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Friday, November 15, 2019

Nacho Chihuahua


Nacho Chihuahua
2001
Jim McCullough, Sr

The world of talking dog movies, no-budget shot-on-video (SOV) shelf fillers, and mockbuster rip-offs collide in the movie, Nacho Chihuahua. Wait, is it actually a movie? It only runs thirty-five minutes long, and I would hesitate to say it has an actual plot. It also has Jared Watson and Stacey Wallace performing some pretty racist accents as the dogs, Nacho and Nina. So, this not a movie you can enjoy in the traditional sense, it is far too cheap and poorly made for that. This is a movie you watch to see a complete mess unfold in front of you. In the end, you might appreciate it, should that kind of thing appeal to you.

It appeals to me.

One look at the cover and it is apparent that this movie was designed as a cheaply made talking animal movie that would hook unsuspecting parents and kids into thinking they were renting a Disney movie or at the very least something Disney-esque enough to keep the kids quiet for ninety… *checks notes*  I mean thirty-five minutes. Sure the dogs are cute and in general kids' standards are low, but I can’t imagine Nacho Chihuahua would hold even the dullest child’s attention for very long.


"Yo quiero una mejor pelicula."
Nacho Chihuahua was also created as a way to cash in on the then-popular Taco Bell dog known for saying, "¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!" Hence the atrocious faux-Mexican accents and notorious moments like Chip (or is it Nacho? The film seems confused on this issue) only eating dog food if it includes a tortilla and a jalapeno. There is also a whole mountain of white people trying to use Mexican stereotypes. There is a musical number about half-way through called, “Don’t Cry for Maria, El Nina” which is as wonderfully terrible as you can imagine. This short film simultaneously appalls and delights with its incompetence.

Speaking of incompetence, the story consists of Nacho (Chip?) desiring to go back to South of the Border, no not Mexico the country but a real (racist) theme park in South Carolina where apparently they tell kids that possums are actually giant rats and you can just grab a chihuahua out of an open box and take it home. Chip's (Nacho's?) adventures take him and his girlfriend Nina around town but ultimately the story just gives up at the thirty-one-minute mark and has both dogs find their owners, never even getting close to their destination. The whole thing just kind of ends with a shrug.

If the credits of Nacho Chihuahua are to be believed this was directed by Jim McCullough, Sr. the man responsible for Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1983), The Aurora Encounter (1986), and Video Murders (1988). Those movies are not spectacular but they are competently directed. There’s only so much you can do with two chihuahuas and a package of hotdogs to make them go where you want, but McCullough worked with what he had, resulting in a movie that at least has some recognizable images. It’s not much but Nacho Chihuahua sets the bar very low.

When the best thing in a movie is a random monkey you've got problems.
In the end, it’s fun? I think? I have an affinity for really awful talking animal movies and there is something delightful about watching this trashy attempt to cash in on larger trends flail around. There is a kind of affable hucksterism here that will be perfected in places like The Asylum, but it also retrains its homemade SOV roots.

This review wouldn't be possible without the work done over at http://feedyourvcr.com/. So give it a look and you should definitely pick up your copy.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Vibrations




Vibrations
1996
Michael Paseornek

T.J. (James Marshall) is the leader of a garage band destined for its first big gig. On the way to the show, he runs afoul of drunk rednecks who accidentally crush his hands while destroying his car. With his musical career in shambles, T.J. runs away and lives on the streets of New York. There he meets Animkia (Christina Applegate) who works at a local dance club. Anamika and her roommates use what they have to build T.J. a set of mechanical hands and the techno superstar known as Cyberstorm is born.

I do my best to go into any movie holding on to the chance that it will hold something valuable or at least memorable. I went into Vibrations expecting to goof on it just a little bit, the plot description alone felt earnest and 1990s enough that I knew it was going to be hokey and silly. I was correct, Vibrations is overly serious and sincere to a fault and it utilizes many tropes of its era, but it also won me over with those aspects. Perhaps that’s just the nostalgia talking.

I went to college in the 1990s, and while grunge was held up as the musical signifier of my generation,  I really found my connection in techno. The scene had been long established and the music was finally breaking into the mainstream around 1996 with MTV dedicating more air time to ‘electronica.’ Living in the Midwest I had zero access to any real rave scene and living with anxiety kept me from going to any dance clubs, so my explorations of electronic music were largely confined to buying CDs out of the tiny techno section of my local music store and listening to them as I drove around. This might have been an atypical way to engage in music that primarily designed for large groups on drugs, but its what I had. I have always been taken by the energy and emotiveness that electronic music can communicate from the seemingly cold confines of technology. It can be joyful, angry, and often irreverent. Surprisingly, Vibrations manages to tap into some of this emotion for me.

"I don't know how to get these things out of demo mode."
The scene of T.J. losing his hands never shows anything graphic but it is still played for horror. His recovery and depression are handled with a seriousness I wasn’t expecting. This grates against the sillier parts of the movie that come in later with the jokey roommates and the creation of the robot hands, but it still manages to keep an emotional honesty threaded throughout the story. T.J. suffers through crippling depression and alcoholism after his accident, but he still rises to the occasion in an emergency. These brief heroic interludes keep the movie from being a dour slog as we wait for him to get his mechanical hands.

Vibrations displays a very sanitized image of rave culture and in fact only really gives it the briefest touch, since this is a film from 1996 it wouldn’t be complete with taking some time to talk about Generation X and virtual reality. It is a very shallow time capsule of popular culture from the time, but the film means what it says, it just doesn’t allow itself much time to say these things. The underbelly of 1990s media is here too, we have quite a few men who harass and assault women and every character is safely straight and white. There is an interesting side plot where T.J.’s friend and serial sexual harasser, Simeon (Scott Cohen) confronts Anamika’s boss about attempts to coerce her into sex. I would like to think this was an attempt at character growth but the moment is never expanded on.

Ravebot or Doctor Who costume? You decide.
It also wouldn’t be a movie about techno and raves without some music and Vibrations pulls out some fun tracks. I found my head bobbing to those moments and with a decent sound system that music still delivers. T.J.’s Cyberstorm persona adds some much needed visual flair to the proceedings. It’s during these moments that Vibrations transcends its own hokey rags to riches story and becomes something engaging and fun.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Satan's Triangle


Satan’s Triangle
1975
Sutton Roley

Coast Guard officer Lt. Haig (Doug McClure) boards a derelict vessel in the middle of the ocean. His helicopter co-pilot, Pagnolini (Michael Conrad) must leave to refuel. Onboard Haig finds a few dead bodies, one thrown through the hull, another hanging from the mast, and the third… well, the third is in a very strange position. He also finds a survivor named Eva (Kim Novak). Eva recounts the events leading up to the deaths of the crew and it all begins with finding a priest lost at sea…

Satan’s Triangle brings together two of the 1970’s favorite fads, The Exorcist (1973) and The Bermuda Triangle. The fit is surprisingly smooth considering these two things are seemingly unrelated. Satan’s Triangle leans heavily on mystery for its first half and it is this section that is the strongest. The film holds on long lingering scenes of Doug McClure moving through the strangely empty boat, the only sounds are the wind and the distant rotors of the Coast Guard helicopter. The two obvious corpses are a tip-off that something bad is afoot, but Satan’s Triangle manages to up the mystery with something even stranger below deck.


We're imps.
The middle section is largely a flashback to the events that lead up to the present mystery and it is where the film starts to drag. None of the boat passengers or crew are particularly interesting. Things pick up once they rescue a priest from the ocean. Since this movie has Satan in the title it is isn’t difficult to discern the true intentions of Father Martin (Alejandro Rey). Haig stretches credulity by coming up with commonplace explanations for all the corpses. He seems neither sufficiently skeptical or desperate enough to completely ignore the strange things happening around him for this to a believable reaction. There is the consideration that he’s only doing it to calm down the lone ship survivor, Eva, so that he can have sex with her, but this is ambiguous.

The weakest element of Satan’s Triangle is in the motivations of its villain. Throughout the film, we are shown that Satan tempts to cajole others into indulging in their sins and then killing them. This sets up the wonderful twist ending, but the path there is muddy. We get a few words about Haig’s lecherousness but then nothing until the end of the second act. We get a mention of his co-pilot’s boring piousness which also becomes a factor near the end, but we are only told about it, we spend so little time with him that we don’t get to see it.

"Oh hi, a totally normal person here... yep, nothing weird going on. Can I get on your boat?"
Despite this flaw when Satan’s Triangle hits its climax, the story pulls several welcome surprises on the audience culminating in a chilling finale that still holds up over forty years later. I was under the impression that television movies especially skewed towards softer endings so as not upset the potentially broad audience that was watching them, but Satan’s Triangle proves this is not always the case. Satan’s Triangle is a minor gem for horror fans and I would recommend it for some late-night TV viewing.

Friday, October 25, 2019

This House Possessed


This House Possessed
1981
William Wiard

At the outset, broadcast TV movies are at a disadvantage because they have to obey FCC rules and regulations which can hamper the content and they have to have commercial breaks that can interrupt the flow of the story. So a good genre TV movie needs to operate as a series of vignettes with mini-cliffhangers leading up to each commercial break. A haunted house film works well in this structure as we often get the slow escalation of supernatural events which break and then start to escalate again. This House Possessed proves to utilize this structure well and ends up being a better than average entry.

This House Possessed is the story of Gary Straihorn (Parker Stevenson) a musician suffering from mental and physical exhaustion. He takes a liking to a nurse named Sheila Moore (Lisa Eilbacher) and takes her on as his private attendant. Together they move into a high tech mansion isolated from a small town. Once there, strange events begin to occur and houseguests begin to die. What is the secret of this house?

Welcome to PTV, all Parker Stevenson all the time.

This House Possessed throws out a couple of false leads in hopes of keeping the narrative alive, although things do sag in the middle, it largely succeeds. Throughout the early part of the film, we see a television and security monitors seemingly watching events occurring far away. Later we are shown that these screens exist in the house that Gary and Sheila move into. Is something watching them or is there a human hand behind the strange events? Also, there is something surprisingly eerie about a television showing someone’s personal life to no one in a dark room.

The second narrative trick the film uses is to switch up the central protagonist. At the start, this looks like it’s going to Gary's story, but slowly it is unveiled as Sheila’s, it is her history that is tied up with the house. The turn had the potential to really shake things up but the execution is muddled through some terrible exposition. The answers to several questions are dumped on us by local oddball Margaret (Joan Bennett), but it comes very late in the story and what she has to say isn't surprising in the least.

This house comes equipped with a Bathory 5000.
The real horror of This House Possessed are the musical numbers that Parker Stevenson sings, usually in an unbuttoned shirt. The songs are bad… really bad. They are the worst kind of vapid soft rock that might have passed muster in 1981 but they have not aged well and they drag the progress of the story down with them. The character of Gary is annoying and it is a welcome change when the story moves its focus to Sheila. Lisa Eilbacher is earnest and believable as someone who is thrown into a situation they can barely comprehend and need to find a way to escape.

This House Possessed is a decent TV horror film that offers some terrible music but some surprisingly good twists and even a chill or two.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Haunted


The Haunted
1991
Robert Mandel

The Haunted is a made-for-television film that was broadcast on U.S. Fox affiliates in May of 1991. It is the dramatic retelling of the ‘Smurl Haunting.’ It follows a pretty standard plot for a haunted house film, the family moves into a house, there’s a ghost or demon there, and the family battles it. They bring in investigators, priests, and try to solve the problem themselves, but ultimately it’s the family's unity that helps them to survive.

The Haunted works as a horror story because it keeps its monstrous encounters sharp and strange. There is never a proper explanation for what has made the Smurl family a target. There is also horrific imagery that is quite striking, the best one being a shot of something flapping and raging around in the house while the family is away camping. There is also a demonic rape scene that comes as quite a surprise for a show meant for mainstream broadcast television.

The Ugly House Haunting would have been too on the nose for a title.

I honestly like the look of The Haunted, it has a very bland, flatly lit appearance. It in no way could ever be mistaken for a theatrical film. That blandness makes the demonic attacks feel even more out of place, it feels like Satan attacking a sitcom. The special effects occupy that unusual time period where video effects were bridging practical and CGI. They have a very distinctive look, not a terrible one, but one that is particular to this era of genre television.

“The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he doesn’t exist.”

This often-repeated line makes an appearance in The Haunted. What is interesting is that the film makes a similar trick happen. It would be very easy for someone watching this for the first time on television with the assorted distractions of commercials and things happening in their own house to see the religious elements grow more and more prominent in the story and eventually be the device that saves the Smurl family.

But they don't.

The truth is that all the attempts by the church, priests, the family, and the community fail to remove the demon. The priests that get involved are either ineffective or oblivious, screaming at the forces in the house from the family fails to stop anything, and no amount of candle holding and hymn singing by anyone from the church helps. Even legendary hucksters The Warrens (of The Amityville Horror and The Conjuring (2013) fame) are unable to help. The Smurls are still abused by whatever is in their house and it even follows them to their next house. The power of Christ compels you? Not so much it seems.
THE POWER OF HAIRSPRAY COMPELS YOU.

The Haunted is a great made-for-television horror film, it moves at a quick pace and offers some genuine chills. It is a haunted house movie that is very much worth checking out.


Watch the Haunted on YouTube!



Friday, October 11, 2019

The Halloween That Almost Wasn't/Garfield’s Halloween Adventure


The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t (aka The Night Dracula Saved the World) (TV Special)
1979
Bruce Bilson

The Halloween that Almost Wasn’t (and let’s be the fair, the VHS re-title, The Night Dracula Saved the World is much better), is aimed squarely at younger kids. It isn’t the least bit frightening and although Dracula might make the occasional joke about being dead, none of the other monsters are threatening. The story is smart enough to make a point of this as Dracula grouses that his fellow monsters have sold out and are no longer scary. This interesting element is dropped in favor of a plot about the Witch’s demands for a bigger role and more authority, lest she not fly over the moon and begin Halloween. This too could be pretty interesting, the one woman in the bunch fighting for recognition could be a fun stab at old-world monsters running up against more modern thought. The Halloween that Almost Wasn’t doesn’t really explore this story much either and instead just milks it for some physical comedy and a finale set at the disco.

"Is that a broomstick or are you just happy to see me? Blah."
The Witch is seemingly unwilling to budge on having her various demands met at least until two children come by and tell her that she is their favorite monster. She immediately acquiesces. I guess the moral here is ‘who cares if you’re treated unfairly as long as you make someone happy?’ Maybe I’m expecting too much out of 25 minute Halloween time-filler designed to take up space in between local drug store commercials.

"Spell it right, two v's at the beginning."
This is a TV movie from the late 1970s and looks like it. The sets feel cheap, most of the monster costuming is acceptable but only just so. Judd Hirsch actually makes a fun Dracula, constantly put-upon and stubborn. He wields a Lugosi accent without overdoing it. Mariette Hartley as the witch turns in a fun no-nonsense performance as she proves to be more than a match for Dracula. The rest of the monster cast is woefully underused, especially Henry Gibson as Igor who is a delight for the few scenes he’s allowed to command.


Garfield’s Halloween Adventure (TV Special)
1985
Phil Roman

Garfield now exists in the popular consciousness as almost more meme than character, so it is strange to go back to a time when the franchise was a cultural landmark, and it's even stranger to see it possessing actual quality. A warm Halloween spirit fills this cartoon through some better than average animation and lovely watercolor backgrounds. There is a distinct feeling of effort being put forth there, something seems lacking in any modern incarnation.

Extreme gore.
Lorenzo Music does some great work here making Garfield sardonic without making him cruel, and even letting him loosen up to have some fun during the holiday. There are some odd musical numbers by Lou Rawls that I assume only exist because a certain strain of people think all children’s cartoons need musical numbers.

Yeah, that's not terrifying.
The story starts out with some typical comedic moments as Garfield and Odie pick out their costumes and go trick-or-treating, Things take a sinister turn in the second half, as they end up in an isolated house, meet a creepy old man, and some eerie spectral skeletons appear. The old man is much more realistic looking than the main characters and the skeletons are animated in a fluid haunting way that is played for scares. It’s a surprising and refreshing reminder that kids can and do like to be scared a little. I was surprised as hell to see a Garfield cartoon treat its young audience with some respect. Garfield’s Halloween Adventure isn’t held in as high regard as many kids’ Halloween specials but it deserves to be.

Nope, not terrifying at all.

Friday, October 4, 2019

TerrorVision (TV Series)



TerrorVision
1988
7 episodes

At this point, the film, TerrorVision (1986) has crawled it’s way out of VHS obscurity to become a minor cult hit, especially after the recent Shout Factory Blu-ray showed off how well it captures the neon and slime of mid-1980s horror. In 1988 that TerrorVision was something you might rent if you were adventurous or if everything else you wanted to rent was already gone. You may have, in fact, turned your cable box on to the Lifetime channel while fiddling with your VCR to watch Terrorvision when you caught the other TerrorVision.

This TerrorVision has no relation to the film. It is a series of separate ten-minute long horror stories that were used to fill time in between programming on the Lifetime network. The stories themselves are very simple and feel like the natural extension of 1950s horror anthology comics which would often feature 4-5 stories an issue. They waste no time getting to the premise and rush to a conclusion. It isn’t groundbreaking television by any stretch of the imagination, but it is competent and occasionally even fun.


"Ugh... please tell me you have some eye drops on you."

The seven episodes are as follows:
  • The Closet Monster – A child is convinced there is a monster in his closet, his parents are not so sure.
  • Final Edition – A woman and her jerk-ass cat named Kirk are alone in a house… or are they?
  • The Craving – A man with a toothache picks the wrong dentist.
  • Reflections of a Murder – The most serious of the lot, a man kills his partner and is then haunted by a reflection. 
  • One of a Kind – A young woman comes to a clothing store for a modeling job, sadly, she gets it.
  • A Cold Day in July – A gambler gets into debt and kills to keep it quiet. 
  • Rosemary’s Lot  - A pathologist in love is haunted by a hand in a jar.

Of the set, The Craving is the one that I remembered the most from seeing it on TV as a child, mostly for the groan-inducing joke at the end. Final Edition has some legitimately good use of foreground and background framing to keep the stalker an ever-present but unseen threat. A Cold Day in July’s ending is so rushed that I actually had to rewind it just to see what happens at the climax.  There aren’t any real clunkers in the set, but nothing I would call outstanding either.

I was a Basic Cable Vampire
I find the look of these episodes interesting as well. They are shot on video and often have this brightly lit soap opera look that makes all murders and supernatural happenings feel even stranger. The look of TerrorVision isn’t far off from the television show, Freddy’s Nightmares which began airing around the same time. It’s brightly lit and cheap-looking, but cheap-looking can often work in a horror story’s favor.

TerrorVision is a quirky little moment of horror television that is all but forgotten, if you have ten minutes to spare or are a television horror completist, it’s definitely worth checking out an episode or seven.

Watch TerrorVision here!