Thursday, June 30, 2011

SUMMER OF FEAR (THORN EMI VIDEO - 1978)

I am always suspicious of horror fans who roll their eyes at horror releases with PG-13 ratings. There are certain instances where I can indentify with their frustrations. In particular, I’m annoyed when an older R-rated film is made safe for the trogs of today. Some things should not be made more accessible. Personally, most of my favorite horror films tend to be a little low key. I prefer atmosphere over violence or gore almost every time. I think horror can be effective without reaching for the gross out lever every five minutes. This early Wes Craven effort, originally titled “Stranger In Our House” is perfect proof of that. While made for television back in 1978, it still managed to capture the audience’s imaginations, and those who saw the film back then still fondly recall it. There’s no visceral imagery. In fact, there’s only one on screen death, and that’s courtesy of an exploding car. But the story is great, the performances are strong, and Craven effectively conjures a bank of atmosphere that keeps your curious piqued.

Linda Blair stars as Rachel Bryant, an equestrian teen whose family opens their home to cousin Julia following the untimely death of her parents. Over time, Rachel is the brunt of bad luck that only seems to benefit Julia. Rachel’s horse, who isn’t particularly fond the new arrival, goers berserk and is sent away. Later, Rachel develops some nasty hives on the eve of a dance, which leads to Rachel’s boyfriend Mike falling in love with Julia. Eventually Rachel discovers a handful of ritualistic ingredients that lead her to believe her cousin is practicing black magic. Even the man whom Julia enlists to help convince her parents of this outlandish theory falls tragically ill, and Rachel knows it’s no coincidence. Just as Julia is on the verge of possessing the family, Julia exposes her, saving the day.

There’s virtually nothing about this film that I do not like. The only weak link this film has is the build up to the twist pertaining to Julia’s true identity. Other than that, Blair turns in a delightfully bratty performance. The absolutely stunning Lee Purcell deals a knockout performance as the hex-savvy belle Julia. The film also provides Fran Drescher’s TV debut as Rachel’s best friend.

This is yet another fine TV horror piece in the tradition of “Gargoyles,” “Bad Ronald,” and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” that takes the less-is-more approach. While it won’t blow you away, “Summer of Fear” is definitely simple, utterly likable, and actually very well made. Though some may dismiss this as too tame, it is easily one of Craven’s most effective in terms of feel, and certainly an overall better quality movie than some of his later work.

The movie was so well-received by the American TV audience that it was later repackaged for a theatrical run overseas as "Summer of Fear." The script itself was based on the 1976 "Summer of Fear" novel by Lois Duncan, who could be called the godmother of the explosively popular young adult novel trend of today. Much of her work has had a profound influence on modern horror, and several of her novels have been turned into popular films, including the unfortunate Kevin Williamson abortion "I Know What You Did Last Summer."

NEW STUFF: AURORA ENCOUNTER (NEW WORLD VIDEO - 1986)

Is it just me, or does it seem in really poor taste to cast a kid with progeria in the part of an alien? Apparently Mickey Hays, a boy who suffered from the disease which prematurely ages you, wound up in this film thanks to the Make A Wish foundation. Hays had requested to star in a real Hollywood production, and so I guess they found him this role. I guess that's cool, but still it seems kind of fucked up to me. I mean, couldn't they have found him the role of an old person rather than a creature from outerspace? I'm not even trying to be tasteless here! That would have seemed more logical! In spite of the fact that "Aurora Encounter" qualifies as a true cinematic oddity, I think sitting through this might drain my powers. The story is based on the alleged Aurora, Texas UFO crash which occurred in 1897, when an airship collided into a windmill. While searching the debris, the citizens discovered the tiny body of what they presumed to be an alien, later dubbed "the martian pilot." This being was supposedly buried in the local Aurora cemetery, which remains a geographical point of intrigue and debate amongst skeptics and UFO enthusiasts.


Thanks to OurManInHavana for the trailer.

STREETS (MGM/UA - 1990)

Here’s something I’m pretty sure no one has said before: this movie is so fucking bad I can’t believe it was made by Concorde. “Streets” is an obvious late wave imitator of Robert Vincent O’Neill’s “Vice Squad” and “Angel,” only with all the elements that made those films so fantastic completely MISSING! The mean streak has been muted. There is no imaginative approach to depravity. The sense of humor is nowhere to be found. And perhaps most importantly, the odd heart which really drives so many of O’Neill’s plots and gives them urgency is not here.

One quickly gathers a sense that writer/director Katt Shea perhaps ambitions of expanding what was intended to be a simple exploitation piece into something that had a real soul and played on social conscience. Unfortunately, just because your film stars human beings doesn’t make it human, and the end result feels like some nagging LifeTime movie. I understand and admire what she was trying to accomplish, but this thing just fails on so many levels. It’s sort of a betrayal of what one might expect from Concorde at this point, because it tries to be ABOVE the sort of film that it’s intended to be. There are moments of frank dialog which are intended to be shocking, especially because they are uttered by the characters in a casual fashion. This might alarm a Mormon house wife, who will sit back and aghast and wonder, “My god, how can she the word ‘handjob’ as if it were a garden variety flower.” To the connoisseurs of 42 street schlock, this is yawn-inducing stuff. Situations intended to be dire or dark just feel too tame in contrast to what its predecessors delivered so many years before.

The other sad component of this dull equation is that you just don’t give a shit about the characters in these situations. They just weren’t developed into people with real stories, and they lack an element that is intrinsic to surviving the worst situations: humor. Sure, these wayward adolescents are shooting drugs and turning tricks, but at some point they chose this lifestyle, more than likely because their home environment was far worse what they’re now facing. None of the characters have a background story, and between them there aren’t any moments of tenderness or happiness. In Penelope Spheeris’ “Suburbia,” the protagonists engage in activity that could be construed as villainous from an outsider’s point of view. In fact, Spheeris could have made a “Suburbia 2” from the perspective of the neighborhood council, and the T.R. characters could have easily been the antagonists. In “Suburbia,” Spheeris provides us with insights into their terrible home lives which makes their assholeishness excusable if not endearing. While the T.R. kids are essentially homeless and plagued by drugs and violence, most of the scenes that depict them functioning as a family are incredibly warm and funny. The characters in “Streets” are written as quirky in attempt to make them seem fun, but it just doesn’t work. The movie radiates a weirdness that makes it compelling, but unfortunately it’s not enough to validate it as a whole.

The movie gets off on the wrong foot by starting with a splat! Teenage prostitute Dawn, played by Christina Applegate, picks up a john, and her life is immediately on the line when the guy tries to kill her. Starting things with a bang is one thing, but this is out of nowhere. Dawn manages to escape with the aid of Sy, a douchebag rich kid (played by David Mendenhall, the pussy kid from “Over The Top”) with a keyboard who happens to be slumming it for the weekend. After a totally bullshit narrow escape, Dawn introduces Sy to the streets and her cast of loser friends. Meanwhile, the john that tried to kill her turns out to be a cop, and he’s hell-bent on revenge. One of the most frustrating things about this film is that they never really establish whether or not this guy is a serial killer, and the only faint hint of motivation for his deeds is a potential impotence problem. Generally, if there’s a killer on the loose, we’re treated to a few news reports, some news clippings, or just something that establishes that a serial killer is contributing to a climate of fear within the community. We get bupkiss here. Still, as unbelievable as this part of the story gets, it’s about the only thing “Streets” has going for it. Never mind the baffling reviews from people who say that this was a well-made, poignant film about the lives of street kids otherwise marred by the shoe horning of a b-movie killer. First off, the acting is hokey as fuck. The characters are poorly developed and their relationships are forced. The writing itself is bland. The score sounds like some Lilith Fair bullshit. The photography and coloring are a poor substitute for true atmosphere. And while the topics are real they are not presented in a realistic fashion. Seriously, it's not good on any level.

After shrugging through the majority of the film, it was the film’s final moments that had me shaking my fist and screaming at the screen. Having thwarted the murderous cop, Dawn and Sy wind up at a bus station, where Sy’s parents wire him bus tickets. Noble Sy wants to rescue his newfound illiterate prostitute junkie girlfriend and give her a new life. However, in much the same fashion that Tarzan shuns society and returns to the jungles to be with the apes at the conclusion of "Greystoke", Dawn decides that the streets are her home and she prefers the comfort of blowing strange dudes for heroin money. What a fucking retard. Anyway, the star crossed lovers say their tearful goodbye and part ways to end the film. But much like Rick and Ilsa have Paris, Sy and Dawn will always have AIDS.

Now, I’m not gonna lie. The only reason I sat through this was because I wanted to see Kelly Bundy’s tits, and it so wasn’t worth the trip. Basically all you get is side boob, and what little you DO get is marred by bad lighting and some romantic piano bullshit. I’d rather that there be no nudity than half-assed nudity. Seriously, this is one of the worst movies about teenage prostitution ever. Skip it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

NEW STUFF: VIKING MASSACRE (MEGA - 1966)

There are very few things in this world that when put together just feel right and natural. Cameron Mitchell as a viking warrior throwing knives at motherfuckers is one of them.

Trailer courtesy of PostDecadentTrailers.

GIRLS NITE OUT (1984 - THORN EMI VIDEO)

Anytime I piece one of my entries together, the first thing I do is a little bit of research on the subject at hand. So much of what I watch has been deemed “obscure” despite the fact that most of these movies had their sites trained on achieving popularity. They weren’t made out of a desire to alienate or drive people away or lose money, but due to various circumstances, such as technical ineptitude or budgetary constraints, they often fell short of most people’s watermark of acceptability. Still, many of these movies are not without their charm, and they certainly have their social value since a lot of them are a reflection of their time’s zeitgeist. Sometimes I run across a film that I find to be legitimately strong that still somehow never quite caught on with the public. Exactly why this happens absolutely fascinates me and compels me to seek out the opinions of others as to why that happened. I need to know why perfectly solid films fail to capture or alienate an audience. In the case of “Girls Nite Out,” IMDb offers evidence that would suggest that most people are just too fucking stupid to get it.

Horror is the most misunderstood of all film genres. Many people love to simplify it as a macabre celebration of the gruesome, which appeals only to angst-drenched, low-brow adolescents with anger issues. While that may account for a segment of the audience, this sad generalization does not exemplify most horror fans. Some may think so, but that’s only because the unintelligent denominator tends to be the most vocal. They will vehemently defend what they love while violently assailing what they hate with a militant idealism. So while there might be some deeply disturbed people out there who love horror, they represent a small minority. Unfortunately, their mongoloid screams are loud enough to convince most people that all horror die hards are unrefined low lives with a craven thirst for simulated violence. These same loud mouth dregs are also primarily responsible for smearing “Girls Nite Out,” a film which refuses to simply ride the mean streak into a ruddy horizon of pornographic “guignol.” In spite of a lot of overwhelmingly negative criticism regarding this film, it DOES deserve a chance to be seen as it contains value not often seen in your average eighties slasher.

The reoccurring descriptor in reviews for this film is “by-numbers.” This is a shallow appraisal made only by obvious people who are probably either prejudiced against this type of film, or by cerebrally challenged types whose bottom line is gross-out violence as opposed to plot of characterization. While “Girls Nite Out” relies on elements that had become clich├ęd even by 1982, the inclusion of these things is wholly intentional. In fact, the creators nearly steer this into parodic territory, but at the same time they demonstrate a genuine affection toward the genre. Despite an atmosphere of light hearted 1950s drive-in nostalgia, the violent portions are gruesome enough to keep things grounded in the realm of serious horror.

The gist of the plot follows a battery of college characters on an annual scavenger hunt hosted by the campus radio station. Amidst the gleeful event, a mystery killer in the school’s hijacked bear mascot costume stalks select participants, bumping them off in grizzly fashion. We’re introduced to several red herrings throughout the course of the story, though several cinematic references spell out the killer’s true identity for you early on.

At a brief glance, the movie seems like your run-of-the-mill slasher flick, but there are actually quite a few things that set this one apart from most others. For starters, the quality of the writing is a lot stronger than you’ll typically find in films of this nature. Ample time is devoted to establishing the characters. Most slasher films toss you some half-ass stereotypes you can't like or even hate. Here, they kill characters that seem like actual people rather than cheap cardboard. The quality of characters is something you might expect from a “Hollywood Knights” type farce. In fact, Newbomb Turk would have been entirely at home within the context of this movie. This film contains humor worthy of a comedy instead of lowly horror-caliber humor, which can be the ruination of many a film in this vein.

Major kudos goes to the production design team, whose attention to fine detail brings much to the film’s atmosphere. The campus setting, too, feels special. The most is made of the environment, but I also cannot recall a lot of films being set on college campuses, perhaps because these sorts of locations can be difficult to secure.

And then there’s the killer, whom most people write off as goofy. As mentioned before, the film’s antagonist wears the university’s mascot costume while dispensing of people with a claw-like murder weapon constructed out of knives. The costume’s benign, almost cutesy design ultimately lends to its creepiness, though. I’d go as far as to say that the concept of using a beacon of school spirit to wreak terror and vengeance upon students is genius. It should not work, but it does.

Hal Holbrook, probably riding the recognition he’d gained from other recent horror outings such as “The Fog” and “Creepshow,” turns in an unintentionally funny performance as campus security chief Jim MacVey. Holbrook’s scenes were shot in a single day and later edited into the film to make it appear as if he is interacting with his co-stars even though he really wasn't. It’s magical.

The film was shot in 1982, but was not released until 1984. The less-inspired original title “The Scaremaker” was replaced with the more evocative and logically fitting “Girls Nite Out.” The trailer for the movie, a favorite amongst cult film fans, was shot years later. The suggestive actress in bed is not in the actual movie.

Trailer courtesy of MediaB.

This was unavailable on DVD until several years ago when Shriek Show released it as part of part of the “Bloody School Girls” three pack, which also included “One Dark Night” and “Blood Sisters.” Not many people seem aware that this DVD exists, but the pack is worth picking up, as it includes an interview with Julia Montgomery, along with the original trailer. The set as a whole is pretty good, with “One Dark Night” being a two disc release which contains the original anamorphic presentation along with a director’s cut. “Blood Sisters” contains a comedy commentary by Joe Bob Briggs, the trailer, and an interview with Roberta Findlay.

Before I end this, I have to touch on the box for the Thorn EMI VHS release. This thing is a work of art that poses minute relevance to the actual movie. The cover features a snap shot of a frightened girl who does not appear in the film, clutching a sheet. Behind that there's a hand scrawled note that contains the highlighted passages, "You know what really turns me on. I LOVE TO BE SCARED!!," "Weird & Kinky," and "Motor Running." Again, the letter has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie. The back of the box features several lithe looking girls in short shorts, posing cautiously. I believe this shot was actually taken from a theatrical poster for the movie. Again, none of these bitches are in the movie. But still, the box rules, and the movie is a must have for any respectable horror collector. Find it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

NEW STUFF: GAS PUMP GIRLS (VESTRON - 1979)

When pump jockey uncle Joe, played by former Bowery Boy Huntz Hall, falls ill and struggles to keep up with his filling station, June and her amply endowed female friends come to his aid. While bare breasts are firmly in place, this feels a little gentler than what you might expect from most films in this vein. Perhaps it's just that it doesn't feel as swarthy as most of the sex comedies that came later. Expect good humor, a surprising list of Hollywood veterans, and a shit load of terrible disco.

Trailer courtesy of Edge Of LA.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

NEW STUFF: MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)

This visually stunning drive-in cheapy is drenched in buckets of mood, and shockingly, the hand that did the hurling is also responsible for "Howard the Duck." This tale of a young woman who ventures to a town to find her missing father has hint of Giallo feel to it, though the blood comes in conservative portions. She is joined by a free spirited couple in her search, and together they discover that something spiritual has infected the locals, converting them into a cult of flesh eaters. Visual elements combined with a general dream-like atmosphere sort of lead me to believe that "Carnival of Souls" was a strong influence.

I obtained a Video Gems copy, which was marked as being very good. Unfortunately, when I got the tape itself, the actual Video Gems art had been butchered. Gone was the spine, while the shape of the front and back sleeves looked like they'd been carved up by a fever-damaged three year old with the aid of safety scissors and teeth. The tape itself was in great condition. I just wish more people would consider the actual quality of the box before saying the quality is anywhere near good. But sadly, this is a hobby for which there is little respect. If someone was trying to sell a first edition of a rare novel, they wouldn't grade it as "mint" if the pages themselves were nice in spite of the fact that the cover and back had feces all over it.

The film was co-written and co-directed by husband and wife team Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, who were both also responsible for the screenplays for "American Graffiti" and "Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom." Worth seeking out.

Trailer courtesy of apparitor2.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

NEW STUFF: DEVIL TIMES FIVE (1974)

This copy of "Devil Times Five," also known as "Peopletoys," comes courtesy of Video Treasures. Filed comfortably under the killer brats subgenre, the encapsulated plot is somewhat hilarious: a bus en route to an asylum crashes, letting loose a bunch of homicidal children who seek refuge in a winter resort, where they naturally start knocking off the guests. A whole lot of fun. Also stars a young Leif Garrett.

Trailer courtesy vertigoflow.

NEW STUFF: THE NINJA WARS (1982)

This was a bonus tape in a small lot I recently won on eBay. Surprisingly, a nice big box copy of the A.N.E. Home Video release. I've never seen this before, but after witnessing the following clip it's become high priority viewing.


The story follows a young Ninja on a quest to save a woman who's been kidnapped by an evil sorcerer with the intention of marrying her to become the rule of the universe, as prophesied. Needless to say, I'm in. Sonny Chiba also co-stars in this film, and is also responsible for the fight choreography. Strangely, the box neglects to mention him.

Trailer courtesy of theunexplainedchannel.

NEW STUFF: MOTEL HELL

Well, I actually DID have this one already, but when I found a big box copy of the MGM/UA release I couldn't pass it up. Prior to that, I'd only had a cut-art version, and then another big box that was sun bleached beyond recognition. But this one is in nice shape. Anyway, this is easily one of the best of the eighties, and perhaps a little ahead of its time. Some call it a horror comedy and others even say it's a parody. There's no denying the sardonic humor, and it's definitely self aware, but it's also highly effective as a horror film at times. How much longer until you think this one gets remade?

Trailer courtesy of sideshowcarny.

NEW STUFF: KARATE COP (1991)

This is actually the sequel to the 1990 snoozefest, "Omega Cop," where Marchini's John Travis rides around in a Jeep rescuing ungrateful women from potentially rapey situations. In the first installment, we learn that the world has been turned into a post apocalyptic wasteland due to ecological disaster. Whoever wrote the script knew dick all about the topic though, as the film treats the Greenhouse Effect like a disease that makes people lose their minds. The fight sequences are visual Xanax, and Marchini's just got nothing going on in terms of charisma. I'm reluctant to subject myself to "Karate Cop," but the trailer seems to have a lot more leather and metal studs, and the plot has something to do with a fighting arena. I'm really torn here.

Trailer courtesy of ActionPackedCinema.

NEW STUFF: PRIVATE WARS (1993)

A down-and-out alcoholic private eye, played by Steve Railsback, intervenes when a corporate tycoon attempts to muscle out the residence of a shitty neighborhood to make room for a high rise. I'm very excited to see Stuart Whitman in this because he looked like he'd been hog-tied by death by 1991, and this is two years later! My instincts tell me that this might be as good as I'd hoped "Ghetto Blaster" would have been.

Trailer courtesy of ActionPackedCinema.