Posts Tagged ‘john carl buechler’

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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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“Old School American Horror.”

Shit, that sounds good, doesn’t it? That’s what writer-director  Adam Green’s 2006 indie-horror mini-sensation Hatchet (which has now spawned a sequel that came and went in ultra-limited theatrical release pretty fast, but should be available on DVD in the hopefully-not-too-distant future) promises, and I’m pleased to say that it delivers.

Need some evidence? How about cameos from cult horror icons Robert Englund (as a backwoods redneck), Tony Todd (as a French Quarter witch doctor/tour guide), and Richard Riehle (as a loudmouth tourist/soon-to-be-victim)?

Not enough for ya? How about most people’s favorite Jason, Kane Hodder, as the slasher (or hatcheter) himself, Victor Crowley?

Shit, how about that name — Victor Crowley, that’s got “iconic horror character” written all of it, doesn’t it?

Shit, I can see you’re still not convinced.

How about a healthy serving of bare boobs (not all of which are that great)? How about a simple-ass plot about a dumped-and-heartbroken college schmuck name Ben (Joel Moore) who goes down to Mardi Gras to forget his troubles but can’t get his mind off his ex so he heads out on a guided “haunted bayou” tour with a buddy and ends up hearing about the Crowley legend — the story of a horribly deformed young boy who was protected by his father until the locals came to kill him and Victor’s dad, while trying to save him, accidentally puts a hatchet through his skull — only to find that the legend is real, Victor survived, and now he’s hunting down and killing anybody who comes into his neck of the woods (or, in this case, swamp)?

Still not enough? Dear God you people are tough to please.

Okay, how about awesome effects by none other than John Carl Buechler himself, who also puts in a cameo in the film?

How about a huge body count and gruesome-as-hell deaths?

How about a totally insane non-ending of an ending that rips off both the original Friday the 13th and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the same time?

How about I shut the fuck and you see Hatchet for yourself and come back here later and tell me about how right I was?

Now that sounds like a plan! Hatchet is available in an unrated director’s cut on DVD from Anchor Bay and features a flawless anamorphic widescreen transfer, a terrific 5.1 surround audio mix, and a great commentary by writer-director Green and co-producer Scott Altomare that’s well worth a listen, among assorted other extras. It clocks in at right around 90 minutes just like you’d expect, and while it does nothing — and I do mean nothing — new, that’s sorta the point.

Hatchet isn’t about breaking new ground, defying convention, subverting audience expectations, redefining the slasher genre for a new generation of fans, or any of that shit. Hell, it’s not even trying to be particularly scary, and its tongue is planted firmly in its cheek pretty much the whole way through. It’s more funny than it is frightening, but it never loses sight of what it’s trying to achieve and retains an attitude of playful respect toward all the horror conventions it’s aping throughout.

Simply put,  this flick  is about one thing, and one thing only — delivering the goods. And damn if it doesn’t do that in spades.

Hatchet is the kind of movie that could only be made by hard-core 70s and 80s horror fans, and it’s only made for hard-core 70s and 80s horror fans. If you love Michael, Jason, Leatherface, and Freddy, rest assured you’re gonna love Victor Crowley and Hatchet — and it’s gonna love you right back.