Archive for February 21, 2013

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As is fairly obvious to regular and/or unusually observant readers of this site, your host has been on quite a tear as far as these Mill Creek/Pendulum Pictures DVD bargain boxes go lately. And it occurs to me, perusing through my more recent postings, that I’ve only bothered to write reviews of “product” I found on these sets that I was, shall we say, less than fond of. In the spirit of absolute fairness, then, I think it’s only right that I scribble down some musings about at least one of these microbudget backyard horror “epics” that I actually like, wouldn’t you agree?

And so it’s my distinct pleasure to introduce you, my dear readers, to the $12,000 slice of sublime joy that is writer/producer/director Dave Wascavage’s Fungicide. One of two SOV flicks that he made in 2005 hot on the heels of the “success” of the previous year’s Suburban Sasquatch (the other being a rather blase affair entitled Tartarus), this straight-outta-redneck-country-Pennsylvania 80-or-so-minuter tells a pretty simple tale about a mad scientist who’s holed up in what’s supposedly a “bed and breakfast” (it actually looks — okay, fuck it, is — a conventional home that hasn’t been B & B’ed-up in the least) and ends up testing out his latest super-serum concoction on the local wild mushroom supply. Soon the other guests at the “inn” — a  motley collection of hilariously predictable stereotypes on legs — are under attack from fungi that have transformed into intelligent, ruthless killing machines!

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Wascavage is lot more ambitious in terms of his CGI usage here than he was in Suburban Sasquatch, and the reults are, if anything, even worse. I mean, seriously — the effects “wizardry” on display here makes Birdemic look like a master’s thesis at the ILM training school (if such a place actually existed an’ all). It’s a damn good thing that the weirdly-boxed full-frame image on this film is so washed-out and hideous-looking, because if we could actually see these killer digital ‘shrooms in crystal clear, high quality resolution they’d certainly look even more hysterically shitty than they already do. in other words, don’t expect a Blu-Ray release for this flick anytime soon.

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Still, ya know what? As lousy-in-a-fun-way as the computerized fungi are, the film really kicks into a whole ‘nother gear when they become so giant, so deadly, and so bloodthirsty that Atari 2600-style graphics just won’t do the job and Wascavage has to resort to people wearing beige(-ish) bedsheets and cardboard (I think) muffin-top hats in order to “convincingly” portray the full fury of his homicidal mushrooms gone wild. You need more proof than my mere say-so on this? Here ya go —

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And that, right there, is pretty much what Fungicide is all about. Its raison d’etre, if you will. Get a bunch of friends together, go out to the woods,  throw some grade-school-play costumes on , cut loose, and have a good time.  If anybody out there in the entire universe is stupid enough to want to watch the thing apart from friends and immediate family members, so much the better. This is the pioneering DIY spirit of a Nathan Schiff (minus his sociopolitical commentary) back from the dead, and it’s good to see that some people with no actual talent, certainly no actual budget (IMDB lists Fungicide‘s total  expenditures as being $12,000, but that seems pretty generous) and, at the end of the day. nothing much to really even say are still more than willing to just go outside with a video camera and shoot something for no other reasons than that they’re bored, and they can.

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As for which Pendulum box I found this  hiding it, it’s the 12-disc, 50-film Catacomb Of Creepshows collection. As already mentioned, the picture quality is positively atrocious and the stereo(-ish) sound is just as lousy — at least! — to boot. It’s also available as a stand-alone release from Wascavage’s own production “company,” Troubled Moon Films, and their release is supposedly a two-disc set loaded with extras — although, according a friend and fellow bad movie buff on facebook, his two-disc “special edition” arrived with only one disc in the case and it was strictly a bare-bones affair. He doesn’t mind in the least, and I can’t say as I blame him since that’s pretty much Fungicide  in a nutshell : a cheap, bad,  sub-sub-substandard, waste of time rip-off — that you love to pieces anyway.

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Remember the golden days of the late ’80s and early ’90s? Back before the concepts of DVD, or even Laser Disc, were anything more than a twinkle in the eye of some mad inventor and we still watched things on bulky, boxy VHS tapes? Why, these tape things were so popular that a lot of third-(or lower) rate producers even came to the realization that they could bypass those pesky movie theaters altogether and just unleash their usually-less-than-goodies directly onto the rental market. Those were good times, I’m tellin’ ya, and I miss ’em.

Foremost among those peddling their genre wares right onto video store shelves was, of course, Charles Band, who had the good sense to transition over from making low-budget theatrically-released films like The Alchemist and Metalstorm : The Destruction Of Jared-Syn to even-lower-budget straight-to-video work when he realized those new-fangled VCR machines were where all the action for his particular brand of sub-Hollywood product was gonna be located from here on out. He could both spend less, and turn a bigger profit, doing things this way, and hence Full Moon Entertainment was born — an outfit that’s still going semi-strong to this day.

Everybody’s got their favorite Full Moon “franchises,” of course — nearly every idea Band threw out there was worth at least one sequel, and in many cases several. The Puppet Master series has proven to be the most popular and successful of the bunch, but Trancers, The Gingerdead Man, Demonic Toys, Subspecies and Killjoy, to name just a handful, all have their fans, as well.

Tops on my personal list, though, has always been the almost-agonizingly absurd Dollman, a foot-tall bad-ass ex-cop from the distant planet of Arturus named — get this — Brick Bardo, who’s got a gun that can blast anything or anyone to bits and an attitude so OTT in the hard-edged department that he makes Dirty Harry look positively friendly by comparison. Full Moon regular Tim Thomerson is essentially reprising his role as Jack Deth from the Trancers flicks here, but he sinks his teeth into the part with even more obvious relish here since the premise itself throws suspension of disbelief right out the window from the word “go” and never bothers to look back. This is Thomerson “unplugged,” all the way — and probably even a little unglued, too.

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Anyway, for Bardo’s first outing back in 1991 (he would, sadly, make just one other appearance, in the franchise mash-up Dollman Vs. Demonic Toys) he’s transported to Earth accidentally during a high-speed space-chase in pursuit of a villainous floating head-strapped-to-a-board named Armbrusier. Some kind of dimensional barrier or other is breached and/or ruptured in their cosmic game of cat n’ mouse and they both end up crash-landing on Earth —in the South Bronx, no less — and discover, to their apparent near-nonchalance, that they’re not even knee-high to the inhabitants of our planet.

Needless to say, the South Bronx being something of a war zone itself, both Bardo and Armbruiser quickly find themselves on opposite sides in a neighborhood conflict : Brick’s teamed up with “save-the-community” do-gooder Debi Alejandro (Kamala Lopez-Dawson) and her son, Kevin, while Armbruiser figures he can use the local drug gang, led by one Braxton Red ( future Oscar nominee, Watchman, and Freddie Krueger Jackie Earle Haley — hey, we all gotta start somewhere, right?) as foot soldiers in his plan to eventually, ya know, take over the world, now that he’s pretty much stuck here an’ all.

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If this sounds like a recipe for 82 minutes of overtly absurd fun to you, then congratulations — you sure won’t be disappointed. Veteran Z-grade director Albert Pyun (responsible for such disparate fare as The Sword And The Sorcerer and the langusihed-in-unreleased-hell-for-years version of Captain America starring J.D Salinger’s son, among other highlights in a career I’m positively envious of) is fully engaged with material that a Hollywood snob would sleepwalk through until his payday came along, and gets some terrific performances from his cast. The theme song liberally swipes from that of Robocop (most likely without persmission). The split-screen effect to create an illusion of massive size differential is entirely unconvincing throughout. The special effects in general are amazingly, thoroughly, uniformly unbelievable, in fact. In short, this one’s got everything you’d want — a story not worth believing in the first place, executed on a budget that knows it, helmed by a director who’s determined to give it his best effort anyway and make sure his cast does the same (Haley, for his part, certainly proves that he could always act here and that his nod from the Academy was no fluke).

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Like a lot of Full Moon product, Echo Bridge has recently released Dollman on a double-sided bargain DVD along with Demonic Toys and Dollman Vs. Demonic Toys. It retails for around eight or ten bucks and while the full frame transfer and stereo sound aren’t the best by any means, they by and large get the job done. There are, as you’d no doubt expect, absolutely no extras to speak of included with the package. I understand a British Blu-Ray release is also in the works, for those of you who absolutely must see the closest thing to a “quality presentation” this movie’s ever likely to get.

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If stupid fun’s what you’re after, Dollman delivers it by the toy -truck -load. Truth be told, halfway through writing this review I found myself getting antsy to watch it again, and I’ve seen it at least a dozen times. How many films can you really say that about?

Freeze, sucker ! Not another step or I shoot you in the ankle!