Posts Tagged ‘horror movie’

I don’t think the Halloween season would feel complete if I didn’t include a couple reviews of films from John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s seminal slasher series featuring the one and only Michael Myers as part of my annual “Halloween Horrors” roundup, and while I’m pretty close to having written about all of them over the last few years, I’ve still got a few to go, and we might as well start with the one that causes me the most pain as both a viewer and fan, just to get it out of the way if nothing else.

I’m referring, of course, to director Rick Rosenthal’s 2002 release Halloween : Resurrection, my personal least- favorite installment in the entire series (yes, I even like The Curse Of Michael Myers better), the flick that had the less-than-stellar idea of relaunching cinema’s most venerable slasher franchise as an I Know What You Did Last Summer – style teen horror, even though that largely lamentable subgenre was already pretty well running out of gas by that point.

Featuring Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks (who, let’s face it, we were all hoping would lose her shirt at some pint in this flick — no such luck) as the head honchos and hosts of a “reality website” called DangerTainment (dumbest name ever) who get the hare-brained idea of putting together a group of randy teenagers to spend the night in the abandoned Myers house and broadcast whatever happens live on the internet, a plot conceit which also allows Rosenthal to attempt to spice up the proceedings with a few visual  nods to the then-nascent “handheld horror” craze, the whole thing is a sad amalgamation of incongruous elements that frequently don’t even work out so well on their own, much less slap-dashed together in “throw enough shit at the wall and hope something will stick”- fashion like this. Add in an unceremonious and undignified final exit for Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode character and the end result is a movie that isn’t just plain bad, but is frankly flat-out insulting to both longtime fans and more casual viewers alike.

It’s no huge surprise that this was the final nail in the coffin for Halloween until Rob Zombie came along and performed his from-scratch relaunch — even though it did in fact turn a tidy enough little profit at the box office, it was so obvious that anyone and everyone who had been involved with the series for a fair amount of time (Rosenthal had previously directed the perfectly serviceable Halloween II) was out of ideas with what to do with it that mothballing it for a good few years was the only option the Weinsteins, who by this point had obtained the rights to it under the auspices of their Dimension Films label, had left. The whole thing feels like nothing so much as an injured, limping, shot prizefighter running out the clock on what would prove, mercifully, to be his final turn in the ring. Michael Myers certainly deserved a better finale than this.

So, anyway, yeah — I told you this month’s “theme” would be a lot like last month’s here at TFG, and the truth of the matter is, all I’m doing is reviewing a few more horror flicks that I didn’t get around to during October’s Halloween round-up. I sincerely hope nobody minds. And let’s be honest here — no overview of the contemporary cinematic horror landscape (ding! three points for super-pretentiousness!) is complete without a look at the movie that more or less everyone’s talking about these days (for good and ill), namely writer- director Tom Six’s second chapter in his Human Centipede trilogy, The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence).

I’ve seen every possible micro-analysis of this film online, and watched it twice myself on demand on cable (it’s also screening at various midnight showings around the country), and at the end of the day all I can say is that everyone over-thinking this movie is playing right into the admittedly talented (if demented, not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course) Mr. Six’s hands — this thing is simply a good, old-fashioned, straight-up gorefest, albeit on steroids, designed to do nothing more than make you sick — and make you think that Six might be trying to say something about the human condition, some inner sickness at the heart of modern life, etc. So I’m sorry, armchair film theorists everywhere — you’ve been played (largely by yourselves,because truth be told Six has never said anything to indicate that he’s going for  “something more” with either this film or the previous  installment in this series).

There’s some cleverness at play here, no doubt about that, but it’s all revealed at the very beginning, when we learn that the set-up for this sequel is of the “meta-film” vareity employed by We Craven in New Nightmare and Lucio Fulci in A Cat In The Brain, among other examples : specifically, Martin, the loner-psycho at the heart of this story (superbly portrayed by British actor Laurence R. Harvey — no relation to guy from The Manchurian Candidate and Domino’s dad) is inspired to create his own 12-person centipede with one interconnected gastrointestinal system by watching (okay, to be fair, obsessing over) the original Human Centipede flick. To that end, he sets about kidnapping 11 victims and renting out a dingy old London self-storage space before going after his ultimate conquest, one of the stars of the first movie, Ashlynn Yennie, who happens to be in the UK on some sort of film publicity tour and is portrayed in an absolutely delicious manner as a vapid, self-obsessed Hollywood airhead (honestly, Yennie and Harvey both deserve serious Oscar consideration here — one for delivering an absolutely flawlessly creepy-as-shit performance without uttering so much as a single word of dialogue from start to finish, the other for having the guts to play an exaggerated, two-dimensional caricature of her own self — not that either will actually get any, of course), who he intends to place at the head of his hastily- assembled monstrosity.

And it’s that one little turn of phrase — “hastily-assembled” — that best describes what’s got every right-thinking person so utterly grossed-out by this flick. Good ol’ Do Heiter’s somewhat-medically-feasible (hey, give me a break, I did qualify that with a “somewhat”) three-person centipede in the first one was gruesome enough in both concept and execution, but a fat middle-aged loser with no medical training whatsoever who works as a parking ramp attendant just doesn’t typically have the necessary equipment or skill to pull anything like that off, so he makes do with a staple gun and gets right down to business.

As his centipede comes together (well, okay, is forced together), it soon becomes obvious that our guy Martin’s favorite part in his favorite movie was the infamous “feed her” scene, and what he really gets off on is the whole idea of watching each of these people shit into the mouth of the unfortunate soul stapled right behind them. And frankly that seems to be Six’s whole obsession here, too — the only time we get any colors besides black and white (and yes, this film is gorgeous in its stark ugliness) being when Martin start force-feeding laxatives to the crowd and diarrhea-brown starts splashing around everywhere.

So anyway, that’s what The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) amounts to — 80 or so minutes of set-up so you can finally see runny shit going from ass-to-mouth. You’ve been warned.

It’s sort of a shame, really — Six has a lot more at his disposal here in terms of body horror than what he chooses to focus on so singularly, and like I said, his talents as a visual filmmaker can’t be denied. He also coaxes superb performances out of his cast, particularly the two aforementioned leads, and he’s apparently a master at the long-lost art of generating a ton of publicity and controversy for relatively low-budget pictures. He’s capable of delivering a lot more than sloppy toilet gore, but in the end, that’s what he seems willing to settle for here. I’ve got absolutely no objection to delivering us the grossest film possible, and while The Human Centipede 2 certainly is that, it still ultimately feels like Six is taking the easy way out here and not addressing any of the larger, and ultimately more horrific, issues that could come to the fore here if he let them. The whole thing ultimately feels like a cop-out, albeit probably the most visceral cop-out in movie history, and frankly like a high-tech exercise in sleight-of-hand — Six is making us sick to disguise the fact that he hasn’t really got much of anything else up his sleeve.

Maybe he’s saving it for his big wrap-up, when evidently he’ll be taking his Human Centipede concept to America, but I remain skeptical. While I admire Six’s technical skill, his bravado, and his ability to make suckers out of the so-called (and entirely self-appointed) critical “elite,” I think he’s ultimately shying away from the nastier theoretical implications of his work and concentrating solely on the superficial. He has one more film to prove me wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one looked promising.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sooner or later it always seems to come back to Larry Cohen around here, doesn’t it?

And hell, why not? For well over tow decades (closer to three, really), he’s been at the forefront of two of the more venerable B-movie categories that fall frequently under our purview, namely horror and blaxploitation. And while his undisputed best piece of work in any field is the Fred “The Hammer” Williamson starring vehicle Black Caesar, his finest foray into the horror field (in my own humble opinion, at any rate) is 1974’s retelling of the Frankenstein myth (only this time with a baby), It’s Alive.

The set-up is as simple as you’d probably expect — ready-to-pop Lenore Davis (Sharon Farrell) heads to the hospital with her husband, well-to-do advertising executive Frank (John P. Ryan, listed here simply as John Ryan) to give birth, but when the baby comes out it turns out to be a hideous, hugely-fanged mutant with an insatiable appetite for blood that first kills everyone in the delivery room (except mommy) and then escapes into the night. When an unscrupulous TV news reporter actually has the gall to broadcast the names of the parents of this freak of nature, things get even worse for Frank as he finds himself out of work due to the bad publicity the manhunt (or should that be kidhunt) for his offspring brings to his Madison Avenue firm.

Things, obviously, aren’t all that they seem (and they seem pretty strange to say the least), for while It’s Alive preys deliciously on then-contemporary fears of genetic mutation as a result of pollution and what have you, there’s obviously more to the whole thing than just accidental enviro-poisoning going on here, since the Davis family’s eldest child, 11-year-old Christopher, is perfectly normal.

Truth be told, though, while there’s a dark (of sorts) secret at the heart of this film, and the gore effects are pretty darn good for their time (and still hold up pretty well against some of today’s lower-budget efforts), it’s really the tow lead performances that carry this film, with Farrell’s Lenore going through the stages of slow-burn total breakdown, while Ryan’s Frank becomes a mask of steely resolve as he comes, and then sticks, to the conclusion that his own flesh and blood must be destroyed for the good of both society at large as well as, frankly, himself and his family.

It’s Alive is available on DVD from Warner Brothers in a 3-pack set that also includes its two somewhat-less-than-stellar sequels (it was also remade for the straight-to-video market in 2008, but the less about that particular fiasco the better). The remastered widescreen picture and stereo soundtrack are both great, and it includes the trailer and a pretty solid commentary track from writer-director Cohen. Given that the whole set is usually available at bargain-basement prices, it’s definitely a worthwhile purchase.

I’m not going to tell you that It’s Alive is a classic, or even anything of the sort, but like all Cohen films, it has modest aspirations and exceeds them at every turn. From a solid plot to genuinely terrific lead performances to effectively atmospheric cinematography and lighting to a fair dose of intrigue to a non-heavy-handed exploration of contemporary sociopolitical issues to a nicely- inflated body count to extremely-competently-executed effects, it delivers a lot more than it promises and ends up being a hell of a lot more enjoyable than it probably has any right to be.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that all adds up to a very enjoyable evening in front of the TV, particularly at this time of year.

And speaking of more-or-less bloodless old-school monster movies, in 2010 the fine folks at Code Red DVD finally got around to releasing the long-sought-after 1978 cheapie (as in total budget of around $100,000) Slithis (alternately titled Spawn Of The Slithis, which is more technically accurate I suppose since “slithis” is the name of the nuclear/toxic good that creates the much-moster in this movie and not the actual name of the creature itself  (which, incidentally, has no name) but has the unwarranted effect of making folks think this might be a sequel to a previous movie called Slithis when, of course, it isn’t). While the DVD is pretty much a no-frills affair that features a decently remastered widescreen print (although it’s still pretty grainy to the extent that it’s even hard to make out just exactly what the hell is happening in a lot of the scenes filmed at night) and perfectly acceptable mono sound, some extras beyond the inclusion of the trailer for the film and a selection of other Code red previews would have been nice, especially since writer-director Stephen Traxler insists that this thing made millions worldwide and he never saw a dime thanks to a rip-off distribution deal he signed in desperation.

But I guess it’s the thought that counts, and I’m not one to complain about any world in which this now-obscure title is even available at all, so I won’t.

Traxler’s little opus takes place in the quaint confines of 70s-era Venice, California, and to be honest it’s this atmospheric locale, complete with its hippies (and aging ex-hippies), winos, vagrants, and general weirdos, as well as the director’s innate familiarity with it, that makes Slithis the joy to watch that it is. Certainly there’s even less gore on display here (notice the “PG” rating on the poster, for gosh sakes!), and the monster itself is more crudely realized, than in the recent release Creature, which I maligned to no end less than 24 hours ago. But whereas Creature never really makes effective use of its (at this point done to death in horror) Louisiana bayou setting, the town of Venice, with its canals, public parks, and beaches is itself the most compelling character in this tale of Three-Mile-Island-inspired anti-nuke scaremongering (not that your host is a fan of nuclear energy — anything but, the stuff is seriously bad news — I’m just trying to put the plot in some historical context).

So anyway, in case you hadn’t guessed it, the plot here revolves around a leak at the local nuke plant that infect some swamp mud teeming with unsavory bacterial life and the end result is a mud-encrusted beast that does what all these guys do and goes on a (completely gore-free in this case) killing spree. That’s all you need to know because honestly that’s all there is to it.

I’m sure at the time, if I’d been doing these armchair movie reviews like I am now (I was a little young for it back then, thank you very much), I would have written Slithis off as being a dull, hackneyed cash-in on contemporary news stories. But time changes everything, as they say, and Slithis, despite being obvious,  overwrought, hopelessly unsubtle, and all the rest stands out as a fun-filled nostalgic romp to a bygone era when our societal worries seemed to make a lot more sense. In short, Slithis hasn’t gotten any better over time per se, but the passing of time has made Slithis seem better. If you can get your head around that (and it’s not that tough, is it?).Plus there’s the fact that Slithis pretty much represents the tail end of the era when guys in rubber suits could still be played off as being (in this particular instance even vaguely) scary. So for all its attempts to be contemporary as hell, it was actually verging on relic status right from the get-go, and that sort of adds another layer of, dare I say it, charm to the whole proceedings.

So what the hell, give Slithis a go,  I think you’ll find it a fun slice of celluloid nostalgia.

I wanted to like this one sooooo bad.

When I first saw the posters for first-time director (and co-writer) Fred Andrews’ Creature at the theater a couple months back, I was psyched. I’d never heard of this Bubble Factory outfit releasing the film (and truth be told still don’t know anything about them), but here was something I’d been waiting to see for a long time — a good, old-fashioned monster movie! A guy in a rubber suit! An obviously low budget! Set in the Louisiana bayou! And hey — is that Sid Haig? It sure as shit is (and truth be told the fact that his was the only name on the cast list I recognized apart from second-tier TV actor Mehcad Brooks was another plus in my book)!

Questions that still don’t have answers began to swim through my mind. How on earth was a flick like this getting a major roll-out? Who was putting all the marketing muscle behind this thing? And how would it be received by audiences?

Well, we know the answer to that last one by now, at least. Creature opened on something like 1,500 screens nationally, took in an underwhelming (to put it mildly) $300, 000, and was gone the very next week. It’s hard for a flick with a budget of $3 million to lose money, but it looks like Creature is gonna do just that, even if it does gangbusters business on DVD (which it won’t).

And what was the reason for the giant collective shrug given this film by the American public at large? Well, for once the masses got it right — this thing just plain sucks.

Oh, it starts out promisingly enough — an innocent, unsuspecting girl strips naked in the swamp and is immediately eaten by a hungry gator.

But from that point on, things goes downhill pretty quickly. The initial set-up of unsuspecting city slickers heading out into swamp country and being lured into a trap by unscrupulous locals out to prey on their naivete is standard, if always satisfying, stuff. And yeah, it’s great to see the whole idea of a rubber-suited monster making a comeback. Big props to Andrews and company for all that.

Unfortunately, that’s as much praise as I can summon up for this decidedly third-rate effort. Creature slogs along at an almost leisurely pace from that point forward, the promised horrors are never really delivered upon, and intriguing set-up involving Haig (who’s criminally underutilized here) and his inbred clan quickly gets sidetracked into some nonsensical backwoods-monster-worshiping-cult thing for no discernible reason, the titular creature itself is given way too little screen time, the effects work is substandard even for what you might expect, there’s little to no actual blood-n’-guts, and Andrews can’t even manage to properly film a standard slo-mo shot (although that doesn’t keep him from trying again and again).

In short, Creature commits the unforgivable sin of being both poorly executed and hopelessly dull, and while we’re generous souls here at TFG and are more than willing to overlook either one or the other, when both are working together in concert it just makes for a lousy time at the movies.

I had a lot of questions going into Creature, but I had even more coming out, chief among them how and why this thing got itself a major release while other, far more worthy, independent horror films go straight to video. Not only is this far from the best that indie horror has to offer, it’s not even the best bayou-based indie horror to come out recently (Adam Green’s Hatchet films, anyone)? Why are dozens, if not hundreds, or better flicks earmarked exclusively for the home video market from the outset while this thing opens on as many screens as the latest Brad Pitt flick? In short,  I’d love to know who Fred Andrews’ daddy is and what kind of connections he has.

It was my vain hope that Creature might breathe some new life into the whole old-school monster movie thing, but by bombing so spectacularly (and frankly predictably — any veteran box office observer could probably see this coming from a mile away) all it managed to do was probably kill any chance for more worthy independent horror features to find major theatrical play for the next decade or so, if not longer.

On some level, I’m sure Andrews and company had their hearts in the right places, but the road to box office irrelevance for an entire genre is, apparently, paved with good intentions. Sigh — so much for that monster-movie comeback idea.