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Friday, June 15, 2018

Demon Resurrection

 
Demon Resurrection
2008
William Hopkins

Grace (Alexis Golightly) lives with her lover John (Damian Ladd) in an isolated house in the woods. Grace’s friends show up to stage an intervention, thinking that John is supplying her with drugs. It turns out that John has in fact rescued her from a demon-worshiping cult, led by a guy named Toth (Will McDonald). The cult would very much like to have Grace back since she is carrying something horrifying in her womb. Grace and her friends soon find themselves under siege from Toth's green glowing horde of zombies.

Demon Resurrection is a good example of a film that wants to honor its 1970s and early 1980s horror roots without mindlessly aping the surface look of those films. Too often modern ‘grindhouse’ movies think they can throw some digital film damage over their shoddily made work and call it retro. Demon Resurrection takes its plot and a few visual cues from films like Burial Ground (1981) and The Blind Dead movies but it is not interested in just copying them under the guise of homage.

"Can you help me with my tie, it feels a bit noose... hahaha noose, get it? Hey where are you going?"
The zombies are very classic in their presentation. They are green glowing skeletons, slow as hell but relentless in their pursuit. They seem almost harmless but show surprising strength when they finally get their hands on someone. Toth is a fun villain, he is the kind of robe-wearing Satan worshiping baddie that is just as much of a delight to watch as it is to see him get his comeuppance. He meets his end in a fashion that wouldn’t be out of place in an E.C. horror comic.

If Demon Resurrection has any singular flaw, it is that it takes too long to get the plot moving. I could understand some viewers getting agitated wading through a few unpleasant side characters and a lengthy sex scene. Once the zombie attack gets underway, the pace and the entertainment pick up considerably.

Thigh of the Living Dead
Our protagonists aren’t nearly as interesting as the bad guys, but are they ever? In particular, there were a few (Mike) that I would have liked to see get torn apart by zombies as soon as possible (Mike). Demon Resurrection isn’t afraid to put its characters through the wringer, and throughout the runtime, I was not exactly sure who was going to make it to the end. I did really like Laurie Miller as Kate. Looking through her IMDB listing, she is primarily a stunt artist, but I thought she made a believably frightened and desperate character and I found myself rooting for her to survive her ordeals with the undead.

Demon Ressurection is low budget but still creates a throwback horror story, but it never descends into pastiche. It sets out to create a story filled with zombies, demon impregnation, evil cults, and plenty of blood. Aside from some pacing issues, it gives birth to some enjoyable horror.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Extra Terrestrial Visitors


Extra Terrestrial Visitors (aka Los Nuevos Extraterrestres aka The Pod People)
1983
Juan Piquer Simón

Tommy (Óscar Martín) is a young boy who lives out in a cabin with his mom Molly (Concha Cuetos) and the garbage human he calls his uncle. Tommy finds a cave filled with pink light and steals a giant egg from it. The egg hatches and a little tube-nosed monster is born. Tommy names the thing Trumpy and tries to make friends with it. Meanwhile, Trumpy’s parent is none too happy about some poachers smashing up all the other eggs and decides to starts busting some heads. There is also a really terrible band on vacation that gets caught up in this mess, but the less said about them the better.

Extra Terrestrial Visitors rose to infamy due to its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000 under the title Pod People, that’s is how I came to know about it and I’m certain that holds true for about 99% of people who have encountered this weird E.T. (1982) rip-off. Extra Terrestrial Visitors was originally intended to be a straightforward horror film, but with E.T.’s astounding success, the creators retrofitted it with cute aliens (not unlike E.T. which was originally intended to be much more of a horror film as well.)

"Got any Plutonian Nyborg, man?"
It should be no surprise that the man who gave us Pieces (1982) directs this film, it certainly shares that film’s complete disregard for tone, placing horror next to whimsical moments. While Pieces is a freewheeling gorefest, Extra Terrestrial Visitors is much more restrained. I can understand the producers wanting to cash-in on E.T. by cutesifying their own aliens, but I can't figure out why they still made them murder machines. Why the Little Dipper, easily the least scary constellation of all time, appears on the victims' foreheads is anyone's guess.

The aliens look supremely goofy and out of place in the moody damp woods where most of the movie is set. Everyone in this film deserves accolades for managing to not only keep a straight face every time one of the creatures is on screen but actually act as if it were a horrifying threat. Remove the aliens from this movie and you actually have something that feels like it had the potential to be decent if overdone stalk and slash horror film, but with the creatures included, you have something that is memorably absurd.

"So you're the reason the shower drain is clogged so badly."
I have a difficult time judging the actors in a film that is dubbed. I will say this much, most of the acting seems passable, but the dubbed voice of Tommy is one of the most irritating sounds imaginable. Viewing can be sheer agony since Tommy has so much screen time with the mute Trumpy.

One of my early theories about this movie was that not only was it drawing from E.T., but there was a healthy attempt to cash in on the television show ALF. Trumpy and its parent have the same basic color, furry body, and a long snout. The difference is one eats cats and the other kills crappy band members. So, I was a little surprised to find that Extra Terrestrial Visitors pre-dates ALF by three years. Extra Terrestrial Visitors does feature a kitten in a few scenes, but the cat goes mostly unmolested. Is it possible that the creators of ALF caught a screening of Extra Terrestrial Visitors somewhere and were inspired? A true mystery from the stars.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Soft Matter


Soft Matter
2018
Jim Hickox

Drs. Kriegspiel (Mary Anzalone) and Grist (Hal Schneider) are researchers conducting secret experiments to find immortality by splicing the genes of sea creatures to human DNA. Haircut (Devyn Placide) is a graffiti artist who is convinced by his friend/manager Kish (Ruby Lee Dove II) to do a last minute installation show about ghosts in a supposedly haunted building. This just happens to be the same building where the experiments are happening… oh, and an angry sea god makes himself known in a mop bucket.

Soft Matter feels in both presentation and content like the love child of Kuso (2017) and Antibirth (2016), it is vibrant, chaotic, absurd, and often gross. It takes the worn SF trope of scientists splicing animal DNA into humans and runs with it, but rarely in a direction you expect.

Street Trash: The Musical
The mutants of the story aren’t especially dangerous, but they are weird and pathetic. The best of these poor creatures is Mr. Sacks (Bradley Creel), a man composed of slime and garbage bags, he also happens to be an avid dancer. While the other mutants in the hospital just have crab arms or are a literal pile of muck in a bed, Mr. Sacks is both unnerving and endearing. The Sea God has an interesting look too and I really enjoyed the physically that Sam Stinson imbued him with. I liked the fact that he seems quite reasonable as an antagonist in the face of the scientists, but when he’s finally unleashed he’s out to kill everyone.

The humans of Soft Matter don’t fare quite as well, the two squabbling scientists begin the movie already stressed and on edge. They have nowhere to go but at each other’s throats. Grist and Kriegspiel don’t like each other and don’t really give the audience much to root for either. I will admit that I found Kriespiel’s attempt to explain to the Sea God why she will never give up the search for immortality showed more depth than I expected. Much more fun is Haircut and Kish, neither of whom seemed terribly phased by the strange things happening around them. Both Ruby Lee Dove II and Devyn Placide give wonderful performances, they had a dissociated laid-back quality and played off each other very well.

"The shape of water is the imprint of my foot in your ass."
Soft Matter is deliberately strange and very happy to revel in it, but I think it was a smart move to not be too self-aware of the fact.  There are lengthy dance numbers, the face of a god speaking from a mop bucket, and lots of off-kilter line deliveries, but it is all presented in a very matter-of-fact manner. I think anything too hyperkinetic or fourth-wall breaking would have turned a quirky story into an irritating one.

Soft Matter is more of an absurdist horror film than it is a straight-up comedy. There are plenty of campy moments and fun gross-out gags. This isn’t a film that will appeal to everyone, but if you like your sea creature based DNA mutant movies nice and weird Soft Matter is a fine choice.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Island of Terror


Island of Terror
1966
Terrance Fisher

On a remote island, Constable Harris (Sam Kydd) makes a horrifying discovery, a local farmer is found dead, his corpse is boneless. A local physician, Dr. Landers (Eddie Byrne) doesn’t know what to make of it and ends up recruiting Dr. Stanley (Peter Cushing) and Dr. West (Edward Judd) from a London University to the case.  Soon they discover that a cancer research lab on the island has suffered a terrible accident and has unleashed a dangerous new lifeform, The Silicates.

A great monster is a kind that horrifies by its very existence. I won’t say that the killer giant cells of Island of Terror are the most dramatic screen creatures ever filmed, they just kind of sit there and waggle their tentacles most of the time, but what they do and how they feed is supremely horrific. The idea of the creatures is great even if the execution isn’t wholly successful. Thankfully, director, Terrance Fisher is no slouch when it comes to using monsters effectively, and manages to turn these potentially laughable creatures into something menacing.

Hangovers after 25.
Peter Cushing plays Dr. Brian Stanley, and although not promoted as the lead of the film he easily steals every scene he’s in. Cushing attacks the material with the gravitas he is known for but he also manages to inject quite a bit of humor in his role. This both gives the outlandish story some reality and then takes just a little bit of the edge off of a grim situation. Dr. Stanley is the kind of person who laughs off his own dismemberment.  Edward Judd as Dr. David West is fine, but his character is saddled with the romantic sub-plot and it drags his character down. Carol Gray’s performance as Toni Merill is very charming, but it is unfortunate that she is initially introduced as very forward and adventurous only to have her reduced to being a screaming target for most of the film.

Bio-Roomba
The uncut version of Island of Terror features a fair amount of gore, limbs are chopped off, bodies are cut open in the morgue, and we are also treated to a fair number of floppy boneless corpses. The Silicates are mostly inert blobs, but they still manage to be disgusting with their gooey cellular mitosis and loud continuous slurping when they feed on bones. There is also a healthy amount of suspense as we build towards the characters’ first encounter with a monster. These moments work the best as our heroes face the unknown and the possibilities are infinite. One final note is that the solution to defeating the monsters has an unexpectedly cruel edge to it.

Island of Terror is a serviceable enough horror film. The giant cells and their rubbery victims could have turned this movie into another b-movie goof, but Cushing and Fisher do their all to hold it all together. With this being a 1960s UK production, it features just a little more gore, sexual innuendo, and thought behind its monsters then a comparable US production of the time. Island of Terror doesn’t revolutionize SF-Horror but it manages to entertain.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Prey


Prey (aka Alien Prey)
1977
Normal J. Warren

Josephine (Sally Faulkner) and Jessica (Glory Annen) are lovers who are hidden away on an overgrown estate. Their relationship is strained by Jessica’s desire to go out and have sex with other people. If that wasn’t enough, a man named Anders appears on their grounds. He seems distant and confused most of the time, also not at all forthcoming with the fact that he’s a shape-changing monster here on Earth to size up its invasion prospects.

Prey mixes and sex and SF/Horror to some middling results. Director, Norman J. Warren would later go on to direct Horror Planet (1981) (or its much better title Inseminoid ) which was also an attempt at merging these elements. Prey is a much more serious venture and as a result, it lacks the camp value that made Horror Planet mostly tolerable. That is not to say Prey is terrible but its presentation is dour throughout as the viewer is trapped in an unpleasant situation with three unlikable people, while we wait too long for the inevitable reveal of the monster.

"What is this human thing called kissing? Oh, and am I drinking Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut? It is a delight."
A film set in a single location with only three principle characters lives or dies on those performances. I think all three actors do the best with what they are given. Sally Faulkner has the most interesting character in Josephine, a woman who is controlling but losing her grip on her lover and is now faced with a person whom she doesn’t know how to deal with. Glory Annen’s Jessica is bratty, loud, and often annoying. Perhaps that was the intent, but then I have to wonder how or why someone like Josephine would put up with her for very long. It makes sense that the Anders, as an alien, is the hardest to pin down as a characterization. His behavior is truly odd, he doesn’t know what most things are, expect he can occasionally figure it out from context. He is also a terrible swimmer which is played out in a ludicrously long slow-motion scene. Anders never feels like a threat until he is one, which perhaps the cleverest element of this whole film.

Prey brings with it the promise of sex and horror, but in reality, it is restrained with both of them. I have to commend Warren on at least making an effort to show sex between Josephine and Jessica in a more naturalistic way rather than making it an exploitative moment. It isn’t wholly successful in that regard but for a low budget horror movie from the 1970s, it's remarkable. There isn’t much in the way of on-screen bloodletting save for a couple of moments. They aren’t bad, but the horror feels very undercut by Anders silly black doggie nose as he transforms.

Walkies?
The real question about Prey is, what is the subtext here? Are all of our characters predators and prey in some fashion? Does Josephine prey on the young Jessica, while Jessica, in turn, preys on Anders, who’s planning on eating them both anyway? Does Anders represent the predatory masculinity that Josephine fears? Whatever the actual undercurrent is here, it feels very muddled.  Just when the movie seems to ponder its interpersonal dynamics too long it quickly reminds you this mostly about a flesh-eating werewolf from space who hangs out with some lesbians for a couple days.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Beach Girls and the Monster


Beach Girls and the Monster
1965
John Hall

Richard (Arnold Lessing) has abandoned his potential career as a scientist to hang out on the beach with his friends and become a surf bum. His father, Dr. Otto Lindsay, a world-renowned oceanographer, is not happy about this at all. When a woman is mauled on the beach, evidence points to a giant “fantigua fish” that can survive on land. The killer fish is targeting Richard’s friends, and there might be more to this monster than anyone expects.

In horror history, there has often been a connection between the beach and monsters. It is a natural fit, horror often rises out of the ocean, and the beach is often filled with vulnerable teenagers in various states of undress. The water and the sand can hide all manners of terror. Through the 1950s and 60s beach culture even had its own popular associated music style in surf rock, a subgenre that happily embraced horror icons and strange imagery. Beach horror movies such as Beach Girls and the Monster mix a healthy dose of camp along with their scares, and it can be a difficult balance to achieve.

"No really, I'm scary. Hey... stop laughing and come back here."
Beach Girls and the Monster opens with some excellent vintage surf rock while bikini-clad women dance away. One of the girls wanders off to an isolated cave (like you do) only to be attacked and killed by a rubbery seaweed clad creature. The attack is slightly more graphic that was the norm at this time, featuring a clawed face with some blood on it. This is a jarring tonal shift from the frolicking earlier, and it’s very well played. It demonstrates to the viewer that despite the goofy surfing elements, the horror should be taken seriously.

Sadly, Beach Girls and the Monster can’t maintain that mix of camp and horror. It slips into some surfing time-filler, hilariously inept rear-projection, thirty-year-olds acting like beach going teens, and some unexpected lion puppetry. The central dramatic struggle in all this is Richard’s desire to be a surfer rather than a scientist much to the chagrin of his father. He also has to keep his step-mom from putting the moves on him, which is weird and a far more interesting development that the movie doesn’t explore beyond setting her up as a victim of the monster.

LOOK OUT A GIANT CAR!
Even though Beach Girls and the Monster doesn’t hold up as a horror movie, as a goofball rubber monster movie it has plenty of charm. The monster is just ridiculous enough, the terrible driving scenes are just astounding enough, and a last-minute plot twist that is both irritating and a little subversive give the movie its own unique flavor that keeps it from being another forgettable b-movie.

At just seventy minutes long, Beach Girls and the Monster surfs on by very quickly, if you can’t enjoy the legitimate attempts at horror or the pitfalls of the actual production you can always sit back and listen to a really perfect surf rock soundtrack.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Cross of the Seven Jewels



Cross of the Seven Jewels
1987
Marco Antonio Andolfi

Marco (or Eddy in the English dub) is visiting Naples when the jeweled cross he wears on his neck is stolen by two hooligans on a motorcycle. Desperate to get it back, he follows the trail of these criminals, which quickly leads him up the chain of a crime ring. These criminals, of course, are not too interested in helping poor Marco, but little do they know that Marco is in fact, half monster and that if he doesn’t get his cross back by midnight, bad things are going to happen.

I went into Cross of Seven Jewels half-expecting it to be a werewolf movie judged solely on the few images of it I had seen.  That all went out the window pretty quickly. I mean, I wasn’t wrong, it is kind of like a werewolf movie in that our main character is afflicted with a time sensitive monstrous condition, but beyond that, Cross of the Seven Jewels is invested in being extremely cheap and weird according to its own rules. I don’t know what you would classify this movie as other than a Satanic Psychic Werewolf Sex Fiend horror film.

It's sad when a werewolf can't grow a beard.
 As any film worth your time will do, Cross of the Seven Jewels opens with a devil worshiping Wookee orgy. Right away, you can tell this is a film that exists in the decline of the Italian genre explosion of the 1980s, the sets and costumes look threadbare and even the grim sheen of a terrible transfer onto VHS can’t enhance it. Director and star, Marco Antonio Andolfi’s monster costume consists of a half a wolf head and some claws, beyond that he doesn’t have a stitch on. So, I hope you like plenty of bare butt with your monster because Marco is looking to show his off.

So you have a hairy mostly nude man-monster, who growls and has teeth and claws, he is surely going to rip and tear people apart, right? Wrong. Marco might crash through the occasional window, but his method of killing is mostly hands off. He stands and stares making animal sounds until the laser effects and glowing kicks in, then he melts a low-level criminal’s face with his mind. Later he’s back to throwing people through tables and strangling naked fortunetellers... so what did that first criminal do to warrant his own personal face removal?

"You call that a fortune?"
The music is a mix of orchestral bits and some oddly bouncy and uplifting synthesizer tunes. I don’t know if any of it was designed with this movie in mind, it all seems cobbled together to fit whatever scene they could stick into. It adds an off-kilter accent to a movie that already teeters out of control from the first frame.

Cross of the Seven Jewels offers 82 minutes of virtually plotless lewd entertainment. You never know what’s coming next but I’m fairly certain the filmmakers had no idea either. This film is easily the best and worst bare-assed werewolf based satanic horror show you are ever going to witness.