Archive for October, 2011

Don’t look now, but Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity series is on the verge of becoming the most successful horror franchise of all time.

Take a minute and absorb that before we move on. Not Halloween. Not Friday The 13th. Not A Nightmare On Elm Street. Not Scream. Not even Saw or Final Destination.

This series — which many people didn’t even expect to see so much as one sequel to, a sequel which many of us initially thought had Blair Witch 2 written all over it, is set to pass all of those other venerable horror staples in total box-office gross after only its third installment.

That’s impressive enough in and of itself, but even more impressive is the fact that, despite looking for all intents and purposes like a one-trick pony, the Paranormal Activity flicks actually are finding new and creative ways to keep the story going, namely by continuing to move further and further back into the past. I don’t know how long that can be kept up — and let’s face it, at some point we’ve gotta have an actual, proper sequel to the first one, so we can all find out just what the hell happened there, but for now going deeper into the origins of the demonic entity stalking the Katie n’ Kristi duo is proving to be immensely satisfying.

For Paranormal Activity 3, brought to us courtesy of the directorial team of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (the same folks behind last year’s was-it-a-documentary-or-not Catfish — and truth be told, their involvement with this film and their expert use of faux-documentary techniques on display here leads me to believe more strongly than ever that their first film was, in fact, made-up bullshit) we’re all the way back to 1988, when our heroines were just young girls in suburban San Diego and the entity-or-whatever-it-is first shows up to start fucking with their lives.

Slowly building from seemingly harmless conversations with an invisible childhood friend the girls call “Toby,” then moving on to the usual bedsheets-moving-and-pots-and-pans-falling-off-the-rack that we’ve seen before (and bubbles in the kids’ bedroom aquarium are this movie’s version of part two’s pool cleaner) before events here actually ramp up into new territory (and the pacing here, while obviously deliberate, still manages to flow along quite nicely and naturally),  by the time we get to the final 15 minutes that are supposed to mess you up for life (they don’t, but hey, they are pretty good), even the most anti-Paranormal Activity horror fan will have to grudgingly admit to him or herself that hey, this is some pretty solid stuff.

The “homemade look” conceit this time comes to us by way of the mother Julie’s new live-in boyfriend, Dennis, who runs some kind of wedding video business out of his garage and sets up his equipment all over the house when weird shit starts happening, so we’re out of the HD computer-cam and 24-hour-security surveillance footage era here and firmly back in the nostalgic age of home movies.Several of the most effective sequences come to us courtesy of a VHS camcorder set up in the living room/dining room area that pans back and forth on top of a tripod with a timing device affixed to it. So this definitely has the feel of an old-school hand-held horror — of the sort that, you know, didn’t actually exist because this genre wasn’t really around back then, Cannibal Holocaust aside.

At the end of the day, though, it’s the plot revelations (which by the time they come will have you saying “shit, I shoulda seen that coming,” but you won’t have), rather than the (with apologies to Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon) nostalgia for an age that never existed that make Paranormal Activity 3 the most satisfying entry in the series to date. They also leave open the possibility of going even further back into the family’s history, although you gotta wonder what medium they’ll employ if they choose to do so — it seems that 8mm home movies of the 1970s/early 80s variety are about the only option left.

Oh well, my rear end will be in a theater seat to see the next one whichever direction they decide to take things, whether they end up delving deeper into the past or finally following up on the events of the first film. Like a lot of people in the die-hard horror community, I was completely underwhelmed by the first Paranormal Activity film and felt it was the most blatant example to date of “viral”  hype (of the studio-manufactured variety, which is even more annoying) trumping actual substance, but with each sequel I’m being won over more and more completely. And it doesn’t hurt that the perpetually-annoying Micah Sloat was nowhere to be found in this latest one.

And so ends our annual October Halloween horror-round up here at TFG. Next month I’ll be starting a new themed series that will end up looking an awful lot like this one. Stay tuned and all will be revealed within the next few days. Until then, I wish a Happy Halloween to one and all!

Well, friends, this one’s gonna be brief because we’re venturing into uncharted territory a bid here — the flick under review today, 1988’s The Undertaker, is actually an unfinished, believe it or not, but it’s worth looking at as it features the last starring turn of the one and only Maniac himself, the late, great Joe Spinell.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is included in our annual Halloween horror round-up more as an item of interesting curiosity than anything else. Given that director Franco Steffanino’s’s film ran into the twin obstacles of no more funding and Spinell’s untimely demise before it could be hammered out into finished form, essentially what we’re got on our hands here, thanks to the fine folks at Code Red DVD (specifications of said DVD being rather minimal here — the full-frame transfer looks pretty sparklingly, surprisingly good for the most part, though it veers into crummy, even downright greasy territory in some spots, and the sound is hit-and-miss to put it kindly — the only extra, cool as it is, consists of the legendary Robert Forster and his daughter, Kathrine, sharing their memories of Spinell — keep in mind I’m not complaining here because the fact that this thing even managed to get a DVD release at all is something of a miracle and I thank Code Red for doing all us Joe Spinell fans a great service here) is a rough cut of the movie. There’s very little by way of gore or other special effects, the editing is choppy (jarringly so in several instances), and the overall feel is of watching some semi-competent student project that just happens to feature a recognizable (to fans of cult cinema, at least) lead actor.

That being said, you can see that The Undertaker had some — I repeat, some — potential. Spinell is back to doing what he does best, playing a skin-crawlingly creepy and pathetic psycho, this time out said psycho going by the name of Roscoe, a small-town New Jersey mortician who has a penchant for necrophilia, a nagging wife who won’t leave him alone long enough to enjoy himself with his corpses, and a big problem with his business — namely, there just aren’t enough people dying in his town for him to have a variety of sexual — uhmmmmm — “partners,” not to mention a steady income.

As you can imagine, his only alternative is to take matters into his own hands and steer some business his way by dint of his own actions.

Spinell isn’t at his Maniac – level best here, but he still turns in a solid enough intentionally-way-over-the-top performance, and the overall tone of the film seems to be pretty self-deprecating in terms of its outrageously tasteless subject matter, but you never know how it all would have turned out with a few more scenes, a final edit, etc. Maybe the filmmakers unintentionally did us a great service by pulling the plug on this thing, or maybe we lost another Spinell classic, it’s hard to say (well, okay, it’s not — the surviving mish-mash of material leaves the distinct impression that we needn’t worry too much about the latter).

Still, in my book at least The Undertaker is definitely worth a look. You have to be willing to cut it a hell of a lot of slack, to be sure, but getting the chance to see Joe Spinell in action one final time makes putting up with all of this flick’s — how shall I put this? — glaring inconsistencies more than worthwhile. They just don’t make lecherously slimy cinematic killers like this anymore, and even in a raw and incomplete production (that, it must be stated, looked like it was most likely doomed to be a substandard effort anyway given the rather second-rate nature of the script),  Joe Spinell stands out.

What the hell? While we’re on the subject of Z-grade 1980s shot-on-video horror movies (and this one’s also part of the “Retro 80s Horror Collection” from Camp Motion pictures, in case you hadn’t already noticed — nice full-frame picture, good quality remastered stereo sound, extras include two commentaries, one from the director, another from three of the “stars,” a making-of documentary, video test shoots, and an investor’s (good luck with that) promo reel — and it’s shot on 16mm, not on video, but I didn’t want to ruin my intro segue), let’s take a quick look at one more, shall we? the “one more” in this case being writer-director Tim Ritter’s 1987 offering Killing Spree.

Shot in sunny Jupiter, Florida for the princely sum of $75,000, this one’s an absolute blast from start to (almost — more on that shortly) finish. With tongue planted so firmly in cheeks it’s just gotta hurt, Ritter tells us the simple tale of one Tom Russo (played up — rather than just played — to the hilt by Asbestos Felt — and yes, like you, I’m assuming — hell, desperately hoping — that’s not his real name), a guy who’s so convinced that his wife Leeza is cheating on him when he’s at work, out running errands, basically doing anything other than sitting at home and watching her like a hawk, that he figures his best course of action is just to start killing any guy who happens to be anywhere near his house at any time just in case he might be sleeping with her. And Tom not only has a grand old time dispatching them (watch for screwdrivers to the head, dismemberment (followed by an accidental death when he lobs said dismembered head off the balcony and right onto the noggin of an unfortunate passerby), all that good stuff), he figures spending too much time burying these folks is just time that could be better spent killing even more guys his old lady might be getting it on with, so he just buries most of them out in the back yard.

And that’s when things get a little bit hairy towards the end (I told you we’d be getting back to it sooner rather than later) — for reasons not entirely explained (well, okay, not explained at all, truth be told), Tom’s victims all rise from the grave and kill him at least as spectacularly as he did them. So yeah, things do go off the rails there a bit at the conclusion, but you know what? It’s all good, because this is one sadistic, malicious, tasteless, downright nasty little piece of businees, and it does it all with a wink and a nod.

First off, the effects are straight-up impressive. I mean, you’d think Ritter was spending some actual money  on this shit. Yeah, he’s hemmed in by his obvious limitations, of course, but that’s not about to stop him from making you go “eeeeeeeewwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!” as loudly, and as frequently, as possible. Huge props for that.

Secondly, everyone from felt on down through the cast is hamming it up in the best possible way, yet they all uniformly give the impression that they actually want you to think they might be playing this straight even though you’d have to be literally, clinically insane to think they were. Given that this type of overall uniformity in tone (admittedly bizarre as it is) absolutely can’t be chalked up to each and every individual in front of the camera on a movie this far below the “B” level being, you know, talented, credit has to be given to the director for clearly communicating, and then not stopping until he damn well gets, exactly what he wants from everyone involved.

Finally, a lot of the trappings inherent in the homemade horror genre (think long, slow pans of the scenery for no reason, lots of dead space with nothing going on — everything that goes with a medium where editing is such a pain in the ass when we’re comparing this to many of its contemporaries, which were SOV affairs) are noticeably, and thankfully, absent here. In short, Ritter doesn’t demand that you make allowances for his paltry budget — he just delivers the best-quality product that he possibly can given what he’s got to work with.

I don’t know why Tim Ritter never went on to have much more of a career. He certainly deserved bigger and better things slaving away on a bunch of direct-to-VHS-and-DVD “erotic thrillers,” by-the-numbers slashers, sci-fi cheapies, and crooked-cop crime “dramas.” But hey, give him credit — he’s carved out a living at it and is still going strong today. It certainly beats factory work, at any rate.

But based on the strength of Killing Spree alone, it’s this reviewer’s considered opinion that he probably deserved a shot at the big time. Or  at least bigger than he ever ended up getting.

As anyone who’s followed these Halloween horror roundups over the last couple of years on this blog (assuming, of course, that anyone has) knows, I love me some homemade 80s shot-on-video gore flicks. Sure, the acting’s usually either unintentionally camp or downright lifeless, the effects are fifth-rate, the stories are insipid, and the directors/DOPs (assuming they weren’t one and the same person, which they often were) had a tendency to linger on shots where pretty much nothing was happening for waaaaaayyyy too long simply because videotape was a bitch to edit. But hey, it’s all about heart, right?

Case in point — director Jon McBride’s (okay, I should stop right there for a second right there and point out that one Tom Fisher is also credited as a co-director here, but all indications are that this was McBride’s show pretty much from start to finish) 1988 zero-budget opus Cannibal Campout. In essence, this is a lot like the dreadful flick Chain Letter that we reviewed a few days back — it exists pretty much solely to drench the audience in blood n’ guts. But whereas Chain Letter had some money behind it but no heart, McBride’s movie has plenty of heart but no money. I don’t know about you, but I know which I’ll go with anytime (not to mention that this movie’s a whole lot less mean-spirited and cynical, but that’s a side issue).

As set-ups go, they don’t come much simpler than this — a mixed group of four friends heads out to the New Jersey woods (yes, they have trees there) for a weekend of camping and find themselves set upon one-by-one by a crazed trio of probably inbred mountain men who have been murdering and then devouring any poor souls unlucky enough to stumble across their path because — get his — they promised their momma on her deathbed that they wouldn’t eat any junk food!

And honestly that’s all you need to know because everybody’s in this thing for one reason and one reason alone — to get killed. Slowly, painfully, brutally, graphically, creatively — hell, damn near lovingly — killed.

I can’t say for certain, but I’m thinking that McBride’s biggest motivation in putting this thing out there — keep in mind most of these backyard SOV horror flicks were released on VHS by unscrupulous, fly-by-night distribution operations that basically all offered the same deal, namely we’ll release your film and keep pretty much all the money and you’ll have the chance to get your name out there and more or less nothing else — was to show off his chops as a Tom Savini wanna-be and maybe land some work on the makeup and effects crew of a picture with an actual (hell, any) budget.

He certainly wasn’t trying to impress anyone as the next great screenwriter or director, that’s for certain — this flick crawls along at a snail’s pace even when the killing starts and there are interminable lengths of absolutely nothing go on that you have to wade through in order to get to the good (relatively speaking, of course) stuff. But hey — it’s pretty obvious everybody’s having a good time regardless of whether or not they actually know what they’re doing and yeah, once the blood starts flowing and the entrails come spilling out and the faces get gnawed on and the organs get ripped loose it is impressive enough in a dime-store kind of way. Sure, you might be able to do just as well with all of it yourself if you had the time, inclination, smarts, and most of all the single-minded determination to do so, but you didn’t and Jon McBride did. Regardless of how amateurish most of what’s on display here is, you gotta give the guy credit for that.

Cannibal Campout is available on DVD from Camp Motion Pictures as part of its “Retro 80s Horror collection” series, and features a nicely done full-frame (of course) transfer of the film (whoops, better just call it a movie — it was shot on videotape, after all), pretty decent remastered stereo sound, a veritable feast (get it? cannibal flick? feast?) of extra including a feature-length commentary track with McBride, interviews with many of the cast and crew, a lengthy selection of deleted scenes and still photos, a bunch of trailers for other Camp titles. In short, it’s stuffed to the guts (get it again?) with goodies.

I won’t kid you — Cannibal Campout is so far removed from a masterpiece that the two words don’t even belong in the same neighborhood as each other, much less in the same sentence. But if you’re in the mood (and I freely admit that it’s entirely possible that your humble reviewer is one of the only people who actually gets in this mood) for a warts-and-all labor of love that seeks nothing more than to do as well as it can in the gruesomeness department and doesn’t even really care, much less try, when it comes to anything else, then hey — you could certainly do a whole lot worse.

Zombies — they’re everywhere these days. Not that I’m complaining, mind you — your humble host is digging the hell out of AMC’s The Walking Dead, for instance, and even though hardly anybody outside the die-hard horror community is paying attention, the master himself, George Romero, is back in fine form with his latest, truly independent undead film series. The recent zombie boom isn’t all great news, though, as some real stinkers have made it onto (straight onto, if you must know) DVD in the last decade or so since films like 28 Days Later and Shaun Of The Dead placed the shambling, flesh-eating corpses of the recently-departed back into the forefront of the public consciousness.

Case in point — director Tor Ramsey’s 2001 DTV effort, Children Of The Living Dead.

The title, of course, tries to tie this film in somehow with Romero’s original Night,  and while the budgets of the two films are probably in the same general ballpark, any similarities between the two unfortunately end there. This flick is a pure, unadulterated stinkbomb.

First off, on the purely technical front, there are the sort of things going on that even high-school filmmakers generally avoid — camera and mic shadows, horrendously wooden sub-standard “acting,” half-assed, unprofessional editing — the list is endless. All of which this critic could easily overlook if the film had some sort of sense of humor about itself and at least copped to, if not downright celebrated, its many, varied, and quite noticeable shortcomings. But this particular movie takes itself  so seriously , despite a storyline (more on that in a minute) that could pass itself off as parody or even Troma product, that you just can’t help but hate the thing.

I mentioned the story just now and for the sake of maintaining not only your interest but your very sanity itself I’ll keep this brief — dead serial murderer/rapist Abbot Hayes disappeared from the morgue in 1987, and shortly thereafter a zombie infestation swept his (Pennsylvania, I think — another nod to The Master/attempted Night tie-in) hometown. Many locals lost their lives in the battle and only a handful of aged residents with nowhere else to go remain in the area. Now, however, 15 years later, a shady businessman (who’s new in town, naturally) has surreptitiously moved the bodies from the local cemetery into one big mass grave of the sort we always accused Saddam Hussein of having (another charge that was never really proven) and Hayes gets all riled up and emerges as the king of a zombie army out to seek revenge on the living — again.

It’s when we really delve into the backstory of Hayes — a move that Ramsey and screenwriter Karen L. Wolf absolutely had no need to make — that things get truly laughable. Hayes became a raping, murdering maniac, and later rose from the dead, because he was — -get this — pissed at his mom for making him wear girls’ clothes as a child! In other words, this is no zombie king that the late, great Edward D. Wood, Jr. would ever have conceived of, even if this film has Wood-like production values (minus any and all of the charm and insanity Ed brought to any given production).

As far as the “stars” of this picture goes, the only one you’re bound to recognize is Tom Savini, who plays one of the local deputies, and even he’s quite clearly just mailing it in. In truth, his talents would have been much better served in the effects department here, because the zombies (as well as all the related blood, viscera, entrails, etc. that always accompany them one way or another) look like crap. I mean, community-theater-level crap.

If you really must see Children Of The Living Dead — and trust me, you don’t have to — it’s available on DVD from Artisan Entertainment. It’s a widescreen transfer with 5.1 sound and no extras, if memory serves me correctly. Or at least no extras worth remembering. But honestly, friends, you’re much better off avoiding this at all costs. I used to think that I could be reasonably entertained by pretty much any flick that had zombies in it, no matter how lackluster or completely bereft of anything resembling coherence or production values. Just get them corpses walking, I figured, and I’m all in. Children Of The Living Dead proved me — no pun intended — dead wrong.

Fast-forward one year to 1989 and we find ourselves staring headlong at Halloween 5 : The Revenge Of Michael Myers, a flick as uninspiring as its title is uninspired.

I’ll give director Dominique Othenin-Girard and his screenwriters credit for trying to expand the whole Myers mythos into new directions here, but the whole thing’s just so flipping absurd that no amount of suspension of disbelief can carry you through it with a straight face.

First off, we’ve got the prospect of Michael (this time portrayed by one Donald L. Shanks, as if it matters all that much) surviving a hail of gunfire followed by a plunge down a mineshaft. Okay, only a little rougher than some of his previous “deaths,” I suppose, but add to that the fact that when he comes back one year later on Halloween night (of course) to take another crack at killing his niece Jamie (again played by Danielle Harris, who’s really asked to carry a lot of this film since her friends start buying the far rather quickly, and truth be told she does a very admirable job) we find that she has developed full-blown psychic powers that clue her into where and when her murderous uncle is going to strike next! Not that it saves her friends or his other victims, of course, ‘cuz where would the fun be in that?

Anyway, the whole setup’s absurd, Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis feels like he’s being shoehorned into the script just because, hell, he’s gotta be there ,right?, and Othenin-Girard proves himself to be a director who doesn’t exactly excel at the basics of mood and tension, both of which are absolute musts in any slasher film.

While the “Divimax” DVD release from Anchor Bay of Halloween 5 is every bit as nicely-put-together as the one they did for the previous installment (see our last review for semi-full DVD specifications), it’s really a matter of trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. The movie itself just doesn’t warrant all that special a treatment, sad as it makes this Halloween series junkie to utter those very-nearly-blasphemous words.

Look, I won’t kid you folks out there in blog-reader-land — when Halloween 5 : The Revenge Of Michael Myers plays on AMC this week, I’m sure I’ll watch it at least once (well, okay, probably only once) but that just proves what a sucker for any Michael Myers flick I am. Assuming that you don’t share this affliction and are, instead, a viewer of taste and discernment who values their free time and spends it wisely, there’s really nothing I can honestly come up with to recommend this film to you. the tried-and-true phrase “for completists only” is absolutely as spot-on a description of this flick as one can find, so if you are one, then hell, tune in, of course (I will be, so you don’t have to feel like too much of a hopeless sucker), but if you’re not, then yeah, it certainly won’t be too hard at all for you to find something better to do with your time.

It wouldn’t be a proper Halloween horror movie round-up around these parts if he didn’t review at least one film from the venerable slasher series named after this, our favorite holiday, so today here at TFG we’re going to take a (relatively quick, since you pretty much know the drill with these flicks) look at not one, but two Michael Myers flicks that are both available on DVD from Anchor Bay in special “Divimax” editions that are really good and loaded with extras like multiple commentary tracks with cast and crew, very well-done making-of featurettes, trailers, outtakes, and fantastic widescreen digital transfers that look like a million bucks and are accompanied by terrific 5.1 sound mixes. If shelling out four or five bucks is too rich for your blood, though — and in this economy who could blame you? — both are also playing intermittently from now through October 31st on AMC. So without any further ado, let’s set the wayback machine to 1988 and first examine  director Dwight H. Little’s Halloween 4 : The Return Of Michael Myers.

Set ten years after Mike’s intial rampage, part 4 finds our favorite masked slasher being transferred from one mental institution to another, but not before he overhears a careless conversation about his sister, Laurie Strode, having a daughter who ‘s being raised by another family back in the old Myers stomping grounds of Haddonfield, Illinois. Sensing this is too good an opportunity for mayhem to pass up, Michael predictably makes his escape while being transferred and sets out for home, where his niece, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris, who would go on to play a significant role both in this series and in Rob Zombie’s Halloween films, where she played Laurie’s best friend, Annie) finds herself tormented by strange dreams about a silent masked killer who she somehow feels inexplicably connected to — can the venerable Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence, of course — in full scenery-chewing mode, I might add) stop his most infamous patient before he snaps off the last branch of his family tree for good?

All in all, the best thing about the fourth installment in this series is that Michael (played by George P. Wilbur in this one, if you must know) is back and doing what he does best. I’m not one of those people who has nothing good to say about Halloween III : Season Of The Witch — in fact I think it’s a solidly fun and interesting little horror movie — but by 1988 it was time for that blank-featured mask to make its return. Of course, by this point Michael’s pretty much a superhuman force of evil who can’t be killed no matter what, and Pleasence’s Loomis has flipped out to the point where his single-minded obsession to kill Myers has made him almost as dangerous as the serial-slasher himself, but by and large this pretty much follows the original John Carpenter formula to the letter. There’s really nothing new here and after a more-than-five-year absence from the screen maybe some actual innovation in this series could have been hoped for, but hell, it was just so good to see this series get itself back on the traditional slasher track (a track the first Halloween film more or less created, it should be pointed out) that the lack of anything particularly new or interesting didn’t really bug me or any of the other Myers-starved fans out there at the time.

Divorced from its context, though, and viewed as, say, part of a day-long Halloween marathon, there’s nothing about this one that really stands out, either for good or for ill. It’s a by-the-numbers Myers massacre, which was good enough to make it seem really cool at the time, but just kind of relegates it to “solid enough, but honestly nothing all that special” status now. In short, I can’t find any compelling reason not  to like Halloween 4 : The Return Of Michael Myers, but there’s nothing going on here to make it stand out from the pack, either. It’s a perfectly serviceable, average installment in the Halloween franchise, which means it’s still better than most other slasher fare (though not all, by any means) and probably well worth your time to catch on AMC this week, if nothing else.

I almost included an “if there’s nothing else on” in that last sentence, but who are we kidding? It’s TV, of course there’s nothing else on.

Oh, and a last postscript before I forget — if you still don’t get some kind of little tingle up your spine when you first hear those piano keys tapping out the Halloween theme tune at the start of any of these films, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.

And in the “not to waste any time” department, we’ll move right into the other 1986 Super-8 straight-to-video release from the Arkansas (again, I think)-based producer-director team of Matt Devlen and Max Raven (for the record, “Raven”‘s real name is Bret McCormick (he also wrote the screenplay for this one under the name of Bando Glutz), and Devlen’s is — well, I’m not sure, it might actually be Matt Devlen for all I know), this time with Raven/McCormick assuming directorial duties for The Abomination.

I’d love to know which of these was made first, or if in fact they even have been made concurrently, as several cast members appear in both films, and they both bear all the hallmarks of genuinely part-time efforts, but it has to be said that The Abomination is probably the more polished (relatively speaking, of course) of the two. Again, if Muther Video had bothered/been able to include some commentaries on their “25th Anniversary Special Edition” 2-DVD set, but alas — ( I will give credit, once again, to Muther for doing a nice job with the full-frame transfer on this as well as the stereo sound, however, and who am I to really complain since the fact that these have even been released at all is something of a minor miracle).

Anyway, the plot here is a bit more complicated/convoluted, being the story of a young southern loser named Cody Lee who still lives at home with his mom, a religious fanatic who spends all her time in front of the tube watching some charlatan televangelist named Brother Fogg (played with absolute relish by Rex Morton in the only acting performance worth singling out for praise in either this film or Ozone!). I remember that the idea that these TV preachers were a bunch of money-grubbing phonies was just entering into the public consciousness on anything like a large scale in the mid-80s, so I guess Brother Fogg’s readily-apparent phoniness is this film’s nod to then-topical issues and what have you. fair enough.

So Cody’s mom loves her some Brother Fogg and can’t get enough of the guy and furthermore becomes convinced of his amazing healing powers when the good preacher actually faith-heals her right through the TV set by forcing her to cough up a nasty tumor that’s been growing inside her. There’s just one problem — this is no ordinary tumor, it’s some kind of crawling, sentient, toothy thing that immediately hides under her son’s bed, waits for him to come home, and plants itself inside him violently in order to grow and, get this, issue telepathic commands to him to kill folks (including his own girlfriend) in order to feed it as well as to produce other spores that begin to grow to unseemly proportions the more blood they’re fed.

If it all sounds more than a little bit like Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage, that’s because it is, but keep in mind that this came out first and that Henenlotter’s film is more of an overt comedy while this flick, admittedly played for laughs more or less throughout itself, doesn’t feature things like witty banter back-and-forth with the tumor/creature, etc. In short, while I hesitate to say that The Abomination is the more subdued effort —- well, it is. Then again, anything’s more subdued than Brain Damage, don’cha think?

As with Ozone!, pacing is a bit of a problem here, with most of the bloodbath not really ensuing until the second half of the film and the first crawling along at something of a snail’s pace, but whatever, once the carnage really gets going it’s pretty fun, and the large-size creatures, which have a habit of popping up under sinks, in cabinets, etc. are pretty effectively realized in a Deadly Spawn-sort of way, if not quite that good (and let’s remember that The Abomination probably had a pathetic fraction of The Deadly Spawn‘s budget, which was insanely tiny in and of itself).

A couple of annoying little strikes against this flick, though —Raven/McCormick re-uses several of the same shots over and over (and over) again, and while I understand that money was short and he needed to pad his run-time, it really does begin to grate after awhile. And secondly (if admittedly along the same lines), the montage of scenes that accompany the opening credits give away a lot of the great homemade gore effects to come (often more than once), and so a little of the “hey, that’s fucking cool!” factor is lost once they actually take place in the story.

But enough with the gripes. On the whole, the above-mentioned minor quibbles aside,  The Abomination is, like its sister production, a movie that knows its limitations and incorporates them into the overall proceedings rather than trying to shy away from them. Unlike Ozone!, though, this flick sometimes adds the added element of actually exceeding your limited expectations for it on occasion, particularly in the creature effects department, and little things like better-synchronized sound, a smidgen more fun chewing the scenery on the part of Morton as Brother Fogg than any of the actors in Ozone!  manage to project, etc. make this the slightly better of the two efforts in this reviewer’s opinion. Both are definitely worth your time and money, though, and you can’t go watching them back-to-back as a double-feature at home. Set your expectations realistically low, grab a beer and something to snack on, kick back, shut your brain off, and have a good time.

Our annual survey of the cinematic horror landscape wouldn’t be complete without a few nods at some of the homemade horrors that made it into (somewhat) wide circulation during the VHS boom years, and given that the pseudonymous producer-director team of Matt Devlen and Max Raven have just seen their two mid-80-s efforts, 1986’s Ozone! The Attack Of The Redneck Mutants and The Abomination (from the same year, apparently), released as a DVD combo pack from Muther Video (sans extras, it must be said, although the remastered full-frame transfers and stereo sound are both about as good as you could possibly hope for given the Z-grade source material) these seem like as good a place as any to start down the homemade moviemaking road this Halloween season.

Ozone!, as you can probably guess, features incredibly over-the-top semi-competent “acting,” an equally OTT plot, and plenty of fun, if completely unconvincing, gore effects. I’ll give Devlen (who sat in the director’s chair on this one while Raven produced) credit here — he didn’t aim for too much, like many backyard horror auteurs  seem to have this thoroughly misplaced compulsion to do, and set his sights squarely on what could be accomplished. He wasn’t out to prove that he could outdo Herschell Gordon Lewis with his first effort, but he wanted to make a film heavily influenced by Lewis’ non-stop array of blood, carnage, and viscera,  and that had its tongue just as firmly planted in its cheek.

The end result is unprofessional in the extreme, to be sure, wildly uneven in terms of tone, performances, and quality of effects, slow as molasses in places, and transparently, even jubilantly, juvenile. The goal of Ozone! isn’t so much to compensate for, much less hide, its numerous shortcomings, but rather to include a rather overt acknowledgment of them as part of the fun.

Look, the initial premise of a chemical leak at a toxic refinery causing local yokels in Arkansas (I assume, since I’m pretty sure that’s where this Super-8 spectacle was shot) to turn into hideous, melting, vomiting, killing, cannibalistic monsters due to said chemical leak not directly mutating the rednecks but burning a hole in the ozone layer right over the backwater environs they inhabit (remember, knowledge of how all this global warming stuff worked was pretty limited at the time) isn’t one begging to be taken seriously. Throw in a nosy college-student environmental activist who’s teamed up against her will with the son of the owner of the chemical (or is it oil? the script seems to want it both ways) company to get to the bottom of the problem, a plethora of wildly stereotypical hicks, and no money and you don’t have Oscar bait bait (or even anything like it) on your hands, but you do have the recipe for a fun, stupid night in front of the TV.

That’s all that Ozone! The Attack Of The Redneck Mutants promises, and by and large it delivers. Sure, you most definitely have to be willing to go with the flow and not let things like a wildly out-on-synch audio track (the soundtrack being recorded separately and laid down later in true no-budget style), preposterous hamming by most of the cast, shots with literally no composition to them apart from point-that-fucking-camera-and-shoot, and the kind of effects you could probably come up with yourself if you had the time and/or inclination not only not detract from your appreciation of the proceedings here, but rather form the backbone of it, but that’s never been a problem around these parts.

I’m not here to tell you that Ozone! is must-see viewing, or that it’s even a spectacular example of DIY moviemaking. It is, however, a good example of what you can achieve what a backyard filmmaking team can achieve when it sets out to do something squarely within its means — not much, to put it kindly, but the kind of “not much” that’s done with enough passion, heart, and balls that it ends up having its own kind of demented, but thoroughly watchable, charm. There’s no need to take any of it even remotely seriously since the filmmakers didn’t either, but there’s no need to feel guilty or stupid for finding most of it thoroughly entertaining, and frankly even endearing, nonsense.

This one looked promising.

Okay, sure, it was gonna be a torture-porn-style Saw ripoff with a flimsy premise — teenagers (played by actors and actresses in their late 20s, if not early 30s in some cases), get a chain letter in their email inboxes. If they pass it along, they live. If they don’t, they get killed. Gruesomely. Plus, it’s got Brad Dourif, Keith David, and sorta-“it”-girl Nikki Reed. What’s not to like, right?

Unfortunately, that bare-bones plot outline I just threw out there is every bit as flimsy as the actual story (if you can call anything this skeletal an actual story at all) holding co-writer/director Deon Taylor’s 2010 release Chain Letter together.

If you’re in this whole thing for the gore and nothing else, then hey, I have to say this flick delivers. But while some (okay, plenty) of horror films are rightly accused of having one-dimensional characterization, that would actually be a big improvement over what’s on display here. The characters in this film aren’t even fleshed out enough for us to decide whether we like them, hate them, or just plain don’t give a fuck about them, and how often can you say a film is so poorly written that you don’t even know enough about the people in it to decide whether or not they bore you?

Taylor and his crew focus the entirety of their energy on coming up with graphic, sadistic kill scenes, and while they succeed in creating plenty of those, there’s just nothing else going on here to even maintain any audience interest, and honestly, if you don’t care if the characters get killed or not, what’s the point in seeing them die?

A decent cast is laid to waste here both figuratively and literally. David and Dourif, for their parts, seem to know they’re in a grad-A clunker and mail in their seriously underwritten performances. David doesn’t get to be a bad-ass, Dourif doesn’t get to be much of a weirdo, and even Nikki reed doesn’t get to do what she does best, that being take her clothes off. You honestly have to wonder how badly they all needed the money.

I’m all for mean-spirited, nasty, brutish grotesquerie (or however you spell that word), honestly I am, but not when it falls this far short of its potential. Chain Letter sure sounds like it’s got pretty much everything you’d want in this sort of a movie, but there has to be something holding all the morbidity together, or at least trying to give the impression that the filmmakers give a damn about,, you know, telling a story, but Taylor’s clearly got a one-track mind — kill the guy or gal on the screen and move on to the next one. Take a fucking number, folks.

Chain Letter was rolled out in limited release on about 400 screens nationwide and survived exactly one week. It was released on DVD and (I think, at least) Blu-ray shortly thereafter from New Films Cinema in a package that contains no extras whatsoever apart from the theatrical trailer. Not that it deserves any kind of deluxe treatment or anything.  You can safely hit delete on this Chain Letter and move on.