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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.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Night Angel


Night Angel (aka Deliver Us from Evil)
1990
Dominique Othenin-Girard

Lilith (Isa Jank) pulls herself out of hell and sets off to conquer the world by getting on the cover the best selling fashion magazine, Siren. First, she has to kill off its executives for some reason. Craig is an editor who is interested in an up-and-coming jewelry maker/model named Kirstie (Debra Feuer) but he is plagued by visions of something killing off his co-workers. Local bag-lady, Sadie (Helen Martin) seems to know more than she lets on about this whole situation.

Night Angel looks and feels like a late night Cinemax movie gone berserk.  Lift the supernatural elements out of the story and you have the tale of one woman who will stop at nothing to get on the cover of a fashion magazine. It is the kind of tawdry setting that lends itself perfectly to a little sleaze. Now, throw in a succubus, plenty of hearts being ripped out, and a woman with boob faces and you have something that is not only tawdry but also deeply silly and strange. It elevates Night Angel from just being another horny horror movie to something else entirely.

She purchased this little number from the Howling II collection.
Night Angel launches right into things with some monster effects, gore, and a random llama. When we are introduced to our hero, Craig, he’s having nightmares or visions about Lilith’s murder spree. The movie never really bothers explaining this connection. There are hints that Craig is something special to Lilith yet it is never expanded upon, but why would the viewer expect that? This is a movie where the grand plan of the villain is to get the cover of a fashion magazine in hopes of enslaving the world with sex appeal.

The only person in this that I would qualify as a decent actor is Helen Martin as the bag lady/voodoo expert/demon killer. It is an over-the-top role in an over-the-top movie and she steals every scene she is in. Isa Jank as Lilith is worst of the lot, there is nothing seductive or threatening about her demeanor. Sure she is attractive, but her performance is so wooden that it lessens the impact of what should be the most dynamic character in the film. Linden Ashby as Craig is fine, but his role isn’t the most demanding. Karen Black has an all too brief appearance as well.

Statler and Waldorf: After Hours
On the surface, Night Angel sounds like any other 1990s direct to video time waster, but once it gets going it is filled with odd touches. There is an extended nightmare hallucination that features a variety of mutants, faceboobs, and other weirdos. Craig arrives at his office to find everyone in the building is horny, aggressive, having sex in the hallways, and generally standing around being creepy. Craig even has a nightmare about Lilith barfing giant leeches all over him. Lilith’s demon form is a great practical monster costume complete with slime and wings.

Night Angel is ridiculous and engaging. There is a propulsive weirdness about it, and it ends being a fun little gem from the waning days of good direct to video horror. It is a fun oddity that is worth tracking down.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Kuso


Kuso
2017
Steve Ellison

As the rapper Busdriver informs us during the opening musical number, a massive earthquake has devastated Los Angles and the survivors are diseased, mutilated and some have been driven mad. We then spend time with some of these denizens and their bizarre lives, are they still human underneath or have they become something much stranger?

Kuso is a towering edifice to the grossness of the human body. No fluid is left behind as this movie gleefully wallows in all the pus, excrement, blood and seminal fluid it can find. It is rare I see a movie that has no intention of holding back, and Kuso is quite pointed about challenging the viewer with the amount of bodily mess on display. Every so often a film comes along that is heralded as the next ‘endurance’ film, I Spit on Your Grave (1978), Martyrs (2008), A Serbian Film (2010), to name a few. Those movies usually engage in a certain grueling cruelty directed at both its characters and audience. Make no mistake Kuso is often cruel to both as well, but just as often it is absurdly funny as well.

"What do you folks at home think?"
The film is broken up into four vignettes that never fully intertwine but do carry some thematic similarities. These vignettes overlap and are occasionally interrupted by extended animation interludes. Smear, the tale of a young boy and the anus monster he befriends after getting laughed out of school is somehow both disgusting, contemplative, and shockingly rather beautiful at times. Sock tells of a young woman who eats concrete and is told by God to find her baby in a strange tunnel. It is the most horrific of the four, both engaging in Kuso’s now customary poop fetish as well as claustrophobia and body horror. Royal has all the incest and tumor sex you could want outside of a Cronenberg film. Mr. Quiggle is a story that contains mutants who look like they stepped out of Antibirth (2016), abortions, rapping, and a giant insect that lives inside the butt of Parliament-Funkadelic’s George Clinton.

Taco Bell 2099
The movie moves between stories at a pace that isn’t rapid but does keep things interesting. The mood of these stories ranges from haunting to ludicrous and creates a multi-textured kind of storytelling that shines through even all the gross-out muck and upsetting sex. The stories it tells are weirdly lyrical and underneath are driven by characters who are just as broken as their earthquake ruined city. So, despite all the horror and comedy there a definite melancholy tone that serves to unify all of these elements.

Kuso isn’t for everyone, and in fact, I’d venture to say it isn’t for most people. It is a deeply unpleasant film, but it is also a rewarding one those brave enough to venture into its wet confines. I can’t promise you’ll like what you find there, but I don’t think you will forget it any time soon.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Nightflyers


Nightflyers
1987
Robert Collector

A strange signal in space may or may not lead to contact with a mythical alien race. A contact team is assembled and placed aboard a ship that heads out in search of these beings, but little do these passengers know that their pilot, a man who never leaves the cockpit and only communicates via hologram has a terrible secret that might kill the crew before they ever meet any aliens.

Nightflyers starts with a lot of ground to cover and does so in the least interesting way possible. The film needs to convey a number of things, it is set at some point in the future, there are telepaths, there is advanced spaced travel, there may or may not be fabled aliens on the verge of being discovered, there are cybernetics, and there are advanced AI technologies. Rather than demonstrating all of this, Nightflyers indulges in a lengthy voiceover as a single character relates what all of the other characters do and what their personalities are like. It is simultaneously an overwhelming and underwhelming introduction.

"My unitard is bunching up!"
The movie continues in this vein through 2/3 of its run-time. It keeps introducing concepts by telling the audience, but never really ventures beyond that. There are some really intriguing ideas here too, the twisted notion of having a cross-sex clone made to serve both as lover and child, and the idea that rage and jealousy can continue on past the death of a physical body to exist in a machine form, just to name a few. This coupled with a sizable cast of characters is enough for a movie twice as long, but Nightflyers lacks the resources to work with all of its components.

The final third is given solely to our dwindling number of heroes attempting to put a dangerous computer mom to rest. The final act drags on too long, and while there are some inspired moments, including a delightful limb removal via laserbeam scene, mostly it’s a chore to watch. When the final explosion filled climax arrives it is a relief more than an exhilarating moment.

The ensemble cast is quite good, Catherine Mary Stweart, and James Avery almost save Nightflyers from being a complete waste of time. There are far too many characters who are barely sketched out as people to keep the audience engaged, but that fault lies in the writing and not the acting.

My skin is exactly like this in the winter.
Visually the film has an interesting look, the planetside city is an industrial maze, the exterior of the ship is a menacing black art-deco creation that would look equally at home in Alien (1979) or Flash Gordon (1980), the interior, however, looks like the world's most haunted mall complete with pastel colors, bright lights and plenty of fog. It is a combination of looks that could have only come out of the late 1980s and while it is not to everyone’s taste I enjoyed its oddness. Helping that eerie atmosphere immensely is the way that the world seems empty. We don’t see anyone outside of our main characters and the fact that such a vast ship is piloted by a single person is even brought up an issue.

Nightflyers as a concept and setting has a lot of potentials, but the movie continuously wastes them and it ultimately fails as both a science-fiction film and a horror film. The actors do the best with what they have but their efforts are unable to right this ship. The poster is great though, so there is that at least.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Sequence Break


Sequence Break
2017
Graham Skipper

Oz (Chase Williamson) works in a dying arcade game repair shop. While facing the end of his employment there, he meets Tess (Fabianne Therese) a fellow video game enthusiast. The two quickly strike up a romance. A mysterious package arrives for Oz. It contains an arcade motherboard. He places the board in a cabinet and is greeted with a strange game that seems to play with him just as much as he plays with it. Oz becomes obsessed with the game even though it begins to twist his mind and his flesh. Only a strange man who keeps breaking into the shop seems to know the truth.

Sequence Break’s parallels to Videodrome (1983) are obvious, but it also draws upon tales of the legendary Polybius arcade game which may or may not have been some kind of psy-ops experiment by the CIA to create a video game that could affect people minds. In both films, we have a main character who is repeatedly drawn to a form of electronic media that not only alters minds but bodies as well. Sequence Break indulges in some gooey body horror just like its predecessor. It takes a particular delight in presenting a machine made of wood, plastic, and metal then turning it into something pliable, soft, and sticky.

A bad case of vector acne.
Whereas Videodrome lived a world teetering on the brink of some kind of televised apocalypse, Sequence Break features a doom that is much more personal. Oz’s life is on the verge of collapsing, the safe space of his job is ending, he meets a woman who is pushing him out of his isolation, and now this strange arcade machine appears. It hangs in the background as a constant reminder that Oz feels trapped in his life, but at the same time, he doesn’t want to leave what he’s made.

I feel that story falls down in the third act as it begins explaining origins the mystery game. These explanations are delivered by a character referred to in the credits as The Man (John Dian). He is the typical wild-haired seemingly insane person who spouts things about the void looking into you and other such clichés. It really drags on a film that was moving along with its dueling storylines of romance and infection. The game is intriguing enough on its own, it doesn’t need a rote mad creator.

The Final Boss.
Oz and Tess make a good on-screen couple, their interest in one another and their shared classic video game hobby feels authentic. There is a trend to try and overwrite or underwrite women characters who are into typically ‘nerdy’ pursuits and make them obsessive best-of-the-best superfans or girly girls who just like a thing in hopes of landing a man. Tess is neither of those, she likes old video games but it is not the entirety of her being.

Sequence Break has more thought put behind its human characters than you would expect, but it fails its central mystery ever so slightly. The film doesn’t cover new territory but it touches on the 1980s pop-culture revival in a way that reminds us that looking back and living in the past can be a nightmare just a much as it can be a wistful fantasy.