Archive for March, 2014



Running the kind of site I do  here, it’s only natural that certain folks I’ve gotten to “know” vicariously via the internet would be putting a bug in my ear for some time now to check out 2012’s Kickstarter-funded Osombie — I mean, a movie about Osama Bin Laden coming back from the dead and leading an army of zombie terrorists? That’s got “trash film” written all over it, right?

I was certainly intrigued enough, especially when I heard how cut-rate the CGI effects were, how wooden the acting was, how inauthentic the supposed “Afghan” shooting locales were, and how rancid the film’s dialogue was — charges which, I’m happy to report, are all true. Still, for one reason or another (or maybe I was just being petulant because the filmmakers never sent me a free screener copy), I never got around to it. But when I noticed last night that it was leaving the Netflix instant streaming lineup as of March 31st (fair warning for those of you who fast-forward to the end of reviews to check out the DVD and Blu-Ray technical specs, there won’t be any provided here because I can’t fairly comment on them), I decided to finally give it a go.

What I found was pretty much in line with what I expected — but also something else entirely, and I think that the B-movie “community” — to the extent that there even is such a thing — had been suckered here a bit. Sit back and I’ll lay out the details as to why.


The plot, for starters, is about as absurd as one can imagine — former New York fireman-turned-conspiracy-theorist heads to Afghanistan to prove not only that Osama Bin Laden is still alive, but to kill the guy himself, given that he lost his whole company in the Twin Towers while he stayed home sick that day. Now, I know that commercial flights from JFK or LaGuardia to Kabul are, as of this writing, still a non-existent thing, but he does make it across the Afghan border, somehow — as does his sister, who’s trying to talk him out of his( in the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi) “damn fool crusade,” a few weeks later. So I guess it’s not that tough a place to get to after all.

Along the way they each separately meet up with members of the exact same international team of coalition forces, who are happy enough to enlist a couple of civilians, on the spot, to fight alongside them — but then they  don’t seem to care much about following established battlefield protocols in general given that one of the female members carries a fucking samurai sword around with her and another, the film’s ostensible “star” (played by low-level supposed heart-throb Corey Sevier — although he’s not anything like the central character here, so I guess it’s  more accurate to just say that he gets top billing) seems to be allergic to wearing a shirt. Maybe the military’s just running a really loose ship over there, who knows.

That’s not all they run into, though — truth is Bin Laden really is still alive. Or, more precisely, he’s not. He’s, as you’ve no doubt pieced together by now, a zombie. It turns out that the government was trying to develop a Captain America-style super-soldier serum but it went horribly wrong (a bit of back-story not entirely dissimilar to the origin of Cap’s enemy Nuke), kills whoever takes it, then brings ’em back from the dead. Al Qaeda apparently got ahold of a sizable stash of this stuff, and Bin Laden took it just before he was captured by Seal Team Six, woke up in the C-130 they were transporting his supposed corpse in , killed everyone on board, crashed the plane, and landed in the ocean (giving rise to the first of many rancid blue-screen shots in the film as his shambling form emerges from the water). After that he got the old gang back together, shot ’em all up with the rest of the zombie juice, and now they’re back on the front lines of the “war on terrorism” ( I guess now we know why it won’t end in our lifetime).

Apparently these zombies play by the “Romero Rules” of needing to be decapitated or shot in the head to be killed (for good) and transmitting their infection via biting, so cue plenty of horseshit CGI effects in a few lackadaiscal battles here and there inevitably leading up to the “big moment” when our one-time fireman does, in fact, get to kill the world’s formerly-most-wanted terrorist himself and our “heroes” (a surprisingly large number of them, in fact, for a zombie flick) live happily ever after.


If it all sounds action-packed, I assure you it’s not. This is an incredibly talky film with the characters divulging way more about their personal lives than anybody’s going to give a shit about — and that’s why I first started smelling a rat. They blather a lot, sure — but they never swear, even in the midst of this hyper-macho environment. And a lot of what they talk about seems tailor-made to appeal to those with a very specific, and frankly juvenile, worldview. Consider : one of our cast is in no rush to get home because he got divorced. He married his childhood sweetheart, the girl he’s loved his whole life, and their relationship went south when she started seeing a shrink, who charmed his way into her pants within just a few months. Hmmmm — how often does this really happen? Answer : pretty much never, but there’s a certain segment of the population who reflexively view the husband as the injured party in every divorce, and distrust psychiatry in as equally knee-jerk a fashion.

You know who I mean : the people who think praying and going to church and reading the Bible together will keep a couple happy forever. The folks who have built an entire “alternative media” of cheaply-made movies, “soft rock” music, and home-schooling textbooks to prevent their offspring from being exposed to the real world. I’m talking, of course, about evangelicals.

Also worth noting in addition to the “no cursing” rule in effect is the fact that apart from Sevier, who’s always eager to peel off his shirt at the drop of a — errr— hat, is the fact that there’s no actual nudity here, despite the film having two reasonably attractive female cast members (one of whom, the civilian sister — played by Eve Mauro — even demonstrates a modicum of acting ability). How many actual horror flicks, especially low-budget ones, can you say that about?

The most telling sign that there’s a “home team” that Osombie is playing for, though, is also the most repugnant — sure, a couple of the “good guys” die when they’re bitten by zombie terrorists, but director John Lyde always cuts away at the moment of their actual demise, while every single Muslim who gets killed gets the “full treatment” in all its cheap CGI gory “glory.”

Clearly, then,  the slaughter here is an entirely one-sided affair — but so are the film’s conspiratorial politics. A quick Google search for “Bin Laden is alive” conspiracies reveals that there’s no shortage of that viewpoint to be found out there (and who knows, I’m as conspiratorially-inclined as the next guy, maybe there’s something to it), but every single site I found promulgating that idea, without exception, also takes the view that 9/11 itself was an “inside job” and that the whole “War On Terrorism” has been what they call a “false flag” operation from the get-go. Give them points then, at least, for consistency. —but you can’t say the same for Lyde and screenwriter Kurt Hale. In their view, 9/11 went down exactly as it was reported, the Bush administration told us the truth, and it’s only that dastardly Obama fella who’s lying because Bin Laden really isn’t dead. Throw in one quick, cheap Obama joke made by one of the cast — which is frankly pretty innocuous on its face and probably far less extreme than anything you’re likely to hear from your crazy conservative uncle at the next family get-together, but stands out by dint of its being the only openly political wisecrack in a movie featuring a character who tells one sorry (and entirely G-rated) riddle after another — and the politics of this crowd-funded endeavor, as well as who was in that “crowd,”  suddenly becomes crystal clear.

All in all, by the time the end credits for Osombie rolled around and I saw that one of the film’s executive producers was a reverend, I was hardly surprised. And a post-viewing look at IMDB that showing that both Lyde and Hale have written and directed a fair number of Christian and “inspirational” movies (among other marginal TV and film credits) surprised me even less. This may not advertise itself as a religious production, and nobody in the movie does anything as obvious as take a break from the action to pray or read the Bible (they’re too busy droning on about their lives back home, their hopes, their dreams, and all kinds of other shit that goes in one ear and out the other), but such a blatant approach isn’t really necessary to convince the aware viewer that this a piece of cultural propaganda with a very definite agenda that’s been sold to the B-movie movie crowd rather than the Christian crowd simply because, I’m guessing,  there’s probably more money to be made there and, who knows, maybe there are even a few souls to “save.”

Not that I have anything against church-funded projects, mind you — we wouldn’t have Plan 9 From Outer Space without them — but this kind of duplicitous marketing rubs me the wrong way. If you’re so proud of your evangelical faith, don’t hide it. Be honest and upfront in your beliefs, otherwise you’re no better than those tricky Islamic fundamentalists who supposedly want to brainwash all our youth and then, I dunno,  kill ’em all in spectacular acts of mass terrorism. Or something like that —  there have been so many entirely imaginary “Muslim plots against America” that they all sort of blend together at this point.

Osombie as himself


None of which is to say that fans of bad — or trashy, or whatever —  movies won’t find plenty to like about Osombie. It’s loaded with more rank incompetence than most films and has kind of  a Birdemic meets the war on terrorism” vibe that kinda works in its favor. It’s outrageous, stupid, boring, incomprehensible, and features a good number of “what the fuck, did I really just see that?” moments. In short, all the shit we like around these parts.

But it’s also a modern-day Christian “scare” flick that reinforces some pretty ugly, and blatantly false, cultural stereotypes, not the least of which being that Muslims are mindless, violent, cannibalistic savages who blindly and reflexively hate all Westerners — even, apparently, after they’re dead. And you’d have to be a real zombie to believe that crap.

frozen scream dutch vhs front & back2


What happens when the largely unintelligible Renee Harmon — best known for her collaborations with B-movie auteur James Bryan such as Lady Street Fighter  and The Executioner Part II — tries to fly solo? Nothing good, I assure you, as 1975’s rankly amateur production Frozen Scream proves beyond a shadow of a doubt. This is a flick that not only has no time for dull banalities such as logic, continuity, believability, or even generally-accepted consensus reality — but also, by all accounts, has no real comprehension of what they even mean.

Which, I guess, is fine. Because I’ve always been of the opinion that the best way to get away with ignoring something is to feign ignorance of its very existence. “What? Taxes? Never heard of ’em, and nobody ever told me I had to pay ’em, that’s for sure!” has always been a line I’ve wanted to try, for instance.

It’s quite clear that nobody ever told Renee Harmon that she couldn’t act, but that didn’t stop her from trying. Hell, she and her principal co-star here were both LA-area community college acting instructors at the time (and most of the “talent” they assembled for this cheapie came from their classrooms).  She also couldn’t write a coherent screenplay and couldn’t produce anything like a remotely competent motion picture — but again, she didn’t let these pesky facts stand in her way, and she didn’t need to be able to do any of those things, either, apparently, because Frozen Scream exists regardless of those absolute truths.

All of which means that in her own private war against the words “can’t” and “shouldn’t,” ,  she won. We all seek to impose our will on the rest of the world to one degree or another — she actually managed to do so, after a fashion. Can you say the same?


I have to reiterate, though — none of that means that this is a good movie. Or even a good bad movie. Or a “so bad it’s good” movie. It really is shit. The “plot” — a term we have to use very loosely here — centers on evil scientist Sven Johnsson (Lee James), and his trusty lab-coated sidekick, Lil Stanhope (Harmon herself), and their attempts at achieving immortality. They run some kind of new-agey college course together which gives them ample access to “volunteers” for their experimentation, and wouldn’t ya know, they do find the fountain of youth — in the form of walking death. Yes, friends :  you, too, can live forever — you just have to die first to do it, and then come back as a mindless, shambling,  zombie corpse! I did warn you about the massive gaps of logic in this film’s story, did I not?

Anyway, when one of their guinea pigs, a certain newlywed university student named Tom Girard (Wolf Muser) disappears, his nosy bride, Anne (Lynn Kocol) starts asking a few too many questions and getting a little too close to the truth and — ah, shit, none of this matters. Really. Because there’s nothing like a linear structure going on here, anyway. Honestly, filmmakers who love to fuck with your head by tangling up timelines (think Gaspar Noe, for instance) could learn a thing or two from Harmon and her nominal director on this project, one Frank Roach, because they achieve by dint of sheer bloody-minded incompetence the kind of reality-bending that others have to work really hard for. The results are far from pretty, but consider this — the constant voice-over narration in Frozen Scream, which is evidently meant to explain so much of what the characters on screen never seem to get around to, actually has the opposite effect and only makes things more confusing! That takes a profound level of commitment to the art of incomprehensibility that simply can’t be faked— or planned. Any flick this haphazard and reckless can only be the result of pure, unadulterated accident, matched with a willful disregard to both what you’re doing and what anyone else will think of it.

And hey — giving a fuck is such a bourgeois thing to do, anyway.



Harmon, to her credit (again, a term we use loosely) knew the worst-kept secret to holding audience’s interest, anyway — as long as there’s a minor amount of nudity and gore sprinkled about here and there (keep in mind, it doesn’t even have to be very tantalizing nudity or very realistic gore), it literally doesn’t matter what the fuck you put on the screen the rest of the time. People will just keep watching, hoping for more. We’re predictable like that.

And honestly, that comes as near as anything can to explaining both what’s going on here and why. Try this — when you watch Frozen Scream, and the numerous questions along the lines of “dead God what the hell were they thinking here?” come up in your mind (as, I assure you, they will), just answer every single one with “ah, who really cares, anyway?” Trust me, it works.

At this point I’ve probably wasted enough of your time trying to codify and classify what can only be described as truly and utterly inexplicable, anyway. This is a movie the defies analysis or understanding as surely as it eschews quaint, shop-worn notions of good and bad. It just is and that’s all the more that can really be said about it — apart from the fact that you should skip the various bootleg DVDs of it that are out there and just watch it for free at the YouTube link below, because while a viewing experience this singular really should be experienced first-hand, it just as certainly should not cost you one red cent of your hard-earned money.

I take a look at issue three of George Romero’s “Empire Of The Dead” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens


If you’ll recall — and, hell, it remains true even if you don’t — the second issue of Marvel’s “event” mini-series Empire Of The Dead left me feeling decidedly unenthusiastic about this book”s future, given that all it really managed to do was tread water for 20 pages and then stop. But hey — maybe I’ve been a little too quick to judge. It’s been known to happen before.

I’m not here to tell you that Empire Of The Dead #3 (or, to be true to the copyright indicia, George A. Romero’s Empire Of The Dead Act One, #3) regains all the momentum we lost after a really solid first issue, but it does go some way toward explaining a few head-scratching things left over from last time around, like what all those rat slaughterhouses all over town are about (rat blood is provided as nourishment for the vampires…

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We all know how exploitation maestro William Girdler’s career (and, sadly, life) ended — in 1978, at the tragically early age of 30 and after having directed numerous B-movie hits such as The ManitouThree On A MeathookSheba, BabyDay Of The AnimalsAbby, and his most successful feature, Grizzly, he was killed in a helicopter crash in the Philippines while scouting locations for his next project.

Guess he never should have left Louisville, which is where more or less all of his previous flicks had been lensed, including the one we’re here to take a look at today, his 1972 debut effort, Asylum Of  Satan, which he directed, co-wrote, and composed the soundtrack music for when he still hadn’t been on this Earth for a quarter-century (specifically, he was 24).


It’s a good job this isn’t the film he’s best known for, to be sure, since it’s a pretty choppy affair that feels hopelessly padded even at a meager 78 minutes, but hey — we all gotta start somewhere, right? And if I made a movie at that age (or, hell, even now) it would probably be a damn sight worse than this is. But that’s probably as close to “praise” as we can honestly get here, since Asylum Of Satan bears all the hallmarks of a work done by somebody who’s definitely learning on the job as he goes along.

Oh, sure, it exudes a reasonable (though far from overwhelming) amount of the kind of low-grade charm that these regional low-budget (this was made for a reported $50,000) efforts often do, but it’s nowhere near enough to save this haphazard, plodding affair from its own unique blend of lethargy and outright confusion. On the one hand it definitely feels like Girdler probably wants to scare us —  he just doesn’t seem to know how to go about doing it, nor does it feel like he’s got either the time or the inclination to figure out where and how he’s missing the boat.

The set-up here is a reasonably interesting, if cliched, one : our heroine, a young lady named Lucina (Carla Borelli), wakes up in an insane asylum with no clear idea of how she got there or why she can’t leave. Her “therapist” is a quietly threatening type named Dr. Jason Specter (Charles Kissinger), and his staff seem every bit as , well, “off” as he does. Her fiance,  Chris (Nick Jolley), comes calling one day but is quickly brushed away by the not-so-good doctor, which prompts the would-be groom to enlist the aid of local police lieutenant Tom Walsh (Louis Bandy), who relates that it couldn’t have been Dr. Specter he spoke to since — get this — the man’s been dead for years. However, prior to his demise, Specter had, in fact, been “picked up for devil worship” on more than one occasion (funny, I didn’t realize any religious practices were illegal in this country).

Anyway, to make a (too) long story short,  Dr. Specter’s alive and well , obviously, and his supposedly “abandoned” asylum is still operating — in fact, it serves a very special purpose : he kidnaps young co-eds and brings them there to prepare them for their future role as human sacrifices to Lucifer himself!

Between all these half-baked “revelations” we’re treated to several ineptly-staged “trippy, dreamlike” sequences, but by and large things don’t really threaten to get interesting until the devil finally makes the scene right near the end — and that’s only memorable for all the wrong reasons. Take a look at Girdler’s version of the so-called “Prince of Lies”  and you”ll see why :

AOS devil


Yeah, I agree — Ed Wood probably would have done a better job. And so would his actors have. The performances in Asylum Of Satan  are uniformly cringe-worthy, but not in that “fun” or “camp” sort of way : they’re just flat-out listless, unprofessional, and bad. As is the script, As is the uninspired camera work. As is the painful musical score. As are the sets. As is the pacing. As is — well, you get the idea.

Still, you’ve gotta give Girdler credit for persistence. He didn’t give up after this one even though any sane human being probably would. He pressed on and got a little bit better with each successive attempt. There’s certainly nothing here to suggest that we had a genuine auteur on our hands, but damn if that isn’t exactly what he ended up becoming. All of which is enough to make you wonder if he cut some sort of deal with the devil in order to overcome his obvious deficiencies as a film-maker and achieve commercial success. The circumstances surrounding his death would certainly lend some credence to that theory.


Asylum Of Satan is available on a double-bill DVD from Something Weird Video which sees it paired with the equally incompetent, bust vastly more interesting (not to mention fucked up), Satan’s Children (which was one of the first films I ever reviewed for this very blog). It’s presented full frame with mono sound, both of which are less than stellar but perfectly adequate all things considered. Extras are the usuaul SWV assortment of exploitation stills, artwork, and short subjects,  most of which feature, as you’d no doubt expect, a Satanic theme. It’s a reasonably fun little package, but hardly worth the exorbitant prices it commands on eBay, Amazon Marketplace, etc., owing to its out of print status. All in all, this is a flick that only die-hard Girdler completists need to have in their home library.

I take a look at Ron Ormond’s absurdly over-the-top Christ-sploitation flick “If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses DO?” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens


I sincerely hope that Lisa Marie Bowman will forgive me for muscling in on her (I assume, at any rate) recently-completed “44 Days Of Paranoia” series here at TTSL, but I just couldn’t let it wind up without drawing attention to what is (hopefully) the single-most paranoid flick ever made, namely Ron Ormond’s 1971 Red Scare/Come-To-Jesus religious exploitation number If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do?

Ormond was a veteran of the B-movie scene who’s probably best remembered for Mesa Of Lost Women, but at some point in the late ’60s he got scared to death of the emerging youth/anti-war culture and underwent a religious conversion of the “hard turn to the right” variety. Withdrawing from “the business” to his home in Nashville, Tennessee, he founded an outfit known, ever-so-modestly, as “The Ormond Organization,” and set about making evangelical films with his brother and wife as his principal…

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Truth, my friends, is always stranger than fiction. Case in point : the movie under our metaphorical microscope today, 1979’s Mr. No Legs (also released under the slightly more verbose title of The Amazing Mr. No Legs), a rather standard issue cops-vs.-the mob “thriller” that just happens to feature a tough-guy “enforcer” type who’s a paraplegic,  was the one and only feature film directorial effort for one Ricou Browning, the guy who probably had the single weirdest/most-varied career in Hollywood history.

Who was he, you rightly ask? Browning was a former champion swimmer who went on to co-ordinate underwater stunt work for TV shows like Flipper (which is where he presumably met this flick’s screenwriter, Jack Cowden, since he’s the guy who created that series) and several of the James Bond films, and oh — along the way he also found time to “star” as the guy in the rubber suit himself in Creature From The Black Lagoon and its various and sundry sequels. You just can’t make a path that convoluted up.


I gotta be honest, though — out of the water, our guy Ricou struggles a bit. It’s not that the Tampa, Florida-filmed Mr. No Legs doesn’t have a nifty premise — obviously, it does — it’s just that it’s criminally under-utilized. Oh, sure, our titular legless one, a low-level thug named Lou (played  by one Ted Vollrath), has a kick-ass wheelchair fitted with a couple of shotguns for arms, and yeah, he’s allowed one memorable scene where he gets to show off some Crippled Masters-style martial arts (after getting out of the hot tub he’s sharing with his “mob moll”-type squeeze), but he’s really just a side character in his own movie, with most of the (decidedly slow-burn) action here cnetering on a ticking-time-bomb cop named Andy (portrayed with minimal zeal and effort by Ron Slinker,  who really should have waited about a decade to show up for work so Mel Gibson could show him how it was done in the first Lethal Weapon flick), who’s pissed off because his sister was accidentally killed by her semi-connected dope-pusher boyfriend that she was in the process of walking out on before meeting her demise in the least-convincingly-staged domestic violence scene in movie history (she literally falls backwards limply and next thing you know we see that her head has smashed through a TV that wasn’t even in the path of her fall). Said boyfriend is then disposed of by Lou and his sidekick who also administer a lethal does of heroin into the dead woman’s corpse in order to make it look like she OD’d on her old man’s junk.

All of this is done at the behest of local mob boss D’Angelo (Lloyd Bochner, who always seemed to get saddled with similar parts), but Lou is tired of the lack of respect his paymaster is giving him and sets about trying to assume control of “the operation” himself — which would make for a pretty decent little subplot, I suppose, if Browning and Cowden decided to pay much attention to it.  Instead, though,  we’re saddled with what amounts to a pretty dull police procedural as Andy and his new partner, the straight-laced Chuck (Richard Jaeckel,  of Dirty Dozen fame), under the watchful eye of their captain (B-movie legend John Agar),  endeavor to find out who offed bright,promising kid sister and her junk-slingin’ woulda-been-ex-had-she-lived. That investigation will eventually put them on a collision course with Lou and D’Angelo, of course, since they’re both higher up on the drug biz “food chain,” but damn if it’s not a bit of a drag getting from Point A to Point B in this one, even if the line is a fairly straight one.


There are definitely some nice period touches here and there — Andy sitting in a cocktail lounge and enjoying the mellow sounds of “that million-selling record group, the fantastic Mercy” (think of Tony Orlando and Dawn only with just one chick and a dude singer with a weight problem) definitely being one of them, as is the “love” scene a minute later at the pad of Andy’s “exotic foreign girlfriend,” who’s evidently earned enough money as a hostess at the club to buy a fucking mansion covered in thick shag carpet — but they’re few and far between, as is any actual action.

Still, the all-time classic exploitation “hook” here can’t be denied, despite the film’s slow-as-molasses pace and Browning’s uninspired, “point-and-shoot” directorial “style,” and the promise of actually being able to see Mr. No Legs do his thing was enough to keep this armchair critic reasonably involved in the proceedings. The pay-offs for the investment of my time and attention may have been few and far between, to be sure, but they were generally worth it, since Vollrath manages, as you’d expect, to steal every scene he’s in.

I just can’t for the life of me figure out why they didn’t try to work him into the script more — after all, he’s the guy you’re paying to see, and his shit attitude, constant sneering, and seeming embrace of his handicap show that the filmmakers were determined to broaden his character beyond the usual “freak show” appeal. Why they don’t go “all the way” and turn the movie over to him entirely is mystery lost to time, I guess, but it’s definitely a wasted opportunity.

Mr. No Legs is, to date, only available on VHS for those “old school”-types who like to have a physical copy of the movie they’re watching, but if you’re cool with doing things electronically, you can check it out at the YouTube link below. It coulda/woulda/shoulda been so much more awesome than it is, but it’s nice to see Vollrath get at least a few scenes to prove that you don’t need legs when you’ve got balls.


What is it about hookers. anyway?

Seriously, friends — have you ever heard of a serial killer who preys on flight attendants, teachers, day care providers, or female accountants? I sure never have, nor have I seen a movie about such an individual, but the minute prostitutes come into play, the knives come out. You’d think that any guy with an ounce of respect would be grateful for the services these ladies provide, but apparently that’s not the case since, as film after film —not to mention too many tragic real life instances — have shown us, there’s probably no more dangerous profession than the world’s oldest.

If you’re like me, you’re probably tired of all the belly-aching we hear about how the police are “heroes” because they have such a hazardous job. How many times have we seen cop shows on TV where some detective’s wife is crying about how “she never knows if her husband is going to come home from work alive”? As if the wife of a 7/11 cashier or cab driver or coal miner or oil rig worker — jobs that numerous surveys have shown are all, statistically speaking, much more hazardous than police work — doesn’t feel exactly the same way. Needless to say, a prostitute’s husband, boyfriend, wife, or girlfriend has even more cause to be fearful about the safety of their loved one, don’t they?

I’m not saying we should dismiss the risks that the police face or not be grateful for the public service that cops (at least the good ones) provide — I’m just saying that it’s well past  time that hookers got a little bit of respect, too, don’t you think?


One creep who’d probably disagree with me is Richie (played by Ian Scott), the murderous protagonist in director/producer Joseph Zito (here working under the not-even-clever pseudonym of Joseph Bigwood)’s 1979 feature Bloodrage (also released onto VHS — but never, to date, DVD — under the title of Never Pick Up A Stranger, which was actually the fucking tag line on this film’s theatrical release poster), a small-town kid who’s obviously got some serious issues when it comes to cutting the apron strings. He’s taken a liking to a country hooker (who works out of her home, no less) named Beverly (Judith-Marie Bergan), but when she threatens to tell his mommy that he showed up at her door looking for some action but without the means to pay, he does what these guys all do in flicks like this — namely,  kills her.

And that’s about it for actual blood in Bloodrage. Oh, sure, Richie high-tails it to New York City, where he lands a room at a fleabag Times Square (or, as he amusingly refers to it in a phone call home to mommy, “theater district”) flophouse, a less-than-prestigious gig at the Yoo-Hoo bottling plant, and befriends a washed-out alcoholic neighbor named Candice (Rita Ebenhart) — hell, for a minute there it even looks like he might have met a young lady who could be actual girlfriend material until he learns she’s just a free-lovin’ hippie chick with an old man who doesn’t mind sharing — and his hooker-killing ways continue, but the first murder we get here is really the only reasonably gory one, the rest being your typical strangulation jobs.

Richie’s evidently a pro at cleaning up evidence, though. When a detective from back home named Ryan (portrayed by James Johnson — like a lot of movie cops he apparently has no first name, but in this case that’s just karma doing it’s thing since Richie’s got no last name), who was sweet on Beverly, comes calling  and finds no sign of her,  he decides to take some vacation time, head for the Big Apple (does anyone still call it that, by the way?), and see if he can’t track her down and make an honest woman of her.

Curiously, local law enforcement (particularly one Sergeant Malone, played by the always-awesome Lawrence Tierney) actually seems more than amenable toward helping this off-duty interloper from upstate, even though he is, for all intents and purposes, just some guy who’s looking for a hooker who may not even be in the city since he actually has no evidence of where she went at all, much less whether or not she’s even alive or dead. Funny, but I always thought that if a fellow officer from another jurisdiction altogether were to show up at a major metropolitan precinct house and tell the guys there that he was looking for a girl he was in love with, that he wasn’t even sure she might be in their town, and that oh, by the way, she was also a hooker, he’d probably get laughed all the way back to BF Egypt. But I guess that’s not the way it works.


Anyway, while Ryan’s out doing his flat-footing, Richie finds time to take up voyeurism as a hobby — no surprise there — and is generally in the process of becoming a more and more lecherous, misogynistic creep by the day. New York will do that to a guy. And when some unsolved hooker murders start piling up on the desk at the station, and Ryan coincidentally happens to see ” a kid from back home” on the street one day, it’s not long before he puts two and two together and our enterprising young killer’s days turn out to be numbered.

The whole of Bloodrage takes just over 80 minutes and never really delivers anything you’d call unexpected — hell, the chain of serendipitous events that lead to Richie’s demise are downright waaaaaayyyyyy too convenient — but Zito, who would go on to direct comparatively bigger-budget works like The ProwlerFriday The 13th : The Final ChapterMissing In Action, and Red Scorpion, among others — has a definite feel for the gutter, and his flick has an appropriately sleazy, grimy vibe throughout.  I doubt very seriously that he  ever went to the trouble of actually getting any filming permits, and the guerrilla-level production values and “get it in one take and let’s get out of here” ethos he employs serve his story well, even if they were more a function of necessity than choice.


The unpolished acting works, too, giving things a reasonably authentic flavor, with Scott especially hitting all the right notes as Richie. This is a guy who would creep you out if you even bothered to pay attention to him, but is so non-descript and unassuming that you probably wouldn’t. You can already hear his neighbors being interviewed on the news saying “I guess I’m kinda surprised he’d do something like this, he just seemed like one of those guy who was sort of — I dunno, there, ya know? Ya never had much reason to pay attention to him one way or another.” How many times have we heard a variation on those very words from somebody talking about a real life psycho?

Okay, fair enough, none of this adds up to the most ringing endorsement for Bloodrage, and admittedly it does drag in parts, as well —but it is what it is, and for what it is it ain’t half bad. As mentioned previously it has yet to see the light of day on DVD, much less Blu-Ray, but you can watch it in all its low-grade less-than-glory via the YouTube link below and decide for yourself. If these kinds of things are your kind of thing, you probably won’t be disappointed.


There’s a school of thought out there that posits that the roots of white-versus-black racism lies in the black man’s superior sexual prowess (specifically, his supposedly greater — uhhhhmmm — “endowment,” and knowledge of how to use it) and the white man’s fear of same. Your humble author is no sociologist by any means, and while I find anything that cut-and-dried to be an over-simplification of a depressingly complex issue (it ignores all the economic and social- control aspects of racism, for instance), there’s probably at least some truth to it on some level. For instance, one of the reasons Jackie Robinson was brought up to the major leagues ahead of other black baseball players who were every bit as ready to make the jump was because he was married, and Dodgers management thought there would be less scuttlebutt about him chasing after every white woman around when the team was away on their numerous road trips.

So yeah — whether rational or not, the idea that the black man is better equipped to provide good lovin’ and will consequently “ruin” the white woman for “her own kind” if he gets anywhere near her is a persistent one. Writer/director/cinematographer/composer Jamaa Fanaka (credited here with a hyphen between his names) — who would later  go on to achieve his greatest B-movie successes with the Penetentiary series — certainly thought there was something to the whole idea, at least as a “cash cow,”  and constructed his debut film, 1975’s Welcome Home Brother Charles (also released under the more generic-sounding-for-its-time title of Soul Vengeance) around that very premise, with the end result being arguably the wildest and most absurd entry in the entire blaxploitation oeuvre.


Here’s the skinny on the —again with the uhhhhmmm — girth : after a protracted opening credits sequence showing an African wooden idol “blessed” with an enormously disproportionate member, we meet small-time dope pusher Charles Murray (Marlo Monte, in his one and only film role), who quickly gets sent away for three years by “The Man.” The cop who busts him, however,  has a pretty twisted take on the concept of “justice” : before booking and cuffing our protagonist, he takes out a straight-edge razor and attempts to fucking castrate him. Apparently it doesn’t work, but we don’t find that out for a good long while due to this flick’s rather haphazard plot structure.

Anyway, Charles does his time and when he gets out, he’s determined to stay on the right side of the law and not to “die on the white man’s installment plan.” Fair enough. Cue a go-nowhere subplot,  that eats up about half the movie’s runtime,  centering on Charles’ abortive attempts to win back his ex, Twyla (Jackie Ziegler) from his former best friend/drug biz partner,  N.D. (Jake Carter). This is all pretty dull stuff that’s pure filler, but at the end of it, we find that our three-legged hero has settled in with a new old lady, Carmen (Reatha Grey), a former hooker who got busted by the same pigs on the same day that he did; that he can’t get a job due to his prison record; and that , with nothing better to do with his time, he decides to go after every member of the “system,” from the cops to the prosecutor to the judge, who sent him upstate. Now we’re talkin’!


After a positively surreal side-step (that probably should have occurred much earlier in the film in order to provide context for his later actions) into the life of racist  undercover  vice officer Harry Freeman (Ben Bigelow)  — the guy who tried to whack Charles’ nuts off —  that sees him absorb a non-lethal dose of radiation from a briefcase-bomb being used in an airline hijacking attempt just after learning that his wife is cheating on him with a black (yawn) drug dealer (she picks her cuckolded,  decidedly worse half,  up at the hospital and, after asking if he’s okay, is told “I”m not the one who’s contaminated”), Charles hits the streets of Watts determined to get his pound of flesh by any means necessary. Fortunately, he’s got the only tool that he really needs for the job.

Operating in reverse order — remember what we said about haphazard structure here — our man goes after Freeman first by fucking his wife, who instantly becomes a slave to the apparently-hypnotic powers of her new black master’s cock. She leaves the door of the house unlocked at his command after a bunch of weird close-up shots of his eyes, his mustache, and his mouth (Fanaka’s curious camera work being accompanied by his equally-curious synthesizer soundtrack score), and he comes back at night and strangles the guy who attempted to slice off his manhood. Notice I don’t say how  he strangles him —

Never fear, though, for by the time Fanaka gets around to having his “hero” kill the prosecuting attorney (he pulls off the same fuck-the-wife-into-brain-dead-submission routine first, naturally), what was ambiguous at first becomes crystal clear — Charles somehow got himself a super-dick while he was in prison, and it grows and grows and grows and grows — making its way down an entire fucking flight of stairs, in fact — before wrapping itself around the poor schmuck’s neck and choking the life out of him in true python style.

Last but not least comes the judge, but things don’t go as smoothly there and our story ends on a decidedly ambiguous note as Carmen (who’s prone to   such romantic lines as “I’ll take it off me — if you put it in me”) tries to talk her man down off a rooftop. Does it end in tears and tragedy? Who knows — all we know is that it ends with another fucking close-up of Brother Charles’ eyes.

Fortunately for anyone who still  harbors old-fashioned notions of trying to make some kind of sense of what they’re watching, mere moments before this non-thrilling non-climax we finally get some kind of limp (sorry)  quasi-scientific run-down for how Good Luck Chuck got his super-appendage, but by then you don’t really much care because no explanation can possibly be anything like a convincing one — best to just go with the flow.

At the end of the day, what we’re left with  here then is an absolute powder keg of low-grade racial stereotypes that could, I suppose, be “spun” in such a way as to confirm black people’s worst generalizations about whites (emasculated men who can’t please their women; cock-starved women who just need to be “put right” with a good fucking) or white people’s worst generalizations about blacks (sex-hungry, animalistic men who can’t stay out of jail or find work; downtrodden women who provide for all their guys’ needs in exchange for dick), depending on the ignorance level and prejudices (the two usually go hand in hand) of the viewer. Either that, or Fanaka had no agenda apart from making a quick buck in the exploitation racket by cranking outthe most outlandish film possible, social implications be damned. Take your pick.


If you want to judge this astonishing cinematic curiosity for yourself, small-time distro outfit Xenon Pictures has released Welcome Home, Brother Charles under its Soul Vengeance moniker as a “special edition” DVD that , interestingly enough, contains no real extras to speak of and features a direct-from VHS full-frame transfer with mono sound. It’s a far-less-than-stellar package,  but at least it retails for well under ten bucks. If even that’s too rich for your blood, though, it’s available in its entirety on YouTube, via the link at the bottom of this review.

I’d close by telling you not to try anything you see here at home, but since you couldn’t even if you wanted to, I don’t think that’s really much of a concern.


It occurs to me that I probably should have written a review for 2013’s direct-to-DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Download animated feature Justice League : The Flashpoint Paradox before the one I wrote yesterday for Justice League : War given that events in this one directly lead to the creation of the “New 52” universe that film takes place in, but oh well, I’ve never been one to follow convention (or, let’s face it, logic) too closely —so here we are, better late than never, I guess.

Based on the comic book “event” mini-series Flashpoint by Geoff Johns (again) and Andy Kubert, this is the story that re-booted the DCU into its new form, and while the end result of said re-boot hasn’t, by and large, been to my liking, this adventure has a suitably “epic” feel to it and generally delivers the goods. Plus, let’s face it, we owe the original comic a debt of gratitude for, at the very least, putting an end to the “one-Crisis-after-another” treadmill that DC had been stuck on for so long. It was getting to be well past time for the former National Periodical Publications to put its collective houses in order, and while I may have numerous bones to pick with how they chose to do so, the core idea certainly seemed sensible enough at the time.

Let’s get one thing straight, though : this really isn’t a Justice League story at all. It’s a Flash story.


Which isn’t to say that the other League members don’t have their part to play in the proceedings here — they surely do,  but they’re largely consigned to the margins while the Scarlet Speedster (voiced by Justin Chambers) takes center stage. And why not? He’s the one who gets trapped in an alternate reality, after all. And while that may seem like a “narrowing down” of the story’s scope, it actually helps to have one central point of audience identification for a series of events this earth-(okay, universe-) shattering.

So, yeah. Flash is trapped in a dimension not of his own making (not that he made the one he inhabits, either, but I digress) — one where, among other things, Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas (Kevin McKidd) is Batman. There are plenty of other window-dressing details that serve to differentiate this reality from DC’s “main” one, of course, and these differences are assaulting Flash’s consciousness and replacing his “actual” memories with ones that he knows he didn’t have previously. It’s all so very confusing for our fleet-footed protagonist.

Meanwhile, events on Flash’s native Earth are spiraling out of control as a war between Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall)’s amazons and Aquaman (Cary Elwes)’s undersea kingdom of Atlantis draws ever nearer. The shit’s about to hit the fan in a big way, and all the efforts of fellow heroes Superman (Sam Daly), Green Lantern (fan-favorite Nathan Fillion), Captain Atom (Lex Lang), Batman (Kevin Conroy), and Cyborg (Michael B. Jordan),  as well as the members of their various supporting casts like Lois Lane (Dana Delany),  can’t seem to stem the tide of inevitable conflict that’s quickly crashing in.


How is all of this connected? What do villains like Lex Luthor (Steve Blum, who also lends his vocal talents to a new character called Captain Thunder) and Deathstroke (the always-awesome Ron Perlman) have to do with anything? How and why is Jack Kirby’s seminal (and criminally under-utilized) Etrigan, The Demon (Dee Bradley Baker) involved, albeit at the margins?  What’s the deal with “alternate” Flash-type character Professor Zoom (C. Thomas Howell)? Ah — that would be giving too much away, my friends. Suffice to say that, fortunately for us all, Justice League : The Flashpoint Paradox  does, at the very least, provide reasonably satisfying answers to damn near all of the questions it raises.

The big one, though, is how Flash is going to reconcile  the titular paradox at the center of our story and restore the trans-dimensional balance that’s been tipped, for while characters like Aquaman and Wonder Woman have bit more to do here than usual, at the end of the day the fate of the universe(s) really does rest more or less entirely on Barry Allen’s admittedly broad (all the heroes in this flick look like they gobble ‘roids for breakfast) shoulders.

Old hand Jay Oliva is back on board to direct things here, and while the overall pace does, in fact,  lag a bit here and there in spots, on the whole he keeps events moving along pretty briskly and manages the delicate task of keeping audiences interested in resolving the continuity problems that make up the heart of his plot without dwelling too intently on minutiae. Sure, anybody wish a vested interest in any and/or all of these characters is going to be more intrigued in seeing how this all plays out than viewers who are coming to this stuff for the first time, but things never get so dense as to become impenetrable to all save for the previously-initiated.


Please don’t get me wrong — it’s not like Justice League : The Flashpoint Paradox is by any means a perfect animated super-hero feature. A few members of the voice cast seem to be mailing things in by and large, and some of the differences between realities seem a bit superficial and contrived.  All in all,  though, it’s a brisk, fun ride that performs its table-clearing task in an efficient, engaging manner. It’s just a shame that DC hasn’t put as much creativity or effort into creating their new universe as they put into destroying their old one.



It’s been a good six months or so since we took a side-step into the world of straight-to-video animation around these parts, so we might as well do a brief “course correction” on that and take a look at the latest offering from DC Comics/Warner Brothers Animation, the recently-released onto Blu-Ray, DVD and digital download Justice League : War.

This release marks something of a departure for the range itself in that it’s the first animated feature to take place in the “New 52” universe, so gone is the old “DC Universe” logo we’re used to seeing on these things and we’re back to a world where super-heroes are a new phenomenon and the public at large is just coming to grips with what  a massive shake-up to humanity’s status quo this all means. That’s cool and I can definitely get behind the whole idea of fresh “world building” to re-introduce these characters for a new generation of readers and viewers.

Unfortunately, what I can’t get behind is pretty much everything that’s been done with the whole “New 52” since then, and the numerous weaknesses inherent in DC’s printed-page universe are on full display here, as well. In short, the problem is that most (with a few notable exceptions) “New 52” product — and it is product, and a thoroughly homogenized, corporatized, personality-free, and ultimately soulless product at that — isn’t designed to engage the imaginations of younger readers, but to standardize the formerly-unique look and feel that manyof DC’s individual titles used to possess and give the company’s ever-aging (DC co-publisher Dan DiDio has even stated publicly that his target market is 45-year-old males with no kids and lots of disposable income) and ever-dwindling readership a universe that is consistent in both tone and style.

In that respect, it’s achieved its goal, the problem is that most “New 52” books are consistently bad and this newly-rebooted universe is a dire, hollow, humorless place. Apart from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s always-excellent Batman book, I honestly can’t think of any DC titles currently on the shelves that are worth picking up on a monthly basis. Most of these comics read and look like mid-’90s Wildstorm books (perhaps no surprise given that former WS head honcho Jim Lee is DC’s other co-publisher) that just happen to feature more established characters.

Still, it’s what we’ve been stuck with for just over two years now, and it was only a matter of time before the relaunched universe playing out on the printed page made the leap onto home video, as well. So here we are.


Based on the graphic novel Justice League : Origin by DC chief “creative” officer Geoff Johns and the aforementioned Mr. Lee, and directed by old-hat veteran of these things Jay Oliva, Justice League : War is about as bland as its title would suggest, with the characters all essentially functioning as one-note ciphers : Batman (voiced by Jason O’Mara) is an overly-serious prick, Green Lantern (Justin Kirk) is an obnoxious hothead, The Flash (Christopher Gorham) is a CSI-type forensic cop who just so happens to be able to run really fast, Superman (Alan Tudyk) is a misunderstood alien feared by the very public that he’s sworn to protect because he’s such a swell guy at heart, Wonder Woman (Michelle Monaghan) is a tough-as-nails warrior who’s trying her best to crack her “ice princess” Amazon breeding, Cyborg (Shemar Moore) is a troubled teen trapped in a half-machine body who just wants his father’s approval, and Shazam (Sean Astin) is a quintessential “good egg” type, unless he’s in his civilian identity of Billy Batson (Zach Callison), in which case he’s a snot-nosed little juvenile delinquent. They all sport subtly redesigned costumes (I guess the powers that be at DC decided the look of every single one of their heroes needed “updating”) than those we’re traditionally used to seeing, and in the timeline this story takes place none of ’em have ever met before until they all reluctantly end up pooling resources in order to ward off an invasion of  Para-Demon hordes commanded by the dastardly Darkseid (Steve Blum) from his home base on the hell-planet of Apokolips.



That’s about all you really need to know since the outcome of this battle is obviously pre-ordained, but worthy of special mention/condemnation for old-school Jack Kirby fans like myself is how wretchedly stereotypical all of jack’s “Fourth World” creations that are utilized in this story have become in the hands of far less skilled creators. From Darkseid to Desaad to the Para-Demons to the Mother Boxes, all have been uniformly stripped of the uniquely personal elements that the King Of Comics imbued them with and are every bit as “dumbed-down” as the heroes themselves are. Sigh.

Oliva does a nice job keeping the pace appropriately breakneck (having time to stop and think about the proceedings here would only make things worse), and the voice cast all hit the nail on the head reasonably well (apart from O’Mara who never really “connects” as Batman), but they’re being tasked with the impossible here — to try and make a bog-standard, personality-free story somehow interesting. Needless to say, it’s just not gonna happen.



There’s a rumor going around various online circles these days that an editorial dictate from on high at DC to the various “New 52” creators — many of whom the company has been exposed as treating like so many interchangeable parts in their machine in the years since the relaunch was initiated — stated that the overall tone of of their books should hue as closely as possible to so-called “fan fiction,” and many of those “fanfic”-type excesses that have come to pass, like Superman and Wonder Woman becoming romantically involved, can be seen in their early stages here, so it’s a pretty fair bet that all that crap will be making the leap from the printed page to the TV (or computer) screen in relatively short order, as well. Be ready.

The events portrayed in Justice League : War may take place a few years in the past as far as comic book continuity goes, but make no mistake : this is the shape of things to come. And it definitely ain’t pretty.