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It’s often been remarked that the cannibal movie is the only wholly original subgenre of Italian exploitation cinema — lord knows they didn’t invent the western, the Star Wars knock-off, the Alien knock-off, the Road Warrior knock-off, etc. , even if they trafficked pretty heavily in all of them — and while that’s probably true, it doesn’t mean that many, or even most, Italian cannibal films were all that original in and of themselves once the template of “what these things are like” had been set.

In fact, by the time 2003 rolled around and rip-off artist extraordinaire Bruno Mattei — the guy who gave us such uber-sleazy semi-classics as Hell Of The Living Dead and Rats : Night Of Terror, here working under the pseudonym of “Vincent Dawn” — made his way to the Philippines to direct two ultra-low-budget shot-on-video numbers that would be among the last entrants in the cannibal oeuvre, there hadn’t been anything “new” about these sorts of flicks for a couple of decades. Still, the more (in)famous of this pair of cheapies, Mondo Cannibal, is such a blatant riff on Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 seminal work Cannibal Holocaust that it was released (on video, naturally — to my knowledge no theater has ever screened either this film, or its “companion” piece, In The Land Of The Cannibals) in some markets as either Cannibal Holocaust : The Beginning or the only-slightly-more-verbose Cannibal Holocaust 2: The Beginning (depending on which country you found it in, you may also have seen it under the title of Mondo Cannibale or Cannibal World).

Just how derivative is it, you ask? Consider : the plot centers around an ethically compromised (to put it very kindly) crew of documentarians/journalists who purportedly travel to “the Amazon jungle” to show the world that no matter how far we like to think we’ve come, there still exist “savages” who eat the flesh of other humans. Along the way, in order to “prove” their “man is still an animal” thesis, they engage in behavior so reprehensible (mostly in terms of staging scenes for maximum dramatic impact) that it puts even the cannibals themselves to shame and the end result is a film that proves that “civilized” man is more cruel, shameless, and outright sleazy than his more “uncivilized” brethren could ever dream of being.

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If all that isn’t enough to give you a distinct sense of deja vu, then consider that among  the atrocities they either witness and/or concoct we have  a diseased woman being torn apart while her unborn fetus is violently ripped from her (Mattei actually opens the film with this), setting fire to the huts of the cannibal village in order to provoke a panic, and the above-pictured scene where they find a dead girl tied to a bamboo pole (okay, so she’s not actually impaled on it, but still — it’s pretty clear where they got the idea from). Does it all seem familiar enough for ya yet?

Basically, the whole modus operandi Mattie appears to be employing here is to check as many boxes off the list of things Deodato did first, minus the animal cruelty, which certainly wouldn’t fly in the 21st century. And, I suppose, to do it all for a lot less money and in a lot less time.

Does that mean Mondo Cannibal isn’t fun to watch? Actually, that’s not what I’m saying at all — it’s so nakedly derivative that is really is quite an enjoyable romp (at least if you’re a sick fucker like me), and its shortcomings in terms of production values are well worth a laugh. whether they come in the form of bad dubbing, inexplicably weird dialogue translations (such as when former “star” reporter Grace Forsyte (Helena Wagner) offers former “star” photojournalist Bob Manson (Claudio Morales) — who certainly lives up to his character’s  last name in terms of harboring a twisted persona — not a million bucks, but “a million quails at a buck a head”), or half-assed translations such as the one pictured below that introduces a flashback sequence and should read “some months before” :

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In all honesty, though, I’d be lying if I said this flick was good for much beyond that. Wagner — who quickly exited the movie business after this — is certainly easy on the eyes and has a bit of natural “leading lady” charisma about her, but most of what comes out of her month — err, mouth — is so weirdly discombobulated that its hard to tell whether or not she can carry a film. Likewise, Morales and the other members of his “squad” are saddled with such a bunch of nonsense for lines that one can’t accurately judge whether or not they’re capable of anything like “quality” work, either — although in the aforementioned abortion-and-dismemberment scene, he does look like he might be getting ready to shoot a load off in his pants, so that’s at least —- I dunno, memorable, I guess, even if for all the wrong reasons.

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Still, if all you’re in the mood for is wretched sleaze with no morally redeeming qualities whatsoever — and who isn’t sometimes? — you’ll be pleased to know that Severin Films have just released Mondo Cannibal (as well as its “sister” production, which we’ll take a look at tomorrow) on DVD under their on-again/off-again InterVision Picture Corp. label. Extras are pretty well non-existent (just the trailer), but the full-frame picture and two-channel stereo sound are perfectly acceptable, all things considered , especially since something this shameless doesn’t really deserve any sort of “deluxe” treatment. If you’re capable of locking your conscience away in a strong box for about 90 minutes and just going with the (blood red) flow, odds are you’ll have a pretty good time with this one — and then hopefully feel appropriately guilty for at least a few minutes afterwards.

Question time : when you come across a movie that isn’t on IMDB, are you immediately intrigued, or immediately suspicious? Especially if it has a long-ass, bizarre title?

For my part, I’m inclined towards the latter, even though I probably shouldn’t be — I mean, it only takes about five minutes for the maker of any film to slap up a page on there, and it doesn’t cost anything, so if the person responsible for the flick hasn’t chosen to let the folks browsing the largest goddamn database of movie titles in existence know about it, you have to wonder how much they want the world at large to even know that the fruit of their labor exists.

Furthermore, any old fan can throw a listing up there if the filmmakers haven’t opted to do so, and if no one else, let alone the folks who made it, thought enough of a movie enough to spend a frankly insignificant amount of time creating an IMDB page for said film, that’s a solid clue right there that nobody liked it very much.

Still, when I saw a new addition to the movieandmusicnetwork.com website called Season In Hell : Evil Farmhouse Torture I was sufficiently curious to check it out, especially when I noticed no information for it whatsoever had made its way onto IMDB.

I’ve already said I should have known better, haven’t I?

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From what little info I have been able to glean, this was shot in 2004 by a guy named Elliot Passantino, who also stars in the flick (don’t ask me what part he plays, and we’re not going to bother listing the other actors since you’ve never heard of any of them, either),  and the basic set-up goes that the east coast is in ruins after a series of terrorist attacks of some sort that cause friends Carl and George to head for the hills. They make a pit stop at a presumably-abandoned farmhouse to look for supplies and soon find that the place is very much occupied indeed, the owner being one Marbas Hiram, a deranged character who passes the time by keeping a bevy of young women imprisoned in his basement, some of whom have developed an over-active case of “Stockholm Syndrome” and worship their captor as a kind of new-age messiah. Oh, and to make matters worse, it turns out that the house is built smack-dab on top of a doorway to hell itself!

The film’s promotional blurb describes it as “evoking the trippy style of Jess Franco and the savage intensity of early Wes Craven,” but for my money it’s just a poorly-made assemblage of experimental edits, rapid-fire nonsense shots, and half-brained non-sequiturs disguised as a pretentious “art house” mish-mash that steals its central plot device not from Franco or Craven but Lucio Fulci.In short, it sucks big time.

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Anybody who’s been reading my reviews for awhile knows that there’s no bigger champion of zero-budget cinema than yours truly, and that I certainly don’t hew to conservative notions like “movies have to make sense to be any good.” I’m all for experimentation and for indie filmmakers with no money to be unafraid to throw a lot of shit at the wall and see what sticks. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean that something will, and in the case of Passantino’s little number here (which, on the plus side, clocks in at just over an hour long, so it takes almost as long to type out the film’s full title as it does to watch the thing), it’s a case of all the shit he’s slinging missing every target in sight — even the fan, since if it hit that something interesting, at least, would happen, and it never does here.

And, ya know, just because you’ve got a camcorder and know how to use it, doesn’t always mean that you should — or that whatever dime-store “opus” you’ve created with your friends should be seen by the general public. But from the ponderous invoking of Arthur Rimbaud in the film’s title to the overly-impressed-with-itself indulgences in faux-psychedelia that take up nearly all of its runtime, it’s clear that Passnatino thought he had something to say here. And maybe he did. But whatever that was, it was certainly nothing worth paying attention to. Apparently he figured that out at some point or else he would have listed this on IMDB, and the fact that he hasn’t is a kindness on his part for which we should be most thankful.

Still, if you feel the urgent need to ignore my advice — sometimes a sound course of action — our friends over at The Movie And Music Network have generously made Season In Hell : Evil Farmhouse Torture available for free viewing to Trash Film Guru readers, just follow the link at the top of this review. Keep the bourbon and Advil handy and who knows? Maybe you’ll find  yourself enjoying this thing more than I did.

trashfilmguru (Ryan C.):

I take a look at “George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead Act Two” #3 for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Originally posted on Through the Shattered Lens:

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Remember that famous scene in The Godfather where Michael Corleone is having his henchmen settle all The Family’s old scores while he attends his infant son’s baptism? George Romero clearly does, because Empire Of The Dead Act Two #3 (or George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead Act Two #3 to be technically correct about things) is all about Mayor Chandrake — who’s front and center in Alexander Lozano’s stunning cover, as shown above — eliminating all threats to his leadership of both New York City and the secret vampire cabal for whose benefit the entire town is run. He’s ruthless, determined and, unlike Michael Corleone, not afraid to get his own hands dirty in the process.

The bloodbath is precipitated, as you might guess, by a visit from the cops — not Chandrake’s own loyal “security” personnel, but actual, rank-and-file NYPD detectives. Apparently, he doesn’t own them all yet, and…

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trashfilmguru (Ryan C.):

I take a look at the first issue of the new Vertigo mini-series “The Kitchen” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Originally posted on Through the Shattered Lens:

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So it appears that one of the sites I’ve done a fair amount of writing for, geekyuniverse.com, has shuttered its digital doors.Furthermore, it looks as if they sold their domain name off to something called “Swagger Magazine,” whatever that is, and did all of  this without informing any of us contributors that it was happening. Am I pissed? I guess I wasn’t at first, but now I sort of am, simply because all that content I posted on there, much of which was pretty good (even if I do only say so myself), is now lost forever, and because, going by sheer numbers alone, my stuff was far and away the most popular material on the site. Seriously, most of the posts on there were lucky to generate a half-dozen “likes” and one or two faceboook and twitter “shares,” while my articles routinely got a couple hundred of each. Does…

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There’s no doubt about it — between recently-released titles such as Abandoned MineAs Above, So BelowMine Games, and the flick we’re here to take a look at today, director Ben Ketai’s 2013 effort Beneath, underground is the place to be in horror right now. You’d think that the success, both critical and commercial, of The Descent back in 2005 would have spawned a legion of imitators at the time, but for some reason it didn’t happen until 8 or 9 years later. Go figure.

The  natural question now is — was it worth the wait?  I guess that all depends on how naturally claustrophobic you are.

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To be sure, what Ketai has crafted here is far from a masterpiece, but at times it is surprisingly effective, provided that tight, confined spaces frighten you as much as they do me. It takes an awfully long time for the tension to get going, though, as this story, which proclaims itself to be “based on true events” (which “true events,” specifically, are never mentioned, and let’s face it — the sad, and actual, truth is that mines have been collapsing on people for a long time now and thus any number of tragic disasters could suffice as being the “basis” for the screenplay here) throws out a few real whoppers in terms of the straining your suspension of disbelief before kicking things up a notch, the biggest of which is that last-day-on-the-job (and, by the look of it, Black Lung sufferer) pit supervisor George Marsh (Jeff Fahey, one of the few recognizable faces among a cast of largely unknowns) would consent to let his grown daughter, Sam (Kelly Noonan, who’s certainly easy on the eyes but struggles mightily on the acting front  in what is essentially  the film’s  lead role) accompany him to work on his final shift, and that his bosses would agree to such a proposition given that she’s an environmental lawyer who’s probably looking for any number of health and safety violations to slap them with.

In any case, down she goes with the crew, right after a previously-undiscovered section of the mine is found (what a coincidence), the roof collapses, and everybody’s fucked. The air starts running low, everybody starts hallucinating — or maybe not, as  questions begin to arise as to how much of what they’re seeing is real or imagined.

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The production values here go a long way toward helping the movie establish a reasonably high level of atmosphere and frankly are called upon to do most of the heavy lifting since, ya know, credibility and plausibility are out the window from the outset, and I give Ketai props for successfully evoking much of the feeling of what it must be like to be trapped in a cave-in with the clock ticking against you in spite of the fact that there’s no way his central character would, or could, ever find herself in such a situation in the first place. I’ve always suffered from recurring nightmares of being buried alive  and slowly suffocating to death(file that under WTMI, as the kids would say), so if concepts like that scare the shit out of you at a core level (welcome to the club, glad to meet you), chances are you’ll agree that Beneath is, at least, reasonably successful in terms of achieving its fundamental goals.

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Anyway, if you’re so inclined, Ketai’s modestly-budgeted number is now available via Netflix instant streaming (which is how I saw it, hence no DVD/Blu-ray specs included in this review) and if sounds like your cup full of coal dust, then hey,  it probably will be.

Halloween might be over (just barely), but you know we’re not done talking about horror movies here because — well, shit, we never are. We’re just shifting our focus slightly given that it’s been far too long since we ran a “Grindhouse Classics” review here, and even farther too long (ummm — I’d better check that for grammatical accuracy) since we looked at a flick from the “Godfather of Gore” himself, the incomparable Herschell Gordon Lewis. Seriously, what kind of self-respecting “B-Movie” blog doesn’t find its way back to HGL at least once every few months or so?

The answer, apparently, is this one, so please allow me to make up for lost time by telling you, dear reader, about the sublime pleasures of 1970′s The Wizard Of Gore, a film especially worthy of attention given that our friends over at the Movie And Music Network have made it freely available to followers of this site simply by clicking on the link underneath the photo of the poster above. Yeah, it’s also available on both DVD and Blu-Ray (where it’s paired with The Gore Gore Girls) from Something Weird Video, and it’s definitely worth a purchase in either or both of those formats given that SWV have pulled out all the stops by remastering the full-frame picture and mono sound and loading the packages up with extras like a full-length commentary track from Lewis himself and a very cool gallery of exploitation stills, promo photos, etc., but still — free is free, right? And the Something Weird channel over at MMN has a boat-load of other great titles worth checking out, as well, so hey — I strongly encourage you to support the fine work these folks are doing by clicking the link and watching this movie at no cost to you.

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Hell, even if you’ve seen this before — and it’s a good best many, if not most, of you have — it’s one of those true gems that’s worth re-visiting every year or two just because it’s so goddamned much fun. Honestly, if you love Lewis, everything you want is in here — hilariously OTT performances, tons of low-grade gore effects that are heavy on the red Karo syrup and store-bought meat. wooden supporting characters, cheap sets and costumes, and as an added bonus, a little bit of the poorly-thought-through mind-fuckery that permeates his drug-sploitation opus,   Something Weird,  sneaks its way into the ending here, as well. What more could you possibly ask for?

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I’m assuming that only the briefest of plot recaps is in order here, so here goes : bellicose magician Montag the Magnificent ( last-minute substitute “star” Ray Sager, who goes about his work with a shit-ton of gusto but zero talent, and looks a lot  like a 75-year-old Harry Reems) is packing houses in an unnamed (but obviously South Florida-located) town with his bloody spectacle of a show that features the ultra-violent, slow-burn dismemberment, disembowelment, and all-around sadistic torture of female volunteers from his audience. You name it, he sticks these ladies into it — guillotines, punch presses, the list is endless and highly varied. But hey — it’s just show biz, right? And moments after being butchered in front of everyone’s eyes, the gals are all back, and seemingly none the worse for wear.

Except — they all tend to turn up dead, this time for real, later on, and usually by the exact same method they at least looked to be killed by during the show.

That might raise some suspicions to you or I, but for TV chat-show host Sherry Carson (Judy Cler — whose daytime program is the quaintly-titled “Housewives’ Coffee Break”), her motives are a bit different. Having witnessed Montag’s act not once,  but twice, in the company of her personality-free boyfriend, Jack (Wayne Ratay), she’s more concerned with proving our guy to be a not-so-magnificent fraud. One has to wonder if she’d even be pursuing the story at all if the women just died on stage rather like they were “supposed” to.

Still, such absurdities of logic (isn’t all illusion technically “fraudulent”?) have no place in the examination of an HGL production, because — well, they just don’t. These flicks operate under their own set of rules, where the only consideration being pursued is how to get the whole thing done as gruesomely and cheaply as possible. Viewed through that lens — provided you can put aside your concerns about the film’s blatantly obvious misogyny, of course — The Wizard Of Gore  can be considered nothing but an astonishing success.

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Please, though, whatever you’re doing, don’t come into this looking for an explanation as to how all this shit is happening by the time it’s over. It’s not that Herschell doesn’t provide one — it’s just that he and screenwriter Allen Kahn don’t care if it makes any sense. We all know that “mind-bending” psychedelia was the order of the day back when this thing came out, but even by the non-standards of the time, the non-resolution offered here strains credulity well beyond the breaking point. You just have to simply not give a shit about anything other than blood, guts, and sleaze to appreciate The Wizard Of Gore for what it is — namely, a non-stop parade of, well, blood, guts, and sleaze that certainly never takes itself at all seriously and assumes, quite rightly, that you won’t (or at least shouldn’t), either.

That certainly doesn’t add up to it being anything like a conventionally-defined “good” movie, but so what? The fun here is in the fact that it’s not a conventionally-defined “bad” movie, either — or even a “so-bad-it’s-good” movie. It’s just pure, unmitigated, balls-to-the-walls shlock and shock, with absolutely nothing to offer by way of any redeeming qualities whatsoever. Not only is there no “message” to be gleaned from its proceedings, there’s no point. You may call that whatever you wish, but I call it a very special brand of genius.

It’s easy to get distracted by Halloween horror marathons, sidesteps into the world of comics, the occasional Hollywood blockbuster, noteworthy documentaries, etc., but flicks like The Wizard Of Gore remain, at the end of the day, what we’re all about here at TFG. Follow the link up top, watch it now, wallow in the celluloid filth, and love every minute of it.

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Let’s not mince words —Alzheimer’s is an absolute motherfucker, and if you or someone you know and/or love has come down with it, you don’t need me to say much more about it than that. On the off chance that it doesn’t scare the living shit out of you, though, let me just get up on my high horse for a minute and say that it sure as hell should. This disease eats away your cognitive functioning until there’s pretty much nothing left of you but   a withered,  hollow shell, and then — after first stripping away your memories, your personality, your reasoning ability, and more or less all of your consciousness in a slow, sadistic, painful fashion — it finally heaps its last indignity upon you by not letting you remember to swallow or breathe.

I wouldn’t wish this dread disease on anyone — shit, I even felt sorry for Reagan when I heard he had it — and yet there’s nothing you can do about it : if you’re gonna get it, you’re gonna get it. End of story. Sound grim? Of course it does. That’s because it is.

A realistic Alzheimer’s documentary is far scarier than any horror flick probably ever could be, but given how terrifying an illness it is in and of itself, it’s kind of amazing that no budding young horror auteur has thought to focus his or her film on someone suffering from it. That is, until this year, when director and co-writer (along with Gavin Heffernan) Adam Robitel let loose upon the world The Taking Of Deborah Logan (currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray as well as Netflix instant streaming, which is how I caught it), and I gotta say, of all the films I’ve watched this month to “put me in the mood” for Halloween, this was far and away the best of the bunch.

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Released under the auspices of Bryan Singer’s Bad Hat Harry Productions (with Singer himself serving as one of the film’s producers), Robitel’s modestly-budgeted little opus is, yes, another “found footage” flick, but one that stands head and shoulders above most of its brethren due to strong performances, a compelling story, some very slick plot twists, high-grade production values, and some spine-tingling special effects. It’s not too often I make a pronouncement this unequivocal, but — if you like horror movies, you’re gonna like this. A lot.

On we go with the set-up : film (or maybe it’s medical, it’s hard to tell) student Mia Medina (Michelle Ang) has descended upon a small Virginia town with her two-person crew (played by  Brett Gentile and Jeremy DeCarlos) to film the deteriorating condition of the titular Deborah Logan (Jill Larson) for a documentary project. Ms. Logan, a prim and proper southern lady,  and her care-taker daughter, Sarah (Anne Ramsay) are at first leery about participating, but eventually consent because they “need the money” (uhhhmmm — I wasn’t aware that college kids usually had any to offer) to keep their home. It soon becomes apparent, however,  that there’s a lot more to Deborah’s condition than “just” Alzheimer’s, though, and that somehow her former job as a telephone switchboard operator, the overbearing presence of way-too-concerned next door neighbor Harris (Ryan Cutrona),  and the disappearance of a notorious local serial killer years ago all tie into whatever is afflicting our hapless title character now. I won’t give anything more away than that, sorry, because you really should just see this flick for yourself.

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The unquestioned star of the show here is Larson, who absolutely deserves strong Oscar consideration (hell, give her Best Actress right now, I say), for her turn as Deborah. The mental and physical changes she undergoes are both amazing and harrowing to witness, and while I’m ready to give her make-up people plenty of credit for their part in that,  as well, the simple fact is that you can’t just look 10, 20, even 30 years older as the film progresses in order for a role this challenging to be effective — you have to act it, too, and boy does she ever. My hat is absolutely off to her — with loads of admiration — for the work she’s done here.

The other performances are all uniformly solid, as well, and if it wasn’t for the ever-present genre tropes of off-screen narration, night-vision camera work, and the like, you could be forgiven for forgetting that you were watching a “mockumentary” -style horror at all, so polished and professional is the overall effort here — and  it’s all done in service of a crackerjack script that pretty much knows exactly when, where, and how to keep upping the ante at all times.

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There are a few nagging little details sprinkled throughout that prevent me from flatly declaring The Taking Of Deborah Logan to be a modern horror masterpiece (it gives away its hand a bit bit early in terms of some of its “shock revelations,” for instance, and plays up a bog-standard “demonic possession” angle for awhile before, thankfully, proving to be something kinda related, but much more frightening), but it sure comes close. Alzheimer’s is scary enough on its own — but I’ll have to be pretty  damn far into its final stages before I forget about this amazingly effective, bone-chilling film.