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Critters 4

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indexI got to be honest, I’m kind of a sucker for the “in space”  entry of any horror genre. Jason X and Leprechaun 4 our among my favorites in those respective franchises. It took Hellraiser two tries, but they did get it right with Event Horizon. More than most franchises though, Critters is uniquely suited for the space episode, considering that the wee little beasties are aliens in of themselves.

The previous film set us up for this, with the critter eggs being loaded onto an escape capsule that would then float around in space undisturbed, kind of like Buck Rogers. It’s found by a group of salvage people and they run it to a Terran space station  which is eerily abandoned. The critters hatch and begin to do their thing while the crewmates squabble.

It’s actually an impressive cast, with the ship being captained by Anders Hove, the vampire from Subspecies, engineered by Brad Dourif of Chucky fame, and piloted by Angela Bassett. The computer indexvoice on the space station also just happens to be hammer horror alumni and bond girl Martine Bestwick.

On the space station, where they’ve been conducting illicit experiments, the critters lay eggs while our heroes attempt to contain and require them. The movie manages to infuse the general fun of critters with the sci-fi genre and general Critters franchise feeling. Filmed back to back with part three it’s not surprising that they are able to maintain a consistent tone. It’s notable to see some of these actors in early roles but ultimately becomes disposable and silly entertainment, but definitely get the extra points for me for being in space!


Critters 3

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indexWhat the heck is Leonardo DiCaprio doing in this movie!?

Outside of our returning bounty Hunter, I don’t actually recognize anybody else in the film, but that’s OK, because they’re set up and ready to go, this time move in the action primarily to a single location. While we start off on a road trip with critters arriving, they eventually infest themselves into a condemned building that the landlord is trying to kick everybody out of. It turns into a long night as the surviving tenants and the landlord’s son try to rid the building of the evil critters.
It’s great to see the bounty hunter back, and it’s fascinating to watch Leo – I was hoping he’d get eaten but no such luck. with a solid cast, it feels very by the numbers but that’s index1really what you want from such a film. It ends with a twist though. The bounty hunter is not allowed to destroy the last two eggs, as it would be genocide… These are the last two in existence as far as they know. An escape pod is sent for the eggs and he gets trapped in it – setting us up for the fourth film, Which will give us our first real departure from the formula in the series.


Killer Tomatoes Strike Back!

indexKiller Tomatoes Strike Back immediately gets on my good side by starting off as a slasher movie. Literally, we’ve got a young woman being chased to the woods by a chainsaw wielding maniac… What makes this fun is he is accompanied by several chainsaw wielding tomatoes as well!

We’ve got a slacker detective whose gun fires tomatoes investigating a tomato related murder.

It looks like the tomatoes not only got the girl, they also got the hockey mask killer! Still, our detective is not convinced that this is actually a tomato murder. The cops consults a tomato expert, just before the narrowly missing capturing a small tomato. It flees, leaving behind a big moustache (Did I mention the tomato was in disguise?). Back at the lab, our tomato expert is attacked, surrounded on all sides by killer tomatoes crashing through the windows and trying to break out of the cages.

We cut to a television screen where we see that Dr Gangrene from the previous film has images2returned, and is now posing as a talk show host – something in the model of Geraldo or Phil Donahue. He’s brought Igor with him, the wannabe news man looks quite at home on television set. Today’s guests are going to be the heroes of the tomato war, as well as fuzzy tomato. On the show, Captain Findletter argues with the tomatologist and fuzzy tomato about the antisocial tendencies of tomatoes in general. Dr gangrene uses this opportunity to try and frame fuzzy tomato as a villain and turn the public against him.

Back at the police station, the detectives watch, amused. The detective complains about getting nothing but garbage cases even though his colleague thinks that tomato murder indexmight be his big break… the detective doesn’t believe in killer tomatoes.

He gets the call to go and investigate in a car that had been attacked by killer tomatoes while back at the station, Dr gangrene feeds his killer tomatoes. throw in a quick shower scene with a bunch of fake outs.

Dr gangrene begins he is diabolical plan by posting a fake media appreciation day which allows him to kidnap members of the media – the getaway track is of course driven by a small tomato. It’s his revenge for the way the rest of the media snubbed him when he started his talk show.

indexThe detective decides to visit the tomato expert again to get some insight. All I get him is a bunch of parking tickets on his car and beat up by a rogue gang of tomatoes, hanging out in the park… One of them leaves a note “ stay away or else!” The detective is certain it was fuzzy tomato who set up the ambush. He is wrong of course, it’s Dr gangrene is killer tomatoes, so he sends after their tomato expert next!

The killer tomatoes infiltrate her apartment through the vents and the detective is there just-in-time to rescue her with a golf club. they had over to a bar, patronized by depressed looking tomatoes. (Never order a bloody Mary in a tomato bar!). They find a imagessnitch there, and bribe him to get information for $100. The tip leads them to a shady acting class at camp broadcast school (not affiliated with CBS Inc). fuzzy tomato is hiding out as the bellboy there as they infiltrate.

Meanwhile, Dr Gangrene has kidnapped the police chief and is busy revealing his plans as he brainwashes him. The detective and free him but get discovered in the process. Suddenly they find themselves under attack by ninja tomatoes who kidnap the tomato expert and race off of her. (gangrene is next show is all about hostages!) it’s up to the detective to rescue timages1he tomato expert before Dr Gangrene can turn her into a bacon lettuce and human sandwich!

That’s the level of lunacy you can expect from this installment. I love that they are leaning int the absurdity, and parodying the media here, but even more, I love that we’re getting more tomatoes. It’s a shift we see here, with more character in the tomatoes, one that will come to it’s fullest expression in the next entry!

Someone needs to make a box set of these. They are all must buys!

 


Lake Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s screaming outside.

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

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

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

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

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

And the rag doll sits and watches.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


Critters 2

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indexThe best sequels take the formula of the previous movie and turn it up a notch. Aliens took its source material and cranked it up by adding a ton more aliens and increasing the action 100 fold. Critters amps up the ridiculous instead.
We return to Grover’s bend, with the kid who survived the last critter attack. The bounty hunters are back as well, and so are the bloodthirsty little hairballs. Critter eggs get mixed in with Easter eggs and they begin their free-for-all on the town.
When I really enjoy about critters to though is the way the absurdity gets cranked up.
We have a bounty hunter that needs to find a form to take on, the first thing he sees is a playboy centerfold and morphs into her – a significant departure from what we’ve seen previously…and a bit of surprise to see a topless scene in a PG-13 movie! The critters inde1xthemselves are more obnoxious and more absurd, with my favorite scene occurring with them in an all you can eat buffet. It’s the first time we get to see the giant critter ball as well, we are all of the little creatures combined together to make one large rolling wrecking ball. This level of ridiculousness and comedy mixed in with violence and gore would continue throughout the rest of the series, and it’s really from the second film that we see a lot of the heart that we would get used to in the series. Sadly the next two entries would end up being direct to video.

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Critters

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indexI’m not sure why I’ve never tackled the Critters movies before now. I was definitely too young when the first two came out, and even though they were PG-13, my parents simply weren’t about to take me to see a horror movie. When the third and fourth came out I don’t recall much fanfare though, it seems to me that there wasn’t much in the way of advertisement, so even though I would’ve been old enough to rent the movies, I was far more interested in heading out to the theater to see Alien 3 or Hellraiser 4. Ultimately the timing was just off.

It’s  long past time to rectify that so I grabbed copies of these films and began at the beginning (*sings* a very good place to start…..). As far as Gremlins rip offs, I have to admit, I prefer Ghoulies, but Critters is surprisingly well done.

It begins with the critters escaping to earth and bountyhunters dispatched to find them. index1What’s really shocking is the all star cast that we begin to run into here, not just D Wallace, but MM at Walsh as well as The occasional established veteran in their ranks.
As the critters descend upon the town, hilarity and Sue’s. The bounty hunters take various forms, and it’s a clever conceit. One that would be better exploited in the second film. We get to see the little fuzzballs roll around as well as spike people and grin and eat. It bloody and fun, it’s a little more dire than gremlins. It’s easy to see why the steak became a cult classic, and deservedly so. The film attracted enough attention to want to sequel, and that’s really where the ball will get rolling.


Robert Reborn

Robert Reborn starts with some good imagery…and lullaby tinkles set a great mood. We have a child at the top of the banister watching the dog, while the parents are you below. The child’s name… Is Robert.

The evil father beats his wife and child, ultimately killing young Robert. And just before we fade into the credits, we get a shot of the doll, staring up into nothingness.

We get the slightest of that stories, with shots of dolls in the toy maker with Memes are subject robbers… Then shift to post World War II footage of soldiers marching in Russia. It’s up nicely and places is firmly in the same series. We shipped your glorious shot of Corky Park, with subtitles telling us it’s the Soviet union in 1951. The czar is dying, with a mere three months left to live.

The toymaker has been living in Russia now for 10 years, still wanted man, still hunted for his knowledge of how to bring life to inanimate objects. But never fear, Robert is still with him to murder any uninvited guests. He makes a living by doing stage shows with his “enchanted dolls”. That’s where a Russian assassin, killing time after murdering a dissident, discovers him.

She follows the toymaker Home and spies on him, confirming her suspicions that the dolls themselves are alive. She remembers the name from history, and suddenly has idea. If he can bring in animate dolls to life, could he perhaps also preserve the life of the czar? She brings this information to her superior who tasks her to look into it.

An informant tells them of the toymaker’s real name – Amos Blackwood, and how he came into the possession special book full of spells and rituals. It’s a real enforcement of the backstory, adding passages in the book that deal with resurrection of the dead and granting eternal life. It’s enough to get them back on the flight to Kaliningrad where the toy maker is hiding. The assassin’s orders I convinced him to come back to Moscow with her, but if he’s not receptive, kill him and take the book. The puppets don’t take kindly to the assassin’s attempt on the toymakers life though, and take her down.

The next wave of assassins find the toymaker’s plane, dolls in the suitcase. The intercept him, but he manages to convince him to let him bring his briefcase. On the plane, the Soviet leader wants to make sure that he makers method for the resurrection will work, and demands a demonstration. but while the toymaker demonstrates his talents, the dolls everything selves from the plane, killing anyone they come in contact with.

Plane to head towards Britain, where they shot down and plunge into the ocean. The body of the toy maker Is recovered along with his puppets and the remains of the book. No damage, not even a scratch. Agent rates from the pages of the book though, Robert begins tomorrow. The puppets are alive, and downstairs, the toymaker is regenerating.

It’s a solid end to the cycle, but depends a great deal on you having seen the other films. It’s not the sort of movie you can just drop into with no context and just kick back and watch. That may be the problem with much of this series – it expects a great deal from its audience, but never sufficiently rewards that devotion.


The Toymaker (Robert and)

Robert and the Toymaker marks a new direction for the franchise and is the first of what would ultimately become a trilogy of prequels, focused more on the creator of the Robert doll and the mystic book he derives his power from.

It starts with a parade of black and white stock footage from World War II, and the caption Nazi Germany in 1941. We shift to a dark woods and somebody is fleeing. His pursuers are hot on his trail, with flashlights piercing the darkness and search of him.  He finds shelter at a small cabin in the woods, and hides from the Gestapo as the soldier search for him. He promises only to stay a couple of days before moving on to barvaria with his special cargo, a mysterious looking book.

Of course, the Nazis are not fools, and they return in the morning with a cruel master of interrogation. He toys with the family, certain that they have knowledge of the fugitive. Hidden in the attic, the fugitive knocks over a snow globe, revealing his position, the soldier fires right through the ceiling before killing the others. He looks out the window and sees the daughter of the family running away with the book. He fires again, but the distance is too great. She’s wounded, but not dead yet.

 

I might mention, that at this point we’re 23 minuets and I have seen neither Robert nor any other kind of toy. That’s fine for the World War II buff‘s, But I’m here for a killer doll.

Finally, we dissolve to the shop full of dolls, half made toys and doll parts. The toy maker, in a terribly unconvincing bald cap, answers the door and the daughter of the family, escaped with the book dies at his door, handing off the forbidden tome. In the village outside his door, Nazis search for her. Disturbed, the toy maker turns to the book, and reads from its passages while standing over the Robert doll. “Corpus Levitas Diablo Dominium Mondo Vicium” (latin; “Bodies rise, devil dominion, world change”). He chuckles to himself, amused that he even considered believing in its promises of life from death… And then, the doll rises, and looks at him.

As the Gestapo rampage through the village, book Roberts sneaks out, hiding in a toy shop. The toymaker intervenes just in time to keep Robert from stabbing the shop clerk… and I’ve got to admit, it’s the first time the doll has really creeped me out.

The Toymaker then relates a story about Robert past… He didn’t make Robert, he found him. After reading in the newspaper about a young boy whose father had killed him, toymaker found the doll, redid the face and strengthened the limbs and then named him Robert… After the boy who died.  The doll only learned malevolence. And so, the toymaker decide what Robert needs his family, and begins to bring other dolls to life; a clown doll with makeup inspired by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, and a girl doll, based largely on the Talky Tina doll featured in the 1963 Twilight Zone episode Living Doll.

In the meantime, the shopkeeper that Robert attacked rats the Toymaker out to the Nazis. Of course, they come to investigate. The toymaker is removed for interrogation, and it’s up to the dolls to come and liberate him.

The prequel direction with its heavy WW2  focus was a dramatic departure from the previous two films, but after two different distributors approached writer/director Andrew Jones about possibly doing a World War 2 film, something clicked in the back of his mind.

“It came from something I read about the real-life Robert the Doll”  Jones said in a 2018 interview. “Apparently the doll was originally made by a German toy company, so a World War II backdrop immediately came to mind. Obviously I love the Puppet Master films – I’ve been watching them since I was a kid, and I enjoyed the prequels set in Nazi Germany, so I was happy to take that direction for the Robert series.”

It’s an apt comparison. This entry feels more like a Puppet Master movie then either of the popular killer doll focused films. Perhaps it’s the setting. After all, more and more, the Puppet Master films are increasingly set in World War II, and the juxtaposition of hard plastic, eccentric scientists and Nazis… Well let’s face it, that’s Charles Band’s current formula for Puppet Master in a nutshell!

“There’s a World War II trend going on in the industry right now” states Jones, “so this new direction for Robert made total sense”. It also helped  that Jones signed the Toymaker as part of a multi film deal which allowed him more flexibility in the budget. “In industry terms we’re still operating at what would be considered the micro end of the budget spectrum, but that little bit more enable us to be a bit more ambitious with our stories. We could never have attempted a Nazi Germany setting a few years ago! So while nothing has really changed from a business perspective, we do now have the ability to raise our game from the single location, character-based stuff that we were doing in the early days”.

Robert’s two new doll friends in this film are both based on other haunted dolls with Germanic origins.  The girl doll, Isabelle is based on an antique doll made in Germany between 1910 and 1920 and named Mandy. It’s said that the doll was possessed by the spirit of a young girl who  had been locked in the basement of her home  and tragically perished in a fire. The doll passed through several hands before being donated to the Quesnel & District Museum in British Columbia. Her final owner swore that you could hear the doll crying at night.

Otto The Clown doll, is based on the Pulau Ubin doll. In 1914 a man from Pulau Ubin had a recurring  dream featuring  a little girl who had died while being chased by the Army. In his dream she led him to a specific toy store and pointed at a doll that was put up for display in the store window. The dream kept recurring. Every night, the same little girl, the same toy store, the same doll. He had to find it. One day he sought out the toy store and to his shock  he saw the doll that the dead girl kept leading him to in his dreams. He bought the doll and took it to her gravesite. At that moment he felt that the soul of the girl pass in to the doll and finally found peace. To this day locals and tourists alike come from everywhere to see the doll in its shrine, bringing it offerings and gifts hoping that the spirit of the girl will grant them luck and health.

If I have any complaint with the film, it’s that with this entry, the series is no longer about Robert. He’s always flanked by other dolls, but it’s not even that. This movie is about the Toymaker and the book. The dolls are really just windows dressing, an afterthought. Indeed, that renewed focus is reflected in the the original title; simply The Toymaker. When it was released in the US, it was rebranded Robert and the Toymaker to give it better brand recognition and a firmer connection to the rest of the series rather than just being the sidequel it should be considered.


Revenge of Robert

indexLooking at the cover of the Revenge of Robert, you can see they’re trying to strike a balance between the imagery of the Anabelle films and the newer Child’s Play remake. I don’t know this series, I didn’t see the previous installments, (although we do get a quick recap with a few flashbacks at the beginning of the movie) but for my money, this feels more like a puppet master movie then either of the popular killer doll ones. Perhaps it’s the setting, more and more, the puppet master films are increasingly set in World War II, and the juxtaposition of hard plastic, eccentric scientists and Nazis… Well let’s face it, that’s Charles Bands current formula for puppet master in a nutshell!

We have a toy maker who is in possession of a mystic book… and the Nazis want it. He flees, and the book makes it to a train to try and escape their clutches, but the Nazis are relentless and as they draw closer, a toy maker must resort to the last weapon in his arsenal… He must awaken the killer puppets and their comrade Robert.

The problem with doing killer puppet movies on a budget, is that these things are hard! It takes and a enormous amount of effort to manipulate and photograph a sinister puppet… even more so if you’re trying to do it with a sense of personality. What you index2really need are very charismatic actors who can carry the film while still making it a treat every time the puppet shows up on screen. This is actually a big problem and a lot of the middle series puppet master movies actually. We’d see less and less of the puppet some selves, more reused footage, and blander characters. The same thing happens here. While we get our nice montage of puppet mayhem at the very beginning of the movie, we don’t actually get even a glimpse of Robert again until about 40 minutes in… well into the second act, and it appears to be yet another flashback.

The puppets are finally unleashed on the train and begin killing around the 50 minute mark, which is something, considering this movie is only 80 minutes long. They’re creepy enough, but the fact that I’ve had to wait this long, means the film has already kind of lost me. Indeed, the first half of the films almost seems unrelated… as if they tried to smash to shorts together to create a feature.

My advice is that you started out around the seventh or eighth chapter, just past the halfway point and enjoy it as just that… A nice, robust short film, with a good 35 minutes worth of action. I’d also so lean more on it as a horror edged World War II film, because even in this last half of the movie you’re not gonna see a lot of puppet action… Which is a shame. What little we see ( not even 5% of the film ) is nicely done, but it absolutely leaves you waiting for a lot more.


Curse of Robert

The curse of up Robert starts with someone hopping into car carrying a very familiar suitcase. A crooked cop has been paid to swipe it from the evidence locker. No one‘s gonna miss it anyhow, no one believes the fantastic story about the killer doll. We then cut to a dollmaker‘s room, parts splayed over the benches and shelves of partially made dolls. We get a bit of a prologue voiced over this, and it’s a bit of a foreshadowing of the toymaker that we’ll meet in the later sequels. For now, we shift to a young woman named Emily driving her car on country roads as the credits scroll. Her Destination is a World War II museum where she’s starting work as a cleaning assistant.

The manager gives her a tour, and this is where she meets Robert. He is an exhibit, cased behind glass. . It turns out that the museum was dead before he was put there, but now he’s a huge draw. Creepy things happen almost immediately – a baby doll and a carriage rolling out into the middle of the hall during Emily’s first night, things moving out of the corner of her eye, a handprint on the inside of Roberts class display , things like that. One of the security guys is indifferent, but the other, a hunky young guy named Kevin is wanting to check things out. He finds nothing. He’s a little sweet on our cleaning assistant Emily though.

The other security guard, the fat indifferent one, well Robert doesn’t like him very much. One night during his rounds in the dark, Robert expresses his displeasure. The cleaning managers next to get it, attacked while the hunky security guard makes time with the young cleaning assistant. Scotland yard is not amused. They’re convinced that the museum is just trying to stir up trouble, make the place look like it’s haunted so they can raise ticket prices… and that she is a suspect. Now it’s up to Emily and Kevin to prove that the doll is really the one committing the murders.
We get a nice bit of expositions covering the previous film as they do research… complete with photos of the characters in that first movie. Turns out that ultimately, Jenny, the mother, was convicted of Roberts murders. Good to know what happened in the aftermath of that film actually, a a reason to visit her in the asylum. It’s a nice bit of connective tissue reminiscent of what they did in Hellraiser three with Ashley Lawrence’s cameo. It turns out that the museum owner is a man named Amos Blackwood who she suspects is the brother of the evil housekeeper from the first movie.

Take note of that name by the way, you’ll be hearing it again.

Hunky boyfriend calls up the museum manager and blackmails him into showing up that night… claiming he has copies of the security camera footage. The manager obviously knows something’s up, and agrees to meet them both at 8 o’clock that evening.

Turns out, he’s not Amos Blackwood (He’s not? I wonder if the story got changed midway to accommodate the bookends), but he liked the cursed story and decided to lean into it to Mark at the museum… No matter what the rest. It’s a weird confrontation, and of course he double crosses them. Unfortunately for him, Robert is free and roaming the museum, with menacing POV shots and low angles. Robert looks very happy as he stabs the museum owner in the leg, and it gives our heroes a chance to flee. Museum owner gets off a shot, and hits hunky boyfriend in the leg, slowing them down. The doors are locked, and Robert isn’t satisfied with just one victim. He slashes the throat of the gimp boyfriend, and begins to stalk Emily. It’s up to her now to run and hide and survive until morning (and the cops) comes.

The film is book ended with more shots of the doll makers workshop. We pan past more fake eyeballs and doll parts and slowly reveal the old toy maker. This is Amos Blackwood. This is the man who built Robert… it’s a surprisingly long sequence, running a good six minutes or so and really seems to be there for no other reason then to pad out the film and reach feature length, and perhaps to set up the later films.

The film was mostly shot on location at the 1940s Swansea Bay Museum in Crymlyn Burrows, Swansea, Wales. The Swansea Bay Museum acted as their stand–in for East Martello Museum in Key West, where Robert is actually displayed. Some employees there have claimed to have experienced unusual activity when in the presence of the doll. Others  have even claimed Robert attacked them. It’s notable that when they built the display for the movie doll, they included a sign that says “please ask Roberts permission before taking his photo”. This is real. In the Key West museum, visitors are told to ask the doll for permission before snapping a picture. They say anybody who dares to take a picture without the doll’s consent  is cursed for all eternity.  The actual museum displays numerous letters from people asking Robert to remove the curse he placed on them.

This will be the last we see of Robert in present day, and it’s kind of a shame. The character works well in modern settings as a haunted doll with a history, but from here out, the series would look backwards rather than forwards.


Robert

Looking at the cover of Robert, you can see they’re trying to strike a balance between the imagery of the Anabelle films and the newer Child’s Play remake. The film starts with a warning that the film what you’re about to see is based on the tragic real life events with a family after estranged all called Robert entered their lives. Blah blah blah, etc. etc., whatever the truth may be, Robert the doll has gained a legendary and fearsome reputation. Really? Because I’ve never heard of this little sucker until I started finding these DVDs littering the dollar tree shelves.

We get a prologue with Agatha, a Lynn Shaye look-alike warning a couple that they are being hunted, not by a house, but by a doll. We fast forward three years where Agatha is now the nanny for a different family.  She keeps Robert locked in suitcase, just in case. That’s probably not a good thing because she’s about to get fired by Jenny, a bored housewife with some mental problems and having a midlife crisis. On our way out, she stops to see Gene, the boy she’s been taking care of and gives him Robert… telling him that now that she’ll be gone, he needs a new friend!

 

The parents don’t make much of it, though they do question the young boy… “Since when do you play with dolls?”

“He’s different,” Gene says. “He talks to me.”

 

Spooky things start to happen. Footsteps in the middle of the night, as well as a child’s play gag of tiny footprints through sugar. We get a glimpse of something moving, and I’m amused to spot a child’s drawing of Robert pinned to the fridge. We get some stalking POV shots, low to the ground,  and a defaced painting. Jenny is already paranoid, and erupts in anger when her son tells her it’s Robert causing the mischief.

The next morning, a maid arrives, and there’s none too impressed by Robert. He creeps her out and she shakes her head and bewilderment

“This is messed up.”

This displeases Robert, and an upset Robert is no good for an unsuspecting maid.

With our first body in the bag about halfway through the film, Robert starts to feel his oats, writing DIE on the bedroom mirror in the mother’s lipstick. She is horrified as she stares down the hall into her son’s room – Robert is sitting on the rocking chair with the lipstick still in his hand.

Jenny asks her son if she can stash Robert away in the attic but Gene warns her that this would  be a bad idea- Robert will get mad. Indeed, that night  it seems like even Gene  is beginning to show some fear of Robert. The couple head out on a date and leave him in the care of a sitter, but when it comes time for bed, Gene requests that the light be left on. Those fears may be justified because the babysitters the next one to get it.

We enter the third act with the mother hysterical and furious at her disbelieving husband. She’s had enough, taking the doll away and screaming at it, demanding it talk to her the way he talks to her son. Her husband thinks she’s crazy, but she doesn’t care… and locks Robert in the outdoor shed.

The next day she’s off to track down Agatha, to try find out where Robert came from. The problem is, Agatha’s dead… and while she explores her house and correspondence to try and dig up some answers, her family has been left home alone… with Robert.

The ending is a bit of a shocker.

 

Robert is a nice, low budget Child’s Play rip off (Ironically, the real Robert doll was the inspiration for Chucky). It takes place mostly in one location, in one house, with good reason. The movie was shot in just eight days, with their child star only available for three of them. Robert himself gets enough screen time to satisfy, and when he’s not on screen, people are talking about him. It makes his character pervasive. This is essential to the story being told, because according to director Andrew Jones, in many ways, Robert is a stand in for mental illness.

“The lead character Jenny has schizo affective disorder, some of the symptoms of that involve hearing voices and seeing hallucinations. Her husband Paul is worried about her state of mind and also about whether or not the illness has been genetically passed onto their son Gene,” Jones told StudyParanormal in a 2015 interview. “The whole film is essentially Robert serving the same function as the mental illness, causing distrust and tension between the characters simply by his presence in their home.”

 

Even in this first installment, the film deviates significantly from the events it’s based on.

 

“The real life story of Robert doesn’t really work for a narrative film because it had no natural ending. It would have been tough to build a film towards a definitive resolution sticking entirely to the true story.” laments Jones.  “There isn’t a great deal of back story out there for Robert’s origin, nor is there any great detail about the Otto family. So I had to embellish on the characters’ personal stories and also give Robert some additional back story to add more drama.”

 

In the actual history, a young man named Robert Eugene Otto was first given the doll back in 1906, when he was a mere six years old. It was gifted by an angry Bahamian servant who supposedly had an interest in black magic. It’s been said that the gift was the servant’s revenge for being poorly treated by the family. Young master Otto decided to give the doll his first name,  Robert and suddenly decided that he would no loger go by the name “Robert” himself, but rather requested that everyone refer to him instead by his middle name, Gene. Gene would go on to become a well know artist and author in Key west, but would keep Robert by his side for the rest of his life, right up to his death in 1974. It is rumored that Gene’s wife, Anne, was driven insane by her husband’s lifelong devotion to the doll.

 

The film was shot on location in Saundersfoot and Swansea in Wales, UK, as opposed to the actual location, a mansion at the corner of Eaton and Simonton streets in Key West, Florida, now known as the Artist House. In 1978 the Artist House was converted into a Hotel. As for the doll itself, The real life Robert the Doll now resides at the East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida, though the doll is annually loaned out to the Old Post Office and Customhouse in Key West during the Halloween season.

The doll itself is not a well-articulated puppet, but that seems more a function of budget than anything else. Still, the use of low angles and partial shots – an arm or a leg sticking in the frame really helps to sell the character. They do well with what they have. It’s average straight to video fair, but worth the dollar that I paid for it. I’m interested in seeing the next sequel.


House 4

franchisebannerindex.jpgWho the heck is Lewis Abernathy? Because I think he’s got a lot to answer for.

One of the things that really sets House 4 apart from the rest of the series, is the budget… Or rather the lack of budget. It appears to be the lowest budgeted entry in the franchise, and it really holds it back. You can see it in particular once we’re in the house. Other than the living room, the house looks extremely plain and unremarkable. It feels more like a cheap TV show set rather than a residence. That’s not surprising, considering that it is infact a set. You might have seen much of this set used previously in The People Under the Stairs. in fact, The People Under the Stairs were actually reusing the sets from this film, House 4 was shot first, filming in 1990 but was shelved indefinitely until it’s direct-to-video release in 1992. Of course when you don’t have a budget, what do you do? You get a star! Or at least you get a cameo. William Katt returns for this entry, although if you’re watching this for him then you’re probably going to be a bit disappointed. He’s killed off almost immediately (and only shot 2 days on set) because of a power struggle and land deal over what has to index6be the creepiest family homestead out in the middle of nowhere ever! How anybody could look at this is anything less than a haunted house I don’t know!

Katt’s character Roger Cobb has a new wife and daughter, and a brother that we’ve never heard of before. He and his brother argue over what to do with the house. Roger made a promise to his father that he wouldn’t sell, it’s a generational promise that his father had also made to his grandfather, who believed the house was magic. The Cobb family gets in a automobile accident, killing Roger (and just to make sure we’re certain of it, we actually see his wife sign the do not resuscitate order… if I hadn’t already known he was getting killed early on in this thing, I’m pretty images4.jpgsure I would have been pissed) and crippling the daughter. The wife, honoring her husband’s wishes refuses to sell and returns to the house to live in it. We now have our setup.

It becomes Terri Treas film, but the transition feels awkward because part of me still wants Roger Cobb to be the main character. It doesn’t help that she’s constantly flashing back to the accident and looking at photographs of Katt – it’s an attempt to keep the character in the film, but it also subverts Terri’s character of Kelly as the lead. She’s brought back to the house with her grandfather (Dabbs Greer, who happened to play the minister on Little House in the Prairie) and he tries to talk her out of staying, but she’s adamant. Staying here will be her way of honoring her husband’s wishes, she even brings him index2.jpghome. Roger Cobb’s ashes rest on the mantle of this old house.

An unexplained housekeeper arrives to help them whip the house in shape and they gather up all the old junk for a yard sale. Around this time the brother shows up again, shocked to find Kelly living there. He expected the house to pass to him, but that’s not the way it worked. He attempts to apply some pressure on her but she won’t sell.

Creepy things start to happen, brown goo from the faucets, a vision of a hand emerging from Roger’s ashes, and then there’s the singing Pizza – which is possibly the weirdest and most effective gag in the entire film (That’s Kane Hodder’s face in the pizza by the way). Then the nightmares begin. It’s enough to drive her to the local Native American images3shaman to try and search for answers. He tells her that the house is built over a sacred spring, a healing place for spirits. A great seal was built to seal the last of this power and to hide it, the house was built over it, and now Roger is trapped there.

In the meantime, the evil industrialists still want the property, and Roger’s brother has promised to sell it to them. They’re looking for a dumping ground for toxic waste and it’s a cartoonish and its portrayal of the villains. It’s a very typical Captain Planet sort of bad guy. Since they can’t get them to sell, he send some goons over in fright masks to scare the mother and daughter. Curiously enough, the house protects them. A dog shaped lamp on the daughter’s nightstand transforms into a real dog to chases the men away. It does more than that, it shows Kelly the way that her husband was murdered – it’s giving her visions and now she knows that it was Roger’s brother who murdered him. It’s time for one last showdown between her, the house, and the bad guys.

The movie is far less polished and effective than the previous entries, but it really does manage to capture the spirit of the House films. The real quibble here is the wholesale alteration of every canon – we know from the first film that Roger had a son, not a daughter. Sure, this could be a step daughter and a new wife, but it’s not really clear – in fact it’s really suggested that this is his biological daughter and he’s been with her all along. That’s in congruent with the events of a film a mere seven years prior. It’s weird because while House 4 may be the weakest to the series, it’s far more true to the franchise than the third entry was and in many ways I like it better as a sequel. What I really need, is something to bridge it back to the first film and address the continuity changes. Could someone write me a novel please?


House 3

franchisebannerindexThere’s some conflicting stories about whether this was originally meant to be a part of the franchise or not. I’ve read that the studio wanted a potential new franchise so they marketed it as simply the horror Show in the US, while I’ve als heard that they actually WANTED another House sequel so they changed it to House 3 for the European markets, (much the way they billed Fulchi’s Zombie as a sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead). Sequel or not, you can’t really go wrong with Lance Henriksen and Byron James. T look at it, I’d exect an interesting movie that doesn’t quite fit with the vibe of the rest of the series. Problem is, I watched this once already… and I don’t remember a thing. It didn’t really make an impact, so I’m hoping this second viewing will stick. Sean S. Cunningham’s name is still on it, and Henry Manfredini did the music, but it does have an Alan Smithee writing credit which always raises red flags.

The exterior of the house is beautiful, as Lance Henriksen nervously paces inside, checking on his daughter and son. It’s still the tail end of the 80’s and he still ripped. He stops by his shoulder holster and grabs his gun as he descends the stairs in the gloomy house. Everything is foggy with a tinge of blue and his flashlight ultimately leads him down into the dark basement. The furnace flies open with a blaze a flame and he approaches it, almost mesmerized. This plunges us into a flashback – a police operation index3.jpgto rescue a little girl. Inside the building there is blood everywhere. Hands and heads float in the deep fryer and Henrickson’s partner swings from a chain, his arms gone… it’s an impressive amount of gore this early on. Behind him, James sneaks up, the girl in one arm and a meat cleaver in the other. Her head comes off and Henderson wakes up from the nightmare.

It’s execution day for James, and Hendrickson is going to be there to watch. He’s seeking some sort of closure, but James is defiant to the end. It takes two tries, and they have to increase the voltage until his skin bubbles and boils. James catches on fire and breaks free from the chair to deliver a final dire threat to Henrickson.

index2.jpgWait a minute, is this house three or is it shocker? It’s a valid comparison, ask James rises from the dead in an electrical form then emerges from his cadaver and travels into Henrickson’s house… right down into the furnace. It doesn’t pass by unnoticed though, a professor-type played by Thom Brey, curiously enough, the actor who voiced hero Wilbur Finletter in  the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes cartoons) investigates the body and rushes off to warn Henrickson that James is indeed coming back for him. Henrickson’s not impressed, and he still has his own nightmares and flashbacks from the case to deal with
New line, back at home in the basement, things start to happen. Rattling walls and dire tools moving. the daughter’s boyfriend sneaks in to give us a jump scare, but gets lured buy a disembodied voice among the clutter and ends up the first victim of James. Even as a disembodied ghost, he’s still living up to his nickname “Meat Cleaver Max”.

James continues to threaten Henderson, but he assumes it’s just the reemergence of his PSTD. It’s obviously a power surge and the circuit breakers messing with the furnace. That doesn’t explain the demonic turkey though or the visions of Henrickson’s family dead though. it doesn’t explain him seeing James take the place of the stand-up comedian. It’s all enough for him to go running to the shrink. He sends him off to explore James’s old apartment.

While he’s there, Hendricks and discovers that James had been stalking him and his family, and he’s not the only one. The professor is there as well looking for answers, and as it turns out, now is a good time to explain the plot. James has turned into energy and only more electricity will bring him back into the physical plane where he can be properly killed. In the meantime, They discover the dead boyfriend in Henrickson’s basement and that’s when everything goes sideways. Henrickson is arrested and while images5.jpghe’s stuck at the police station, James goes after the family back at the house in earnest.

Henrickson gets out of the jail and races back home, but the house has been transformed into a horror show nightmare and he must fight through it to save his family.

House 3 really is a different kind of film, and it really stands alone. It’s not just that it has more gore, it has a more brutal kind of violence to it. While the other films lean towards spooky fantasy, House 3 goes for the visceral. It’s a good movie, but a very different one. All of the actors give impressive performances, and Brian James actually cited it as being his favorite role ever. It’s fun to see Aron Eisenberg out of the Star Trek Nog makeup and even more of a treat to see Thom Bray playing more of a straight role. The film suffers from comparison though. To many other films such as Prison and Shocker came out around the same time with too similar a plot, which makes it hard for this one to stand out. I really do enjoy the horror show, but it feels extremely out of place as part of the House series.


House 2

franchisebannerindex.jpgI think that Indiana Jones ruined crystal skulls for everybody. The film opens on a crystal skull, and then dissolves into this gorgeous house. If the outsides art deco wasn’t impressive enough, the cavernous interior with stone balconies and Mayan glyphs lining the walls will definitely catch you.

House two was heavily advertised, way more than the original and I remember seeing it on the back of every comic book, on the wall of every theater, and in every other commercial on television. It’s one  of those films I was very aware of but I always assumed that it was a sequel to the original. I even wondered if perhaps the Second Story referred to most of the action taking place upstairs. Of course I was wrong. You have to understand this is an anthology series and this story stands alone, completely unrelated to the rest of the films.

After spiriting away their baby, a couple hears a strange noise from upstairs. They’ve obviously been living with this horror for a while, and they head up to investigate. All we see is a shadowy figure that demands “I want the skull!” before gunning them down.

25 years later

A car pulls up and Jessie, the baby that was sent away, has arrived to take ownership of the house with his girlfriend Kate. He certainly joined by his best friend Charlie and girlfriend Lana in toe. You may recognize Lana as Amy Yasbeck from the Problem Child series.

Downstairs, Jesse finds an article about his great great grandfather discovering a crystal index3skull, then having a falling out with his archaeological partner Slim. The Crystal Skull however, is nowhere to be found and Jessie comes up with the idea I’m digging up his great great grandfather and checking the coffin. The skull indeed has been hidden there, but what he discovers is that his grandfather is also there, and alive. A zombified corpse reaches out and grabs Jessie, defending the skull.  Jesse pleads with him and wins his trust. It turns out, Gramps has been waiting for 170 years for somebody to come and dig him up. He accompanies Jesse and Charlie back to the house, and places the skull back in it’s cradle over the mantle. It starts to glow and Gramps warns them that this house actually a temple, and forces will steal through to try and acquired the skull.

Chris takes Gramps out on the town for some fish out of water comedy and they end up on the side of the road getting drunk and staring at the stars. They set him up in the basement with the TV and they listen to his story of life in the old west. But soon, doors start to open between this world and others and a variety of bizarre forces start to come through to claim the Crystal Skull. A barbarian from the Stone Age storms in and swipes it during a Halloween party, but when he leaves, the portal used remains open. Upstairs in one of the bedrooms they discover a jungle. It’s actually very reminiscent of the devices used in the first House movie. The idea of walking through a familiar door, but instead of finding yourself in the expected room, you find yourself in a very different place. it’s one of those things that makes this feel like a sequel to the original, even while it’s completely disconnected.

They plunged into prehistoric times with an Uzi got that makes the prehistoric man a pushover. The stop-motion dinosaurs are a bit more of a threat. Nevertheless they escape the matte painting prehistoric world, along with a weird dog caterpillar and a baby index2.jpgpterodactyl, all while managing to retrieve the skull and return it to it’s cradle.

In the meantime, Bill Maher is trying to make time with Jesse’s girlfriend.
It’s weird to see him act, over the years we’ve gotten very used to him more as a panel moderator and commentator than a performer. He plays a completely superfluous and ridiculously slimy character in this film, all of which is pretty much the perfect metaphor for Bill Maher’s existence in the first place.

No sooner is the Crystal Skull back in it’s cradle Then the Aztecs come to take it. It’s around this time that John Ratzenberger shows up as Bill. He’s there to fix the wiring but he also has a sideline as an adventurer and finds an alternate universe inside one of the walls of the house. Bill, Jesse, and Charlie head through the portal to the alternate universe to retrieve the skull. A virgin sacrifice tags along with t hem on thier way home – she’s got a thing for Jessie.

index4.jpgIt’s time for Gramp’s old partner Slim to arrive, emerging out of the evening’s dinner as a terrifying visage. Frank Welker provides his best Doctor Claw voice for the dead cowboy and gramps arms Jesse with his six-shooter for the next encounter. Outside, the windows show a Wild West Town and Jessie crashes through to save his friends In a climactic showdown.

House 2 is not so much a horror film as it is a bit of a Dark Fantasy Adventure. There’s a lot of elements here that feel like The Goonies, which make sense. We’ve got a slightly watered down PG-13 rating on this film as opposed to the R rating of it’s predecessor. House two may be a lot of things, it’s spooky and dangerous, But it isn’t scary. Still, you can’t deny the tenor and general feel of the film that links it to the first House film. The addition of John Ratzenberger to the cast is a brilliant bit of backhanded connection as well. It feel like it’s part of something bigger, though it still could probably stand on it’s ow, and even with the very strange (and slightly unsatisfying) ending, it’s still worth the watch, especially in the context of the franchise.


House

franchisebannerindexI always forget just how spooky the opening of House is. They use extreme angles and weird lighting and negative images to heighten the spook factor and really give the house itself character, all before we even open the movie. It’s a great bit of misdirection and sets the tone well. In this house bad things can happen even in the daylight and you get that impression moving through the courtyard and inside the structure to discover the dead woman hanging there.

We are introduced to Roger Cobb, a divorced writer and Vietnam vet whose son vanished at his aunt’s house – the same aunt that we saw hanging at the beginning of the film. He’s having terrible writer’s block and nightmares of the war, and decides a change of scenery is in order. He heads over to the house to move in for a while.

The film takes its time, carefully setting up characters both living and dead, inside and outside of the house, even bringing the Aunt back as a ghostly doomsayer. The haunting starts slowly, with disembodied sounds in the house. It’s soft quietness is a stark contrast to the thunderously loud Vietnam flashback scenes that we get as Roger dreams and writes his book. In the house there’s a vision of his son, and the ghost of his aunt. It’s creepy but benign – that is, until finally he checks the closet… and the monsters begin to index2.jpgshow up at midnight.

The closet monster by the way, is actually really worth taking a close look at. It’s the claws that really grabd your attention but pause the movie and check out the formless shanks of the creature. There’s multiple faces emerging out of the ultraslime on it’s misshapen body, possibly representative of people the house is taken. It was certainly enough to stir up Rogers curiosity and lead him to further explore the curse of the house, while simultaneously exploring his dark past in Vietnam. The flashbacks to the ‘Nam are amazing by the way. Richard Moll as Cobb’s partner Big Ben is perfectly cast and executed. Moll has always been good at a sort of over the top malevolence, a bad guy images3.jpgwho is practically a cartoon but that you still love. It’s a far cry from his character on Night Court and this is one of his better performances. He’s not comic relief, but he is incredibly amusing. Comedy relief of course is coming from George Wendt, veteran of Cheers and Rodger Cobb’s next door neighbor. Wendt isn’t really trying to stretch here, he’s playing Norm, just as always. It’s sort of a give the people what they want appearance and it’s a role he understands well. Both men nicely balanced out William Katt’s Rodger Cobb, who has to balance an almost static rational character even as he begins to come unglued.

Indeed, the house wants him unglued, and it begins taunting him here and there. A remote control car making its way into the room by itself, a prized fish on the wall that stares and watches him as he goes, throwing a tantrum until Cobb dispatches it. Restless index4.jpgtools in the shed that come after him. The house is getting more aggressive by the moment.

All the commotion is enough to get the cops called on him, and some of the creepiest monsters start coming out as well. Interesting to note that the lead police man was Alan Autry, who would also go on to play one of the lead cops in the TV version of In the Heat of the Night.

Of course new complications arise when, after taking care of the monsters, another neighbor shows up. This time it’s a beautiful blonde who flirts with Rodger to score some free babysitting. It’s a surprisingly scary prospect. We’ve already lost one child in this house and the idea of bringing another one in fills me with dread. It’s a justified fear, the house goes after the new little boy, with monsters leading him away to try and take him as well. Cobb fights them off and rescues the little boy from the most precarious position in the fireplace chimney. Still, as perilous as the entire index5.jpgencounter is, the whole episode strikes me as an excuse to pad run times.

The haunting over all has brought about a change in Roger, and it seems now, he’s ready to fight. He discovers a clue in his aunt’s paintings and finds the way into the dark dimension that holds his son. It’s time for his final confrontation with the forces that plague this house.

House is one of the earliest horror movies that I remember watching, very likely because William Katt was in it and my parents knew I was a fan of him in the Greatest American Hero. I probably saw it on television so it was deemed safe, a judgment that couldn’t be more wrong. I found a terrifying but it’s the sort of horror film that made me love the genre and kept me coming back for more. Today it’s comfort food, an old favorites with a well-rounded story and and the brilliance of 1980s practical effects. I still find the monsters terrifying and the concept itself feels even more dire now that I’m a father. Of all the house films, this is the only one that’s truly scary and has earned its place as a horror classic


Gingerdead Man vs Evil Bong

franchisebannerindex.jpgI don’t usually get into stoner movies, but this time around we’re actually doing a Gingerdead Man sequel that has some direct connections to the original film and that in particular interests to me.

The Gingerdead Man had been making cameos in the Evil Bong series for a while now, and the lead actress from Gingerdead Man, Robin Sydney actually appears in every Evil Bong movie, so I suppose it made sense to finally bring them together in a versus movie, much like Alien versus Predator. It opens with the Gingerdead Man on a beach, being flirted with by three topless girls. I can’t help but notice that his lips are not really animated, but rather somebody else’s lips have been composited in so that he can talk. This doesn’t give me a great deal of hope for the effects in this one, especially when I notice that I don’t recognize the name of the person behind the special effects here. I also note that William images5.jpgButler (or his pseudonym Sylvia St. Croix) is nowhere to be found.

Oh well, let’s get into this.

The credits deposit us at a head shop where the employees are squabbling. As the owner’s girlfriend sets up a leech woman doll (a nice little easter egg), he recounts how he got into the business – It’s a good excuse for giving flash back to the first and second Evil Bong films  (Good thing too, I’ve never seen any of them. I’ll get there eventually, it’s on one of my upcoming box sets). It’s a reasonable way to pad the run time, and gets us to well  into the film before actually beginning anytime of story.

images4.jpgSome stoners wander in and Larnell , the manager, tries to sell them on a gas mask bong. (This is a missed opportunity by the way, I was sure I was seeing Chekhov’s gun here. Sadly, no), but even as I’m trying to comprehend this, that’s when the clown walks in. He’s selling freaky little Indian statues. Argumentative employee is distracted by some tourists that he up cells and doesn’t notice the clown taking a photos of them, for apparently no reason. (I kept waiting for this to pay off in the plot later, but it never comes up agian, it’s just schtick to introduce Larnell and his dimunitive employee Sting.
index6.jpg
In the back, we discover that Larnell has the Evil Bong gagged and bound in the closet. He wants to unravel her secrets and possibly use her for good. Me for my part,I’m waiting for the Gingerdead Man to show up again.

Down the street from the head shop, there’s a new bakery called “Dough, Ray, Me”. Weirdly enough, they’re selling Gingerdead Man shaped cookies. Of course it’s run by Sarah, the heroine from the first Gingerdead Man film. Judging from the palm trees, she’s moved from Texas to L.A. There was a recent article on her in the paper and they use this to briefly images.jpgrecap the original Gingerdead Man film.

We finally finish up with all of the flashbacks to previous movies about halfway through the film. Larnell shows up at the bakery to grab one of the cookies and behind him you can see the Gingerdead Man peering through the window. He’s there to take his revenge on Sarah. Larnell is trying to pitch some cross-promotion between the bakery and the head shop while back at his store, his old partner has unleashed the Evil Bong.

When Sarah heads over to Larnell’s shop to check it out, a couple of heremployees head to the back to get busy. The Gingerdead Man sees his opportunity to ply his trade. he’s back to using the switchblade that we’re familiar with from the DVD covers, though an axe will still work in a pinch.

images2.jpgOver at the head shop, Larnell discovers the evil bong has been freed. The Gingerdead Man dispatches his employee, and we get the first epic confrontation between the Gingerdead Man and the Evil Bong. She offers to make him a man again if he’ll smoke from her. The Gingerdead Man is tempted, but he has unfinished business first and takes an axe to the office door to try and get to Larnell and Sarah.

“Heeere’s Gingy!”

To even the odds, Larnell and Sarah both take a hit from the evil bong, forcing the Gingerdead Man to follow them into the bong world. as soon as they arrive, the evil pastries from Gingerdead Man 3 start to taunt them, even as the Gingerdead Man stalks them. Things only gets stranger from there as the Gingerdead Man encounters King Bong images.jpgand the other homicidal pastries who put him on trial in a scene designed to homage the Phantom Zone sequence from the original Superman.

Ultimately it becomes fight to escape the Evil Bong and hopefully leave the Gingerdead Man trapped forever.

Gingerdead Man vs Evil Bong really is more of an Evil Bong film then it is a Gingerdead Man film. The character of Larnell overwhelms Sarah who is reduced to little more than a sidekick in this movie, and while the Gingerdead Man is certainly is the more murderous of the two villains, it’s the Evil Bong that really drives the story. Outside of a few clever set pieces, the Gingerdead Man is largely irrelevant and that’s a shame because I was really hoping for more of his influence.

On the other hand, half the film is taken up by recaps and flashbacks – making this more of a Gateway film, trying more to interest you into either of the other franchises rather than creating its own entry. We’d see Puppet Master go through this phase as well, particularly with the Puppet Master : The Legacy installment. Charles Band isn’t pulling out any new tricks here, versus movies and clip shows have kind of become his stock and trade at this point. This one is really only for fans of the franchise and it’s kind of unsatisfying as a final chapter.


Gingerdead Man 3 : Saturday Night Cleaver

franchisebannerindex.jpgWe begin the movie at the scientific Institute for research on homicidal baked goods. So right off the bat, you know exactly what kind of film we’re going into. It’s a parody of Silence of the Lambs, with a sort of Clarice Starling character getting ready to go see the Gingerdead Man

Down in the basement we see a evil baguette, a small cherry pie, a brownie and a cream puff that spits Cream Cheese at her. The puppets are beyond over-the-top. Finally she arrives at the Gingerdead Man cell in the interview begins. They’re doing it almost word-for-word from Silence of the Lambs, and the Gingerdead Man even has a Hannibal Lecter mask on. It’s shocking in its audacity, and ridiculous beyond parody. We are in full cartoon mode now and it’s glorious. This sequence has to be seen to be believed.

3.jpgThe interview is interrupted by a invasion of pastry activists who free all of the evil baked goods. Gingerdead Man Isn’t impressed and bites the nose off of one of the activists (homage to the story of Lecter swallowing the nurses tongue?) before running away. Still, he can’t figure out where to go and is still trapped in the Institute… That is until he finds the time-travel study room and jumps into a machine that transports him into 1976, in the middle of a Roller Boogie session.

It’s the most stereotypical portrayal of the seventies imaginable, and the Gingerdead Man is rightly appalled. The look is of though -Too many of the guys are still sporting close-cropped do’s and while thier sideburns might be long, they are also groomed and trimmed and distinctly not 1970s (ah, low budgets….)!

The problem is, this roller rink is about to be foreclosed on by the IRS. Also the DJ is completely coked up and the owner’s daughter Cherry (“And I’d like her to stay that images5way!”) has a sort of Carrie vibe going on.

The first to go are a group of empty-headed bimbos who staged a bikini car wash in an attempt to save the roller rink. Gingerdead Man ogles them until he remembers what he is here to do and discover is a vat of hydrochloric acid to do it with. The results are predictable, and largely CG. In fact I’m noticing a significant CGI component in this film all around. Somebody is really good at After Effects. The Gingerdead Man is frequently rendered as an animation rather than composited or puppeted as a real element, particularly when he’s walking or running. At least the corpses are practical.
images2.jpgBack at the Roller Rink, Cherry, the daughter is learning to skate, falling in love with the skate rental guy, and getting a makeover to try and become the new roller queen. Also, among the skaters and Junkies, keep an eye out for a large lady in a white shirt with a red sweater. That’s Muffy Bolding, co-writer of both this film and Gingerdead Man 2!

Back upstairs, the owner of the rink, and Cherries mother Trixie, (a drag queen played by Kent Fuher – director William Butler has a long Association with RuPaul’s Drag Race and the drag community) is not pleased. She had tried all her life to keep Cherry from the images.jpgroller skating scene. She tells the tale of a tragic roller skating incident the day that she performed for FDR and distracted everybody from Pearl Harbor. The entire incident is told in stock footage flashbacks stop this is why she never wanted Cherry to skate, But Cherry wants to live her own life and when the roller Boogie Queen contest! Lights explode as she gets angry.

Cherry is indeed nominated as one of the finalists for roller Boogie Queen, but that’s the least of her worries. She finds gingerbread man-shaped footprints and follows them to some bloody boxes in the kitchen. She expresses her concerns to her crush who kind of dismisses it even as the Gingerdead Man sneaks past behind him with a cleaver. In the meantime, the girl who’s won the Roller Boogie Queen the last four years, schemes to win the title this one last time. Her plan involves pig blood – so we can pretty much tell exactly where this is going.

Before she goes completely Carrie on them we get a break from all this silliness when the Gingerdead Man sneaks up behind a guy in the bathroom and slashes his Achilles tendon again, and again, and again. It’s the fresh infusion of blood that this film really needed, it’s been a little lighter on gore this time around. Unfortunately, the Gingerdead Man then finds the DJ stash of coke and replaces it with Drano. It’s okay, the Gingerdead Man is still there to spin records in her absence.

Cherry is, of course, crowned the roller Boogie Queen, and as soon as she takes her crown , down comes the pig’s blood. Only it hits the wrong girl, and the Gingerdead Man is quick to follow, killing everyone in sight. Now it’s Cherry’s telekinetic gifts versus the homicidal Gingerdead Man in a hail of computer-generated blood.

I can’t help but notice how much lower the production values have gotten on this entry. There’s an overuse of CG, with as many After Effects generated as possible. We get very few shots of the Gingerdead Man in context. Only a handful of long shots, with most of his coverage being done as extreme close-ups of his face talking. It’s not just once, it’s constant. While the film is still quite self aware, the parody and satire aspects have kind of been toned down and the entire thing feels just a little bit less satisfying than before. This franchise may actually have peaked at part two, but there’s still one more to go.


Gingerdead Man

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indexIn 2001, Charles Band asked writer William Butler what the craziest idea he ever had was. With no hesitation he replied “Gingerdead Man!”. Band said “Great. Write it up. You shoot next month.”

Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out quite that easily.Butler’s script came in on time, but WAY over budget. Full Moon pictures was in the middle of a rebuilding phase and couldn’t afford to shoot the script as written.

“I wrote what was like a three million dollar budget picture. Charlie looked at this and said ‘We couldn’t film this in a million years!’.”

Butler struck a deal with Band. Full Moon would still buy the script and concept, but they would have it rewritten in-house. That way, it would still make it on screen. The rewrite chores fell to Full Moon regular and Critters scribe Brian Muir.This might confuse casual viewers since the opening credits cite August White and Sylvia St. Coix (Who would also be credited as the director of the second film) as the writers. Both are psydonyms. White is Muir and Coix is Butler. Throw in John Carl Buechler doing special effects in a Charles Band movie and I think this is definitely a recipe I can get behind.

vlcsnap-2019-09-29-22h36m41s213Gingerdead Man starts off with Gary Busey on a rampage in a diner. I’d say that’s off to a good start. It’s pretty much all you are going to see of Busey though, just enough to establish him as the soul that gets trapped in the Gingerdead man. Band has been pretty open over the years about this being stunt casting. “We cast Busey for the bragging rights” he mentioned one year at Cinema Wasteland. If you ever see him at a convention, he’ll always be ready with a Busey story from set.

Busey for his part was confused He’d been booked for a mere two days, but was under the impression that he was in the entire film and shot off an infuriated letter to his agent telling hi they were crazy if they though they could shoot enough coverage for an entire film in just two days. Band sent word back to the agent that Busey would only be on set for one scene and that the rest of his contribution to the movie would be ADR. When Busey  arrived to lay down his vocal tracks, he arrived with a girlfriend and a guitar. Band tried to get him into the booth. Busey pulled up the guitar.
“Yes. but first….a song!”
He proceeded to serenade Band before finally heading into the ADR booth to record the voice of the Gingerdead Man.

images7.jpgThe film moves to a bakery, and Baker Sarah. She’s played by Robin Sydney, a Full Moon regular who would go on to star in every one of their Evil Bong movies (This’ll be pertinent later). It was her father and brother that were killed in the opening segment. A knock on the door and a mysterious “Grandma’s gingerbread seasoning” is left for her. What she doesn’t actually know is, these are the ashes of Gary Busey. When accidentally mixed with blood, it becomes the perfect ingredients to create the Gingerdead Man!

Across the street from the bakery, there’s a new competitor moving in. It’s a slimy chain store and it’s equally slimy owner comes by to intimidate and try and buy the bakery out. They’ll have no part of it and simply go back to work, making baked goods, gingerbread men oh, and one special Gingerdead Man!

Lorna, the daughter of the developer, sneaks in to try and plant rats in the bakery. Her boyfriend Amos joins her and it’s then that they all discover the Gingerdead Man.  He images8runs off and finds Sarah’s drunken mom and takes revenge for every time the Pillsbury Doughboy has been poked in the belly…

Boyfriend Amos goes to the car to grab his gun while the Gingerdead Man kills the power to the bakery. Outside he scampers off to the developer’s car and runs him down. At least the baker’s competition is gone! In the meantime he heads back in to get the developer’s daughter – with a brief side argument with the rat.

In the back, Amos tries to fix the power, and Sarah deals with her crush on him. I supposed a subplot love story is inevitable though it seems like poor judgment to fall in love with a guy who thinks you can kill a demonic cookie with a pistol. a BIG pistol.

imagesStill, with Mom in the oven and Sis in the freezer, it’s up to them to stop the evil Gingerdead Man!

What is perhaps most surprising about Gingerdead Man is how straight they play it. Oh, the Gingerdead Man still says tons of outrageous things and we get the occasional ridiculous quips “got milk?”, but by and large they play it as a straight horror film, infused with the general fun that we expect from a full moon feature. The ultimate hero at the end he is actually somewhat unexpected (and straight out of Butler’s orignial concept), although we get a bit of a Twist in the last few minutes that would be mirrored in later installments as well.

it’s not obvious the sort of franchise that this film will become from just watching the first movie, but on its own, this stands as a massively fun full moon feature.


The Graveyard : Bloody Murder 3

index.jpgThe Graveyard is not necessarily a direct sequel to the Bloody Murder films, although it was planned as one. As it is, the film is more of a sidequel, taking place in the same town and at the same camp but not necessarily with the same character as a killer. Nevertheless, you can tell even within the opening minutes that it shares a great deal of the DNA from the previous two films and it very much belongs as a part of the series.

The film opens with a group of stupid teenagers sneaking into the Placid Pines cemetery through a broken gate. I say stupid teens, by the way, not because they’re teenagers but because they are really acting dumb and half drunk announcing their entry and competing for the most interesting entrance to the cemetery. The whole party is overdubbed by a miscellaneous rockabilly song as they run in between the tombstones. While they don’t specifically state that the game they’re playing in the cemetery is “bloody murder” it is set up the same… One person is it and has to go find the others. However the person counting down doesn’t notice the masked killer behind him – and when he opens his eyes a white mask and a knife are coming straight at him. That’s enough for him, game index2or not he takes up running – but the mast killers pursues him, scoring a victim along the way. He wasn’t looking – and impales himself on the broken fence, it’s only then that we discover our masked killer is one of the dumb teenagers – it was all a massive fake out (just like it has been in every previous film) – one that ended up tragic.

Five years later, the masked teen, Robert,  is getting paroled after being charged with manslaughter for this incident. One of the girls from that night is taking him back to town, where they hang out at the campsite from the previous two bloody murder films. We get a melancholy shot of the cemetery as they drive past in Roberts pensive mug staring at the windows. The gangs all coming back to the camp now that Robert is out.

During the getting to know you sequences we get a couple of jump scares with the groundskeeper – someone who is not part of the reunion going on here. Everyone seems to be in fairly high spirits except for Bobby gloomy-McWet-blanket. Perhaps he’s just tired of hearing the couple in the cabin next door have sex. He ominously warned them index3.jpgthat the woods aren’t safe.

The rest of the group has a quick power in the dining room where they discuss whether or not it safe to be around body – turns out his family was murdered while he was in jail, an incident involving arson – the plot thickens. One of the girls freaks out and runs to the cemetery, convinced that karma will follow her and the only way out is to beg forgiveness… In the darkness, a masked killer stalks. He’s not just following her though, he seems to be everywhere – his reflection showing up in the mirror as one of the others heads to the bathroom for an obligatory shower scene.

Back at the graveyard, the dead friend’s grave is empty – dug up.

While they’re investigating the graveyard, shower girl gets it. The group hears screaming but by the time they arrive, the shower is empty. Everyone tries to figure out what happened – her bags are still there and her car is still there. Bobby tells them if she went to the woods, she’s gone. He believes it retribution for what they did five years ago… It doesn’t matter the group decides to head up to the woods to search for her.

In the words we run into an angry ex-girlfriend – this might of actually served as a nice misdirect if they didn’t kill her off as soon as she storms away. We get some squabbling as they wander aimlessly through the effectively lit woods, complete with another fake out– not only a mask but also a retractable blade. They laugh it off, despite the fact that the caretaker warns them once again – these woods aren’t safe, and one of their people are still missing.

index4.jpgBack at camp, the cars have all been tampered with – slashed tires, missing batteries and cut gas lines. That should be ominous, but the pacing feels off and the tone hasn’t built up enough dread. While the boys try and fix the cars, the girls smoke pot and pontificate – that is until the killer shut up again, this time with a severed head in hand (Possibly the best gore in the entire film). The camp is lit beautifully, with that light blue mist we’ve become so used to in the Bloody Murder films and the sight of the killer walking across the field to stalk his victim feels iconic.

Gore signals the beginning of the third act, and now the remaining campers know they’re in danger.

It’s about this time that the cop shows up… He catches Bobby with a bloody knife that the killer used on someone in the woods and he finds himself back in custody. Morning index5.jpgcomes and our survivors gather together in one of the dorms, while the cop throws Bobby in a jail cell. Meanwhile, at the cabins the remaining campers think they have figured out who the killer is.

While it’s clumsier than the two Bloody Murder films, The Graveyard still throws us twists, turns and enough fake outs to keep you wondering through the third act who the killer actually is. Truly the only thing keeping this from being a fully realized Bloody Murder film is the absence of the series slasher, Trevor Moorehouse… And even without him, we still have a masked killer who looks like a natural evolution from that stalker. The white mask this killer wears could just as easily be a weathered and patched up version of the one from Bloody Murder 2. It’s definitely worth watching with the other films and absolutely deserves its place in this trilogy.


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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