Posts Tagged ‘Scream Factory’

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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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What is it with Roger Corman and fishing villages, anyway? I swear to God he just loves to fuck with these places in his productions. Okay, yeah, for Humanoids From The Deep the setting made sense, given that it was a flick about horny killer sea creatures and all that, but for a movie about giant bloodthirsty mutant cockroaches — I dunno, wouldn’t New York or someplace have made more sense?

Still, sending a film crew out to New York or some other major metropolis known for its large and aggressive roach population would cost money, I suppose, and money is something our guy Roger would rather make than spend, so when it came time to roll the cameras for the film under our metaphorical microscope today, 1988’s The Nest, he packed up all the folks and equipment he’d need to do the job from his Venice, California lumberyard-turned-studio/offices, sent them upstate under the watchful eye of firs-time director (and co-screenwriter of The Howling, along with John Sayles) Terence H. Winkless, and told ’em all to come back with something he could do one of his typical late-’80s “yeah, we’ll release it to a few theaters right here in the neighborhood but home video is where most of the action for this one is gonna be found” numbers on.

To his credit, Winkless put together a pretty solid cast for this one — Franc Luz stars as local sheriff Richard Tarbell, who’s in charge of putting the mutant roach infestation plaguing his sleepy seaside community down ; Lisa Langlois plays Elizabeth Johnson, his former (and perhaps future) love interest , who comes back to town at the worst possible time;  Robert Lansing turns up as her possibly-corrupt father, who just so happens to be the mayor; Terri Treas is tasked with the role of Dr. Morgan Hubbard, a mad scientist working for the dastardly (or at least amoral) INTEC corporation who has overseen the creation of these flesh-eating monstrosities herself; and Stephen Davies is on hand as poor, hapless Homer, the hard-working local pest exterminator who discovers the problem first but who, of course, no one else listens to until it’s far too late.

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The real stars here, though, are the special effects guys (and possibly gals) — especially once the roaches take on the ability to mimic the characteristics of whatever they eat (via means of some DNA transference process that’s never suitably explained but doesn’t really matter, anyway). The final 30-or-so-minutes of The Nest are an absolute make-up and prosthetics tour de force, and a case study in why “real” effects work — even of the low-budget variety — will always trump CGI (not that they had much of that back in ’88, but whatever). The human/roach hybrid creatures are absolutely, gruesomely spectacular — even if they never actually mount any nubile young bra-and-panty-clad women as shown in the poster (although there is a decent amount of nudity and near-nudity on hand here, so you can relax on that score).

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So yeah — the creature effects are definitely the “cake” as far as things go here, but there’s some pretty decent “icing,” too,  in the form of some — believe it or not — genuinely involving character drama, nicely-shot exteriors and interiors that give the proceedings a real sense of place, and even a pleasingly fair amount of actual suspense thrown in for good measure. All in all, this is a much better film not only than you’d think going in, but probably than we’ve got any right to expect given the people, and the budget, behind it.

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The Nest is available from Shout! Factory’s horror-centric Scream Factory imprint as  a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack that is, curiously enough, not labeled as part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line for whatever reason. Both discs feature a crisp and clean anamorphic widescreen picture with mono sound (with the Blu-Ray in this case both looking and sounding considerably better) and a feature-length commentary track from director Winkless. There are no other extras to speak of, which is kind of a bummer, but doesn’t detract too terribly much from a movie that any fan of the kind of shit we usually talk about around these parts will be proud to have on their shelves. Sit back with a  full can of Raid handy and enjoy.

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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.