Posts Tagged ‘John Carradine’

I’m not sure how many films titled Revenge have been made over the years. I looked it up on IMDB and stopped counting at 24. It looked like I  was about halfway through the list. It’s also been the title of a few different TV series, one of which is apparently in its second season on the ABC network as we speak (I’m reliably informed, no surprise, that it completely sucks). So I guess we’d better be specific about exactly which Revenge it is we’re talking about here : this is the 1986 straight-to-video release Revenge, also known as Revenge : Blood Cult 2, a sequel to the very first shot-on-video horror film ever made (one we reviewed here on this very blog earlier this year), writer-director Christopher Lewis’  Tulsa, Oklahoma-lensed Blood Cult.

Now, if you’ve ever seen Blood Cult, you’ll know that it’s certainly not one of the better SOV horror efforts ever made, to put it kindly, but it’s at least worth seeing for its historic significane, especially if you’re a fan of these type of bargain-basement efforts. It certainly can’t be recommended for anything much beyond that, though (and this is coming from somebody who loves ’80s SOV horror). Still, even damned with that faint level of praise, it has to be said that Blood Cult has more going for it than Lewis’ tepid-to-put-it-kindly sequel, ‘cuz Revenge just plain sucks any way you slice it.

Lewis has swapped out his Sony Betacam for a real 16mm film camera here, and even hired a couple of “name” Hollywood actors, but all that does is diminish whatever lukewarm level of “charm” the first flick had going for it. The story treads pretty familiar territory — Patrick “nepotism in action” Wayne plays the brother of one of the murder victims from the first flick who’s come back to the small unnamed college town where the original murder spree took place, and together with a simple country bumpkin played by Bennie Lee McGowan he’s determined to prove that an ancient satanic cult is behind all the grisly goings-on in the area.  Little does he suspect, at first, how difficult the task will be, though, given that the town doctor, the dean of the college, and even a US Senator (played by John Carradine, who’s firmly in the “anything for a buck” phase of his career at this point) are all involved —

If any or all of that sounds interesting to you, then by all means have at it, but I’m telling ya, friends, this flick is a solid bore for start to finish. Not even Wayne’s deplorably wooden acting provides enough entertainment value to save this snooze-fest, given that he’s more just straight-up bad than he is “so-bad-he’s good.” Really, I’m trying to think of any reason at all for you, dear reader, to see this thing, and I’m drawing blanks (which at least is better than shooting them). The “mystery” powers behind the cult are obvious from the get-go, the murders are monotonously standard fare, the dialogue is wretched, the acting is deplorable — in short, it’s the kind of movie I should absolutely love, but I just plain don’t. It’s clearly the product of people doing nothing but going through the motions, and even calling it a half-assed affair is being too damn generous.

If you’re absolutely bound and determined to ignore my warnings, though, Revenge is available on DVD from VCI Home Entertainment. Extras include the trailer for the film itself as well as for some other VCI titles, a “making-of” featurette that’s not much more involving than its subject, and a full-length commentary from Lewis that’s at least somewhat interesting. Watch it if you must.

But really, you mustn’t. So I wouldn’t.

When you think about it, Nazis and zombies are a pretty natural combination, given that both have occultic roots (the Nazis with various Norse/Teutonic cults, zombies with the unique Haitian strain of voodoo), and since it’s long been rumored that Hitler and the boys were throwing a lot of shit at the walls to see  what stuck (“Foo Fighters,” “Vril”-powered UFOs, etc.) in their desperate final hours of WW II, the idea at the core of director Ken Weiderhorn(who also co-wrote the script)’s 1977 low-budget living dead thriller Shock Waves — namely that the Germans bred a race of super-soldiers in the war’s final months who couldn’t be killed and sunk the whole lot of them on a doomed U-boat in the middle of the Atlantic in order to prevent the Allies from discovering of their existence and therefore providing a template for copying the idea for their own uses — is definitely plausible enough as far as these things go.

Yet for whatever reason, the Nazi/zombie connection is one that’s only been exploited a couple of times as far as I know in cinematic history, namely here and in 2009’s Dead Snow. And yet it’s powerful enough as a meme to have filtered its way up into even Hollywood blockbuster fare like Hellboy and Captain America, albeit as minor subplot material. So maybe the true Nazi/zombie masterpiece remains, as yet, unwritten and unmade, but for now, Weiderhorn’s film remains a pretty solid template for future moviemakers to follow.

To be sure, it’s got some flaws — it’s a bit on the slow side, and the gore factor is pretty much non-existent, but what it lacks in blood-n’-guts it more than makes up for in creepily oppressive atmospherics, and the film is anchored by a couple of terrific performances, one from the always-reliable (and at this point in his career apparently doing anything anything for a buck) John Carradine, who plays the drunken captain of a decidedly cut-rate pleasure cruise populated by the usual horror-flick ensemble of good-hearted simpletons, rich assholes, confused everymen and their more confused wives, etc. who have a tragic accident on their boat and are forced to make their way ashore on a (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) uncharted island that hides the last, and deadliest, secret of World War II, and the other from the even-more-reliable Peter Cushing, who portrays the Nazi SS commander who once lead the so-called “Death Corps” and is now readying himself to oversee his former charge’s return from the depths after 35 years (although why it’s happening now is never really explained and frankly doesn’t matter all that much since there wouldn’t be much of a storyline here if it weren’t happening — in short, just go with it). Cushing, who was fresh off Star Wars when he made this, is essentially just playing Grand Moff Tarkin with the creepiness factor dialed up a couple of notches, but hell, it works and he casts just exactly the right air in his time on-screen.

Apart from our two venerable acting stalwarts, the other star here, besides the admittedly effective black-goggle-bespectacled “Death Corps” themselves, is the lush but somehow brooding scenery of the Coral Gables, Florida area where this film was shot. It feels remote, isolated, and impossibly thick with menace thanks to Wiederhorn’s gimmick-free visual style that just allows the setting, and the story, to speak for itself. There’s nothing fancy going on here, just solid celluloid craftsmanship, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact, these days it almost feels like something of a lost art.

Shock Waves is far from a masterpiece, and is definitely a product of its time and budget (apparently the whole thing cost around $200,000), but it’s an atmospheric, professional, generally-pretty-suspenseful piece of zombie-film fare, and makes terrifically effective use of both its shooting locale and its very-cool-and-still-as-of-yet-not-explored,-to-its-full-potential-by-Hollywood premise and  the DVD release from Blue Underground that I’m basing this review on does it pretty adequate justice by including a couple of trailers for the film, some radio advertising spots a nice little gallery of poster and advertising artwork and production stills, and an interview on the making of the film with cast member Luke Halpin. The print certainly shows its age but on the whole looks pretty decent and the stereo sound is simple enough but perfectly adequate.

And to think this flick comes to us courtesy of  the same guy who directed King Frat! I kid you not.

"The Howling" Movie Poster

Halloween month wouldn’t be complete without watching a few bona fide horror classics, and with that in mind I decided to give Joe Dante’s 1981 werewolf cult favorite The Howling a re-viewing for the first time in — oh, about forever a few nights back. This is another one that scared the pants off me as cable-viewing kid, and I know it still maintains a pretty soild reputation to this day, but as we’ve recently seen around these parts when I checked out Visiting Hours for the first time as a jaded adult, sometimes the movies that left an indelible impression on us in our youth really aren’t all we remember them to be. Would The Howling hold up?

The short answer is yes — I needn’t have worried, this is one film that’s earned its “classic” reputation and can hold its head high to this very day.

For those (few) of you who are unfamiliar with the basic premise, a gutsy TV reporter named Karen White (Dee Wallace, who met her husband, Christopher Stone , while working on this flick, where he plays — go figure — her husband) sets herself up as human bait for a serial killer and very narrowly survives an encounter with him in a seedy porno joint. Fatigued and fucked-up-in-the-head from her ordeal, she and hubby take off  for a private northern California retreat known as “The Colony” that’s run by one Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee of The Avengers fame), a therapist who urges his patients to get in touch with their more “primal” side as a way of working out their problems and freeing themselves from the shackles and stresses society imposes on us all.

In short order, though, Karen and hubby Bill find that all is not as it seems at this isolated, self-contained community, as the “primal urges” the folks there indulge in really are much more primal than they could have ever imagined, and Karen may be closer to tracking down her elusive serial killer than she realizes.

Look. it’s not giving anything away — the title does that already — to let the uninitiated know that this is a werewolf movie. Furthermore, it’s a very good werewolf movie. Hollywood hadn’t given werewolves much of a shot in the modern era, but between this and John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, the early 80s saw our furry friends experience something of a brief resurgence. The Howling is primarily remembered for its startling special effects, particularly the graphic transformation sequence of Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) into the bad-ass “leading wolf,” if you will, of the feature, and while that legendary scene looks a little less impressive than it did at the time, the fact is that it’s not by much. The effects team, lead by the legendary Rick Baker, did a bang-up job not only on this iconic moment in horror history, but throughout the production. I’ll certainly take their work, warts and all, over the CGI fests we get today, like last year’s thoroughly uninspiring The Wolfman.

There’s no doubt that The Howling is every bit a product of its time, but its sharp and incisive critique of est- and Primal Scream-style pop psychology fads and cults still rings extremely true even if those movements have dies down a bit. Biting (no pun intended) social commentary always stands the test of time, even if the object of said commentary has largely fallen by the wayside.

Dante draws some great performances out of his cast, as well, which isn’t too tough considering what a first-rate cast it is. In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Stone and a truly chilling turn from Macnee we’ve got great performances from Elisabeth Brooks as seductive priestess-chick Marsha Quist (Eddie’s sister), Slim Pickens as befuddled local sheriff Sam Newfield, and the legendary John Carradine as local yokel Erle Kenton. Be on the lookout for cameos from John Sayles (who co-wrote the screenplay), Forrest J. Ackerman, and Roger Corman, among others, as well. Keeping a sharp eye out for quick guest appearances from cult Hollywood icons is part of the fun to be had here.

The outdoor filming locations at the Mendocino Woodlands Camp (in, as you might have guess, Mendocino) are lush and atmospheric and Dante captures them magnificently, but a good chunk of this movie was shot in a good old fashioned Hollywood studio, as well, and while the “outdoor” studio scenes are pretty noticeable to the modern eye, it’s really nothing too terribly jarring and you’ll appreciate the great care that Dante went to in order to make his indoor forest shots look like the real thing.

All in all, I’m damn pleased that I decided to give The Howling another look. I checked out the “Special Edition” DVD from MGM, which features both an anamorphic widescreen presentation as well as a full-frame option (both look damn good and have been cleaned up very nicely), a remastered 5.1 audio track (the original mono track is also included) that sounds great without being too terribly overpowering, and has a theatrical trailer and a pretty damn absorbing commentary track with Dante at the forefront and contributions from Dee Wallace Stone,  Christopher Stone,  and Robert Picardo   included among a nice selection of extras, as well as a great and highly detailed “making-of” documentary feature called “Unleashing the Beast” that’s well worth a look, as well.

It had been a long time since Hollywood did werewolves as well as The Howling did them, and frankly they haven’t been done nearly as well since. It’s a tried-and-true genre clasicc for a reason, folks, and if you haven’t senn it in awhile I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well it has stood the test of time. It’s certainly well worth a look this Halloween season — or any other time of year, for that matter.