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Sleepaway Camp 2 : Unhappy Campers

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Sleepaway Camp franchise

I’ve long heard Hellraiser fans lament the fact that in Hellraiser 3, the character of Pinhead kind of got changed from a surreal judge and turned into a flat-out slasher. Moreover, they always talk about how Freddy gets more jokey in the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, and how the whole series starts to get watered down.

I shake my head and tell them “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

sleepaway-camp-iiSleepaway Camp 2 has very little to do thematically or aesthetically with the original. There’s no mystery or intrigue going on here, this is a straight up slasher film designed to maximize boobs and blood. It’s a perfectly predictable formula and barely feels like it’s got any connection to the previous film at all. Even Felssa Rose is absent from the title role. It was such a different reading of the character, that when she auditioned it didn’t quite work for producers. Just as well, as shed been planning to attend college around that time anyhow.

Counselors from camp Rolling Hills telling scary stories around the fireplace, but one of them comes up says you know I know the story about this one girl from the camp about 60 miles from here… And begins to tell the story of Angela Baker. Good recap in 30 seconds of that film, which sets us up nicely in the mythology and continuity. The story ends with Angela being released, advance of this film.
Of course it’s easy to tell where she’s going to come in, she’s already in sconce at camp Rolling Hills as a counselor, with a habit of “sending bad campers home.” Like any good slasher, we get our first  kill within the first five minutes.

imagesAngela’s portrayed as a stuffy, prissy counselor, the sort of one who is obsessed with rules and wants nothing more than to just exist here in the camp. She explaines away her first victem’s disappearance as happy to send her home because she was behaving inappropriate, trying to seduce every boy in the camp!

It’s mostly older campers that we’re seeing here, 18-year-olds who are old enough to provide the requisite nudity and keep the censors from getting too uptight about having too many dead children in the film.

She attracts the attention of one of the other counselors, a bigger guy with a glorious images1golden mullet who is trying to get to know her, but she’s mysteriously distant! Over at the pool, teenagers are on the make, while in the woods, Angela secretly stalks looking for evil doers. She finds a couple of girls getting drunk and stoned, and we definitely know who’s going to get “sent home” next. Pam Springsteen is definitely trying something here, delivering straight faced and campy lines as she torches the bad girl alive. It’s definitely her and take on the character in an attempt to emulate the one-liners you see from other cinematic killers of the era such as Freddy Kruger, but it does come up a little goofy.

index11That night, Angela is off to a camp counseler meeting, we have to get some camp shenanigans in with a panty raid and the boys generally terrorizing the girls in a fun and flirty way. Angela comes back and is furious, putting on the wicked witch of the west attitude. She insists, she’s just trying to keep everyone safe, because she knows what happens at Camp when things get… out of hand. The girls of course decide to take revenge and raid the boys cabin. It’s actually a fun case of turnabout, but only angers Angela further. Time to send another camper home! This is why you should never flash the boys at summer camp.

The next morning at breakfast, Golden Mullet mentions that there’s some things that have gone missing. Things like 50 feet of rope, an electric drill, and the battery to his car. It’s a great bit of atmosphere, played for laughs but setting up where Angela’s getting the materials for her murders. Outside, one of the other counselors seeks out Angela for advice, because she’s shy and Angela used to be shy… but now you can’t get her to shut up. It’s clunky but a nice backhanded connection to the original film.

Soon enough though, we’re back to camp shenanigans to pad out the time between murders, this time arts and crafts. Of course the boys are painting a hockey mask… indexAlthough to be fair it’s more like the mask from Bloody Murder than it is Friday the 13th. It comes into play later on that evening, as the boys use that and an homemade Freddy glove to prank the girls at a campfire, but guess who gets a hold of that Freddy glove? Once Angela dispatches the first boy with his own glove, she turns her attentions to our faux Jason. This time she shows up wearing the other boys face as a mask and wielding a chainsaw! It may be the high point of the film, a great homage to the other horror classics of the time and clocking in right about halfway through. It also justifies the image they use for the movie poster… though curiously enough, that’s not actually ammo Springsteen she was unavailable that day so they used an entirely different model named Connie Craig.

Elsewhere, a couple of campers are getting it on, so it’s time for Angela to go back to work! Sadly, the chainsaw is out of gas and Angela looks so annoyed as her prey gets away.

As we roll into the third act, Golden Mullet starts noticing too many people missing, and for her part, Angela is beginning to spiral out of control, killing one girl just because she talks too much, and another to protect her cover. The dormitory is almost empty, just index121Angela and one other girl now, our final girl who figures out Angela’s secret as she remembers the folk tales from the opening of the film.

Angela gets fired because she is “sending too many people home”. Meanwhile, final girl and her boyfriend discover Angela’s secret cache… ashed she’s been storing her victims in… remember this is a slasher, and we’ve got to hit the tropes! Soon enough, our final girl will then get captured, escape, find a knife and fight for her life! But first, here comes Golden Mullet to the rescue, just in time! Just in time for a face full of battery acid that is…

When our final girl falls down a cliff, Angela just assumes she’s dead and it’s back to the camp to kill everybody else. But as night falls, the final girl wakes up in time to make it to the road and try and hitch a ride away from this nightmare. Just her luck, the first car to come along is Angela, making her escape from the cam! Cut to black and an appropriate 1988 rock song.

This is as fun as any 80’s slasher. It’s creative kills with buckets of blood and a general sense of fun to it. Even though it never quite feels like it’s part of the Sleepaway Camp story, they still try their best to connect back to it and remind us that Angela is the same person as that little girl from 1980. Pamela Springsteen does her best to make the rle her own, a wise move knowing that as soon as Sleepaway Camp two wrapped, she be headed right over to Sleepaway Camp three, shot back to back.

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Sleepaway Camp

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Sleepaway Camp franchise

Agphantom-creative-sleepaway-campes ago, back in the early days of this blog, I did a quick pass at the Sleepaway Camp films. It was a brief seven hundred word overview of four movies in one post which really doesn’t do this series justice. I think it’s long past time for a genuine franchis focus on Sleepaway Camp.

Sleepaway camp used to be one of those films, where even in the horror community only people who were really in the know understood what you were talking about. 25 years later, it started to slowly rise in visibility, notably with the release of the DVD box set. It’s notoriety… or should I say infamy, was only increased by the fact that the box that had to be recalled when the Red Cross objected to the cover art featuring its logo. It really started to gain respect as a beloved horror classic though, once the cast, most notably Felissa Rose  (and to a lesser extent Jonathan Tiersten) started to hit the convention circuit hard. Felissa is a regular now, and I can count on running into 65663806_2559373164107091_7337680539765178368_n_2559373157440425her once or twice every year.  Tiersten was slower to embrace con culture, but these days, even he has started doing more and more shows.

The film opens on an idyllic summer day as a couple of kids squabble on a boat with their father. Little do they know the tragedy is about to strike when a couple of teenagers doing some motor boating and waterskiing get too close and clobber the dad one of the tykes. We fast forward eight years later when Angela, the survivor has been sent off to live with her curious Aunt Martha and cousin Ricky.  There’s definitely something off about Aunt Martha, but you could easily just write it off as the actress chewing the scenery in a grindhouse movie. It doesn’t matter though because the kids are on their way away from home and off to camp Arawak, home of possibly the most pervy cook ever and a hunky counselor who not only  wears the shortest shorts possible and has a penchant for half belly shirts. Stuff like this just images1screams the 80s.

Ricky greets old friends, and introduce them to Angela, who doesn’t really talk and is painfully shy. Ricky’s girlfriend from last year, Judy has gotten a little top-heavy since the previous summer and in addition to growing a bust, she also seems to have grown some significant attitude. The cabin counselor Meg (that’s M-E-G!) isn’t much better. She and the other girls resent any compassion showed upon the introverted Angela.

I’m a short 16 minutes into the movie, Ricky have to rush in and save Angela from the tender attentions of the pervert cook. And yet, mere minutes later, the cook ends up scaleded – somehow just having accidentally toppled a large pot of boiling water all over himself. If you’re here for the gore, this is as good as it gets. There’s a few other latex effects, but this one is by far the best.

We’re not sure exactly who it is that murdered the cook though, all you see are a pair of index1diminutive hands and the killer is left a mystery. It’s here where I really I feel like this film defines itself more as a giallo than a slasher. Things have gotten going, and we’re going to spend the next hour trying to figure out who the killer is, that is if we can draw our eyes away from the hunky counselors pecs, bulging from a shirt two sizes too small for him. The camp owner on the other hand, chomps on his cigar and asks the head chef to try and hush it up. He knew what the cook was, and this is probably all for the best.

We cut over to some juvenile camp shenanigans, to try and keep the atmosphere up. It’s dumb, but gets you right into the spirit of things before we head out to the softball game and then over to the Canteen to hang out.

The more we see of Ricky, the more the kid seems to be on a short fuse, and gets awfully mad when someone picks on Angela. Mad, even violent. Meanwhile, Ricky’s buddy Paul is getting friendly with Angela. Not necessarily trying to make time yet, just trying to help indexout a buddy sister. On the other side of the building, Judy enjoys the attention of the boys, but something about Angela just irritates her and she resolves to take it out on her later.

Out in the dark, the counselors are up to their own shenanigans, the stoners getting baked under the pier, the boys trying to entice the girls in the skinny-dipping in the lake, and a couple rowing out into the middle of nowhere, for the boy to prank his date.
Out of nowhere, a dark head pops up from the water, seizing his scalp and pushing it under. When daylight breaks, they’ll discover another dead body. The camp owner chews his early morning cigar, in denial and terrified of bad publicity. The hunky counselor is not quite so sure though, he remembers the boy being a good swimmer.
Elsewhere, Angela and Paul watch the other girls play volleyball, and Judy makes sure to get her in trouble. Meanwhile, Paul’s trying to steal a kiss.

index2We get into more campground shenanigans, with Judy playing up the mean girl bit to a hilt. Gossiping and teasing and even flirting with Angela’s new boyfriend Paul. Ricky goes off on a few more tantrums as well… It’s amazing amount of energy and profanity coming from such a small package! (Tiersten recalls part of his audition was to cuss out the producers, and he’s fairly certain that’s what got him the role)

Meanwhile, the bodies keep piling up, as one camper suffers death from bees! Dumping an active beehive into a bathroom stall is actually clever and innovative, but it’s threatening to shut down the camp. Word is getting out among the campers that there’s a killer on the loose, and The counselors decide to combine the remaining campers and work on the buddy system.

That doesn’t stop Angela and Paul from sneaking out, Paul’s on the make now and trying to reach second base… But Angela suddenly has a strange flashback of her dad in bed with another dude, and jumps up to run away. She kind of blows it off just explaining that she wasn’t ready. Judy on the other hand sees this as her opportunity to try and cut in between them. She continues to flirt with Paul, and After one more counselor is dispatched, it’s time for Judy to get hers… assaulted mystery killer in the most heinous use of a hair curling iron ever seen in cinematic history. Seriously, it’s the least gory and bloody kill of the entire film and yet absolutely the most memorable.

imagesWe’re about to hit the ending here. It’s the absolute most shocking ending of any Grindhouse horror movie that I can imagine. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you need to stop right now and watch the movie, because that’s the thing. People don’t really talk about Sleepaway Camp. They talk about the ending. It’s that reveal at the end that sets this film apart from every other campground slasher out there, and makes it a unique film. It’s a sort of movie that stands alone with no real way to follow it up or create a sequel.

Of course, they did anyhow.


Critters : A New Binge

franchisebannerindexWow. Can I just tell you something? Critters a New Binge is what totally made me into a true critters fan.

I didn’t get around to watching this until a good year after it was made and I’m surprised to find that it wasn’t well received. I’m surprised because it was really everything that I could have asked for in one of these sequels… It’s still had the gore and the violence, but there’s so much comedy and heart to it that it was everything I wanted.

We start off with the weird little beasties making their way back to earth to hunt down a critter that had been left behind the last time they were there… It’s cheap CGI and I could probably even tell you which bitmap they were using to wallpaper the spaceship, but I don’t care – the design is clever index3and I’m here for the gags.

Back on earth we have a couple of dweebs, one of which is trying to impress the local ingenue. Critters show up with one directive – find a lost crite and don’t eat anybody. This f course, is too difficult of a directive and hilarity ensues. Bounty hunters are close on their trail, and unbeknownst to them there’s already a bounty hunter on earth embedded  and waiting for them. However when they all converge with the young man, things take a shocking turn.

images4I can’t help but compare this so much to the killer tomatoes movies. My great complaint with those was that we never saw enough of the tomatoes, and I wanted  more creature effects. By the time we hit part three f the Tomatoes series, we were starting to see more of what I wanted and once we got part four we were suddenly introduced to some very distinct individual personalities among the tomatoes… mostly lifted directly from the cartoon. That’s what A new binge gives us. We’re getting lots of critters, but we’re also getting distinct individuals, each with their own unique character designs. We get index2characters like the captain with his eyepatch and the pilot in his goggles, not to mention the president in his shirt collar and tie… It’s all ludicrous and hilarious and a delightful extension of what has come before. Mind you, this thing does not stand on it’s own, and it’s not gonna be any sort of terrifying slasher. We get jokes about how things were in the 80s and misdirects about who the lost crite is, not to mention shot of critters catapulting themselves… No I mean really catapult himself with a trebuchet, into the school to attack. It’s loony gory fun with buckets of blood and miles of intestines and I found myself images5loving every demented minutes of it.

The streaming platform helps, allowing us eight episodes at about 10 minutes each – the series is bite-size and easily digestible, but also just as simple to marathon as a feature if you so desire.

Of all the critters movies, this is the one that I want to come back to, and where, if it’s sitting on my DVD shelf I’d probably be pulling it more often than not. However at the time of this writing we don’t actually have a street date for any sort of DVD release and it’s been a couple years now! Here’s hoping that we get a copy of this on physical media that I can watch over and over again!


Lake Fear 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lake Fear 2

Besides the name, this is going to be unrelated to the previous entry. (and yes, that was a while ago – way back in August!) While Lake Fear was supernatural horror, all ghosts and zombies and stuff, Lake Fear Two : The Swamp is firmly within the hillbilly horror genre.

It’s subtitled The Swamp for a reason. The film really leans into the swamp vibe, with some rockabilly music playing over the credits. We didn’t get flashes of carnage and terrible scenes to try and set the tone. It’s trying to give us some history here, and  it’s obviously not from The previous film. Right off the bat, you can see this is a very different kind of movie. It’s professionally shot with good actors and a cohesive style. Nudity abounds, because these aren’t amateurs.

The credits kick us off with a psycho stalking and killing a couple of teenage girls,… Enough to set up the news report we get post credits about missing college students.
We shift to Fort Lauderdale at spring break because, bikinis.

It’s normal spring break shenanigans, with a quick cameo from Linnea Quigley (Who we also got to see this past weekend! but more on that tomorrow) behind the bar, but there’s a shadow over the festivities, because one of the girls has been late on her period for a couple months. One of her friends finds her pregnancy test, but we already know how this is going to end.

Meanwhile, back at the bar, Linnea tells the kids there’s a snake catching event going on in the Everglades and they should go down and try their luck. $500 if they grab one. So they decide to forgo getting drunk and partying in favor of driving out to the swamp to catch snakes.

They charter a boat, and somehow It feels more like New Orleans than Florida,… With jazz and bluegrass music and Southern accents and gators in the water. Over the course of their travels they come across an old camp, with a shady past. It even freaks the boat driver add a little bit, bad karma he says.

That’s when the propeller on the boat stops working, and the driver collapses. The boats dead, the drivers dead, and they’re running out of daylight. They can’t stay on the boat, and they decide their best bet is to head to the cabin for shelter.

The reach land, and start trying to get into the house. Seems locked and abandoned, and the entire scene is shot in a disjointed manner. They are quick cuts and POV night vision shots, as if it were a found footage movie. Everyone, especially the girls are freaking out and attention already high before anything even had a chance to happen.

Suddenly, we cut back to the boat. The driver is alive, he only faked a heart attack to Lure the kids to the cabin… And now he’s talking with his sons. Chance of a lifetime… Ton of them, and they’re gonna slice and dice them real nice.

College kids find moonshine and start to get plowed on moonshine and high on weed as the rednecks creep up on the cabin with their large, rusty machetes.

A couple of the girls start to feel sick, and excuse them selves from the party, and the killing begins just a few minutes past the halfway point.

Two more of the kids head off looking for something resembling a shower (I am amused that even stranded in a swamp, the film manages to squeeze in an obligatory shower scene), while another two slip away for some giggity action. Separated, they find themselves easy prey for the rednecks, Who target the boys first before assaulting the girls.

 It’s a predictable pattern, another couple splits from the group, and another, as we watch the redneck Brothers bludgeon and slice their victims … All while doing their best impression of Bill Moseley. They seriously seem to be channeling Otis Driftwood through this entire film (not to mention the obligatory deliverance moment).

At least we get a quick alligator attack. I’m pretty sure he’s the real hero of this movie.

We get a seriously freaky ending With a ritual colts killing. Lots of blood, gore, and violence that feels more on par with the bloody quick cut massacre that punctuated the credits. It’s a stark contrast to be rather dull, conventional murders that we seen through the rest of this film. Up until now, though violence has been largely bloodless and on interesting. All the sudden we have this bizarre ending, and it feels undeserved. There’s no build up or reference to why it happens, and quite frankly it feels like it belongs in an entirely different film.

There’s a good premise here, but they failed to really take advantage of the spookiness of the location. For the most part the only time I felt tension was when the college coeds were bickering and arguing over the dead boat… That and the strange ending. It’s a sort of film that you do flashbacks to and include the best bits on a compilation tape, but not really the sort movie you go out of your way to seek out.


Critters Attack

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indexCritters attack is the unexpected sequel to the 80s critters movie. When I say unexpected, I mean it’s been 20 years since this franchise went dormant and while it’s got a great cult following, I’m a little surprised at this resurrection. Filmed separately and simultaneously with Critters a New Binge, Critters Attack has a very different tone and approach to the series.

In recent years there’s been a push to take series that had gone too comedic and try and drive them back towards a more sinister and scary atmosphere. The Nightmare on Elm Street remake was certainly going for this and Tom Holland’s New Chucky films we’re also trying to drift in this direction. Critters Attack follows suit, dropping the critters onto earth during a meteor shower and unleashing them to inde2xrampage as they will. Their leader is missing an eye, but it’s not the wacky sort of eyepatch gag that Critters a New Binge indulged in, but rather a scarred and hollowed out eyesocket so that you can distinguish them from the rest of the generic in uniform looking critters.

While babysitting kids for one of the local college professors, our heroine finds a fluffy Mogwai like character in the woods, and brings her home just before the critters attack and start to destroy her hometown. Is revealed that this character is the queen, and that this female had come to Earth to try and stop the rest of the male critters from their inde1xdestruction. The male critters on the other hand are incubating other small critters within human bodies until they burst out like the xenomorphs in Alien. It’s all a fairly radical departure from everything we seen in the previous four movies, and definitely a different continuity from a new bench. I almost wonder if x-Men comic writer Scott Lobdell was interested in anything more than deconstructing the mythos and putting his own stamp on it.

Of great note is the fact that Dee Wallace returns for this film. It’s not a major role, she’s imagesthe subplot, an old cat lady turned bounty hunter who spends all but the last 10 minutes or so separate from the main cast, hunting the critters on her own. It’s nice to see Dee back, but she doesn’t really resemble the character that she played in the first movie and this attempt to turn her in the Sarah Connor or Ripley feels shoehorn in.

I don’t necessarily wanna sound like I hate the movie, it hits most of the right beats. Bloodthirsty a little fuzzball‘s that roll from place to place, giant critter ball, bazaar carnage, but it all feels like it’s missing the heart. That’s one thing to play thing straight, it’s another thing to forget just how ludicrous your premise is and I think this movie has image1sdone just that. I miss the subtitles on the critters. I miss the attitude and the gags that we get peppered through these movies. A Critters movie should be perhaps a little scary, perhaps a little gory, but overall it should be fun, and this isn’t as fun as I hoped it would be. I’m glad it exists, and I’d hope that it will keep the series going a little bit longer, but I also hope that The next time we see a critters movie, it’ll be somebody striking a balance between the outrageous slapstick of A New Binge and the too serious tone of Critters Attack.


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.