Thursday, January 31, 2013

Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1992, Frank Henenlotter)

Just released in October from Synapse Films is the third film in the Basket Case trilogy. Originally released full frame by 20th Century Fox almost 10 years ago, we finally get the film with an Anamorphic Widescreen transfer (and boy is it an improvement). As with Basket Case 2, I had never seen this sequel until now but I distinctly remember seeing the old VHS box frequently (I always mixed it up with It's Alive because of the mutant in the baby carriage).

Following the story of separated conjoined twins Duane (Kevin van Hentenryck) and Belial, the story begins with Duane locked up in a straight jacket by Granny Ruth (Annie Ross), his aunt (?!?) who is keeping him in her house with a group of freaks. He has finally accepted that he does fit in and wants to be with his brother, who we learned at the end of part 2 is about to become a father. Granny Ruth takes the whole clan on a school bus to Georgia so her friend Hal can help Belial's girlfriend Eve deliver their child(or children as it turns out). The local police force get involved after learning that there is a million dollar reward for the capture of the twins. Splatter ensues.

Call me crazy but I actually thought Basket Case 3 was more enjoyable than part 2. It was part horror, part comedy, part romance, part road movie. It really had it all. The movie took a little while to get going but when Belial finally takes his revenge on the local police force we are treated with some great, gory, imaginably hilarious death scenes. The makeup FX were very well done and the story was funny and inventive. The new transfer from Synapse is the best the film has ever looked and there is also a trailer included. If you like splatter films or the other Basket Case movies, check this one out.

RATING: 8/10

Order Basket Case 3 directly from Synapse Films HERE

Basket Case 2 (1990, Frank Henenlotter)

You would think having such an affinity for Basket Case that I would have seen the sequels a million times. Well, you would be wrong because before last weekend I hadn't seen them at all. I figured now was a perfect time to watch them, after just watching the original and it being October.

Basket Case 2 begins with Duane and Belial taken in by their Aunt, Granny Ruth (why isn't she Auntie Ruth?) to recover from the injuries they sustained at the end of the first film. Ruth used to be known as Dr. Freak because she would open up her home to those with physical deformities to get away from circus sideshows and an unaccepting public. Though supposedly retired, Ruth has a secret clan of misfits hidden in her house and she does her best to make Duane and Belial feel at home. Duane is still striving for a normal life though and wants to leave but after they are hounded by news reporters, he decides that he wants nothing more than to be with his brother.

Basket Case 2, made 8 years after the first, is not as dark or gross as the original. The makeup FX for the freaks in the film (and Belial) are way more professional than the first film (courtesy of the great Gabe Bartolos), as is the acting. The story is just as over the top and crazy as you would expect and it was very clever to add in a whole new group of deformed characters. This is a fun sequel and it's great to see Kevin van Hentenryck back as Duane. I wouldn't call it the classic that the original was but it's a solid follow up that thankfully doesn't just try to repeat the first film.

RATING: 7/10

Order Basket Case 2 from Synapse Films HERE

Basket Case (1982, Frank Henenlotter)

Basket Case and I have a long history together. I still remember renting it for the first time from Video Connection on Rte 135 in Framingham, MA (where I discovered a good percentage of my favorite horror movies). It must have been when I was 16 or so years old. I had already fallen in love with 80's slasher films and had newly discovered the wonders of Zombies. Anyway, I would basically rent anything that looked gory and was from the 80's so it was only a matter of time before Basket Case would corrupt me.

Basket Case stars Kevin van Hentenryck as Duane Bradley, a young man who is visiting New York City for the first time. He appears with some clothes, a wad of money and a big basket. In the basket is Duane's brother Belial. Belial and Duane are separated conjoined twins and they can speak to each other telepathically. Their mission in NYC is to find the doctors that separated them against their will and kill them. Duane then falls in love with the secretary of one of their targets and is conflicted between his feelings for her and for his brother.

Basket Case is a great fucking movie. Awesome in every way. A total classic, 80's,oddball, gory masterpiece. Sure the acting is pretty amateurish, some of the makeup FX are rudimentary and the stop motion FX are hilarious. This all fits the tone of the film perfectly though. You can't help but take any of it seriously so you feel like you are watching a demented cartoon. The film also captures the grimy streets of New York City, particularly the infamous 42nd street where director Frank Henenlotter grew up. Hell, there's even a scene where Duane and Belial go to a seedy grindhouse and check out a Kung Fu film! How classic is that? Whether I am swayed by nostalgia or what, Basket Case is a classic horror film that I will never get sick of.

RATING: 10/10

Order Basket Case directly from Something Weird Video on Blu Ray HERE , DVD HERE or Instant Download HERE

Something Weird Video has hundreds of films available to Instantly Download on their site at very cheap prices. Check them out HERE

The Complete Hammer House of Horror (2012, Synapse Films)

A nice treat just released by Synapse Films is a 5 disc set of the Complete Hammer House of Horror series from 1980. I am a big fan of Hammer horror films and have always wanted to check out this series. Previously released by A&E Video way back in 2001, we finally get the series back, this time with introductions to each episode and interview featurettes with select cast members (including Dark Shadows' Kathryn Leigh Scott).

The Complete Hammer House of Horror is comprised of all 13 episodes of the series. The first episode, Witching Time stars Jon Finch (from Hitchcock's Frenzy) as a man who is haunted by a 400 year old witch. He calls upon Ian McCulloch (Lucio Fulci's Zombie), his friend and doctor to help out. Next is The Thirteenth Reunion which tells the story of a journalist going undercover to a controversial weight loss clinic only to get mixed up in a series of deaths. The third episode stars Denholm Elliott as a realtor who is stuck in a loveless marriage and wants to run away with his secretary. His life becomes a series of dreams and he can't tell when he is awake or sleeping. Next is Growing Pains about a scientist and his wife who adopt a boy after his son dies. They soon find the boy to be acting very strange and a series of "accidents" begin to occur. The fifth episode is The House that Bled to Death which focuses on a house that may be haunted by a woman who was murdered there. Next is Charlie Boy concerning a voodoo doll and a couple who are trying to save themselves from their inevitable death. The seventh episode (and my favorite) stars Brian Cox as an ex-con who gets a job for (and tries to steal from) an old pet shop owner (Peter Cushing) who owns many exotic (and dangerous) pets. Diana Dors stars in the next episode, Children of the Full Moon which concerns a couple stranded at a secluded mansion filled with children who turn out to be deadly. The ninth episode, Carpathian Eagle, features a bunch of murders where men's hears are ripped out. Next is Guardian of the Abyss, which concerns an antique dealer who happens upon a mirror that is also a doorway to hell. Visitor from the Grave, stars Kathryn Leigh Scott as a mentally disturbed woman who kills a man who tries to rape her only to have visions of him returning from the grave. Her criminal boyfriend (Simon MacCorkindale) tries to help her overcome her visions with the help of an exorcist. Next is The Two Faces of Evil which features a couple picking up a hitchhiker who turns out to be a killer and causes them all to crash. The couple then try to discover the identity of the killer and his motives. The Mark of Satan, the final episode, features a man who thinks he is possessed by the devil after seeing the number 9 everywhere he goes.

The Complete Hammer House of Horror is a wonderful companion to the classic Hammer films. Despite being made for television, we are still treated with plenty of the gore, nudity and scares that are prevalent in the Hammer films. The picture quality of these 30+ year old films is very crisp and well preserved. The stories are well written and the cast features a nice mix of unknown and classic actors, some of which were unknown at the time (Pierce Brosnan). The intros from film historian Shane M. Dullman and the interviews with Kathryn Leigh Scott and Mia Nadasi are very insightful and a welcome addition to the mostly bare bones A&E set. Overall, if you love Hammer or classic, well-written horror movies, this set is a must have. I love anthology horror movies and this is basically one 12 hour anthology.

RATING: 9/10

You can order this directly from Synapse Films HERE

Miami Connection (1987, Y.K. Kim/Richard Park)

Unearthed by genre experts at the Alamo Drafthouse comes an inexplicable, other-worldly slice of celluloid that has already become a cult classic. Miami Connection (if you're thinking Miami Vice meets The French Connection then you couldn't be wronger), truly left me speechless. When it was over, I felt dumbfounded, amazed, enlightened and sore from 83 minutes worth of non-stop laughter.

Miami Connection stars martial arts Grandmaster Y.K. Kim as part of a rock band called Dragon Sound, comprised of fellow orphaned Tae Kwon Do experts (played by his real life students). Together the group drive by the beach, get pizza, go to college and play their rockin' brand of inspirational new wave/hard rock at the local rock club. Seriously, the two songs in their oeuvre are about friendship and fighting ninjas (respectively). Invading Miami is a group of ninjas who steal "stupid cocaine" from some drug dealers. Dragon Sound end up in the crossfire and unsurprisingly kick everyone's asses.

Miami Connection is like no other film I've ever seen. Just when you think the plot is going somewhere, it is abandoned and goes in a totally different direction. I have a feeling that there was really no script and the scenes were written each morning when they figured out where they could shoot. There is really no acting in the film either, only non-acting or over-acting. The best scenes in the film showed Dragon Sound in all their rockin' glory. The songs are so ridiculously awesome and seeing Y.K. Kim pretending like he knew how to play guitar (I don't even think he had a guitar pick) was quite a sight. Other highlights are ninjas on motorcycles, the token African American Dragon Sound member finding his real dad, the rival rock band (who look like car salesmen) trying to get Dragon Sound fired and...fuck, just the whole movie is awesome. This film is kind of like a third nipple. Most people won't want to see it, but those who do find it fascinating. I can't thank the Alamo Drafthouse enough for providing us with this gem.

RATING: 10/10

To download the Dragon Sound songs featured in the film, click HERE

Watch the trailer HERE

Brian Wilson: Songwriter 1969-1982

Following the wonderful Brian Wilson: Songwriter 1962-1969 documentary that came out in 2010, MVD has followed it up with another gem, continuing the story of Brian Wilson, one of the most important, talented and popular musicians of the past century. My love of the Beach Boys is unequaled and any documentary about them becomes an instant must for me.

Coming Octobert 23rd, is Brian Wilson: Songwriter 1969-1982. Most people know of The Beach Boys from their surfing hits and Brian Wilson as being the genius behind Pet Sounds. So what happened to Brian Wilson after that? This documentary shows Brian during his darkest period when he was struggling with drugs, depression and commercial failure. We see an album by album history from this time period and learn how Brian's involvement wavered between records. We also learn about the infamous Eugene Landy, Brian's therapist who turned out to be as much a blessing as a curse for Mr. Wilson. But mainly we learn about the music and how some of the Beach Boys' most interesting and underrated albums came to be.

Being a Brian Wilson fanatic, this documentary is a dream come true. We get behind the scenes stories from fellow Beach Boys (Bruce Johnston), critics, managers and musicians about the music of the time and what went on behind the scenes. Some of my favorite Beach Boys albums are discussed (Friends, Carl and the Passions "So Tough") which is a plus. The doc even got me to really listen to Brian's misunderstood masterpiece The Beach Boys Love You, which has now become one of my favorite Beach Boys albums. This disc is very informative, moves along well and at a whopping 2 hours and 15 minutes leaves no stone unturned. Just great stuff and I hope MVD puts out another doc covering the remainder of the Beach Boys' career.

RATING: 10/10

Preorder this fantastic documentary directly from MVD HERE

Elevator (2011, Stig Svendsen)

I recently found out that I suffer from mild claustrophobia. The thought of climbing through a small space or having my arms restricted instantly gives me a panic attack (I'm having a mild one now just thinking about it). Though I haven't yet found myself curled in the fetal position on the floor of an elevator, I can see getting trapped in one would probably spark a slight freak out (though that's probably common for most people). Well, for anyone who wants to feel that fear right in their living room, here's a new film from Inception Media Group called Elevator.

Elevator begins with a group of characters (appropriately) getting into an elevator in a corportate building. It is revealed that they are all going up to the top floor to attend a company party. Included are two brokers for the company, the newscaster girlfriend of one of the brokers, a pregnant woman who also works for the company, the company president and his grandaughter, a comedian hired for the party, a security guard and an older woman who is an investor for the company. As is expected, the elevator gets stuck on the 49th floor and to top it all off it is revealed that there is a bomb in the elevator.

The cover art for Elevator (see above) really threw me off. I was sort of expecting something more horror-oriented with elevator zombies or something but the film was more suspense than horror. The cast of characters (especially Joey Slotnick as the comedian who I remember from the show The Single Guy) are all great and very professional. The claustrophobic camerawork adds a lot of extra fear and as the film progresses, you find yourself closer to the edge of your seat. The ending was satisfying and unexpected while there was also a few nice gory scenes thrown in for horror fans. Oh, and did you ever wonder what happened to Kevin's cousin Buzz in Home Alone? Well he's in this movie (and has put on a few pounds). Overall, the movie was very tense and there wasn't a single slow moment. The film makers put the $3 million dollar budget to good use and created a very satisfying thriller that I hope more people will discover.

RATING: 8/10

David Bowie: The Calm Before the Storm - Under Review 1969-1971 (2012, MVD)

Another great documentary from MVD, David Bowie: The Calm Before the Storm features one of my favorite periods of Bowie's career. These documentaries have become something I really look forward to and try to watch any one I can snatch up. I have been a fan of David Bowie since I was a young teen and discovered his early albums not too long after. I still have very fond memories of buying Hunky Dory during Christmas vacation of my sophomore year of high school. It was actually the same day I bought Big Star's 3rd/Sister Lovers album. I remember it was snowing and after helping my father at work, I went to a dance with a friend to meet a girl I had a huge crush on. Obviously, that album is very memorable for me and it's fun re-living those memories and learning about the album too.

The Calm Before the Storm - Under Review 1969-1971 documents Bowie's early career, particularly three of his early albums - Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory. This was right before Bowie started one of his best loved periods with Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Space Oddity to many is a half baked album with only its title track as a stand out, but I love it and still listen to it all the time. The Man Who Sold the World is one of Bowie's darkest and (as Bowie called it) "drug addled" albums, known by most younger fans due to its title track being covered by Nirvana. Hunky Dory still stands as one of Bowie's greatest and best loved albums, featuring the well known (and prophetic of his career) song "Changes". This documentary features fellow Bowie musicians (Mike Garson, John Hutchinson), critics, biographers and music experts telling many behind the scenes stories and explaining how important these albums were to Bowie's career.

The Calm Before the Storm is a concise, well put together documentary about an important time in rock history. David Bowie, being one of my favorite musicians for a long time, is a fascinating character and I love hearing as much as I can about him and his career. The interviews here feature several people who have studied Bowie's career (and music) or have played with him, giving the viewers first hand accounts of how these albums originated. My only complaint with this DVD is how short it is (a little over an hour). I would love to have heard more stories and details, maybe even a track by track commentary on the songs. Overall though, if you are a fan of Bowie or rock documentaries, this one shouldn't be missed.

RATING: 9/10

Order this DVD directly from MVD HERE

Vile (2011, Taylor Sheridan)

Released last September from Inception Media Group is a new horror film in the "gore-ture" genre appropriately titled Vile. Directed by Taylor Sheridan, who some might recognize as Deputy Hale on Sons of Anarchy, this film features lots of nasty, bloody violence mixed with people screaming at the top of their lungs. Always a good time.

Vile is the story of a few friends who go camping (nope, not what you're expecting) and end up being gassed and kidnapped by a woman pretending to be stranded on the side of the road (told you). They are brought to a house with no exits and awaken to find another group of people trapped with them. They all have vials (play on words with the title?) connected to the back of their necks and are shown a video explaining why they are there. Apparently when the body is in pain it excretes chemicals that are used for research and the victims trapped in the house must hurt each other enough to fill up the vials to be released.

Needless to say, this is some fucked up stuff. Basically, after the first 15 minutes, the remainder of the film is a series of torture and violence. Not really my thing, but I really have to hand it to the film makers (and the cast) here. This film is one of the few examples of this particular genre that really made me squirm. Every burning hot iron to the stomach and fingernail being ripped off made me jump in my seat and cringe. I've seen some messed up films before but never have I felt so defeated afterwards as I did with Vile. Fortunately, I'm sure this is exactly what the director was going for and he hit it out of the park in that respect. The cast is also pretty good, with the exception of a few main characters - particularly the long haired guy (who looked like David Spade Jr.) and the loud-mouthed, bitchy girl who is so unlikeable I was kind of happy everytime it was her turn to suffer (does that make me a bad person?) I still have mixed feelings about the film but for what it is trying to accomplish, it definitely succeeds. The gore was all very realistic and nasty and the interaction between the characters was believable. Another person I will have to give credit to is the sound man because everytime someone was hurt, the sound effects used were disgustingly realistic and added so much to the terror. If you love extreme horror films with nasty FX then this is the film for you.

RATING: 7/10


Drive-In (1976, Rod Amateau)

Drive-In is a film I had never heard of and was pretty hard to find until recently when it was released on one of those crappy MOD discs from Sony Picture's Choice Collection. Those who aren't familiar with MOD (Made On Demand), several big companies have started burning their old catalog titles on DVD-Rs and selling them for as much as a new release would cost. I liked it better when companies would take their lesser known titles and release them at a reasonable price (sometimes even as double or triple features) because they knew they wouldn't be huge sellers. Now they burn them for a smaller number of customers who are willing to pay top dollar. Regardless, it's nice that some of these titles are finally seeing the light of day - Drive-In being a prime example.

Let me start with the most obvious question - what is this film Drive-In and why have I never heard of it? Well, back in the 50's, 60's and 70's, drive-ins were the place to go for watching movies, making out with your honey or to hang out with friends. Drive-In is a film which captures this almost forgotten, American past time. Hot off the success of American Graffiti, Drive-In came out three years later in 1976 and even starred a Ron Howard look-alike (actually he looked more like Ralph Malph). Just like American Graffiti, the film featured kids being kids and though it took place in the present, it showed how kids hadn't really changed much in the decade since American Graffiti's setting. Drive-In takes place in a small Texas town where the kids all go to the local roller rink during the day and the drive-in at night. We see the day to day lives of the town folk, with teen Orville (Glenn Morshower) being the most prominent character. Orville is a sensitive guy who keeps to himself and is pestered by his younger brother (Bad News Bears' Gary Lee Cavagnaro) who is trying to get Orville laid (mainly so he can learn himself how it is done). Enter the hottest girl in school, Glowie Wilson (Lisa Lemole) who just dumped her bad ass boyfriend Enoch, the leader of the Widow Makers gang. Glowie has been noticing Orville and tries to get him to meet her at the Drive-In, which he reluctantly agrees to do. When we finally get to the drive-in, we are introduced to a bunch of characters thrown in for comic relief - including a couple of bumbling crooks, a 'misunderstood' African American man, a couple of young lovers and the rest of the Widow Makers, who are there to fight rival gang the Gear Grinders.

Drive-In is one of those films that isn't really that good but I instantly fell in love with it anyway. The movie absolutely fails as a comedy (I can't remember laughing even once), but it doesn't matter. That's not why I watched the movie and I doubt that's why a lot of people who are discovering it for the first time are watching it either. Drive-In is pure nostalgia. The characters are silly, the dialogue is silly, the situations the characters find themselves in are silly, but the film never turns into slapstick. Everything in this film could happen and though some if it may seem unlikely, none of it is unbelievable. That's where the film shines. The best part of the movie was the relationship between Glowie and Orville. Usually the guy is the one trying to throw himself on the sensitive girl, but in Drive-In it's the complete opposite. When I was a teenager, I would consider myself very much like Orville. Virginal, awkward and sensitive (overly in my case). I dreamed all through high school of a girl like Glowie, a popular beauty who likes me regardless of how uncool I was and not afraid to make the first move. I had these unrealistic views of women and didn't realize that if you went up and talked to a girl, you would have a much better chance of getting a girlfriend. It's probably a good thing that I DIDN'T see this film as a teenager because it probably would have made my expectations even more unrealistic, waiting for my Glowie to come and save me from terminal virginity. Seeing it now though, reminds me of those fantasies I had and just being a kid in general. The main reason I love movies so much is the escapism and being able to identify with the characters. In this respect, Drive-In couldn't be better.

RATING: 10/10

Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine / Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1965/1966, Norman Taurog/Mario Bava)

60's spy spoofs are like gold to me. I can't get enough of them. From the ultimate spy spoof (in my opinion), 1967's Casino Royale, to the great Matt Helm films with Dean Martin to James Coburn's Derek Flint films, its a genre that no matter how terrible the films are, I'll still watch them and most likely enjoy them. Here we have two additions from the spy spoof genre and like many other similar films, the spoofing isn't limited to spy films but come from many other sources. For example, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine relies heavily on the same brand of physical comedy used in the Pink Panther films. Luckily, Walmart just started carrying a double feature with these two films in their $5 bin (so check your local Walmart...I know, it's asking a lot). Bikini Machine was previously released on DVD but this marks the premiere of The Girl Bombs so that alone makes the set worthwhile. Oh, did I mention The Girl Bombs was directed by horror legend Mario Bava?

Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is a G rated (!) spy spoof starring Vincent Price as the evil Dr. Goldfoot. The evil Dr. has invented a machine to make attractive female robots who are trained to trick wealthy men into signing over their fortunes. Playboy Todd Armstrong (Dwayne Hickman) is one of the targets but the robot (Susan Hart) sent to trick him accidentally mistakes SIC (Special Intelligence Command) agent Craig Gamble (Frankie Avalon) for Armstrong. Craig falls in love and pursues Diane, even after she marries Todd, and soon he uncovers Goldfoot's plot.

Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs once again stars Vincent Price as Goldfoot. This time he has created a machine that can clone humans...which are actually bombs in disguise. Goldfoot wants to start a world war by killing off the world's generals and dropping a bomb on the Kremlin. To the rescue is another teen idol (Fabian Forte) , an ex-agent of SIC who wants to prove himself and rejoin. Along for the ride are Italian comedians Franco and Ciccio.

When I said I'll watch any spy spoof regardless of how bad it is, sometimes it's not as easy as it sounds. While Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is a hilarious farce with funny characters, good writing and a great cast, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs is...well...a bomb. Fabian is no match for Frankie Avalon (especially when Fabian's dubbing sounds like it was recorded in an echo chamber) and the story here is not very coherent. I've read that the Italian version of the film has extra footage with Franco and Ciccio being the main characters. The U.S. version focuses more on Goldfoot and Fabian's characters and was not Mario Bava's final vision. His stamp is barely visible on the film and other than a fun scene at an amusement park and the addition of Italian goddess Laura Antonelli, the film pretty much sucked. Franco and Ciccio (whose names are combined with the other actor's names on the DVD cover!?!) were annoying and Price's Goldfoot continuously broke the 4th wall and spoke to the audience for some unknown reason. Bikini Machine however was a great film that I will definitely re-watch. Both films are included in beautiful Anamorphic Widescreen transfers and though there aren't any extras, you cannot beat the price to have both of these films together.

Rating:

Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine: 8/10

Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs: 3/10

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New York Dolls - Lookin' Fine on Television (2011, Rick Fuller)

The New York Dolls are one of those bands that you always remember the first time you heard them. I knew of the name from Guns N' Roses' Spaghetti Incident? album where they covered the Dolls' Human Being. So at the ripe old age of 15 I found a copy of their first album for $5.99 at my local Newbury Comics store and the rest is history. I loved it right away. It was too femine to be punk but too scary and heavy to be glam and it had great production courtesy of Todd Rundgren. Naturally, when I found this DVD from MVD I had to give it a shot.

Featuring several live performances cut together to show the band playing their best songs, Lookin' Fine on Television is a dream come true for hard rock fans. This short lived, but much loved band rocked harder than anyone else at the time and its a real treat this stuff even exists - mainly because there is so little footage of them out there. Between the songs we get some super rare interviews with the band members, including a long interview with singer David Johansen.

Lookin' Fine on Television is a great slice of rock history and an important document for music fans. The footage is a little rough but that's only fitting for the Dolls. Nadya and Bob Gruen were well known photographers from the 70s early NY punk scene and they capture the band in all of their glory. My favorite part of the DVD is David Johansen interviewing guitarist Johnny Thunders shortly after the band dissolved. You can see them talking about Thunders' (at the time) new band The Heartbreakers just as Johansen had started his solo career. This disc should be cherished by fans of the band and is a great introduction to anyone who has never heard them.

RATING: 8/10

Order this disc directly from MVD HERE

Countess Perverse (1974, Jess Franco)

Just released last month from Mondo Macabro comes Jess Franco's lost classic Countess Perverse (aka La comtesse perverse). Inspired by The Most Dangerous Game, this was one of a handful of films Franco made in 1974, during one of his most prolific periods. Billed here under one of his many aliases (Clifford Brown), Franco's Countess Perverse finally gets a well deserved Director's Cut DVD release.

Countess Perverse stars Jess Franco regular Howard Vernon as Count Zaroff and the lovely Alice Arno as Countess Zaroff, two wealthy aristocrats who happen to be cannibals. They employ a young couple to lure victims to their secluded estate to be eaten. Silvia (Franco's muse Lina Romay) is the next target for the Countess, who enjoys using a Bow and Arrow to hunt down her victims.

Countess Perverse proves to be a winner in Franco's eclectic filmography. Though every Franco film I've seen has had something worthwhile, Countess Perverse has many great aspects. A super cast, some nice gory elements and a classic story all help this film rise above mediocrity. The one aspect of the film that really won me over was Franco's brilliant cinematography. No matter how low budget or poorly conceived some of Franco's films are, they always have beautiful cinematography and use of exotic locations. Countess Perverse is no exception with breath-taking locales (especially the Zaroff's villa) and camerawork. Overall, Countess Perverse is a fantastic example of Jess Franco's brilliance. Mondo Macabro, who should be applauded for finally bringing this film to DVD, also packs on the extras. Included is an on camera interview with one of the stars (Robert Woods), a lengthy intro by Film Historian Stephen Thrower, cast & crew profiles and a nice French language track with optional English subtitles.

RATING: 9/10

Waves of Lust (1975, Ruggero Deodato)

Another welcome addition to Raro Video USA's collection of classics is a film from Cannibal Holocaust's Ruggero Deodato (Raro also released his Eurocrime classic Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man). Basically an Italian exploitation remake of Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water, Waves of Lust features a few familiar faces to Italian film fans and a story that will keep you gripped to your seats (and guessing) until the unexpected ending.

Waves of Lust stars Al Cliver and Deodato's wife at the time Silvia Dionisio as a young couple who invite themselves on board a yacht owned by a wealthy man and his abused wife (John Steiner and Elizabeth Turner). Together the foursome begin teasing each other and playing games, though the games aren't all innocent. They form alliances with each other but they all have their own agendas and the games turn deadly.

Waves of Lust was a film I had been searching for and was overjoyed when it was announced for the U.S. division of Raro. Though Deodato's films are hit or miss, they are always enjoyable and one of my goals is to see them all. Waves of Lust definitely clicked for me. The cast was great and I am a big fan of Cliver and Steiner...though every time I see Steiner now I picture him as Jaffar in Enzo Castellari's Sinbad film..."shudder". The story was well written and had enough exploitation elements in it to please genre fans. The relationships between the characters was great and the beautiful cinematography added to the film. My only gripe was that the ending, though satisfying, was a little too abrupt. Overall, I highly recommend this film if you are a fan of Deodato or Italian sleaze.

RATING: 9/10

Order Waves of Lust directly (and at an amazingly low price!) from Raro Video HERE

Dexter Romweber: Two Headed Cow (2011, Tony Gayton)

Ever heard of Dexter Romweber? Me either...until I saw this film. I had heard of The Flat Duo Jets (but had never heard of any of their music) and oddly enough I knew of Dexter's sister Sara who used to play in the band Let's Active. Being the huge fan of rock documentaries I figured I'd give this one a shot. This disc was released last year by MVD.

Dexter Romweber began playing music at a young age and started Flat Duo Jets (named after a guitar) as a duo with a drummer simply named Crow. The band gained popularity in the local Athens indie music scene that spawned R.E.M., The B-52's and many other notable college rock staples (for more info on these bands, check out the brilliant 80's documentary Athens Inside/Out). Dexter proved to be a gifted musician but unfortunately he had problems with substance abuse and mental illness which doomed the band's longevity.

Two Headed Cow succeeds in showing the two sides of Romweber. You can't help but feel sorry for the guy, though some of the misfortunes were self induced. What can't be disputed is the musical brilliance this man possesses. This documentary was actually started many years ago and just recently finished so it has a great mix of old footage and new footage showing Dexter still playing his heart out in front of adoring fans. Overall this film is a perfect mix of great music and a tragic story of one man's journey trying to conquer demons and by doing so, touching a lot of fans. The DVD includes interviews with Jack White, Neko Case, Mojo Nixon, Exene Cervenka and more.

RATING: 9/10

Order this DVD from MVD HERE

Black Oak Conspiracy (1977, Bob Kelljan)

BOCCover72dpi

Released this past June exclusively through Shout! Factory's website is the 70's Southern Exploitation classic Black Oak Conspiracy. Originally announced as a two-fer with the equally classic Great Texas Dynamite Chase, Black Oak Conspiracy was shelved and GTDC was included in a triple feature set with Georgia Peaches and Smokey Bites the Dust (read my review for that set HERE). Luckily for fans, Shout! has released this little gem as a stand alone disc.

Black Oak Conspiracy stars Jesse Vint (Forbidden World) as Jingo Johnson, a struggling Hollywood stunt man who comes back home after hearing his mother is sick. He is greeted by his friend Homer (Seymour Cassel) and is saddened to find that the old girlfriend he left behind (who is also Homer's sister) is now going out with local rich kid Harrison Hancock. Jingo also finds out that his mother signed over her house in return for medical care and that the house is going to be demolished. Jingo soon discovers that there is corruption going on in town and it is up to him to stop it.

Black Oak Conspiracy is another wonderfully enjoyable slice of Down Home, Southern, Good Ol' Boy Action. Jesse Vint proved to be perfect for the role after starring in Macon County Line. He is tough and very charismatic. Also starring Albert Salmi as the corrupt sheriff, Karen Carlson as Jingo's love interest, one of my favorites Seymour Cassel as Homer and Robert F. Lyons as the sniveling Harrison Hancock, Black Oak Conspiracy is a blast from start to finish. The film has lots of action, some comedy and great stuntwork. The story, though a little predictable in some parts, had a lot of momentum and didn't let up until the end credits. Black Oak Conspiracy was easily one of my favorite of Shout!'s Roger Corman Cult Classics line. Though the disc doesn't have any bonus features (not even a menu!), I am just glad that its available.

RATING: 8/10

Hollywood Man (1976, Jack Starrett)

Hollywood Man (or Hollywoo-ood Maa-aaan as the guy who sings the title theme warbles it) is a fun 70s action movie that is low on budget but high on stunts and other exploitation elements. This movie was directed by Jack Starrett, who was responsible for a few Blaxploitation flicks (Slaughter, Cleopatra Jones) and a few Southern goodies (A Small Town in Texas, Race with the Devil). The real reason I wanted to see this is because I am a fan of the two leads, William "Falconetti" Smith (as the original poster bills him) and Corman favorite Mary Woronov.

In Hollywood Man, Smith plays Rafe Stoker, an action star who gets funding from the mob to finish his current biker film. The stipulation is that the film must be completed in four weeks or Stoker will owe them a poopload of money. The mob then hires some goons to try to stop production so they can collect.

There's just something special about low budget, exploitation/action films from the 70s. Especially ones with William Smith and Mary Woronov. Having Don Stroud pop up doesn't hurt either (he seems to be in a lot of this sort of movie). Hollywood Man is a perfect example of this type of film and though its not the best of it's sort or even close, it has enough to hold my interest. There are some great car chases and motorcycle stunts, which counteracts the bad dialogue and bad acting. You pretty much already know if you're going to like this film or not before you watch it. One thing I will say, is that the ending of this movie is brilliant and makes the whole experience seem much sweeter than it probably was.

RATING: 6/10

You can buy a copy of this film directly from MVD HERE . The quality isn't perfect but it's fairly cheap.

Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982, William Dear)

First of all, let me start by saying that the poster above is one of the coolest movie posters of all time. I love 80s movies, especially Sci-Fi so this poster makes me salivate. Well, after years of wanting to see Timerider, I finally did. I knew the film was about time travel (even better) but was a little disappointed when I found out that the main character goes back in time (early 1900's) instead of into the future. I was kind of hoping for a "Last Starfighter-type" 80s Sci-Fi flick but I didn't really get what I was hoping for.

Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann stars Fred Ward as the lead character. Swann is a very skilled motorcycle racer with some high tech gear but he refuses to go professional. Swann takes off on his bike after a race and accidentally ends up on the receiving end of a time traveling beam that is being tested secretly in the desert. Swann is sent back in time to the year 1877 and must fight off a murderous gang, led by E.T.'s Peter Coyote, who wants to steal his "machine" while also trying to get back home. Luckily, he has a priest (Ed Lauter), a beautiful young woman (Belinda Bauer) and LQ Jones on his side.

Timerider is one of those films that probably would have been great if I had seen it when it first came out as a kid in the 80s (as I did The Last Starfighter). It would have been hard c0nsidering I was only two years old, but you know what I mean. Seeing it now, it just seems very dated. I still liked the movie though. It wasn't overlong and the film had a great cast. Though I never thought of Fred Ward as much of a leading man, he does an adequate job here. Another thing I liked about the film was the great rockin' soundtrack by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees (who also co-wrote and produced Timerider). The film is also blessed with a make it or break it ending that is actually very smart and unexpected. So despite its flaws, Timerider was definitely worth a watch.

RATING: 6/10

Though released on DVD in 2001 by Anchor Bay Entertainment, the DVD is currently out of print but the great Shout! Factory is re-releasing it on Blu Ray on March 19th 2013! Pre-Order it HERE .

Area 407 (2012, Dale Fabrigar and Everette Wallin)

As I've said before, I have a real fondness for "found footage" horror films, like the Blair Witch Project. Here we have a brand new one with a few twists I've never seen in one of these films. Already released in a limited run to theaters and on VOD, Area 407 will be hitting DVD from IFC Films on August 28th.

Area 407 starts off with a young girl named Trish videotaping her older sister Jessie and the other passengers on the plane she is on. They are returning to Los Angeles from a trip to New York City on New Year's Eve. The plane ride seems to be a standard trip, other than a man who seems to have had too much to drink and is belittling the flight attendants. Suddenly, after some rough turbulence, the plane mysteriously crashes. The survivors, bloodied and terrified, have no idea where they are and can't seem to find anyone else around. Little do they know, that there is something lurking out there and if they knew what it was, they would have wished they died in the crash.

Area 407 has a lot going for it. The opening scene in the plane is very authentic and you feel like you are really there or watching real footage. You also feel like you are really getting to know the characters. After the plane crash, the film gets tense with its frantic hand held shots and suspenseful conclusion. The film really surprised me once we finally see who or what is killing each survivor. By the title, I was actually expecting aliens (I was thinking of Area 51) to be the antagonists but I was wrong. Don't worry, I won't spoil it. Overall, the film was effective and had some nice scares. The characters were likeable and I didn't lose interest at all. Not the best found footage horror film I've seen, but a solid entry in the genre.

RATING: 7/10

Check out this link to find out more on the film.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIV (2012, Shout! Factory)

Coming July 31st from Shout! Factory is another fine collection of episodes from the brilliant Mystery Science Theater 3000. This set features a nice menagerie of foreign films - one Italian, one Russian and two Japanese (though Americanized by shitmeister Sandy Frank). As with all MST3K episodes, the best bad movies (or sometimes the worst bad movies) are heckled by the crew of the Satellite of Love - a spaceship consisting of one human (either Joel or Mike, depending on the episode) and two robots - Crow and Tom Servo.

First up is the one-two punch of suck that is Fugitive Alien and Star Force: Fugitive Alien II, based on the Star Wolf series of books by Edmond Hamilton. These unbearably bad films would test the patience of a monk so understanding the plot was trying to say the least. I did catch something about a spaceman named Ken who betrays the bad guys he works for to save an innocent person. The sequel takes Ken and puts him in a completely different space adventure. The third film in the set is The Sword and the Dragon, a Russian fantasy featuring a viking character named Ilya Muromets. Ilya becomes a warrior and must fight the Tugars, a group of pagan pillagers. The last film in this set is the Italian flick Samson vs. the Vampire Women, starring the masked wrestler/luchador Samson/Santo who must battle a group of very old vampire women who have transformed themselves into young beauties that can put unsuspecting victims into trances.

Shout! Factory does it again with this new set of hard to find MST3K gems. I'll be the first to admit that the two Fugitive Alien movies are a chore to sit through but they don't go without some reward. I've often said that the crappier the film, the better the episode and though this might be an exception, there are still plenty of laughs to be had. The Sword and the Dragon raises the bar, providing a laugh a minute set of wisecracks and insults. The best episode in the set though, and one of my favorites that I've seen, is Samson vs. the Vampire Women. Not only do we get a ridiculous plot concerning some evil vampiresses, but we get the masked Santo (Samson in the U.S. version) who gets plenty of ring time fighting off bad guys. The wrestling scenes are definitely the best and irreverent enough to speed up the pace a little. Overall, this set is another winner in the MST3K collection and contains many special features such as on-screen interviews with Sandy Frank and Frank Conniff as well as some MST3K hour wraps and a couple of shorts (my favorite thing about MST3K).

RATING: 8/10

The Divide (2011, Xavier Gens)

Just released on DVD and Blu Ray from Anchor Bay is a movie I have been looking forward to for a long time. The Divide is a post-apocalyptic nightmare with a great cast. The fact it was directed by Xavier Gens, best known for his French horror classic Frontier(s), was just one more reason I had to see it.

The Divide begins right as a nuclear bomb is decimating our country. A group of survivors who made their way into a bomb shelter have to rely on Mickey (Michael Biehn), who built the shelter, to keep them safe. Soon the inhabitants, which include a somewhat estranged couple (Lauren German and Ivan Gonzalez), a mother (Rosanna Arquette) and her young daughter (Abbey Thickson) as well as a few others begin to divide into groups and form alliances. When two of the inhabitants (Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund) tie Mickey to a chair and take over the group, the others strive to stay sane...and alive.

The Divide is a surprisingly bleak and brutal film. The cast is very fine, especially the evil Ventimiglia and Eklund, who were two of the scariest characters I have seen in a movie in a long time. Props also must be given to Biehn, one of my favorite actors (who I was fortunate enough to meet - see a pic HERE) and Lauren German who I loved in Hostel 2. Rosanna Arquette also does a great job as the desperate mom who becomes the target for the evil sadists' debauchery. The film, which clocks in at 2 hours, didn't have a single dull moment. I followed along closely as the story unfolded and the characters started to change (or become their true selves) during the solitary confinement they were trapped in. Anchor Bay's disc I viewed was an unrated version and this was definitely not kids stuff. A very dark, scary and sometimes stomach churning film, The Divide is destined to be a classic post-apocalyptic film that fans of the genre should definitely check out...before the world ends!

RATING: 9/10

DIVIDE TRAILER

The Wicker Tree (2010, Robin Hardy)

Our next review features a rarity we don't see very often (hence the word rarity). A sequel made 37 years after the original - even after a remake of the original was made. Why did it take so long for The Wicker Tree (the 2010 sequel to the 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man) to be made? That I don't know, but considering the praise given to The Wicker Man (it's been called The Citizen Kane of horror films) we should just be thankful that it is here...and the fact that it was written and directed by Robin Hardy, the director of the original film.

The Wicker Tree stars Brittania Nicol as country singer and missionary Beth Boothby, who travels with her fiance Steve (Henry Garrett) to England to try to convert some of the residents to God. They arrive just in time to be a part of the local celebrations, but soon find out that the townspeople have more in store for these messengers of God than a nice little parade. The townspeople are pagans and this time of year is VERY special to them.

The Wicker Tree, released on DVD and Blu Ray by Anchor Bay, succeeded in many ways. I liked the characters and the acting was well done. I also thought that the story, which followed the formula of the original, had enough new elements to make it feel like a companion and not a remake. The Wicker Tree didn't skimp on any of the R rated goodness that you'd expect from a horror film but it was also done tastefully and only occassionally dipped into the pointless "just for shock" elements that should be relegated to slashers. My only other complaint with the film was the use of CGI but even that wasn't overdone. There was something special about The Wicker Man that is hard to re-capture and though not as classic as the original, The Wicker Tree was a good follow up that is worth checking out.

RATING: 7/10

WICKER TREE TRAILER

The Scarlet Worm (2011, Michael Fredianelli)

Released a few months ago on DVD and Blu Ray from MVD/Unearthed Films is a new Western that takes the formula of the genre and adds many of today's elements to it. I am a big Western fan and this caught my eye for a few reasons. One is the fact it features the star of some great Spaghetti Westerns, Brett Halsey (billed here under his old Western pseudonym Montgomery Ford). Another is the original concept and its controversial nature, which harkens back to another of my favorite Westerns, Lucio Fulci's Four of the Apocalypse.

Aaron Stielstra stars as Print, a hitman who works for the aging rancher Mr. Paul (Halsey). Print is hired to mentor a new aspiring gunslinger and the two are to kill a local brothel owner (Dan van Husen) who is accused of giving his prostitutes abortions. Print is also being hunted by a local group of thugs whom want revenge on their friend that he killed.

The Scarlet Worm is a welcome addition into the Western genre that has put out very few great films in the last 30 years. The movie mashes the setting and feel of an old Western with the profanity, bloody violence and other R-Rated themes found in today's harder films. The film's cinematography combines stunning images (both beautiful and edgy) with some computer generated FX to make it a blast to watch. Some of the acting was slightly amateurish and some of the CGI was a little over the top but the film overall was a treat for Western fans waiting for a nice violent addition to the genre. Aaron Stielstra did a great job as the lead, though I couldn't help thinking that he reminded me of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. The DVD and Blu Ray feature a several features including two commentaries, behind the scenes footage and trailers.

RATING: 8/10

Buy the DVD and Blu Ray directly from MVD.

Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except (1985, Josh Becker)

bluthou

Who wouldn't want to see famous director Sam Raimi in an 80's low budget throwback to a 70's exploitation/horror/war film? I had heard about Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except by accident a few years ago. I came close to checking out the old Anchor Bay DVD release but never got around to it. Just re-released in a DVD/Blu Ray Combo set by Synapse Films, I had no excuse to procrastinate any longer.

Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except stars Brian Schulz as Stryker, an army veteran whose leg was wounded in Vietnam. Now a depressed alcoholic, he meets up with his old girlfriend and tries rekindling their relationship. In the meantime, a group of Stryker's army pals decide to visit him. It's a good thing too, because they will have to band together to fight a new enemy...a satanic hippie cult led by a Charles Manson-esque leader.

Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except was a fun and gory tribute to exploitation films of yore, when the acting was hammy, the budgets were miniscule and the blood flowed in rivers. The whole cast does a great job, especially Raimi as the psychotic cult leader. There is also an appearance by Raimi's brother Ted as one of the cultists. The story is simple and the characters are interesting. Synapse Films' new release is a revelation for this hardly seen flick. The DVD/Blu Ray combo comes with a bunch of great features including interviews, deleted scenes, reverseable cover art, two commentary tracks and a making-of documentary. The best feature though is the original 8mm film Stryker's War which the film was based on and stars Bruce Campbell as Stryker (he co-wrote the story but was unable to star in Thou Shalt Not Kill..Except due to the fact he had become part of the Screen Actor's Guild). Overall this set is a must have for any fan of horror and exploitation or the films of Sam Raimi.

RATING: 9/10

Order your copy directly from Synapse HERE

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Plot of Fear (1976, Paolo Cavara)

816018010418

Released last May from Raro Video is Paolo Cavara’s Italian Giallo thriller Plot of Fear. Starring the wonderful Corinne Clery (Moonraker, Hitch-Hike, The Story of O) and appearances by Tom Skerritt and Eli Wallach, this film caught my eye when I first read that it was getting its first U.S. DVD release. Raro always releases intriguing films so I had to give this one a shot.

Corinne Clery plays Jeanne, a model who becomes romantically involved with Police Inspector Lomenzo (Michele Placido) after she is questioned about a series of murders that she may be the next target for. As the murders continue, Lomenzo struggles to solve the crimes committed by a killer who leaves a cut out of a children’s story book with each corpse. The story is brought to its startling conclusion through a series of flashbacks from each of the characters.

On the surface, Plot of Fear sounds like your average Giallo film. There is nothing wrong with that, since I love Giallo films. But there is so much more to it as the film progresses. As the story unfolds all the way to the end, the intricacies start to develop and eventually leaves the watcher stunned by what is going on. The film is a well made treat with a great cast, some well executed death scenes and a brilliant story that gets better with each scene. Clery and Placido make a great pair and the appearances of Skerritt, Wallach and another favorite of mine John Steiner just add to the film. Raro’s DVD is a perfect companion to their already stellar library, with a nice looking print, interviews, English and Italian (with English subtitles) language options as well as an informative PDF booklet (accessed when you put the disc in your computer).

RATING: 8/10

Order directly from Raro HERE

Rats: Night of Terror (1984, Bruno Mattei)

 photo MV5BMTY5MzI3MDcwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODUwOTE1MQ_V1_SY317_CR40214317_.jpg

What can I say about Rats: Night of Terror that hasn’t been said before? Oh wait, here’s something – “I LOVE THIS MOVIE!” Rats is a universally loathed film directed by the universally loathed Bruno Mattei – under his frequent pseudonym (and homage to Dawn of the Dead) Vincent Dawn. Oh did I mention that it was co-written by Claudio Fragasso (aka Drake Floyd) who is best known as the writer/director of the “Best Worst Movie” Troll 2. Needless to say, this film has some real talent behind it. And I still stand by it with every fragment of my being.

Rats takes place several years in the future after some scientists create a nuclear holocaust. The surviving humans were forced underground to escape radiation, which in turn forced the rat species to go above ground. The rats have since become bloodthirsty killers because of the radiation and after a group of “new primitives” (humans who decided to go above ground and live like scavengers) stumbles upon a mysterious ghost town that has some general needs to maintain their survival, they realize the pesky rats that keep appearing out of nowhere are more of a threat than they could ever imagine!

Ok, so I’ll level with you. Rats: Night of Terror is a terrible film with hammy overacting (at least the folks who dubbed the dialogue were overacting), a ridiculous plot and some of the silliest dialogue I’ve ever heard. It had stereotypes (the token African-American character is named Chocolate), an over abundance of animal cruelty and rats that were either fake or painted black, depending on the scene. What I did like about the film is the use of some Italian horror staples, especially Massimo Vanni and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua (best known as the iconic worm-eyed zombie from Lucio Fulci’s Zombie). Also, it had some really cool makeup FX and over the top rat-induced deaths. Oh, and I’d have to say that it has one of the greatest endings in horror history. So if you are looking for a great, well made, scary horror film…DO NOT WATCH THIS! If you are looking for a low budget schlocky Italian horror film to watch with a bunch of friends (and alcohol), Rats: Night of Terror is perfect!

Rating:

Quality: 3/10

Enjoyment: 8/10

Shame (2011, Steve McQueen)

Shame-Blu-ray-1_zpsef70ab03 photo Shame-Blu-ray-1_zpsef70ab03-1_zps68664b6a.jpg

Shame, a film ultimately about addiction, was one I wanted to see as soon as it was announced.  Michael Fassbender is always great and Carey Mulligan is also a very talented actress.  I have read a bit about director Steve McQueen and his previous film The Hunger and the whole package had the promise of being a great film.

Fassbender stars as Brandon Sullivan, a business man living in a nice apartment in New York.  Though seemingly your average guy, Brandon happens to be a sex addict.  He needs sex in any form constantly, whether it be through internet porn or anonymous encounters.  Brandon’s troubled sister (Carey Mulligan) pops into his life unannounced and worms her way into staying with him.  Brandon’s lifestyle however proves this to be troublesome and the two have to struggle to not kill each other (or themselves).

Shame was a remarkable film filled with brilliant performances, an interesting script and controversial subject matter.  Fassbender and Mulligan are always great and prove the same here.  McQeen’s direction also proved very artistic and frequently beautiful.  I guess my only complaint would be that some of the film was a little predictable, but it was still well worth a watch.  The film is available in a DVD/Blu Ray combo with the DVD also containing a digital copy of the film.  Reasonably priced and featuring different ways to watch the film, it’s the perfect option for checking out one of the most interesting new releases of the last few years.

RATING:  8/10