Island of the Living Dead

Year: 2006  Runtime: 94′  Director: Bruno Mattei
Writer: Antonio Tentori   Cinematography: Luigi Ciccarese   Music: Bruno Mattei, Daniele Campelli
Cast: Yvette Yzon, Gaetano Russo, Ydalia Suarez, Jim Gaines, Alvin Anson

After accidentally depositing the treasure they were trying to take from the bottom of the sea deeper on it, a hapless yet heavily armed gang of treasure hunters lead by a certain Captain Kirk (Gaetano Russo) gets into even more trouble. While piloting their ship through a thick fog, our heroes (cough) collide with rocks where there shouldn’t be any, and will have to do a few repairs before they can get anywhere else again.

Fortunately there’s an uncharted island nearby where the crew will try to scavenge provisions and do a bit of treasure hunting while one lone idiot stays behind to do the repairs. Little do they expect that the island has been populated by the undead for a long time now. Soon enough, our heroes by default find themselves under attack. Oh, and the treasure hunters’ boat explodes when repair guy pushes its self destruct button once he is attacked and surrounded by zombies.

At first, our now well and truly stranded heroes have only minor problems surviving the attentions of the zombies who may have been running around since the 17th century but still look pretty good for their age. Later on, scriptwriter Antonio Tentori decides that normal zombies are boring, and so the undead start getting pretty darn talkative, trying to drive the characters to kill each other by playing dumb mind games. Or something. From your standard zombies we then go to skeleton monks, hallucinations, a curse, and what might be vampires, too. How will designated final girl Sharon (Yvette Yzon) survive?

After a pause of half a decade, Italian movie god Bruno Mattei resumed his work of blowing minds and keeping under budget with the beginning of the 21st century, shooting as many movies until his death in 2007 as the direct to DVD market would allow. Even though late period Mattei isn’t quite as mind-blowingly crazy as he was when he was still working with Claudio Fragasso, Island of the Living Dead (shot in the Philippines like in the good old times of AIP) has much to recommend it, at least to an audience consciously seeking out Bruno Mattei films; in short, people like me.

Instead of ripping off plot, structure and dialogue of his movie wholesale from a single, artistically slightly more successful source – that technique will have to wait for the sequel – this ripe effort sees Mattei stealing bits and pieces from other movies in a way that could be construed as homages by an alien unsure of how homages work. Apart from a translation of the early graveyard scene from Night of the Living Dead into scenery-chewerish and dumb, there are scenes and set-ups lifted from Zombi and really everything else with a zombie in it, as well as the Demoni movies. John Carpenter’s The Fog is the source for the backstory to the whole undead invasion, with the little difference that Carpenter’s curse makes a certain degree of sense where Mattei’s doesn’t. Instead of making sense, Island‘s curse produces a tinted sea-to-land battle that I suspect to be stolen from a much older feature.

  
  
  

In his many years of experience as a director of crap, Mattei has mastered some impressive techniques. I especially admire the anti-dynamic editing that seems to be designed to create a structure for the film that consciously destroys tension. Zombie attacks are intercut with hot Latin reading action, and scenes of “characterisation” are broken up by shots of zombies crawling around somewhere else for no good reason whatsoever, as if the whole affair had been directed by a highly distractible child.

The film’s action scenes are nearly as great as the editing, seeing as they are clearly staged to suggest that most of the characters have the ability to teleport (which fits in nicely with the film’s utterly random day and night cycle that suggests that the whole film takes place over either one day or five, possibly just four – it’s difficult to say when day and night are this random). Alas, the characters are always teleporting towards the zombies instead of away from them, but usually only get killed once they’ve decided to sacrifice themselves for their friends in situations that don’t afford this kind of suicide at all. But hey, somehow the ridiculous action movie one-liners need to get on screen, right? (It CAN be done). It’s pretty awesome, really.

Equally awesome and/or awe-inspiring is the collective inability of the cast to emote even in the slightest like normal humans beings do. Dialogue is mangled as if the speakers were trying to fight off a man in a gorilla suit, and scenery is not chewed, but head-butted until it stops moving. I especially approve of the effort of Ydalia Suarez who plays Victoria. Never has she met a line she does not want to shout in an overenthusiastic fashion. Look Ma, she’s in a real movie now!

As if all this wasn’t enough to kill the few brain cells that survived my encounters with other Mattei films,Island is filled to the brim with compellingly idiotic details. Early on, there’s a random martial arts versus zombie scene that doesn’t end well for the martial artist because he decides to sacrifice himself for no good reason while kicking one single zombie in the crotch. This is followed by scenes featuring zombie conquistadors wearing plastic conquistador helmets as probably found by the production team in a souvenir shop, zombies that take naps and growl into the camera, characters willing to drink wine from an open cup that must have been standing around openly for a few centuries, that boat self-destruct button, an eye patch-wearing head rotating inside of a treasure chest, really religious undead skeleton monks, the all-important Lovecraft shout-outs, a zombie flamenco dancer, and music that often sounds as if somebody were just playing musical cues from other films (even Star Wars for a few seconds) on a cheap synthesizer, which is exactly what’s happening.

Island of the Living Dead truly is everything one could hope for in a movie directed by Bruno Mattei: it’s dumb, it’s inept, it’s utterly shameless, it makes no sense at all – it’s like a bad photocopy of a crassly commercial movie that is just too stupid to actually know how commercial movies work and nearly becomes experimental filmmaking through sheer wrong-headedness. In any case, Mattei’s film is entertaining in a crazy way Italian movies have seldom been in the last decades. It might be great for all the wrong reasons, but as Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham say: if loving a Mattei movie is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

The Horror!? is a weekly cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, an aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.

Sledgehammer

Year: 1983   Company: I & I Productions   Runtime: 84′
Director: David A. Prior   Writers: David A. Prior   Videography: Salim Kimaz
Music: Philip G. Slate   Cast: Ted Prior, Linda McGill, John Eastman, Janine Scheer, Tim Aguilar, Sandy Brooke
Disc company: Intervision Pictures Corp.   Video: 480i / 4:3    Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: DVD9   Release Date: 05/10/2011   Reviewed from a screener provided by Intervision Pictures Corp.  Available for preorder at Amazon.com.

Well that was unexpected.  Intervision didn’t do much to impress this reviewer with their initial DVD releases, a double helping of Jess Franco snoozers whose covers offered more in the way of genuine entertainment value than the films themselves, but this is more like it.  Sledgehammer isn’t so much an artifact from another time as from another universe – an ugly and unintelligible mess of cheap thrills and cheaper drama from the early days of the straight to video shot-on-tape explosion.  I dig it.

Writer / director David A. Prior, who would go on to direct a good deal more (like 1987′s inimitable Aerobicide), modeled Sledgehammer after the popular and profitable Friday the 13th franchise, and it shows.  The meager story concerns a group of purported young people who head out for a weekend of drunken fun in a rural location with an ominous history and are subsequently dispatched by a supernatural masked maniac armed with the eponymous sledgehammer.  In its basics Sledgehammer is strictly a by-the-books slasher, but its oddball trappings keep it from being so easily quantifiable as that.

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Mega Piranha

rating:
company:
The Asylum
year: 2010
runtime: 90′
country: United States
director: Eric Forsberg
cast: Tiffany, Paul Logan,
Barry Williams, David Labiosa,
Jude Gerard Priest, Jesse Daly
writer: Eric Forsberg
cinematographer: Bryan Olinger
music: Chris Rhidenhour
and Tiffany (song, “Frozen Skies”)
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Writer / director Eric Forsberg gets his just deserves.

It should come as no surprise to learn that I have little respect for The Asylum or their endless line-up of ‘mockbuster’ releases.  Their partnership with the recently rechristened Syfy Channel has turned their relentless onslaught of thanklessly derivative trend-leeching SOV films into something of a cultural phenomena, regardless of how backwards their production ethic may be.  I’ve endured more than my fair share of their syndicated catalog on lazy Saturday afternoons, most of which have left me feeling as though I were suffering a slow death from boredom and carbon monoxide poisoning.  Needless to say, I don’t look forward to new The Asylum releases.  Ever.

Apparently even The Asylum still has a few surprises left up its sleeve.  It is with no small amount of humiliation that I must confess that I was not only entertained by, but genuinely enjoyed their latest ode to the creature features of old, the unimaginatively titled Mega Piranha (coming after the likes of of Mega Snake, Megafault and Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus), which had its television premiere this past Saturday and is slated for DVD release on the 27th.

Mega Piranha is coolly calculated to tug at the heartstrings of bad movie aficionados far and wide.  Not only do we get a bona fide creature feature starring ludicrously massive every day animals brought to life through a blend of generally dreadful CGI and far dreadful-er rubber props, but a twitchy Bruckheimer / Bay over-production aesthetic and a cast headlined with name talent of yesteryear.  Everyone should have a chuckle at the inclusion of Barry Williams, better known as Greg Brady of the famous Bunch, but the real draw is undoubtedly Tiffany, the second ’80s teen-pop icon turned Playboy centerfold to star in a The Asylum effort about giant fish in the past year (Debbie Gibson beat her to that dubious honor with 2009′s unforgivable Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus).  If that’s not reason enough to give Mega Piranha a chance, I don’t know what is.

The story, such as there is one, brings together the small staff of a secret United Nations research lab (run by Doctor Tiffany), Special Ops man Jason Fitch (Paul Logan, of Curse of the Komodo, Komodo vs. Cobra and Megafault fame), and a nutso Venuzuelan general by the name of Diaz (David Labiosa) in an effort to stop an “especially bloodthirsty, grotesquely large strain” of genetically-engineered piranha before they nibble their way to the Florida coast.  Doctor Tiffany and her two dopey scientist cohorts do silly science stuff (rushing headlong into danger to take water samples of questionable importance) while Fitch does bad-ass Special Ops moves (knife fight!) against hordes of CGI fish.  Diaz is on board as the requisite baddy, destined for a gruesome and potentially ironic fate from the start, and Barry Williams’s Secretary Grady stays out of the way, watching everything unfold from what is frequently identified as a ‘super bunker’.

The human cast is as patently unimportant as one should expect for something named Mega Piranha. Writer / director Eric Forsberg (writer, Snakes on a Train) keeps the drama more interesting than it need have been while frequently riffing on blockbuster actioners like Bad Boys.  Aiding things considerably is swift pacing, something far too many of these SOV crap-fests are lacking.  The cast is forever running from one ludicrous monster encounter to another, which is precisely how these things should be.  The human element is never going to make an un-movie like Mega Piranha and there are more than enough dramatic flubs to go around here, but its entertaining enough all in all to keep it from hampering the picture while the fish are off screen.  That’s more than I can say for any of the other SyFy slot filler I’ve seen lately.

The real stars of the show are the piranha, an absurdly formidable bunch that doubles in size every 36 hours.  What begins as homage to Joe Dante’s inimitable horror / comedy Piranha (a 3D remake of which is due out later this year), with skinny dippers and river pedestrians torn bloodily asunder, quickly bee-lines into Bert I. Gordon territory.  Technology may have come a long way since Bert’s day, but the sight of the CGI piranha leaping into pre-filmed cityscapes is no more effective than his traveling matte grasshoppers.  With Mega Piranha the effects are definitely of the quantity over quality variety, which suits me just fine.

Where Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus falters Mega Piranha delivers, with enough scenes of fishy destruction to keep even a curmudgeonly reviewer like me entertained.  Repetition of shots is thankfully minimal, and variety is the order of the day.  Small fish tackle swimmers and the occasional wayward soldier while their larger brethren down helicopters, sink Destroyers, and take suicidal nosedives into ocean front property.  The visual effects crew was obviously having fun here and some of their work is surprisingly decent, though most is of the traditionally abysmal quality that The Asylum fans are hankering for.  Where else are you ever going to see a Very pistol decapitation followed directly by a house-sized fish eating a helicopter?

So there you have it – I enjoyed a The Asylum flick.  Congrats to the company for that, as well as for the certifiably awesome artwork they comissioned for the picture.  I can’t see myself paying retail for the DVD (why pay when you can see it on TV every other month or more?), but I’d love a print of that poster to display.  Those familiar with The Asylum or Syfy originals in general will know exactly what to expect from Mega Piranha, but I suspect this one might be just decent enough to have wider appeal.  Pain me as typing the next four words does, I say see it.

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666 Beware the End is at Hand

It’s exciting new feature time here at Wtf-Film and I’m proud to announce the start of what I hope to be a weekly feature of this site: the Psychotronic Picture Show. This feature will be reserved for only the most exceptionally strange efforts that cross my proverbial doorstep, particularly efforts about which I’m at a loss to write in any traditional sense. First up is an appropriately bizarre Nollywood epic of the end times, the first of four (count ‘em!) video films that collectively constitute the greatest apocalyptic evangelical Christian series in the history of Nigerian cinema!

Christianity is a relatively new development in Nigerian history, the evangelical type even more so, and if recent studies are any indication the Good Word is spreading like wildfire. Faith of a fundamentalist variety has proven popular enough to spawn a successful sub-genre in Nollywood’s explosive video film industry (whose output is estimated to be as high as 200 films per month by some sources), a sub-genre that, in 2007, took the inevitable leap into full-on Left Behind end-of-the-world territory.

666 Beware the End is at Hand is the brainchild of pastor-turned-producer Kenneth Okonkwo (not to be confused with Nollywood acting icon Kenneth Okonkwo, who is as famous for his extra-marital promiscuity as he is for his acting chops), whose Global Updates Pictures company is behind such other faith dramas as Covenant Keeping God and Persecution. Okonkwo was obviously quite taken with his work, his likeness graces the entirety of the lengthy end credits scrawl, but who can blame him. If I were responsible for anything as bat-shit-crazy as 666 Beware the End is at Hand I’d be plastering my name and likeness all over it as well.

666 begins in Hell, or at least a grade-school quality plywood-and-blue-screen representation of such, where Lucifer (Emeka Ani), seated comfortably in his throne, sceptre in hand, chortles about his ownership of the Earth to his gallery of she-demons. It seems the time has come for the gates of Hell to open, and for an unsuspecting mankind to feel the wrath of their one true ruler. If that’s not a sign of good-times to come, I don’t know what is!

From Hell 666 spirals into a series of unfortunate events that have seemingly little to do with Lucifer or his minions, a taste of just how Godless and heathenistic modern Nigerian life has become. Apparently pregnant women can’t hitch rides with total strangers without having to worry about being mugged by gangs of murderous abortion-crazed psychopaths (!!), and landlords can’t evict unruly tenants for fear of foot-cursing death-dealing retribution.


Meanwhile, Lucifer’s earthbound demonic support team is busy, forcing prostitutes to lick their festering leg wounds (!!) in a disgusting Catch-22 to condemn their souls to eternal hell fire.

Not to be fooled is Pastor Lazarus (Fred Ariko), who has seen the signs and is fully aware of the lateness of the hour. With the souls of all un-converted mankind at stake, Pastor Lazarus goes on a one-man crusade to gather the faithful and shepherd any wayward sheep into God’s . . . farm? At any rate there is lots of preaching . . . preaching in the streets . . . preaching in the bars . . . preaching everywhere.

Lucifer is naturally displeased with the efforts of Pastor Lazarus, whom he watches on his magical stretchy pink television screen, and sends his chief minion Ken (Clems Ohameze) to the surface to set things right. Before you can say The Omen, Ken is running about in patricidal child form and causing all manner of devilish mischief.


Fitting in . . . well, not quite anywhere . . . is some super-hot Nollywood-style full-clothed demon-facilitated homosexual action, which involves lots of rolling around, groaning, and pained facial expressions.

Events come to a head rather unexpectedly, as Pastor Lazurus wanders across kiddy-Ken while overseeing a crusade. What ensues is an epic battle of good and evil, full of all the gripping suspense and fantastical imagery that a static camera angle and off-the-shelf video editing software can provide. Pastor Lazarus is triumphant, and evil put at bay . . . for now . . .


If it seems like plot is pretty slim in 666 Beware the End is at Hand, that’s because it is. Not that it matters, of course. What does matter is that 666 (and its three sequels, to be covered here later) is unencumbered mind-bending backyard-budgeted fundamentalist Christian silliness from start to finish. It may be diametrically opposed to the majority of my personal opinions, outright homophobic at times and with an utterly unforgiving stance on human morality, but for pure and unadulterated craziness it’s tough to beat.  Far more fun than I was expecting from the land of 419 advance fee email scams, and recommended!

666 Beware the End is at Hand is a production of Global Update Pictures, Ltd., and is not available on home video in the United States at this time.

Ganjasaurus Rex

rating:
companies:
Prehistoric Productions
and Reel People Media
year: 1987
runtime: 88′
country: United States
director: Ursi Reynolds
cast: Paul Bassis, Dave Fresh,
Rosie Jones, Howard Phun,
Rich Abernathy, John Ivar,
Andy Barnett, Alex,
Stephen Brown, Diana Hahn
writers: Paul Bassis, Dan Gilweit,
Rosie Jones, Rick Cooper, Al Ceraulo,
Andy Barnett, Alex, Stephen Brown,
Jon Akselsen and Diana Hahn
videographer: Russel Dobson
music: Step One Studios, David Penalosa,
Rob Sadler, Andy Barnett, Mark John,
Rod Deal, Larry “Lazer” Murphy, Tree Spirit,
Tyce, Mike, Sean, Rich, Dan and Paul Bassis
special effects: marty Smitty
order the OOP Rhino Video
release from Amazon.com


Plot: A prehistoric monster terrorizes the California coast and the marijuana growers there, who have developed a new strain of cannabis the grows to be as large as a redwood tree.

Aside from an extensive selection of Sandy Frank-imported Japanese science fiction features and an Ed Wood Jr. skin flick, Rhino Video’s 1988 release of Ganjasaurus Rex is the only other VHS I clearly remember dwelling on Blockbuster’s paltry “Other” shelf.  Even to my young eyes it looked just too . . . well . . . bad . . . to be worth bothering with, so I never did.  Not, at least, until now.

The story, such as there is one, follows a handful of pot farmers looking to make it big with a new sequoia-sized strain of cannabis and the subsequent (farcical) attempts by the DEA to suppress their efforts.  Intruding upon things is the gargantuan Tyrannosaurus Herbivorous Ganjasaurus Rex, a misunderstood beast from the sea who seeks only to munch peacefully on the towering marijuana plants that dominated its prehistoric environment.  Compulsory scenes of monster mayhem ensue, with Ganjasaurus Rex sending the local California populace fleeing and the DEA rushing to an expert on the beast (one Professor Sprog) for help.

The box art for this one pretty much sums it up – cheap is the operative word.  Low-fi and low-tech, the project seems to be the confused brainchild of a few stoner musicians looking to sound off against the Reagan-era War on Drugs in the doofiest way possible, by having a pissed-off prehistoric monster rise up in reaction to Federal drug raids.  Some archival footage from a 1985 raid on a California pot grower is even used to beef up the creature’s first appearance.  The dinosaur menace (implicitly linked with Godzilla, which makes for a copyright joke at the end of things) is primarily accomplished through stop motion, at least in the argumentative sense of the term.  Mostly it looks like what it is: either a toy being jerked around in front of a blue screen or a larger head mock-up with a light bulb inside of it.  Impressive it certainly isn’t, though it is amusing from time to time.


Surprisingly enough, the writing here (credited to no fewer than ten people, including much of the cast) isn’t all that bad, and some is even funny as intended.  It’s obvious where the sympathies of the creators lie.  The DEA, local law enforcement, and anti-pot community activists (operating under the banner of “Operation C.A.M.P” . . . har har har) are presented as little more than buffoons, their dialogue full of Freudian slips (confusing “propaganda” and “press packets”, for instance).  The good-guys are peaceful and well-intentioned hippies with names like Cloud and Moss, who spend their days watching T.V., eating lentils, and being generally unproductive members of society.  The scientists are goofy, especially Professor Sprog, though we know they’re good too – they drink all-natural carrot juice while their DEA agent guest opts for Folger’s Crystals and Sweet ‘n Low.

There is some seriousness afoot when DEA agents descend on Moss and his girlfriend’s pad, confiscating their gargantuan potted pets (named Zelda and Wilma) at gunpoint.  Any comment on the use of extreme force is quickly lost in the farce, with the DEA agents, their supporters, and a gaggle of press representatives finding themselves quite taken with the smoking remnants of Moss’ pet trees.  The display also attracts one Ganjasaurus Rex, who goes on a brief rampage behind still photos of local buildings before settling down and taking a few tokes off the still smoldering pot-pyre.

Performances are expectedly mixed but, as was the case with the writing, not as bad as one might anticipate.  Much of the on-screen talent were local musicians, and at least they have something in the way of personality on their side.  The less said about the more technical aspects of the production the better.  The videography is mostly flat and static, and the live audio recording is ample for understanding dialogue but not much else.  One big positive is the music, which is quite good throughout.  I’d frankly be more interested in owning a copy of the soundtrack than the film itself.

I can’t bring myself to be too hard on this one, though I honestly don’t have that much to say about it either.  For a no-budget shot-on-video monster comedy it could certainly have been worse, even if some of it did leave me feeling rather sleepy-eyed.  Long OOP, Ganjasaurus Rex currently goes for anywhere between $50 and $1000 at online retailers, which seems excessive at both ends.  If you can find it cheap it may well be worth a watch, though those who skip on it certainly aren’t missing out on much.  Does ambivalence count as a recommendation?


order the OOP Rhino Video
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Colin

postercompany: Nowhere Fast Productions
year: 2008
runtime: 97′
country: United Kingdom
director: Marc Price
cast: Alastair Kirton, Daisy Aitkens,
Kate Alderman, Tat Whalley,
Leanne Pammen

It is the zombie apocalypse again (and again). Clutching a bloody hammer in one hand, a young Briton named Colin (Alastair Kirton) stumbles into a house in the suburbs. We never quite learn if it is his home or the home of a friend, but this is not going to matter in the long run.

Colin is hurt and seems to be at the end of his strength, therefore letting his guard down enough to get ambushed and bitten by the building’s sole, undead inhabitant. He manages to kill the zombie, but soon succumbs to his wounds.

Hours or days later, Colin wakes up as one of the shambling masses himself. From here on out, we follow him closely for a dead man’s perspective of the end of the world. We watch as he eats his first victim, as he looks at a traffic sign and reacts to music like he is trying to remember something, but doesn’t even understand the concept of memory anymore.

He meets and bites his sister Linda (Daisy Aitkens), takes part in a bloody mass attack on a student dorm and falls directly into the cellar of someone whose dreams of dead and blind women seem to have come true via the apocalypse.

Later, Linda and her boyfriend (Tat Whalley) catch Colin in the desperate hope to reawaken his personality. Perhaps showing him his mother (Kerry Owen) will work?

After this hasn’t worked out quite as catastrophically as one could suspect, Colin shambles into the crosshair of more organized survivors in form of a killing squad.

Just when I had given up hope for anything not absolutely dreadful coming out of the backyard zombie film sub-genre, this British production shambles around the corner with a certain amount of hype and nearly floors me.

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Colin was supposedly shot on a budget of £45, but with a consumer-grade (yet probably not too cheap) digital camera available and a bunch of surprisingly talented actors working for free, I’m not sure I’d see the film’s budget as quite this low. Be that as it may, what makes the film as interesting as it is isn’t that it was shot for very little money, but that it was shot very little money and turned out to be an excellent film.

For once, I don’t need to hesitate to give most of the props a movie deserves to its director, seeing that Mark Price not only directed, but also edited, scripted, and shot the film. I wouldn’t be surprised if he also helped cook the coffee. This is of course not uncommon in backyard productions, but where most films of this price-class could use a few more hands doing the work, Price has talent enough to make shooting a film with the smallest of crews look simple.

However, what makes Colin worthwhile is not that it was made on the cheap, but that it is so well done that, while watching, I very soon found myself not being impressed by how good it was despite its budget, but how good it was, period. There is really no connection between this film and the hateful lack of ambition that makes too much backyard horror filmmaking so hard to stand. I usually avoid calling these films “indie” horror, out of respect for the quality “indie” suggest in other media like games and music. Colin, I have no problem calling indie horror.

By now you, dear reader, might ask yourself what exactly makes Colin so special to this long-winded guy who is rambling at you like a mad street person (that would be me).

First and foremost, it is the film’s mood. It is shot in a grainy style that has much more in common with the texture and colour of 70s horror cinema, giving everything that happens an immediacy I still like to call documentary, however misused this word has become by now. Price seems to have had a very exact picture of when and where to shoot hand-held and when to use a tri-pod in his mind, giving the film a rhythm permanently changing between nervous action and deliberate shambling, a rhythm very much its own.

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There is a real sense of weight to the proceedings. We basically have a nobody’s view of the apocalypse by always staying close to Colin himself. At times, we even share his inability to fully comprehend what is happening around him, the everyday surroundings the action takes place in becoming strange and frightening through their desolation.

This is part of where the sadness of the film lies – it were not so much the (nicely done) gore set pieces which got to me while watching the film, but the loss of humanity the zombies and the survivors share and real feeling of hopelessness. This is of course nothing new in the annals of zombie cinema, yet as long as it is done as poignant as here, originality isn’t really of much import.

Between the carnage and the sadness, the film also has room for some fine pieces of dry black humor, not enough of it to derail the film, yet enough to add to its grounding in reality.

I was also struck by how different this British zombie apocalypse is from the usual American one – cars and guns are nearly completely absent, making the efforts of the survivors more desperate, and through that desperation, more terrifying.

And the film really is terrifying at times, grasping the horror of zombies as a shambling mass of hunger made flesh with a mind only set on consuming, unconscious of the way it makes its victims part of its own, even unconscious of the reality of its victims as anything beside food. There is something claustrophobic and unconsciously cruel about the big zombie attacks in Colin I found very disturbing.

All of these qualities could still have gone to waste without the right lead actor, because Colin is the person/thing who keeps the fragmented narrative together. A bad performance here would have sunk the film completely. Fortunately, Kirton is quite brilliant in his role. He effortlessly suggests faint traces of humanity without ever falling into the trap of playing his zombie as something so normal as a stupid, flesh-eating man. The rest of the actors doesn’t do much worse; the fact that we only witness fragments of their characters’ stories makes it easier to relate to them than if we had to watch them emote in long and nuanced dialogue scenes actors working for free probably wouldn’t be able to deliver as believable as needed. As the film is constructed, everyone is only glimpsed in moments of utter desperation or sadness, dying or damned.

Call me a loon, but I think there’s a real sense of poetry in Colin, an emotional weight found only in the best zombie films. And you know what, I think Colin is one of the best zombie films I know.

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

Tales From the Quadead Zone

company: Erry Vision Film Co.
year: 1987
runtime: 62′
country: United States
director: Chester Novell Turner
cast: Shirley L. Jones, Keefe L. Turner,
William Jones

A woman (Shirley L. Jones) has a nice chat with an invisible presence that manifests itself as a floating coffee cup, moving handles, a slight indenture in an armchair and long lingering shots of nothing. It seems to be the ghost of the woman’s son Bobby. Bobby, who makes a little wind and a “shashashahsha” noise when he talks to his mother, would very much like to hear a story, so a book with a obviously hand-crafted cover titled “Tales From The Quadead Zone” appears and the woman reads him two dead person appropriate tales.

The first one, called “Food For ?”, concerns a poor family that can’t bring enough food for everyone on the table. To decide who is allowed to eat on a given day, they play a strange game of wait and grab. Until one shirtless male loses one time too often and uses a shotgun to solve their mathematical problem for good.

The second story, “The Brothers”, tells of a man who hires two other guys to steal the body of his brother from the mortuary. He had hated his brother so much that he had planned to poison him, but couldn’t realize his plan before the brother died of natural causes. Therefore it is absolutely necessary for his future psychic wellbeing to shout and exposit at his brother’s corpse, dress him up in a clown costume and threaten to bury him in the cellar instead of the shrine he had built for himself.

When the greenish ghost of the dead brother returns into his body, he’s kinda pissed.

After she has read these charming tales to her invisible dead child, the husband of the framing story’s woman comes home. He is not very happy about this habit of her of acting as if their child were still alive and present. The couple’s discussion turns violent and soon the woman knifes her husband while shouting “Dance with me!”.

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Tales from the Quadead Zone is one of those films some people have heard the most unbelievable things about, yet most haven’t actually seen. Let me make one thing clear right at the beginning: everything you might have heard about this film is true.

The movie was directed by Chester Novell Turner, the same man who was responsible (that’s the correct word for sure) for the original Black Devil Doll. It was filmed with Turner’s trusty camcorder and has the sort of look that makes today’s shot on digital backyard films look like high budget fare.

The colours of the few (only?) available prints are muted and faded, the sound seems to consist more of noise than of the things the viewer is supposed to hear. Parts of the dialogue are completely unparsable – sometimes people must have been too far away from the microphone, at other times what they say is being drowned out by the soundtrack. Post-dubbing of dialog must have been out of the question for Turner, I’d say on principle. But oh, what music the film makes! A handful of dilettantic casio keyboard tunes play, letting me think of music played by Suicide’s Alan Vega’s idiot brother. These tunes are insistent in their repetition and always seem to run into exactly the opposite direction of the emotions which would be appropriate to the scene you are just witnessing.

Although, to be honest, it is quite difficult to decide what Turner was thinking or what he wanted a viewer to feel about any given scene or the film as a whole.

On paper, Tales From The Quadead Zone is just an especially bad example of the late 80s shot on video boom, with even less coherence or technical ability on display than usual in films of its type. But that is not at all what the film feels like. I tend to use descriptions of strange films like “as if it comes from another dimension” with wild abandon, and I’m not saying I have been wrong when using phrases like this before, Tales From The Quadead Zone however is like a film from another dimeonsion but more so.

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The combination of these weird, barely structured, obsessive stories that barely are stories at all with the unpleasantly insistent soundtrack, the obviously home-made overdubbed soundeffects that still start to sound like the voices in your head after a time, the lingering of the camera on nothing in particular, the nearly-not special effects and the bad yet peculiarly intense acting (especially as done by the living brother, who somehow even integrates his own giggling fit into his performance, and by Shirley Jones) pushes the viewer into a feeling of total wrongness.

At first, I thought the best description for the feeling I got while watching the movie would be to compare it to witnessing someone having a psychotic breakdown, but that  still wouldn’t be strong enough to truly give an impression of the film’s emotional effect on me. In fact, watching Tales From The Quadead Zone is much more like meeting someone who is trying to talk you into sharing his own psychosis – and succeeding. If that sounds like an exaggeration to you, then, well, it should be one, but I found the experience of watching as intensely disturbing as anything I care to remember. In other words: for once, a film really freaked me out.

Now, in case this sounds like the kind of experience you’d rather not have, you can rest easy in the knowledge that this is not a film you’ll be able to find without actively looking for it. Tales From The Quadead Zone seems to be much like its literary brother the Necronomicon, only to be found by those people who are are ready for it (or have a connection to Miskatonic University). Which I suppose is for the better, although the collector in me can’t help but crave a DVD edition full of extras of this one.

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

Disgusting Spaceworms Eat Everyone!!

T-N-H Productions [1989] 73′
country: United States
director: George Keller
cast: Bill Brady, Lisa Everett Hillman,
Michael Sonye, Tequila Mockingbird

I have to admit, this isn’t something that immediately struck me as being my kind of movie.   Shot on video at the end of the 80′s for what couldn’t have been more than a scant few thousand dollars in the same vein as the Troma Studios efforts of the day and with the same tongue-in-cheek comedic intention that has doomed so many independent efforts to mediocrity [the recent DEAD AND BREAKFAST comes to mind], DISGUSTING SPACEWORMS EAT EVERYONE!! sounded like just the sort of obscure garbage I tend to despise on sight.

How many ways can I say I was wrong?

DISGUSTING SPACEWORMS EAT EVERYONE!! begins in space – on a ship full of worms to be precise.  So the wriggling mealworms dabbled about every corner of the ship aren’t necessarily disgusting, but they more than make up for that in their enthusiasm.  While it was impossible to tell what was being said by the worms [yes, they talk] due to the overbearing sound effects and background music and the overall crappiness of my review copy, I gathered that they intended to destroy mankind, who have stumbled upon the secret to the destruction of their race.  The scene is hysterical, with the master worm speaking passionately from a cardboard cup pulpit to his pile of devoted and cheering followers.

Their plan devised, the spaceworms warp their ship to Earth, choosing Los Angeles gangster Ziegler [Michael Sonye, here under his pseudonym Dukey Flyswatter] as their first conquest.  After yelling at someone on the phone about killing someone else the gangster heads out to his patio for a cocaine snack.  But wait – what’s this?  The worms have teleported themselves into Ziegler’s bag of cocaine!  The gangster lines up his rows and snorts, only to find himself covered in wiggly worms and spewing blood from just about everywhere.  A horrible death to be sure . . .

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Somewhere else in L.A., hitman Ray [Bill Brady] is reading the funny pages when he is interupted by a phone call.  He’s obviously in no mood for a job, and throws the phone dramatically into a nearby swimming pool before heading out on an extended drive.  Ray literally runs into the young and assless-jeans-donning Lisa [Lisa Everett Hillman], who proves very protective of a crumpled brown paper bag in her possession [she says it holds her recently deceased cat].  The two drive around for a while but don’t get along terribly well.  Soon Lisa evacuates Ray’s car and wanders off, leaving him with nothing to do but meet up with his contact and get his assignment.

Some secret envelope and money exchanging later, Ray has his job – unfortunately the person he’s supposed to hit is no other than Lisa.  Fortunately for her Ray is the sensetive type, or at the very least tired of working for his slimeball gangster boss.  He opts to kill off all of Ziegler’s minions and get in on whatever action has put Lisa in the spotlight instead.  Meanwhile, that pesky ship full of spaceworms is still floating about L.A., teleporting instant rubbery death into the homes of countless unsuspecting victims.  A family of television obsessed drunkards here, a bathtub beauty there . . .  All fall before the might of the worms, who are working hard to fulfill the titular promise of eating everyone.

Ray becomes understandably distressed by the situation unfolding around him, making him all the happier when he finds Lisa once again.  But what’s this?  The zombified worm-powered Ziegler has found the two as well, and is waiting to pounce from the backseat of Ray’s car.  Through him our heroes learn that the worms are after mankind because of its tampering with “zarmon crystals” – the one thing that can possibly destroy them.  What are zarmon crystals, you ask?  Cocaine of course [never mind that it's the same stuff the worms teleported into earlier without issue]!  Luckily for Ray, Lisa has a load of the stuff stashed in her paper bag and she isn’t afraid to use it.  Having heard the alien plot, she decides that it’s time for Ziegler to go for good and chucks a handful of cocaine in his direction.  Blood spurts and steam bubbles and soon he is little more than a smoldering mushy puddle in the backseat.

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The spaceworms’ motives and means of destruction revealed, Ray and Lisa go on a quest to destroy the invaders.  Can they possibly throw enough cocaine at the right worms at the right time to put an end to their savage conquest?  I’ll never tell!

Against all odds I came to love DISGUSTING SPACEWORMS EAT EVERYONE!! and its peculiar brand of no-budget antics.  What little is on display in terms of technical fortitude [VHS looks to have been the master format] is more than made up for by the shear ridiculousness and liveliness of the proceedings.  The screenplay credited to Keller / Mulliron / Sellers is actually quite good and takes 40′s noir crime films, of all things, as its jumping off point – Ray even narrates his own misadventure at times.  It’s abundantly clear than none of it is intended to be serious in any way, which is a definite upside when skyscraper-sized cans of Raid figure prominently in a film’s conclusion.

Scimpy as the production may be, SPACEWORMS packs a few neat little punches.  The soundtrack is loaded with songs from local Los Angeles talent of the time that, while it may be irritating to those not into the late 80′s punk-pop scene, sounds absolutely awesome to these ears.  Editing is another strong point.  Wisely avoided are the lengthy stretches of static dialogue shots that dominate most indies.  Keller constantly cuts from camera to camera to camera and keeps the pace going fast and hard.  The body of SPACEWORMS passes by in nary an hour, with the final ten minutes or so dedicated to some colorful end credits that come complete with a few bits of behind-the-sceens goofiness.  It looks like everyone involved had a blast, and it shows in the final product.

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Now, complaints against SPACEWORMS could certainly be made.  The special effects, particularly the vintage video animation and terrible blue screen that dominates the latter third of the picture, are almost universally bad and the performances by the no-name cast [Sonye/Flyswatter is the only reckognizable name, and his resume features such classics cinema as SURF NAZIS MUST DIE and TERRORS FROM THE CLIT] vary considerably in quality.  There are also far too many scenes devoted to driving.  But these are all minor quibbles at best in the context of the feature in question, with at least two of the three helping to elevate its hefty potential to entertain.

If there are video releases of this oddity, legitimate or otherwise, I’ve not seen them – I snatched my review copy from my favorite cult film torrent tracker [linked to the right].  If anyone involved with this flick knows of an official way to purchase this gem be sure to let me know so I can promote the hell out of it.

This one obviously isn’t for everyone and those without the patience for shot-on-video fare should proceed with caution.  Still, I loved it and have no problem giving it a recommendation.  I suggest seeing it with friends and making a party of it – with a title like DISGUSTING SPACEWORMS EAT EVERYONE!!, how could it go wrong?

Motor Home From Hell

Riffle Pictures [2009] 104′
country: United States
director: Ross Payton
cast: Holly McWilliams, David Krudwig,
Ron Ayers, Russ Metcalf, Richard Pille
Order this film from Amazon.com or Rifflepictures.com

After a pair of bumbling hillbillies eat a sacred race of blind albino crayfish a portal to hell is opened – out steps the Devil [a guy in a mask that makes him look like Dennis Hopper, only aged a few hundred years], who confiscates the hillbillies’ motor home and turns its owners into devoted vampire minions.  The Devil then proceeds to drive around the Ozarks [Sinkhole county to be specific] raising a small army of the undead and disrupting the general flow of things by . . . well, we never actually see how, really.

Enter the mysterious Madame X, a government agent with ESP, who has a dream about the Devil and his motor home and decides to enlist the help of parapsychological private eye Phil Philby to stop it. The pair head off in their SUV and run immediately into trouble, like a gang of Albanian assassins and a local sheriff intent on imprisoning anyone who so much as looks at him.  Meanwhile, the Devil continues to ride around the woods in the motor home raising hordes of the undead and ruining family picnics.

Madame X gets the department of homeland security involved, orders a nuclear strike [which fails, horribly], and falls in love with Phil, who just runs around being an awful action hero.  Oh yeah, there are Russians trying to screw with things, too, not that anything ever comes of it.  Eventually Phil and X realize that they’re in over their heads and call upon a pricey medicine man, who gives them a recipe for some holy water stuff that’s sure to send the Devil back to hell.  Phil loads up a water pistol, shoots the prince of darkness, and saves the day.

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MOTOR HOME FROM HELL should have been a fun film – how can you possibly go wrong with a story about a demonic recreational vehicle raising the undead and causing general havoc in the south of Missouri?  Lots of ways, it would seem.

The DVD case promises “a wicked political satire” and “an infernal combustion engine of explosive, subversive humor”.  While infernal it may be, wicked, explosive, and subversive MOTOR HOME FROM HELL certainly isn’t.  The entire screenplay seems to have been built around a single pun – that the motor home runs on “axles of evil”.  Get it?  Axles of evil – Axis of evil?  Anyway, writer Leland Payton thought so much of this single joke that it is repeated constantly throughout the story [and twice on the DVD case alone].  It’s a bit like the “big as a battleship” comparison from THE GIANT CLAW, only utterly forced and unfunny.

About the most subversive thing MOTOR HOME ever does is dare to mock the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, and our country’s relations with Russia [which is still full of freedom-hating commies, don't ya know], and it does that rather badly.  DR. STRANGELOVE is an obvious inspiration here, so much so that it’s mentioned on the DVD cover ["Stranger than Dr. Strangelove," proclaims an anonymous audience comment], but what’s on display is never absurd or even consistently funny enough to warrant the comparison. The only moment that had me laughing aloud involves the Native American medicine man and his appraisal of the situation, which is present in its entirety in the online trailer for the film.

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What puts me off the most about the production, though, is just how uninspired the direction is.  Ross Payton’s point-and-shoot approach to photography would be fine for coverage of a family trip Six Flags, but it fails miserably as a film-making style.  There’s a cinematographer credited, but just what they added to the value of the production is lost on me [would this really have looked worse without them??].  Editing, also by Ross Payton, adds another layer of unbearability.  There’s no reason at all that MOTOR HOME should run a full hour and forty four minutes, and there are a number of utterly superfluous diversions that should have been excised entirely.  Cases in point are the beginning, in which the hillbillies hire a homeless man to steal some Sudafed, and a scene in which Phil goes to collect an old debt, but ends up trashing a guy’s CD collection and stereo instead.  Then there’s the ending, which piles on ten full minutes of post-climax tedium that never should have made it past pre-production.

I have no doubt that effort went into making this [the official site, linked below, claims two years went into shooting and editing the affair], and that it’s so disappointing is a real shame.  The DVD screener I received is reasonably produced at least, presenting MOTOR HOME in its original full-screen aspect ratio in all the quality that interlaced digital video can provide.  A trailer is the only extra.  Perhaps the most surprising revelation for me was in discovering that the release is actually a pressed DVD5, and not just a burned-on-demand DVD-R.  It can be ordered at full retail price from Amazon.com or at considerable savings from the official film website.  The official site lists a special Podcast Fan edition as well as a Mystery Grab Bag as ordering options – I must confess I have no idea how either deviate from the screener reviewed here.

I was really hoping for something original and entertaining, if not particularly well produced, in MOTOR HOME FROM HELL.  Perhaps having expectations was a mistake on my part, but that the film fails to deliver can hardly be denied.  I’ve seen worse straight-to-video entertainment [Dave Silver's CORN comes to mind], but this will do nothing to change the format’s reputation of underachievement.  Not recommended.

For more information visit the official
MOTOR HOME FROM HELL website,  Rifflepictures.com

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus

rating:
company: The Asylum
year: 2009
runtime: 88′
country: United States
director: Jack Perez (as Ace Hannah)
cast: Deborah (Debbie) Gibson, Vic Chao,
Sean Lawlor, Lorenzo Lamas
Order this film from Amazon.com

There are moments when I can’t help but wonder why I do the things I do. The readership of this site is far too low for fame, fortune, or glory to be involved – some kind of depraved subconscious masochistic desire seems much more likely. Sitting through the likes of MONSTER A-GO-GO or WEASELS RIP MY FLESH makes a certain amount of sense for someone in my position since, awful as they may be, they still fit comfortably within the fringes of my bizarre taste. That I subject myself, time and again, to the output of The Asylum [the cinematic equivalent of sucking a tail pipe] is more difficult to understand.

Asylum has taken to referring the majority of its direct-to-video tumors as “mockbusters”, going so far as to recommend them as gag gifts for cinephiles. The company has carved a profitable little niche for itself by producing knock-off titles [THE DAY THE EARTH STOPPED, INVASION OF THE POD PEOPLE, TRANSMORPHERS, THE DA VINCI TREASURE . . . need I go on?] that are typically sitting on video store shelves before their super-budget inspirations even hit the big screen, with SciFi Channel more than happy to premiere whatever swill Asylum sends its way. That there’s a market for lousy DTV efforts is all well and good, but does it have to be this bad?

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