The Lost Empire (1985)

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Any cult fan worth their salt has seen at least one film by director Jim Wynorski. Chopping Mall, The Return of Swamp Thing, Munchie, Dinosaur Island, Ghoulies IV, Deathstalker II, the list goes on and on and on. The Guy has 96 directing credits in total, and The Lost Empire is his first.

A kick ass attractive blonde super cop’s schlubby partner is murdered by some hypnotist/ninja guys via spinning ninja stars. They belong to a secretive sect that lives on an island. The only way for her to investigate the murder is to answer an ad in the paper put up by the sect. They’re looking for kick ass attractive women to join up. Our hero is a shoe in but there’s one catch. Entries have to come in three, so she has to find two partners to infiltrate the island, kick some ass and save the day. She gets a Native American and a convict to fill out the trifecta and along with her mustacheoed FBI agent boyfriend (also an ass kicker), they get on the island and give ‘em hell.

Funded by a guy looking for a tax loss (it wasn’t), this is the first time a young Jim showed the world what he had to offer. Part fantasy, part Enter the Dragon knock off, part buddy cop flick, and part T & A schlock fest, The Lost Empire gave me everything I was looking for. Ridiculous fight scenes, awful one liners, boobs, blood, broad racial stereotypes, a lazer that looks like a cock n balls, a John Carpenter-esque soundtrack, and a heaping helping of cheese. Angus Scrimm of Phantasm fame plays a small but fun role that gave him the opportunity to deliver some grade B lines and chew the scenery like he was starving. Robert Tessier of Hard Times and Starcrash also gets to deliver some quote worthy lines. It’s always nice to see his bald head pop up in flicks since his time on earth was so short. At 83 minutes the film moves at lightning speed from setup to setup rarely pausing for air. The film is about as deep as a puddle and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I had so much fun watching this that I’m sure it will be shown at my house for friends many many times.

The Lost Empire has charm and cheese buy the bucketful. I’m very glad this is finally available on dvd after being stuck in rights-holder hell for many years. It’s presented in widescreen and isn’t a vhs rip though the overall picture quality isn’t stellar but you can bet it hasn’t looked this good since 1985. It’s a high recommend for 80′s adventure fans and anyone who enjoys great B-movies. Did I mention it’s cheesy? Cuz it’s cheesy. Nacho convention level cheese. Joe Bob Briggs would tell you to check it out.

Death Occurred Last Night (1970)

fin350LastNight_BR_oringNEWWhen it comes to classic Italian cinema, I only have a cursory knowledge. I’ve seen all the Argentos and Fulcis, a handful of the Martinos and Lenzis, a smattering of Bava (father & son), and bits and pieces of other film makers canons. I enjoy Italian horror, giallos, and crime films but honestly they are usually hard to get. More often than not if they were available on dvd they are long out of print on defunct labels. I do my best to dig in when I can but there’s only so much time you know? This is why I’m so glad RaroVideo exists. A company based in Italy, they cherry pick rare and underseen titles for the American market and release them in beautiful editions. No expense is spared as these films are lovingly restored and presented to us, the fans. Death Occured Last Night is one such title and it’s a solid piece of crime cinema.

A father goes to the police begging for help. His daughter is missing. She’s 25 but has the mental state of a 3 year old. Also she loves having sex with men and will do anything they ask. This is a major problem for the father. She’s gone, kidnapped and likely being abused. A captain and his underling are on the case. They infiltrate local brothels looking for the girl, hoping to find her before she goes too far underground in the sex trade.

Sound familiar? It should. Hardcore, a film by Paul Schrader and starring George C. Scott has a similar plot, as does the Nicolas Cage film 8mm.  But this film predates both of them. The film begins right after the girl goes missing and doesn’t waste time getting into the plot. I’ve read that Death Occured Last Night is a hybrid film, mixing Giallo and Poliziotteschi, but for my money it’s more of an undercover police thriller. It’s a film that is miles ahead of it’s time, a full decade before similar films became popular in the 80s. The film kept my attention throughout and I really felt for the father. There’s some joking around between the captain and his underling which for me underminded the serious nature of the film, but not enough to ruin the overall vibe of the film. The music is great if a bit misguided. Organ and rock guitar play together with a generous horn section. It lacks the moody nature I would expect from such a serious film but overall I really enjoyed it. Memorable and honestly pretty badass it’s a soundtrack I was thinking would be great to have on Spotify. The acting is top notch and the direction is very fluid and immediate.

I would have expected the film to have a high degree of sleaze given the subject matter but beyond some topless scenes the film is actually pretty tame until the violent conclusion. This isn’t a happy film despite the anachronistic music. It’s a sober, heavy flick, about a scenario I hope to never experience. It doesn’t revel in it’s subject matter nor glorify the sex trade. It’s a dark film, but one that isn’t particularly graphic. I’m ok with that because it’s a very solid flick.

The presentation is great. The film almost looks brand new. The print is clean and clear. RaroVideo did a fantastic job restoring the film and it truly was a pleasure to watch. There’s a great introduction by Chris Alexander the editor of Fangoria, and he also wrote an informative booklet that goes with the film. Those touches really make me happy as a film fan. I really like it when dvd labels go the extra mile and try to educate the consumer about the product so that we can have a better frame of reference when viewing the film. Good job guys. It’s really appreciated. Death Occured Last Night was also never officially released in the U.S. which is a shame. I’m sure by now it would have garnered a solid cult following so now it’s got a lot of ground to make up. Thanks to a truly superior release by RaroVideo it has the best chance it could as for to reach a bigger audience.

Cinemayhem Film Festival 2014

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Last year I attended the inaugural Cinemayhem Film Festival in L.A. I had a great time (you can read about it here), and I couldn’t wait for this year. Last year the festival featured new indie films from promising young directors, this year however they decided do it a bit differently.

This year at the Cinemayhem Film Festival, the organizers screened classic horror films from the 80′s proceeded by shorts from new film makers. This year the event was completely free, all you had to do was score a ticket and they all sold out within minutes! The event was at a small funky coffee shop called the Jumpcut Cafe, a coffee shop dedicated to film. The walls were covered in pictures of directors and there was a large chalk board listing all the great films they were planning on screening during the month. I really wish I had a place like this somewhere near me. The first night  screening was John Carpenter’s The Fog. The man himself was at the screening and sat for a Q & A session before the film started.

I hopped in my friend’s car and we drove the 2+ hours to the first night of the event. We arrived at the cafe, drove around for a bit and scored some free parking. We walked into the coffee shop packed full of horror fans of all walks of life. We knew we were in good company. We headed to the back where we got our wristbands and Cinemayhem pins (nice!). My friend wanted to hang out and have a cig where we spotted a man standing in the shadows talking to a few people. My friend recognized him immediately as John Carpenter but I didn’t believe him. I figured, there’s no way he would show up 30 minutes early. He’s got games to play and basketball to watch. Upon closer inspection though it was indeed the man himself. The living legend. I was so excited. While my friend was getting coffee and I was cooling my heels outside I noticed there wasn’t anyone talking to him while he smoked. I steeled my nerves and walked up to him and shook his hand. I thanked him for making so many great films and he asked me where I was from. We talked for a minute and then I walked away. It was great! I didn’t want to bug him with a bunch of questions, I just wanted express my love for his work and his importance to me. Short and simple. Mission accomplished. It’s not every day you get to meet a living legend and a cinematic hero. Amazing. We then sat down and he patiently answered lots of questions in his trademark blunt and funny way. I really wish he would go on a talking tour and just sit and chat with a moderator for an hour. He’s totally no bullshit and I really love listening to him. After his time was up he left, followed by a large group of fans with memorabilia in their hands for him to sign. That thought never even crossed my mind. I’m not big into collecting or memorabilia and to be honest I’m really glad I got the chance to talk to him when I did. That means much more to me. There was a young lady sitting next to my friend and I and I could see she was thinking about going outside to talk to him. I told her to go for it that the opportunity might not come again. Encouraged she left and came back a few minutes later all smiles. Very cool.

Clive Barker lent some of his original art to the festival too. One wall was covered with his work which was very neat to see. The next night featured a Vamp reunion followed by a screening of the film and the final night was a special screening of Hellraiser with Pinhead Doug Bradley himself in attendance.

I can’t thank the organizers enough for giving this great opportunity to us fans to meet and talk to him in such a great intimate setting. I wish I could have attended the other nights but living so far away I just didn’t have the time or resources to come back. One thing’s for sure, whatever Cinemayhem does next year I’ll be there. They have proven to be professional, organized, and gracious. This is what it’s all about friends. If you want to check out some great clips of the  Q & A, cruise on over to the Cinemayhem site and see what you missed.

A Touch of Sin (2013)

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Extreme cinema comes in many forms. We are most accustomed to experiencing tough cinema from genre fare most notoriously the horror genre. There is however a kalidescope of powerful cinema out there that lies in many different types of films. Foreign films (foreign to the good ol’ U.S. of A anyway) have been exploring tough subject matter while we continously pump put yawning dramas and tent pole blockbusters. Asian cinema has been a source for strong cinema for decades. I had thought that after the British hand off to China we would no longer see brave cinema from Hong Kong and for the most part I was right. These days most of what gets exported over here are historical epics and to be honest once you’ve seen a few the never ending parade of patriotism becomes quite tiresome. For me at least. A Touch of Sin is not a historical epic. It’s a tough film about a tough country. And it’s most certainly extreme.

A Touch Of Sin is a series of interconnected vignettes about citizens in low places going through tough, violent struggles. We start out following a man who is bursting with anger at the corruption of the town officials. We meet a woman who works a brothel who is a rich man’s mistress. We meet a teenage boy who tries to run away and work for a high scale hotel/brothel and falls in love with one of the prostitutes. We meet a man who spends his time murdering people for money. It’s tough stuff indeed.

A Touch of Sin is beautifully filmed and the Blu-Ray really shows off the details. Every location is different and it almost feels like a travelogue for the lower classes. Freezing cold desolate farmland, steamy jungle, urban sprawl, industrial blight. We get to see it all, unflinchingly. It’s a tough yet beautiful film that transported me to the places visited during it’s run time. I’ll probably never go to China but watching films like this help me understand the plight and the culture and let me travel there from the comfort of my own couch. I really enjoyed this film. It’s such a kick in the gut in the best way possible. It feels very personal and damning, deep and contemplative. This one’s a contender for any ones top list for 2013.

Patrick (1978)

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Patrick is the third and final Australian horror blu-ray release from indie champs Severin films. This completes the awesome trifecta of classic Oz horror that started with Thirst and Dead Kids. Does it stack up?

Patrick is about a young man that is in a vegetative state in a small clinic. He stares blankly at the world and lies in his bed, hooked up to a respirator. He is part of a study on patients in such a state and has become the sole patient for a new nurse to the clinic. She talks to him and cares for him like no other nurse has done before and when things start getting freaking in her personal life she suspects Patrick has something to do with it. He also spits occasionally. Gross.

Much like with Thirst and Dead Kids, Patrick is once again a film that relies heavily on it’s script and not on gore. There’s really no grue to speak of in the film which isn’t a problem at all. A movie about a killer that can’t move and doesn’t really kill hardly anyone should be about as fun as watching grass grow but again the film is bolstered by great performances and a natural interplay between the characters. The film pushes 2 hours but doesn’t feel like it one bit despite the movie’s now nearly elderly age (for a horror film). Patrick kept me engaged throughout it’s run time and I never once felt bored or underwhelmed. It’s more of a suspense film than anything and that’s just fine in my book.

As with the other two Oz films, I had also seen this one  many years ago with a beat up bland print. The Blu looks great with deep blacks and smooth color. Again the film shows it’s age a bit with some scratches but that only adds to the flavor of the film and to remind us that it was indeed a film and not a digital print. There is also a great supplement with interviews with cast and crew that were originally filmed for the documentary Not Quite Hollywood, but were not included in their entirety in the doc. Great stuff all around for this release and I’m very glad Patrick made the jump to Blu and will remain in circulation for a bit longer until the next format jump.

Hotel Inferno (2013)

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The Italian gore masters behind Taeter City have done it again with their shocking new film, Hotel Inferno. Taeter City was quick, hyper gory, and with innovative special effects. Does Hotel Inferno stack up?

Hotel Inferno is about a professional hit man hired by a mysterious company to kill two people. They are staying at a posh hotel in a foreign country (we have no idea which) and he must kill them quickly and quietly. They are a nasty pair, known for killing over 150 people in just a few short years. Fearing nothing but the scorn of his girlfriend, our hero takes the job but he gets much more than he bargained for.

Hotel Inferno is shot entirely from the hit man’s point of view. It’s hard not to compare the film to the Maniac remake which I loved but here it feels much more like a video game. The man responsible for hiring him talks to the hitman from a disembodied voice coming from speakers much like you would experience in older video games. We only see the hit man’s hands, also like a video game. The whole thing feels like a hyper gory, realistic first person shooter that you don’t have control over. It’s also an easy way to produce the film in multiple languages because no one looks directly at the camera in speaks in the whole movie. Sure there’s lots of yelling and some of the characters in the film speak but they are speaking some strange language we weren’t meant to understand anyway.  The film once again features over the top gore with lots of crushed heads, brains, stabbings, shootings, explosions and more. These guys certainly revel in the red stuff and stay true to their gory roots.  This time out they really tried to innovate in a more subtle way by using many tricky shots in the film and hidden edits that allow the film to look like it takes place in real time. My only complaint with the film is that the forward momentum of the film stalls out in places where we have perhaps too much dialogue or too much walking before we get any action. It’s not really much of a quibble since the film only runs a mere 76 minutes so there simply isn’t much time for the film to become dull.

If you liked Taeter City, you will like Hotel Inferno. It’s gory, simple, and well thought out. Necrostorm films just keep getting more and more proficient at what they do with each film they complete. I look forward to seeing what they come up with in the future. They don’t seem complacent with giant gobs of gore, now they want to create a more polished film. I’ll be the first in line for that next more polished more gory film!

Pilgrim Song (2012)

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Every now and then I’m in the mood for something subtle and soulful. Something simple yet deep. Something with few words but lots of storytelling. I was in one of those moods recently and Pilgrim Song fit the bill.

A music teacher from Kentucky loses his job and decides to take a journey on Kentucky’s Sheltowee Trace Trail. It’s a long beautiful trail that he hopes will allow him to reevaluate his life and his relationship with his longtime girlfriend.

Pilgrim Song is much like the description of the trail, long and beautiful. Clocking in at nearly 2 hours the film sticks around for a while. I felt like I was taking the journey myself and questioned whether or not I would do the things he did or make the decisions he made. The scenery is gorgeous and made me envious of such a picturesque place so close to where he lived. Along the way he meets different people and gains new perspective on his life, most importantly a kind but self destructive man and his son. By the end of the movie our hero on his journey is a changed man. He’s seeing things differently and I’m sure he will continue to grow as a man.

Pilgrim Song features natural performances and great chemistry between the actors. The sound track is simple and matches the film’s asthetic perfectly. It’s an understated film that I will be thinking about for the next few days. The dvd is sold out but fear not, you can still rent the film on Brinkvision’s website. I enjoyed the film and will be eager to check out the director’s future efforts.

Pig (2013)

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I love low budget sci-fi movies that are capable of creating plausible high concept plots with very little money. It takes a lot of skill in the writing and editing departments and when it works it’s amazing. When it doesn’t it’s usually an intolerable snoozefest. Pig is one such low-budget sci fi film but does it work?

Pig is about a man who wakes up in the desert with his hands tied behind his back and a black hood over his head. He doesn’t know why he’s there or even who he is. He cuts his ties and wanders the desert until he passes out where he’s found by a woman and her child. She takes care of him and gets him a doctor. He has no memory, only a name in his pocket. Manny Elders. Is that his name? Where is he from?

Pig kept me engaged throughout the entire run time. I had some of it figured out from the beginning but not all of it. For a guy like me who’s seen thousands of movies it’s hard to trick me. The characters in the film are likeable and releatable. I wanted to know what was going to happen next and I enjoyed watching the main character unravel his past until the final reveal. I won’t spoil it for anyone but I was a little bit underwhelmed. Perhaps the cover art was a bit misleading. It’s a very simple film with no big flashy special effects, which is fine with me, but I guess I was hoping for a more sinister conspiracy. That being said I enjoyed the film. It captured my attention and held it throughout which is a big compliment given the myriad of distractions I have while watching movies. I would gladly watch another film from the creators of Pig, especially if they had a bigger concept for the next film.

Dead Kids (1981)

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Recently Severin has decided to release 3 of the most beloved Australian horror films from the early 80′s. They are a trifecta of awesome my review of Thirst can attest to. The second release is Dead Kids aka Strange Behavior. A seemingly generic slasher flick that has more under the hood than you might expect.

A small town in Illinois (Dead Kids was actually filmed in Oz but doubled for USA as was common practice then) is the home of a young man and his father. His father is the chief of police and everything there is idlyic. It’s time for the young man to start thinking about college and in order to pay for his application fees he decides to go to the local college and take part in an experiment. He starts to feel a bit funny and then kids start turning up dead….

Dead Kids isn’t what you think it is. It sounds like slasher #245 but it has a uniquely sci-fi flair that helps put up high on my list of favorite slasher type flicks from this era. Well acted and directed, the film moves at a quick pace and has a killer soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. I don’t want to give away too much but the script is the star of the show here. It does enough to break the standard slasher mold to help it reach its cult status. The blu looks great as well. I’ve had this one on dvd for several years and it looked alright but the blu here is a great upgrade for fans that already have the disc.

Dead Kids is a solid horror flick that breaks out of the formula that plagued so many fright flicks from this era. A diamond in the rough, it’s largely been ignored by many horror fans and hopefully now with a great release from severin it will finally find a broader audience.

The Flesh and Blood Show (1972)

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The Flesh and Blood Show is somewhat of an odd duck. It’s yet another horror film by British director Pete Walker.  I had never seen this one before. Mostly I’ve seen his later output so I was really excited when I put this on last night. But is it any good?

The Flesh and Blood Show is about an improv theater group that has been assembled by a producer and asked to start creating a new play at a rundown theater in the middle of nowhere. The theater hasn’t been used since the war (that’s WWII) and certainly has a creepy vibe. There was a bit of mystery surrounding the theater. It seems the last company that worked there broke up after the start of the group and his wife and daughter disappeared one night. Well as you might have guessed, members of this theater group start disappearing as well, one by one.

On it’s surface the film is very much a part of a very well worn cliche in horror films. Group of young people assemble for some purpose and then get killed one by one. Although we have to remember that this was ’72 and that particular trope hadn’t been run into the ground yet. Much like Walker’s later efforts the film isn’t a gore fest. There’s some blood but overall it’s pretty tame. This is fine because Walker films are never particularly bloody but usually lean and well written. The characters spout impressive lines and the actors involved must have had fun delivering them. The film is odd however because of the abundance of nudity in it. Later in his career Walker sidestepped that particular trope but here there’s a bevy of bare bodies. In fact the first scene in the film has a woman running completely nude. The interview with Walker included on the disc explains it. He said he didn’t want to put all the nudity in the film but he had been making sexploitation films previously and knew the climate of the time demanded nudity to sell the film. It was a transitional piece for him, finally getting away from the sex films he didn’t like making but couldn’t quite completely put the t & a to bed yet. So just like clockwork every 10 minutes or so we are given some sort of nudity in case we were dosing in our chairs. It almost seems like he wasn’t confident in his ability to scare the audience but he knew he could at least titilate them. The film also features 10 minutes or so of 3-d, another gimmick Walker had previously used.  Of course once again the 3-d features nudity by way of a completely nude woman and man. Unfortunately on the blu ray you have to stop the film when you get to the 3-d segment, go into the menu, select the 3-d and then watch it. Then when it’s over the blu doesn’t simply pick up where you left off in the feature. You have to go back into the chapter menu and select the last chapter. That being said it was fun being able to see the sequence in 3-d, presumably for the first time since ’72! Redemption didn’t have to do that and its really great they went that extra mile to try to present the film in the way it was originally intended. The picture itself has quite a bit more artifacting than Frightmare did which makes sense as this wasn’t a big hit when it came out so the film wouldn’t have been preserved as well. There are more blips and scratches in the film but again like I said with Frightmare, I’d rather have them in there than have the image scrubbed clean with digital artifacting. The colors are solid, the blacks black. There’s no doubt the film has ever looked better.

Overall The Flesh and Blood Show is a fun flick that moves perhaps not as quickly as Walker’s later efforts but quickly enough that it doesn’t be come dull. And how could it with all of the nudity anyway? For Pete Walker fans its a fun treat but for the uninitiated, you’re probably better off starting with Frightmare or some of Walker’s later works.