Posts Tagged ‘horror movies’

Promo Poster For Dire Wit Films' "Isle Of The Damned"

Promo Poster For Dire Wit Films' "Isle Of The Damned"

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not at all a fan of Troma-style “instant cult classics,” if you will, and prefer films that actually earn their “cult” status without the aid of a fully-laid-out blueprint, but I must admit that “Isle Of The Damned” the second feature from director Mark Colgrove and Dire Wit Films, is a refeshingly bizarre serving of intentional cinematic sewage that spoofs the excesses of the Italian cannibal film subgenre while not losing completely the sense of genuine unease that the best of these flicks, like Deodato’s “Cannibal Holocaust,” instill in their viewers. In other words, “Isle Of The Damned” does make you laugh and also makes you feel ashamed for doing so.

This is thanks in large part to a truly disturbing subplot involving Billy, the young teenage ward (played by a guy in his late 20s/early 30s, naturally) of lead character “Jack Steele” about which the less I reveal the better— suffice it to say that Billy’s travails are the source of much uneasy laughter during the course of the film, and while the typical cheesiness of fake moustaches, overtly lousy dubbing, over-the-top cheap gore effects and the like are easy enough to crack fun at without feeling guilty, laughing at the struggles of “poor little Billy” will give you the same feeling as watching the animal slaughter in “Cannibal Holocaust”—you don’t really want to see it, but you can’t turn away. In that sense, then, “Isle Of The Damned” succeeds because it not only mocks but also captures the spirit of the Italian cannibal subgenre, since it’s just as cringeworthy, albeit in a completely different way.

Sure, much of the humor is overly obvious (the supposed “director” of this “lost classic” is “Antonello Giallo,” for instance, and the film’s promo poster blares that it was “Banned In 492 Countries,”) but there is plenty of unexpected and more ambiguous ” humor” peppered throughout in addition to blatant absurdities like a “jungle locations” that look like upstate New York or southern rural  New Jersey and a huge mansion located on a primitive, “uncivilized” island.

Does the entire film still have the overall subtlelty of a hammer blow to the skull? Of course, but that’s part of its—and I use this term loosely—charm. I certainly wouldn’t recommend this film to everyone, but if you think that the “instant cult classic” genre has nothing to offer, I’d humbly suggest that you give “Isle Of The Damned,” warts and all, a chance. Shot for something like $20,000, this film delivers the warped and twisted goods and leaves you feeling guilty for having so much fun. Who can ask for more than that?

Shock-O-Rama's Newly Remastered "Drainiac" DVD

Shock-O-Rama's Newly Remastered "Drainiac" DVD

Maybe it’s because I was just saddled with a massive plumbing mainline repair bill of $7,800 (probably roughly what this film cost to make), but something about Brett Piper’s “Drainiac” really appeals to me. In the (admittedly brief) period of time before his name became synonymous with “cheap CGI” and “starring Misty Mundae,” Piper cooked up this little gem in his home environs of New Hampshire with a cast and crew composed mostly of friends, various acquaintances, and aspiring (i.e. unprofessional) actors and actresses willing to work for next to nothing. It’s a definite labor of love, and while being a confused and often haphazard one, nevertheless that warped, twisted love shines through.

To briefly sum things up, a high-school girl (played by Georgia Hatzis) who’s mother has recently died and who’s father is a drunken, verbally abusive good-for-nothing sets to work fixing up a house said rotten father has recently bought hoping to “flip” quick for some cash after doing a series of fast (mostly cosmetic) repairs. However, an evil spirit of some sort that lives in the dilapidated shithole’s plumbing (and claimed the lives of a couple of vagrants “a few years ago” in the movie’s opening scene) has other ideas and when our leading lady’s high school friends show up to (ostensibly) help her clean the place up, it decides it’s going to burst forth from the pipes and kill them all instead. After getting good and tanked at a local watering hole , her father heads home to see how his daughter’s doing with the unenviable task of cleaning up his latest dilapidated get-rich-quick scheme (in a classic cheesy exchange the bartender asks the dad if he’s sober enough to drive and he replies “I’d better be, I’m too drunk to walk), only to fall victim to this foul drain-spirit when his mini-van radiator overheats and he pulls over to find out what happened (how it got from the house to the car is never really explained) and gets fried to a crisp when he opens the hood for a look. While some of the usual teenage hijinks ensue at the house, a world-weary exorcist (played by Steven Bornstein) comes across the father’s dead body and makes his way to the house, where presumably he’d been heading anyway since this is the sort of thing he does for living. He ropes the kids into a rather impromptu exorcism, the spirit(s) reveal themselves, all does not go as planned, not everyone survives, the spirits go apeshit, the house implodes on itself, and all that’s left is a giant crater in the ground to prove that any of it ever happened. The end.

Even as late 90s/early 2000s straight-to-video horror flicks go, it’s a mind-numbingly simple “plot,” with some truly harebrained dead-end subplots thrown in for no real reason whatsoever (such as when our heroine finds an antique photograph of a woman in the house who looks exactly like her mother—only the picture is over 100 years old! gasp!), but the combination of zero-budget (but well-executed, all things considered) stop-motion and live FX works, there’s something honest about the sheer one-dimensionality of all the characters, and the stilted dialogue is charmingly cheesy for the most part.

The folks over at Shock-O-Rama have recently released a “special edition” DVD of this overlooked non-masterpiece, which completes the film to Piper’s satisfaction for the first time (he’s referred to the initial DVD release as literally a “work in progress”), and blows the original 16mm image up to an anamorphic 1.78:1 presentation. Also included is a pretty thorough commentary from Piper that’s entertaining, informative, and immediately out-of-date as he talks about how he can’t wait to release this new hi-def transfer on HD DVD since HD DVD is the wave of the future and standard DVD is on the way out as sure as VHS and this release is intended for HD DVD only and won’t be put out in standard DVD format . Whoops, guess that didn’t happen! And while Piper can be forgiven for thinking HD DVD was going to win out in its short-lived “format war,” I have yet to see a “Drainiac” Blu-Ray release advertised anywhere.

All in all, a fun little way to kill less than an hour and a half (hell, less than an hour and twenty minutes) of your life, and a nice little “time capsule” peek of sorts into that period of mid-90s to early-2000s of straight-to-video Z-grade horror that is often completely passed over almost as a matter of course by most DVD companies,  even those willing to crank out lesser 60s, 70s, and 80s exploitation titles— which is something of a shame since  some flawed gems, such as this, are to be found there.