Skinless (2014)

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A few years ago I was checking out the dvd section of an awesome record store when I stumbled up on the Puppet Monster Massacre. It was cheap and so am I, so I took it home and was very entertained. Sure, we’ve all see Meet the Feebles so the idea of a gory puppet movie isn’t new but isn’t common either. It was fun, gory, and sleazy. Just what I was expecting. When I saw the logo from that movie slapped on Skinless, I knew I wanted to see it.

Dustin Mills has made a career for himself as a true auteur. In a short time he’s made several films using his own unique twisted vision. He’s usually the writer, director, makeup, sfx, editor, etc. You get the idea. He’s a guy that gets it done even if it means doing it all himself. Some might say that’s megalomania, I say it’s resourceful and DIY at it’s best. Skinless continues on that path, and it’s a path covered in goo.

Skiness is about a doctor who want to cure cancer (who doesn’t?) and thinks he’s found it. He’s found a rare parasite that eats cancer. The problem is he’s out of funding and out of time. He’s got cancer himself and decides to test his theory on his own body. It works, at first. After the parasite eats the cancer, it’s hungry for more! It turns him into a big gloopy mess, a mess that needs to feed.

Skinless is an obvious riff on the invisible man and I’m ok with that. What better source material to crib from? The film isn’t as fun as his debut but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s meant to be taken seriously and I appreciate that. It’s rare today to see a movie staring a mad scientist/monster that isn’t meant to be laughed at. The monster looks pretty dang good too. Mills refuses to use cgi in his films, relying entirely on his own makeup fx skills and has never been shy about the red stuff. This one however is less gory (though that’s a relative term, it’s still gory), and more gooey and slimy. He’s certainly perfected the snot aesthetic. The film is well directed, filmed using a high quality camera (probably a dslr?) and is well lit throughout. The film also sports some rather distracting nudity. The two female actresses in the film have zero problems with being very naked. I hate to say it but I was too busy watching them and wasn’t as engaged with the film as I should have been but then again that’s hardly much of a criticism is it?

My problem with the film is how serious it is. Like I said, I appreciate the attempt but it’s a bit hard to take seriously. I’m glad the film wasn’t a self-referential spoof but a bit of levity in the back half would have been nice. Again, not too harsh of a criticism for this micro-budget flick.

Check out the poster. What you see is what you get. If you like DIY micro-budget horror that isn’t afraid to be gory and loaded with T & A (who doesn’t?), check out Skinless. It’s a fun gross ride.

Come Morning (2014)

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I believe that when it comes to making a film on a budget, the smartest method is to tell a small story. I’ve seen countless films ruined by their lack of budget because the film maker had a vision and had to execute it even if there wasn’t enough money to do so. Small stories have their place in cinema and can often resonate much better than a bloated budget film. Indie film makers are best at this method and know how to squeeze every drop out of a dollar. Come Morning is one such film and does so very well.

Come Morning is a story about a little boy and his grandfather going out to hunt one evening. The little boy shoots what he thinks is a deer but turns out to be a man. The grandfather not wanting to attract attention from the law decides to move the body and what follows is a harrowing night for the little boy.

Come Morning is a tight little film that has all the fat trimmed. Inexperienced filmmakers often make the mistake of having too much content shoved into their film, wanting to say everything they have to say in one movie. Not so here.

But how does the film look? Yes the film is shot on video but really what indie flick isn’t these days? The question is of the quality of video isn’t it? Let me put away your low budget video qualms, the film is shot very well using a very high quality camera. Honestly these days that is becoming far less of an issue than it was even just five years ago.

The actors here are all quality too. Sure there’s no recognizable faces but that doesn’t mean that the actors won’t go on to do great things. A film like this is tough on actors. They don’t get to have fun and cut loose like they could in a horror flick. They have to play everything straight and subtle. Everyone here acquits themselves well.

Come Morning is a nice gritty little southern gothic flick. It sticks to telling a small story, most of which take place in one night. The film plays to the actor’s and director’s strengths. I’m looking forward to seeing what the crew do next with perhaps a bit more money and a bit more experience. I have no doubt that we will be seeing great things from those involved here. I’ll be here waiting.

 

 

 

 

 

Trancers (1984)

trancersI first saw Trancers several years ago and went on a bit of a binge watching all the films I could get my hands on. Honestly they all sort of blur together for me now which is why I was so glad to hear that the original film was getting the Blu treatment.

Trancers stars everyone’s favorite Full Moon tough guy Tim Thomerson (who also played Dollman in several films) as a cop from the future named Jack Deth sent to the past (1985 to be exact) to stop a criminal madman who also time traveled to kill the ancestors of his rivals. It’s up to Jack to protect the ancestors and save the future from destruction. He’s sent back to 1985 into the body of his own ancestor who just happens to be having a one night stand with Helen Hunt, who looks like she’s 12 here, whereas Tim looks like an old catcher’s mitt.

Trancers is a 76 minute fun ride of a film. Blending elements of Blade Runner and the Terminator, it’s Full Moon cheese all the way (despite this actually being an Empire film). Directed by Charles Band, edited by Ted Nicolaou (Subspecies, TerrorVision, Dungeonmaster, Bad Channels) and special effects by John Carl Buechler (Cellar Dweller, Ghoulies Dungeonmaster), it’s a Full Moon alumni film. It also has Howard Burger from KNB FX credited as a visual effects supervisor. Tim chews the scenery the entire film and Helen is spunky and cute. Given the short runtime the film is fast paced and filled with action. It’s no wonder the film spawned so many sequels. It’s breazy easy fun. It’s one of those films you might have rented at your local mom & pop and thought, hey that was pretty good I guess I’ll watch the rest. Not nearly as over the top and awesome as Doll Man (directed by cheese king Albert Pyun), it’s still solid fun.

I’ve read that the dvd release of Trancers was an awful vhs dub, not so here. It’s obviously from the original film elements and looks good. The film was shot on a budget so there isn’t tons of detail to be found in the original film stock but the colors are solid and smooth and you can indeed see every wrinkle on Tim’s face. If it’s true that the dvd was a vhs dub then this is a fine upgrade for the film. It also includes interviews, commentary, and a documentary about the film so the extras are good too.

Stunt Squad (1977)

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As I said in my review for the documentary Eurocrime, Italian crime films from the 70’s were largely ignored by American audiences. Stunt Squad is no exception, garnering only 82 reviews on imdb.com despite it recently being released on Blu in the states recently by Rarovideo. It seems that despite the efforts of Blue Underground and Rarovideo, the Italian crime/action film still has a ways to go before it’s more broadly seen.

Stunt Squad is a late 70’s actioner about the high amount of crime in Italy. This was actually true for the time and the film directly reflects what was really going on (though in an over the top way) in the country. The Stunt Squad is started to take out criminals by using superior motorcycling and marksmanship.

The titular Stunt Squad doesn’t show up until about half way through the film as they train in earnest to track down a vicious criminal who kills without fear. Despite the title this film is not wall to wall stunts but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a solid flick that despite the limited budget and shooting schedule that all Italian crime films had to endure, it manages to create a world easily sucked into. Sure there are some awesome stunts, don’t get me wrong, but this isn’t an action fest. It’s more of a cat and mouse game between the elite squad and the criminal on the loose. I really enjoyed this one. It’s got a great soundtrack, some nasty kills, and a solid script. Just don’t expect a Jackie Chan flick.

The Blu looks great too. Again these films were shot on a budget and after their theatrical run they weren’t treated very well. Honestly it’s amazing that films like Stunt Squad still exist on film and weren’t too heavily damaged in storage. The features a great introduction by Eurocrime director Mike Malloy, which is informative and fun. The Blu also comes with a highly informative booklet also penned by Malloy. Raro always goes out of their way to make each release special and worth owning. This one is no exception. If you dig Italian crime cinema, this one is worth your moolah.

Eurocrime (2014)

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Eurocrime is a subgenre of Italian film that usually only serious film fanatics ever dig into. Usually it’s horror fiends that start to dig into some of the other films horror guys did (notably Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci) and suddenly they’ve stumbled onto something almost no one has heard of outside of Italy the Poliziotteschi film. I remember reading the word in an issue of a fanzine (Film Fanaddict) about 10 years ago. They said the next issue would have an definitive writeup on the subgenre, but it never happened. At that time it was damn near impossible to get any of them on dvd unless they starred an American actor. Information is scant, and although you can get more of them on DVD, the lions share still remain obscure. Eurocrime sets out to change that.

Eurocrime is as the title suggests a documentary about the largely Italian film movement of the 70’s that was explosion of fist fights, machine guns and car crashes. The film interviews directors, writers, actors, and producers of the films to shed light on the films and culture in which they were made from. The film is cut up into various chapters that cover the acting, the stunts, the directors, the politics, and the rampant crime in Italy at the time as well as many other subjects. The film’s director, writer, and editor Mike Malloy (who is featured on many Rarovideo Blu/dvd releases as an expert on Italian cinema), gives a very comprehensive picture of the time and place in which the films are made. It helped me to better understand the films and appreciate them even more. I’ve dug into eurocrimes in earnest a few times and found some real gems (and some stinkers) but now after watching this I have a renewed interest and will big digging deeper.

The interviews in the film are very candid and fun (especially Antonio Sabato who comes off as a real jerk while sporting a pink super tight shirt and vest combo). I loved hearing about all the crazy stories and cultural differences between the Italian crews and American actors. The film offers a rare peek into a world that was largely ignored by America. Even at 2+ hours, I still wanted more! The dvd features about 30 minutes of extras so it even delivers the more I was wanting. The only thing I really wish the dvd had was a list of films to check out, maybe an essential 25 films worth tracking down. As I said, and the film reinforces, the genre is a minefield of duds. Maybe Mike Malloy can start writing a book about the genre? We can only hope.

Werewolf Woman (1976)

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Italy made a name for itself in the 70’s for producing some of the most over top, graphic, bizarre films the world had ever seen. Eurocrime flicks, sexploitation, and yes horror films were filled with odd setups, hyper violence, nudity, and depravity. Add Werewolf Woman onto the long list of extreme Italian cinema.

Werewolf Woman is about a woman who suffers a brutal rape (not shown thank goodness), and later finds out she is related to a woman that was burned at the stake for being a werewolf hundreds of years ago. In her damaged psychological state she believes she has inherited the werewolf disease and turns bestial every time she’s sexually excited. Given the body count in the film, she gets hot under the collar easily and often.

Ok so she never actually turns into a werewolf (besides the opening sequence which comes complete with giant purple nipples(?)) which may be a letdown for some. But now you know so don’t get your hopes up ok? What you do get however is 97 minutes of sleaze. The lead actress must have been very comfortable with having her nude body filmed because it is filmed over and over again and graphically. I saw as much of Annik Borel as the doctor did the day she was born, and in HD on this crisp blu-ray. She kills quite a few people in the film while in the buff as well, mostly by biting them to death and much red stuff is spilled here. The back third of the film changes from a story about a psycho killer to a rape/revenge flick. The transition is a bit of a rough one with the film feeling like we’ve suddenly switched reels to a different flick. That’s ok though because the film is bonkers throughout and at that point I probably would have accepted anything it threw my way.

This is by no means an artistic achievement worthy heavy analysis (though one certainly could do so easily), it’s a trashy piece of cinema that has a bit to say but more to show. Make that naughty bits to show. I had fun watching it though to be honest the graphic nudity did make me cringe a bit. Italian zooms have never been used more shamefully. I have never seen the movie in any other format so I can’t compare but the Blu looked great to me. The film also comes with a great  booklet that includes an essay about the film written by Chris Alexander, the editor of Fangoria. That comes as no surprise, Raro almost always brings their A-game when releasing obscure Italian treats for us weird-os to enjoy.

Cast A Deadly Spell (1991)

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As a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s work I have to lament the lack of quality of films based on his work, for every Re-Animator, there’s a dozen Cthulu Mansions out there, making the films a minefield to navigate. Pick the wrong one and you’re stuck with 90 min of snooze. Cast A Deadly Spell is not a snoozer.

This noir/comedy/horror throwback stars Fred Ward (Tremors) as Private Detective H. Philip Lovecraft (no joke), he’s your standard private dick archetype. Smokes, drinks, takes no shit and always has a 5 o’clock shadow. He’s hired by a wealthy occultist to find a book that was stolen from him. This book is the key to ultimate power and destruction.That book – it’s the necronomicon. Lovecraft must navigate in a seedy world of ne’er-do-wells, all of which use magic to bolster their power.

So, you’ve got a made for HBO movie from the early 90’s with no big names attached based on they mythos created by a writer that had been dead for more than half a century that blends comedy, noir, horror, and fantasy. I can see why this film struggled to find an audience is remains an obscure gem to this day. Not enough gore for horror fans, not serious enough for arthouse/noir fans, and not funny enough for comedy fans.  No dvd release yet and none in the works and it’s a damn shame. The film actually works despite the difficulty in blending those genres. It’s a fun flick that never gets boring and kept me guessing. It’s got a smart script with snappy dialogue but the dialogue is delivered slowly and with pathos instead of the mile-a-minute delivery common in original noir flicks. The monsters are cool looking and the supernatural elements don’t overshadow the whole film. Fans of the Dresden Files books would eat this up with a shot a bourbon. I’m really glad I check out the film, now all we can do is hope that someday someone will re-release the film for a wider audience to enjoy. There’s also a sequel starring Dennis Hopper which I’m sure is a special kind of bonkers!

Evil Altar (1988)

evil altar southgate vhs front2I love Robert Z’dar. There. I said it. He’s such a joy to see onscreen with his massive jaw, brawny physique and his over the top performances. I also love William Smith and his gargling with glass voice. This isn’t the first team up i’ve seen with the two titans of terrific performances in terrible films but it is the first horror flick i’ve seen them both stomp around in.

Evil Altar is about a town ruled by an evil occultist who has the power to raise the dead to be his slave. He steals teenagers and sacrifices them to whatever demon he worships and the town just keeps quiet and takes it. Sorta.

Some locals have finally had enough and want to get to the bottom of the disappearances and what they find is a lot of talking, driving, and yelling but not a whole lot else. The movie is a total snoozer! I perked up whenever Z’dar or Smith were onscreen but otherwise I felt like i should have spent the time inspecting my belly button for lint. There’s a couple of neat makeup effects but in general this is a very horror-less horror film based on a stale script that exchanged entertainment for exposition. Keep your paws on the FWD button and stop it when Smith and Z’dar chew up the scenery.

 

House IV (1992)

House-IV-1992-1When I was a kid I vividly remember watching House. It was the afternoon on the weekend and my mom was asleep. I sneakily watched the move while my mom sawed some logs and it scared the crap outta me! I loved it! I loved all the monsters, the imagination, and the total lack of regard for traditional horror film rules. I also remember seeing the second film and loving that one too. Sure, it’s goofy and not really a horror flick but it retained the vibe of the original and again I had no idea what would happen next in it. I also remember watching House IV on tv but only a hazy memory of a burn victim, a possessed pizza, and a bloody shower remained. I finally got my hands on the flick and gave it a revisit. Did it hold up?

First let me clear something up. House III, was actually The Horror Show starring Lance Henrickson and Brion James. Despite some cool effects and solid character acting the film is largely a snoozer. It was called House III in the UK and other territories so that’s why the producers decided to call this one House IV which is really House III since The Horror Show is about an evil convict’s spirit haunting a house and driving Lance crazy, not an evil house. Got it? Good.

House IV briefly stars William Katt, reprising his role from House only now he has a daughter instead of a son(?) and he’s married. Oh and the house is no longer in a suburb of northern California but out in the middle of nowhere in the desert. Also he has a jerk of a step brother and instead of the house belonging to his eccentric aunt it now was his father’s house. Or maybe Cobb just has lots of spooky houses in his family. There’s also a token native american guy who doesn’t really do much for the plot. So it’s a direct sequel to House…kinda.

After visiting the home the family gets in a terrible accident leaving their daughter in a wheelchair for the rest of her life (though from the way she acts in the film is largely unaffected by this horrible tragedy), and Mr. Cobb is terribly burned and left a quadriplegic who dies in the hospital. Mrs. Cobb decides to take her daughter back to the house and live in it in honor of her husband, but that’s when creepy things start happening.

By creeping things really all that happens are the aforementioned possessed singing pizza and bloody shower mixed with flashbacks of the hospital. Really the film is about the jerk step brother trying to buy or sabatoge the house so he can gain possession of the house for a nefarious industrial toxic waste creator so that he can dump his waste on the land.

House IV lacks the imagination of the first two films but is a lot more entertaining than the third, in name only sequel. Visually the film had some pretty fun monochromatic coloring as well as funky dutch angles. There’s a bit of nudity, a bit of blood, but no real monsters to speak of which is a bit let down. I still enjoyed the revisit but I’d chalk that up to nostalgia than any high degree of quality of the film. Still its better than plenty of direct to video obscurities out there.

 

555

Back in the 80’s and e555 vhs cover 2arly 90’s there was a huge demand for new content that video stores could purchase and put on their shelves, filling their store with all sorts of wonderful films for customers to enjoy. The trouble was, tapes in those days were incredibly expensive. Little mom & pop shops didn’t have a lot of buying power so some enterprising companies started churning out super cheap films, shot on video, and sold the tapes at a much lower price to video stores. The tapes often had lurid covers that were guaranteed to get rented once by a customer. I say once because usually when the customer got home and started watching the flick they were greatly disappointed with the overall lack of quality on every level. The films were maligned, often rightfully so, and forgotten. In recent years there’s been a resurgence of interest in shot on video or SOV horror films. 555 is one such film.

555 is about a serial killer that kills every five years. He enjoys killing couples during sex and uses a curved blade. It’s up to the local detectives to stop the madman before he kills again and disappears for another five years.

The film is largely a cop flick that happens to be bloody with lots of half naked girls. We hang out with the detectives almost the entire film and listen to them talk endlessly about solving the crime but doing very little actual police work. Shot in offices and living rooms the film is very very low budget even for SOV flick. The acting is pretty bad but not bad enough to be hilarious. None of the performances are natural and neither is the wordy dialogue but it isn’t inept enough to be fun. The blood is plentiful and yes the cover art does actually happen in the film but overall I felt that the flick was pretty dull and uninspired. It’s got a near mythical status in certain circles so perhaps my hopes were just a bit too high.

Overall I felt that 555 was pretty forgettable and anonymous feeling with enough sleaze to satisfy some but not enough style to set it apart.