Archive for May, 2011

House (1986)

Directed By: Steve Miner

Starring: William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Kay Lenz

Subgenre: Supernatural, Haunted House

Synopsis: Novelist Roger Cobb moves into his recently deceased aunt’s house to work on his latest novel.  The house just happens to be the place where his son Jimmy disappeared.  Strange things start to happen and Roger soon discovers that this is no ordinary house.

Thoughts: I’ve watched House several times over my horror watching life.  It is actually one of the earlier movies I remember watching, back in the VHS days.  It definitely has a place in my heart and is something of a comfort to sit down and watch.  That being said, it is far from a perfect movie.  I often wonder if Steve Miner couldn’t decide on the direction in which he wanted to take this movie.  At times it is pretty spooky, other times it comes off much more like a comedy.  It is obviously influenced by Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, right down to the laughing stuffed fish on the wall emulating the deer from Evil Dead.  The biggest problem is that Miner had William Katt, not Bruce Campbell to tie everything together, not that Katt did a bad job here.

Katt played Roger Cobb, a writer going through a difficult time in his life.  His wife has left him after his son disappeared and his aunt has just committed suicide and left him a haunted house.  He moves into the house (not knowing it is haunted) and begins to work on his book.  All hell then proceeds to break loose.

While the FX may not be for everyone, I really enjoyed them.  Everything is practical makeup, masks and puppets.  At times this can look fairly fake, like in the ex-wife scene, but other times it looks pretty bad ass, like with Big Ben.  Personally, I prefer the effort that goes into the practical FX.

The casting is pretty decent as well, with my only complaint being that of George Wendt’s character.  It’s no fault of his own, but every time I see him, I think “NORM!”  Whenever he appeared on screen, I was waiting for a joke or wisecrack, whether it was intended or not.  This was one of the reasons that it was difficult to discern whether the movie was in a serious or funny moment.  Another actor may have been able to pull the scenes together a bit better.

Overall, House is a fun watch, nothing too serious and some pretty cool makeup and creatures.  I know I am biased, but I think it is something that horror fans should check out.

Madman (1982)

Posted: May 9, 2011 in Movie Review
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Madman (1982)

Directed By: Joe Giannone

Starring: Paul Ehlers, Gaylen Ross, Tony Fish, Carl Fredericks, Jimmy Steele

Subgenre: Slasher

Synopsis: A group of camp counselors must survive the local legend of Madman Marz, who they have summoned from beyond the grave by whispering his name.

Thoughts: It wasn’t easy being an outdoor enthusiast in the 80s.  Seems you couldn’t go camping or even into the woods without running into a psychopathic killer or other-worldly demon.  Madman is probably one of the least known camp slashers from this era, behind Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp and The Burning, and for good reason.  Madman is a decent flick, but I thought that it wasn’t up to par with those other titles.  Production quality, acting and the script were all a little suspect.

The saving grace for Madman was indeed, Madman Marz.  He was a brute of a man, often lunging out of the shadows with a rather large axe, even though I found his sound FX to be more than a little annoying at times.  Sometimes he sounded like a wounded pig with his squeels and grunts.

The kills, in theory, were pretty good, but you could tell these guys were on a shoestring budget.  The makeup was pretty decent, but again, you never really get a good look at Marz.

Overall, Madman is a pretty run of the mill slasher, but that puts it a ways ahead of some of the other crap that came out in this era.  This will appeal to fans of slashers and 80s B-grade movies.

Daybreakers (2009)

Directed By: Michael and Peter Spierig

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Claudia Karvan, Vince Colosimo, Michael Dorman

Subgenre: Vampires, Science Fiction

Synopsis: In the not too distant future, the world is overrun by vampires, but as the number of humans diminishes, the vampires must find another source of blood, or risk turning into feral versions of themselves.  Edward Dalton (Hawke) is a vampire hematologist who becomes involved with a human underground movement that has made a shocking discovery.

Thoughts: I am admittedly a big fan of mixing in a little science fiction in with my horror.  Event Horizon, Pitch Black, Alien, I love them all.  It took me a while to get around to watching Daybreakers, but I am glad I did get to it.

The first thing I noticed here is that the production level is very high.  The camera work and set pieces are great, and when you mix in a top notch cast, you have a recipe for success.  Even though I have never been much of an Ethan Hawke fan, I thought he did a good job here.  Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe were excellent, as always. I think Dafoe is one of the best actors of our generation, and the best thing about him is that he does such a wide range of films.  He doesn’t shy away from genre films or independent features.

The story is interesting and the script is tight, all the way up to the last act.  For some reason, it seemed like the Directors wanted to finish this movie in a hurry, and it ended a little too quickly.  I thought fleshing out the characters, especially some of the humans and Sam Neill’s character would have strengthened the movie even more. 

As it stands, Daybreakers is a pretty good flick, but I think it was just short of being a great movie.  This is definitely one I will revisit in the near future.

A Bay of Blood (1971)
(Twitch of the Death Nerve, Carnage, Bloodbath)

Directed By: Mario Bava

Starring: Chris Avram, Anna Maria Rosati, Brigitte Skay, Paolo Rubens, Guido Boccaccini, Claudio Volonte, Leopoldo Trieste

Subgenre: Slasher

Synopsis: With a large inheritance, including a large chunk of premium lakeside property at stake, the potential heirs will stop at nothing to claim it, including murder.

Thoughts: Bava makes a pretty big jump from his usual gothic themed, atmospheric tour de forces to bring us his most violent film.  This is also one of the very first slashers made, taking what Hitchcock gave us and turning the dial to an 11.  Fans of the Friday the 13th franchise will recognize several kills lifted right from A Bay of Blood, as well as the lakeside locale used.  Not only that, but Bava’s slasher has 13 kills!  Coincidence indeed!  The biggest departure from standard slasher fare is that there is not one killer here, but rather a chain reaction of murders perpetrated by different characters, so pay attention, or you won’t know what is going on, or who killed who.

A Bay of Blood is known by many, many titles, but the two most often used are Bay and Twitch of the Death Nerve.  I was shocked when I looked into just how many titles it has been through in the ages. I first discovered it as A Bay of Blood, but I have probably heard it referred to more often as Twitch of the Death Nerve, which is a pretty damn cool title.

The production budget here was miniscule, and Bava was forced to work quickly and cheaply.  Stories about him using a children’s wagon for tracking shots and florist’s branches to thicken the forest are just a few examples of his inventiveness under such conditions.  Carlo Rambaldi, the man responsible for the FX on the death scenes, did an amazing job.  He received accolades from multiple festivals for his work.  The death scenes were so well done, that the movie landed on the infamous Video Nasty list.

If you are a fan of classic Bava (Black Sunday or Black Sabbath, for instance), this may come as a bit of a shock to the system.  Several critics panned it at the time after giving Bava’s previous work glowing reviews.  I think it just goes to show how Bava’s breadth of talent and I think it is still one of the best slasher movies ever made.  It is highly recommended for slasher fans, but I consider this to be essential viewing for any horror fan out there.

Baron Blood (1972)
(Torture Chamber of Baron Blood)
{Orrori del castello di Norimberga}

Directed By: Mario Bava

Starring: Joseph Cotten, Elke Sommer, Massimo Girotti, Rada Rassimov, Antonio Cantafora

Subgenre: Gothic, Supernatural

Synopsis:  Peter is a descendant of the infamous Baron Otto von Kleist, and upon visiting the Baron’s castle, brings him back to life with an ancient ritual.  Can he dispose of the Baron before he meets his doom?

Thoughts: When it comes to amazing set pieces and a gorgeous eye for Mise-en-Scène, it is tough to top Mario Bava.   He delivers both, in spades, in Baron Blood.  While the script and the acting are far from the best, this is still a fun movie. 

The acting could have been better, but it seemed as if Cotten mailed in this acting job, and obviously Bava wasn’t all that concerned with his chops.  Why would he when he had that awesome castle and a succulent Elke Sommer running around?  Sommer plays an architecture student, but spends the bulk of her screen time looking gorgeous or running from the Baron.  Not bad at all.

The Baron shows up as two distinct characters, the first being the scarred zombie-like figure that rises from the grave and hunts down victims and the second appearing as a mysterious older man that seemingly comes from nowhere to purchase the castle.   While Bava doesn’t come out and say that both characters until later in the movie, it is painfully obvious.  Zombie Baron looks like a bit like the Phantom of the Opera, constantly swirling his cape around him and wearing a large floppy hat.  Alfred Becker (Cotton) plays the other version of the Baron, and quite honestly, I think he blew the role.  He was very wooden and didn’t show enough emotion.  I guess a paycheck was his inspiration.

One of my favorite scenes is when the Baron is chasing Sommer’s character throughout a fog riddled cityscape.  Bava throws some amazing lighting tricks in there to really amp up the atmosphere, which is what this movie is all about.

Baron Blood isn’t on the forefront of Bava’s filmography.  Amazing films such as Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, Bay of Blood and Blood and Black Lace are probably his most well known, but I think Baron Blood falls just short of joining their company.  It is one of my personal favorites and I recommend checking it out.  The best way to add it to your collection is in the awesome Mario Bava Collection, Volume 2 from Anchor Bay.  You get a handful of Bava flicks for a great price.

April Fool’s Day (1986)

Posted: May 4, 2011 in Movie Review
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April Fool’s Day (1986)

Directed By: Fred Walton

Starring: Deborah Foreman, Amy Steel, Ken Olandt, Jay Baker, Deborah Goodrich, Leah Pinsent

Subgenre: Slasher

Synopsis: A group of privileged college kids head to an island mansion for Spring Break.  Practical jokes appear to be the order of the weekend as all the friends are having a fun time, until people start to turn up dead or missing.

Thoughts: The 80’s gave us a number of Canadian slashers, and even though April Fool’s Day was technically an American production, it was filmed in British Columbia and featured a largely Canadian cast.  The most notable cast member, at least to horror fans, is Amy Steel, who played Ginny in Friday the 13th, Part II.

This is a pretty standard slasher, with some decent FX and a pretty good premise.  Parts of it play out like a Gialli, as the killer is not revealed until the final act, which is what makes this movie notable in the slasher genre (Note: don’t keep reading if you have not watched this).  Kit (Steel) and Rob (Olandt) discover that the killer is actually Buffy, Muffy’s psychotic twin sister, but during the final chase scene, Kit stumbles into the living room to find everyone alive, waiting for the big joke to play out. 

Yes, you read that correctly.  No one dies.  It is a big joke.  April Fools!  The director decides to come back for one more fake death at the end, just to rub it in.  For some, this is a reason to love this movie, but for me, it just rubbed me the wrong way.  Honestly, I felt cheated.  I guess it makes for a good answer to a trivia question, “Name a slasher in which no one dies.”

Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl (2009)

Directed By: Yoshihiro Nishimura

Starring: Yukie Kawamura, Eri Otoguro, Takumi Saito, Eihi Shiina, Takashi Shimizu, Sayaka Kametani

Subgenre: Gore & Shock

Synopsis: When Monami, a vampire, starts attending High School, it starts off a feud between her and Keiko.  Keiko’s father is a science teacher who moonlights as a mad scientist, experimenting on students in the hopes of learning the secrets of reanimation.  When he gets his hands on a drop of Monami’s blood, his experiments reach a new level.  Gallons of blood and severed body parts aplenty fill the screen for the rest of the movie.

Thoughts: Wow, just wow.  Those familiar with Nishimura’s work on Tokyo Gore Police should have an idea of what they are getting themselves into here, but it is still one wild ride.  The gore is so over the top and the sheer amount of blood on screen removes any tension, and makes this laughable at times, much live Dead Alive.

There are some crazy aspects to the movie, but one of the oddest parts for me was the wrist cutting.  This was also a theme present in TGP, so it obviously interests Nishimura, but it is just a foreign concept to me.  This is far from the only crazy shit you will see in this movie though, just something I picked out.

I really appreciated the cinematography though and think Nishimura has one hell of an eye behind the camera.  I am not sure how long he can stretch his career with these explosive gore movies, but I would love to see him film something toned down a bit.  Not too much though, just maybe a notch or two.

I thought the finale dragged on a bit, and the final showdown was a bit of a letdown, perhaps I had been desensitized by the time the ending rolled around.  Overall this is a crazy flick but can be hard to follow at times.  Personally, I like Tokyo Gore Police more.