Saturday, September 4, 2010

Celluloid Horrors Movie Reviews

Machete (2010)
Review written by Steven M. Duarte

The wait is finally over and the highly anticipated Machete full feature film is finally here. So does it live up to the hype of the trailer we first saw 3 years ago?

For those of you who don’t already know Machete is the full film that was initially a fake trailer made for the Grindhouse collaboration created by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino back in 2007. While the trailer was fake the idea for a Machete movie came about after Desperado was done filming in the 90’s. It’s reported that Rodriguez wrote a script for the film back in 1995 but never actually filmed anything for it. After much fanfare and reported campaigning from star Danny Trejo Rodriguez finally decided to make Machete his next feature film.

Boy are you in for a ride. The film starts off with a bang showcasing the scratchy dirty print effects that was used with Planet Terror. We are shown Machete as a Federale' raiding a drug kingpin's hideout. The kingpin is actually Steven Segal playing a Mexican. Not really the best choice in my opinion, but still pretty cool to see him back on the big screen. Without spoiling anything we are treated to gratuitous nudity and over the top gore-- very over the top. If you saw Planet Terror then you can pretty much expect the same type of gore in Machete. I would even say it’s much more over the top than Planet Terror.

We are treated to an all star cast with the likes of Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Don Johnson, Tom Savini, the list goes on and on. We have Lindsey Lohan playing a drug addicted whore which made an easy fit for her to get into character. The majority of the characters work with the exception of the previously mentioned Segal who pretty much is just there for the coolness factor. De Niro did a decent job as a rightwing Republican who’s anti-immigration.

The film couldn’t come at a better time considering the hot topic of immigration in the public’s eye. The film makes pretty bold statements about immigration and really shows both sides of the argument.

Now on to why this film may not do well. When the grindhouse films came out in 2007 the general public did not understand the films. They are too used to seeing films made with very serious tones and came in expecting a serious action/horror flick. Little did they know that the films were throwbacks to the days when drive ins were king and they showed grindhouse double features. The films were almost always cheesy and over the top with gratuitous nudity and or gore. Now since people don’t like what they don’t understand the films did not do very well. Of course there’s a cult following for the films but the general public dismissed it. Machete may meet the same demise as it’s very much a grindhouse film. I did a little observation in the theater I was in and found many people shaking their heads and even heard comments that this was dumb. Again people just don’t get it. You have to feed to them the same bullshit over and over and anything out of the norm they dislike. Well here’s hoping people “get it.”

Final Thoughts:

Another fine Grindhouse film that I hope Tarantino and Rodriguez continue to make more of. Machete really delivered on my expectations from the trailer that was made a couple of years ago. Some of the dialogue alone is enough to warrant a viewing. The successful or failure of this film may affect other “grindhouse titles in development such as Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving and the rumored Werewolf Women of the S.S.

3 1/2 OUT OF 4 STARS

--Steven M Duarte

SECRETS OF SEX (1969) – DVD review
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

Director: Antony Balch
Cast: Richard Shulman, Janet Spearman, Dorothy Grumbar’s not what you think…not at all

I got this sent to me the other day and I scratched my head when I saw it. Was someone sending me soft-core porn to review now? Not that I would complain too loudly, but that’s not the kind of movie I usually review. Then I read the back of the DVD box and saw words like “mummies”, “undead”, and “erotic horror cult classic” and I decided to give it a look. And when the movie was over I was still confused as hell.

SECRETS OF SEX, also known under the more appropriate title of BIZARRE, is a late 60s English anthology film so at first I thought it might like the old Avco-Embassy flicks like VAULT OF HOROR and TALES FROM THE CRYPT but with more boobies. But then it starts with pictures of naked men and woman while an Egyptian mummy, your narrator and host of this film, asks repeatedly, “Imagine making love to this girl, imagine making love to this boy, imagine making love to this girl, imagine making love to this boy, imagine making love to this girl…” and on and on. The some girls dance around in their panties and some guys show up with Tommy guns and I’ve got W.T.F. stuck on repeat in my mind. Then, after this overly long intro, the stories begin. The first one shows some promise as goofy, nudie, horror fun with a S&M photo shoot taken to the extreme, but after that there’s a whole lot of pointless nothing. A lonely man catches a cute girl breaking into his house so they have sex and then…noting. No twists, no real point, that’s the whole of the story. Another one has a weird guy ordering up a call girl so they can do it while his pet iguana watches. Another has a woman having sex with an old man even though she knows she can’t have a normal baby. I could go on and on with these, but already I am forgetting these silly, rather pointless, and thoroughly non-horrific stories so why bother?

That said, I did kind of enjoy this movie in a weird way as a quasi-historical document. It was so completely 60s-licious, with the clothes, bright colors, and truth be told, cute all natural girls, that as a curious artifact of a long lost era I kind of dug it. For those reasons alone I can recommend film, but it’s not scary, not funny, only sort of sexy, but it does have a nice weird vibe to it. So if you’re into strange 60s skin flicks then Synapse Films have put out a pretty good DVD for you. The picture looks clear and sharp, there’s audio commentary with the producer and film historian, an interview with the writer of the movie, and a couple of short films directed by the director of this movie and featuring notorious author William S. Burroughs.

If you are looking for a slice of 60s naughty English cinema then this is the movie for you. However if you want some horrific fun then look elsewhere because despite having a mummy as your host, this movie is about as scary as Pee Wee Herman abusing himself in porno theater. Wait, it’s not even that scary.

--Brian M. Sammons

PSYCHO LEGACY (2010) – DVD review
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

Director: Robert V. Galluzzo
Stars: Robert Loggia, Olivia Hussey, Henry Thomas, Tom Holland

Docs on famous horror flicks are all the rage right now, which is a good thing since all that’s coming out of Hollywood horror-wise anymore are nonstop remakes, it’s good to remember when horror flicks were, well good. This latest documentary is on one of the best, most classic, and most influential horror movies of all time; PSYCHO and the three sequels that followed it all starting the late, great Anthony Perkins. But does this 90 minuet doc do that amazing film justice? Well grab your wig, dress, and butcher knife and let’s find out.

This film starts off as it should with the original film. It goes on about what a genius Hitchcock was and how talented the actors were, which is to be expected, but there is one large, glaring missing part. Well, mostly missing. The sum total of length the documentary devotes to the original novel, without which there would have been no movie, and the author of that game changing book, Robert Bloch, is about two minuets. Now there is a featurette on the extras disc about the book and author, so I guess that’s something, but the fact that the actual documentary dismiss the book so easily was a bit of a let down. But that aside, this documentary was a whole lot of fun. So now that the one complaint I had is out of the way, lets take a stab at the good.

First and foremost this doc has some never-before-seen footage of Mr. Perkins discussing the movies and character that, for better or worse, he became such a part of. While Hitchcock isn’t around to comment on his film, the other directors of the three sequels that followed all give their insights as do many of the actors from all four films. There are some noticeable actors missing, such as Meg Tilly and it would have been great to hear from her own lips about her well known problems with Tony Perkins, but I guess she doesn’t want anything to do with that these days. However other famous actors such as Henry Thomas, Robert Loggia, Olivia Hussey, Jeff Fayhe and others from the various PSYCHO movies all share their memories. Then there are the guest commentators, most of whom are horror directors, journalists, and the like, but some of these I do have to question of what makes them an expert. Take the guy that directed the direct to video slasher sequel WRONG TURN 2 and…well nothing else. Why is he considered an authority on the PSYCHO films, other than possibly being friends with the maker of this doc?

In addition to the hour and a half documentary there is a bonus disc that comes with this Shout! Factory release that has over three hours of additionally bonus content on it. With over three hours of goodies I’m not going to list them all here, but I will say that everything and the kitchen sink, or should that be bathroom shower, on all aspects of PSYCHO are covered including what I missed most in the documentary; a very nice featurette about Bob Bloch and the three PSYCHO books he wrote. There also stuff on the making of PSYCHO 2, a featurette on creepy artists and art, extended and deleted scenes, a reunion panel on the original movie, and best of all, a full panel discussion with actor and PSYCHO 3 director Anthony Perkins.

PSYCHO LEGACY is a fun, albeit a little light and fluffy, documentary on one of the greatest must see films, horror or otherwise. I can easily recommend this DVD to not only all horror fans but all cineophiles everywhere. This movie comes out October 19 and like the original classic the doc is about, this little film is a must see.

--Brian M. Sammons

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2009) – DVD review
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Alan Van Spang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe

This is a review that I really don’t want to write. Why? Because I am a George Romero fan, and a zombie movie fan, but especially a Romero zombie movie fan. At least I was, but ever since he finished his original …OF THE DEAD trilogy, the quality of Romero’s cavorting corpse cinema has been in steady decline. Yet while both LAND and DIARY OF THE DEAD had some good things to balance out the bad, SURVIVAL is an unredeemable disaster from start to finish. I never thought I’d say that about any Romero movie, other than BRUISER, and especially not one of his zombie flicks, but that is the long and short of it. However if you want some reasons as to why this movie makes me so sad, read on.

The story, such as it is, is about a small island off the coast of Pennsylvania oddly populated by a bunch of Irish people living the simple country life when the undead plague hits. Half the residents of the island belonging to one clan who want to do the sensible thing and kill the zombies as they pop up. The other half, also belong to a single clan, want to keep the zombies locked up, or chain up doing really stupid stuff like delivering the mail, mowing the lawn, and chopping wood (yeah, great idea, give the zombie an axe), until a cure can be discovered. This leads to a civil war of sorts between the living. Into this clan war comes a group of soldiers, the same soldiers last seen robbing the “heroes” of DIARY OF THE DEAD. Now all this, while a bit silly, doesn’t sound all that bad, so why do I cry every time I think of this movie? Wow, where to begin?

The acting is atrocious. Not one actor looks like they have any business being in front of a camera, or hell even on the stage of the local community college. I’m not just trying to be snarky, but I can not stress enough how bad the acting is. Yet I can’t blame these hapless thespians for running this movie alone, I can’t even place all the blame on them for the incredibly cheesy characters they are portraying. No, sadly the script has a lot to do with that too. The dialog is laughably bad, the situations thoroughly unbelievable, and worst of all, the zombie gags fall completely flat. What’s a “zombie gag”? That’s a memorable bit of gory good fun where a zombie either kills someone, or is killed, in a spectacular way. Previous Romero zombie movies had tons of these, but SURVIVAL has not a single one. Oh, you will remember plenty of gore scenes from this movie, but for all the wrong reasons. Namely the special effects are HORRIBLE! The makeup, what little is used, looks like what you would see in your neighborhood haunted house at Halloween, but the biggest offender is the completely phony looking CGI effects. There are not words enough to describe how bad the Grade-Z computer effects look, so I’m not going to even try. Ha, who am I kidding? I live to piss all over bad CGI, so let me say that the computer animation in THE LAST STARFIGHTER looked more believable than the splat effects in SURVIVAL, and have you seen that 1984classic recently? Yeah, that looks better than what they’ve got here. And hey, did I mention the zombie chick riding a horse? Yes, you read that right, there’s a horse riding zombie. Man the questions that brings up are legion. How does the zombie girl get up on the horse? Does she just stay up there forever? Did she die on the horse? Why does the horse allow some rotting dead thing to ride it all around? Most importantly, who the hell thought it was a good idea to have a zombie on horseback in this movie?

Now despite this deeply flawed film, MAGNOLIA HOME ENTERTAINMENT did a good job bring this move out on disc. There are three options to choose from, a rather bare bones DVD, a two disc Ultimate Edition DVD loaded with extras, and a nice looking Blu-ray with even more goodies. But does it really matter what extras a specific edition has when the movie they’re all about is this bad? No, it doesn’t so moving on…

I can not recommend this movie, not even a little bit. It is the one Romero zombie movie I will not be keeping in my movie library and honestly, I’m going to try like hell to forget that I ever saw this movie. I never thought I’d say this, but I do hope that George never makes another zombie movie, because if the declining quality trend continues, I can’t even begin to image how bad the next …OF THE DEAD movie will be. Whatever, consider this movie thoroughly drenched in Skip It sauce.

--Brian M. Sammons

Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

Directors: see box for details
Cast: see box for details

Shout! Factory has been going great guns with their Roger Corman’s Cult Classics line of DVDs and BDs. They have run the gambit from cheesy monster movies, sci-fi farces, and masterpieces of the weird. Now comes some slasher goodness with THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE COLLECTION. This set of two discs contains all three of the SPM movies, but is that actually a good thing?

Well the first MASSACRE movie is bonified slasher classer with the infamous “Driller Killer” who chases around a bunch of scantily girls having a sleepover with a huge electric drill, usually held at crotch level just in case the symbolism was too subtle for you. The movie is pure silly slasher gold with lots of T & A, good gory kills, and a wicked sense of humor. This film alone is worth getting these DVDs for. But wait…there’s more. Not that the “more” in question is all that great.

I am not a fan of the sequel in name only that is SPM part 2. Put succinctly, it’s not a good movie. It has little to do with the original other than the little sister from the 1st movie, played by a pre-WINGS Crystal Bernard, having bad dreams that warn her “not to go all the way”. Yeah, the whole thing is a ham-fisted parable on virginity and a young girl’s fear of sex. But as far as being a slasher, or even just an enjoyable movie, it fails utterly. It is boring and silly, a bad combination no matter how you cut it. I say it’s boring because it takes twenty-five minuets for the first nudie shot to appear (the only one in the movie) and almost an hour before the first kill, both of these break the cardinal rules of both Roger Corman and Slasher Flicks 101. Oh, and when you factor in that this movie is only 80 minuets long things really get depressing. I say this flick is silly because most of this movie is just about the frightened virgin having weird dreams that seem to be ripped off of one of the lesser NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels, and once more in case subtlety alludes you, a disposable cop character is even named Kruger…ha, get it! However once the little girl does the dirty deed of the naughty sex she summons a 1950s prancing, shucking and jiving, do-wop singing Fonzie reject with a big red electric guitar that has a two foot drill bit sticking out of its neck. You see, it has a drill in it, so it has to be a sequel to the original movie, right? There’s no possible way that the drill was just shoehorned into the script of a preexisting NoES knock off as a way to cash in on the infamy of the original MASSACRE film. Nope, no possible way.

The third film is a bit of a return to form for the series. Gone is the silly rock n’ roll guy and all the ELM STREET dream rip offs. It’s a straight up slasher and a bit of a whodunit as the identity of the new Driller Killer remains a mystery through most of the film. There’s also a killing at the 8 minuet mark, so right there it keeps you awake better than the previous film did. Part 3 is not a horrible movie, nor it is really good. It falls thoroughly into the “unremarkable” category, so I won’t remark on it further.

Shout! Factory has put all three of these discs out on DVD, but not Blu-ray. That’s kind of a disappointment but I guess they didn’t want to spend the cash on up converting all three movies when really, only the first one would be worth the effort. However, there are some nice extras to be found here. Each movie has it’s own audio commentary and I was surprised to find out the one for Part Two wasn’t just the filmmakers repeating “We’re sorry, we’re so very sorry” for the entire length of the film. There is also a three part documentary about the series, with one part devoted to each movie. Trailers, photo and poster galleries round off the extras.

As I said in the beginning, the original SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE makes these DVDs worth the price. The other two movies are just icing on the cake, great for cooperationists like me, but they can be watched or ignored as you wish. This collection comes out October 5th and I highly recommend all horrorheads picking it up when it does.

--Brian M. Sammons

TWO EVIL EYES (1990) – DVD review from Arrow Video
Reviewed by - Brian M. Sammons

Directors: Dario Argento & George A. Romero
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Harvey Keitel, Tom Atkins, E.G. Marshall

On paper this movie sounded like a great idea. Take two certified masters of terror, have them both adapt and direct tales from an originator of the horror genre, mix in some cool splatter and BANG; instant classic. However, this wasn’t to be the case with this film. While it is a perfectly fine, if a bit uneven, fright film, it never made a big splash and today is largely forgotten, despite having some major league talent in it. The directors I had mentioned before are Dario Argento and George A. Romero, two guys that between them have made some of the best, most memorable horror films ever. The author I hinted at is none other than Edgar Allen Poe, one of the granddaddies of the modern terror tale. As for actors, cult favorites like Adrienne Barbeau and Tom Atkins can be found doing their thing in these two short-ish tales, as well as veterans like Harvey Keitel and E.G. Marshall. Yet with all that, most newbie horror fans have probably never seen this one before. Luckily for horrorheads everywhere, the blood-loving Brits over at Arrow Video in the UK have released this one on DVD, and thankfully once again they put it out on a Region Free disc for the entire world to enjoy. Here, let me tell you about it.

Each of these two movies is about an hour long and the first has George Romero doing what he does best and giving us a film full of undead goodness with, "The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar." Adrienne Barbeau plays a money grubbing wife of a sick, much older husband who she keeps in a hypnotic stupor and close to death so that she can milk him for all his money before he dies. She is added in this evil endeavor by her husband’s doctor, who just so happens to be her lover. Then one night Mr. Valdemar dies, but since he died while under deep hypnosis, he doesn’t pass on to the other side. Can you say vengeful ghost zombie out for blood? I knew you could. In this case the blood is ably supplied by makeup effects genius, and long time Romero running partner, Tom Savini.

Italian horror maestro Dario Argento puts his stamp on Poe’s classic, "The Black Cat." Actually, it borrows bits from many Poe stories, such as “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Cask of Amontillado”, and a bit of the “Tell-tale Heart.” In this short, Harvey Keitel plays a photographer named Usher (hah, get it) obsessed with death, teetering on the brink of madness and taking his obsession to the next level. Looking for an outlet for his homicidal impulses, he kills the titular feline only to enter a world of nightmares, madness, and murder. Of the two, this was my least favorite, but it was still pretty good, if somewhat disjointed and schizophrenic.

Arrow does a pretty good job putting out all the extras they can with this disc, however as for extras on the actual disc, this time the pickings are slim. There are a couple of trailers to be found on this DVD and sadly that’s it. While I wish there could be more it is good to just see this movie out on disc after so long of not being available at all. However, in an attempt to add some extra value to the package, Arrow does add some of their usual treats to the movie. Double sided art for the DVD case? Yep. Collector’s booklet? You betcha. Large fold-out wall poster? Yeah, that’s here too. So I give this DVD edition of TWO EVIL EYES a solid A for the goodies, a C – for the extras on the disc, but an overall rating of B due to the scarcity of the film. Therefore this DVD gets a grade B recommendation from me.

--Brian M. Sammons

Astonishing X-men: Gifted (2009) – DVD review

- Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

Written by Joss Whedon
Art by John Cassaday

Ok, so this is in no way related to horror, but since a few months back our very own editor Mr. Cook did an editorial on comic books, I thought I could slip this one in here. Consider it like one of my video game “Genre Breaks” only in film form. Besides, I thought it was pretty darn cool and that’s all that really matters, right?

Some years back, the high chief of his own loyal cult of drooling fanboys and fangirls, Joss Whedon was on top of the world. He had three much beloved TV shows on the air in ANGEL, BUFFY, and my personal favorite, FIREFLY. Then one by one his shows all got the axe. So with nothing much else to do, Joss took a gig at Marvel Comics to bring his own brand of slick, stylish, and funny story telling to the overly expanded, and honestly kind of tired, X-men mythology. You see, for a time the X-men was Marvel’s cash cow, so they milked her for all she was worth. There were countless continuous X-men comic books, and therefore storylines, running at the same time, not to mention crossovers, team-ups, specials, and even the fan favorite mutant, Wolverine, having his own successful series or two. So while I always liked the idea of the X-men, I never bothered to get into it because of the depths of the pool I would have to swim in. But then Joss said, “Hey, you know what, I’m going to sort of hit the reset button, want to watch?” To that question I said, “Why yes, thank you.”

This DVD brings the first six issues of Whedon’s initial run of the comic book to life. Each episode is only about 15 minutes in length and done in “motion comic” style. What does that mean? Well it’s a different; perhaps cheaper and easier, way to do animation where still illustrations are moved and manipulated slightly, via CGI, on screen. Admittedly this style is not as fluid or smooth as classical animation and takes a bit to get use to, but it’s not bad. Further more, as it uses the original excellent illustrations by John Cassaday that were used in the comics, it means that the images are crisp, clear, and at times truly awesome. As for the writing, it’s pure Joss Whedon at his best. Each character has a distinct voice an motivation, there’s lots of humor, and an overarching plot tying all the episodes together. As for that story, these first episodes deal with a much different group of X-men than you might be familiar with. There’s no Professor X, Jean Gray is dead, and the sexy villainess Emma Frost has joined the party. Into this strange world a cure for the mutant gene arises causing all sorts of troubles for the X-men. Oh and did I mention the hulking alien looking to kill every mutant on Earth?

If you are an X-men fan, a Whedon fanboy (hey, not trying to be disparaging as I kind of am too), or a lover of super dudes in tights in general, then this is the DVD for you. I thoroughly enjoyed this animated retelling of the comic books and I look forward to the next DVD installment.

--Brian M. Sammons