Sunday, January 30, 2011

NEW STUFF: METALSTORM - THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN (1983)

It’s pretty much a certainty that if you manage to become prolific enough that you will probably create something that constitutes a legacy. Exactly what that legacy is usually depends on the quality of what you produce. Charles Band is one of those guys who’s probably dyed his estate something ugly as he’s become more productive over the years. Quality is not something Full Moon is known for. I’m not one of those dudes who throws a blanket hatred over everything he’s done, but I’m not going to lie and pretend that “Evil Bong” is worth your time. I think the worst thing to happen to film within the last thirty years is that filmmakers became aware of what camp is and learned to use it as some sort of out for when they didn't want to bust their balls trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Now, instead of a short coming being something a director strives to over come by virtue of his ingenuity, he draws attention to it and exalts it as camp. Band pretty much churns out insincere goofs now-a-days, but that’s not to say he didn’t at one time produce some pretty good stuff. Case in point, “Tourist Trap” is worth anyone’s time.

I will admit that a lot of Band’s movies are surrounded by a force field of nostalgia for me. I know “Ghoulies” is a piece of shit, but fond memories of Jolt Cola fueled late nights and USA Network tag along with it. It’s kind of like when your best friend gets a shitty girlfriend, and you pretty much just make nice for his sake. Nevertheless, I’ve seen enough good films that Band had some hand in to make me take a chance now and again, whereas some people see his name or the Full Moon brand and avoid with vengeance. “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn” was a total gamble, and I got cleaned out on this one. Now, judging by the trailer, this looks like it might be a lot of fun. Well, somehow, this movie manages to be totally boring. I can't even imagine the 3D theatrical release being a salvageable experience. This is total eject fodder.

Thanks to deadenddrivein for the trailer.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

HELL HIGH (1986)

I’d have to classify this one as another "little movie that could," because in spite of the fact that a lot of die-hard horror junkies have crucified "Hell High" repeatedly, it really isn't as terrible as they say. In fact, it's not anywhere near terrible. If you think this is an awful experience, then you've been comprehensively sheltered by your mother's rack. You want to see some bullshit? Sit through the first six "Witchcraft" films with a "Demonoid" chaser, and then come back to this one. That shit load will tatter your patience like gasoline would an infant kidney and expand your understanding of what bad truly is. I don't give a fuck what Joe Bob Briggs says: if you call this movie bad, then you have a shallow barometer when it comes to your understanding of awful cinema.

The performances are above par for a low budget genre film, and it achieves a rich atmosphere. One of the things that elevates the value of "Hell High" is that the depth of characterization isn't typically what you find in horror films. I'm not saying this movie is some Mike Leigh shit, but it's still far more than what you typically get in movies like this. There are a lot of things that lift this movie above the average curve, so I'm just not sure why people hate it. Granted, there are a few retarded things that defy logic, but they seem to awaken a craven blood lust in the common horror fan that makes them wanna bury this movie. It is a seldom occasion that I am pleasantly surprised by a film so bitterly maligned. Most of the time when I approach something that's strongly hated by people I walk away with the impression that the subject at hand isn't really worth hating. But I actually found "Hell High" to be completely charming.

I can understand why most casual film goers might dismiss "Hell High" with a smirk. Most horror films are typically greeted with strong cynicism by general audiences. And on the off chance it's of remarkable quality, the movie will be sifted from the grit and the grime of a classless horror section and upgraded to thriller/suspense. So, when people who joyfully hold hands with a film genre that has become the red-headed step child of the cinematic realm revolt against movies like this, I’m baffled. This film is certainly not without its faults, but it also has some elements that work quite well.

Since acquiring this title as part of a lot I’d won off of eBay, “Hell High” had been collecting dust until very recently. I was in no hurry to see it since I’d been warned about it by friends. But whenever I’d peruse the shelves, my eyes were always attracted to the colorful spine. The box itself almost has a vintage JD schlock look to it. Most every guest that enters my video room almost always inquires about the title. One night last week, my friend Joe and I weren’t exactly having much luck during our routine weekly movie night. We’d tried sitting through a sex comedy bomb called “Pretty Smart,” only to hit eject after its first quarter. I'd never actually had a film with that quotient of nudity suck the life out of me. It was almost like being with a real woman. We sat there, feeling empty for a few minutes before I uttered what has become my usual Wednesday evening catch phrase: "Well, Joe. Pick a movie."

Joe got up, moved to the shelves, and almost immediately grabbed the box and said, "How about Hell High, maaaaan? It looks awesome." For the past month or so, Joe would do this any time I'd ask him to pick a movie, and I would hear this exact phrase up to four times a night. And I would rear from the suggestion, like the tape itself had a sort of psychic stink, and suggest he find something else. The "Pretty Smart" experience had robbed me of any spirit that evening. Thoroughly demoralized, when Joe suggested "Hell High," I sighed, and said, "It can't get much worse, right?" Joe cackled and rubbed his hands together as I slid the tape into the deck.

Joe Ryan is someone whom I’d refer to as extraordinarily pure in some ways. He has absolutely no sense of pretension. While pouring over the various titles in my library, he will often grab things I’d never think of watching even though I own them, and somehow he will convince me that we must see that particular film. Joe has a sort of new born enthusiasm that’s untainted by a bunch of hyper negative shitheads on IMDB. He doesn’t really care what anyone thinks, or about a movie's star rating. All he really understands is if something is fun or not. If the box looks fun, he will give it an opportunity. Having fun does not require a complex understanding of good technical film making. Joe simply seeks to be entertained, and through his enjoyment I’m often made aware of a film’s good points instead of simply focusing on its struggles. Watching a movie with him can be an overwhelmingly positive experience. After sitting through a few tapes with Joe, I began to realize that most people who watch a lot of movies develop a false sense of their own sophistication. They begin to think that a film must be worthy of them. They go into the film with the same mentality an English teacher relies on to grade papers. They lay in wait for errors to occur so they can spring out of their chair, smugly waggling their fingers, which of course makes them feel important. To these people, films are more like opponents in a game of chess instead of entertainment for their benefit. They don't enjoy movies. They use them. I don’t know why, but nothing makes a would-be film snob feel more secure in his meaningless position than tearing a movie to shreds in front of an audience. After all, turning people off is the easiest thing in the world to do.

One of the more common complaints about this film is that the acting is lousy. To the contrary, the performances are actually pretty good. Most of the cast are charismatic enough to entertain and engage. The more sinister characters are somewhat sympathetic. No one's really unlikable. The only problem I had with regard to the characterization is that you don't get enough time to really connect with Maureen Mooney's character, or what's going on inside of her head. The most noteworthy performance comes from Christopher Stryker, who plays the wannabe ring-leader of a would-be gang at the center of this story. Stryker shows great promise here, but unfortunately his career was cut short as he passed away several years after the movie’s filming due complications from AIDS.

The story begins years prior, with young Brooke Storm, ridiculously patterned after Patty McCormack’s Rhoda from “The Bad Seed,” playing out in a rural country side. Quality time with her dollies is interrupted when a pair of free wheeling teens bust into her shed for some heavy petting. When the boy’s advances are rejected, he rips the head off of Brooke’s doll as she watches through a slat in the wall. The teenagers climb back onto their motorcycle, and as they depart, Brooke hurls a pale of “swamp slime” into their faces, which results in a grizzly accident. The prologue is camp to the bone, and it does not do the rest of the film any justice. But still, it’s catchy and fun.

Years later, the unstable Brook is stuck teaching biology to a bunch of ungrateful delinquents at the local high school. Trouble maker Dickens gets disruptive, and Ms. Storm belts him in the mouth for it. Naturally, Dickens demands satisfaction. Christopher Cousins plays Jon-Jon, a guy coping with the disapproval of his former football team mates after quitting mid-season. Dickens capitalizes by wrangling disenfranchised Jon-Jon into his band of misfits, and soon they’re all off to terrorize Mr. Storm with Halloween masks and sacks of swamp slime. Ms. Storm has long been tormented by the deaths she caused so many years ago, and is in a fragile mental state, so they have her freaking out in no time. In the most inexplicably hilarious Scene, one of Brooke’s friends stops by, ceasing the students’ reign of terror. In spite of the fact that the house is covered in swamp slime, the back door being busted out, and her friend on the floor in hysterics, she decides to give her some fucking Quaaludes and leave. This is probably the only time in a movie where Quaaludes were actually used for their practical purpose. However, once the friend leaves, the terrorism resumes, and eventually backfires when Ms. Storm snaps.

While this film is often lumped in with late wave slasher films, it has more in common with something like “Class of 1984.” Vengeful students run amok and terrorize their teacher, which results in the teacher striking back. There are some definite horror elements within the film. It’s definitely not a run-of-the-mill slasher, primarily because of the revenge theme. There is no purely evil masked antagonist slashing through a string of high-as-fuck bangers and mashers. The performances are strong, and there are actual Degrassi-grade characters within the film, which give the situations some weight. "Hell High" further endears with a strange ending that feels like something out of an old E.C. comic. The unfortunate re-title to “Hell High” from the far more evocative “What Do You Want To Do Tonight?” almost prevents you from thinking you could get something brighter. I can see why some folks might have been disappointed if they were expecting a by-numbers slasher film set against "Grease." Fuck, I'd like to see that myself. However, "Hell High" is still fun. It doesn’t shake the foundation of the genre, but it does achieve an atmosphere worthy of any cold, damp night.

Thanks goes to FaggotSmasher for the trailer.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

DRIVING FORCE (1989)

Alright, everyone can relax. They still serve Pabst Blue Ribbon in the post-apocalypse. There, I just saved you 90 minutes of your life that would have been otherwise wasted on this piece of shit. Happy fuckin’ birthday. This is one of the best examples of Academy’s dubious marketing methods. Each element of advertising is like a siren, luring you toward a rocky fate with promises of Sam Jones in Rob Halford gear and clown car demolition derbies. All of these things are lies. The closest Jones gets to leather in this movie is Catherine Bach’s face. Holy crap, does she look bad in this. For those of you struggling with the name, she’s best known for playing Daisy Duke in the original “Dukes of Hazzard” series. She was pretty hot on that show, and it’s not like this was too far along after that, so she must have been on one hell of a bender up to this point. She looks like Leatherface in an Ari Up wig here.

Right out of the gate, this flick commits a cardinal sin which is unforgivable within this particular subgenre, where they don’t really bother to explain just what brought the world to its grim state. Okay, I understand that this is a Filipino production, but they couldn't have strung a loose introduction together with public domain footage that explains the global situation a little better? The most they give us is that unemployment is, like, really high. So the job market is shitty. That’s it.

The initial story is shades of "Dead End Drive-In," where tow truck driver Steve (Jones) finds himself at odds with a pack of feudal wreckers, lead by Nelson (Don Swayze). What really foils the proceedings though are two whack soap opera style plots, revolving around a custody battle between Steve and the parents of a woman with whom he’s had a child. Then there’s a burgeoning romance between he and some chick named Harry (it’s the future, I guess) played by Bach. Swayze's character is even diagnosed with cancer, but it doesn't really have much of an effect on him. He's an asshole in the beginning, and he's still an asshole later on, so I don't know why they went there. In all, it’s pretty much like a super shitty episode of"Dallas" set in Detroit.

This movie manages to avoid being obvious, but that’s actually a bad thing in this case, because anywhere you can go with this story in your own head will pretty much be better than where the story actually ends up. The custody battle just fills time they couldn't afford to stock with shit blowing up. It also goes nowhere. Meanwhile, the bad guys spend an inordinate amount of time repeatedly harassing and threatening Steve. Then Steve contributes to the cycle of boringness by retaliating. After which, the heavies sit around, pissing and moaning about how they "should have killed him the last time." Well then why didn't you? What, did the 37 opportunities prior to this point where he was at your mercy just not "feel" right, asshole? Give me a break!

In the end, what you get is a lame duck drama that fails to commit to themes of revenge because the writer didn’t have the balls to throw in some rape or murder. The tacked on post-apocalypse theme is contemptibly shallow, if not entirely inconsequential. There's nothing worse than a bunch of assholes who decide to make a movie of this nature simply because they think it’s a cheat on putting effort and money into good locations or production design. Billy Blanks is more of a badass because I now know that he managed to have some facsimile of a career after dragging it from the twisted, burning wreckage that is “Driving Force.”

Trailer courtesy of ActionPackedCinema.

HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN (1973)

Despite the title, this is actually not a documentary. Paul Naschy plays a seedy handyman hired on by three eccentric sisters. Shortly afterward, blond-haired blue-eyed women start turning up dead. According to several reviews, the copy I found is completely bereft of nudity. It's the World's Worst Videos (VidAmerica) brand, which I've never seen, so I'm not really sure. This is some Matt Clark shit.

No thanks goes to the douchebag who disabled embedding. All the credit goes to North Korean ex-pat Donlee Brussel for making use of this trailer possible.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS (1970)

Holy shit, is that Brother Theodore doing the voice-over for the trailer?

There are a lot of so-called Al Adamson fans who don't really care for this movie. One turkey even said that it's not one of Adamson's prouder moments. I'm having a hard time finding an analogy that defines the sheer idiocy of this statement. What I will say is that it takes an especially damaged person to appreciate a dark alley. To these people, the "quality" of a particular alley way is based around its respective refuse and distinct aroma. A dark alley is bad to begin with, but you love it for all of its repugnance, and you develop a distinct appreciation for every disgusting quality that makes it what it is. There are even some people who get off on having someone take a dump on their chest. I imagine if they're getting shit on it's probably a good day, but I'm also sure that the "shittee" grades the dump according to consistency and the diet of the "shitter." I guess what I am trying to say without insulting Adamson's work is that it's weird when someone refines their shit-loving preferences to a point where they become hyper-critical of it. Not sure where I'm going with this, but I do I think it's silly when people are picky about his work, which is largely considered awful by most mainstream film fans. I dunno, that still sounds insulting toward Adamson, but I really don't mean it to be because he's one of the guys who made me pay attention to actual directors in the first place.

This movie is unintentionally psychedelic and a shit load of fun. Perhaps one of the best party movies ever to exist, alongside "Just For The Hell of It." Adamson's original footage is augmented by a hodge podge of stuff from other movies, including the likes of a 1956 Filipino film called "Tagani," which Adamson owned the rights to. I'm not super knowledgeable about the film, but I think that's where those cool bat pygmy creatures are from. I love those things.

Trailer courtesy of DeadEndDriveIn.

NEW STUFF: MAKING CONTACT (1985)

An early one from Roland Emmerich about a psychically endowed kid who makes contact with the spirit world following the death of his father. I'm actually surprised I've never seen this one, because as a video store clerk my eyes were always drawn toward the box art. From what I'd gathered, this looks like a kid-friendly supernatural thriller in the spirit of "Cloak and Dagger."

Trailer courtesy of ModCinema.

NEW STUFF: ARMED RESPONSE (1986)

I miss living in a world where a guy like Fred Olen Ray could get 1.5 million dollars to make a movie where a decrepit Lee Van Cleef and the perpetually geriatric David Carradine are passed off as a legitimate threat. This is just glorious horse shit. Also starring Michael Berryman.

Trailer courtesy of MMXXIII.

NEW STUFF: THE WIND (1987)

Meg Foster plays some broad who thinks she can write. Well, that shit doesn't fly with Wings Hauser, who proceeds to handle things by using the only method he’s familiar with: psychological terror. David McCallum ("The Man From U.N.C.L.E.") and the wonderful Robert Morley also somehow wound up in this thriller directed by Nico Mastorakis. Someone called this slightly Giallo. This looks very promising.

Trailer courtesy of AussieRoadShow.

SHAKMA (1990)

There once was a time when you could completely trust the community of people responsible for lifting something toward cult status. Sadly, the popularity of "Shakma" represents a gaping chink in my faith toward connoisseurs of trash culture. I am completely baffled by this film’s popularity. The plot is actually pretty great: a bunch of D&D-loving med students are LARPing in a campus building after hours when an experimental baboon gets loose and makes the game very real. It even has Roddy McDowall. How could this not work out? Well, compare it to similar successful films about killer apes and it’s pretty apparent. Take the 1986 Orang-amuk classic "Link" for example, which takes the necessary time to develop relationships between the main characters and the animals. The Link character for instance is sort of sad and sympathetic, and his intelligence makes him incredibly likable. So, when the beast ultimately turn on his keepers, you feel entirely invested. Plus, it had a naked Elisabeth Shue. The problem with Shakma is the total absence of exposition or character development. The film’s hero, Sam (played by Chris Atkins of "The Blue Lagoon" fame), apparently has some sort of connection with the baboon, but they don't give us anything to chew on, whereas Shue's character in Link has a great deal of compassion for an animal she feels is being treated inhumanely. Ella, from "Monkey Shines" is seemingly motivated by jealousy and possessiveness. The Shakma character is just a huge asshole. The nature of the experimentation that Shakma is subjected to is also pretty vague. We just know he’s made to be a super aggressive creature for reasons unknown. Why the fuck would you augment an already aggressive animal with SUPER AGGRESSION? For this movie to mean anything they really needed more story behind it. Instead, what we get amounts to a shitty slasher movie with a monkey. Bottom line, I didn't give a fuck about anything going on in this movie.

Another huge problem is that baboons are butt-fuckingly ugly. They are probably the least cute of all monkeys. Ella and Link's cuteness counter balances their viciousness. Shakma on the other hand is hideous and his wang is flapping around for the entire movie, which is pretty distracting. Like they couldn’t have gotten him a diaper or something?

The ending is pretty clever, but it's impossible to extract any sense of gratification or sadness for man or beast from it. The one thing that actually pisses me off about the movie is how dumb the characters are in spite of the fact that they're in med school. Seriously, they expect you to believe that people who are typically acing killer exams are suddenly dumbasses. And yet somehow they couldn't have shoe-horned some titties into this thing? There are some nonsensical things I am perfectly willing to believe in, such as breasts in unlikely places. There's a difference between a movie that is ridiculous and one that relies on flat-out stupidity. Respectively, one is colorful and the other is boring. Shakma is just stupid and plodding. Lastly it just has that awful 90s feel to it. Check out the trailer.

Seriously, "Shakma" is an incredible disappointment. As a film, it's not worth the money you'll shell out for the tape itself. See the severely underrated "Link" instead. Here's a list of reasons as to why this is some good advice:

1) Strong script and actual characterization.

2) Terrence Stamp kicks ass.

3) Elisabeth Shue is all like, "TA-DOW!" I imagine she smells like angel food cake, and being in her arms would seem like sleeping in the womb of a cloud that popped out of god's ass. Whenever I see her, I just want to lay my weary head against her bossoms, which I imagine are totems full of sweet, sweet dreams.

4) No distracting monkey wang.

5) Link is adorable.

6) It's Cannon.

7) It’s ridiculous, but not dumbed down, and therefore fun.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

NEW STUFF: DEADLY FORCE (1983)

Good god, if the greatness of this movie could be extracted as some sort of chemical compound, I am fairly certain it could be used to enrich the crop soils of the world, thus ending famine for all time. Who would have thought that a guy who did a movie about Helen Keller could have produced an action film of this quality? When I first ran across this movie, about an ex-rogue cop (Ex! He's not even just a ROGUE COP! How fucking tough is that?!) played by the greatest man to ever live, Wings Hauser, who comes back to L.A. to stop a serial killer, I was skeptical that it could really be that great. The elements were there, but could they align to create something that lived up to the potential? But then I saw Sandy Howard's name, the producer behind "Vice Squad" and "The Devil's Rain," and all fear was vanquished, and I knew this was probably going to rock my face off, and that it did. The plot is a little convoluted, if not preposterous, but that's why it's good.

WHITE HOT (1989)

Robby Benson proves to be a threat on multiple levels in the thankfully dated “White Hot,” a vaguely moral tale about the bummers of 1980s materialism and casual drug. Benson not only directs and sings several ill-placed songs here, but also stars as the film’s protagonist, Scott, an unemployed yuppie whose finances are crumbling beneath the weight of his girlfriend Vanessa’s (Tawny Kitaen) high-end lifestyle.

When word gets back to king pin Charlie Buick (Danny Aiello) that hot shot pusher Butchie is blaming him for all the weak ass cocaine he’s been peddling, Buick quickly dispatches his reluctant nephew, Angelo, to whack the bum. Butchie hears about the hit and decide to blow town, and strange circumstances lead the dealer to appoint the financially strapped Scott as his stand-in for the next few weeks. Scott reluctantly accepts and contrives a clean excuse to explain his absence from home.

Vanessa eventually finds out what Scott is really up to. She’s initially angry, but when she sees how much Scott is taking in, she falls in line. Eventually, Vanessa becomes a liability when she gets hooked on the crack supply. This leads to Vanessa’s infidelity, as she starts fucking dudes to meet her appetite for narcotics. From there, we follow Scott down a dark path of drug fuelled destruction and ultimate revenge.

This film has an odd saving grace in the form of the Vanessa character, who is so overbearingly realistic that she stomps out Benson’s litany of hilariously awful creative choices. Generally, female characters either fall at one far end of a spectrum, and rarely in between. They are either infuriatingly na├»ve and pure, or they’re evil right out of a Marvel comic. However, there is nothing remotely comic bookish about Vanessa. She epitomizes the sort of mean craziness I have routinely experience in real life. For instance, she goes on a coke binge and then fucks a bunch of dudes. When Scott finds out, she turns the tables, and pulls a victim card out of thin air like she’s motherfucking David Blaine. Scott is somehow a bastard even though he finds her naked, in his bed, with two dudes, and he deserves to suffer for it. Bold exhibitions of total bat shit female logic such as this provide a mantle of realism which grounds the rest of the story.

Like almost any film of this scale and from this period, appreciation is entirely dependent upon how realistic your expectations are going in to it. As it stands, “White Hot” is an entertaining time waster, but it could have potentially been a very good film. The script is character driven without very minor character development. The parallels between Angelo and Scott, as well as Scott’s metamorphosis from average Joe into hardened criminal are sadly wasted opportunities. The movie also suffers from tonal calamity. Aiello’s nonsensical face off with comedian Judy Tenuta is a glaring example of the damaging variety littered throughout the first part of the film. The unintentional laughs are always worth something, but the performances are fun the payoff is satisfying. This is worth a look for fans of 1980s anti-drug PSAs.