Paula-Paula

a.k.a. Paula-Paula: una experiencia audiovisual de Jess Franco inspirada en Jekyll y Hyde de R.L. Stevenson
Year: 2010   Company: CineBinario Films   Runtime: 66′
Director: Jess Franco   Writer: Jess Franco   Cinematography: Jess Franco   Music: Friedrich Gulda (posthumous)
Cast: Carmen Montes, Paula Davis, Lina Romay and some guy in a sweater who goes unnamed
Disc company: Intervision Picture Corp   Video: NTSC 16:9 1.85:1    Audio: Dolby Digitlal 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: English    Disc: DVD5 (Region 0)   Release Date: 02/08/2011   Product link: Amazon.com
Reviewed from a screener provided by Intervision Picture Corp and CAV Distribution

Jess Franco is back, for better or for worse, and his budget is smaller than ever.  This shot-on-video effort, not even a year old as of this writing, sees the director working on what may be the smallest scale of his career, with all of the… ehem… action taking place in a handful of confined apartment rooms.  What’s it all about?  I’ll let the back of the DVD case do the talking:

An exotic dancer named Paula has been murdered.  Her lover Paula is the prime suspect.  But in a nightmare world of passion and perversion, could abstract desire be the greatest crime of all?

Helpful, eh?  Though the opening credits make a point to list Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde as an inspiration for the story, there really isn’t much of one to inspire.  The film opens with a detective (cult film personality Lina Romay in a very brief appearance) interrogating a disturbed young Paula (Carmen Montes, Killer Barbys vs. Dracula) after the death of her exotic dancer lover, also named Paula (Paula Davis).  The scene accomplishes little beyond letting us know that Paula the first has tried killing Paula the second a few times, and its end spells the same for the film’s negligible narrative aspirations.

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The Enchanted

Year: 1984   Runtime: 86′   Director: Carter Lord
Writer: Carter Lord   Music: Phil Sawyer   Cinematography: Michael Levine
Cast: Julius Harris, Will Sennett, Casey Blanton

After years of rambling (okay, sailing) around the world, Royce Hagan (Will Sennett) returns to his now empty and unused paternal place (not very rural me has a hard time calling a place in the woods “a ranch” as the film does) way out in the backwoods of Florida to make a living raising cattle. Eccentric old family friend Booker T (Julius Harris) welcomes Royce back with open arms. Booker also warns his friend to get too close to the Perdrys, a family that one day just turned up and claimed an empty house as their own, and are now doing day work for anyone around who’d care to have them. According to Booker, they are friendly enough folk, but something the sage of the backwoods isn’t allowing himself to go into isn’t quite right with them.

As it goes in stories where these sorts of unhelpful warnings are uttered, Royce soon enough gets close to the Perdrys when they help him bring his farm in order, and falls in love with Twyla (Casey Blanton), one of the family’s daughters. Twyla returns his feelings with a vengeance, and soon moves in with Royce. But Booker was right – something really isn’t quite normal (whatever that means) about Twyla and her family. It’s nothing too egregious, really. Twyla just can’t cope with the more bloody parts of country life too well, and she has an unhealthy fear of cats, even when they come in the form of an adorable little kitten.

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Resurrecting the Street Walker

company: 2nd Floor Productions
year: 2009
runtime: 80′
director: Ozgur Uyanik
cast: James Powell, Tom Shaw,
Joanne Ferguson, Christina Helena,
Pinar Ögün
writer: Ozgur Uyanik
cinematography: Paul Englefield
music: Edwin Sykes
Not on home video in the USA

James Parker (James Powell) is an aspiring filmmaker working as an unpaid serf aka “runner” for a shady little movie production company to get his foot in the door of professional film work by letting himself be exploited. This job and the fact that his dreams of becoming a filmmaker don’t seem to lead anywhere  put quite a strain on him and the relationship with his family, who are the ones paying for his livelihood after all.

James’ friend, the film student Marcus (Tom Shaw), films him in his attempts at making it, and what Marcus is shooting is the basis of the documentary Resurrecting The Street Walker purports to be. Intercut with Marcus’ footage are interviews with Marcus himself and the other people in James’ life hinting on something dreadful James seems to have done.

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The Dead Outside

company: Mothcatcher Films
year: 2009
runtime: 86′
country: United Kingdom
director: Kerry Anne Mullaney
cast: Sandra Louise Douglas,
Alton Milne, Sharon Osdin
writers: Kerry Anne Mullaney, Kris R. Bird
cinematography: Kris R. Bird

It’s six months after the outbreak of the viral apocalypse (again). This time, a neurological virus in combination with a badly working vaccine (although I’m not sure the film really means “vaccine” and not just “specialized medication”) has caused large parts of humanity to become dangerously deranged. Virus victims develop symptoms of schizophrenia which get worse until the only thing they seem to feel is anger. Still, these virus victims stay very much human, most of them are even still able to ramble angrily, so calling them zombies wouldn’t feel proper.

Daniel (Alton Milne), who has lost (how and why will be sort of explained in flashbacks and visions) his family, drives through the Scottish countryside looking for a safe place to stay. His car runs out of gas, but fortunately there’s a farmhouse close by for him to seek shelter in. At first, the place seems to be deserted, but the next day Daniel meets April (Sandra Louise Douglas), an armed, emotionally devastated teenager, whose grandparents were the owners of the farm. Initially, April doesn’t want Daniel staying there, is even close to shooting him, but something changes her mind.

In the following weeks, the girl and the man grow closer, although both need some time to get over the distrust one develops when everyone else is mad and one can’t even be all that sure about one’s own state of mind. Daniel and April aren’t really willing or able to disclose much about their pasts or their feelings to each other. He thinks she might be immune against the virus, while she panics at the mere thought of getting close to any of the remaining medical facilities. Still, there is trust growing between them.

Things get difficult again when another sane survivor, Kate (Sharon Osdin) arrives one day. Her presence disturbs the brittle, unspoken pact between April and Daniel, and catastrophe already waits around the corner.

It seems as if the British isles are the place to look when it comes to ultra-low budget outbreak films. Although this Scottish production isn’t as excellent as Colin, my favourite example of the type, it is still a much better film than a lot of its peers are.


It is also a film many viewers won’t like for its very slow pace, the conscious lack of clarity in its storytelling and its rather wonderful disinterest in gore. These things aren’t caused by any lack of care in The Dead Outside‘s director Kerry Anne Mullaney, though, they are very much part of the film’s design. The film’s slowness fits a film about an end of the world that isn’t flashy or explosive, but that instead has come slowly and creeping (the same way as the virus works).

The lack of clarity is a necessary part of a film which lets us see through the eyes of characters who aren’t at all sure about their own sanity, and who can’t and don’t want to remember everything they have done too clearly. Mullaney bases some effective moments of dread on the lack of certainty about what’s real and what’s not her characters live in. I found the way Daniel’s dead family and very real danger mingle much more effective than the typical goresplosion.

This is not to say that the film doesn’t contain any action at all. There are two (probably budget-stretching) action set-pieces – of course without explosions – that impress through clever editing and the ability to build up a feel of claustrophobia in open, but dark, spaces.

Mullaney is obviously more interested in her characters than in the action or plot. This is not the sort of film that believes in expository dialogue (although there is one large expository monologue late in the film); much is insinuated and hinted at, probably in the hope for an audience willing and able to put a little work into understanding what is going on with the characters. One of the points the film is trying to make seems to be that there really is no clear difference between the state we call “sanity” and “madness”. I don’t think that’s a point it could make by being clear and obvious about everything.


I thought that the actors were really selling their roles quite well. Sure, the acting is a bit strained in a “look! I’m acting!” way from time to time, but more often than not Douglas and Milne project a mix of normalcy and brittleness that is absolutely right for the direction the film is going in. Sometimes, acting that doesn’t read as ultra-professional is of help to let the characters on screen seem like everyday people.

I had some problems with the film’s visual side. While there are some impressive shots of the farmhouse and the creepy landscape around it (you know I’m a sucker for nature in its less sweet and mellow variations), the film suffers a little from desaturation syndrome. Of course, muted grey and brown colours help emphasize the desolation of the situation, but there’s a lot to be said for using other parts of the colour spectrum too, if only to contrast them with all that grey.

Probably even more problematic is Mullaney’s decision to shoot about eighty percent of the film with the camera tilted at an angle, as if everything took place on a ship close to sinking. Creepy angles might be a well established way to build mood, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. The last point is certainly reached when I find myself tilting my head to the side while watching a movie.

Still, I found these to be minor problems that The Dead Outside more than made up for. I am an easy mark for the film’s charms, seeing how much I despise exposition and clarity in movies, and how much I like the ambiguous and the slow, but even people who aren’t me could be able to find something quite irresistible in the film’s rhythm, in the way it feels like it was made by someone with very personal ideas of what could be interesting about a viral apocalypse.

For more bizarre movie goodness, be sure
to visit Denis’ excellent review blog The Horror!?

Winterbeast

rating:
company:
Mercury International Pictures
and Winterbeast Entertainment Group
year: 1991
runtime: 76′
country: United States
director: Christopher Thies
cast: Tim R. Morgan, Mike Magri,
Charles Majka, Bob Harlow,
Lissa Breer, Dori May Kelly
writers: Christopher Thies,
Joseph Calabrese and Mark Frizzell
cinematographers: Bob Goodness
and Craig B. Mathieson
music: Michael Perilstein
order this film from Amazon.com

There are bad movies, and there are worse movies.  Then there is Winterbeast, which occupies an especially awful niche all its own.  Begun with the best of independent exploitation intentions by friends Mark Frizzell and Christopher Thies, Winterbeast‘s production collapsed before the film could be completed, leaving Frizzell to piece together what footage there was as best as could be done.  The complete uncompleted project was released to VHS in 1991 to near universal derision and forgotten . . . for a while, at least.  Stupid DVD revolution . . .

Winterbeast has a slight problem with narrative continuity.  Namely, there is none.  The best I can piece together is that an old mountain is an ancient gateway to Hell, and that a crazy lodge manager who looks and sounds like an older version of this guy is feeding his guests to totem pole monsters so that said gateway will spit out a big powerful demon . . . or something.  Combating the fiendish plot of the lodge owner (only a nutty Satanist would dare wear a plaid flannel shirt with a suit jacket and tie) are a group of under-introduced and mentally deficient forest rangers led by a guy with a perpetually changing mustache.

Now the gateway to hell / demon summoning storyline would have been easy enough to follow if said storyline hadn’t spontaneously combust (along with the surprisingly flammable lodge owner) an hour into the picture.  From that point on its an endless procession of monster attacks, at least one of which is pretty cool, and unconnected dialogue.  “Oh shit – I knew I shouldn’t have let them go up there!” says one man after looking at a white piece of paper.  Who is he talking about? Why is he worried?  What was on that piece of paper?  I don’t know.  Such are the mysteries of Winterbeast.


The ending comes rather unexpectedly.  The wintery demon appears and slow-mo chases changing-mustache guy and his pal, who is carrying around some disembodied head idol thing.  Changing-mustache guy grabs a Very pistol (and unlimited ammunition, apparently) and runs around shooting (badly) at the winterbeast with it.  After a few minutes of that he randomly takes aim at the disembodied head idol thing his buddy is carrying and destroys it, causing the winterbeast, who has just sprouted an Alien-style toothy protuberance, to smolder and die.  Changing-mustache guy and his pal laugh and wander off – the end?

There’s a lot of weirdness on display in Winterbeast, like gross misuse of plaid flannel clothing of all colors and a creepy stuffed deer head that shows up in multiple locations and always seems to be staring at the audience.  Maybe it knows something we don’t.  Perhaps it read the script.  There are lots of monsters, though their purpose is as questionable as the rest of the picture.  The attacks all progress in the same fashion, more or less: A random stop-motion armature appears and roars while a few reaction shots from the human cast are cut in.   Then the monster picks up a playdough stand-in for a person, does something horrible to it, and disappears, never to be seen again.  Some of the stop motion creations are kind of neat, notably a thorny dragon thing that munches down on a cardboard stand-in for one of the actors, but their appearances are mercilessly brief.  The winterbeast itself is a man-in-suit creation that looks intimidating enough, but it doesn’t really do anything except wander around and eventually die.

The human action is as weird and inexplicable as the monster stuff.  Changing-mustache guy and thorny-dragon victim spend the first 11 minutes of the picture looking at porno mags, followed directly by a monster attack featuring the film’s only other gratuitous nudity.  Pretty much everything concerning the constantly screaming lodge owner is bizarre, though his pre-combustion song-and-dance number takes the cake.  Just before confronting the heroes and setting himself ablaze he puts on an old recording of the What Can the Matter Be nursery rhyme, lip-syncs to it for a few lines, then puts on a creepy plastic mask and starts dancing around in a room full of previously unseen dead bodies.  Then there’s the scene in which changing-mustache man and his pal look through a box of old native relics, ignoring a big fake penis that’s sitting atop everything else.


Weirdness aside, the majority of Winterbeast is comprised of useless and painfully static stretches of tempo-free dialogue.  There are some real zingers in the mix, like the lodge owner screaming, “There aren’t any demons in this town except assholes who try to create them!” or changing-mustache guy’s redundant, “I’ve seen this before.  I’ve seen it in a dream.  It was just like this!  I saw it in a dream.  It was just like this!” but most of it is dreadfully bland stuff.  I shudder to think of how much more of it I’d have had to sit through had the film ever been finished . . .

Unbearable as the film can frequently be, the DVD of it released by its creators under the Winterbeast Entertainment Group label is pretty sweet.  The film is here in an okay video transfer that presents with some encoding issues (blocking and the like) from time to time, but is plenty good enough for the title in question.  What makes the package worthwhile are the supplements, which are far easier to recommend than Winterbeast itself.  A 20 minute “Making Of” with the producer and director offers up plenty of production info as well as frequent jabs at the quality of the (un)finished product, more of which is to be had in the commentary track that accompanies the film.  A brief audio piece with composer Michael Perilstein turns into a hilarious ad for an upcoming CD release of the film’s score, while an extra titled “Soap Opera” offers a short, alternate cut of the film constructed from unused footage shot on video by a briefly hired television crew.  It’s good stuff all around, and more consistently entertaining than the film it accompanies.

I suppose the lesson of Winterbeast is not to count your ancient demons before they’ve hatched from a forest ranger’s chest . . . or something.  I’ve seen it three times now and I’m not sure I’ve gained anything from the experience, other than a handful of laughs and an inordinate amount of confusion.  The official Winterbeast site touts the film as “The Ultimate B-Movie”.  I can’t agree with that particular assessment, but its weirdness is hard to deny.  Recommended to those fond of tormenting their family and friends or cinephiles who have seen absolutely everything else the film world has to offer.  Others proceed at their own peril.

order this film from Amazon.com

Blood Orgy of the She Devils

company: Occult See
year: 1972
runtime: 76′
country: USA
director: Ted V. Mikels
cast: Lila Zaborin, Victor Izay,
Tom Pace, Leslie McRae,
William Bagdad
writer: Ted V. Mikels
order this film from Amazon.com

Professional witch Mara (Lila Zaborin) has quite a set-up in her dreamy Californian country palace. Apart from leading a coven of scantily-clad women, a black drummer and her shaggy gift from Satan, Toruke (William Bagdad), in interpretive dance orgies with added human sacrifice, she also works as a medium, helps people experience the deaths of their past incarnations and reads cards. Probably all in the name of finding new female members and male victims for her dance coven, but who really knows what’s going on in her mind (director Ted V. Mikels certainly doesn’t)?

And that’s still not everything the good woman does for a living. Mara also hires her black magical powers out to some shady customers looking for a very special professional killer to get rid of the UN ambassador for Rhodesia. It seems that talking to demons and drowning a photo in a very large cognac glass is all that is needed to make the poor guy croak.

It is a little unfortunate for Mara and Toruke that her clients in crime don’t like the thought of having any living accessories to their crimes and shoot the two (and a random coven member) dead. That’s only a minor set-back for Mara, though. Shortly after being killed, she just turns into a green mist and then into an adorable black cat and revives Toruke (no luck for the poor coven member) by talking to him. It does not take long until her would-be killers get a taste of their own medicine through more entertaining and practical magickal workings.

While all this has been going on, the film has also treated us to the adventures of two very old students, Mark (Tom Pace) and Lorraine (Leslie McRae, or however her name was spelt that week). They are getting quite impressed by the witch, and even the raised eyebrows of their teacher, white magician Dr. Helsford (Victor Izay), can’t keep them away from the witch’s house.


This can only end in a climactic black (dancing) sabbath, an anti-climactic magical duel and the death of a rubber bat.

I had been able to protect myself from the siren song of the films of Ted V. Mikels for quite some time, but – like it happens in the film for Mark and Lorraine – it is now too late to save my soul from Mikels’ (probably diabolical) influence. As is the case with the director’s much more mean-spirited brother in weirdly obsessive and strangely compulsive no-budget film Andy Milligan, followers of mainstream conceptions of palatable filmmaking need not apply when it comes to Mikels’ work; sane people shouldn’t either.

They’d probably be repelled by the absence of narrative logic, the static camera work, the stilted and at times very silly dialogue, and the decidedly non-actorly acting, anyway. It is probably for the better.

Obviously, the less depraved movie fan’s loss is my gain. The acting might be bad, but I found it utterly enjoyable and oh so very enthusiastic. Especially Lila Zaborin as main witch Mara lays it on as thick as her own make-up, which is of course absolutely fitting for someone playing a super witch with the awesome power of incessantly blabbering occult nonsense. When I think about the sort of people active in the guru biz in the real world, I’m not even sure anymore that what Zaborin does here should be called over-acting. After all, cult leaders aren’t usually working their mojo by being subtle.


While it is true that Blood Orgy doesn’t have much internal logic or sensible plot progression (oh, alright, I’ll be honest, the film doesn’t have a plot at all!), there still is a lot of stuff happening on screen. When Mikels isn’t showing us a pop version of a dance-crazy black sabbath as choreographed by Bob Fosse’s acid-loving spiritual twin, he delights us with other occult cheese of the highest quality, with one moment more absurd than the one that came before. The director also shows an excellent hand at filling his film with telling (that is to say, very odd) details, like the Winnetou-like Hollywood-Injun speak Mara’s main spirit guide speaks in with utter disregard of good taste or the poor actors who have to react to her without falling over laughing. These moments of very special early 70s occultism mania are interrupted by “interesting” discussions about witchcraft, all probably taken verbatim from a cheap non-fiction paperback about the subject Mikels bought in a grocery store, and acted out in the puzzled tones of people who haven’t the slightest clue what they are talking about and most assuredly don’t know half of the words they are using.

To make the film even more fantastic, there are also hypnotic regression sequences Mikels cleverly uses to pad his film out to the required running time and add a little bit of the important spice of regular violence to it. Sure, these scenes only derail the plodding narrative further, but how could I complain about a bunch of very white, probably middle-class Californians pretending to be Native Americans and torturing Tom Pace to death?

And as if all this weren’t enough, the movie also features (and I quote) “very special electronic music” composed by Carl Zittrer, the man who is also responsible for the excellent abuse of electronic devices in the films of Bob Clark. His score here consists of random warbling noises of the highest order of random warbliness and is therefore utterly perfect for the film it belongs to.

I suspect that if you have any interest in the products of the late 60s/early 70s obsession with the occult, or have even a little love for cheap-skate weirdo filmmaking (and if not, why are you reading this, unless you’re my mum?), Blood Orgy of the She Devils will be right up your alley. In other words, this damn thing looks like it was made just for me.

For more bizarre movie goodness, be sure
to visit Denis’ excellent review blog The Horror!?

Tony

rating:
companies:
Abbot Vision,
Chump Films and Dan
McCulloch Productions
year: 2009
runtime: 76′
country: United Kingdom
director: Gerard Johnson
cast: Peter Ferdinando, Frank Boyce,
Lorenzo Camporese, Cyrus Desir,
Lucy Flack, Ian Groombridge,
Ricky Grover, Ian Kilgannon
writer: Gerard Johnson
cinematographer: David Haggis
music: Matt Johnson and The The
reviewed from a screener provided
by Revolver Entertainment LLC
order this film from Amazon.com
or visit the official film site

It’s difficult to know quite what to think of Gerard Johnson’s debut feature Tony, a brief and loosely structured drama that follows the day-to-day activities of the fictitious suburban London serial killer.of the title. “I didn’t want to make something with much narrative, I deliberately didn’t want much plot. What I wanted to make was a character study about this guy Tony, a week in the life, nothing much happens, and that’s it,” Johnson said in an interview with Slashfilm.  I suppose Johnson succeeded, though I could have done with more on the “character study” front and less of the “nothing much happens.”

True to the writer / director’s statement, Tony is about Tony (Peter Fernandino, Bodywork) and very little else. Tony is jobless, and lives at the taxpayer’s expense in a small apartment stocked with 80s action movies and the odd dead body or two. He spends his days eating cereal with his rotting teeth, calling sex lines, and carrying plastic shopping bags carefully packed with dismembered human body parts down to the river for disposal. Along the way he meets several threats to his way of life – a disgruntled fat man in a bar, a government worker checking up on TV licenses, an unemployment office employee who promises to cut off Tony’s benefits if he doesn’t find a job.  But as the director has stated, not much really happens.

Johnson’s film presents with a distinctly unpleasant world view, a biproduct of his choice of character perspective.  Tony inhabits a seedy universe of dingy elevators and porno shops, prostitutes, drug lords, and the just plain unlovable.  From a pair of meth addicts to the owner of a tanning parlor to a fat man angry about his failing marriage,the secondary players are unpersonable at best and despicable at worst. All enjoy picking on our poor Tony, assured that he’s as easy a target as his meek appearance and nervous ticks suggest, never suspecting that he’s a closet homicidal maniac. There are only a couple of genuinely amiable person in the lot – a fellow tenant who invites Tony to dinner for his troubles and an elderly man he meets on the street – but their participation in events is minimal.  The lack of any relatable elements or redemptive value in the world of Tony is unfortunate, and likely to limit the film’s appeal.

In line with the “nothing much happens” mindset action in Tony is slim, even with so many dreadful people entering and exiting Tony’s life. The most that happens is the disappearance of a child, the resulting investigation of which Tony is briefly pestered with. The rest of the picture is taken up with Tony wandering the streets, scouting gay bars for potential victims, or sitting at home watching his action films (on VHS only, mind you). There’s no real narrative impetus to things and, as such, no narrative resolution. In the end situations are pretty well unchanged, and Tony is left to freely stalk the streets for a day or a lifetime . . .

The ad art takes advantage of the most horrific potential of the film’s premise, showing Tony standing against a white background with a bloodied hammer at his side. Truth be told, there’s precious little in the way of horror to be had, save a trio of on-screen murders that play with regrettably un-scary everyday sensibility. The throbbing music cues that accompany the killings indicates that they’re supposed to be terrifying, brutal affairs, but the ho-hum handheld photography fails to complete the illusion.  A first-person perspective of a potential victim in Tony’s closet is kept blessedly brief, its incongruous editing leaving it more annoying than frightening.

That’s not to say that Tony doesn’t achieve a level of creepiness at times, courtesy of Peter Fernandino’s nuanced performance. With a hair cut that was never in style and a mustache to match, Tony is certainly memorable, and Fernandino imbues the part with a constant, quiet menace. One notably unsettling early moment has him singing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” through his rotted teeth while watching a child play ball. Fernandino’s performance is reason enough to see Tony, imperfect as the rest of the production is, and may be enough to raise appreciation of the film to a respectable cult status.  It’s certainly the best thing about the film, and the reason I rated it a full three stars.

Tony is due out on DVD from Revolver Entertainment on the 6th of April. I can’t comment on that release specifically as the screener I received was film-only. The list of supplements looks encouraging, and includes a director’s commentary from Gerard Johnson and a pair of his short films, and the going price ($19.98 or less) sounds right for a new release.  Fans are certainly encouraged to indulge.

It’s unfortunate that Tony never really goes anywhere, particularly with such a strong lead performance to help it along. Director Johnson has said that he approached the film with a mindset towards social realism, the result of which is a thriller with very little in the way of thrills. A few moments with thrilling potential play out with the same indifference as the rest of the minimalist drama, lending the picture a surprisingly dull edge. Bleak humor creeps in to spice things up occasionally, but it’s too little to noticeably change the tone of the picture. Too bland to be thrilling and too sparse to be funny, Tony is ultimately a confused genre picture that, like its protagonist, just doesn’t seem to fit in.

The Oracle

company: Reeltime Corporation
year: 1985
runtime: 94′
country: USA
director: Roberta Findlay
cast: Caroline Capers Powers,
Roger Neil, Pam La Testa,
Victoria Dryden, Chris Maria De Koron
writer: R. Allen Leider
cinematography: Roberta Findlay

Poor Jennifer (Caroline Capers Powers)! It’s not enough that she has to be married to super-moustached jerk Ray (Roger Neil), no, she also has to find a planchette that belonged to the old woman who lived in Jennifer’s and Ray’s new apartment before them, accidentally awakening her own mediumistic powers with it.

At first, it’s all fun and games and a ghost (or is it a demon?) scrawling “help me” on a piece of paper during a Christmas party, but all too soon our bedraggled heroine has nightmares and visions of the most disturbing kind. The ghost seems to have become quite obsessed with her and is enthusiastically trying his hand as an interior decorator (preferred style: destruction and Bava-green lighting). Ray, like every husband or boyfriend in every Findlay film, isn’t getting less jerky, either, and aggressively berates Jennifer, like you do with the woman you love when you fear she is losing her mind.

After some time, the ghost makes itself a little clearer. It looks as if he belongs to a certain Mr. Graham and is in dire need of Jen’s help in taking revenge on the people who murdered him. Ghostly Graham manages to send Jen a dream in which she can see the faces of his murderers quite well. Not surprisingly, attempts at informing Graham’s wife (Victoria Dryden) of the truth about her husband’s supposed suicide only bring the young woman’s own life in danger. Evil Lesbian hobby & professional killer Farkas (Pam La Testa; somewhere between the worst evil Lesbian clichés and utter perfection) ain’t someone to mess with.

And these are still not enough problems for Jennifer. Additionally, the ghost is growing a bit too protective of her and kills everyone trying to get between him and Jennifer in ridiculous and gory ways. I won’t blame anyone – ghost or not – for killing off Ray, though. Jennifer will certainly be better off without that guy.


Roberta Findlay, you’re my hero! The Oracle is the first film the great lady made in the final (horror) phase of her career, after she left the world of pornography – although not the porno facial hair – behind for something only slightly more reputable, and it is glorious.

There is only a small amount of Findlay’s patented semi-documentary shots of the scummier parts of New York – which would go on to take more and more room in her horror films - on display here. The Oracle places a much greater emphasis on rubber monsters, rubbery gore and Farkas and her artificially deepened voice (don’t ask why – it’s a Findlay film), yet I can’t rightly complain about the relative absence of dirty streets when the film shows us this stuff instead.

Findlay did learn the fine art of cheap but effective photography when she was working as (not always billed) camera operator/director of photography on the sexploitation films she made with her then-husband Michael (whom I suspect to be the source for the jerky husbands and boyfriends in her horror movies) in the 60s, so her films are usually much nicer to look at than their budget would suggest. (Although I have seen her films called “amateurishly photographed” in more than one review; obviously, there’s no accounting for taste).

What might be a problem to some viewers is the utter inability of anyone on screen to “act” in the more conventional sense of the word. Fortunately, there’s more important things to acting in cheap little numbers like this one, and most everyone on screen has that special something to endear her or him to me for evermore. The men have their porno moustaches, Farkas a silly potty-mouth and the charming butchness of terror, and Caroline Capers Powers is intensely good at going into full body hysterics like it is seldom displayed outside of Italian genre cinema.


Powers performance in the last thirty minutes alone would be more than enough to recommend The Oracle, yet there’s still more and more to love about it. How about lots and lots of multi-coloured goo? Bonus moustaches? A plot that starts out slow and boring yet gets as hysterical and jumpy as the main actress? A sex scene that is nearly as wooden and disturbing as the one in Don Dohler’sNightbeast? More (hysterical) running around than in a whole season of Rupert Davies-penned Doctor Who? Random classy-looking shots and moody lighting between the moments of shoddy insanity and bad effects? Some wonderful moments of serenity in a exceedingly badly secured New Yorker mental institution? A soundtrack that was composed by a monkey randomly pushing buttons and keys on a synthesizer? And best of all, a scene in which Ray’s head is ripped off by the hands of an angry ghost? The Oracle truly has it all, possibly even more.

I know that I’m usually putting a certain emphasis on the importance of filmmakers caring about the films they make, or at least not hating their audience with a burning passion. Roberta Findlay however is one of the great exceptions to this rule. The woman utterly loathed the horror genre and everything it stands for, and didn’t have especially warm feelings for the genre’s fans either, yet she still managed to make a handful of lovely films in it. I think her horror films are the products of someone trying to make films for the least respectable and least intelligent audience she could imagine, and just throwing everything that could possibly be of interest to that audience on screen (much like a monkey does with poo), in the hope that some of it would stick, even if none of it made any sense whatsoever.

It is this hateful and ignorant attitude to its own audience – and possibly filmmaking itself – that makes The Oracle such a fascinating experience for me. This movie is what happens when someone just doesn’t give a shit about what she is doing one way or the other, yet is still too talented not to produce something interesting. And this, dear readers, is what I call “movie magic”.

For more bizarre movie goodness, be sure
to visit Denis’ excellent review blog The Horror!?

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
order this disc from Amazon.com

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!

order this disc from Amazon.com

Creating Rem Lezar

company: Rem Lezar Corporation
and Valley Studios
year: 1989
runtime: 48′
country: United States
director: Scott Zakarin
cast: Jack Mulcahy, Courtney Kernaghan,
Jonathan Goch, Kathleen Gati,
Scott Zakarin, Stuart H. Bruck
cinematography: Richard E. Brooks
music: Mark Mule
order this film from Amazon.com
(VHS is OOP, only available used.
No DVD is currently available)

Plot: Two lazy and under-achieving children create an imaginary super-friend named Rem Lezar out of mannequin parts and go on a quest to find the magical Quixotic Medallion.

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I generally try not to curse unnecessarily in my reviews here (regardless of the acronym from which this site takes its name), but certain situations call for it.  In fact, some seem to crawl on their hands and knees to my review chair and positively beg for it.  This is certainly one of those moments.  So pardon my language, but what is this shit?  It’s like the worst conceivable elements of the late eighties, sans step aerobics and puffy neon headbands, snuck onto a T-60 video cassette tape and died.  I feel a little like an unfortunate archaeologist who’s stumbled upon a sad bit of history that, honestly, would have been better left buried.

Such is the pain of Creating Rem Lezar, which is probably the single worst independently produced straight-to-video musical superhero film for children ever devised by man.  Probably.  If it isn’t then please spare me the details, as I really don’t want to know.

The affair seems to be the boozy brain child of one Scott Zakarin, who is credited as writer, director, producer, editor, and choreographer. He also plays the villain of the piece, a giant floating shape-shifting disembodied head named Vorock who has hidden away the all important Quixotic Medallion somewhere very high.  Hunting for said medallion are the lazy and annoying co-ed pair Ashlee and Zack and their newly manufactured dream-time playmate Rem Lezar (Jack Mulcahy), a creepy meat-head in a blue suit and a cape with gold sneakers and an aggravating preponderance for impromptu song and dance.  The children and their unnerving companion (I’m sure Sid Davis must have warned about him somewhere . . .) must find the Quixotic Medallion, lest Rem fade into oblivion come sunset and Vorock become the ruler of dream time.

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The trio’s journey takes them everywhere from downtown Manhatten to the nearby woods and . . . well, I guess that’s about it.  The quest for the Quixotic Medallion is pretty brief, though agonizingly prolonged by a jaw-dropping multi-style hip-hop / doo-wop / classical song and dance number, and I doubt I’m ruining anyone’s lunch in revealing that it’s never found.  Instead the children convince Vorock that they want to be his friend, so he does what any sane person would if approached in friendship by these two children – he leaves.

Rem Lezar disappears and the children awake to discover that, surprise surprise, it was all a dream.  A policeman (also Mulcahy) finds them in a shed with their rather frightening Rem Lezar doll and takes them home, where both (previously lambasted for their constant daydreaming in school) promise to become productive little members of society.  Did I mention that each is suddenly graced with a gigantic cardboard Quixotic Medallion necklace?  Trust me when I say it doesn’t matter.

Short as it may be (I can’t imagine this at feature length), Creating Rem Lezar makes for a pretty greuling viewing experience.  If the public access production values (including magical floating clip art) and frequent unbearable musical numbers aren’t enough to keep you away then there’s always the uncomfortable edge that a full grown man serenading two elementary school kids about their fantasies provides.  This is just terrible, boring, moderately creepy crap – and it’s currently selling for $43 used at Amazon.com!  It’s also up in pieces on Youtube.  I’ll give you half a guess as to which option this reviewer settled for.

Those hoping for something fun and family friendly should really look elsewhere, as Creating Rem Lezar is less a diamond in the rough than a huge dog turd on your freshly mowed lawn.  It’s not a pleasant experience to say the least.  Keep your distance.

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