Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day of the Turkey Review: Skyggen

Skyggen: The Mind of a Killer (2005)
Starring: Jemshaid Ashraf, Ralph Ferraro, Bianca Cheng, Michael Nahajski, and Gino Evans
Director: Jemshaid Ashraf
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A serial killer (Ferraro) is cutting a bloody swath through England's windswept North Country. Only Max (Ashraf) has lived to tell about him... but that's only because the killer is going to great lengths to frame Max for his rampage.

"Skyggen" plays, for most of its running-time like an inept homage to "The Hitcher" but ultimately transforms into something more like "Identity".

The best part of the film are the first few minutes, even with the bad sound. After that it's all downhill, with badly framed shots, badly chosen angles, badly lit scenes, and some pretty bad acting. This was star/writer/director's Jemshaid Ashraf's first movie, so maybe he should have cast someone else in the lead and focused on getting the film's other aspects right?

BTW, that mysteious word in the title is Danish for "Shadow." Why a movie made in England, by English filmmakers, and starring English actors speaking English in an English setting has a Danish title is beyond my meager ability to comprehend.

The Russian poster for the English movie with the Danish title.

Day of the Turkey Review: Slaughtered

With my eyes mostly recovered, I decided to expose them to some movies I had low hopes for in order to do a gimmicky impromptu Thanksgiving Turkey blog-fest between here, The Charles Band Collection, and Terror Titans. Welcome to Day of the Turkey!

The first selection, however, was far worse than I had imagined.

Slaughtered (2008)
Starring: Chris Smith, Arlisha Fogle, Aschleigh Jensen, Rebecca McQuen, and Cheri Lynn
Director: Anthony Doublin
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

Harold (Smith) is a psychopath who murders nude models and posts gory images of his crimes on a pay/members-only website. As he goes about his business of booking small-time models and murdering them, the world's worst detective (Fogle) is hired to locate one of Harold's victims. But something else is closing in on Harold--the restless spirits of his victims. Is he truly being haunted, or are the ghosts just a figment of his deterioriating sanity?

"Slaughtered" is a movie so bad that the only good things I can say about it is that it's well-lit and the camera is in focus at all times. And I'd be appalled if those weren't quality, given that the writer/director of this should-have-been cinematic abortion is a well-established lighting technician and cameraman with several regular gigs on television series to his credit.

But as a director and a screen-writer, he is completely incompetent.

We have a central character--I can't bring myself to call him a protagonist--who is both loathsome and uninteresting, whose only defining characteristics is that he wears too much eye-liner and likes to kill women. Oh... and he's also a peeping tom who likes watching his models undress via a webcam before he... makes them undress and kills them. We never learn anything about Harold... who he is, why he is doing what he's doing, or any other stuff that might make him a little interesting. He never becomes more than a crazy goth in too much eye-liner.

We have a character who should be the hero, but who is so irrelevant to the plot that by the time she arrives at Harold's house, the movie's over... his last victim has freed herself and ghosts have exacted gory revenge on him. (Yeah, I just spoiled the movie. If you had watched it, you would have wished I had and saved you the misery.) She's also, as I mentioned in the teaser summary at the top of the review, the world's dumbest detective; while working on her missing person's case, she calls up the local police station and offers sexual favors in exchange for open missing persons cases. I've no doubt she's real popular around the squad room, since those sorts of things are not under lock and key... the police are trying to find those people. A Google search might have given her the same information as those files. And then there's the fact she spends much of the movie in her office (which looks like it might be a nook in her kitchen) trying to "hack" Harold's members-only snuff-port site. Why didn't get herself a pre-paid Mastercard, billed to her client, and just sign up for the site under a fictitious name?!

Of course, the police in the area of California where the film takes place--Santa Barbara? I think it was mentioned at some point, but my brain was starting to turn off by that point, so I'm not sure--aren't much smarter. Nude models are going missing... nude models who are contacted via their promotional web sites, via email... nude models who have computers and email accounts where correspondence is stored. It seems to me that it wouldn't take more than a couple of vanished women with emails from Harold in their inbox to make the police interested in him and his little web-venture. That and the fact that he disposes of their bodies, fully intact, in dumpsters. Neither Harold, nor the cops, have apparently watched even one episode of "CSI". Or "Quincy, M.E.". Or even "Columbo." Hell, the world's dumbest detective looked at the email account of one victim and zeroed in on Harold.

Some of the laziest writing I have ever seen in a film that was supposedly made by a professional is on display here. The cipherous nature of Harold. the idiocy and plot irrelevancy of the character who should be the hero, and the absence of any apparent thought devoted to how Harold can be getting away with his serial killing are only the worst sins among a multitude.

Moving onto the direction... words fail me. Either Doublin managed to make scenes of girls getting undressed boring, or I need to have my testosterone levels checked. We're treated to three scenes of girls getting undressed and then getting dressed (before undressing again and being murdered), and the next one is duller than the one that went before. Even the kill scenes are boring, with only the first one having even the slightest impact, possibly because it was a bit unexpected. Usually with films like this, I'm disgusted or irritated--I do not like movies whose central and only theme is the brutalization of women and other innocent victims--but with "Slaughtered", each murder brought a greater degree of indifference.

Perhaps it has something to do with the acting, which was almost as universally flat as the direction. The fact that Doublin is a seasoned professional probably helped him keep the "playing to the back row at the community theatre"-style performances that usually plague movies of this kind. The actors here all seemed comfortable in front of a camera and aware of how to play to it... but one can also easily understand why very few of the cast have credits beyond this picture, or other films directed by Doublin.

"Slaughtered" is lurking inside several multi-packs from Maxim Media's Pendulum Pictures imprint. Wherever you find it, save it for last... or, better yet, don't bother with it at all. The only reason to watch it is to gain a greater appreciation for Mario Bava's excellent "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" and Robert Hammer's "Don't Answer the Phone". Those films have many elements in common with Slaughtered... only they were made by directors who understand how to put a movie together.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No posts on any of my blogs this week.

I am having really bad eye trouble. Hopefully, tomorrow's trip to the doctor will start to make things better.

I hope you'll check in at some point in the future.

Friday, November 4, 2011

'Ninja Powerforce' is powerfully bad

Ninja Powerforce (1988)
Starring: Richard Harrison, Alan Cunningham, George Ajex, Shelia Lau, Nancy Yeh, and Barti Marcus
Directors: Joseph Lai and Godfrey Ho
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

When ninjas become embroiled in a fight between two criminal gangs, Interpol sends in Gordon, their go-to Ninja Master (Harrison). Will he stop the gang-on-gang bloodshed? More importantly, will he survive the deadly confrontation with the Evil Ninja possessing the most impressive mustache in all the Orient (Cunningham)?

Poor Richard Harrison. At one time, he perhaps had a chance to be a semi-respected B-movie actor along the lines of Gordon Mitchell, but instead he became closely associated with the countless patch-work pictures that Joseph Lai, Godfrey Ho, and their compatriots created during the 1980 by by shooting scenes with Harrison and other actors doing ninja-y stuff and inserting the scenes into partially finished or simply unreleased movies that they acquired cheaply from failed production efforts. Harrison was invariably dressed in garish, outlandish ninja outfits, and he often sported headbands like the one he wears in this movie... because ninjas always want to make sure they're not mistaken for simple cowl-wearing freaks in satin outfits.

As Lai/Ho patch-work pictures go, "Ninja Powerforce" is fairly decent. Both the original movie that was sacrificed to create it (a gangster melodrama about two friends and hitmen for enemy gangs who pay a dear price when they try to go straight) and the ninja segments (which inserts a bald-headed Big Gangster Boss and his mustachioed Ninja sidekick, as well as Harrison and his Interpol boss, and lets them have nonsense conversations with characters in the other movie in between ninja hi-jinx) move along so quickly that you might not even notice how crappy it all is. Instead, you will notice the ludicrous dialog, the illogical and disconnected actions of every character in the film, and the laughably cheap sets and props used on the office set for the gangsters and Interpol officials alike... and you will find yourself chuckling if not outright laughing. The Mustachioed Ninja really is a sight that must be seen. (He's not being pictured here, because I don't want to ruin the comedy.)

This film actually teeters on the brink between a Two and a Three rating, making it one of the best efforts to emerge from Joseph Lai's IFD production house. I ultimately went with the lower rating because of the dizzying disorientation created by the interaction of the characters in the inserted Harrison footage and the original film.

In the original film, the hero is sent to prison for months, or perhaps even years, for almost killing his best friend. In fact, at one point, we are led to believe that said friend is dead. But, because of comments made by the Big Gang Boss and the Interpol Boss, it feels like the hero spends little more than a couple of days in jail, if that. (And yet over in the other movie, everyone is still behaving as though he was locked away for a long time.)

Given that these films are partially re-written through dubbing when they are assembled, it would have been nice if some thought had been put into making the film's internal chronology flow between the original work and the inserted segments. It would have made it a lot easier to enjoy Harrison and the Mustachioed Ninja assassinating people for little or no reason and battling each other in their garish outfits.

If you're looking for a film to add to a Bad Movie Night, "Ninja Powerforce" might just do the trick. If you REALLY want pain, perhaps make it a double feature with "Ninja Death Squad", another Godfrey Ho Special, which Craig Edwards reviewed today as his contribution to the Nine Days of the Ninja Blogathon.

The deadliest of blogathons....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's a Pit of a Movie

Bloody Pit of Horror (aka "A Tale of Torture", "The Scarlet Hangman", and "Crimson Executioner") (1964)
Starring: Mickey Hargitay, Walter Brant, Luisa Barrato, and Ralph Zucker
Director: Massimo Pupilo
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A photographer (Zucker), writer (Brant), and their publisher/editor head with four sexy models and a production assistant (Barrato) to a supposedly deserted castle to take racy pictures intented to illustrate the covers of horror novels. It turns out, the place is not deserted, but is the home of a body-builder (Hargitay) who has retreated from the world, and who wants nothing more than to live life alone... well, alone aside from the trio of professional wrestlers (who dress like pirates) that share the castle with him. Soon, people start dying, as the restless ghost of the Crimson Executioner is unleashed upon the world again.

This is one of those "why ask why?" movies. As in, "why ask why these people caravan for days, hauling all that photography equipment AND darkroom equipment (including paper stock and chemicals) to this castle when they could have done far better, cheaper and efficient shoots in a studio?" or "why didn't they start taking the arrows from the crossbow in the hugely elaborate, spider-themed death trap instead of crawling under the trip-wires?" or "are we supposed to like ANYONE in this movie?"

I've seen many, many horror movies were the victims being killed by the psycho/ghost/demon/whatever are set up as more or less deserving what they get (in a twisted poetic justice kind of way), but this film goes so far overboard in making just about everyone so unlikeable that the viewer doesn't care if they survive the slaughter.

To makes matters worse, the film is generally more boring than scary, and snicker-inspiring rather than terrifying. Further, every fight scene in the film looks like it was staged by Vince McMohan of the World Wrestling Entertainment network (hence my wrestling comment above); We also have really terrible actors performing scenes that have been dubbed by even worse voice actors. And the syncing to dialogue to image is worse than anything I've ever seen. And the film's score--my God. It has GOT to be among the worst ever used in a film released to the public, and that's not even taking the terrible editing into account. (It's not usual to loop the same short bit of music several times during a scene, but it is unusual to have a static "pop" at the start/end of the loop.)

'Bloody Pit of Horror' is a pit of a movie. The only remotely clever part of the film is the spider-themed torture trap mentioned above--and even it falls into the "why ask why?" category, because like everything else, there's no sensible reason for it to exist.

The only reason to watch this film is if you're getting together with a group of friends intending to watch bad movies and mock them as they unfold. For THAT purpose, this is a perfect movie. Watching Micky Hargitay make an ass of himself in a red mask is especially hilarious. Like so:

For everything else, it's barely worth the effort to take it out of the DVD case.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

'Bloodlock' should have stayed locked up

Bloodlock (2008)
Starring: Ashley Gallo, Dominic Koulianos, Gregg Biamonte, Debra Gordon, Karen Fox,
Dick Hermance, and Nick Foote
Director: William Victor Schotten
Rating: One of Two Stars

Young married couple Christine and Barry (Gallo and Biamonte) discover a sealed door made of titanium in the basement of the house they have just purchased. As Christine grows obsessed with what might be behind it, her husband and slutty sister (Fox) are having an affair... and the creepy neighbors (Gordon and Hermance) are plotting to get into the door and take possession of what's inside.

William Victor Schotten is a filmmaker who is learning is craft as he goes. This is evident from the two films from him I've watched so far... this one, the oldest, and the Rapture/Zombie tale "Sabbath". Both date from 2008, but while "Sabbath" is far from perfect, it's a much, MUCH better film than "Bloodlock."

Heck, based on the difference in quality between "Bloodlock" and "Sabbath", I may have to get my hands on Schotten's most recent film--"Silver Cell" from 2011, because if he's continued that rate of of improve, he may just have created one of the Greatest Movies Ever Made.

There's no word to describe "Bloodlock" better than "inept." The pacing is wrong from the get-go and it only gets worse as the film unfolds... with sequences that could have benefited from a little a pause being raced through like they were running out of film, and sequences that should have been quick being dragged out. The script is disjointed and chaotic, with a number of tones drifting through the disorganized story like so much flotsam as the film moves from being a erotic thriller, to a gory monster flick, to a half-assed comedy. There was also clearly a lack of funding when it came to special effects and a lack of rehearsal time when it came to the fight scenes... and the inexperience of Schotten and his technical crew only makes these shortcomings more obvious because they were either unable to use cinematic trickery to cover for them, or unaware of the fact they were looking at inadequacies until it was too late to do anything about it. And, finally, the ultimate doom for the movie are the mostly amateurish actors struggling with flat, poorly written lines. (Dominic Koulianos and Karen Fox are not only called upon to deliver awful lines, but they don't seem to be all that talented to begin with. That's a mix that destroys almost every scene they're in.)

This is, however, also one of those films I wish I could say nicer things about, because hidden inside this mess are some gems. I like the pirahna-style design used for the vampires in the film, and I think something cool could be done with the psychic housewife-turning-monster-hunter. But in this film, both of these cool aspects are all but wasted.

The one thing I have to give Schotten (or maybe screenwriter Tom McLaughlin) is that he realized this movie was disjointed and messy. So clear was that realization was that the film ends with the old "it was all a dream" and then loops back on itself by repeating an early scene. If you have a movie that doesn't make any sense, I suppose that's not a bad way to try to say "We meant to do that!". My reaction to such endings are typically either an irritated growl at the lazy cop-out or a grin at the well-executed creepy moebius loop, but seeing it here at the end of "Bloodlock" just made me a little sad. It seemed to say that the filmmakers knew what they had here didn't amount to much of anything.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

'Spy Hard': Where the suckage began

Spy Hard (1996)
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Nicolette Sheridan, John Ales, Stephanie Romanov, Charles Durning, Barry Bostwick, Andy Griffith, and Marcia Gay Harden
Director: Rick Friedberg
Rating: One of Ten Stars

When I saw the names Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer in the credits, I should have known what I was in for. "But," I told myself, this is an older film and Leslie Nielsen is starring, so it can't possibly be as bad as their more recent efforts like 'Epic Movie' and 'Disaster Movie.'"

Alas, I was wrong.

Even in their debut film, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer--only writing here, with the directorial chores being handled by Jason's father Rick--they sucked. In fact, this movie is a little worse than "Disaster Movie" because it doesn't even have a character as hilariously insane as the Enchanted Princess. It barely has any funny jokes.

A limp-wristed spoof of James Bond-style action flicks, the film's story-line sees Special Agent WD-40 (Leslie Nielsen) come out of retirement to save the daughter of his old partner and lover (Stephanie Romanov) from the clutches of megalomaniacal villain General Rancor (Andy Griffith). Along the way, we are treated to badly executed sight gags, poorly delivered slapstick routines, and numerous of the lame references-to-other-films-passed-off-as-jokes that Team Friedberg & Seltzer have become infamous for. The worst (or perhaps most iconic for Friedberg & Seltzer) of these is a dance scene based on the Uma Thurman/John Travolta dance in "Pulp Fiction"... it is random, pointless, and absolutely unfunny--the cinematic equivalent of non-biodegradable Styrofoam packing peanuts.

I watched this film in a mindset that had me very eager to be entertained; I was suffering from writer's block on two different projects (a werewolf story and a game featuring supermodels beating the hell out of each other) and I needed a movie to write about for the Watching the Detectives blog, and still I was so bored with what was unfolding before me that I barely made it to the end.

The best part of this film was casting Andy Griffith against type, but even that amounts to little more than Team Friedberg & Seltzer's random references to other movies. This can't even do the repetition gag properly--where the same joke comes back again and again in slightly different forms. In a Zucker-helmed project those kinds of jokes can be the funniest moment in the entire film, but here they are just eye-rollingly stupid.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I've no doubt Bigfoot has cursed this film

Curse of Bigfoot (1978)
Starring: Bob Clymire, Augie Tribach, Bill Simsonson, Jan Swihart, Ruthann Manella, and Ken Koepfler
Director: Don Fields (aka Dave Flocker)
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

After viewers are subjected to boring stock-footage, a cranky Bigfoot researcher (Clymire) relates the story of how he and a group of high school students inadvertently awakened a monster from ten thousand years (give or take a millennium) of magic-induced slumber.

"Curse of Bigfoot" is one of the most slip-shod movies I've ever had the misfortune of seeing. The fact that Bigfoot appears nowhere in the film is the least of the offenses committed by the filmmakers.

"Curse of Bigfoot" came about when director/producer Dave Flocker took a bad movie he'd made with his brother in 1958, chopped it up a bit, inserted what looks footage from a misbegotten educational film and a little bit of new film involving a high school teacher (Augie Tribach) preparing his class for a visit by his friend and Bigfoot expert Roger Mason. The goal was to bring "Teenagers Battle the Thing" up the minimum length needed for syndication to broadcast television and cash in on what I assume must have been a Bigfoot craze, because there seem to be quite a few films featuring the hairy beast from the late 1970s. The result is a film that stinks worse than a pile of Bigfoot droppings.

If you want to see an example of how not to do a day-for-night shot, this is worth checking out--you will see why you shouldn't shoot footage of the sun shining through the trees if it's supposed to be night.

If you want to see an example of how not to assemble a film from the carcasses of other motion pictures, then this is worth checking out--you'll see why you might want to reserve some time in a sound studio to loop some voice overs, so you don't have the situation where a character says in one scene that he is telling a tale that happened many years ago, but when the flashback starts, a narrator tells us the events happened last year.

If you want to see an example of how not to build suspense through padding your movie, then this is worth checking out--you'll see two yahoos wandering through a forest in a long, loong, looooooooong absolutely pointless sequence, and you'll get to see the world's most well-behaved teenaged boy and girl taking a moonlight stroll through a monster-haunted lemon grove in search of soda pop.

If you want to see a film that features examples of every kind of incompetent filmmaking you can think of, then this is worth checking out.

Somewhere in this fetid garbage pile, there are a couple of good ideas that hadn't quite been done to death in 1958 and which can form the basis for intriguing horror films even now--not to mention do form the basis for three out of five movies with the tagline "A Sci-Fi/Syfy Original Picture." The idea of ancient Native Americans subduing some monstrous creature and binding it in a cave through magical rituals is an intriguing one and the discovery and recovery of the creature is the only vaguely interesting part of the movie. A lot could have been done with this, in the hands of filmmakers who knew what they were doing, but it is unfortunately mostly squandered here.

My desire for the promise held in that ancient monster almost made me inclined to cut this movie some slack. Coupled with the fact that the one bit of serious thought that seems to have gone into the production resulted in the same actor playing the Bigfoot researcher both in the "present" and the "flashback" parts of the film. It's a nice bit of coherence that is otherwise lacking in the production, and it even lends a touch of realism as the actor, like the character he plays, has aged 20 years.

(Near as I can tell, the only film work that Bob Clymire was in this film and in the original "Curse of Bigfoot" production. I could find next to no information on him in the 10-15 minutes I bothered to spend on researching him, but I am curious what his connection is to this production and to the Field/Flocker Brothers. Perhaps this repackage was his idea?)

If you're looking for a teaching aid to demonstrate how not to apply a particular filmmaking technique or how to structure a film, or anything at all, then this is perfect. For everything else, you need to avoid it. And if you ever see it listed in a multi-DVD pack with viewer than ten other films, you need to rethink your purchase.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The undertaker should get pals to bury this one

The Undertaker and His Pals (1966)
Starring: Rad Fulton (aka James Westmoreland), Ray Dannis, Warrene Ott, Marty Friedman, and Sally Frei
Director: T.L.P. Swicegood
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A crooked undertaker (Dannis) and his psychopathic greasy-spoon-owning friends drum up business by invading the homes of beautiful young women and murdering them. The cooks take parts of bodies and serve them in the restaurant, while the undertaker overcharges the families for buring the remaining remains. It's a great scheme, until they target the secretary of private eye Jim Glass (Fulton) and twin sex-pots Thursday and Friday (Ott).

Writing that summary is about all the time I intend to spend on this movie. I almost feel apologetic that I made you read it. You've probably never heard of or seen this miserable failure at making a black comedy, and I encourage you to keep it that way.

To say this movie is crap is an insult to fertilizer. The One Star rating is very generous, and it's based solely on the fact that the film does have a couple of good gags... but they are the sort of gags that a 12 year old would think up scribbling in his notebook while bored in class.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

'Blood Sucking Babes from Burbank'... sucks

Bloodsucking Babes from Burbank (2005)
Starring: Heidi Brucker, Danilo Mancinelli, Danny Kitz, Mira Rayson, Jacqueline Anzalone, Yasmine Vine, Danielle Kreinik, Christina Caporale, and Burke Morgan
Director: Kirk Bowman
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Samantha (Brucker) and other archeology students conduct a search for a witch's cursed jewelry box that was reported to be lost in the Burbank Mountains two centuries ago. When her boyfriend, Gary (Kitz), takes the box to spite her because she won't "put out", he unleashes a curse that starts turning innocent women into cannibalistic monsters who hunger for man-meat, preferably the fleshy part on the neck and arms.

Given my questionable tastes in entertainment, a title like "Blood Sucking Babes from Burbank" attracts me like a bear to honey (or, perhaps more accurately, like flies to a cow paddy). Unfortunately, this film doesn't live up to the promise of the title.

It may have babes and they do engage in some blood-sucking, but a film like this needs to be either concentrated comedy or full of horror-driven violence and mayhem. There is precious little comedy here, the violence is nonsensical and very, very fake, and the mayhem is non-existent. The film is a letdown in just about every possible way.

The problems with the movie stem first and foremost from its weak script. It's full of too many characters and they're all badly motivated. There's also plenty of standard bad low-budget movie padding sequences of characters driving around, walking around, and having pointless conversations that repeat plot points that have already been explained.

The padding is particularly aggravating in this film, because if the scriptwriter (who is also the film's director and producer) had written a couple of scenes that gave more details about Angela's Cursed Jewel Box or more on the history that two of the film's more interesting characters--Zack and Felicity, a young couple who are trying to find the box and destroy it, played by Danilo Mancinelli and Mira Rayson--the overall film would have been stronger. (I'm sure I understand why the attack scenes--the ones where a sexy babe transforms into a monster cannibal with badly made fangs in her mouth and starts ripping the flesh from the body of the nearest male--are as static and uninteresting as they are: The film's amateur cast and crew were obviously not up for shooting fight scenes.

However, all it would have taken would have been some comment from Zack or Felicity about how men are paralyzed by the gaze of a woman under the curse to make the attacks seem a bit more believable; NO ONE would stand there and allow themselves to be killed the way the victims do in this movie, unless some force was acting upon them. The men being killed don't even utter a sound, aside from some mewling noises in most cases.

What it lacked in violence and logic, the film could still have made up for with humor, but it mostly fails to do that as well. The only funny bits in the film revolve around a pair of cannibalistic Valley Girls (Jacqueline Anzalone and Yasmine Vine) who sit around discussing Roman sex toys while munching on a gardener they killed after being cursed. Everything else is played absolutely straight... and played badly, because the film has a cast of mostly amateur actors who are working with tinny dialogue and a weak script.

And that's really too bad. A movie with a title like "Bloodsucking Babes from Burbank" should have been something I got a huge kick out of. As it is, the best thing I can say about it is that it did keep me watching to the end (even if the "twist ending" ended up knocking the film from a low 4 rating down to a low 3 rating, due to the fact that it was first completely unmotivated and ill-considered in the light of everything that had gone before it, and it features one final example of a strangely passive victim).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

This has probably been used in torture sessions

Dungeon of Harrow (1962)
Starring: Russ Harvey, Helen Hogan, William McNulty, Maurice Harris, and Michele Buqour
Director: Pat Boyette
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A shipwrecked nobleman (Harvey) finds love and lepers in the castle of the insane, torture-obsessed Count DeSade (McNulty).

If anything, "Dungeon of Harrow" shows clearly that Pat Boyette made the right call when he stopped making movies in favor of a career as a painter and comic book artist; this goes double if it was Boyette who painted the artwork for the promotional poster for this film as it's the best thing about it. This film is Boyette's in every way--he helped write it, produce it, direct it, edit it, and even scored the music for it. The only thing that isn't terrible about it is the voice acting present in the narration, which was also done by Boyette, and which aleviates some of the pain of sitting through stretched-out scenes of actors wandering, sitting, or lounging around.

Every other actor in the film is as stiff and unnatural as the dialogue they deliver. Boyette was clearly going for an Edgar Allan Poe vibe with this movie, with the narrator looking back on horrible events, rampant madness, florid dialogue, and a storyline that will remind well-read viewers of "The Oblong Box", "Fall of the House Usher", and "The Raven" in equal measure.

Unfortunately, none of Boyette's actors have the chops to deliver the lines with the amped up melodrama present in the Corman Poe-inspired pictures from the same period and instead perform as though tye are under sedation for the entire film; I don't think there's ever been a movie about torture and madness with a more subdued set of performances ever released for viewing by the general public. Time and again, the lethargic actors turn what could and should have been frightening or dramatic into a test of patience so severe it would be out-and-out torture if forced upon a captive audience.

It's equally unfortunate that no-one seems to have taken the script further than a first draft, nor read it from beginning to end at any point during rehearsal, filming or editing. If someone had, they would have noticed characters behaving in contradictory and inconsistent fashions (not counting the batshit crazy DeSade), and several plotlines and characters appear and are dropped seemingly at random.

The film has two worthwhile and scary scenes--one where the Count believes he is being visited by a demon, and another where the main character is chained in the dungeon with an insane leper--but they are not worth sitting through the crap that surrounds them.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

'UFO: Target Earth' is a misfire

UFO: Target Earth (1974)
Starring: Nick Plakias and Cynthia Cline
Director: Michael A. DeGaetano
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Alan (Plakias) and his psychic sidekick (Cline) search for evidence that a UFO has crashed in a remote, backcountry lake, and of a possible government cover-up. Viewer boredom ensues.

While the advent of the DVD made many worthy films once again available to the general public, a lot of films that deserve to simply rot away have also been retrieved from the abyss of time. "UFO: Target Earth" is in that last category. Watch it, and all you'll find when the film's over is a deep wish you could reclaim the time wasted.

"UFO: Target Earth" starts out trying to present a documentary feel, but by the time our heroes head into the forest in search of the UFO, the filmmakers have given up on that conceit. Instead, they present a film that sounds like an 11th grader's research paper and a 9th grader's poetry served as its script, with a couple elements badly mimicked from "2001" and 1970s occult culture tossed in. And they present it in the most turgid and mind-numbingly dull fashion. I'm sure the filmmakers thought they were being artsy... but the null-zone of talent surrounding this movie resulted in something that's just dull.

I don't usually say things like "worst movie ever" or "worst actor ever", but I feel fairly confident in saying that Plakias is in the running for the Top Ten Worst Film Actors Ever award. The guy is so wooden that he might as well have been replaced by a department store mannequin in this film. His facial expression never changes, his inflections never move up or down... every line is delivered with the vacant tone of a heavily medicated mental patient.

Plakias is only the worst of a bad bunch. There isn't a good actor anywhere in this film, although those playing interview subjects early in the film come close to giving something resembling good performances. Of course, actors can only be as good as the material they are working with, and the material here is damn awful. The film only manages one bit of true suspense, giving the viewer hope that maybe something entertaining will start occurring--when the psychic starts hearing creepy voices over the walkie-talkie--but it soon becomes apparent that the filmmakers were just teasing us.

Some films need to be seen to be believed, but this is a film that shouldn't be seen by anyone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

'Witless Protection': A wit-free comedy

Witless Protection (2008)
Starring: Larry the Cable Guy (Daniel Lawrence Whitney), Ivana Milicevic, Yaphet Kotto, Ivana Milicevic, Eric Roberts, Joe Mantegna, and Jenny McCarthy
Director: Charles Robert Carner
Rating: One of Two Stars

A dimwitted small-town sheriff's deputy with dreams of some day being an FBI agent (Whitney) becomes the sole protector of a key witness in a Federal corruption trial (Milicevic) when he separates her from her security detail in the mistaken belief they are kidnappers. Can a cop dumber than a box of rocks get a witness safely to trial when hitmen and both legit and corrupt FBI agents are hunting both him and his charge?

"Witless Protection" is one of those comedies where the main character is so stupid that he succeeds because the bad guys constantly under-estimate the depth of idiocy. Basically, Larry the Deputy is what Inspector Clouseau would be like if he had been raised on a steady diet of lead paint chips and "Hee-Haw" re-runs. Every joke and situation in the film plays to the lowest common denominator, so this is one of those cases where it's imperative to leave your brain in neutral while watching, or you won't find any enjoyment here whatsoever. (A plus to the movie not challenging even the slowest of minds is that the solitary plot twist it features does come as a surprise; it anything but a movie as stupid as this, you'd see it coming a mile away, but here it's unexpected.)

It's a comedy that probably was funnier on paper, because it's main character COULD have worked and COULD have been funny if the actor playing the character had an air of likability, or perhaps just a tiny bit of grace or class. Unfortunately, as funny as Whitney can be when doing stand-up as "Larry the Cable Guy," the persona simply doesn't work in this movie. This character is so stupid and so crass that it's impossible to buy him as any sort of law enforcement figure; the aforementioned Clouseau can fake his way through an investigation, but the character here will fool no one, because he's a lethal combination of idiocy and completely lack of social grace.

While everyone in the movie is clearly game and trying their best to make it work, and Yaphet Kotto and Eric Roberts are amusing as the baffled antagonists trying to outwit a high-functioning retard, the center of the film simply isn't up for the task.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fast Food Nation: Most Boring Film Ever?

Fast Food Nation (2006)
Starring: Greg Kinnear and Catalina Sandino Moreno
Director: Richard Linklater
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

I've tried three times to sit through this movie. The longest I lasted was 43 minutes, and then I decided cleaning my bathroom would be a far better use of my time.

The story revolves around a fast food company executive (Kinnear) who gradually comes to realize he is working for an Evil Corrupting Influence in America and (near as I can tell, since I've never lasted long enough to see where the film ends up) eventually joins with the minimum wage workers in the company's restaurants and the exploited illegal aliens who work in the food processing plants in a "revolt" against the company.

I can imagine all kinds of biting, hard-hitting and extremely funny satire in the film's subject matter, even if I don't agree with some of the political messages co-writer/director Linklater is shoving down viewers' throats like foul-tasting Big Macs. But, sadly, Linklater seems more interested in preaching politics than actually entertaining... and as such he actually managed to make a political comedy less funny than "Silver City" and An American Carol. (I could at least sit through those travesties.)

I suppose I'm being a little unfair giving this movie a Zero Rating since I haven't watched the whole thing. Considering some of the crap I have been able to sit through that I awarded the lowest possible rating to, I think three failed attempts at getting through this ill-begotten sermon make it an appropriate and fair rating.

I'd love to hear a defense of the film, though. Does it better? Should I have used the "chapters" feature to skip the huge swaths of film that put me in mind of the cow dung that is supposedly in the fast food burgers that serve as the film's running thread?