Archive for November, 2012

Writer-director-producer Straw Weisman is one of those guys who’s had an interesting and varied career (mostly) on the margines of ultra-low-rent independent film, and you literally never know just where he’s gonna pop up. His professional high points are probably serving as screenwriter on the ultra-mean race-hate exploitation classic Fight For Your Life and as one of the producers on, believe it nor not, the” New Age” documentary mini-sensation What The Bleep Do We Know? Apart from that he’s mostly known, to the extent that he’s “known” at all, for direct-to-video horror and suspense efforts like the one we’re here to take a look at today, 2009’s Trunk.

Filmed in and around the Los Angeles area for just over a million bucks (a figure I frankly find hard to believe — it looks like it could, and probably should, have come in for a fraction of that cost),  this flick features exactly two characters, two sets, and one car.

The characters are Megan, a divorced mother of one and recovering alcoholic, and George, a psycho serial killer who tosses her in the trunk of his car (hence the title, obviously); the sets are the front seat of the car and its trunk (which is most certainly not a real car trunk but a constructed, and very claustrophobic, prop); and the car is a shitty old two-door Lincoln.
To be perfectly honest, there’s not a whole lot more about this flick that you need to know. It was shot on HD and looks it, it “stars” the reasonably attractive but in no way talented Jennifer Day as Megan and the not-in-a-fun-way OTT David Blanchard as George, and the whole movie is a series of mostly rather annoying conversations between would-be killer and determined-not-to-be-a-victim conducted via a two-way Radio Shack speaker set-up installed in the car. She attempts to provide armchair psychoanalysis (difficult to do when you’re not sitting), and he dishes out lamely generic psychotic threats to her person that he never follows up on.
All in all, to say that Trunk promises a lot more than it delivers is a massive understatement. Given that our erstwhile killer doesn’t even manage to rifle through the contents of his would-be victim’s purse, much less snatch it from her altogether, before taking her captive it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that its contents are going to hold the keys to her makeshift salvation, and truth be told the ending of the movie is telegraphed to viewers almost immediately, thus rendering the 90 minutes or so between her capture and ultimate escape a complete waste of time. There’s moments of mildly interesting dialogue between the two of them here and there, but mostly it’s all mind-numbingly stupid, predictable stuff, and hardly worth paying attention to.
If you must, Trunk is available on DVD from an outfit called Maverick Entertainment. Widescreen picture and 5.1 sound are both perfectly serviceable, and there are no extras to speak of. It might make for decent background noise while you’re cooking, cleaning, clipping your toenails, or just watching the paint dry or the flagpole rust, but honestly, you can probably do better even in that regard.

I’m not sure how many films titled Revenge have been made over the years. I looked it up on IMDB and stopped counting at 24. It looked like I  was about halfway through the list. It’s also been the title of a few different TV series, one of which is apparently in its second season on the ABC network as we speak (I’m reliably informed, no surprise, that it completely sucks). So I guess we’d better be specific about exactly which Revenge it is we’re talking about here : this is the 1986 straight-to-video release Revenge, also known as Revenge : Blood Cult 2, a sequel to the very first shot-on-video horror film ever made (one we reviewed here on this very blog earlier this year), writer-director Christopher Lewis’  Tulsa, Oklahoma-lensed Blood Cult.

Now, if you’ve ever seen Blood Cult, you’ll know that it’s certainly not one of the better SOV horror efforts ever made, to put it kindly, but it’s at least worth seeing for its historic significane, especially if you’re a fan of these type of bargain-basement efforts. It certainly can’t be recommended for anything much beyond that, though (and this is coming from somebody who loves ’80s SOV horror). Still, even damned with that faint level of praise, it has to be said that Blood Cult has more going for it than Lewis’ tepid-to-put-it-kindly sequel, ‘cuz Revenge just plain sucks any way you slice it.

Lewis has swapped out his Sony Betacam for a real 16mm film camera here, and even hired a couple of “name” Hollywood actors, but all that does is diminish whatever lukewarm level of “charm” the first flick had going for it. The story treads pretty familiar territory — Patrick “nepotism in action” Wayne plays the brother of one of the murder victims from the first flick who’s come back to the small unnamed college town where the original murder spree took place, and together with a simple country bumpkin played by Bennie Lee McGowan he’s determined to prove that an ancient satanic cult is behind all the grisly goings-on in the area.  Little does he suspect, at first, how difficult the task will be, though, given that the town doctor, the dean of the college, and even a US Senator (played by John Carradine, who’s firmly in the “anything for a buck” phase of his career at this point) are all involved —

If any or all of that sounds interesting to you, then by all means have at it, but I’m telling ya, friends, this flick is a solid bore for start to finish. Not even Wayne’s deplorably wooden acting provides enough entertainment value to save this snooze-fest, given that he’s more just straight-up bad than he is “so-bad-he’s good.” Really, I’m trying to think of any reason at all for you, dear reader, to see this thing, and I’m drawing blanks (which at least is better than shooting them). The “mystery” powers behind the cult are obvious from the get-go, the murders are monotonously standard fare, the dialogue is wretched, the acting is deplorable — in short, it’s the kind of movie I should absolutely love, but I just plain don’t. It’s clearly the product of people doing nothing but going through the motions, and even calling it a half-assed affair is being too damn generous.

If you’re absolutely bound and determined to ignore my warnings, though, Revenge is available on DVD from VCI Home Entertainment. Extras include the trailer for the film itself as well as for some other VCI titles, a “making-of” featurette that’s not much more involving than its subject, and a full-length commentary from Lewis that’s at least somewhat interesting. Watch it if you must.

But really, you mustn’t. So I wouldn’t.

I see you there, scratching your head. “American Nightmare?,” you’re thinking, “but I thought these ‘International Weirdness’ posts of yours were about — ya know — international flicks? Hence the title and all that?”

I understand your confusion, my friends, I really do, but rest assured — the 1983 release American Nightmare (it was filmed in ’81 but languished around for a good long while before finding a distribution deal) is, in fact, a Canadian film, shot on the dirty streets (well, as close as you’re going to find to dirty streets) of Toronto, and the film’s decidedly non-American origins are readily apparent the moment most of the actors go abewt the business of delivering their lines. As a matter of fact, some genre fans have even gone so far as to proclaim this movie to be the nearest thing to a Canadian giallo.

It sort of makes sense, really — the plot is definitely reminiscent of some of the great Italian exploitation efforts, centering as it does around a bitter heir to the throne of a media empire (Lawrence Day), whose relationship with his father is — uhhmmmm — distant, at best, as he searches for his estranged sister, who has gone missing in the drugs-and-prostitution underworld of whatever major American city this is supposed to take place in. Our erstwhile amateur sleuth is joined in his investigative efforts by his sister’s one-time roommate (Lora Staley), who also plies her trade by night at a strip club and later at night at — well, wherever her “clients” take her. There’s just one other wrinkle to add to the proceedings — there just so happens to be a knife-wielding killer on the loose hacking and stabbing his way through the city’s practitioners of the world’s oldest profession (the film even opens with a classic giallo-style hooker murder, with the unfortunate victim in question being portrayed by future Baywatch beauty Alexandra Paul). Needless to say, there’s more going on with these grisly murders than meets the eye, and the entirely unofficial investigations of our intrepid duo, as well as the official police investigations led by a young, and already awesome, Michael Ironside, lead into some very uncomfortable, and very powerful, territory.

Really, though, it’s the style and tone of this gritty — and often quite brutally nasty — little piece of business that make the giallo comparisons apt : the killings themselves don’t shy away from the blood (or misogyny); veteran Canadian composer Paul Zaza’s score is icy, clinical, and entirely memorable; director Don McBrearty gives the proceedings a very sleazy “street-level” feel while also having an artist’s eye for the grislier aspects of his script; and the heady mix of sex and violence that forms the beating heart of the whole affair is played up for all its worth and then some. Throw in a terrific cameo appearance by exploitation favorite Lenore Zann as a hooker/stripper trying to “go straight” and a hilariously, and stereotypically, pathetic cross-dresser neighbor and what’s not to love here?

This largely unknown Canuxploitation tax-shelter rarity, produced by veteran hand Paul Lynch, has recently seen the light of day on DVD under the auspices of Scorpion Releasing’s “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” line hosted by former WWE “diva” (whatever that means, but she does a decent enough job as presenter of these flicks) Katarina Leigh Watters. Full-frame picture and mono sound are both far less than perfect but entirely passable (although you’ve gotta crank the volume way up), and extras include an interview with Lynch about his entire career as a whole and a full-length audio commentary with him and Watters that is, thankfully, a bit more specific to this film itself. A nice little package that will hardly knock your socks off but is probably more than fans of this movie ever had any realistic cause to hope for.

Definitely a product of its time, and with groaningly lame dialogue in parts, American Nightmare is nevertheless a pretty powerful, and surprisingly well-done, slice of cinematic nastiness that lingers in the memory fairly strongly after viewing. Treading the line between exploitation nastiness and “quality” arthouse-style filmmaking, it mostly manages to blend the best of both worlds together fairly successfully without giving into the excesses of either. One of the more pleasant —even if the film itself is pretty damn unpleasant — surprises I’ve popped into the DVD player in quite some time.

You’ve gotta hand it to Granville, Ohio-based director Jordan Downey and his writing partner, Kevin Stewart. When their 2009 holiday-horror spoof ThanksKilling defied the odds by both managing to get notices and actually make a few bucks, they didn’t let their modest taste of genre “success” go to their heads and consequently expand their horizons further than they were capable of reaching. Instead, they started up a campaign on Kickstarter to hustle up the funding necessary to deliver their audience an even bigger helping of exactly what we want.

The results — three years and an impressive $100,000 later — is ThanksKilling 3, another shot-on-HD effort (available via Amazon streaming for the bargain price of $3.99, with a DVD release forthcoming, I would assume, at some point) that stays true to its absurd premise while considerably upping the ante both in terms of gore and general out-and-out OTT idiocy. Sure, the production values are a bit higher, but the “Hey, we made this fucking this ourselves!” ethos is still at the beating heart of the proceedings here.

First off, just to set the record straight — there is no ThanksKilling 2. At least not in the real world. Such a flick does, however, exist  on paper — the paper the script for this one was written on. Yup, our plot here centers around the efforts of everyone’s favorite homicidal gobbler, Turkie, to kill his way through anyone and everyone who may have seen, or had a hand in, the production of the fictitious second film in the ThanksKilling (non-) trilogy, a movie which was apparently so bad that anyone who’s laid eyes on it needs to die before they can spread the word that it even exists. Presently, the only copy left is existence is in the clutches of a group of raunchy puppets.

Now, here comes the part where you need to reassure yourself that yes, you really did read this right (as if you didn’t just do that) — Turkie’s kill list includes a rapping grandma, a(nother) puppet in search of her lost brain, and a bisexual space worm. Out to stop him are the wig-bedecked inventor of something called the PluckMaster 3000, the head of security at a place called ThanksgivingLand, and a WiseTurkey. To say you really have to see it to believe it is an understatement of the highest order.

And while the budget here may be (considerably) higher than the first time around, fear not! Everything looks as cheap as ever — maybe even cheaper, if such a thing is humanly possible. And we even get glimpses of places called FeatherWorld and Turkey Hell. Honestly, what’s not to love?

I admit, some of the charm (if that’s the word we’re looking for) of the first film is lost here in the more ambitious (again, if that’s the word we’re looking for) sequel, but all in all things are still pretty much exactly what you think they’re going to be here, with the stupid cranked all the way up into overdrive. And hey — in the end, no matter how crazed it is,  it still makes a hell of a lot more sense than people trampling over each other for Black Friday “door-buster” specials.

Honestly — given the time of year, and the sort of blog this is that I’m supposedly “running” here, I would be remiss in my duties not to review backyard auteur Jordan Downey’s shot-in-Granville-Ohio-for $3,500 2009 effort ThanksKilling, wouldn’t I?  Yes, I would. I really, really would.

So what exactly is it we’ve got here? 70 minutes  (a runtime that would make Herschell Gordon Lewis proud) of pure tongue-in-cheek mayhem featuring a homicidal mutant turkey that kills college kids. And some boobs. Really, that pretty much sums it up. The rubber turkey (at least, I think it’s rubber) is hardly impressive, the gore effects are hardly impressive, and the boobs are hardly impressive, but hey — none of it’s really meant to be. We’re talking, after all, about a flick that boasts the (admittedly genius) tagline of “Gobble Gobble, Motherfucker!,” that lists the  principal characters in the end credits as “The Jock, ” The Nerd,” “The Good Girl,” “The Hot Girl,” “The Sensitive Girl,” “The Funny Fat Guy”  and “The Hick,” respectively, and that boasts right there in bold type on its one-sheet about having naked (non-turkey) breasts less than a minute into the proceedings, so you know exactly what you’re getting into here.

And, really, knowing what you’re getting into is what ThanksKilling is all about. Could you reinvent the wheel with 3500 bucks and a few friends? I kinda doubt it, so why even try? Instead, Downey, co-writer Kevin Stewart, and their cohorts are just concerned with having as much fun with their HD camera as possible and paying homage to all those holiday horrors we all grew up with ( honestly, there are horror flicks based around Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s Eve/Day, July 4th — only Arbor Day, it seems remains sacred, and you can bet that won’t last forever) by digging in and giving the whole slasher-spoof thing the ol’ college try (and yes, this thing really does feel — and look — very much like a student film, even though it isn’t).

I can’t say their efforts are particularly inspired, by any means, but they’re certainly not wasted, either — truth be told ThanksKilling really is good, stupid, disposable fun, with lines so cheesy you have no choice but to groan, production values so substandard you can’t help but laugh, and the best homicidal turkey this side of the classic Blood Freak (not, in fairness, that there have been very many — or even any — in between). Like I said, knowing what you’re getting into is the name of the game here. The killer turkey is even named — you probably guessed it! — Turkie, so hey, there ya go. Putting any thought into this thing as you watch it is overthinking things.

As an added plus, if you’re a Netflix member, you can catch this turkey (sorry, had to) for free, since it’s available via instant streaming (that’s how I watched it, so while it’s also available on DVD I can’t fairly comment on whatever extras it may or may not contain, nor on the technical specifications or what have you), so you really have nothing to lose but barely over and hour of your life if you decide to give it a shot. I think you’ll be glad you did, and honestly, I hope that Hollywood’s paying attention to this flick and others like it, because if a few folks in the middle of BF Egypt can deliver everything you would expect with $3,500  then the major studios should feel downright ashamed of themselves for failing to pony up the goods so frequently with budgets literally hundreds of millions of times larger.

The spirit of DIY cinematic pioneers like Don Dohler definitely lives on in the Jordan Downeys of the world, and while I kind of miss the obvious earnestness of  suburban Baltimore’s John -Carpenter-of-the-cul-de-sac and his fellow toilers in obscurity, I can’t blame today’s no-budget generation for openly not taking their efforts very seriously, since modern audiences are justly much more cynical due to the fact that we literally have seen it all before (even homicidal turkeys). So just sit back and enjoy the ride both for what is and what it’s worth — which, as we’ve already established, is less than four grand. If ya don’t like it, there’s literally no reason at this point why you can’t try to come up with something better yourself, all you need is a camera, some friends, and some free time.

So, anyway — it appears that the entire publishing schedule for Before Watchmen has been thrown off a bit lately. We didn’t get anything for two weeks, and next week they’re playing catch-up by releasing the latest issues of Silk SpectreComedian, and Nite Owl all at once. For Silk Spectre and Nite Owl, that’s ll be the end of the road, but until then, we’ve been “given” the first of the two-part Moloch (very) mini-series to mull over — since, ya know, DC apparently feels we weren’t being subjected to enough J. Michael Straczynski already.

I admit, when this book was first announced my reaction was, essentially, “what’s the point?” But then, given that you could reasonably say the same thing about the entire Before Watchmen enterprise as a whole, I guess “what the hell — why not?” is a reasonable enough way to look at this late-comer to the proceedings, as well. And hey — at least it’s got Eduardo Risso art, and I’ve always liked his stuff.

All in all this issue wasn’t so bad as far as these things go, but a word of warning — if the other BW series have felt like useless “professional fan fiction” to you, then this one is going to feel like more of the same only on steroids, since it’s principal character, one-time super-villain Moloch, appeared on a grand total of, what? Maybe 12 pages of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series? So yeah — we are admittedly, pretty firmly in “fanwank” territory here. And it’s not like there’s bound to be anything too earth-shattering going over the course of a story that only runs two issues. And yet —

Maybe it’s because this little interlude-of-a-book is so far removed from being actually necessary, or maybe it’s because I was just in the mood for a pleasant-enough little time-waster when I read it, but I actually enjoyed (believe it or not!) Before Watchmen : Moloch #1 (variant covers, as shown, by Risso, Matt Wagner, and Jim Lee, respectively). Admittedly, the framing device of using a confession to a Roman Catholic priest as a springboard for a series of flashback vignettes covering the course of a character’s life has pretty much been done to death, but it generally works here, and maybe because we know so little about him Edward Jacobi’s life story actually makes for fairly interesting reading. We’re not mining overly-familiar territory here as we are in the other books. Heck, as we get to the end of the “origin flashbacks” in this first issue, Straczynski even leaves us with a relatively nifty little cliffhanger, even though it should be anything but a surprise given what little we do know about this character.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that, contrary to the other  BW books that are nothing but random recollections of past “adventures” (I’m looking at you, specifically, Comedian and Ozymandias — as well as Nite Owl  #1 and Minutemen #1), Before Watchmen : Moloch  #1 actually works. Yeah, the Moloch character is uglier and weirder-looking than Dave Gibbons portrayed him, looking a lot more like Neal Adams’s Man-Bat character here, but there might be an explanation for his changed appearance forthcoming in the second issue, or maybe it’s all just down to artistic differences. I don’t much care either way, this is pretty much a throwaway character, and yeah — it’s also pretty much a throwaway book. But it’s a competently executed throwaway book, with a breezy, well-written script and some truly gorgeous art by Risso. What’s not to like?

Still, I have to confess (just to clumsily pick up on Straczynski’s already-clumsy “confession” theme) that the book left me with a nagging question — if a well-done, but pointless, diversion stands out as being one of the better Before Watchmen issues to date, how  absolutely thorough a condemnation is that of the other titles in this series?