Posts Tagged ‘Charles Band’

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You can do a lot in ten days if you have to. If you’re like me, usually you don’t — apart from the typical stuff like going to work, eating dinner, spending time with the wife, reviewing movies for your blog — but still, when push comes to shove, ten days is enough time to get plenty of things done.

Just ask horror FX guru/occasional director John Carl Buechler. That’s all the longer it took him, back in 1988, to shoot his straight-to-video creature feature Cellar Dweller for Charles Band’s pre-Full Moon production outfit, Empire Pictures.

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Okay, fair enough, whenever you’re engaged in a “rush job” undertaking like this one some of that is bound to show in the finished product, but the truth is, I’m actually surprised at how polished and professional this thing looks given the “hurry-up offense” its makers were running. Things get a bit jumbled up at the end, sure, but — well, shit, I’ve gotten ahead of myself a bit here, haven’t I?

First, as is our custom around these parts (and really should be the custom for all film review sites), the details : recent RSDI graduate Whitney Taylor (Debrah Farentino, here working under the name Debrah Mullowney), an up-and-coming comic book artist, has been granted a spot at the purportedly prestigious Throckmorton Center For The Arts, a privately-funded artists’ retreat in, apparently, the middle of fucking nowhere. There she encounters an old art school nemesis named Amanda (Pamela Bellwood), who, working in tandem with the center’s director/head mistress Mrs. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo of The Munsters fame) hatches a plot to oust Whitney from the premises simply because, well — the two  dastardly damsels just don’t like our girl very much and don’t think very highly of comic books, either.

Which is sorta strange given Throckmorton’s history — these grounds, you see, were once home to legendary horror comic artist Colin Childress (portrayed in a brief opening flashback sequence by the Re-Animator himself, Jeffrey Combs), who drew a title called, wouldn’t ya know it, Cellar Dweller back in the pre-Code 1950s and apparently killed a woman here before perishing in a fire himself.

Or so we’re told —

Anyway, Whitney’s more than a big Childress fan, she’s positively obsessed with the man and his work, to the point where she even ensconces herself in the cellar where he used to make his home, despite (or, hell, maybe because of)  the fact no one’s lived there since that fateful night 30 years ago. As fate (okay, the script) would have it, on her first day down there she discovers a dusty old trunk with an even dustier and even older occult grimoire of sorts inside it, and soon the horrific scenes she draws for her comic of a gigantic werewolf-ish beast with a Pentagram carved into its chest tearing her enemies up and eating them come to harrowing life — all of which would be well and good, I suppose, if not for the fact that some other pages that somebody else is drawing featuring the exact same monster weren’t starting to play out in the real world, as well.

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Obviously the script here, by Child’s Play scribe Don Mancini, is a bit of a morally confused affair (using your drawings to kill is okay when you’re Whitney, not okay when you’re anyone else), and some of the characterization is a bit jumbled (a retired private eye who lives on the premises for reasons that make no sense is portrayed as a harmless of raconteur one moment, a nosy busy-body who deserving of violent and gruesome death the next), but whatever. It’s a clever enough premise that gaps in logic and common decency probably won’t bother you for too terribly long.

What just might bug you, though, is that ending I alluded to earlier, which is a pretty garbled piece of business in the extreme. I won’t give away too many specifics for those who haven’t seen it yet,  suffice to say that “white-out good, fire bad!” when it turns out that Whitney can re-write history by merely applying Liquid Paper to her drawings and scribbling up some new images to make sure everyone has a happy ending — a happy ending that’s short-lived, though, since everybody dies all over again when her drawings accidentally burn up. For a fairly light-hearted bit of horror fare like this to have such a grim conclusion tacked on at the very last minute sorta tips the apple cart a bit too much for this armchair critic’s sensibilities and sends everybody home (alright, we were already at home at the first place if you wanna be pedantic about things) with more of a shrug than anything else.

Back on the plus side of the ledger, however, the cast generally acquit themselves pretty well here, apart from Brain Robbins who never makes much of an impression as Whitney’s supposed love interest, and Buechler’s direction is reasonably brisk and pacy and his creature effects work displays his usual low-budget wizardry (yes, he pulled double duty here). The end result may not be anything tremendously memorable by any stretch, but it’s a competently-enough-executed affair to compel you to let its many flaws slide and just go with the flow.

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For those intrigued enough to give this particular haunted cellar a visit, the flick has just been released on DVD by Scream Factory as part of its bargain-priced double-disc “4 All Night Horror Marathon Volume Two” collection. The full-frame picture and mono sound aren’t without their flaws (the picture especially), but what the hell, they get the job done just fine and no one expects perfection from these DTV re-issues in the first place, do they? Extras are non-existent, but again, for under ten bucks, how much does a person really expect? Serviceable enough is the term I think we’re looking for here.

Which, funnily, isn’t too shabby a description of Cellar Dweller itself.

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, it’s probably safe to say that David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is one of your favorite films of all time. You probably watch it several times a year and can recite lines from it by heart the way most people — well, okay, some people — can with Star Wars. It really is just that fucking good, isn’t it? I mean, when I think of a movie that I can never get bored of, and that I’m sure to pick up something new from every time I watch , I think of Videodrome (and a few others, sure, but that’s beside the point). Anyway, we all agree it’s a great flick, right?

Now — if you’re not a regular reader of this blog, or you are and, somehow,  haven’t seen it, Videodrome is the movie where James Woods plays an amoral cable TV executive who gets hooked on watching a pirated satellite show from (he thinks) southeast Asia that features nothing but torture and punishment. Little does he know the signal’s really coming from Pittsburgh, the broadcast is going out on a frequency that triggers hallucinatory impulses in the mind of the viewer, the people behind it are planning to use Woods and his cable station to essentially take over the world by hooking the populace on the frequency and then ushering in a new age of barabrism,  his girlfriend (played by Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry) is somehow involved in the whole thing (if she’s even real at all), and oh yeah — along the way he grows a vagina in his chest that has a gun hidden inside it, and his TV set grows a mouth and lips and starts breathing.

Okay, okay — there’s a lot more to it than that, but a brief recap is all that’s in order here because this review isn’t about Videodrome at all. There’s a line in it, though, that definitely strikes a chord when it comes to the movie we actually are here to talk about, though — when a TV show sales agent named Masha tries to warn Wood’s Max Renn character away from the whole Videodrome operation, she tells him “it has something which you do not, Max — it has a philosophy. That is what makes it dangerous.”

Which brings to mind the question — what if a filmmaker who had no philosophy decided to make a Videodrome-style movie about evil that emanated from a satellite TV signal? Well, that’s something we needn’t ponder over for too long, because it’s already been done — ladies and gentlemen, I give you 1986’s TerrorVision, a slapstick farce about a mutant trash-eating alien that accidentally gets beamed to Earth, ends up getting nabbed by a wealthy dysfunctional family’s new satellite dish, and ends up coming through their TV set and causing all sorts of mischief.

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What’s all this got to do with my “no philosophy” query, you ask? Easy. Whether you love David Cronenberg, hate him, or are indifferent to him, it’s safe to say that the mind behind not only Videodrome, but seminal works such as ShiversRabidThe BroodThe FlyDead Ringers and A History Of Violence — to name just a few favorites of mine — definitely has a philosophy. And it’s equally safe to say that Charles Band — the  ultra-low-budget producer extraordinaire  behind not only TerrorVision but such films as The AlchemistMetalstorm : The Destruction Of Jared-SynSubspeciesDollmanTrancers, and Puppet Master (again, to name just a few) doesn’t. Unless we’re counting ” get in, get out, try to get it all in one take, and whatever you do come in under budget!” as a “philosophy.” Which, I dunno, maybe it is — in which case Charles Band is one of the most “philosophical” minds Hollywood has ever produced.

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The story’s pretty much as I described it — the well-to-do-but-hopelessly-fucked-up Putterman clan, consisting of swinger parents Stanley (Gerrit Graham) and Raquel (cult icon Mary Woronov), rebellious teenage daughter Suzy (Diane Franklin), “good son” Sherman (Chad Allen),  and their survivalist nutcase/prototype Tea Partier grandpa named, well, Grampa, have one of those hopelessly huge-and-ostentatious early-’80s satellite dishes and they have no clue in the hell how to work the thing. Meanwhile, far off in space, an advanced alien civilization has come up with an innovative method for disposing of its garbage that we probably ought to give serious consideration to here on Earth sometime in the near future — they zap it down into pure energy and beam it off-world. There’s just one hitch in their latest — uhhmmm — “shipment,” though : they accidentally atomized (or whatever) a giant, garbage-eating mutant monstrosity along with the rest of their payload, and the beam he was zapping around the cosmos in got picked up by the Putterman’s dish.

Now, it’s going going to fall on this Ordinary People-on-crack family, together with Suzy’s metalhead boyfriend, O.D. (Jonathan Gries) and a low-rent Elvira knock-off named Medusa (Jennifer Richards, who certainly has the “real” Elvira —errrrmmm — “topped” in one department, if you can believe that) to save the Earth from the monster that came through the TV! Add in the obligatory “hijinx ensue” line and you’ve pretty much got TerrorVision wrapped up in a nutshell.

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Obviously, the only way to play this kind of thing is strictly for laughs (a phrase that’s always made as much sense to me as “this is funny stuff — I’m serious!”), and writer-director Ted Nicolaou — who would go on to helm all three Subspecies flicks for Band’s Full Moon Entertainment — does just that. This is sabsolute, OTT , farcical nonsense of the highest order, mixing equal parts dumbshit humor, fourth-wall-busting pantomime acting, and inventive-on-a-budget creature effects for a finished product that is by no means innovative or distinct, but sure is a lot of good, stupid fun. In fact, if you’re drunk and/ or stoned off your ass, I might even go so far as to say that this movie’s flat-out hilarious —but really, you needn’t be to enjoy it. I watched it sober as a judge last night and had a damn good time, even though I really should (okay, really do) know better.

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TerrorVision was just released on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Shout! Factory’s new(-ish) Scream Factory imprint, where it’s paired with 1987 cult favorite The Video Dead. The remastered widescreen transfer looks phenomenally good, the sound is 2.0 stereo, and there are lots of special features (at least on the Blu — I can’t speak for the DVD as I haven’t popped that in the player yet), including a nice little “making-of” featurette, a full-length commentary track featuring writer/director Nicolaou and actors Franklin and Gries, and a fairly comprehensive poster and still photo gallery. Scream Factory, as we’re quickly coming to expect, has outdone themselves once again.

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So, then, to take us back to our original question (or at least a convenient-for-the-purposes-of-my-wrap-up variation on it) : is there a philosophy behind TerrorVision? Abso-friggin’-lutely not. And that’s the best thing about it.

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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!