Slumber Party Massacre II

film rating:
disc rating:
company: Concorde Pictures
year: 1987
runtime: 75′
director: Deborah Brock
cast: Crystal Bernard, Atanas Ilitch,
Jennifer Rhodes, Kimberly McArthur,
Juliette Cummins, Patrick Lowe
writer: Deborah Brock
cinematography: Thomas L. Callaway
music: Richard Cox
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Shout! Factory, LLC.
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The Slumber Party Massacre Collection double disc DVD set is due out from Shout! Factory on October 5th, in plenty of time for Halloween get togethers, and can currently be pre-ordered through Amazon.com and other online retailers.

Coming five years after the original The Slumber Party Massacre, Deborah Brock’s Slumber Party Massacre II (originally to be called Don’t Let Go: Slumber Party Massacre II) has direct narrative connections to the first film but bares slim resemblance to it otherwise. Brock’s (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever) film loses much of the suspense but more than makes up for its absence, ratcheting up the humor and gore and tossing in a bucketful of absurdity for good measure.

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Slumber Party Massacre III

film rating:
disc rating:
company: New Concorde
year: 1990
runtime: 87′
director: Sally Mattison
cast: Yan Birch, Brandi Burckett,
Hope Marie Carlton, Keely Christian,
Maria Claire, Alexander Falk
writer: Catherine Cyran
cinematography: Jurgen Baum
music: Jamie Sheriff
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Shout! Factory, LLC.
Pre-order this film from Amazon.com

The Slumber Party Massacre Collection double disc DVD set is due out from Shout! Factory on October 5th, in plenty of time for Halloween get togethers, and can currently be pre-ordered through Amazon.com and other online retailers.

After being pleasantly surprised, thrilled even, with The Slumber Party Massacre and Slumber Party Massacre II, it’s perhaps best to say as little about Slumber Party Massacre III as possible. The period of Corman productions that began with the formation of New Concorde isn’t one I look upon with much fondness, being the time when his method of producing low-budget knock-offs of others’ (not to mention his own) successes was falling flat more and more. I may be a biased supporter of Corman and his place as a visionary independent producer, but even my admiration has its limits.

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Piranha 3D

film rating:
company: Dimension Films
and The Weinstein Company
year: 2010
runtime: 88′
director: Alexandre Aja
cast: Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen,
Jessica Szohr, Ving Rhames,
Jerry O’Connell, Richard Dreyfuss,
Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth
writers: Pete Goldfinger
and Josh Stolberg
cinematography: John R. Leonetti
music: Michael Wandmacher
Out in wide release now

Plot: Spring break festivities at a lakeside resort come to a relentlessly bloody end after a species of piranha thought extinct for millions of years unexpectedly resurfaces.

It’s worth repeating before going too much into things that I’m a huge fan of the original Piranha, the Joe Dante-directed John Sayles-penned Roger Corman-produced cult classic that took drive-in audiences by storm in the summer of 1978. After a dreadful official sequel produced by Ovidio G. Assontis and a limp mid-90s Corman remake, I was necessarily underwhelmed when news of yet another retread came across the wire. But contemporary cult powerhouses Dimension Films and the Weinstein Company have done more than just repeat that tired history, they’ve set out to unleash an indelible exploitation experience for the ages. I plunked down a hard-earned $13 and saw their film last night in all the gimmicky glory RealD stereoscopic projection has to offer and have to confess – it was one hell of a show.

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Hardware

film rating:
disc rating:
companies:
British Screen Productions
year: 1990
runtime: 93′
country: United Kingdom
director: Richard Stanley
cast: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis,
John Lynch, William Hootkins
writers: Steve Macmanus, Kevin O’Neill,
Richard Stanley, Michael Fallon,
and Michael Apostolina
cinematographer: Steven Chivers
disc company: Severin Films
release date: October 13, 2009
retail price: $34.95
disc details: Region A / Dual Layer
feature: 1080p HD
audio: Dolby Digital English [2.0 + 5.1]
subtitles: none
reviewed from a screener provided
by Severin Films LLC.

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Plot: In the future, a dismantled military robot reconstructs itself in the apartment of a metal sculptor and goes on a murderous rampage.

I’d not seen Hardware before the screener arrived on my proverbial doorstep, though I do remember seeing the unattractive video box art in my days as a video rental clerk.  It never struck me as anything terribly worth seeing, and certainly didn’t see many rentals in my year or so there.  Besides, I was too busy filling my head with things like The Deadly Spawn (titles that had captured my youthful imagination by cover alone but which I had been forbidden from viewing, and rightly so, as a child) to bother with something I’d otherwise never heard of.  It’s a pity, really, that I didn’t come around to Hardware sooner, but no matter – this stylish and undeniably weird little industrial slasher was worth the wait.

Set in the dystopian near-future, the film concerns scrounger Mo (McDermott) and his sometimes girlfriend Jill (Travis).  When the opportunity to buy something truly unique – disembodied robot parts – comes along courtesy of a mysterious stranger, Mo jumps at it, thinking the parts would make a great Christmas present for his scrap-sculpting girlfriend.  While Jill sleeps the head of the robot, belonging to a dysfunctional combat android, comes back to life and constructs a body for itself out of the odds and ends it finds around her apartment.  From there on out it’s a battle for survival, with the robot killing anyone it can get its claws (or whirring phallic drillbit) into.

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Humanoids From the Deep

film rating:
disc rating:
company: New World Pictures
year: 1980
runtime: 79′
director: Barbara Peeters
and James Sbardellati
cast: Doug McClure, Ann Turkel,
Vic Morrow, Cindy Weintraub,
Anthony Pena, Denise Galik
writers: William Martin,
Frank Arnold and Martin B. Cohen
cinematographer: Daniel Lacambre
music: James Horner
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DVD | Blu-ray

Plot: A race of humanoid coelacanths, mutated by a nefarious canning company’s genetic experiments on salmon, rise from the depths of the ocean to mate with human women, causing all manner of trouble in a small fishing village.

One of the seediest and sleaziest little numbers in the New World catalog, Humanoids From the Deep courted controversy upon release not only for its trashy, monster-rape content, but for the fact that it was all added in post-production, without the knowledge of its cast. Made under the working title Beneath the Darkness, the finished Humanoids…, complete with additional gore and scenes of graphic sexual violence, bore little resemblance to what the main cast had signed up for. Actress Ann Turkel was so perturbed by the circumstances that she tried to get her name removed from the credits and, refused that by producer Roger Corman, went so far as to petition the Screen Actors Guild to force Corman to pull Humanoids… from distribution. With SAG having never prepared for such eventualities, Corman prevailed and Humanoids… charged on.

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Galaxy of Terror

a.k.a.: Mind Warp: An Infinity of Terror
film rating:
disc rating:
company: New World Pictures
year: 1981
runtime: 81′
director: Bruce Clark
cast: Edward Albert, Erin Moran,
Ray Walston, Bernard Behrens,
Zalman King, Robert Englund,
Taeffe O’Connell, Sid Haig,
Grace Zabriskie, Jack Blessing
writers: Mark Siegler,
Bruce Clark and William Stout
cinematography: Jacques Haitkin
and Austin McKinney
music: Barry Schrader
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Shout! Factory LLC
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DVD | Blu-ray

Galaxy of Terror is due out on Special Edition DVD and Blu-ray from Shout! Factory on July 20th, and is currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com and other online retailers.

The anonymous ‘Planet Master of Xerxes’ (a man whose features are obscured by orange light) orders a mission to the far off planet of Morganthus after all contact is lost with a starship there.  He hand picks the crew of rescue ship Quest without their knowledge, gathering a motley assortment of officers and engineers with variety of psychological conditions (one is claustrophobic, another traumatized by a past mission, etc.).  After a crash landing on Morganthus the crew begins to disappear, killed by their own subconscious fears after an ancient alien pyramid renders them all too real.

I fondly remember the salacious ad art for Galaxy of Terror, featuring a vulnerable beauty in scraps of clothing being menaced by a variety of unlikely beasts (including a buggy skeletal bat thing hovering with obviously impure intent), staring up at vintage late ’80s me from the seedy depths of the local rental store’s horror shelf.  Only elementary school-aged at the time, I’d never have dreamt of trying to sneak something like that passed my observant mother (the prominent cleavage on the cover would have stopped her cold long before she glimpsed the ‘R’-rating), but that didn’t keep me from wondering what horribly disgusting (and inherently exciting) events might dwell behind such an illustration.  I was a long time in catching up to the film, one of a seemingly endless number I remember passing over in youth, but it was easily worth the wait.
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Forbidden World

a.k.a.: Mutant
film rating:
disc rating:
company: New World Pictures
year: 1982
runtime: 77′ / 82′
director: Allan Holzman
cast: Jesse Vint, Dawn Dunlap,
June Chadwick, Linden Chiles,
Fox Harris, Raymond Oliver,
Scott Paulin, Michael Bowen
writers: Tim Cumen,
Jim Wynorski and R. J. Robertson
cinematography: Tim Suhrstedt
music: Susan Justin
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Shout! Factory LLC.
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DVD | Blu-ray

Forbidden World is due out on two-disc special edition DVD and Blu-ray (content is identical across releases, including the ‘director’s cut’ of the film on a separate DVD) on July 20th, and is currently up for pre-order in both formats through Amazon.com and other online retailers.

A cheapie like few others in New World Picture’s extensive and budget conscious library, Allan Holzman’s Forbidden World (also known under its working title Mutant) is a nasty bit of gross-out science fiction horror that offers some serious bang for its meager buck.  Pushed into production by an ever-opportunistic Roger Corman as a means of getting an extra day out of a pricey set constructed for Galaxy of Terror, Forbidden World is never much more than a seedy exploitation of the monumental success of Ridley Scott’s Alien, but that doesn’t keep it from being a hell of a lot of fun.

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Night of the Living Dead

rating:
company: Image Ten
and The Latent Image
year: 1968
runtime: 96′
director: George A. Romero
cast: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea,
Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman,
Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley,
Kyra Schon, S. William Hinzman
writers: John A. Russo
and George A. Romero
cinematography: George A. Romero
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If you have yet to see Night of the Living Dead, I heartily recommend doing so – this review can wait.  The film is readily available for viewing at the Internet Archive, Youtube and similar sites thanks to its unfortunate copyright status and I’ve linked to my favorite of the many, many home video releases, Dimension’s recent 40th anniversary DVD edition, in the information to the left.  The screen grabs used in this review are sourced from that release.

Over four decades after its original release George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead still packs a nasty punch.  Initially marketed as a weekend matinee (a slot geared towards youngsters and frequently populated by more generic horror fare) by distributor Walter Reade, its difficult to imagine the impact Night‘s gruesome spectacle must have had when new or to quantify the scope of its importance to cinema as a whole.  This is the film the dragged its terrors out of the exotic far-flung locales and up from the secret basement laboratories of old and plopped them right into the lap of middle America.  This is the one that brought horror home.

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Survival of the Dead

rating:
company: Artfire Films,
Romero-Grunwald Productions and
Devonshire Productions
year: 2009
runtime: 90′
director: George A. Romero
cast: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh,
Kathleen Munroe, Devon Bostick,
Richard Fitzpatrick, Athena Karkanis,
Stefano DeMatteo, Joris Jarsky
writers: George A. Romero
cinematography: Adam Swica
music: Robert Carli
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Blu-ray | DVD

Survival of the Dead is currently out in limited theatrical release through Magnet Releasing, and is available for online rental or pre-order on Blu-ray and DVD through Amazon.com.

Oh no.  It’s the zombie-pocalypse.  Again.  People are dying, society is crumbling, and wi-fi coverage is spotty at best.  I’ll be the first to give George Romero credit for his accomplishments, and its hard to overstate his importance to independent film and modern existentialist horror.  But it’s been a long time since Romero’s ghouls first shambled ‘cross the silver screen.  Four decades and five sequels after the fact the people, places and things are all too familiar, and Romero’s once brave new zombiefied world is less compelling than ever before.

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The Deadly Spawn

a.k.a. Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn
rating:
company:
Filmline
year: 1983
runtime: 81′
country: United States
director: Douglas McKeown
cast: Charles George Hildebrandt,
Tom DeFranco, Richard Lee Porter,
Jean Tafler, Karen Tighe
James Brewster, Elissa Neil,
Ethel Michelson, John Schmerling,
Judith Mayes, Andrew Michaels
writers: Ted A. Bohus, John Dods,
Douglas McKeown, Tim Sullivan
cinematographer: Harvey M. Bimbaum
music: Paul Cornell, Michael Perllstein
and Kenneth Walker
special effects: John Dods, John Mathews,
John Payne, Kevin G. Shinnick,
Arnold Gargulo and Gregory Ramoundos
disc company: Synapse Films
release date: October 26, 2004
retail price: $19.95
disc details: Region 0 / NTSC / dual layer
video: 1.33:1 / pictureboxed / progressive
audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (English)
subtitles: none
special features: Two feature-length audio
commentaries, production photo and still galleries,
comic-style prequel short, outtakes and audition
tapes, new alternate opening, original trailer,
cast and crew biographies
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Plot: A monster crashes to Earth in a meteorite and crawls into a damp basement, where it slowly eats its way through the members of the family living in the house above.

The Deadly Spawn is the sort of film that could only have emerged from years of heartfelt hard labor on the part of good friends, a grimly imaginative bit of gross-out monster horror that’s at least as much fun as it is rough around the edges.  The brainchild of writer and producer Ted A. Bohus and special effects man John Dods, the film touches base with just about every science fiction monster romp of the preceding 30 years, from It Came from Outer Space and The Blob to the then-recent Ridley Scott mega-hit Alien, while retaining a unique low-budget magic all its own.  Made for about the cost of my second car The Deadly Spawn is far from perfect, but that doesn’t stop it from being a hell of a good time.

The premise is simple: A monster crash-lands in the New Jersey countryside and finds a nice wet home for itself in a family’s basement.  Once there it grows, sending baby monsters out to conquer the surrounding town.  People are eaten, families destroyed, and a monster movie obsessed boy becomes on unlikely hero.

It’s best gotten out of the way early that the script by Bohus, Dods, director Douglas McKeown and production assistant Tim Sullivan, has its fair share of low points.  Long sections of the earliest two thirds of the picture are devoted to slow slogs of exposition, none of which is terribly interesting.  The main cast of high school kids is a welcome change from the traditionally irritating monster-chow variety, at least.  They spend the picture worried about real-world things – grades, studying, a dead uncle in the recliner downstairs – though a brief bit of romantic interest between two of them is better left skipped.  In the end the teenagers exist only to be threatened by the title monster, dependent on the real hero of the story (an eleven year old) for their survival.

The biggest problem with the drama is just how superfluous most of it is, though the true star of the picture – the toothy, multi-headed brainchild of John Dods – and its crafty implementation more than makes up for it.  The Deadly Spawn‘s extensive displays of monster-oriented death, mayhem and destruction are certainly its biggest selling point, and with good reason.  The chief creature, roughly a man’s height with three heads and fleshy stalks protruding from its back, spends quality screen time with the young hero in the basement in a series of wonderfully shot scenes.  There are moments where the low key lighting and imaginative framing seem positively inspired.  The most memorable of the scenes by a fair margin is when the child and spawn first meet, the boy watching as the monster vomits up his mother’s disembodied head!



While fans of the new breed of bargain basement monster horror (now industrialized and dominated by a few awful straight-to-video companies) will be accustomed to gore, the violence of The Deadly Spawn was quite graphic and intense for the time.  The many monster attacks are quick-cut and bloody, and rendered all the more effective by the free-for-all nature of the scripting (the film happily abides by Joe Bob Briggs’ rule for horror, that anybody can die at any time).  The Deadly Spawn opens with a classic cult scare, with the monster devouring not one but both of the parents of the household.  Later a teen-aged love interest is unceremoniously beheaded and tossed out of an upper floor window!  An attack on a vegetarian luncheon provides some welcome bad-taste laughs while the schlocker ending takes the “?” finale of The Blob to its logical conclusion, with a gargantuan spawn devouring the countryside.

The John Dods directed special effects, made for little more than the price of the 16mm stock they’re filmed on, are generally excellent.  The full-sized spawn puppet is a magnificent creation, even if it does look a little too much like a trio of razor-toothed cocks perched atop a bulging scrotum base.  Some of the simplest techniques manage the most impressive results, like the tiny tadpole spawns wriggling along barely submerged tracks or two-dimensional paper and foam puppets filmed in silhouette.  There’s little doubt that CGI would be used for such effects these days, but I’ll take the foam-and-rubber work of Dods and company over that newer method of doing business any day.

The Deadly Spawn was quite a success when 21st Century Film Corp. released it theatrically in 1983 (after nearly three years in production), making back ten times its production budget in its opening week in New York.  It was on home video that the film found its real cult following, both in America and especially in mainland Europe (it was banned as a “Video Nasty” in England), and I remember passing by its graphic over-sized Continental Video box many times as a child.  It looked terrible to me then, the cover showing the full-size creature surrounded by dismembered limbs, but it was one of the first videos I rented when I went to work at my hometown’s own (and now defunct) Video Spectrum years later.

The home video market has come a long way since the time The Deadly Spawn was released, and Synapse Films deserves no small amount of praise for doing such an exceptional job of bringing the film to its long-awaited digital debut.  Working from the original 16mm camera negatives, Synapse has delivered the most definitive video release of the title to date.



The 1.33:1 progressive transfer presents The Deadly Spawn in its originally intended aspect ratio, and while the pictureboxing  (to compensate for overscan on traditional television sets) limits the available resolution a bit my complaints about the transfer otherwise are slim.  In fact, I don’t think I have any!  The wonderfully grainy image presents with strong detail and accurately captures the highly variable nature of the photography.  Extensive color correction makes for exceptional results, and the frequent reds (seen in blood, bath robes, and even a telephone) really pop.  There is some minimal damage, limited to infrequent dirt and speckles, but nothing distracting – I’d wager this looks better than many of the 35mm blowups that played theaters in the 80s.   Audio is a healthy Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic track that faithfully reproduces the highs and lows of no-budget recording.  There are no subtitles.

Proving that The Deadly Spawn was as much a labor of love for Synapse Films as for the original creators, the supplements are stacked.  First up are two audio commentaries, one with writer and producer Ted A. Bohus and another with special effects man John Dods, writer / director Douglas McKeown, production assistant Tim Sullivan, executive producer Tim Hildebrandt and actor Charles Hildebrandt (the 11 year old hero of the film).  The cast and crew track makes for tremendous fun, while the Bohus track tends towards the more serious and informative, covering the troublesome nature of the lengthy production as well as the distribution issues with 21st Century Film Corp.  Other supplements are more traditional, including a theatrical trailer (sourced from tape), extensive stills galleries, filmmaker biographies, and even a bloopers and outtakes reel, though there are some standouts.  We get audition tapes for the cast, a contemporary John Dods introduction to the creature listed as “A Visit with The Deadly Spawn 1982″, an alternate opening with some new effects added, and even a comic book prequel to the film.

I’ll never be one to call The Deadly Spawn a great film, but it’s certainly a fun one and I’ve been a fan for a long while now.  The reasonably priced Synapse Films disc was released on my birthday, 2004, and I picked up my copy as soon as I was off work that evening.  It’s a great disc by any estimation and comes highly recommended to both fans of the feature and monster horror buffs in general.  As for the film, it may be a little shabby but I love it all the same.  This reviewer says see it!

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