Thursday, November 22, 2012

Day of the Turkey Review:
The Swamp of Ravens

A series of events (followed by a fabulous Thanksgiving Day spent with friends) kept me from writing as many reviews as I had planned today, but I should be able to get this one in under the wire, before Thanksgiving Day turns into Black Friday.

The Swamp of Ravens (1974)
Starring: Ramiro Oliveros and Fernando Sancho
Director: Manuel Cano
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A mad doctor is exploring gene therapy to "cure" the condition known as death and to show its relation to evolution. Or something like that...

"The Swamp of Ravens" is an atmospheric film that sets out to be a modern-day take on the Frankenstein legend, with its protagonist being some sort of medical doctor or scientist bent on identifying the factor that separates life from death. Sadly, its story is so muddled, the motivations of the characters so confused, and the characters so ill-defined that you're going to be left wondering what the heck you've just watched by the time its over.

For example, the scientist SEEMS to have accomplished some sort of scientific breakthrough, given that his assistant is apparently a re-animated corpse... and the "failures" he tosses in the titular swamp outside his secret research shack are likewise undead and lurking just below the surface. Or are they? Are the presence of zombies in the muddy waters just figments of the mad doctor's imagination? They kill a vagrant, so maybe not. But then why isn't he trying to figure out what's animating them?.Is he trying to make the soul/awareness of his subjects stay with the body beyond death? Whether the writers knew or not, you won't by the time the film is over.

Although the film has plenty of atmospheric shots and stylistically presented violence, the creepiness of it all is undermined by perhaps one of the most wildly inappropriate soundtracks I've ever come across. Have you ever seen one of those British sex/manners comedies like the "Carry On" series? Well, that is where this music belongs, not in a film about a mad doctor who is a sexual sadist who turns his girlfriend into a test subject in a fit of jealousy. So, as far as the technical aspects of the film go, it's one point its favor and five points against.

Oh... a minor nitpick: There are no ravens in the film. The swamp in question seems to be home to a flock of turkey buzzards, but no ravens. Still, the shots of the buzzards are pretty creepy... and I suppose "The Swamp of Turkey Buzzards" doesn't make for a very attractive title.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween: Guru the Mad Monk

As part of this year's wrap-up this year's 31 Nights of Halloween at Cinema Steve, here's a film you  should be happy to not have seen.

Guru the Mad Monk (1970)
Starring: Neil Flannigan, Judith Israel, Jacqueline Webb, Jack Spencer, and Paul Lieber
Director: Andy Milligan
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

An innocent woman (Israel) gets trapped in the web of lies, murder, and madness spun by the priest in charge of an isolated church and prison (Flannigan) and the vampire witch that is his ally (Webb).

"Guru the Mad Monk" might have been suitable Halloween viewing if you were looking to have a Bad Movie Fest as part of your celebration. It's got a creepy location, a hunchbacked assistant to a vile villain, witchcraft, a vampire, a damsel in distress... everything you need for a classic cheesy horror movie.

Unfortunately, the director took these elements and made one of the dullest movies you ever will have suffered through if you check it out. It has a few moments of tension and growing horror, but invariably those are ruined by weird cut-aways, awful dialogue, or the atrocious acting on the part of the cast--which are so bad that I was starting to think that Judith Israel was a great actress, until I took a step back and realized she only seemed to be because everyone else around her is so awful. She's passable... but given the rest of the cast, she seems like she could out-act any Hepburn you care to mention.

The Two Stars I've given it are perhaps generous, but they are based on the occasional bit of creepiness that the film manages to conjure up, as well as the unintentional comedy (mingled with a glimmer of horror or two) that we're treated to in the films final 10 minutes when we discover exactly how unhinged the title character really is. Getting to those 10 minutes means sitting through 40 minutes of unevenly paced, badly acted dreck.. and only the most motivated or desperate to be entertained viewers will make it that far.

"Guru the Mad Monk" is one of the films featured in the "Pure Terror" 50-movie DVD set. As such, it's harmless filler that you can save for last.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The film that launched a thousand riots

The Innocence of Muslims (aka "Desert Warriors" and "The Innocence of Bin Laden") (2012)
Starring: A Bunch of Really Terrible Actors
Director: Alan Roberts
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

After a Christian doctor's cilinic is looted by an angry Muslim mob in Egypt, he reflects on the life of the Muslim prophet Mohammad (or something like that).

Muslim movie critics don't stand for no shitty biographical movies about their beloved prophet, as demonstrated by the burning of American embassies and the brutal rape and murder of an American diplomat. Their rage is completely misdirected, but understandable... not so much because a religious figure is put in a bad light, but because this film is so awful that I feel awkward even referring to it as a film. I don't think I've seen so much incompetent directing, badly framed scenes, horrible green-screen use, bad sound mixing, awful dialogue, and craptacular acting crammed into 13 minutes ever before.

Seriously... this is a film that should be viewed by no one. To describe it as amateurish is an insult to amateurs. I've seen at least one person say "It's like Ed Wood decided he hated Muslims"... and I have to disagree. Even on his worst day, Ed Wood showed more skill as a writer and a filmmaker as anyone involved with "Innocence of Muslims".

In fairness, all I've seen is the 13-minute highlight reel/preview that was posted to YouTube... but if this is the best bits of the film, I think 13 minutes is all I'd be able to stand.

In the entire thing, there's only one scene that is remotely well done--the one where young Mohammad is being seduced (?) by some woman who may or may not be doing it to drive away demons. (And I think the only reason I find the scene appealing is because it's so strange.)

Even that 13-minute preview is inept, assuming it was put together in an effort to promote the film and not intended to just be a collection of disjointed nonsense.

Ultimately. though, the most noteworthy thing about this piece of garbage is that it features what is perhaps the smallest "mob" ever put into a movie.

I'm not even going to bother embedding the YouTube video in this post. If you want to see for yourself what has psychopaths in the Middle East and Asia all stirred up, you can go there and do a search for yourself. However, I think you should just take my word for it and spend those minutes taking a walk or petting your cat or cleaning your bathroom. Any one of those activities will be more worthwhile than watching highlights from "Innocence of Muslims".

Thursday, September 6, 2012

'Catholic Ghoulgirls' is a sin

Catholic Ghoulgirls (2005)
Starring: Ally Melling, Vanessa Kessinger, Meghan McDowell, and Mark Brown
Director: Eamon Hardiman
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

Kasey (Melling), Becky (Kessinger) and Maria (McDowell) are three rebellious Catholic schoolgirls who spend their days ditching class, smoking in alleys, and sneaking around with their boyfriends. So when zombies attack their town, it stands to reason that they kick monster but with swords and Kung Fu moves.

 That's a concept for a fun and trashy movie. It's the concept behind this movie, but while this is plenty of trashy, it's not much fun.

I think this film safely ranks among the most incompetent efforts I've ever had the misfortune t sit through. The story is so unfocused, badly structured, and overloaded with irrelevant characters that you'll have a hard time following it even if someone handed you a diagram and list of characters... and that's only the beginning of what's wrong with this film.

The direction is awful, the acting is so bad it can't even be described as amateurish, the camerawork is pedestrian (and sometimes out of focus), scenes are more often than not underlit or overlit, the editing is sloppy, and the sound mixing is so bad that you often can't hear the dialogue because of the soundtrack music or what should be ambient noise.

I always try to find something nice to say about a film, but I can't think of a single thing when it comes to this one. Maybe if writer/director Eamon Hardiman and executive producer James Hudnall had seen fit to have Hudnall write the script (assuming this is the same Hudnall who once wrote comic books for Eclipse, Marvel Comics, and DC Comics) at least the script would have been more coherent.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Everything is padded but the lead actress's boobs

The Bewitching (2006)
Starring: Beverly Lynne, Tezz Yancey, Lysander Abadia, Steve Reaser, and Kevin Campbell
Director: Gary Sax
Rating: One of Ten Stars

When a witch (Lynne) decides to violate the commandments of her Coven and travel to our dimension to engage in "pleasures of the flesh", three friends (Abadia, Reaser, and Yancey) are in for a night of hot sex, horror, and confusion.

What passes for the plot in "The Bewitching" is really just an excuse to string some softcore porn scenes together, primarily showcasing the very attractive body of Las Vegas-based adult entertainer Beverly Lynn (and she comes complete with a subscription-based adults-only website). The picture chosen to illustrate this review showcases the film's greatest assets.

In fact, Lynn is one of only three actors whose performance seems to approach that of professional level--the other two being Lysander Abadia and Tezz Yancey. And even so, she appears stiff when sharing the screen with Abadia, who has been a bit-player on numerous television shows... with her main acting skills revolving around the activities taking place in the hotel room and bed with various cast members. Everyone else are amateurish in the extreme.

And that may be good enough for those who are really hard up for a little light porn. Lynn is quite good at what she does, and she hasn't mutilated herself by inflating her chest to the point where her boobs are the size of her head like so many actresses in these sorts of movies have done (or like one of the ladies who disrobe in this film to display her unfortunate impants).

Unfortunately, even if what you are looking for is a little light porn, you might still find yourself bored... and possibly even a little irritated. Gary Sax is a director of very little talent and he doesn't know when enough is enough. If it's not obvious by comments made previously, Beverly Lynn is basically "my type" and I still reached for the remote to fast-forward at about the halfway point of every sex scene, because they grew repetative to the point of actually repeating the same footage more than once. Maybe if I was 15, I wouldn't mind... but I have better things to do with my time these days.

Sax also doesn't know how to start and end scenes, how to pace dialogue scenes, or.... He's basically made a movie that showcases everything you SHOULDN'T do when making a movie. And I think ultimately would-be filmmakers are the best audience for "The Bewitching"; they should check it out and take careful note of everything that's wrong with it, and then avoid those mistakes. Worse, many of the weaknesses in the film might have been fixed if a little more time or care had been spent in editing.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A documentary that fails to mention it's a hoax?

Alien from Area 51: The Alien Autopsy Footage Revealed
Starring: Ray Santilli and Gary Shoefield
Director: Philip Gardiner
Stars: One of Ten Stars

In 1994, Fox got huge ratings with "Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction", a Jonathan Frakes-hosted documentary that purported to show genuine footage of an autopsy performed in late the 1940s, supposedly on the corpse of an alien that crashed his/her/its ship in Rosewell, New Mexico.

In 2006, the men who once claimed to have purchased the alien autopsy footage from a retired U.S. Air Force cameraman, Ray Santilli and Gary Shoefield, admitted that the footage was hoaxed as part of the promotional efforts surrounding a fictional comedy based on his efforts to market the material. He named names of other hoaxers involved, explained processes, and claimed that the original footage HAD at one time existed but had been degraded so he was forced to "recreate it" with a phony alien body and phony doctors in a phony laboratory.

Now, in 2012, along comes "Alien From Area 51", a documentary that promises to reveal information about government cover-ups and the Santilli/Shoefield film. Directed by Philip Gardiner (who was also two films I've recently reviewed over at Terror Titans, and both of which narrowly avoided being reviewed here) this is a film that will benefit viewers who were too young to have seen the alien autopsy footage Back In The Day and those who don't want reality to creep into their conspiracy theories about world governments covering up alien visitations and alien invasions. Because this is a "documentary" from the Michael Moore School of Documentary filmmaking, in that it offers one-sided views of the topics it covers, offers assertions rather than facts, and recreates reality to fit the narrative the filmmaker wishes to present.

"Alien from Area 51" seeks to reset the clock to 1994 by letting Santelli and Shoefield spin a tale about the history of alien autopsy footage that completely disregards the 2006 revelations and even parts of the original narrative about the pair supposedly came by the material. In the interview with the producers here, the footage is no longer a "recreation" using a prop body and actors in an apartment, but a pain-stakingly detailed restoration of salvageable parts of the decaying original that had been made by taking still shots of the individual frames and reassembling them into the movie that was the basis for the Fox program.

That, along with Santelli and Shoefield's ideas about whether aliens exist and questionable anecdotes of visits from Chinese government officials to their London offices, make up the bulk of the film. It opens with a basic primer on the Roswell, New Mexico, UFO crash story (augmented with manipulated outtakes from "The Dark Watchers"), and it closes with Santelli and Shoefield's supposed find in its restored glory. There are no counter viewpoints here, nor is there any explanation for why the narrative here doesn't match Santelli's 2006 account.

I'm not entirely sure what Gardiner was trying to accomplish with this film, nor am I sure that anyone should bother watching it other than the hardest of the hardcore UFO enthusiasts.... and then only so they can know the latest "truth" about the supposed alien autopsy footage. It would have made a fantastic bonus feature on the DVD of Gardiner's "The Dark Watchers" (which contains many of the themes touched on in this film) as the two films would have complemented each other, but as a stand-alone product it is not worth most people's time or money.

Rent the film online, or order it on DVD.

(Full disclosure: This review was based on a distributor-provided screener copy that most likely did not completely reflect the final edit of the film. For example, the version I watched had an obvious opening titles sequence but the text had not been placed.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Franco foul-up that's kinda saved by unintentional comedy

Neurosis: The Fall of the House of Usher (aka "Revenge in the House of Usher" and "Zombie 5") (1982)
Starring: Howard Vernon, Robert Foster, Lina Romay, Jean Tolzac, Olivier Mathot, and Fran├žoise Blanchard
Director: Jess Franco
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Dr. Alan Hacker (Foster) travels to the castle of his old professor, Dr. Usher (Vernon) where he quickly learns that his old teacher has gone mad. Aside from claiming that he is 200 years old, Usher is obsessed with resurrecting his dead daughter by giving her blood transfusions from girls he’s kidnapped.

With "Neurosis" (as the film was called in the on-screen titles even though the DVD case told me I was going to see "Revenge in the House of Usher"), Jess Franco manages to make himself look worse than usual. Not only does he do a half-assed job of adapting the classic Poe story "Fall of the House of Usher" but he uses 15-20 minutes of footage from one of the few good movies he's made--"Awful Dr. Orlof"--as a flashback sequence so the viewer can compare what he did in 1964 with what he did in 1981. 1981 Jess Franco does NOT look good when compared with 1964 Jess Franco.

The fault in using the old footage is embodied first in the character of "Morpho", Dr. Usher's blind (one-eyed?) assistant who is more in love with Usher's semi-undead daughter than even Usher. Morpho's make-up in the 1981 footage is pathetic when compared with the 1962 footage... when it should have been the other way around, given the improvement in the art in the two decades that passed between the production of the two films. Secondly, the old footage is simply better over all cinematography-wise. The shots are better composed and framed, more interestingly lit, and just more dramatic over-all.

As for the film overall, there is no logic to the story and the scenes appear to be strung together almost as random, with characters dropping in and out--like the horny stable boy; or important characters being introduced out of the blue in the third act--like Usher's wife, who may or may not be a ghost. We never do find out what she is or how she managed to creep around the castle without Usher's loyal housekeeper and would-be lover Helen seeing her (if she wasn't a ghost).

Speaking of Helen... if someone can explain her character arc to me, I will bow down to you as the superior reviewer. She becomes a completely different character all of a sudden. I could chalk it up to delusions on the part of Usher, but Dr. Hacker was the one who was primarily involved with her inexplicable transformation.

While watching the film, I actually did wonder on more than one occasion whether it was a satire of gothic horror films that misfired rather than a serious attempt at making a horror movie. If viewed as such, it suddenly becomes a mediocre movie instead of a terrible one. Certainly, the bad acting on the part of the men dubbing Robert Foster (as Dr. Hacker) and Howard Vernon (as Dr. Usher) gives rise to much hilarity... and the people responsible for voicing Lina Romay and the rest of the cast are almost as effective with their comedic stylings.

But I doubt this was intended as a comedy, so the film ends up here, with the rest of the cinematic trash. There are actually a few well-done scenes of horror sprinkled here and there throughout the film, but overall it's another cheap-jack Jess Franco Failure, with another of his trademark botched endings. (Free advice to filmmakers: If you're going to adapt "The Fall of the House of Usher" and you're going to have a building collapse... for God's sake, budget some miniature shots or buy some stock footage, because the way Franco does it here is a textbook example of what NOT to do.)

That said, the bad voice, the incoherent storyline, and the outrageously random behavior on the part of the characters also make this movie the exact right kind of trash for those who enjoy riffing as bad movies unfold. With the right group of friends, this movie can be a lot of fun.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Very little story to get in the way of the gore

Recycled Parts (2010)
Starring: Girstin Bergquist, David Dartt, Joe Duffy, Brandon Brendel, Lisa Gail, Michael Dias, and Larry Sands
Directors: Larry Sands, Erick Vega, and Bradley Young
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Three unlikeable college friends (Brendel, Gail, and Dias) and two stupid ones (Bergquist and Sands) become victims of a madman (Dartt) who is abducting people and harvesting their limbs and organs for sale on the black market (or something like that).

First of all, this turned out not to be my kind of movie, so maybe I'm unable to appreciate its strengths, but sitting through this movie was a miserable experience. Regular readers know that I can't stand "torture porn" movies... and there's really not much else to this movie that gory deaths and screaming victims.

The best thing about "Recycled Parts" was that it was that it was so to the point that it lasted just one hour.

But during that hour, you get to see just about every variety of incompetent filmmaking you can imagine--from bad dialogue to bad characterization; from amateurish Foley work to uneven sound levels and inaudible dialogue; from badly lit scenes to badly framed shots, this film has it all! Hell, it even has a textbook example of the moronic "shock twist ending" that is so bad it actually ends up being one of the worst parts of the movie.

The only reason I'm not rating it Zero, is that the filmmakers did manage to creep me out with te Christmas-themed lair of the psychotic doctor's assistant Einstein (played by Joe Duffy). Then again, with three directors and five cinematographers, one would expect them to get SOMETHING right. Unless, of course, each director and cinematographer was brought in to work on a part of the film that didn't play to their strengths....

Perhaps if you're really, REALLY into films with less substance and class and creativity than the "Hostel" series, you might like this film. Everyone else should probably stay away.

(Full disclosure: Distributor Midnight Releasing provided me with a screener of this film.)