Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Original Bad (VERY bad) Santa

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Starring: John Call, Leonard Hicks, and Vincent Beck
Director: Nicholas Webster
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Aliens kidnap Santa Claus (Call) and bring him to Mars so he can bring toys and holiday cheer to their depressed, television-obsessed children. But evil and conservative forces want to stop him from tainting Martian culture with Earth-based Christmas nonsense.

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" is a stupendously bad movie that fails on just about every level. The idea of Santa Claus converting grumpy evil Martians to the Light Side through the force of good cheer and Christmas spirit is a great idea, but since we never get a sense of why they would want to resist the Christmas Spirit to begin with, the idea remains stillborn.

Then there's the problem with the pacing of the film, with even the busiest scenes having a feeling of being padded. The story flow is also disorganized and rambling with the various scenes and events of the picture barely feeling connected to each other, and in some cases it is almost as if characters forgot what happened in the scene immediately prior.

The final nail in this film's coffin is that it's another example of a movie where the ideas and creative visions were bigger than the film's budget out accommodate. This is particularly evident in the sad, painfully cheap sets of the Martian space ship. The Martian costumes and make-up aren't much better, as they put viewers in mind of an Al Jolson black-face performance rather than Martians.

The only halfway decent thing about the picture is John Call as Santa Claus, although even he cant' rise above the awfulness of the material and often seems confused and even a little bored. He mostly pulls off the jolly Ho-Ho-Ho of the traditional idea of Santa and he delivers a number of rather funny lines effectively... unlike Vincent Beck, who, as the evil Santa-hating Voldar, manages to kill most of the Funny in his laugh lines. (Although Beck does sport one of the funniest mustaches to ever appear in film.)

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" is a holiday picture to avoid as strenuously as your aunt's homemade fruitcake!

Trivia: Pia Zadora made her first screen appearance in this film. She plays a little Martian girl who befriends Santa.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The S-U-I-C-I-D-E Song & Dance Number

If you're inclined to shout "alluha akbar!" or make excuses and justifications for death-worshiping freaks when you see stories like "Car Bomb: Christmas Jihad in Stockholm," don't watch this scene cut from "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead."

(This post was part of a Cinema Steve-wide celebration in honor of Jihadists everywhere.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Save this one 'til it's the last movie on Earth

Last Woman on Earth (1960)
Starring: Betsy Jones-Moreland, Antony Carbone, and Robert Towne
Director: Roger Corman
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A crooked business man (Carbone), his wife (Jones-Moreland), and his young attorney (Towne) through a fluke survive a mysterious disaster that kills every living thing on the surface of Earth's northern hemisphere, perhaps in the entire world. They attempt to forge a life on the now deserted planet, but how long can two men tolerate each other with just one woman between them? Not very long.

There isn't much more to this film that that paragraph. If I told you that one man kills the other, and the remaining couple lives happily ever after, I wouldn't be spoiling the film, because that's the outcome that's set up early on, and it's an outcome that's never in any doubt.

The cinematography and acting is serviceable for a film which was probably written on the back of cocktail napkins, for which much of the dialogue was probably ad-libbed (the only explanation I can think of for inexplicably repeated lines within the same scene), and which was only made because Creature from the Haunted Sea wrapped a few days early and director/producer wanted to squeeze as much work out of the cast and crew he had brought to Puerto Rico as possible.

But for a movie that was probably made in a single-digit number of days, it isn't all bad. The characters are interesting in a community theater one-act play sort of way, and the story moves along at a quick pace. While there isn't a whole lot that happens in this film, you can still watch it and not get bored. Antony Carbone is particularly interesting as the crooked business man, mostly because you know that he's going to kill someone before the film's over. The only question is who.

That's not to say that it's necessarily worth watching unless you're interested in what an "artsy" Corman film might look like, or if you want to check out the humble beginnings of the writer of "China Town". But in the final analysis, this is yet another Roger Corman production where the poster art is more interesting than the film itself.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Enter to win a free copy of
150 Movies You Should [Die Before You] See

The folks at are giving away three free copies of my book via drawings. Enter by clicking on the link below. (The deadline for entries is December 5.)

Click to enter.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Blood Legacy' is not worth inheriting

Blood Legacy (aka Legacy of Blood) (1971)
Starring: Mary Anders, Faith Domergue, Norman Bartold, and John Carradine
Director: Carl Monson
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

An unlikable old man (Carradine) dies and leaves his massive fortune to his four equally unlikable children... assuming they can stand each other long enough to spend a week together in the family mansion. Well, wouldn't you know it, they soon start dying messily. Who among the ever-dwindling list of suspects hates his or her siblings and their spouses that murder is the answer? Or is there something deeper and more sinister behind the killings? Will the viewers pass out from boredom before the answers are revealed?

"Blood Legacy" is a by-the-numbers thriller with the standard collection of greedy relatives (one of whom is a former mental patient) who are thrown together in a house to get an inheritance. It's basically a sleazy retelling of "The Cat and Canary"--or perhaps one of any number of other similar films, as there is nothing here that hasn't been done much better in countless other movies. The filmmakers attempt to introduce a twist on their lifted plot, but it's too little, too late, and nowhere near clever enough to even begin to save the film.

From the script, to the acting, to the camera work, to the editing, to the special and sound effects, there's nothing that's well done in "Blood Legacy." It's borderline non-watchable, and the only fun you'll get out of it is viewing it with friends who are witty and good at mocking bad movies in "Mystery Science Theater 3000" style.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

I am thankful for the roof over my head, and for the fact that I have enough money to keep it there. I am thankful that I have good friends to spend this day with. I am thankful that I live in the United States where I have the luxury and freedom to watch and review whatever the heck I want in my various blogs, not to mention the freedom to write whatever I want on other subjects. I am thankful for all the men and women in law enforcement and the armed services who are protecting my rights and ability to be frivolous.

And I am thankful for all of you reading this and to those of you who have or will be picking up 150 Movies You Should [Die Before You] See. Writers may write, but we also hope to be read.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

'Weapons of Death' aren't nerf guns or tasers

Weapons of Death (1986)
Starring: Eric Lee, Bob Ramos, Ralph Catellanos, Louis Bailey, Gerald Okamura, Gina Lau, Nancy Lee, and Paul Kyriazi
Director: Paul Kyriazi
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

When the owner of a martial arts school in San Francisco (Lau) refuses to pay protection money to a local Chinese mobster, vicious thug Bishop (Catellanos) is hired to kidnap her daughter, Angela (Lee). Her half-brother (Lee), father (Ramos), and boyfriend (Kyriazi) set out to pay the demanded ransom, but run afoul all sorts of trouble, mostly brought on by stupid scripting.

"Weapons of Death" is a title that prompted me to ponder the question, "Are there any other kinds of weapons other than weapons of death?"

I suppose there are... like tasers and Nerf bats. And then there is the Ugly Stick and the Stupid Stick, both of which were used liberally on many of the actors and all of the characters in this film.

As for the movie itself, the sheer idiocy on the part of the characters, the way motivations seem to be come and go and change between scenes, and the way some of the actors can't even seem to deliver a single line without sounding like they should be attending the Tromaville School for the Very Special (yes, i'm looking at you Eric Lee and Paul Kyriazi) make me wonder if the "script" for this film wasn't made up as shooting took place. Something was needed to tie the so-so choreographed and horribly filmed fight-scenes together after all. (Actually, i happen to know that at least one draft of the script was written, because the director makes reference to writing it on his website. It's too bad he didn't take it through several drafts; he might have realized that his kidnap was victim was annoying--particuarly the way she gets kidnapped, rescued, kidnapped, rescued, and then kidnapped again--his heroes were dumb and his villians dumber, and that an explanation for why the Chinatown crimelord and all his goons seemed to be living in a desert wilderness would have been nice.)

The only two actors who should put this film on their resumes are Louis Bailey (who plays the toughest of the bad guys, and who has a change of heart halfway throgh the film) and Ralph Catellanos (who, as Bishop, is such a nasty piece of work that even other bad guys don't like him). The rest of the cast are average or subpar.

Between the bad script, weak acting, and indifferent to shoddy camera-work, there is no real reason for you to seek out "Weapons of Death". It might serve as a B-feature on a Bad Movie Night, but otherwise this is a film best left to fade into cinematic oblivion.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

'Bloodlust' is not a desirable film

Bloodlust (1961)
Starring: Wilton Graff, Robert Reed, June Kenney, Joan Lora, Eugene Persson, and Lilyan Chauvin
Director: Ralph Brooks
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A homicidal madman (Graff) traps two young couples (Reed, Kenney, Lora, and Persson) on his private island and hunts them for sport... and for future display in his trophy room.

A "The Most Dangerous Game"-like riff (or maybe just rip-off) that is sapped of all excitement, tension, and horror by lackluster production values, weak wooden acting, awful dialogue, and an unbelievably stupid script. (Four strapping young people just stand there and listen to Graff as he tells them he's going to hunt them and kill them. Why didn't they just knock him on the head just then and there? More to the point, why would someone like Graff's character who likes hunting people because they're more dangerous prey than animals even WANT to hunt four people so passive they stand there while he gives a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong speech about how he's going to kill them?)

If I'm to be charitable, I would suggest that this script may have been written for a 12-page comic book story for "House of Mystery"--it would explain the speeches that go on forever, as word balloons ever seem to be as verbose on the page than if you read them out loud--but someone decided it would make more money as a movie. And so, they conned, um, CONVINCED Cincegrafik into producing it.

A far more real answer is that the screen writer and director on this project both show a distinct lack of talent.

While there are a few glimmers of something interesting now and then--Graff goes a passable Vincent Price imitation, and has a few almost funny lines... and the revelation of what's in the trophy room is creepy--but any developing potential is quickly squandered through a combination of bad acting and bad script-writing.

This is one movie to just take a pass on. It's so dull that even the "Mystery Science Theater" version is only mildly amusing, teetering on the brink between a Five and a Six rating. (Although, the 'bots do say everything you'll think to yourself if you don't heed my advice. This movie isn't so "bad it's good", it's just bad.)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Those wacky Ninja and their wackiness!

Ninja Champion (1980)
Starring: Nancy Chang, Bruce Baron, Jack Lam, Richard Harrison, and Pierre Tremblay
Director: Godfrey Ho
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A rape victim, Rose (Chang), infiltrates a diamond smuggling ring so she can more effectively stalk and kill the three men who raped her (as well as uncover who ordered them to do it). Meanwhile, the Good Ninja (Baron), who also happens to be an Interpol agent, is attacking and killing the followers of the Evil Ninja (Tremblay) because... um... well, just because. It might have something to do with the diamond smuggling, but, then again, it might not. Who can tell with these cazy ninjas?

"Ninja Champion" is one of the most inane, muddled martial arts movies I've ever seen. The plot with rape victim is fairly trite, but comprehensible in and of itself, even if the whole diamond smuggling bit is rather farfetched and rediculous. The ninja stuff, however, is so stupid that it doesn't make any sense even after the Evil Ninja (who is named Maurice, so it was obviously the cruelty of his parents that made him choose a life of crime and evil) explains his plot the the Good Ninja. It understandable the Good Ninja wants to kick his ass... I wanted to do the same to the writer/director who came up with this crap.

This is a One Tomato movie that I'm nonetheless awarding Two Tomatoes for, due to much unintended hiariity in the bad dubbing and the bizarre final battle between the Good Ninja and the Bad Ninja.

I can't really recommend this movie to anyone, because I think I felt the braincells dying as I was watching it. However, it might be good for a Bad Movie Night if you've got someone in your crowd that's good at quipping while a film unfolds.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bad fantasy/horror in an anthology format

Satan's Storybook (2007)
Starring: Ray Robert, Lesile Deutsch, Ginger Lynn Allen, and Michael Daevid ("Satan's Queen"/framing segment), Steven K. Arthur and Leesa Roland ("Demon of Death" segment), Gary Brandner, Michael Rider, Francis Paul and Irwin Waterman ("Death Among Clowns" segment)
Director: Michael Rider
Rating: Two Stars

"Satan's Storybook" is a low-budget anthology film with costuming that would look great at a Halloween party but which is at the bottom end of what should be considered passable for a professional film production. The flat look of a film obviously shot on video makes it look even cheaper.

I broke this review down according to the segments of the film, assigning each one its own rating. The Two Stars I ultimately ended up assigning it is an average of those individual ratings.

Aside from its low budget and near-universally weak acting which is made to appear worse than it actually is by atrocious dialogue, the film hurt most by the sloppy and loose editing. Every time there's a cut or a change in camera angle, we get at least a second of dead air, so even during what should be heated exchanges between characters we get an overly stagey sense of performance as everyone seems to be politely waiting for the other actor to finish their line before delivering his. The actors and the film in general would have come off much better if there had been a talented editor involved in the production.

Like most anthology films, it consists of a framing tale that surrounds and links short stories. Here, the framing sequence involves the kidnapping of Satan's Bride (Leslie Deutsch) by her sister who has been raised to kill her (Ginger Lynn Allen). While Satan's minions tracks his bride and her kidnappers, he orders his court jester (Daevid) to tell him tales of evil on Earth to get his mind off the situation.

The framing story is a fantasy-oriented section of the film, with better-than-average swordplay for this level of filmmaking but the too-cheap costuming and the awful editing undermines the good parts. Ray Robert does a good job as Satan, but he's also undermined by a lack of technical ability on the part of the filmmakers, as his voice is distorted to give it a spooky, demon-like quality that makes it almost impossible to understand what he's saying. The framing story rates a 4/10 Stars. It's the best part of the film, which isn't saying much. And even though it's the best part, it still ended with me saying to myself, "Is that it? Did someone forget to end this movie?"

The first story told by the jester is "Demon of Death", a tale of a serial killer who picks his victims at random from a phone book (Steven K. Arthur), but whose luck runs out when he targets a young woman who is studying witchcraft (Leesa Roland).

"Demon of Death" had plenty of potential, but it evaporates under the harshness of bad writing (not just the dialogue but also the timing of events in the tale, such as the revelation that the killer's "Book of Death" is just a phone book), subpar acting by everyone appearing, and the aforementioned bad editing. It's also padded with about five mintues of useless scenes involving the police and badly staged news reports. It rates a 2/10 Stars.

The jester's second tale is "Death Among Clowns". Here, a washed-up, drunken circus clown (Gary Brandner) commits suicide after being fired by the owner of the sideshow attracion he's spent his adult life performing at (Paul), but tries to put up a fight when Mickey La Mort, the manifestation of Death who collects the spirits of clowns (Rider), appears.

Moreso than the other parts of this film, the bad editing makes "Death Among Clowns" feel stagey and causes the actors to come off worse than they actually are. The pauses between lines due to changes in angles during a scene drains all energy from interactions. Of course, the truly awful dialogue being delivered doesn't help matters, but the editing is really what kills things here. Oh yeah... and then there's the problem the story just sort of peeters out. It's as if writers Arthur and Rider had put themselves in a corner and then said to themselves, "Let's just put a "boo" scare here and call it good." This one earns a rating of 2/10 Stars.

Two of the actors appearing in this segment have not appeared in any other films, but I want to call their performances out nonetheless.

First, there's Gary Brandner, the novelist who wrote the novels from which some of the werewolf films in "The Howling" series are based, as well as the script for "Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf". He plays Charlie the Clown, and he does it with a very bad Christopher Walken impersonation.

Second, there's Francis Paul, who plays the sideshow attraction owner who's sick of giving Charlie slack. Paul gives the most energetic and natural performance of anyone in the film. With better lines and decent editing, he might have earned "Death Among Clowns" another star. I think it's a shame he didn't do any more movies, because I think he could have been excellent if supported by competent filmmakers.

"Satan's Storybook" is a film that even lovers of the anthology format like myself would be better off not bothering with.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

'Luana': A movie as vapid as its title character

Luana (aka "Luana, the Girl Tarzan" and "Luana the Jungle Girl") (1968)
Starring: Glenn Saxson, Evi Marandi, Pietro Tordi, Al Thomas, and Mei Cheng
Director: Roberto Infascelli
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Isabella (Marandi) hires a burned-out jungle explorer (Saxson)--who is amusingly named George--to take into the remote jungle where her father's plane crashed 15 years earlier. Will they find any survivors? And just who is that mysterious, mostly-naked girl (Cheng) who keeps grinning at them from the underbrush? Could it be the title character?!

"Luana" is one of those films that sounds like it can't possibly go wrong, at least if you're a fan of Tarzan movies and babes in scant clothing. The Russ Manning-illustrated comic strip makes the film look even more appealing, so Big Kudos to the marketeers who cooked up that promotion. Of course, the drawback to the strip is that it tells virtually the entire story of the movie. Yeah... that's how empty and devoid of any action or even activity this film is... it can be summarized in its entirety in a handful of four panel strips. The Manning strips even give away most of what passes for plot twists in the film.

Something else the Manning strip does, although this is only clear in retrospect, is provide a preview of the fact that Luana is the most passive action heroine to ever appear on screen (on in any media for that matter). She does little more than lurk in the bushes and grin stupidly at... well, just about anything. The most action we get from her is during a storm when smarter humans and animals take shelter, but she goes prancing around in the rain, somehow managing to avoid being struck the the falling branches that are injuring other people and animals alike. I'm sure there are movies out there with more passive title characters--hell, Bernie was a more active character in the sequel to "Weekend at Bernie's" and he was dead for the entire movie.

The passivity of Luana is made all the more irritating, because the rest of the film is empty of interesting content, except for underbaked cookie-cutter characters portrayed by actors who seem like they are rehearsing instead of actually performing with cameras rolling, jungle sets that at times make "Gilligan's Island" seem gritty, and plot twists so lame one has to wonder why they even bothered. And then there's the climactic encounter between the heroes and the bad guys--for which Luana once again just stands around and grins stupidly--during which someone falls into a mutant carnivorous plant and is slowly, slo-o-o-o-w-ly devoured. One wonders why he didn't just roll out, or why one of his allies didn't just reach in and pull him out. Heck, this might even have been a moment where Luana could have developed some personality and have stepped in and rescued him. It would have explained why the natives think she's a goddess.

Finally, there's the ending. The heroes leave the jungle waving to Luana who stands alone and watches them go. We, the viewers, can't see if she's grinning stupidly or not, but the jungle explorer blathers on about how Luana is happy in the jungle and it's best to leave her there. If she was so happy, why did she seek the explorers out? Why did she keep following them? Why did she stand and watch them leave, perhaps even sadly? Had the Italian/German cinematic geniuses behind this film bothered to read Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels (or perhaps even one of the comic book adaptations of "Tarzan" or "The Return of Tarzan", of which several were available by the late 1960s, some even illustrated by the artist for the "Luana" strip, Russ Manning) they would have seen that Tarzan was given a choice between living in the jungle and living in civilization. That's one of the reasons the Tarzan story works. The ending to "Luana" is lame, and it makes characters we are supposed to feel positively toward come across like arrogant and collous assholes. What evidence does George of the Jungle have that Luana is happy in her isolation? And why could he not give her the opportunity to make an informed choice about how she wanted her life to be? The writers and directors manage to end their already bad movie on the most abysmal note possible. (Yes, I know the run-time probably wouldn't have allowed for us to see how things turned out for Luana, but it would have made a far better ended if the main characters had either chosen to stay and educate her, or if she had otherwise gone with them, with viewers having the understanding that she would be coming back to the jungle down the road.)

There are only two kinds of viewers this movie will appeal to, but I doubt it will even satisfy them.

The first are those who love everything that has even a slight whiff of classic Tarzan/jungle action movies to it. The film does has bizarre, spear-chucking tribesmen, a silly duel between the heroic explorer and one of the villains that involves stakes in the ground and scorpions, and it's got a "savage white man" (who in this case happens to be a savage Asian girl, but you know what I mean); if you are jonesing for a jungle fix and NOTHING else is available, maybe this movie will take the edge off.

The second kind are "men" like Gary Glitter and Roman Polanski... the sort of men who who like hanging around girl's schools in dirty rain coats and who subscribe to the theory "if it's more than a handful, it's too big." They will have a great time watching the diminutive Mei Cheng swing on vines and frolic in the rain wearing nothing but a small loin cloth and her long hair. They will watch enraptured as they discover that Cheng's hair is NOT has carefully glued down as Brooke Shields' hair was in "The Blue Lagoon". The film will undoubtedly seem to fly by, as they eagerly look for glimpses of Cheng's breasts (or even better)... and there is a single, very brief shot where their hopes are rewarded. (Of course, they might not be able to fully enjoy the picture, since the point is made that Luana is at least 18 years old when this story takes place.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Heroes vs Head Hunters (and bad dancers)

Colossus and the Headhunters
(aka "Maciste vs. the Headhunters") (1964)
Starring: Kirk Morris, Laura Brown, Frank Leroy, Alfredo Zammi, and Demeter Bentic
Director: Guido Malatesta
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Wandering hero Maciste (Morris) leads his people from their volcano-ravaged homeland to another island where they find themselves in the middle of a civil war. Maciste takes up the battle of the kindhearted and babe-alicious Queen Amoa (Brown) against the evil pretender to her throne (Bentic) and his headhunting mercenaries, all in the interest of peace and finding a new home of this people.

"Colossus and the Headhunters" is a low-budget fantasy film that is several different shades of bad. The cheapness wafts from every frame, the acting is horrendous (both on the part of the original actors and the voice actors who did the English-language dub), and the script drags on and on, turning even what should be exciting battle- and chase-scenes into excrutiating tests of the viewers patience.

The one well-done thing is the costume designs of the three different cultures featured in the film--Machiste's people, the kingdom dealing with the cival war, and the headhunters. Each culture has a distinct look to it, and some level of thought and care went into their visual creation. (Although even this isn't perfect. Were their two civilizations on Machiste's original home island, because the people he leads to safety are your garden variety, Sword & Sandel, psuedo-Greek/Mediterreanian in costuming and armaments... yet most of the people we see fleeing from earthquakes and falling boulders as the island is consumed by the volcanic eruptions are fur-clad, sharpened-stick and stone-axe weilding cavemen! That's because this movie was so cheaply made that there was no money for the special effects shots required to portray an exploding volcano, so the director grabbed footage from an earlier third-rate fantasy film he'd made, 1962's "Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules." (You can follow this link to read all about that movie misfire at Cinema Steve.)

There is one reason to see this movie, one VERY good reason. It features one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes ever put on film. Run the movie while you're reading a book or cleaning, but start paying attention when the villian is forcing Queen Amoa to marry him... and watch in awe-struck disbelief (and through eventual tears of laughter) as the handmaiden throws off her cloak and performs a wedding dance like none you've ever seen. That dance alone earns this film a full Star!

A severely edited version of "Colossus and the Headhunters" might be great addition to a Bad Movie Night, but, despite hilarious bits like the wedding dance, there are too many drawn out, boring sections to make it worth while.

(It's interesting to me that, despite the American title, there is no character in the film named "Colossus". What was the aversion to using the name Maciste in titles when these films were imported? Would "Colossus" reallly attract that many more viewers than "Maciste"? I suspect "Headhunters" was a bigger draw, and youd get the same audience if it had been called "Big Gay Al and the Headhunters" or "PeeWee and the Headhunters".)

Fun Fact: Maciste is sort-of the all-purpose Italian go-to epic hero. He is featured in tales of swashbuckling, freedom-fighting, and just plain old fashioned monster-bashing mayhem set in all historical ages, cultures, and places. For all I know, he even shows up in sci-fi stories and movies. (And if he doesn't, get on that Italy!)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Conrad Brooks tries to out Ed-Wood Ed Wood (and fails miserably)

Gypsy Vampire: The Final Bloodlust (2009)
Starring: Bruce "Porkchop" Lindsay, Mark Byrne, Matt Burns, Gail Maureen Hanson, Donna Burns, John Durham, Judi Durham, and Conrad Brooks
Director: Conrad Brooks
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

A writer named Raider (Byrne) comes to visit a mortuary for... well, for some reason. Here, Count Lugo (Lindsay), a vampire posing as a mortician and moonlighting as a zombie master, turns him into a vampire so he can lure Dr. Cabasa (Durham) to the mortuary, so he can make him revive a dead woman to be his bride. But when Lugo's chief zombie (Burns) falls in love with Cabasa's lovely assistant (Hanson), he leads a zombie revolt and hijacks the Satanic ritual so he can marry her instead. I think.

Conrad Brooks, the writer/director/producer of "Gypsy Vampire" was a bit-player in a slew of movies during the 1950s and 1960s. He had retired from acting until the combination of a book by Michael Medved and Harry Medved, along with the Tim Burton comedy "Ed Wood" revived interest in Brooks' friend and third-rate filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr. Brooks has claim to fame of having appeared in every movie that Wood directed, and for the past twenty years, he's been a fixture on the convention circuit, cashing in the rest of his 15 minutes of fame.

Brooks has often spoken of his affection for Edward D. Wood, Jr.--and he does so at length in a 1990 interview/mini-documentary titled "On the Trail of Ed Wood", the DVD release of which also contains "Gypsy Vampire: The Final Bloodlust".

Thanks to the Medved Brothers and Burton's movie, Edward D. Wood, Jr. is often labeled as "the worst filmmaker ever" by reviewers and critics who can't be bothered to actually watch his movies (or, at best, they label "Plan 9 From Outer Space" as "the worst movie ever"). Uwe Boll is starting to become the "new Ed Wood" for such lazy commentators, but the label of "worst filmmaker" is equally false when applied to either gentleman. Anyone who has devoted any real time at all to trawling through random films at the bottom of the cinematic barrel knows for a fact that Wood Boll are nowhere near the worst directors, and none of their films come even close to being the worst that is out there.

Conrad Brooks, for example, has made a far more awful movie than either Wood or Boll have ever been brazen enough to inflict upon the public. With random posterization of some scenes and others being in black-and-white for no discernable reason; costumes and make-up effects as awful as the actors wearing them; a nonsensical storyline; camera-work barely suitable for YouTube video than a film; and editing so bad a it would earn any beginning film student a failing grade, even if he or she was sleeping with the professor, there is nothing in this film that is at all competently made.

I'm not sure what Brooks was trying to achieve with this movie. Perhaps just to have a good time with a bunch of young actors. Perhaps he was trying to emulate his old friend Ed Wood and make a movie that out-Ed-Wooded Ed Wood. If it was the latter, Brooks certainly managed to make an awful movie, but he failed to capture that intangible, poetic quality that Ed Wood managed to bring to the messy pictures he created.

Watching this movie, I found myself wondering if Brooks ever paid attention to movies while he was watching them. Such niceties as varying between close-ups and two-shots, the ocassional zoom and reverse angle shots are all simple cinematic elements that anyone should be able to see the value in after just watching one or two movies. But not, apparently, Conrad Brooks. This movie is so incompetently and amateurishly made that watching it through to the end is a test of stamina, and it deserves the dubious honor of being at the very bottom of the scale.

(If you have a "bad filmmaker" that you have a warm spot for in your heart, you should bring up this movie the next time you see someone tossing out that "worst filmmaker" or "worst movie" label. If the critic casting aspersions hasn't seen "Gypsy Vampire: The Final Bloodlust", they are in on position to judge what is and isn't "the worst movie ever."

The cleverest thing about the film is that it was shot in a pair of famous "haunted Halloween houses,"--Creekside Manor in Maryland, and Darkwood Manor in Virginia. A few years back, I did security of one such Halloween haunted house, and I often thought its various sets would work well if one were to film a low-budget horror picture on them. It's nice to see that great minds think alike. Of course, Brooks also used many of the actors who perform in the Darkwood Manor spook-maze in his flick, which wasn't such a good idea. I've no doubt they're perfectly capable of spooking people in dark hallways, but virtually none of them understood how to act in front of a camera. It really is a toss-up between who was more incompetent, director Brooks or almost any member of his cast you could mention. (The exception are Brooks, who with more than half a century's experience should probably do better than he does, but he looks like Boris Karloff next to the people he shares scenes with, and Donna Burns, who showed enough presence that I think she could have done far better if she had been delivering better lines in scenes that had been properly edited.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

'Insaniac' needs some medication

Insaniac (2002)
Starring: Robin Garrels, Chris Grega, and John Specht
Director: John Specht
A woman (Garrels) under goes hypnosis in order to remember something that happened at some point to somebody.

This is film that's loaded with more pointless dialogue and drawn-out, padded scenes than you can shake a Screenwriting 101 syllabus at. And then there's the distressing lack of coherence in the story. Yes, it's a story of a deranged woman (who is played by the only halfway decent actor in the flick, Robin Garrels), but I wish the filmmakers had spent more time creating an interesting film instead of giving us an accurate portrayal of mental illness, which, in reality is like this movie--dull.

The one thing that might make this film worth checking out is that there are some interesting visuals sprinkled here and there throughout the film. However, they are ultimately too few to save this badly done mess from being anything but an awful waste of time. It's a very generous One Star that I'm giving it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

'Castle of Fu Manchu' is Jess Franco at his worst (and his usual is already pretty bad)

The Castle of Fu Manchu (aka "Assignment Istanbul") (1969)
Starring: Richard Greene, Christopher Lee, and Tsai Chin
Director: Jess Franco
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

The immortal Dr. Fu Manchu (Lee) launches yet another nefarious scheme--this one involving a weapon that will freeze the world's oceans--and only Sir Dennis Nayland-Smith (Greene) can stop him. But will Sir Dennis save the audience from dying of boredom?

I think "The Castle of Fu Manchu" has got to be one of the absolutely worst movies ever released. Even by the low standards to which one has to hold Jess Franco--a director far worse than just about anyone who's still making movies today that you could mention--this is an awful, awful movie. It is so bad that it was one of the first movies that I slated for inclusion in the forthcoming 150 Movies You Should (Die Before You) See book, and it I never considered dropping it for some other film.

This is one of those movies that you have to have seen in order to be pass value judgements about what is and isn't "the worst movie ever made."

There's about 20 minutes worth of plot in this movie, with over 60 minutes of dull filler garbage. What's worse, the fight and actions scenes are so lame and cheap that the filmmakers didn't even bother adding sound effects in post production--so all we get are actors swinging at each other, falling over logs, and rolling around on the ground. And we have the embarrassing experience of watching adults tumble around like 9-year-olds playing Cops & Robbers instead of being able to surrender our imagination to the illusion that a movie should conjure.

I was tempted to give this movie One Star--and in fact when reviewed it several years ago on my Rotten Tomatoes blog, I did--because Christopher Lee once again gives a great performance as Fu Manchu. He even almost rises above the crap-fest he is surrounded by. But it's only almost, and even if he had given the best performance of his life, it still would have only earned this film a single of the smallest of small Stars. So, it gets Zero, in the interest of clarity and fairness to what an abominable effort this film is.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You should electrocute yourself
before seeing 'Crank 2'

Crank 2: High Voltage (2009)
Starring: Jason Statham, Bai Ling, Amy Smart, Efren Ramirez, and Dwight Yoakam
Directors: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Chev Chelios (Statham) wakes up after three months in a coma to discover that his heart has been stolen. He goes on a rampage across the city in an attempt to retrieve it while using any means necessary to get enough electricity to keep the mechanical heart he's been stuck with functioning.

The original "Crank" was a crazy, ultra-violent film that unfolded like a live-action video game. The sequel is more of the same, but with an emphasis on truly ugly and gory violence and twisted, off-color humor. Both of these were present in the original film, but they have been emphasized even more here.

So, not only is this an ugly film full of ugly violence--such as the loving close-ups of a character cutting off his own nipples--but it lacks the originality of the first film. The humor isn't even as funny, with the filmmakers seeming to think that a Chinese hooker who can barely speak English and characters repeating over and over and over "Fuck You, Chelios!" is the height of hilarity.

A more pointless and disappointing sequel will be hard to make.

Click here to read my review of the orginal "Crank" at Watching the Detectives.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

You may wish to be murdered watching this

Murder By Television (aka The Houghland Murder Case) (1935)
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Charles Hill Mailes, Huntley Gordon, and June Collyer
Director: Clifford Sanforth
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

In the mid-30s, the promise of television had captivated the imagination of Americans. Experimental broadcasts were being conducted, and science fiction and fantasy writers of all stripes were inventing all sorts of adventures about the wonders and dangers that this amazing new media would present.

And that brings us to "Murder By Television", a 1930s techno-thriller that uses the fantastic new medium of televison as its jumping-off point. Sadly, the film doesn't live up to its promise, especially given the cast of noted mystery/sci-fi genre players.

In "Murder By Television", independently wealthy, eccentric, and independent-minded inventor James Houghland (Mailes) has created the perfect television broadcast system. Every corporation that has has been working to commercialize the new technology, and an array of governments ranging from the United States to certain sinister foreign powers want to have control of Houghland's wondrous invention, but he has rebuffed them all. The air is thick with plots and schemes as Houghland gathers friends and fellow inventors--among them criminologist and medical pioneer Dr. Scofield (Gordon)--demonstrates the power of his creation by receiving and rebroadcasting images from around the world, without the use of broadcast towers. His triumphant demonstration is cut short, however, as he is murdered during his live broadcast, for all viewers to see. It seems one of the many factions trying to get their hands on the invention deciced to end the compeition by eliminating the prize.

As a police commissioner who had been among Houghland's guests investigates the murder--which is made all the more mysterious by the fact that Houghland simply dropped dead--all suspicion stars to fall on Arthur Perry, Houghland's newly hired assistant (Lugosi). But when Perry is found murdered, it seems that the detective has been outwitted... at least until members of Houghland's household start seeing Perry's ghost.

"Murder By Television" has at its heart a great idea, and it could actually have been a neat cross between a murder mystery and a sci-fi thriller... if only the filmmakers had shown even the slightest idea of how to enliven a film, or perhaps even the slightest grasp of how to approach the visual medium that the story revolves around.

Instead of being an exciting, "Murder By Television" plays like a bad radio play that someone made a halfhearted attempt at translating into film. Most of the film consists of the actors standing around delivering bad expository dialogue, and it seems that only the comic relief characters (a wide-eyed black cook/maid (played by future Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel), and a self-parodying Chinese houseboy (with secrets of his own) seem to be the only actors who are putting any energy into their parts. Even Lugosi--who can usually be counted on to chew every bit of scenery into tiny pieces--seems to have phoned in his performance.

It also doesn't help the film that one of the story's twists is set up in such a ham-fisted way that it ends up not being a twist at all. I kept hoping for a double-reversal, but it never came. Worse, there's an ongoing nonsensical bit with a comic relief character who is constantly trying to break into the house, but it's never explained why.

In fairness to the film, the copy I viewed was severely degraded, with many missing frames and at least one scene that seems to be missing almost entirely. Perhaps that is where the "I've got business in the house" character is explained. But, even allowing for that, "Murder By Television" is a dull, badly done B-movie... and I say this having wanted to like it alot. There was so much potential here, and I think it a shame that it was wasted so badly.

Earlier this month, I put up the website intended to support the 150 Movies You Should (Die Before You) See book releasing in November. It occurs to me that some of you might be interested in checking it out, especially since there's an opportunity to watch a Bela Lugosi movie on it. (He's my Bad Movie Personality of the Month for September.) Click here to visit the website.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The most uneventful monster movie ever?

Night Fright (aka "ETN: The Extraterrestrial Nasty") (1967)
Starring: John Agar
Director; James Sullivan
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

A strange object crashes to Earth, and soon a mysterious monster is stalking and killing in the woods near a small Southern town. It's up to Sheriff Clint Crawford (Agar) to stop the beast before it claims the lives of too many of the bland characters being portrayed by horrible actors.

"Night Fright" is about 20 minutes worth of third-rate monster movie stretched an additional hour with scenes of aimless driving, aimless wandering in the woods, and pointless "character development" scenes where the cast of truly awful actors get to show how little talent they have. Adding to this is some of the worst dialogue ever written for a movie in the English language, awful editing, and an even worse soundtrack, and you have a movie that even the robots on "Mystery Science Theater 3000" couldn't make entertaining. To finally make the movie completely worthless, the monster is virtually not in the movie at all. (This is sort of blessing in disguise, I suppose, as the monster is almost as goofy looking as its explained origin.)

There is no reason to watch this movie. It's too bad and bloated with padding to even be amusing.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Who knew the ocean was that deep?

The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues (1956)
Starring: Kent Taylor, Kathy Downs, and Michael Whale
Director: Dan Milner
Rating: One of Ten Stars

When dead fishermen and skin-divers start washing up on the beach near a small university, with radiation burns on their bodies, marine researcher and scientific genius crack-pot Dr. Ted Stevens (Taylor) senses that maybe it is his theories that have been put to nefarious use. He hooks up with the beautiful Lois (Downs), the daughter of a marine researcher who is at the very least Stevens' equal in the scientific genius crack-pot department, Prof. King (Whale). Can it be that King has accidentially (or purposefully) created a super-weapon using oceanography and atomic radition? The agents of sinister foreign powers and the square-jawed Defense Department investigators think so... and the bizarre sea creature lurking in the waters off the coast tends to agree with the theory as well.

"The Beast from 10,000 Leagues" is a Z-grade example of the 1950s-style sci-fi/monster flick where a scientist successful proves that we won't have better living through science, and that there really are Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know.

Unfortunately, the extreme low buget (much of which was probably spent on a rather nicely done special effect toward the end of the movie--assuming that wasn't footage borrowed from some other movie), tragically bad and dull camera work, the same rowboat used in every shot that requires a boat, a goofy-looking sea monster whose preferred method of attack seems to be hugging his victims to death, and a script that's even more illiterate than the film's title might imply add up to a disaster of a movie. Its only saving grace is that it moves along fast enoug, and offers enough moments of unintetional comedy, to not send the viewer completely into a boredom coma.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Maybe I fell asleep, but what was the point?

The American (2010)
Starring: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Paolo Bonacelli, Johan Leysen, and Thekla Reuten
Director: Anton Corbijn
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A freelance assassin and gunsmith (Clooney) finds that he himself may be targeted by assassins. He retreats to a small Italian village where he sets about making one last weapon before retirement... and gradually starts to reconnect with humanity.

This is probably the best-looking, best-acted film that will ever be featured on this blog.

Every single shot is absolutely perfectly composed and gorgeous to look at. George Clooney is better here than even in the films he did for the Coen Brothers. The rest of the cast likewise show themselves to be masters of their craft--they have to, because much of this film is conveyed through body language and subtle facial expressions instead of dialogue. To call this movie "quiet" is almost an understatement... there is barely even soundtrack music.

But for all the good things here, it is lacking one very important element: A story.

As gorgeous as this movie is and as great as the acting was, nothing of any consequence happens in this film. Sure, there's a little action. Sure, there's a gorgeous babe who spends most of her time on screen completely naked. Sure, George Clooney makes a gun for a mysterious hit-woman. But what passes for the plot here adds up to a whole lot of nothing.

Not having a strong plot isn't necessarily a bad thing for a film that is first and foremost a character piece. But what is bad here is that it's a character piece where we never go below the surface of the characters. The actors are giving the script their all, but nothing is brought to light with those performances because the story goes nowhere. Hell, we barely learn anything about their daily lives, other than the most superficial things. (I referred to Clooney as an assassin in my summary, but I'm not convinced that's an accurate description. The preview for the film refers to him as an assassin, there are moments in the film where I believe he's an assassin--especially in the opening sequence--but he seemed more like a master gunsmith who sometimes takes to the front lines to me. Maybe I missed a key exchange?)

Maybe I nodded off during a key moment of the film; as I said, this is very quiet movie... perhaps the most quiet I've ever seen that involves gunplay and killing. I don't think that I did, because the visuals were mostly engaging. However, it's fairly early in the film that it becomes apparent that things are going nowhere... and no matter how beautiful the scenery is, it gets dull watching it when you know there's no point. Heck, even the Big Sex Scene seemed like it went on and on and on and on and on.

I really wish I liked this movie more than I do, but I think the Two Stars may be even too generous a rating. They are being awarded for the great acting and beautiful visuals, because in all other areas, this movie is a complete failure.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

'Night of Bloody Horror' is bloody awful

Night of Bloody Horror (1969)
Starring: Gerald McRaney
Director: Joy Houk
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A young man (McRaney) who suffers from blackouts may be guilty of committing henious, violent murders. Or is something else afoot?

Grade-schoolers with a cellphone-cam and a backyard treefort would create a more exciting and coherent movie than what the drug-addled, drunk-off-their asses cast and crew of "Night of Bloody Horror" produced. Hell, those grade-schoolers would probably even stage better fight scenes. (The only decent part of the film is the marketing line "Filmed in Violent Vision" and one or two bits of purely unintentional comedy.

Don't bother with "Night of Bloody Horror" because it's bloody horrible and anyone who was involved with making it should be mortally embarrassed that it's available iin multiple different DVD versions. It's films like this that give "cult classics" a bad name, because too many marketeers like to slap the label "cult film" on turds they want to pass off as prunes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

'Teenaged Exorcist' shoulda stayed in school

Teenage Exorcist (1994)
Starring: Brinke Stevens, Oliver Darrow, Eddie Deezen, and Michael Berryman
Director: Grant Austin Waldman
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Brinke Stevens stars a Good Girl who rents a house that a demonologist has transformed into an eternal vessel for his evil soul and miscellaneous other demonic and undead riff-raff. She is soon possessed by an evil, over-sexed demon and transformed into the ultimate Bad Girl. Can her sister, her ultra-straightlaced brother-in-law, and a dim-witted pizza boy save Brinke' soul (and the neighborhood's property values)?

This is intended as a horror comedy, but it is mostly unfunny due to a lack of comedic timing on the part of most of the actors, and the simple fact that many of the jokes just aren't that funny. The horror side is also markedly un-scary. The only reason to watch this film is the opportunity to see Brinke Stevens wander around in skimpy outfits--but you can get to see her do that in better films than this one.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

'Revolt of the Zombies' is a dead zone

Revolt of the Zombies (1936)
Starring: Dean Jagger and Dorothy Stone
Director: Victor Halperin
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

At the height of World War I, a French officer (Jagger) brings to his generals the ultimate weapon: the secret to creating impervious zombie soldiers! Unfortunately, before the Cambodian monk can be made to share this secret with the Europeans, he is murdered by a sinister enemy agent. A military expedition is sent to the darkest heart of Cambodia's jungles to see if the secret can be recovered.

"Revolt of the Zombies" actually has a really interesting plot at its heart. Too bad the filmmakers completely botched this movie, with awful dialogue and pacing that is at once too slow and too fast--important events happen off-screen and are then relayed to the viewers by the characters in boring exposition. Worse, the movie ultimately chickens out in regards to both its use of zombies in the story AND in regards to what seemed to have been its message about the negative impact of European colonialism with an "absolute power corrupts absolutely." What's more... there ain't no damn zombie revolt in the film (but that's because there aren't any real zombies, either).

I probably would have shrugged my shoulders at this one--it's just another low-budget, crappy horror film--but it was made as a follow-up to the fabulous "White Zombie." I expected more of "Revolt of the Zombies" because "White Zombie" is a dyed-in-the-wool classic horror film, one of the best zombie movies ever made (and perhaps even the *first* zombie movie ever made), and it was as low-budget as "Revolt."

Click here to read my review of "White Zombie" at The Bela Lugosi Collection.

Friday, August 13, 2010

You've read the blog, now own the book!

If you've enjoyed the content here and on the other blogs that make up the Cinema Steve network, I would like to invite you to check out a book I've written. It'll be in stores on November 18, 2010.

"150 Movies You Should (Die Before You) See" has been in the works for some time, and it has plenty of stuff to entertain and amuse those who love watching bad movies (as well as those who love hating bad movies). While some of the movies you can read about here are also discussed in the book, the content between here and there are very different. Basically, the book contains different sorts of information about the films than what you find here. It's also a lot funnier.

You can pre-order 150 Movies You (Should Die Before You) See at a discount from and, and probably a number of other fine online book-sellers I'm not aware of. (And if you use the link at the bottom of this post, I'll get a little extra on top of the royalties the publisher pays me.)

I would also like to invite you to check out the little webpage I've set up for the book. You can watch a different bad movie there every month, and even leave recommendations/warnings about movies you've seen in the message forums. Click here to visit the "150 Movies You Should (Die Before You) See webpage".

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Voyage Not Worth Taking....

Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women (1968)
Starring: Mamie Van Doren, Peter Bogdanovich, Mary Marr, Paige Lee, Aldo Romani, James David, and Roberto Martelli
Director: Derek Thomas (actually Peter Bogdanovich and Pavel Klushantsev)
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

After an expedition gets stranded on Venus, a rescue mission is lauched. Both run afoul monsters, and when they kill the creature they worship as a god, beautiful alien sirines with telepathic powers and the ability to control the elements.

"Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women" is a sci-fi adventure flick that was cobbled together with clips from a Russian sci-fi film that producer Roger Corman had acquired the rights to, and original sequences shot by Peter Bogdanovich; the storyline with the sexy, idol-worshipping, hip-hugger-and-seashell-top wearing sirines. There's a reason our astronaut heroes only hear the telepathic song of the aliens instead of coming face to face with them--the scenes were shot years and thousands of miles apart.

I don't know how good or bad the original Russian film was, but the result here is pretty boring and nearly pointless,and the segments featuring the astronauts is jumbled and with a plot that seems to unfold at random. It's a shame that the idea of the Venusian sirines was wasted in this effort, because taken by themselves there are some rather neat ideas and viduals involved. (The way they adapt and reject their gods even comes close to making an interesting statement.)

If you see this movie on the content listings of a DVD multipack containing ten or more movies, it should be viewed as a "bonus feature" to the package. In any other case, you're probably paying too much to own it. Although I like the space sirine idea, this is not a movie that's worth your money or your time.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Manos... fated to return?

For the decade or so that I've been focusing my attention on the more obscure and awful side of cinema, I've avoided writing anything about "Manos: The Hands of Fate." It's been covered by so many others, as well as featured on "Mystery Science Theater 3000", that I didn't feel like I had anything at all to add. Plus, the film is almost too bad to even bother writing about... and I've written about some awful movies.

But, with the news that a sequel is in the works (click here to visit, I suppose I might as well join the crowd.

Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
Starring: John Reynolds, Hal Warren, Diane Mahree, Tom Neyman, and Jackey Neyman
Director: Harold P. Warren
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

A family on vacation (Mahree, Jackey Neyman and Warren) take a wrong turn and find themselves in the clutches of the High Priest of Manon (Tom Neyman), his bizarre assistant Torgo (Reynolds) and the Master's unaging wives. Will they escape, or will the wife and little girl become the latest additions to the Master's harem?

A better question might be whether you'll have the stamina to stick with this movie long enough to find out, because this is without a doubt one of most boring films ever unleashed upon the innocent movie-watcher.

Scenes drag on and on with absolutely nothing happening in them--like the one where a couple of characters stare at a painting for what seems like FOREVER. One would think that in a film with no camera set-up lasting more than 30 seconds that they would have picked up the pace a bit. Even more damning, almost every character in the film is either unpleasant or apparently stupid.

And none are more unpleasant than the character who is supposed to be the film's hero, family man Mike. He is such a collossal jerk that, when he and his family get lost on the back roads, he forces himself upon the hospitality of the freakish Torgo... over both the objections of his wife and Torgo; and Torgo gives the best objection of all--the owner of the property will be angry that they're staying there. And to add injury to rudeness, he lets Torgo--who can barely walk--carry his luggage for him. Because even though they're unwelcome guests who are there for just one night, this family must apparently unpack. Finally, Mike turns out to be incompetent as well as obnoxious, as the bad end that his family comes to is absolutely, 100 percent his fault when he fails to lead them to safety or to even shoot The Master at point blank range.

And then there's the cult leader, the Master. I really, truly hope that they have him at least say "talk to the hand" once in the sequel. The fact that he worships Hand ("Manos" is Spanish for "Hand") and wears robes with red fingers on them makes it a joke that MUST be made. And just what is the connection between having a bunch of wives and worshipping the Hand? I would have thought that a bunch of wives would mean you didn't have to rely on your hand for certain kinds of pleasures... the again, maybe I have the wrong idea about polygamy. Maybe the amount of sex you get decreases in direct proportion to the number of pissed off women living in your household? (And I just grossed myself out there, because by the end of the movie, The Master has "married" a 9-year-old girl. But if pedophilia works for Mohammed and Roman Polanski, I suppose it's no surprise it works for The Master.)

The most bizarre aspect of this picture is that The Master's freakish assistant Torgo--who is supposed to be a satyr. but who ends up looking more like a guy with really huge knees than someone with goat legs--emerges as the closest thing to a sympathetic character this film has to offer. Everyone is always picking on Torgo, so we are almost cheering for him when he stands up for himself--those of us who haven't fallen asleep from boredom that is. (Of course, the sympathy is only generated because there is no one else in the film to care about--except maybe the little girl, but she is a non-entity, portrayed by a child actress who clearly received little or no direction and who was in a role that's badly written. Torgo, as much as we appreciate his rebellion when it comes, is a perverted rapist who only does what he does because he wants a woman to dominate; as he says, it's not fair The Master has several and Torgo has none.

I just wrote far more on this movie than it deserves. It is technically incompetent on every level. It even manages to make a cat-fight among cute chicks boring. The only halfway decent thing about the film is "Torgo's Theme."

Okay... I said halfway decent. At least it was covered nicely in the music videos produced by the creators of the forthcoming sequel. And, for once, it is almost guaranteed that the sequel will be far better than the original. (I wonder, though, if it too is being made because someone is trying to win a bet. That was what led to the creation of "Manos: The Hands of Fate"... a Texas fertilizer sales man bet a screenwriter that he could make a movie, because it can be that hard. While he DID make a movie--that in and of itself is a feat; how many dreamers never even start a film and how many must abandon their project due to lack of funding or other difficulties? As bad as "Manos" is, Harold P. Warren made his movie AND got it distributed. For a time. Then its reputation caught up with it.

I don't usually recommend this, but if you haven't seen "Manos" yet, and want to subject yourself to it, you should get the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" version. They've abridged some of the most boring sequences, and Joel and the robots also bring a bit of life to it. Failing that, get the double-feature I've linked to; at least then you'll have a second, more entertaining flick to watch when you tire of "Manos: The Hands of Fate."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why is it called 'Day of the Ax'?

Day of the Ax (2005)
Starring: Dustin Ardine, Janet Robbins, and Suzi Lorraine
Director: Ryan Cavalline
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

When a pair of psychotic brothers aren't killing travelers, they're abducting young women and forcing them to have babies. (I think.)

"Day of the Ax" is a dull, sloppily plotted slasher flick with bad gore effects. The actors are all decent enough, but the script they are working with was so bad that I'm sure even Ed Wood Jr. would have been declined to work with it.

Skip it. It's not worth your time. But if you decide to check it out, can you explain to me why the movie is called "Day of the Ax" when the killers prefer using hammers?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tarzan meets his match: Crappy Filmmakers

Tarzan and the Green Goddess (1936)
Starring: Herman Brix, Ula Holt, Frank Baker, Lew Sargent, and Ashton Dearholt
Director: Edward Kull
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Tarzan (Brix) and his friends struggle to be the first to loot a Guatemalan idol from the natives of the Dead City, so the secret of ancient Mayan explosives don't fall into the wrong hands.

"Tarzan and the Green Goddess" is a condensed version of the second half of a serial titled "The New Adventures of Tarzan", and subsequently is a sequel to the condensed version of the serial's first half.

And it shows. Based on references characters make (along the lines of "let's hope the monsters of the Dead City aren't chasing us!") give the impression that a far more exciting adventure led up to the drab and boring events of this one.

This is perhaps the dullest Tarzan tale I've ever seen. Some excitement creeps in during the film's final third--when characters return to the Dead City and once again deal with the goofy cultists who live there--but it's too little, too late. A movie about the "gay gypsy party" that Lord Greystoke hosts to celebrate his return from Central America would probably have been more interesting.

The only positive thing I can find to say about this film is that Brix bears a close resemblance to one of my favorite Tarzan depictions in art--that from the pen of the great Russ Manning. He's also an okay actor, but he manages to ruin the performance by delivering a Tarzan "victory cry" that sounds like he's if he's taking part in a hog calling contest.

I think even the biggest fans of Tarzan can safely take a pass on this sorry effort.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

'Demon Slayer' not worth anyone's time

Demon Slayer (2002)
Starring: Michelle Acuna, Adam Huss, Howard Williams Jr., Hannah Lee, Monique Deville, Layon Grey, and Robert Eaton
Director: James Cotton
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Five juvenile delinquints (Acuna, Huss, Williams, Lee, and Deville) are sent to clean up an abandoned mental hospital as one last chance to "go straight." Naturally, the place is full of demons and restless souls, and our troop of bad actors portraying one-dimensional stereotypes are soon in predictable dire straights.

I really don't mind unoriginality in horror movies. If I did, I would be giving lots and lots of really low ratings. What I do mind are horror movies that don't bring anything new to the table while managing to do the retreads badly. I mind it even more when a badly executed film starts with an impossible premise--a group of juveniles who are left alone in a building that would properly be overhauled by a professional construction crew that would probably even need haz-mat licensing. (Oh... the film also features the lamest, most illogical "sexy chick takes a bath" scene I've ever seen.)

And then there's the ultimate sin: The filmmakers either have so little faith in their abilities, or are so full of contempt of their audience's intelligence that they feel the need to label their stereotypical characters at the outset, with titles like "Tyron: The Brotha". That labeling made me think that perhaps I was in for a horror spoof, but there was no such luck. Any comedy in this turkey is purely unintentional.

Take it from me: You can spend your time better doing just about anything other than watching "Demon Slayer".

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Much promised, but nothing delivered

She-Gods of Shark Reef (1958)
Starring: Bill Cord, Don Durant, Lisa Montell, and Jeanne Gerson
Director: Roger Corman
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Two brothers (Cord and Durant), one wanted for murder, are shipwrecked on an island inhabited only by women who collect and guard pearls for an international jewelry company. However, the women are also involved with a cult devoted to a shark god who hungers for sacrificial virgins.

"She-Gods of Shark Reef" is one of the most disappointing movies I've ever seen. The first 15 or so minutes provide an abundance of promising set-ups, any one of which could have given rise to a decent horror movies and any combination of which could have been the foundation for a great horror movie.

First, we have our heroes completely cut off from the surrounding world. Add to that the fact that the island they are stuck on is completely owned by "The Company", and that only "The Company provides transportation on and off the island. The there's Pua (Gerson), the creepy woman in charge of the pearl divers, someone who is obviously hiding secrets and whose primary motivation seems to be protecting the interest of "The Company" above all else, as well as hiding whatever secrets there may be on the island. And, finally, there's the fact that the women are a bunch of superstitious cultists who believe their well-being is tied to a mysterious shark god that prowls the waters beyond the pearl beds they dive at. Oh, and then there's the added bonus that shark-infested waters are scary all by themselves.

But what does director Roger Corman and screenwriters Robert Hill and Victor Stoloff do with all this potential? Absolutely nothing, other than giving the "good brother" the opportunity to rescue a girl (Montell) from being a virgin sacrifice as part of a romantic plot in the film. The mysterious Company never comes into play, the creepy Pua turns out to be more of a nag than a serious threat to anyone, and the shark god angle is total dud. Heck, even the shark-infested waters aren't used to their potential, as characters blithely swim back and forth between the island the reef of the title.

This film wastes all its potential, features a cast who might be okay if they had a decent script and perhaps stronger direction but who mostly seem lost here, and spends five or so minutes of its brief 63-minute running time on showing the island girls doing Hawaiian dances. (Not sure why the dance segment is there. Perhaps it's intended as a tourism PSA as an additional thank you to the government of Hawaii, which is acknowledged and thanked for assistance at the beginning of the beginning of the film, or maybe just a misfired attempt to inject some exoticness into the beautiful but somewhat bland setting of the film.)

The only reason I'm not giving this film a 0-star rating is because it remains interesting for most of its running time. Even that misplaced Hawaiian dance routine isn't exactly boring, It could be it held my attention because I kept hoping some of its potential would pay off, but for all of its flaws and ultimately being a disappointment, but it kept me engaged.

But it is a crime against lovers of cheesy movies that a great title like "She-Gods of Shark Reef" was wasted on such a crappy movie. The crime becomes even greater when one considers the original poster used to promote the film:

Oh, if only the movie itself to have lived up to the coolness the marketing material promised!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

'Unhinged' is nearly unwatchable

Unhinged (1982)
Starring: Laurel Munson and Sarah Ansley
Director: Don Gronquist
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Three girlfriends are heading to a rock concert (to be followed by some camping) during a servere rainstorm. They run off the road, sure they're dead... but then they wake up in a creepy old mansion, filled with creepy old characters. And just what is hiding in the toolshed?!

"Unhinged" is a horror movie that gets just about eveything wrong.

*The movie STARTS with the shower-scene even before there's anyone to menace the nubile young thing (oh... and it's a badly acted AND badly staged shower-scene. Yes, "Unhinged" is one of those movies that proves it's possible to do a bad shower scene.

* The story (what little there is of it) only works, because the characters spend too much time doing things that no rational (or able to wipe themselves after taking a dump) person would do. If the characters took one or two simple, obvious actions, the whole movie would cease to be. Likewise, the ending only happens because the lead character's only guiding light is how to make the badly plotted story work. She is as close to the Platonic Ideal of Stupid Character Syndrome as we will ever see in this imperfect world.

*Of the two girls playing the leads, only one shows a glimmer of acting ability in her final scene. However, it's far too little and far too late to save the picture.

*There are multiple occassions where there seems to be a build-up to something dire or scary or startling is about to happen, but then there's no pay-off. Heed my words, young would-be filmmaker: Repeated "oooh, let's trick 'em by making things seem all spooky and then not do anything" isn't laying a foundation for the real scares... it's just makes the audience annoyed and irritated.

I stuck with this entirely too-slow-film until the end, because I kept thinking that it would get better. Then, it started getting worse... with it getting progressively more unbelievable and just plain dumb. I do grant director/co-writer Gronquist kudos for giving the the movie an ending so stupid that it took me completely by surprise, thus giving the film a tiny bit of merit. Even better, the ending had been set up earlier in the film, so as far as that goes, Gronquist showed himself to have a little bit more storytelling ability than most directors and screenwriters working in horror movies today where they idea of a "twist-ending" mostly seems to be "random shit that has nothing to do with anything previously presented in the film."

The DVD version of "Unhinged" that I watched had a 'comedy commentary track' as one of the audio options by a group of writers and film reviewers who've dubbed themselves 'The Distractors'. It was almost as badly done as the film they were commenting on, because the actual soundtrack was completely inaudible (one of the group even at one point says that they can't even hear the sound of the film and they are uncertain what is being discussed). It's a shame, because I had hopes when I saw that Shannon Wheeler (the creator of "Too Much Coffee Man") was one of the viewers. There were enough off-color comments about breasts, discussion of why the girls on their way to a concert and some camping would have nightgowns and three or four changes of not-very-outdoorsey clothes to make the commentary amusing, but it could have been better. The highpoint om the commentary hi-jinx was the attempt to look up those involved in making "Unhinged" in the phone book and calling them for their take on the film.

Another bonus feature on the DVD I viewed was a television interview with the director and one of the actresses featured in the film that was recorded back in 1982 to promote the film's release. If I'd watched the interview first, I probably would have known to bother with "Unhinged" itself. I've never seen someone so inept at selling his movie as Gronquist was--it was as if he knew he'd made a piece of trash and didn't really want to talk about it. The actress did a better, though.

There's really nothing to recommend watching "Unhinged", unless you want to see a compact collection of what NOT do to whether you're a screenwriter, an actor, or a director.

(Trivia: This film was banned in Great Britain as one of the "Video Nasties" until 2005. One wonders what caused the British censors to develop such hatred for movie watchers that they would cause them to be exposed to this film.)