can’t wait until the next one!


The Prophecy 3 : the Ascent

lussierindex.jpgI have to admit, I’m walking into this one little reluctantly – I don’t dig the Prophecy films, and even though there’s a couple of recognizable names in the credits like Brad Doruff and Vincent Spano, there’s nothing here to really set me on fire. I’m hoping that Patrick Lussier can bring me some kinetic action and fun the way that he has with his vampire films.

Admittedly, the sight of Christopher Walken in long hair, creeping into a blasphemous tent revival definitely gets my attention. It is interesting to see that the film is picking up pretty much right after from the last installment – I remember that at the end of Prophecy 2, (which I watched for the box set project), Walken’s character had been cast out of heaven and left homeless. He wanders into barnburning tent revival with a heritic preacher who isn’t preaching that God is dead, but rather that he just doesn’t care. As he riles the crowd up, Brad Dourif makes his way up with a gun, shooting the preacher down in the middle of everything.

Miles away, there is a new angel on Earth,  but what’s images5.jpgreally interesting for me is watching his arrival, as he wanders right past the young crucifix that we saw in Dracula 2000 before heading to a wall full of angelic graffiti. I also noticed that Kenny Banya from Seinfeld is the undertaker again. A nice little bit of continuity throughout the Prophecy films – making sure Christopher Walken isn’t the only return player.

The heretic preacher that Brad Dourif supposedly murders at the beginning of the film, is Danyael – the Nephilim created in the last film. Angel Zophael wants to destroy him, but Gabriel, now immortal, is ready to ally with Danyael , if for no other reason than to just mess with the divines plans.

Over at the police station, Walken is interrogated about the shooting. He toys with a cop as the angel wanders the streets, ultimately arriving at the morgue. Zophael shows up just in time to meet up with Gabriel face-to-face, and they both instantly recognize one another. The problem is, Gabriel never knows whose side Zophael is on and he moves to deny him the Nephilim heart. He’s too late anyhow, Danyael awakens on the slab, and as Zophael runs to get him, Danyael’s already making his escape, right past Banya. I’m not sure who’s more upset, the angel or the Nephilim’s girlfriend who verbally accosts him.
Outside Gabriel spots Danyael making good his escape, while Kenny studies Angels and Nephilim and explains it all the girlfriend so he can catch the audience up on the story so far. It’s good enough to close the first act so that were ready to kick things into action for the last 55 minutes.

There’s things that goes in civil servants just shouldn’t know.

Danyael makes his way to the apartment of Brad Dourif, only to find the gunman dead, his wrists cut open, and on his lap, a bloody braille Bible with angelic symbols scrolled through the pages in Dourif’s blood. Zophael isn’t far behind, witnessing Danyael ’s visit through Dourifs eyes. He follows Danyael to a café where Danyaels been binging sugar… typical for angelic spontaneous tissue regeneration. Zopheal whips out a blade in the chase is on. It’s almost enough, he’s got Daniel and his hand, until walking screeches into the alleyway in a car, slamming into Zophael and granting Danyael a reprieve. He takes it and flees while walking chats up his fellow angel.

Danyaels girlfriend catches up with him, she can’t believe he’s alive. It’s a very doubting Thomas and Christlike gesture he shows her his scars and tells her then that his dying memory is of being in her arms. He transfers the memories of the angels falling to her and then sends her away as Zopheal arrives. Almost as she exits, so feel enters. It’s a quick battle, but what we come to expect from angelic combat. Lots of jumping in an air Melee.

Zophael tracks down Danyael’s girlfriend and uses her to try and find him, racing against time before Danyael can encounter and stop Pyreal, The angel of genocide. Soon, in the girlfriend’s truck, they are on the road, following Danyael on his motorcycle and Gabriel in his classic convertible. Walken is hamming up the scene by switching the radio station from “Earth Angel” over to something that he can play trumpet to while he drives. The girlfriend tries to escape her angelic captor by crashing her truck into a rock and disorienting the angel, but the pistol that she’s packing is sadly ineffective when he comes after her. It doesn’t matter, he’s an angel, and he can convincingly talk her into believing that Danyael is not the same person that rose from the morgue.

It all comes down to a showdown in the desert, (With a quick side stop – breakfast for Walken and a cameo for Mary, little girl from the first film, who points Danyael in the right direction) at Gilles Flats, on a Native American reservation,  where they’ll make their stand, and where Danyael must make a choice… to stand with Pyreal to usher in the end of the world, or to oppose him.

Lussier is actually a very good choice for this film, his work on Dracula 2000 shows him to be very comfortable with disturbing and creepy religious iconography. He revels in it images3.jpgwhen he makes Dracula films, and this seems like a great fit for him – just a natural extension of he comfort zone. His style is evident in quick cuts and flashbacks. Some of the sillier conceits like the way angels perch, are minimized in favor of Catholic iconography and world building. I can also see Lussier has influenceed the interesting angelic switchblade Vincent Spano’s Zophael carries. Indeed his performance as a murderous angel stalking his prey reminds me a great deal of Walken from the first film – in fact, it kind of makes Walken’s presence here completely extraneous. Also, the long index2hair wig just looks bad. It’s a fairly straightforward story and with the exception of Walken’s presence, stands very much on its own. All of these kind of things end up making it a bit superior to the second film, and Lussier’s far more action oriented vision makes this a surprisingly enjoyable entry in the Prophecy series. Sadly enough, it also marks the end of this particular arc– Gabriel’s story is complete and one could very easily view this as part three of a Prophecy trilogy.

There would be two more films after this, but they begin their own story. It’s a tough thing to do that sort of double duty – stand on your own while integrating into and existing series. Nevertheless it’s a task that Lussier and the Prophecy 3 achieve quite well.

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The Prophecy 2

index.jpgOkay, Jennifer Beals and Britney Murphy. This looks like it just might be an interesting cast – and then I see Glenn Danzig listed as one of the angels – and now I feel fear.

The Prophecy 2 is an interesting follow-up to what was a fairly mediocre movie made particularly interesting by the inclusion of Christopher Walken. In general I’m a fan of Christian mysticism, however, the Prophecy never seemed franchise worthy to me though, so I never followed it up and as a result, don’t know what we’re going to see with two – other than the fact that Walken is here, and joined by Eric Roberts and Glenn Danzig – somewhat bizarre choices.

We begin the film with a shot of someone writing ancient texts dissolving into clouds dissolving into the city and getting us into the modern day setting. Then a person crashes down into Jennifer Beals car window, it definitely wakes me up and gets my attention.

Elsewhere, all monastery, dies in a room covered in papers in writing. It feels very non-Sequitur, is. I cut to a man in a black coat that rests into birds before the city concrete splits reminders for them. I read below emerges from underneath the concrete and between flashes of blood, hands reach out, clawing at the dirt and a muddy body street and read it self out before the concrete back together again. Face risers and we recognize Christopher Walken is back.

Because it’s a  sequel, they don’t waste any time with world building. A priest discovers the prophecy and is driven mad, then a dark angel open the gateway to hell to bring us index2.jpgthe fallen archangel back – and this is all before we even hit the nine minute mark.

Back at the hospital, Beals visits the man who crashed into her windshield, and sits with him in his hospital room as an angel watches on across the street. The man is getting better, and regaining his humor, entertaining children by jumping up and bouncing on the edges of the beds. He wants her home, and because pulling into somebody’s windshield is kind of like a first date, she probably takes him upstairs and gets knocked up.

Back of the monastery, Christopher Walken pays a visit to the monks, it’s a site that receives visions, and walking is sure they’ve seen the person that he is here to get. Seems uncooperative, but fire cleanses all.

Do you angel purchase on the edge of the bed come and watch his feels sleep… And goes back to importance. That. It’s around this time though, that Glenn Danzig shows up and attacks him, mid air. Our boy prevails, but now is on the hunt.

Walkin for his part is looking for Jennifer Beals since she’s pregnant with an angel baby- A somewhat confusing situation. Angel babies grow faster than regular ones and in just a few days, the doctor informs her that she’s in her second trimester.  She searches for answers while Walkin searches for her to prevent her nephilim from being born. He grabs a suicidal Britney Murphy for a sidekick (He needs help because he can’t drive a car or navigate DOS on the computer – can you blame him?), keeping her from being able to die (a trick we saw in the previous film as well). She’s weepy and you can tell that we’ve got a very talky fifty two minutes ahead of us.

In the meantime, Beals visits the corner, to view the body that she suspects is her angel baby daddy, now a stiff, thanks to Walken. The main purpose of this scene though, is for Kenny Banya to make his appearance and explain the plot… describing the angels that he had here in the mortuary for years ago.

Her next stop is the monastery of visions where the teacher continues information dump, this time updating us on angelic script and angels in the second war in heaven, for anybody who missed the first film. It’s here that we first find out about the

In the meantime, Beals visits the corner, to view the body that she suspects is her angel baby daddy, now a stiff, thanks to walk in. The main purpose though is for Kenny Banya to make his appearance and explain the plot… Describing the angels that he had here in the mortuary for years ago.

Her next stop is the monastery of visions where the teacher continues information dump, this time updating us on angelic script and angels in the second war in heaven, for anybody who missed the first film. It’s here that we first find out about the nephilim .

Back in the city, Brittany Murphy hacks computer and gets Jennifer Beals address for Walken, allowing him to arrive there before her.

“You have no idea trouble you got there,”  he tells Beals as he puts his hand on her belly. “Nothing personal, just business.”

Her angel baby daddy, not dead after all, crashes through the window to rescue her but Walkin stakes him, and then runs out to Brittany Murphy, waiting behind the wheel of the car to race after Beals. It’s amusing to note that they’re driving the same kind of car that Sam Raimi refers to as “the classic” in the Evil Dead films, just a different color. Our Angelic hero spirits her away to the monastery, hoping she’ll be safer there, as he attempts to get her to the archangel Michael and real protection.

Walken finds them  of course, but bills in the angel manage to escape while Walkin blunders into a crowd of cops all who all blow him away. He’s not gonna stay dead long though, and revives while the police are questioning Murphy. He collects her and heads out on his way, revealing to us where the final showdown will be held… Eden.

It’s no longer a garden, but rather in industrial hellscape which opens its gate up to Beals and her angel. They navigate through the steamy maze of pies and hot metal until they finally come across the Archangel Michael… This time played by Eric Roberts.

It’s fairly epic to see Walken and Roberts face off across the rusty gate beneath a tumultuous cloudy sky with the occasional angel soaring through it. As Walken gains entrance, it’s time for angelic melees as he sends Murphy to assassinate Beals, but pretty shortly, will all discover just how hard it is to kill the mother of a nephilim .

If you’re a fan of this series, it may be a worthwhile entry, but it doesn’t stand on its own for me (which makes it out of place in the Masters of Terror box set I got it in) and ultimately I found it a little slow, predictable, and boring… This one is probably a pass.


The Prophecy

indexThe first time I saw the Prophecy I don’t remember much the film itself, but rather just being really impressed with the idea of hidden scripture in Revelation. I remember being intrigued by the idea of Chris Walken’s angel, and didn’t really know the rest of the cast… Of course now, Viggo Mortensen is a household name due to Lord of the Rings and I’m a huge fan of Amanda Plummer, not only from Pulp Fiction or the World According to Garp, but also from The Fisher King – one of my top five all time favorite films. More importantly though, this is a story by Gregory Widen – you know, the dude who wrote Highlander? Virginia Madsen is also her, but it’s 1995. It’d be easier to list the few movies she WASN’T in during this period (though to be fair, this is only her second horror film, following Candyman). Overall, it’s enough to make me really look forward to this. It’s a great concept, some people lose their faith because Heaven shows them too little, while others lose their faith because heaven shows them too much.

The story begins with the ordination of a priest who trembles at visions of angels falling. This man, Thomas,  leaves his priesthood to become a cop instead.

He wanders into his apartment, and finds an angel there, Simon, played by Eric Stoltz , perched on a chair and perusing his books.

“I know you, I know why you left your faith on that floor.”

The angels been reading his thesis, curious if Thomas still believes, or at least thinks he still part of God’s plan.

Outside, Something is arriving. More angels who perch objects and sniff the air as they hunt their prey. Suddenly, the angel is it a Thomas went himself in battle with another one, gouging on his eyes and throw him out the window. It’s this crime scene that Thomas comes upon, a gory face and a blood spattered apartment, brilliantly shocking.

Elsewhere, Virginia Madsen conducts a school choir near an old church. An old soldier is being laid to rest there, and the angel Simon comes by to spirit away his soul, to carry it and hide it somewhere else.

We’re about 20 minutes in before the story really picks up – the book with the extra chapters of Revelation show up in the morgue and we see Steve Hytner for the first time. You might know him better from his recurring role as Kenny Bania on Seinfeld. He’d be a regular in  these movies, apearing all the way through the initial trilogy. He’s introduced as Joseph (but we’re still ging t call him Bania, because….come on), explaining the unusual anatomy of an angel – no growth rings on the bones, no optical fibres in the eyes, things like that. Our main character, a Priest trying to take the text back home to study,  is where we finally got our first glance of Christopher Walken. Walken images4.jpglooks different here – his slicked back black hair looks dyed and unhealthy, and his friend seems emaciated with unhealthy looking skin. (you might be able to associate that with some of this to events like the one Viggo Morgensen relates, about Walken eating garlic cloves before shooting there seems together ). There is more care taken to make him look otherworldly in this gone then they would ever give to the sequels. still, his swagger works – the way he can make a person faint dead away, or sniffs and smels and even licks debris while he’s huntng or causes a dead body to burst into flames. The clinical detachment and determination which is a interesting contrast to Eric Stoltz character who seems to care about everything and that’s a great job of showing the uniqueness of each angel. It’s still stunt casting, but there’s something about Walkin that only he could really get away with the whole, the whole hunting by smell pantomime. Watching the way angels perch on things, it still feels fresh here – I remember it being innovative, whereas by the later sequels it would just feel tired.

Simon for his part, is hiding in the school… In an abandoned area where he runs into a young girl named Mary. She’s one of Virginia Madsen students, and Simon hides the soul in her.

Walken’s Angel has a minion, Who he’s leaning on help him grab some of of Thomas, something that will help him in his search for Simon. Meanwhile, he’s off to torch the other angel’s body, because we don’t want any evidence of what’s going on here. This is where we start to get The text Thomas has, a lost chapter of the Bible that describes a second war in heaven.

The Angel and his minion are off to the desert… You can see the contempt Walkin has for humans in the way he talks to him and when he discovers the soul has been taken from the body he is enraged. Simon managed to pass the soul on just in time though, because Walkin finds him next, and it’s Simon’s turn to burn .

Meanwhile, Thomas’s investigation leads him out to the school where he meets Madsen who is still caring for Mary… Now sick from the strain of having to hold to souls in her. She draws his memories in crayon and dreams of the dead soldier, describing the way Japenese men bleed in the cold. As Walkin’s Gabriel gets closer, Thomas finds himself as the only protector she and Madsen have.

index2.jpgWe are about halfway through the movie when we get the plot – there is still war in heaven, and affection of angels are jealous that God loves humans and not them. It’s the same basic elements that we would get in every other sequel, but it’s never done better than in this first film. I know, big surprise – the original film is superior to all the sequels, but to be fair – that’s not always true. A lot of times the real mythology of a series, its heart, shows up on the second or third film (fr instance, we never hear about Ash working at “S” mart until the third Evild Dead movie. We don’t get Jason’s hockey mask until the third Friday movie. Heck, Luke dosen’t even find out Darth Vader is is father until the second Star Wars movie…..spoiler alert by the way). Not so here, the Prophecy is born with it’s lore and mythos fully realized. Its engaging and original, but only once. Despite being one of those typical 90s horror movies with no blood, latex, or monsters, it surprisingly stands up to the test of time and ended up being a much better film than what I was expecting with shocking number of familiar faces.


Dracula 3

lussierindex.jpgWe’ve got a trifecta on this entry – a Box Set category, a Director’s Spotlight, AND a franchise focus!

I like Patrick Lussier, and I’m pleased to see Roy Schneider, Gary Tunicliffe and Rutger However, but that stupid Gothic font worries me. I know that Dimension shot a bunch of these in Romania back to back, along with a couple of Prophecy and Hellraiser films. On the other hand, I rather like a lot of the productions Dimension has done this way so let’s see what we’re in for. Jason Scott Lee is the lead in this film, and that’s not a bad thing either… He was excellent as Bruce Lee in Dragon, I remember really digging that as a teenager when I saw it in the theatre. He is also of course, the voice of David, Nani’s boyfriend in Lilo and stitch.

images3.jpgAs I’ve mentioned before, Dracula 2000 is actually one of my all-time favorite vampire movies, but it was also one of those movies that I never thought should have been turned into a franchise. It stands alone really well and doesn’t lend itself all that well to further installments, however this isn’t a direct sequel anyhow. It’s more in the spirit and style of 2000, attaching itself as a sort of alternate universe sidequel film much the way Fulchi’s Zombie attaches to Dawn of the Dead as a sequel. Despite saying West Craven presents, Craven have nothing to do with this film.

We start off with vampire action in what looks like an abandoned subway and it’s good stuff – modern and slick and cool. They’re taking a cue from John Carpenters Vampires with cool vampire weapons and a militant priest. The fact that Lussier directed all three of these Dracula movies helps create a uniform feel. In addition to some modern sensibilities, he still manages to infuse the film with at least a touch of Christian images2.jpgmysticism, possibly the reason our protagonist is a priest.

After despatching the two bloodsuckers he returns home for more support

Roy Scheider is just phoning in his role as the Cardinal of the order, but even that’s enough to elevate this film a bit. We get sweeping dramatic shots of the train heading to Bucharest and the now-defunct priest continuing his journey and his mission to rescue his beloved Julia and destroy the vampire plague. It’s an occupied country, and the soldiers and equipment create a tense atmosphere. They take full advantage of the Gothic and stone look of Romania in crafting their film – it’s an effective use of limited resources.

This film has an interesting origin for Dracula as well, establishing a terminology – they’re correct that the name Dracula is not a proper name but rather an honorific – and aspirational one to be one of the dragons, the priest tells us he’s had many names over the years and has existed for a long time under many guises – it’s actually a really well images4.jpgdone recap.

The further they get into the city, especially at night the more abandoned things get, unfortunately instead of coming off as creepy, it just shows the lack of budget. A handful of extras wandering around in the background may have actually helped (but they may have needed to save those for later scene in Dracula’s feeding pit). Nevertheless the blue fog and eerie lighting provides a perfectly creepy horror movie setting for them to kill vampires in.

Like John Carpenter’s Vampires, what we get here is basically a horror tinged action movie with some interesting looking bad guys. The stilts vampire has to be seen to be believed. It’s a film that I think is actually strong enough to stand on its own without the name Dracula, and I almost wish they had, but they needed the brand recognition and I’ll admit I probably wouldn’t have found it without that myself so I completely understand. Dracula 3 : Legacy is full of action, intrigue, infections and has a genuinely well thought out story. Much to my surprise, it’s one to recommend


Dracula 2

lussierindex1.jpgI’m watching these completely out of order, but Dracula 2 gives me hope seeing both Khary Peyton and Craig Schiffer’s names in it. Of course I know this is a Gary Tunnicliff effects film, and I got to meet Jason Scott Lee’s character in Dracula 3– a movie I enjoyed enough to want to explore this middle one now as well.

We have a woman in white running for her life against a shadowy figure, what’s interesting is the figure is Lee – our vampire Hunter. What they are doing, is turning the tables. She’s not in innocent victim, she is vampire and in a few minutes and she and her twin sister turn the tables, attacking Lee and trying to destroy him. Getting a fight sequence with a marvelous beheading like this before we’re even five minutes into the film leaves me confident that the director who gave me Dracula 2000, one of my favorite vampire films ever, is on his game and about to give me something remarkably fun.

Schiffer is a paralyzed college teacher and Peyton is one of his students. It’s a great deal of fun to watch these two Hellraiser alumni together but it’s not long before we get a shot of the burnt up Dracula from Dracula 2000 hanging from neon cross and then delivered to a morgue, and now I’m ready for this thing to start in earnest. The corpse is completely desiccated and blackened and the doctor begins his autopsy. While the skin is charred, the organs inside are pristine – white even, as if they had never been touched by blood. While checking his teeth, a fang pops out – piercing the finger of one of the index.jpgmorticians. A single drop of blood hits the body which absorbs it greedily. Our mortician put in a call to Scheffer, while Lee, in full priest gear arrives  at the morgue and stalks the halls, looking for a vampire to kill. He arrives, under the guise of giving the body last rights – but it’s too late… The morgue attendants have absconded with the body. A phone call from someone interested in buying the body came through and the $30 million payday was too much for them to resist. We find themselves on the road spiriting the body away to a property where they can test the body and figure out what’s going on. It’s a gorgeous old mansion deep in the heart of Romania (these kind of scenic locations were a staple of these kind of productions as financial concerns led Dimension to start filming there frequently in the early 2000’s).

The group fills a tub of blood in attempts to reanimate the corpse, as Craig Schiffer watches on a computer monitor. It’s all very reminiscent of Hellraiser, particuarly when the bloody corpse emerges from the water alive and energetic – Dracula has risen, emaciated and bloody alive. They subdue him with light and water. , and then keep him captive with iron chains and UV light. It’s kinetic and modern, and for a moment almost feels like the Lost Boys.

index3.jpgIt’s a vampire action movie though, despite the scientists best efforts to study, the hunter arrives, the infection spreads and the action starts. Great execution where vampires are blown out the window by a gunshot, then bursting into flames she plummets down.

I got admit, I dig this series a great deal more than it deserves. There is something about the style in which it’s made, it just really appeals to me. It’s not nearly the film that Dracula 2000 was, but as far as fun vampire and action films, this works. It suffers a little bit from being the middle entry of a trilogy and you have to pair it with number 3 to really satisfy, nevertheless this is one I’ll definitely be coming back to with plenty of rewatch value.

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Dracula 2000

lussierindex2I’ve spent way too much time trying to figure out why this film is so hated. I’ll admit, the font used on the titles is a little over the top and the use of classic Dracula protagonists names for modern characters is a little irritating, but honestly – look at that opening shot of the Demetre… The blue cast that contrasts with the red blood on the people and on the sails. It’s amazing. The footprints in the sand where we slowly see animal turn the human, it’s marvelously understated and yet perfectly effective.

We get a good bit of establishing banter with our characters. It’s perfectly clear who Van Helsing is, but Johnny Lee Miller himself still charms as well. I feel a little heartbroken when Selena turns down his date.

Downstairs, the thieves are quick and efficient. Omar Epps actually does a marvelous job images4.jpgbeing sinister. He has a cultured style to him that underlies his efficiency. I could actually really dig a pure heist movie featuring this crew… it’s almost a shame that they won’t live long enough for a sequel.

In a gothic cave chamber below Van Helsing’s office (Setting off a few traps to give us some fun, spiky kills) The chamber itself, adorned with vampire skulls, almost feels like a hammer film set. It’s more of an homage than anything else, because the rest of this film will do its best to be slick and modern.

Across the pond in New Orleans, our heroine Mary, he is having bad dreams. Flashes of Dracula, armor, and strobe lighting mix with her face until she awakens terrified. It’s a reasonable bit of foreshadowing considering Dracula is on his way to her in the thieves airplane. The first attacks from Dracula are fast and brutal, and more than once it’s succeeded in making me jump. Gary Tunicliff wields fake blood effectively, though I’ll index.jpgdmit I wish Dracula’s de-ageing were a little less sudden. Then again, when you got Gerard Butler  in your cast, you want to get his shirt off and have him looking pretty as quick as possible.

We effectively sidestep skepticism by having Johnny Lee Miller follow Van Helsing and almost immediately witness the vampires firsthand. They’re well done too, Gary Tunnicliffe chose to make them gruesome more by virtue of blood spatter rather then the physical deformity we see in Carpenter’s Vampires or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Still, there is no mistaking the red eyes and fangs for anything less than monsters. Lussier delivers us a kinetic action scene before Van Helsing takes Miller aside to explain the plot. There is a new twist to the vampire legend here, the idea that Dracula is patient zero – the first vampire, and that the methods that destroy other vampires simply don’t work on him. It’s a logical, organic addition to the mythology. We get additional foreshadowing as silver Mardi Gras coins are dropped from a balcony while Dracula wanders the streets of New Orleans. Foreshadowing is actually something Lussier is good at and the general confusion and massive activity that we get from this admittedly small-scale Mardi Gras celebration provides a colorful and acceptable challenge to our vampire hunters. It’s no challenge for Dracula though, as he finds Mary‘s roommate Lucy to images3.jpgcontinue the game of cat and mouse that he is playing with her and her father.

Lussier creates an almost Suspiria like atmosphere to introduce the brides and finally give us our first real confrontation with Dracula. We get great wolf and bat imagery as Miller savers Mary and they race after the Church for sanctuary.

We get bloody scripture, exploding bibles and massive cemeteries, not to mention one of the best crucifixion scenes I’ve ever seen and as we finally discover the origins of the first vampire.

images55.jpgThere is some cringe here, brilliant dialogue like “we are also much more complicated than our names aren’t we? “Are undercut by goofy dialogue like “I don’t drink… Coffee”. The ever present Virgin Records marketing can get on your face a bit as well and the name itself is admittedly a bit hokey. Still, the imagery, the twist and the action all serve to make this one of my all-time favorite vampire films, second only to the Lost Boys. It’s an incredibly fun vampire romp, not overly grotesque like Fright Night or John Carpenters Vampires but still free of the over-the-top romanticism that Anne Rice and the later Twilight stories would infuse into the genre.

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Toad Warrior

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Toad Warrior is the third entry in the Frogtown series. It comes at a time when Jackson had fully embraced the zen film making model and was almost exclusively using his cast of stock players. As such, it feels less like a Frogtown movie and more like a late career Jackson film. Not only is Jackson using his Maximo T Bird pseudonym, but he is crediting himself as the writer of the “scream play”

I fear for this film…

Once again, Max Hell retains the name but is a completely different character. This time played by Scott Shaw, he’s a sword wielding lone warrior, very reminiscent of Shaw’s Hawk from “The Roller Blade Seven”.

The film opens with as Max Hell sails over the desert in a parasail plane, over the heads of two Frog people before exiting the vehicle, samurai sword in hand. The toad people images2are obviously guys in leftover masks from the other films. There’s no attempt to even hid it. We see pink, human legs protruding from shorts, and Caucasian hands. It doesn’t help that these were among the last scenes to be shot, when the project was already running out of steam.

Shaw rescues a busty blonde, and the two  leap into a passing pick up truck to try and escape, but one of the frogs gets in the bed and Shaw has to bear knuckle it out with him!

At this point I’m already checking my watch. 80 minutes, I think I can handle that.

Joe Estevez is a mob boss or loan shark of some sort who appears to be trying to extort one of the frog people. The frog boss hires Max Hell to go take Joe out.  I Gotta admit, the banter between Shaw and Humphrey Bullfrog is a little fun – it almost feels like there may have been a partial script for this film despite being billed as a Zen film. Fun fact, sandra-frogHumphrey Bullfrog is working out of Donald Jackson’s actual studio office.

Mr. Big’s ninja henchmen kidnap the beautiful blonde scientist who is the only one who can transform frog DNA into human, and Shaw is off to rescue her.

This film actually seems to be very self-aware, and playing a lot of things for laughs… Part of me wants to make fun of the lounge singer girl crooning her rendition of “my kind of frog “, but it’s actually tradition at this point and it’s actually better than the bizarre musical numbers that showed up in the previous film.  The fact that this movie seems to understand it’s kind of a joke makes it an easier pill to swallow somehow. This one takes place after the “frog was “ when the scientist unleashed the green plague and humanity.

index2.jpgIt’s also notable that Scott Shaw delivers his dialogue far more convincingly here – it appears he’s actually got some acting chops that are properly showcased. It also actually ends up being a much better showcase for Scott Shaw’s martial arts skills than the Roller Blade films were.

The production quality however has sunk down into that $30,000 level that Jackson was making films for the time, and it really shows. It affects this film more than the reduced budget would with the Roller Blade movies. Those things NEVER had any money behind them so we were used to it. But Frogtown, particularly the first one was a reasonably high budget production at about eleven million dollars. For it to sink down to $30,000 really shows. Toad Warrior ends up feeling more like a fan film then a professional production, with things like a shot on Jackson’s favorite overpass above the busy 170 freeway. The cars imagesshowing up in the background undermines the whole post apocalyptic world schtick. There are sets that are basically been built out of curtains, loud background noise and incomplete costumes. All hallmarks of Jackson’s late career work. The main things that give this any sort of credibility are the masks, and yet those seem to still have been left over from previous films. Did I mention there is another hand puppet on this one? The Roller Gator from Jackson’s kiddie flick of the same name gets a cameo in a scene where Conrad Brooks (still a swamp farmer) attempts to nap. Sure there are b-lister stars in the movie, but even my 10-year-old daughter managed that for her backyard zombie films!

There is a story in here somewhere, but it gets lost as people meander around and we end up with a lot of disconnected fight scenes and bits of random exposition that don’t really move the story forward.

It’s important to note that IMDB lists a fourth movie in this series. “Max Hell : Frog indexWarrior” is not really a sequel. Like “Legend of the Roller Blade Seven” or “Hawk : Warrior of the Wheel Zone” Max Hell is actually a re-edit of Toad Warrior. Toad Warrior never had a proper release in the US, only playing theaters in Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and for good reason. Neither Shaw or Jackson were happy with the final cut.

“I don’t know if it was the lack of technology at the time, laziness, or just the fact that the editor was more locked into a sense of Traditional Filmmaking than Zen Filmmaking but he and Don really missed the mark on the original edit of Toad Warrior.” Shaw recalls.

“He didn’t like the edit either. He asked me if I wanted to redo it. But, there wasn’t time. To me, the edited film kind of felt like they were just filling in the required eighty-two minutes that it takes to make a movie viable for international sales.” The film was for technically for sale, but not being pushed. Jackson and Shaw were only looking for theatrical deals, which they found in the East.The result was “Post the 1996 AFM Don and I buried the film. We planned to reedit it but we were busy and we never got around to it.”

Somehow, a distribution company managed to turn up a beta master of the film, and dumped  it onto a compilation DVD with several other movies. Shaw and Jackson had never wanted this version of the film released in the West. To add insult to injury many of the titles and screen credits of this version were incorrect. An entire stretch of film (the section in the truck and lab) had the audio track missing. By this time, Jackson had lost his battle with cancer so Shaw, now the sole copyright holder chased them down. Due to copyright infringements, this DVD was eventually removed from the market without the need for a lawsuit, but the damage was done. The film was out there.

It was time for Shaw to release his own edit. “What else could I do? I don’t like the cut. Don didn’t like the cut. But to kept that unauthorized version from being the only version of Toad Warrior out there I had to release the authorized version.” Shaw would lengthen certain scenes shorten others. The lab scene was jettisoned, and the entire thing was shortened. It’s interesting to look at both movies side by side, but they both boil down to essentially the same film – the one Jackson and Shaw attempted to bury in the days before internet. Perhaps best to leave it buried.jackson


Return to Frogtown

franchisebannerindexReturn to Frogtown begins in a darkened hall where the frog leader declares it time to rise up and throw off the yoke of slavery! Basically the first few moments are to let you know straight off just how over to top this movie is going to be. It goes even further than the first film and that’s no small feat.

The frogs look good as ever, and I wonder if Jackson made off with some of the masks that Steve Wang had crafted for the last film (Things do go missing from studios from time to time after all). The credits on the other hand, look cheap and shortly we find ourselves in a marble yard that may be the same one he filmed “The Roller Blade Seven” in one year prior. The toad warriors are hunting as a torn old flag flutters overhead. It doesn’t look as if the lips can move on these frog masks being used for the long outdoor shot (There’s a hero mask for indoor close ups with some very basic up and down movement on the bottom lip, but that’ll be it). Not a big surprise. Indie film making usually involves a slashed budget and Jackson is back to his old tricks, overdubbing the whole thing with hollow, tinny sounding looping. He’s chosen appropriate voices, deep and menacing, but the poor dubbing throws the whole feel of the film off – especially when you’re outside. Inside we can forgive a little echoey sound but outside with no lips moving and poor looping… Well that’s classic Donald G Jackson. Still, Robert Z’Dar, Lou Ferigno and even Brion James all show up in the credits which leaves me feeling hopeful.

images2.jpgThen the rocket man appears in the sky, and I’m pretty sure I know exactly what kind of film I’m in for. It’s Ferigno playing ranger John Jones (named after a different green guy than the one he normally plays) and now he’s trapped behind enemy lines.

Robert Z’Dar, One of the futuristic Texas Rocket Rangers (who dress like the Rocketeer only with the helmet on backwards) is assigned to go fly in and find him. Apparently he’s playing Roddy Piper’s character in this installment, I am somewhat mystified as to why they didn’t just create a new protagonist. There is no resemblance between the two incarnations of the character, physical, behavioral or otherwise. Z’Dar is given free reign to do his own thing. He’s accompanied by Denice Duff playing Dr. Spangle. Again, we have a character with the same name from the first film, but who has no actual resemblance to the previous outing. Spangle was blonde, smart and all business in the first one. In this film she’s a spunky brunette sidekick and I think I actually like her better. (To be fair though, that could be just my affection for Duff coming through from her time in Full Moon’s Subspecies series….)

In the meantime back at Frogtown, the toads interrogate Ferigno to discover the secrets index2.jpgof the rocket pack. It almost feels like Jackson is creating a serial here, He’s obviously influenced by the old Commander Cody episodes and stuff this film full of monsters, jet packs and cool vehicles – gun cars and dune buggies.

Frogtown in this installment is an old western ghost town rather than the industrial hellscape of the previous film. That stupid sign is upfront again too, “If you lived here you be home by now”.  Jackson seems to have as much of an obsession with this gag as he does with samurai swords. The stock background along with the expressionless masks, limited jaw movement, and hand puppet mutant (and what’s with Jackson’s fixation on puppet nookie anyhow?) give the film a distinctly power rangers sort of feel. This thing is practically a cartoon.

images4Ferigno is still being interrogated and drugged, but now we see he is slowly being turned into a mutant as well by mad scientist Brion James in the single most uncharacteristic role I’ve ever seen him in. It’s a bizarre. He’s a poindexter type of character, with frizzy hair so wild that it would shame Larry fine.

In the meantime, because this is the 90’s and we’re still recovering from Vanilla Ice’s “Turtle Rap” in the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film on year prior, Donald Jackson felt it was very important to include a nightclub scene that featured a four-minute long original song sung by a band 5completely comprised mainly of mutant frog people and their slave girl dancers..

The Texas Rocket Rangers are captured, but still determined to break Ferigno out. Lou for his part, is looking greener every minute and I’m afraid he’ll hulk out at any moment! I mean that as a joke, but to be fair, Ferigno does bust them out of their prison cell by literally ripping the bars out of the window.

Shotguns in hand, they attempt their escape with the mad scientist and his formula to turn people into frogs. Only Z’Dar is able to slip away, with the help of the hand puppet. He almost makes it, long enough to Don his rocket pack. Suddenly, before he can tak off, he’s surrounded by frogs.

The frog master find the humans guilty of crimes against frog kind (Now there’s a index3.jpgsentence I never thought I’d say). Seconds before they’re executed, another Texas Rocket Ranger sweeps in and rescues everyone, blasting the frogs back and freeing Sam Hell up to shotgun everything in sight. This begs the question why they didn’t just swoop in like this this in the first place, (but that’s okay. The film still clocks in at under 90 minutes)  Even the turtle head with the gatling gun is no match for our rocketeer wannabes and their hand puppet.

The frog man says “I’ll be back “more frequently than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

We find ourselves in a climactic battle of katana versus katana in a smoky room and we get a somewhat surprising twist with the frog master just before everything blows up.

It’s goofy dumb fun, and a little more unintentionally campy then the original film, but still passable. I’d probably be upset if I paid money to watch it, that wouldn’t necessarily turn it off if it were on cable. The Asylum has done far worse.
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Hell Comes To Frogtown

franchisebannerindexSometimes, I almost forget that Donald Jackson made some fairly legit films. “Hell Comes to Frogtown” is one that even I’ve heard of, though I’ve never seen it before. Still, of Jackson’s filmography, it’s the one that is probably the most recognizable. It’s postapocalyptic, which is right in Jackson’s wheelhouse and looks like it was even filmed in some of the same places he’d use for his Roller Blade series (that’s not surprising. Jackson LOVES his five or so stock locations).

Mutants have kidnapped fertile women, and Rowdy Roddy Piper as Sam Hell ride a shockingly pink truck straight into Frogtown to go and rescue them… and also possibly impregnate them. The role was originally written for a friend of Jacksons, but New World pictures decided that the film need some star power and offered it to Tim Tomperson. I can’t help but wonder how it will be different with him in it. When he passed, New World decided to go with Piper because of Jackson’s previous association with the world of wrestling in his documentary “I Like To Hurt People”. It’s bold casting, considering this is before “They Live” and Piper was an unproven quantity, but he’s  actually pretty delightful in this film. I’ve always had a kind of low opinion of him, I’m not into wrestling and I don’t enjoy “They Live” but the way he chews the scenery and goes off on rants here is incredibly amusing. Even more amusing is the high-tech chastity belt they’ve strapped on him to ensure his cooperation. He’s a good pick for the role, his own inherent absurdity matching the lunacy of the film and its premise. Tomperson usually plays characters more straight and I can’t imagine him pulling this off with quite as much fun as paper did.

index4.jpgIt’s the bizarre sort of film where women wear camouflage lingerie and fight frogs after all. A world where hot lady frogs throw themselves at Piper, much to his extreme discomfort (Even if she is wearing a bag over her head).

I don’t believe rowdy Roddy Piper for a moment when he says “I’m not just a machine you can turn on and off whenever you want to!” It seems somewhat out of character for him to be so reluctant to knock these refugees up. And yet, he rises to the occasion when it’s time for him to be serious and touching.

“The war was  a long time ago,” she tells him. Piper turns and looks at her sadly.
“Not for me…”

I totally buy it.

images2.jpgThey make their way into the Frogtown, an abandoned factory complex with Piper’s handler Spangle posing as his prisoner. They are greeted by a sign “Welcome to Frogtown! If you lived here, you’d be home by now! “. Jackson would use this joke again in “The Roller Blade Seven”, with a similar sign in the wheel zone. It wasn’t funny then either.

Inside the bar, we get our first look at the frogs. A go-go dancer struts her stuff on the table as other mutants drink. The make up reminds me a great deal of the lizards from “V”. Piper seeks out somebody to barter with, and encounters a frog in a fez. He’s totally playing Sydney Greenstreet’s Signor Ferrari character from Casablanca, only he’s a frog. Fez Frog serves Piper slightly radioactive beer and kicks off negotiations. There is something slightly disturbing about watching a giant bull frog ask if pipers slave woman can dance, before handing her over to another mutant frog with an eyepatch. It’s these little touches that really sell the characters, and I’m not sure if they’re really meant to be comical or not. The comparison to Casablanca comes into even sharper focus when the deal is busted by the head frog who tells him he’s shut down till further notice!

index3.jpgEverything was going so well until Piper and his handler get captured. Then you find yourself all tied up with a mutant frog holding a chainsaw coming at you.

The good news is, the chainsaw managed to accidentally get piper’s high-tech chastity belt off without hurting him. The bad news is, the belt exploded while the frog was examining it. Actually, I guess that’s good news too… except it didn’t kill him, the detonation just sort of pissed him off. Still, that green blooded such and such doesn’t know who he is dealing with! Piper leas into action, quickly dispatching the frog, then rushing off to save Spangle from the king frog with two wangs.

index2.jpgIt’s fun direct to video sort of action, with just enough humor to land jokes and keep things light without turning the film into an out and out comedy. The whole thing has almost a Troma feel to it in its independence.  Frogtown makes all the absurdity in it do exactly what it supposed to do… It amuses. It’s fun.

Daniel Jackson always resented the tight rein New World pictures kept in this, but I’m not so sure he should. This is arguably his best film, he seems to do much worse than his own. Despite having a co-director and a co-writer, it’s still distinctly Jackson, with the setting, the fixiation on samurai swords, and the general weirdness of everything. I have to wonder if he’s not better when he has somebody to reign in his wilder ideas. I also for the life of me can’t imagine how he could make a film like this on his future budgets. After all, there’s two sequels that follow this movie. I guess we’ll find out!

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The Frogtown series

franchisebanner“The meek will inherit the earth!”

“Not without a good lawyer.”
– Deleted line from “Hell Comes to Frogtown”

index“Hell comes to Frogtown” is probably the most recognizable film Donald G. Jackson ever made. But it has a long history that goes all the way back to Jackson’t previous film, Roller Blade.

There is a section in L. A. they actually call Frogtown. It seems that back in the 1940s this part of the city was overrun by hordes of Frogs, an event that inspired its name. One of the actors in Roller Blade lived in this area, and Don was on his way up to see him. It was the actor, who’s name was Sam Mann, who came up with the title, Hell Comes to Frogtown. The name intrigued Jackson, and he tucked it away in the back of his mind.

“Crazy  titles were getting the be the big thing. You could actually sell a movie on the strength of the title”

The title “Hell Comes to Frog town certainly fit in with the weirdness of other films like “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space”. It had potential, but was no time to start planning another film though He still had “Roller Blade” to complete as well as his night job to do. Jackson had worked with both Dennis and Bob Skotak (Who would soon become famous for their visual effects work on films like “Aliens”, “The Abyss”, “Terminator 2” and “Escape from New York”) back when they were still in Jackson’s native Michigan. Bob was the first to reach Hollywood (and had actually been the one responsible for hiring James Cameron in to New World). Dennis followed shortly after and Jackson had leveraged these connections to get his current gig at New World Pictures. It was at this night job for New World pictures that Jackson met Randall Frakes. The twilight shift pretty much consisted of the two men and no one else.

“We worked the midnight shift, setting up effects shots for the Skotak brothers to shoot during the day. During that time, Don and I bonded, and he talked about the kind of movies he loved and wanted to make.”  Both were fans of old serials like “Flash Gordon”, “Captian Video” and “The undersea Kingdom”. These films would be huge influences on “Hell Comes to Frogtown”. There in the gloom of the FX studio, Frakes and Jackson let their imaginations run wild. “Working night shift, had time while babysiting the computer cameras doing visual effects  to come up with all these bizarre concepts, come up an idea for a screenplay about murders happening in a special effects facility”

Meanwhile, Jackson was just about to wrap on “Roller Blade” when he received what he considered to be an omen.

“I was shooting the very last shot of the movie, I turned around and someone a gang memeber or somebody had spray painted on a brick wall the name “Frogtown” and I turned to the actors I was working with and said “That’s a sign. That’s our next movie; Frogtown”.”

He headed back to the studio but made a wrong turn and got lost, eventually finding himself in strange area, overgrown and full of graffiti on the walls. It’s featured in “The Running man” and “Alien Nation”. Jackson dubbed it “Grand Graffiti train station” and flagged down one of the homeless people squatting there. He convinced the bum to take him on a tour to showcase all the points of interest, and that’s where  the world of Frogtown started to coalesce in Jackson’s mind.

Back at New World, the accountants were tallying up the profit on Jackson’s direct to video “Roller Blade”. With revenue topping one million dollars, New World decided to call Jackson back in t osee what else he had to offer. Jackson had one word for them. “Frogtown”. New World didn’t even blink. They set him up with a 150,000 budget and assigned the film to home video.

With the movie now greenlit, it was time for Jackson to call Frakes. During those late night FX sessions, Frakes had constantly tried to stress to Jackson the importance of scripting when it came to story. Jackson was ready to make him put his money where his mouth was. They met at a Mexican restaurant where Jackson bought them enchiladas and pitched his idea to Frakes. He had a page full of notes and ideas about a place called Frogtown and a dystopian future where the main character was the only fertile male on the planet, battling mutant people who looked like frogs. Looking down ant the page of ideas, Frakes was transfixed.

“I looked at it and the whole movie—from beginning to end, pretty much the way the first draft was written—just started playing in my head. I looked at the one-pager in a sorta trance for about 15 minutes.”

Frakes broke out of the trance when Jackson pointed out his enchilada’s were getting cold. Jackson was in a hurry to have a script to show to New World. Frakes rose to the challenge and declared he could have a full script delivered to Jackson in a week. Jackson was skeptical, but willing to gamble. He offered Frakes a five hundred dollar bonus if he made the deadline. Frakes accepted the deal, and began work on the script. Jackson followed him home and watched over his shoulder as he pounded out the screenplay on his battered old typewriter.

“It was pure stream of consciousness stuff—something I’ve never been able to repeat—and it resulted in a script 120 pages long.”

Not confident that the script alone would truly capture his vision, Jackson commissioned a comic adaption to illustrate the look and feel of his world, pulling from the rich underground comic scene he was so fond of.  Max Hell stemmed from Spain Rodriguez’s “Trashman” while the frogs were inspired by a combination of Vaughn Bode’s Junkwaffle soldiers and Kevin Eastman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Jackson would later work with both Eastman and his wife Julie Strain in his independent film days). He started binding the seven page comic in with the script, making it an eye catching point of interest.

Pre-Production began. Frakes and Jackson were planning to shoot as much of the film as possible on hand-held cameras, giving them a greater freedom of movement. Creature Effects artist Steve Wang, fresh off “Predator” and “The Monster Squad” was brought in to design the frogs. Jackson wanted something catchy, visually interesting. Something he could build a franchise that could be spun off into toys, cartoons, comics and merchandising.  Wang drew up the designs in half an hour. Meanwhile, Wang was introducing Jackson to eastern Kung-Fu films and suggesting gags for wirework in Frogtown. Jackson was eager to try it all out.

Elsewhere, the comic adorned screenplay for “Frogtown” managed to catch the eye of Robert Rehme, an established producer with a special flair for action films, and also the president of the Academy Awards. He passed it on to his wife to read and see what she thought of it. The next day she reported back that it was a uproarious send-up of Mad Max and the Planet of the Apes, only they’re frogs! Bolstered by this review, Rehme pulled the script from Home video and transferred it to the theatrical department, causing an uproar. The Video department was keeping New World Alive at the time and everyone knew it, causing a rivalry between the different sections of the company. Rheme pulling “Frogtown” was just the latest slap in the face.

It was however, looking like good news for Jackson and Frakes. Now a theatrical feature, New World increased the budget to 1.5 million dollars and made it a low budget SAG production. Star power was on the table with names like Tim Thomperson and even Jay Leno being tossed around. New World locked both Frakes and Jackson into a pay-or-play deal meaning that even if the film fell through, they would still get paid. Their end would be nearly one hundred thousand dollars.  The deal, which sounded like a dream come true, would soon become a nightmare for both men.

“Signing that deal—because it was pay-or-play—meant that we didn’t really have any contractual power and could be fired on a whim if they felt like it. So we lost creative control at that point”

The first signs that Jackson and Frakes were no longer in control came in casting the lead. New World wanted Roddy Piper for Sam Hell. It was a logical choice because of Jackson’s previous association with rofessional wrestling, and piper was quickly becoming one of the biggest stars in the WWF. Piper however, didn’t feel he was getting the recognition he deserved.

“At WrestleMania 2, the entire audience just started chanting my name. Hogan got all sideways. I heard, “Oh, we’ll take care of Piper,” meaning “We’re going to try to downplay his product.” Well, I went and did a movie. So, that stuck harshly with Vince. It stuck in his craw and then Hogan and Vince did “No Holds Barred”. ”

Piper would meet with Jackson telling him “I want to do this part so bad Don, I’ll do it for free!”

Back in reproduction, the studio also nixed the opening stunt Frakes and Jackson had planned with stuntman who had designed a motorcycle that could do a flip and roll and always end up back upright. They planned on featuring this in the opening action scenes where the government forces captured Sam.  New World decided that even with the newly ex-anded budget, such a stunt was too expensive and proposed instead an on-screen graphic, a WANTED poster for Sam Hell, overlayed with giant red letters reading “Captured.”. Frakes mentioned this problem to Jim Cameron. He was furious. Cameron went to New world and offered to give the production $100,000 to film the opening chase. New World wasn’t sure to do with this offer. They decided to play it safe and declined to  take Cameron  as an investor, even after he proposed to put his name (by that time a big box-office draw) on the film as a producer.

Soon the studio was questioning every move. Jackson, not used to such interference started to get edgy. Trouble reared it’s head during his very first day on set.

“They had an art director creating one of the sets. When he finished, I checked it out and it all looked too clean and pretty to be a part of the film. I told him about it, but he didn’t listen. He had all the arrogance of an art director and felt he had to answer to no one. So, when he stormed off of the set, I got a few can of spray paint and went and spray painted graffiti on the wall of the set. When he came back, he freaked out.“11.

Elsewhere, Frakes wasn’t being nearly as subtle in hiding his outrage. The main villian, a frog called “Commander Tody” (named after Commander Cody of the rocketman serials) had been designed with four arms. The plan was to slowly reveal this during the bar sequence. One arm moves as game piece. Another lifts a cup to his mouth. Another reaches out to shake hands, ect. The arms ahd been built and the puppeteers were practicing when a New World executive came to Frakes and suggested the arms would be too expensive to build and operate. (For some reason, even though the overall budget on the film had increased by a factor of ten, Steve Wang’s budget for creture effects had remained exactly the same). Frakes tried to appeal to logic, pointing out that the arms had already been constructed and the puppeteers were hired, keeping this from being an actual cost cutting measure. The exec was determined to have his way. Frakes leapt up on a table, and began to jump up and down as he screamed at the executive about how incompetent he was and what a ridiculous idea this was. The exec left, and headed over to another art of the studio. In an attempt to turn the tables on Frakes, he actually sought out Jim Cameron and posed the question to him, “We don’t really need four arms on this character do we?” Cameron looked at him incredulously. “The more arms the better!” he replied. New World stood by it’s people. The extra arms for Commander Tody were discarded.

Frakes’ outburst on the table did far less damage though than the memo he circulated the next day, calling out the exec for poor decision making, and New Worlds short-sighted move in backing up the administrative decision. Jackson was called into the head offices the next day and informed that Frakes was no longer on the project and that if he tried to come back on set he’d be arrested. Jackson assured the suits that he understood. He did. The next day he would start sneaking Frakes in through the back entrances instead of the front gate where they had his picture posted.

New World was also hedging their bets at this point and assigned a co-director to the project. A veteran sound editor for the last five years named R.J. Kizer. Jackson was insulted that New World was assigning someone with less directorial experience than him to be the lead director on the film. Kizer for his part wasn’t thrilled either.  He’d shot some of the US footage for “Godzilla 1985” but this would be his first full feature and he didn’t quite get the strange tone of this weird little movie. He worked slow. Jackson continued to work fast.

Rowdy Roddy piper was also working fast to get u to speed with his acting coach. Frakes had expressed some trepidation when he was cast. Piper’s skills were unpolished and he had a tendancy to mumble. However, he rose to the occasion and filled the heroe’s shoes well. His coach pushed him further, actually filling his shorts with metal shards to make him uncomfortable when wearing the film’s high tech “chastity belt”. When you see him squirm and scratch, it’s for real. So is the fear on iper’s face later in the film when faced with a Frog weilding a chainsaw. The saw was Jackson’s homage to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, and it was real. The studio was not pleased.

Jackson had already circumvented New World’s restrictions by building the “Frog Tank” for the climax of the film himself. As the money for “Roller Blade” had come in, Jackson had poured it into rebuilding a ‘62 Plymouth on a truck chassie, then spray painted it cameo colors.  The vehicle would be used in several more films, including the second Frogtown movie. It even appeared at one point in an L.L. Cool J video. They were shooting at Vasquez Rocks and Indian Dunes (the last movie to be filmed at the Indian Dunes movie ranch by the way, before it was plowed under for a new housing development) away from Kizer. Unfortunately, the Frog Tank, which had performed perfectly in rehearsals, chose that moment to break down. It had to be kicked into neutral and pushed into every scene filmed, coasting past the camera. Jackson and Frakes struggled to get the ideal shots to make it look good. At one point, they needed a POV shot of a dead frog warrior, plunging off a cliff. A stunt person took the first jump into a mass of cardboard boxes, then they tossed an empty suit off the ledge and filmed it crashing into the ground. Finally, they achieved an overhead shot by Jackson bracing himself then grabbing Frakes’ ankles and dangling him over the cliff with the camera.

Finally, the studio had enough of Jackson’s renegade film tactics.

“I am a very hands on Director,” Jackson once said. “They told me, “Everybody has their job on a studio film. Yours is to direct the actors.” So, that was the beginning of the end.”.”  Jackson too, would find himself fired and banned from the lot, though, once New World started to run into financial problems they invited Jackson back to consult on the edit. By the time it was ready for music, New World was in bankruptcy. The score was recorded in October of 1986, at Amigo Studios in North Hollywood, CA, with non-union musicians.  In a final ironic twist, despite striking 2000 prints of “Hell Comes to Frogtown” for distribution in theaters nationwide, the movie still ended up going direct to home video.

R.J. Kizer would go on to direct only one more feature; 1992’s “Death Ring” starring Billy Drago as well as Steve McQueen’s son Chad and Patrick Swayze’s brother Don. He would spend the rest of his career back in the sound department. The creature effects in “Hell Comes to Frogtown” would catch the eye of Hollywood and Steve Wang would go on to be a much in-demand creator, providing creature effects for films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Godzilla, Bicentennial Man, Reign of Fire, They, Darkness Falls, Underworld, Blade: Trinity, Underworld: Evolution and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem as well as directing the Guyver movies and several episodes of Kamen Rider. Randall Frakes would go on to be a successful screenwriter, getting regular work on video games, TV movies and small indie projects. He’d team up with Jackson again for “Kill, Kill, Overkill” (aka “Twisted Fate”) and the first sequel to “Roller Blade”

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Silent Night

franchisebannerindex.jpgConsidering the movie starts off with a girl tied up next to a tool kit, I get a definite torture porn vibe from this film and was afraid that’s what I’d gotten myself into. It’s not. It really is a slasher, just like it’s predecessors. However, I’m glad to see the killer in a Santa suit and when he grabs the axe it almost gives me chills.

A soft reboot, Silent Night is slick and filtered and modern with a cool twist on the Santa killer appearance – a clear plastic mask with a beard glued on. Not as over the top as the zombie Santa killer of the fan films, but still creepily effective, enhancing an explosive first kill. We swing over to Malcolm McDowell as a police chief on the phone with a local cop as she does the crossword. We get some squabbling between the cops, the usual getting to know you routine as Christmas comes to the small town, right out of a Hallmark movie. This particular remake was inspired not only by Silent night Deadly Night, but also by the real-life Covina Holiday Massacre which took place on Christmas Eve in 2008.As such, it’s not Billy or Ricky who are the killers, but rather a spurned lover from an urban legend (we get the backstory around fifty minuets in – I index1.jpgkind of needed it sooner).

Donald Logue plays the worst Santa ever, plying his trade on a street corner and for a moment I thought I was in a Bad Santa movie. But 21 minuets in, we get a homage to the catatonic grandfather in the original and it’s twice as terrifying.

The violence itself begins slowly, but just as I was beginning to despair, a leg comes off and out comes the wood chipper. Also, apparently a flamethrower beats a gun. Good to know.  It’s gratifying to see an homage to the Linnea Quigley kill from the original (the one involving a set of deer horns) later on. While this film tries to be it’s own entity, it is very aware of the legacy it continues. It’s the simple things like the Santa killer RUNNING full tilt at his victim. We’re so used to  seeing these traditional characters like Jason or Michael just walk, relentlessly (and some how still catch up with you) and when we see something like the familiar Santa killer racing towards you, it somehow feels innovative.
images.jpgThe film itself is light on story, and is honestly the vapid slasher that everyone thinks the originals are. Rather than being about the killer and his trauma, this movie spends its time focusing more on the detective and her insecurities. It’s suggested that her father once had to take down an evil Santa himself, and we get a reference to a previous Santa killer four years prior in another town, but they never come out and say if it’s the killers from the original, preferring to maintain a nebulous, peripheral connection to the source material.

Overall, it’s a good, bloody slasher that can hold it’s head high amoungst other holiday themed horror and while not enough to reignite the franchise, still serves to round it out nicely.


Silent Night Bloody Night

The film we’re reviewing today is actually another fan film done for the Silent Night Deadly Night series, and should not be confused with the 1972 slasher by the same name. This fan made Silent Night Bloody Night is shockingly atmospheric, filmed at a beautiful location. It’s short on story though. Billy shows up (in a surprisingly accurate Santa suit by the way, with pockets and bells on the sleeves and everything!) within the first fifteen seconds, prowling the place with an axe. There’s a costume party going and he immediately begins stalking and killing those in need of punishment.

This particular fan film is done up by SAJO Productions, a youtube film producer that specializes in vs match ups like Jason Vorhees vs. Harry Warden, that sort of thing. The focus is to cut to the chase, and give us the good parts, and that’s what this really does. The production values are really good, it’s beautifully shot with actors that seem to know what they are doing. I almost wish the kids behind SNDN 6 had this kind of quality because while their story was really good, their quality was poor. This one is the exact opposite. It’s a great looking short, with no story to speak of. Still, that’s not actually my main beef with it. My biggest problem is the lack of blood. They went to the trouble of getting a good camera to record this and adding cool filters that make it look like 1980, They know how to frame a shot for maximum suspense, yet there’s a sad lack of the red stuff. The axe swings into people with great frequency, but the hits are all dry. Do these guys not know how to set up a squib or a blood pump? Did NO ONE have a spare severed hand laying around (I’ve got like, three in my basement alone)? The gore is the one thing they really need to up their game. If the kids from SNDN6 could bring the blood, I KNOW these guys should be able to.

There’s two of these by the way, with part two starting just as the first one leaves off (it’s pretty much one short all together). In fact, pretty much the first three minuets are just recap and credits. They do a bit better with the blood (not much, just a little bit – like cutting holes in the ugly sweter that’s just been axed) and Berenice Gillham really ought to stop pushing Santa down the stairs. It’s becoming a them and it just seems to piss him off.

It’s worth checking these out, as long as you do it with a kind of “Special Features” mindset. If you like the sort of killer Santa action we get from the first couple films, you’ll have fun with this.

Watch them here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Silent Night Deadly Night 6 : Santa’s Watching

franchisebannerimag1esCan you believe someone actually made a fan film sequel to this series? What’s really surprising is that there’s some genuinely interesting ideas here. I’m giving it a LOT of slack because these guys are obviously amateurs, kids  playing with Halloween masks, but they are still headed in the right direction.

According to them, Billy Cauldwell was buried in an unmarked grave because they feared his evil might come back. Blood accidentally spilled on the grave causes him to rise, much like in the Hammer Dracula films. Billy rises, desiccated and zombified, and then wanders to town where he encounters a bell ringing Santa covering a Salvation imagespot. He rips Santa’s heart out and dons his suit and we are full speed ahead.

SNDN6 continues the long tradition of liberally reusing footage from previous films and seeks to fit itself firmly in the continuity, despite the somewhat mystical angle.

What’s interesting is to see how competent this is. They do fall into some of the amateur traps, excessive swearing, horror posters and movies around (though you can actually forgive the movies – they keep watching the SNDN sequels and that’s actually a tradition in these movies), but they avoid some big ones. They don’t linger too long on the gore. You get just enough to make the pint but not so much that you realize what you’re looking at. They also don’t skimp on the foley or music. The background score is actually quite good. No metal and not overly synthy. The Foley sound effects are actually quite good as well. It’s just as much as we need, and doesn’t come off as hollow or overdubbed. They stay on track – there’s a coherent story here and they not only create their own mythology, they sticks with it, reinforcing it rather than meandering from set piece to set piece.

Their biggest mistake is mostly towards the beginning. The cast is obviously young 16-19 years old.The problem is several of the characters they want in this movie need to be in their forties or fifties. These kids trying to lay old never works; especially when they don’t have the clothes for it. An overcoat isn’t enough to make a detective, especially if you’re wearing shorts underneath. The smartest thing they do here is to move the third act action to a house where a bunch of teenagers are hanging out, allowing Billy to pick them off one by one.

I got to be honest, I dig this so much. They obviously are fans of the series, and they GET it. Billy screams “Punish!” and dresses in a Santa suit. The (unfortunately very obvious) fake axe is ever present and the kills are remarkable clever with beheading, limbs lopped off and the best uses of a snow blower ever. I kind of wish the real studios would take this approach. It’s not strong enough to stand by itself, but it would make a dynamite special feature on a Blu Ray!

You can view it here-

 

But would you believe, there’s actually ANOTHER fan film out there?


Silent Night Deadly Night 5 :The Toymaker

franchisebannerindex.jpgThe opening with the boy peeping on his mom is actually reminiscent of the first SNDN. Downstairs he goes and notices a package on the doorstep, but it warns “don’t open till Christmas”. Dad stops him, but curiosity gets the best of him as the package moves and dad finds a strange device inside.

Hang on, did this just turn into a Hellraiser movie?

Between killer toys, optic trauma and Clint Howard (It’s just a cameo, sadly. Funny though, he’s still credited as “Ricky” so it’s the same universe as the last film! I wonder how he survived that stabbing and worm attack?), Screamin’ Mad George and Mickey Rooney…I’m feeling pretty good about this one. Brian Yuzna isn’t back for this one, but he is listed as co-writer and producer. That may explain the similar feel, even though the director for  this one is Martin Kitrosser, a long time script supervisor with no previous directing credits to his name.

As the film continues two weeks past he credits, we see the boy is mute. I’m amused that he’s watching the Rambo cartoon, but don’t understand why that killer toy is still on his shelf. In the mean time, he’s freaked out by Santa and afraid of Christmas presents, depositing a big wrapped box (of killer Roller Blades) addressed to him in the outside trash can.

images.jpgMickey Rooney is actually quite charming in this, and feels like he belongs in a toy store. I have to wonder if they got some more funding for this one because the killer toys coming out of that store are well done animetronics with lightning FX (Before the days of AfterEffects) on them and the gore is surprisingly up to par for this series. It’s unexpected for a fifth entry, especially at this point where they were releasing these things direct to video yearly. Because it’s completely disconnected from the previous entries, I almost wonder if this started life as a completely different film. Did Mickey Rooney even know what he was signing on to?

Rooney’s character hides a hard drinking dark side, but it’s difficult to tell who’s crazier. him or his son whose overt creepiness is an interesting juxtaposition to Rooney’s subtextual madness. Indeed, the whole point of this film seems to be to keep you wondering who the killer will be in this installment. Once we discover our mute boy imag1es.jpglives in Rooney’s old house, we start to understand why he and his son are unusually fixated on him and his mother.

I’m pleased to see a Santa clad killer in this film. He’s not quite so hands on though, the toys seem to get the lion’s share of the blood. They are fun kills, though things get a bit confusing until we hit the twist at the end – and it’s actually a pretty good idea. The twist ends up being a little more high concept than you’d expect from this property, but Screamin’ Mad George is contributing a lot to the visual here. Still, he doesn’t seem to have quite as much to do this time around as he did in part 4. I wonder if the money had dried up around this time?

Part five is one of the best of the sequels. Not quite as creepy as part four, but definitely more in line with the Christmas horror genre and it actually makes me want more. It’s a  shame that the franchise was running out of steam at this point. Time to reboot.


Silent Night Deadly Night 4 : The Initiation

franchisebannerimag1esClint Howard watching a flaming corpse fly off a roof? Now THAT’S how you start a movie! Between this, Reggie Bannister  and Allyce Beasley (the receptionist from Moonlighting), I have high hopes for this film. Seeing Brian Yuzna in the director’s chair is another good sign. The director of Return of the Living Dead 3 (arguably the most iconic of the series with it’s pierced heroine) and several of the Re-Animator films, this is a guy who gets how to make a solid, memorable piece of horror, especially a sequel. He also knows enough to hire someone like Screamin’ Mad George to sling latex and create horrific monster FX, not to mention bringing Full Moon alumni Richard Band along to do music.

We find ourselves in the bullpen of a newspaper with a classifieds clerk who wants to break in to reporting and thinks the jumper, being ruled a suicide, is her big break. She heads to the jump site where the chalk outline is still fresh and encounters Clint Howard – “Ricky”, as she browses books on spontaneous combustion. He’s a creepy homeless person who follows her to the roof as she checks out the ledge the victim jumped from. Cockroaches seem to follow her home – a problem that will escalate around the half hour mark with the most terrifying giant roach I’ve ever seen, a skull airbrushed into it back. It almost feels like our slasher series is morphing into a horror edged fantasy as our reporter drifts into nightmarish visions.

There’s nothing particularly Christmassy about this story of a young woman, being initiated into a coven of witches. No real connection to the rest of the Silent Night series indexeither unless Clint Howard’s “Ricky” is meant to be Ricky Cauldwell, somehow still alive and now having grown some skin over that brain box from the last film. It’s possible. He almost hints at it during a scene where he watches the dream sequence from SNDN3 and answers “Santa Claus Killer” when asked who he is. He serves the witches and I suppose they could have magically shoved his brain down and generate some flesh to cover it.

In any event, the creepy FX are spectacular and the dreamlike confusion of the film give it a “Serpent and the Rainbow” kind of feel. It’s actually a really good film on it’s own, but feel like it should be it’s own thing and not a part of this franchise. That’s kind of ironic, because it may just be the single best film in this series. No worries though, the crew will be back for the next entry too.


Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!

franchisebannerimag1es.jpgPart three starts out pretty nicely with a Terry Ferrell look alike seemingly lying dead in a white room. No, not dead, she wakes up and finds someone on a slab with their brain exposed in a dome…then a killer Santa. Yeah, this is a good way to start things off. It’s only a dream, during a sleep study, but it sets a creepier tone than your average slasher, which up until now, these things have been. Other good signs involve Robert Culp and Bill Mosely in the credits.

Of course just as it gets good, she wakes up, but the doctors put her right back down. The next dream is the beginning of the the first Silent Night Deadly Night (again? How many times can they re-use that footage???) Brain boy is in the next room, and his chart lists him as Ricky Cauldwell – that is to say, the boy turned killer from the second movie. I’m not sure how he came to be here in a coma six years after being gunned down in a hail of bullets, but here he is and apparently our ingenue, Laura, has some sort of psychic connection to him. It’s okay, it’s cool. The best entries of horror franchises frequently involve evil images.jpgdoctors or psychiatrists, like in Nightmare on Elm Street 3 or Hellraiser 2.

The doctor thinks the Blind Laura is holding out on him and she wants to quit the experiment. As she leaves, we get some foreshadowing that her abilities may be not only telepathic, but premonition.

In the meantime, a drunk Santa is finishing his rounds at the hospital and stumbles into Ricky’s room. His mocking presence is enough to draw Ricky out of his coma, and into a murderous rage. Somehow the dude with the exposed brain manages to thumb a ride into town.

indexRicky by the way, is played by Bill Mosely. When Robert Culp’s detective character arrives at the hospital, he discovers they reconstructed Ricky, jump starting his brain and even his memory. Culp (playing much the same character he did in the Greatest American Hero and stealing every scene he’s in) is none to pleases since he was the one who took Ricky down.

Down the road a bit, Ricky has acquired a hat to cover his brain box and found his way inexplicably to Laura’s granny’s house. Contrived as it may be, you know this isn’t going to end well.

With the hospital murders and references like “Maybe the boogeyman got her” and the Doctor /Detective duo hunting the killer, I actually get a sort of Halloween vibe from this film. As much as I like the brainboy look and love the fact that they are still trying that hard to connect the films to some sort of continuity, I do miss the Santa suit on the killer. It doesn’t quite feel Christmassy enough, and the film itself drags. It’s entertaining as part of a series, but it’s too weak to stand on it’s own and that’s a shame. There’s some really good potential here. If they’d upped the creep factor with the psychic premonitions and done some FX work on things like the ghost and the killer as well as adding some better gore this could really be something. They must have though so to because for the next two entries, they contracted the services of Screamin’ Mad George to give them some blood and effects.  On to part four….


Silent Night Deadly Night 2

franchisebannerindex.jpgWe open in a prison interview room. The orderly knows what’s up, even if the jerky prison psychiatrist doesn’t. Orderlies always know who the dangerous prisoners are.
It’s Christmas even and they are discussing the events of the last film. Flashbacks! A whole movie later and they’re still showing that initial murder again and again.This time however, it’s not Billy – after all, he was gunned down in the last movie. This time it’s his baby brother Ricky telling the tale (odd, I thought the killer had murdered the baby brother in the car since we never saw him again, even though according to this, he was supposedly at the same orphanage). The flashbacks, (punctuated by occasional inserts of Ricky and the therapist talking) take up a full forty minuets at the beginning of the film,and comprise nearly half of the movie. Fun fact, the sequence where Billy is peeping on the two people having sex in the back room is actually new footage. Contracts would not allow the re-use of this particular scene because of the nudity. It was shot with different actors on the couch in one of  the producer’s office to match the shots of billy on the other side of the door. Still, a good half of the film is repurposed.

It turns out the producers of Silent Night, Deadly Night wanted director Lee Harry to re-cut the first film and insert one or two new scenes with Eric Freeman playing a mental patient, to make the story in the original film appear to be nothing more than the ravings of an asylum inmate. The hope was to re-release the movie under a different name.  But screenwriters Lee Harry, Joseph H. Earle, Dennis Patterson and Lawrence Appelbaum, wrote short vignettes involving the patient’s youth, as he killed several people, and eventually the movie transformed into a sequel. There still wasn’t enough material for a full-length feature though, so all the flashback sequences from the first were added in.

With all of that re-used footage I still can’t believe this took 10 entire days. To make this more complicated, the reused footage presented a problem since it drove up the body count  significantly when the new kills were added. as a result, the kills had a good bit of their gore trimmed to get it past the MPAA.

Those 10 days of shooting go into Ricky’s story, and his life after being adopted out of the orphanage. In fact, there’s some clever merging of the two films, in particular after Billy is shot down. The camera pans up from the axe and they cut the pan into thier new actor for Ricky. He’s freaked out by Nuns, Santa and the color red in general. Ricky’s descent into homicidal mania take a similar path to his brother Billy’s, but feels purer – more intent on punishing people guilty of actual speech or acts he index2sees (at least until he gets a gun and snaps towards the end), rather than the generalized kill ’em all attitude Billy had (which only paid lip service to the idea of punishment). He’s more charismatic than his brother as well. Both were well built young men, but Ricky is chatty and sinister. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to the semi-catatonic state that Billy walked around the first movie in. Certainly more charming enough to attract a girlfriend. She decided to take him to a movie where the killer dresses up like Santa (and is inexplicably made up of shots from the first movie). This triggers the rampage that lands him in jail.

It’s actually a bit convoluted for a movie of this type and disappointingly enough, the Santa suit doesn’t actually put in an appearance until about 15 minuets from the end though it and the appearance of a desiccated Mother Superior (technically the same character, but played by a different actress – the scars are to help hide that fact) are worth waiting for. That, combined with the excessive amount of reused footage leaves us with a seriously uneven film. However, I could see myself returning to this for the same reason I dig trailer compilations It’s multiple films in one really, without the burden of being an anthology.


Silent Night, Deadly Night

franchisebannerindex.jpgThe movie opens with little Billy seeing his parents murdered by a robber in a Santa suit (and man, they milk that kill for all it’s worth, rerunning that footage repeatedly). Interestingly, that opening kill is far more brutal than it was originally scripted as. The screenplay simply says Santa yanks open the car door. Ellie’s screams stop and he stands over her lifeless body. there’s no mention of him pulling her our, ripping the blouse and cutting her throat. This is curious considering ti’s the single most re-used piece of footage throughout the entire series.

Of course this all happens right after a visit with the most terrifying grandpa ever, who warns Billy about Santa punishing the wicked. The message is only reinforced at the catholic orphanage (They sure did know how to build ugly buildings in the 70’s an 80’s) he finds himself in as he suffers bad flashbacks. Still, when we flash forward 10 years later to his job at a toy store, everything seems to be alright. He seems well adjusted.

I got to admit, I’m digging the toy store he works at, spotting familiar boxes. Things start to go wrong right after the Christmas banner goes up though, and the flashbacks return.
And then, the store owner asks him to fill in for Santa. Because this won’t end badly at all will it? I’m not sure how the parents don’t notice their kids are terrified by the dire Santa, but the nun from the orphanage realizes just how bad a scene this is.
The killing starts around forty minuets in and it turns into an earnest slasher.Don’t let index.jpgthe early kills fool you, the murders get more outrageous as we go on.

It’s an odd slasher though, lacking a final girl or a defined set of victims. Our Santa killer is more of a wandering villain, popping targets of opportunity.

As Christmas thrillers go, this one has some chilling moments and a very grindhouse feel. It’s cheap but a good VHS throwback.

But does it really deserve 5 Sequels?


Silent Night Deadly Night franchise

franchisebannerindexI was hanging out at the Christmas party over at Carol and John’s when my buddy Jason cocked his head and asked me “Did you ever watch all five Silent Night Deadly Night movies?”. I strained to remember. I don’t think I even realized there WERE five of those things. He further blew my hair back by informing me that Mickey Rooney appears in on of the late entries.

I know I’ve seen the first one of these. It was years ago when I was trying to hit all the traditional Christmas Slashers; Christmas Evil, Black Christmas, ect. But I don’t remember exploring any further in the franchise. Moreover, since then, there’s been a remake to add to the pile. I’m intrigued now. So I hit the resale shops and collected a stack of VHS tapes. I really don’t know what to expect from this – slashers I think. 80’s gore I’m hoping.

We’ll find out together.

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Death Racers

franchisebannerindex.jpgDid any else know that there was an Asylum rip-off of the Statham reboot of Corman’s Death Race 2000 and that said rip-off featured the Insane Clown Posse? I sure didn’t, but if I have to be burdened with this knowledge, so do you.

Over gritty and filtered stock footage, we get voice over that it’s 2033. The president declared martial law and criminals have all been exiled to a burnt out, slightly urban area in the middle of nowhere  called the red zone, ala “Escape from New York”.

It just so happens that inside the prison city, terrorists are making saran gas. Word leaks (there’s a kid in the red zone filming everything with an old camcorder somehow hooked up to wifi) and the governor has to find a solution. His solution is a death race inside the red zone, complete with a Secret mission – to kill the images2terrorist. He breaks it down to the racers – you get points for killing inmates, but you get the most points for killing the terrorist… Maybe even enough to win your freedom.

And also ICP is there.

The cars are largely uninspired, guns added to a sports car, a missiles added to a jeep, spikes on an average cars tires. ICP are really the only ones with a monster machine, an ice cream truck with a snowplow front, meatgrinder, guns and missiles. The cinematographer tries to make up for the cars images.jpglack of visual excitement by giving us tight frames of the more interesting areas; cockpits next to guns and details that are very visually interesting.

As the race begins, the other prisoners chase after the cars, attacking. Some get shot down, others get run over… But it’s usually a cut away with blood thrown onto the car from off screen. The budget doesn’t seem to have allowed for much in the way of stunt people and these cars are almost certainly all rented. Still, they manage some fairly ridiculous gore. Indeed, the gore level in this movie more horror film chunky as opposed to mere action movie blood. I assume that’s ICP’s images3.jpginfluence.

The Asylum attempts to mimic the media blitz aspect of the Statham films, with their own news commentators constantly giving updates on the race it’s self. It’s not quite as slick with all the computer graphics and statistics of a big budget production. Instead of extreme sorts commentators,  they come off looking more like your local evening news. As our racers fight their way through the red zone, these newscasters pop in periodically to explain a little bit of what’s going on – kind of a necessity considering the plot is a little bit more convoluted than strictly necessary (I’d have expected a little something more straightforward from this movie).

images5.jpgInterestingly enough, this is actually an ensemble piece. ICP gets a little more screen time than the others, much the way Captain Picard got a little more screen time then other characters when Star Trek was on TV, but there is actually something for everybody to do here. It’s a wise idea, because the clowns aren’t actors, and it shows. Then again, a lot of the people surrounding them aren’t much better, but instead of watching them struggle to carry a movie by themselves, all the actors together contribute to a pool of mediocrity. It’s a whole swirling bucket of suck where no one person stands out too much. If anything, the only reason ICP stands out at all is because they don’t quite belong in this world. The film leans far more heavily in the direction of being a Death Race movie rather than being a long ICP video and as a result, they kind of feel out of place. I realize they’re here for the star power, but it’s a strange match up. Their music is all over this film as well, and quite frankly it might of been better served with A heavier rock score.

All that said, it’s not as terrible as it sounds. Much to my surprise, it passes the watch test easily and is just loony enough to be fun instead of cringed worthy. Indeed, it’s still a better entry then Corman’s Death Race 2050 released around 2016, and is even superior to Death Race 3. If you’re a stickler for continuity like I am, I can actually fit this in, right before 2018’s Death Race : Beyond Anarchy, showing how the race got started up again and showcasing the increased governmental obsession with the “morality” of the prisons and the race. Death Racers is worth a look as a curiosity if nothing else.

For those keeping score BTW, the proper order for the Death Race films then is;

1. Death Race 2
2. Death Race 3
3. Death Race
4. Death Racers
5. Death Race : Beyond Anarchy
6. Death Race 2000
7. Death Race 2050