Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Felissa Rose

Born in 1969, Felissa Rose grew up in New York wanting to be an actress. In 1983 at the age of thirteen she landed the role of Angela in the cult horror film "Sleepaway Camp."

That was the only role she played as a child, instead following a path that saw her finish school, college, complete formal training as an actress, and appear in numerous acclaimed stage productions.

In 2000, Rose returned to screen acting. In the past ten years she has been featured in more than 35 different independent horror films, including "Return to Sleepaway Camp" in 2008. At present, she is featured in four different movies in varying stages of production.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's 'Horror for the Holidays'

If you're looking for something to keep yourself awake while waiting for Santa, check this little collection of classic horror stories and mysteries.Horror for the Holidays. (They've been hand-selected by your Terror Titans host, me!)

Pick up this latest collection of classic fiction from NUELOW Games and help keep a roof over my head. :)

Christmas Saturday Scream Queens

In celebration of Christmas, I bring you multiple Scream Queens in Santa Hats!

Scarlett Johansson: Good at being naughty?

Scarlett Johansson started her career as a child actress at the age ten, appearing in such films as "North" (1994) and "Just Cause." (1995). She made the successful transition from child actress to adult movie star with the horror-comedies "Eight Legged Freaks" (2002). During 2006 alone, she appeared in three different films with horror-themes--"Scoop", "The Black Dahlia", and "The Prestige". She is currently filming the sci-fi/horror flick "Under the Skin", which is slated for release in late 2012.

Ha Ji-Won: She causes Santa to say "Ha! Ha! Ha!" instead of "Ho! Ho! Ho!"

Ha Ji-Won has been described by many critics in her home country of South Korea as one of that nation's most talented actresses. She has made 20 movies since her film debut in 2000, and her performances in horror films such as "Truth Game" (2000) "Phone" (2002), and, more recently, disaster movie "Tidal Wave" (2009) and the monster-on-a-rampage sci-fi/horror flick "Sector 7" (2011) show that the critics may be right for once.

Tara Reid: All she wants for Christmas is a pair of pants.

Tara Reid graduated from "that cute little girl in TV commercials" to horror films when she appeared in the 1987 chiller "A Return to Salem's Lot". Although she is perhaps best known for her recurring role as Vicky in the "American Pie" sex comedy series, Reid's resume of more than 35 films features ten horror movies. Among these are "Urban Legend" (1998), "Devil's Pond" (2003), "Incubus" (2006), and, most recently "The Field" (2011). She also starred in "Alone in the Dark" (2005), a horror movie that failed on so many levels it's hard to keep track of them. Director Uwe Boll blames Reid for the film's terrible state, but anyone who's suffered through it knows that Boll needs to cast that blame on the man in the mirror.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Parasite

The Parasite (1995)
Starring: David Gaffrey, Julia Matias, David Akin, and Robert Taminga
Director: Andy Froemke
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

When college professor Richard Austin (Gaffrey) volunteers to be the test subject in a fellow researcher's (Taminga) experiments with a powerful psychic (Matias), he finds himself the victim of a stalker who doesn't even have to leave her house to make his life hell.

The premise of this film is cool--think "Fatal Attraction" with psychic powers and hypnotism tossed in and you're close--but it's executed badly here. The film unfolds at a glacial, deadly dull pace... it's not padding that makes it boring (as is often the case with low-budget horror films like this), it's just a boring film. To drag the film down even further, the acting is pedestrian, the gore effects are badly done, and the visual "psychic vision" cues are even worse.

I'm sure there's a way make a premise as this one into an exciting film. "The Parasite" isn't it, though.

Monday, December 19, 2011

'Bloodlock' should have stayed locked up

Bloodlock (2008)
Starring: Ashley Gallo, Dominic Koulianos, Gregg Biamonte, Debra Gordon, Karen Fox,
Dick Hermance, and Nick Foote
Director: William Victor Schotten
Rating: One of Two Stars

Young married couple Christine and Barry (Gallo and Biamonte) discover a sealed door made of titanium in the basement of the house they have just purchased. As Christine grows obsessed with what might be behind it, her husband and slutty sister (Fox) are having an affair... and the creepy neighbors (Gordon and Hermance) are plotting to get into the door and take possession of what's inside.

William Victor Schotten is a filmmaker who is learning is craft as he goes. This is evident from the two films from him I've watched so far... this one, the oldest, and the Rapture/Zombie tale "Sabbath". Both date from 2008, but while "Sabbath" is far from perfect, it's a much, MUCH better film than "Bloodlock."

Heck, based on the difference in quality between "Bloodlock" and "Sabbath", I may have to get my hands on Schotten's most recent film--"Silver Cell" from 2011, because if he's continued at that rate of improvement, he may just have created one of the Greatest Movies Ever Made.

There's no word to describe "Bloodlock" better than "inept." The pacing is wrong from the get-go and it only gets worse as the film unfolds... with sequences that could have benefited from a little a pause being raced through like they were running out of film, and sequences that should have been quick being dragged out. The script is disjointed and chaotic, with a number of tones drifting through the disorganized story like so much flotsam as the film moves from being a erotic thriller, to a gory monster flick, to a half-assed comedy. There was also clearly a lack of funding when it came to special effects and a lack of rehearsal time when it came to the fight scenes... and the inexperience of Schotten and his technical crew only makes these shortcomings more obvious because they were either unable to use cinematic trickery to cover for them, or unaware of the fact they were looking at inadequacies until it was too late to do anything about it. And, finally, the ultimate doom for the movie are the mostly amateurish actors struggling with flat, poorly written lines. (Dominic Koulianos and Karen Fox are not only called upon to deliver awful lines, but they don't seem to be all that talented to begin with. That's a mix that destroys almost every scene they're in.)

This is, however, also one of those films I wish I could say nicer things about, because hidden inside this mess are some gems. I like the pirahna-style design used for the vampires in the film, and I think something cool could be done with the psychic housewife-turning-monster-hunter. But in this film, both of these cool aspects are all but wasted.

The one thing I have to give Schotten (or maybe screenwriter Tom McLaughlin) is that he realized this movie was disjointed and messy. So clear was that realization was that the film ends with the old "it was all a dream" and then loops back on itself by repeating an early scene. If you have a movie that doesn't make any sense, I suppose that's not a bad way to try to say "We meant to do that!". My reaction to such endings are typically either an irritated growl at the lazy cop-out or a grin at the well-executed creepy moebius loop, but seeing it here at the end of "Bloodlock" just made me a little sad. It seemed to say that the filmmakers knew what they had here didn't amount to much of anything.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Kumi Mizuno

Born on New Year's Day in 1937, began her film career appearing in thrillers and mystery films, but as the 1960s progressed, her good looks and pleasant demeanor made her a favorite of director Ishirô Honda and thus she became Toho's go-to gal when it came to befriending or being menaced by aliens and monsters of all kinds, in a range of sci-fi and horror films.

Mizuno emerged from her stint with monsters as one of Japan's most popular actresses and moved away from the horror and sci-fi genres as the 1970s progressed.

With a career that has spanned more than five decades at this point, she remains much-loved among the Japanese movie-going public and continues to act in films up to the present day. While she personally never put much weight on her early career co-starring with giant monsters and special effects, she returned to face Godzilla once more in Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (2002) and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), two entries in the Toho Company's "Millenium" series.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Kerry Kearns

Kerry Kearns' resume reads like she is the movie character rather than the actress.

Kearns is a field producer for Pennsylvania-based WBRE-TV by day, and B-movie starlet by night!

Since graduating from college in 2001, Kearns has worked primarily as a television news writer and segment producer, but she has also acted in six different low-budget horror films (with a total of seven listed on her resume as the short film "Cannibal Cheerleader Camp" was ultimately folded into the 2010 anthology film "Suburban Madness").

Kearns' most recent film, "Attack of the Vegan Zombies", where she plays one of four college students under attack by blood-hungry grape vines, will receive wide release on DVD in January 2012.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

'Attack of the Vegan Zombies' is an uneven but entertaining effort

Attack of the Vegan Zombies! (2012)
Starring: Christine Egan, Jim Townsend, Natalia Jablokov, Kerry Kearns, Watt Smith, John D. Kelly, H. Lynne Smith, and Wyatt Gunter
Director: Jim Townsend
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A string of bad growing seasons might cause Dionne and Joe (Egan and Townsend) to lose the vineyard and winery she inherited from her father, so Dionne turns to her mother (Smith), a practicing witch, for help. Together, they cast a spell that causes the grapes to grow like never before... but there is one big problem: The plants are sentient and thirsty for the blood of anyone who drinks wine made from the vineyard's grapes.

"Attack of the Vegan Zombies!" is one of those films I wish I liked more than I do. It has a lot going for it... a cast that's generally more talented than what I often see in films at this budgetary level, and a writer/director who seems to actually haven taken his script through more than a single draft, because the dialogue actually seems polished (although I got the sense that maybe a little more research into wine-making might have been needed). Also, as an idea for a low-key "Shaun of the Dead"-type horror spoof, this is a great one.

Townsend also clearly has a firm command of the technical aspects of filmmaking. The scenes are well-framed and well-lit, the edits and establishing shots always dead-on, the sound always clear and well-balanced, be it dialogue or sound effects. On a technical level, this film stands heads-and-shoulders above the vast majority of is low-budget, direct-to-DVD kin.

But as much as I want to like it, the weaknesses present here are so strong that they really get in the way of my overall enjoyment of the film.

The most glaring and persistent of these weaknesses are the characters portrayed by Watt Smith and John D. Kelly. These are a pair of uber-nerds that are played with such over-the-top gusto and caricature that they are out of step with the more realistic performances around them, making their characters irritating on the level of the comic relief characters that were shoehorned into the majority of horror films from the 1930s and 1940s. However, the aren't quite as bad as the majority of those characters, because Kelly and Smith have enough charisma to be likable through the annoying character acting. It's a shame that director Townsend chose to go in that direction, because the geeky banter back and forth between these characters would have been even funnier if they'd been played in a more straight fashion.

Another aspect that weakens the film is that Townsend may have taken on more than he was ready to handle in his first outing as a director; he may have made a mistake when he chose to play the male lead in the film he also directed, because every scene he appears in as an actor seems flat and lifeless when compared to those he isn't in. The clearest example of this is the scene where Dionne and her mother reveal that they are witches with a very real ability to weave spells. It's a great little scene that brings back fond memories of the "Bewitched" TV show, but actresses Christine Egan and H. Lynne Smith showed far greater energy in the scenes where they were interacting with each other or with other actors while Townsend was off-screen watching the scene unfold instead of trying to watch it from within. With more time and money to "get it right", Townsend might have been able to both star in and direct this picture, but given that he only had $30,000 as his budget and presumably the severe time limitations that arise when you have to coordinate your cast-with-dayjobs with when your locations are available, I don't think he had the opportunity for the multiple takes probably needed.

Finally, the film, strangely, seems to come apart at the seams during the final half-hour. For most of its running-time, it builds steadily toward what promises to be a chaotic climax full of killer grapevines and blood-sucking zombies. But as we get to that climax point, promises made early in the film don't pay off--like the exchange the mother has with a local restaurant owner to whom she sells a case of wine that seems to have been made from the magical grapes and its promise of a whole hoard of zombies attacking the winery in search of more "nectar". There are also strange continuity gaffes, and a repeated shying away from anything resembling physical altercations or violent action: We get the set-up, but in nearly every case, the action is either truncated or completely absent. All-in-all, what seemed very promising just sputters out at the end... even to the point where Townsend makes the huge error of tacking on one last joke in the form of a "shock surprise ending" which is predictable, not very funny, and nowhere near the closing moments that this film deserved.

There is enough good about this film that I hope it does well enough for Townsend to either motivate him to self-produce another movie, or for someone to hire him to make one for them. I would like to see what he could come up with, given lessons learned from this film. I also wouldn't mind seeing Christine Egan take another turn in front of a camera, as I think she did a fine job here, in what seems to be her only film role so far. This really is a an okay little movie that got torpedoed by a few bad choices on the part of a first-time director.

"Attack of Vegan Zombies" was completed in 2010, and Townsend has been selling copies of the film directly through his website and on However, it was recently picked up for distribution by Midnight Releasing, and it will be available everywhere come January 3, 2012.

(My thanks to the good people at Maxim Media for providing me with a copy of the film for review.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

These 'shrooms provide majorily bad trips

Matango (aka "Attack of the Mushroom People") (1962)
Starring: Akira Kubo, Miki Yashiro, Kumi Mizuno, Hiroshi Koizumi, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Yoshio Tsuchiya, and Kenji Sahara
Director: Ishirô Honda
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A sudden storm maroons a group of pleasure-boaters on an uncharted island inhabited by strange mushroom creatures.

If "Gilligan's Island" were a horror movie, then this would be it. We have the Skipper and Little Buddy characters (although they're contemptuous of their passengers and treacherously self-centered as opposed to bumbling and helpful); we have Ginger and Mary-Ann (although one is a shy student and the other a bitchy diva), the Millionaire (the owner of the yacht who is always quick to remind everyone else how rich he is... and the bitchy diva stands in for His Wife), and finally, the Professor (who is, well... the Professor).

"Mantango" is a far more effective horror film than I expected to see from the home of Godzilla and who-knows-how-many-other giant monsters. It stars out feeling like an adventure flick, but once our crew of castaways find the wrecked research vessel on the coast of the island where they are marooned, a sense of claustrophobic horror starts to build. And as desperation starts to grip our band of contentious castaways, it becomes more and more evident that they have nowhere to hide from the monsters or each other.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the film was that the monsters--the mushroom people--were not as silly as I expected them to be. Perhaps it was because they were tied in with the fact that the only way for the characters to survive was to eat food they knew would turn them into monsters, but the effective make-up effects and costumes also played a role.

While I wasn't thrilled with the "shocking twist ending"--which was so bad that it rivals some of the worst modern offenders I've complained about--everything prior to it as very well done. It's a horror film that's free of gore and nudity, so it can be enjoyed by the entire family. Heck, it's even free of stringy-haired girl-ghosts, so this might just be a Japanese horror flick that even those who are sick of them can enjoy!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Susan Cabot

Susan Cabot's rough childhood, which saw her grow up in a string of eight foster homes, led, by some accounts, to her being cold, distant, and downright abusive to those around her in her personal life. Something which ultimately led to her demise.

Cabot's film career was an on-again, off-again affair. She was a contract player with Universal Picture in the early 1950s, but asked to be released form that contract in 1954 so she could do theater work in New York City. During this time, she appeared mostly in westerns.

In 1957, Roger Corman convinced her to return to the film business and she spent the next two years primarily appearing in films produced or directed by Corman. Among these is her very best performance in the chilling "Sorority Girl"--perhaps one of Corman's best and most heart-felt pictures. It's dressed up like an exploitation horror thriller, but it's really a far deeper picture about a sociopath's doomed struggle to find friends and fit into society.

Cabot ended her film career in 1959 with another starring turn as a sociopath in "The Wasp Woman", this time a decidedly villainous rather than piteous character. This mad scientist film set in a cosmetic company is slow-moving and mostly dull, but Cabot is, once again, quite good. Perhaps a reason she excelled at playing sociopaths is because she was putting a big part of herself up there on the screen?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Cabot was cold and abusive to those close to her. In fact, she was so abusive to her son that he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and given a suspended sentence after he bludgeoned her to death while she slept in 1986.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

'Project Vampire' is a failed project

Project Vampire (1993)
Starring: Brian Knudson, Mary-Louise Gemmill, and Myron Natwick
Director: Peter Flynn
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A mad scientist, Dr. Klaus (Natwick), is perfecting a longevity serum that turns those who use it into vampires. A brave intern from the univsersity hospital (Knudson), a kind-hearted nurse (Gemmill), and a Chinese genius (Cho) join forces to save themselves from the effects of the serum and to stop Klaus's convoluted schemes from coming to fruition.

At the center of "Project Vampire" is a neat idea--I like the notion of the vampire serum--but that idea is brutally strangled by a script so badly structured I doubt the writer/director has even heard the term "three-act structure", and then dumped in a shallow grave by a cast of actors who have almost certainly heard the phrase "don't quit your day job" many times. To make matters worse, the film is a mixture of a chase story and a race-against-time story, but both of these normally dramatic plot-types are made deadly dull by chase scenes that have all the excitement of my daily commute to work.

(In fairness, I may actually be being a bit harsh on the actors who star in this picture. Mary-Louise Gemmill and Myron Natwick both have extensive credits to their names, albeit as a voice actress and bit-player respectively--taking center stage may not be where their talent lies, or maybe they were let down by director Peter Flynn. Flynn has been a prop-maker for a host of high profile television series and movies but this was the one and only film he's directed.

In the end, "Project Vampire" is yet another badly executed low-budget film where a good idea falls victim to a shortage and/or misdirection of talent. (It's also the only film of recent vintage that features a Chinese character that brought to mind Lionel Twain's rant at Inspector Wang in "Murder By Death" about geniuses being unable to grasp the use of preposition, articles, and pronouns when speaking.)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Amy Smart

Cute and blonde, California native Amy Smart has been busy playing everything from bit-parts to leading lady since her acting debut in 1996, appearing in over 50 films and television series. Best knwon for appearing in "Varsity Blues", "Outside Providence", and the two gonzo action films in the "Crank" series, her resume has been dotted with horror films since the earliest points of her career.

Smart appeared both im the anthology film "Campfire Tales" in 1997, and followed up the next year with the the internet stalker horror film "Strangeland". Ten years later, she made it a double-bill when she starred in two horror films that year--"Mirrors" and "Seventh Moon."

We won't have to wait ten years for Smart's next horror film, however. She is currently filming "7500", a movie about supernatural happenings during a flight across the Pacific. It's being directed by the "Grudge" series that is slated for release in late 2012.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day of the Turkey Review: The Witches' Mountain

The Witches' Mountain (1971)
Starring: John Gaffari, Patty Shepard, and Monica Randall
Director: Raul Artigot
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A commerical photographer (Caffari) takes a random girl (Shepard)--it WAS the Seventies!--with him on a trip to shoot a photo-essay on isolated Witches' Mountain. Random weirdnesses, and eventually witches, haunt them every step of the way.

"The Witches' Mountain" is a film with a muddled story and a twist ending that guarentees nothing in it makes sense.

How does the prologue with the evil little bitch girl fit with the climax? Was Shepard put in Gaffari's path through magic? What was the deal with the deserted village? Why do witches look like a modern ballet company during rehersal when doing "black magic"? Why do witches like to steal our hero's car and break into his house? These are just some of the questions you will be left with when the final frame of film freezes on your DVD player.

The best actor in this film is Shepard, who has shockingly blue eyes and has an odd sort of beauty about her--very much like the more well-known Barbara Steele--but no one is exactly bad... except perhaps that god-awful creepy innkeeper/comic relief character. But that might just have been the voice actor who did the dubbing.

Shepard's beauty aside, the only other thing this film has to offer is some great moments of unintentional hilarity to brighten any Bad Movie Night. Otherwise, this is just a mediocre horror film that's scare free and, like its protaganists, ultimately ends up nowhere.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn, one of the most beautiful and talented actresses to ever grace us with her presence in films, only appeared in one film that can be considered a horror movie during her career. In "Wait Until Dark," she played a blind woman whose home is invaded by three thugs who will stop at nothing to retrieve a doll stuff with illegal drugs. It is a thriller so intense that it is more frightening than most films that get passed off as horror movies.

And Audrey Hepburn is as great in it as she was in anything else she appeared in.

Audrey Hepburn passed away in 1993.

(I know Audrey Hepburn doesn't really qualify as a Scream Queen, even if she did do her fair share of it in the thrillers she appeared in, but since I started this blog, this series has not missed a single Saturday. With my current eye troubles, I am not able to stare at the screen long enough to select photos and type p a bio, so I am cheating to keep up the streak... sort of. The fact that Hepburn plays a blind woman in "Wait Until Dark" seemed like a good enough excuse to post a picture of her.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Shirley Anne Field

Raised in an orphanage after she and her brother were abandoned by their impoverished mother, British actress Shirley Anne Field first entered show-business as a pin-up model in the early 1950s. By the middle of that decade, she'd moved onto movies, first in bit parts where she was cast for her curvacious good looks, but her gifts for acting soon saw her moving up to real roles.

Among her earliest parts with a little meat to them were an appearance in the obscure chiller "Horror of the Black Museum" (1957) and the imfamous proto-slasher flick "Peeping Tom" (1960). In 1963, Field starred in one of Hammer Films' most unusual releases, the sci-fi horror flick "These Are the Damned", and she gave a good accounting of herself. However, she would not appear in another horror film until the very disappointing "House of the Living Dead" ten years later. Field is great--and even sexy and youthful-enough in appearance to be playing a character who is 25 as opposed to her actual age of 35 at the time--but almost everything else in this slow-moving gothic horror story is dull and drab.

"House of the Living Dead" is Field's final horror movie to date, but she has appeared in numerous thrillers, in both supporting and leading roles.

Now 71, Field still possesses good looks and remains a busy working actress. She appeared in three different productions in 2010, and has been reported to have a role in "Tranfer at Aachen", a crime drama that seems to be all over the internet but which likewise does not seem to have received an official release.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Katee Sackhoff

Born in 1980, actress Katee Sackhoff was a rising television actress with a handful of roles to her name when she shot to sci-fi stardom as the cigar-chomping fighter pilot Starbuck in the remake of "Battlestar Galactica" on the Sci-Fi/Syfy Channel. She played Starbuck for four seasons.

However, her first major role in a television series was in the short-lived horror anthology series "The Fearing Mind". Along the way, Sackhoff has also appeared in a number of horror movies, including the misbegotten "Halloween: Resurrection" and "White Noise 2: The Light".

Sackhoff is currently filming a western series for television, as well as working on three movies in varying stages of production, two of which are horror films: "The Haunting in Georgia" (for which a sequel is already in the works, even before the first one is through post-production) and "Growl", with both tentatively slated for release in 2012.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

'Open Graves' is not worth your time

Open Graves (2009)
Starring: Mike Vogel, Eliza Dushku, Ethan Rains, Lindsay Caroline Robba, Naike Rivelli, and Gary Piquer
Director: Álvaro de Armiñán
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A group of 20-somethings (Dushku, Rains, Rivelli, Robba, and Vogel) working and surfing in Spain fall victim to a powerful and deadly curse after they play a board game made from the bones of a witch.

If you've seen the classic movie "Jumanji", you know the basic premise of this film. You've also seen that premise used far more effectively. Heck, you've even seen more intense and frightening scenes than what you'll get in this horror movie.

"Open Graves" features a script so weak and predictable that I wonder why it was made as an R-rated film. Anyone who has seen even one other film featuring a cursed object will be able to guess where the film is going, up to and including the ending, so the only audience who would have enjoyed this picture would have been young kids. Everyone else will grow increasingly bored as this movie unfolds and brings nothing new. (There is a creepy little twist involving Eliza Dushku's character toward the end of the film, but it's so minor so as to be a reach for me to even mention it as a positive aspect of the film. I suppose the subplot involving a police detective with a dark agenda is also unpredictable... but only because it ends without any particular resolution. Not a Good Thing.)

Of course, it doesn't help the overall weakness of the material that the actors appear to have been cast mostly for their good looks than their talent. They add more attractiveness to this already beautiful-looking film, but they ultimately also help emphasize the emptiness and unoriginality of the script, because there is little or no life to their characters. The exception to that general statement are Dushku and Vogel, who bring enough charisma to their characters that we care a little about what will happen to them... but for all but the most entertainment-starved captive audience that's not enough to make it feel like watching this film was time well spent.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Eliza Dushku

Born in 1980, Eliza Dushku made her film debut at age 12, and she has been busy ever since. As the world was panicking over Y2K, Dushku successfully made the transition from child actress to simply actress with leading and supporting roles in a variety of television series and films, with an emphasis on dark thrillers and horror.

Aside from playing then popular bad-girl vampire hunter Faith on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," and starring roles in the short-lived series series "Tru Calling" and "Doll House," Dushku has been featured in hakf a dozannumehorror films, such as "Soul Survivor", "Wrong Turn", "Locked In", and "Open Graves". Dushku has also leant her distinctive voice to numerous computer games and animated features, most recently voicing Catwoman in the "Batman: Year One" animated feature.

Dushku has several projects in various stages of development, with the most prominent of these being slated part in "Ghostbusters III".

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Countdown to Halloween with Vampirella

There are Nine Days Left....

By Enrique Torres

Saturday Scream Queen: Brooke Adams

Born and raised in New York City, Brooke Adams started acting professionally in theatre productions while still a child and graduated from New York's High School for the Performing Arts and the School of the American Ballet. As an adult, she broke into film, and has appeared in film and TV programs of just about every genre, although horror and thrillers, mostly low-budget, have been the mainstay of her career.

Among her notable horror films are starring turns in "Song of the Succubs", "Shock Waves" and the first remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" during the 1970s; "The Dead Zone" and "Haunted" during the 1980s; and "The Unbord", "Sometimes They Come Back" and "Probably Cause" during the 1990s.

Noteworthy small horror parts include a role in of the best of the Black Dahlia movies "Who Was the Black Dahlia" and a tiny but fun appearance in "The Stuff".

Adams married actor Tony Shaloub in 1992, and after the birth of the second child in 1993, she increasingly shifted her attention to the stage, although she has continued to appear in small film and television roles. She appeared as three different characters during the seven year run of the television series "Monk", which starred her husband, and she will next be seen in 2012 in the big-screen docu-drama "Hemingway & Gellhorn", which will star Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman as the title characters.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Suzanne Kaaren

Born in New York in 1912, Suzanne Kaaren was an accomplished high school athlete whose beauty so blossomed at a young age that she was offered the opportunity to join the Zeigfeld Follies at the age of 15. Her parents forbade her from pursuing the opportunity, just as they blocked her from an opportunity to compete in the 1930 Olympic Games.

Despite what seems to be the best efforts of her parents, Kareen turned to professional modeling, dancing and acting. Starting with local theater companies, she quickly rose through the theatrical ranks, and she was one of the original Rockettes and performed on stage when when Radio City Music Hall opened in 1932.

By the end of 1933, Kaaren had left New York City for Hollywood, and worked under contract for Fox and MGM, and also appeared in films from RKO, and famed low-budget movie factories Monogram Pictures and PRC.

Kaaren's film career never quite took off, and she was cast in mostly in small roles and more for exotic looks and shapely legs than for her skills as an actress. She appeared in numerous comedies and westerns, but is best remembered today for appearing in two Three Stooges films--"Disorder in the Court" and "What Matador?", and for her leading role in one of Bela Lugosi's best pictures--"The Devil Bat" from PRC. That one role, in that very fun movie, is remarkable enough to give her a place in this series.

Kaaren retired from film acting in 1944 and moved back to New York to focus on her family and raising her two children. She passed away in 2004.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Countdown to Halloween with Vampirella

There are 17 Days Left....
By J. Scott Campbell

(Yes... that IS Vampirella, as she appeared in the "Vampi" series from the late 1990s (Or early 2000s? I rightly don't recall anymore). In it, publisher Harris Comics and the writers/artists of Anarchy Studios transported her to a dark future where she was a manga character rock star who wielded dual machine guns and the big-ass swords she's posing with above. It wasn't bad for the first six or so issues, but it quickly got boring as a thin story was stretched waaaaaaaaaaay too long. Rather like just about any comic book you care to mention these days. What happened? Did people forget how to make good comics, are they fixated on graphic novel collections, or are they just too lazy to write and draw exciting, content-rich stories?)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The MonaLisa Twins at Hotel California

In this post at Shades of Gray, I lamented the fact that I'd not see a good video for "Hotel California." It's a spooky song that BEGS for a great video treatment, yet no one has done one.

That said, teenaged Austrian sister-act the MonaLisa Twins has covered the Eagles classic AND been featured in a good video for it. It's still not the spooky mini-horror flick this song needs, but it's a good clip for a good cover of a great song.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Countdown to Halloween with Vampirella

There are 23 Days Left....

By Mike Mayhew 

(Be nice... you don't want Vampirella gunning for you!)

Saturday Scream Queen: Denice Duff

Denice Duff started her acting career in 1990 after winning a contest held by talent agent Jay Bernstein, a contest she hadn't even considered entering until the judges encouraged her to do so.

After minor roles on television series like "Matlock" and "Northern Exposure", Duff was cast as the reluctant vampire Michelle in "Subspecies II" after the actress who originated the role did not come back for the sequels. She would play the part in two additional films, and she became so thoroughly associated with the part that few even remember that she was a replacement, and everyone agrees that she was a key element in one of the best series of vampire films ever produced.

Aside from "Subspecies", Duff is best known for a recurring role on soap opera "The Young and the Restless" during the years 2001 - 2002, and as a talented and sought-after celebrity photographer.

Although acting is no longer her main vocation, and she stepped away from the horror genre for a time after the "Subspecies 4", Duff came back to chillers starting with "Dr. Rage" in 2005. Earlier this year, she completed the soon-to-be-released thriller "Codex" and will also be appearing "Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation" along with a cast that is a vertible who's who if 1990s horror luminaries.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Low-budget but impressive, 'Bio-Slime' delivers goopy scares

Bio-Slime (aka "Contagion") (2010)
Starring: Vinnie Bilancio, Ronnie Lewis, Victoria De Mare, Kelli Kaye, Micol Bartolucci, Magic Ellingson, Gia Paloma, and Ron Fitzgerald
Director: John Lechago
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Troy (Bilanco), a down-and-out artist whose talent has been drained away by alcoholism finds himself stalked by a mysterious slime-monster that is absorbing into its mass the occupants of the ramshackle building housing his small studio. Trapped with his agent (Lewis), a few friends (Ellingson, Kaye, and Paloma) and a porn actress from the film studio next door (De Mare), Troy has to find a way to defeat the creature before they all literally become one body and mind.

With a little nip and a tiny tuck here and there to get rid of some bare breasts, "Bio-Slime" is the sort of movie you might find on the SyFy Channel with a "SyFy Channel Original" logo slapped before the opening credits. I'm not saying that to insult the film, but to praise it, because I suspect that John Lachago made this self-funded, self-produced film for a fraction of what those movies are made for... and his end product was as good as most of them, and even better in the effects department.

And those creature effects are the real star in this film. Most of the characters really serve no purpose other than to be monster chow, each suffering a dire, disgusting, and wholly unique fate at the pseudo-pods and tentacles of the slime-monster. All the creature effects, with the exception of a few of the tentacles, were practical effects--make-up, puppetry, and cinematography tricks. And they look great, far better than even some of the computer-generated effects in recent films with budgets 100 or 1,000 times what "Bio-Slime" was made on.

This is a movie that shows that the old methods of making movies are still perfectly adequate--and even superior--to hi-tech wizardry when those time-tested tools are being wielded by talented and skilled artisans like Lechago and his special effects make-up artist Tom Devlin. Devlin and Lechago also worked together on "Killjoy 3", so they obviously make a good team. Here's hoping I see more from them in the future.

I should probably mention that while very little character development takes place in "Bio-Slime", that's not to say there isn't a fully fleshed-out story here. Not only do we get hints of what sort of life the main characters have led beyond the dingy walls they have been trapped within, but there is a sense of history surrounding the monster as well. It emerges from a hi-tech containment device that is opened by the characters through a mixture of curiosity and outright stupidity, it talks about having a life so long that it can't recall where it came from, and the "prologue" and "epilogue" scenes hint and a story far larger and a threat of a possibly global scale that might visit the terror of the few trapped in Troy's studio to the entire world.

But these hints of a larger story are not presented in the hamfisted "Oooo we're setting up a sequel, kids? See? See?! We're not really giving you a complete story here, because we want you back for Part Two and Part Three!" that has become so annoyingly common over the past 15-20 years since everyone thinks their horror or sci-fi film is the next big trilogy or franchise. No... Lechago has written them into the film in an organic way, so we become curious about what might have happened before the film stars and what comes after the end credits finish their crawl. Any dreams he may harbor of sequels is up to him to discuss, but whether he had them or not, he managed to make the events of "Bio-Slime" feel connected to a much larger world, a world that viewers can't but help be curious about; he has planted his "sequel seed" the right way.

(In fact, Lechago did it SO right that I found myself imaging what could be going on... and the players in my on-again, off-again near-future sci-fi role-playing campaign will be dealing with something "borrowed" from this movie. And I can safely say this here, because none of them bother reading my film reviews, because they get enough of my rants in person.)

In addition to well-done story, the film also benefits tremendously from a nice, very traditional-flavored music score. I didn't really notice the music until the film was building to its climax and Troy was getting ready for his final showdown with the slime-creature, but it had been there previously as well. Michael Sean Colin's score is perfect in every respect, deployed at just the right moments and providing just the right intensity needed, mostly blending perfectly with the events unfolding on screen, but stepping to the fore when appropriate as during the film's climax.

Last, but far from least, the film features a great cast of actors. As I mentioned above, the characters in film are mostly here just to get killed, and there isn't much development that takes place with them. However, we get just enough to let us know the type of character each one of them is... and that type is then brought to seemingly full life through the talent and charisma of the actors playing them. While there might not be a whole lot for each actor to work with, what there is, they handle expertly, and they make us care about relatively shallow characters and to feel horrified as each one of them dies. Lachago matched the right actor with the exact right character, and the results are quite impressive. While I can nitpick some of the dialogue and some of the character interaction, I don't feel so inclined, because the actors gave such enjoyable performances, with Victoria De Mare as the bitchy porn actress and Vinnie Bilancio as the reluctant hero who was hoping to turn over a new leaf and make today the first day in the rest of his life, are particularly good in their parts.

"Bio-Slime" has not yet secured wide distribution, which is a shame. I think it's a film that deserves as audience beyond film festivals and cranky typists like yours truly.

(For a sample of what Lechago is capable of, you can check out "Killjoy 3" from Full Moon Features. Click on the link to read my review at the Charles Band Collection.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Countdown to Halloween with Vampirella

28 Days Left....

By Mike Hoffman

The Complete Subspecies

Producer/writer/director Charles Band has put his stamp on nearly 300 horror and sci-fi movies since the late 1970s, but he has yet to top the quality of the "Subspecies" series. These four vampire films were helmed by his frequent 1990s collaborator Ted Nicolaou, and they are not only among the best movies to ever bear Band's famous Full Moon logo, but they are among some of the best vampire movies ever made.

You can read more about Full Moon movies at my other blog "The Charles Band Collection", but I am posting reviews of the Subspecies series here as well, because they are movies that any fan or student of the vampire genre needs to check out. Those of you who enjoy vampire movies with more of a gothic flavor to them than we've seen in recent years will be especially appreciative of the tone and nature of these films. It's a shame it's not been as popular as some of their other creations, such as the Puppet Master films.

Subspecies (1991)
Starring: Laura Mae Tate, Irina Movila, Michelle McBride, Anders Hove, Ivan J. Rado and Michael Watson
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Producer: Ion Ionescu and Charles Band
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Three pretty grad students (McBride, Movila and Tate) working on disertations are in Transylvania to study the local legends and folk customs, only to find themselves in the middle of a vampiric family feud that's been brewing for centuries and that is now reaching it's brutal, bloody finale.

"Subspecies" is one of the better vampire movies to come out of the 1990s, despite the obvious budget constraints it was made under. It's an interesting merging of the hideous monstrosity vampires from the real legends and early movies and the sexy vampire that grew increasingly popular during the second half of the 20th century, reaching the pinnacle of pop culture success by the mid-1990s.

The story feels a tad slow-moving, partly because the film telegraphs where it's going by leading with the vampires and their blood-feud and then cutting to our three soon-to-be damsels in distress--two very cute blonds and an androgynous brunette--for extended sequences as they wander around old castles and a beautiful countryside, broken only by scenes of the very creepy and disgusting vampire Radu (played by Anders Hove, in a fashion that makes Max Schreck's Count Orlock in "Nosferatu" look like a GQ cover model) rising from his coffin. Radu is so vile that you know he's going to be chewing his way through the cast, so you're going to be feeling a bit impatient with the film as it works its way toward the expected carnage.

However, the film is never dull, nor will you likely be tempted to turn it off. The cast are all good actors and they all play their parts well. The camerawork is excellent and the true Romanian settings lends an atmosphere of realism to the film that few modern-day vampire films can muster.

But when it gets going, it delivers vampire material running the gamut. We've got a disgusting, drooling taloned vampire that's a late 20th century take on the "Nosferatu"-style vampire, we've got sexy vampire babes in nightgowns who might have just flitted over from one of Hammer's Dracula movies, and we've got the male model modern vampire hunk love interest of one of the girls (played by Michael Watson, who was a soap-opera star when the "Subspecies" movie were made).

With all of the good things I'm saying about the film, why am I only giving it a Six Rating, you ask? Well, it's because of the inconsistencies and strange logic surrounding the pint-sized monters that are a mainstay of Charles Band-produced films whether they belong or not. Here, the tiny creatures are nasty demons that are created from severed tips of Radu's fingers, but they fail to seem real because of the truly crappy effects used to bring them to life. For example, in all but one scene, no one bothered to trick in shadows under the creatures, so they appear to be floating over the floor instead of walking on it. They look exactly like what they are: Puppets that have been placed in the scenes via special effects, and they ruin almost every scene they're in because of it.

Despite its flaws, "Subspecies" is a vampire movie that has a little something for everyone, including bare breasts. It's a good start for a series that only gets better.

Subspecies II: Bloodstone (1993)
Starring: Denise Duff, Anders Hove, Melanie Shatner, Kevin Spirtas, Michael Denish, Ion Haiduc and Pamela Gordon
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Young Michelle (Duff) has recently been turned into a vampire and is on the run from the evil vampire prince Radu (Hove) and his twisted, immortal mother (Gordon). Her sister (Shatner) arrives in Romania hoping to help her, but what can a mere mortal do against an ancient vampire who is not only chasing Michelle because he want to possess her, but also because she has stolen the magical Bloodstone?

"Subspecies II: Bloodstone" is a direct continuation of the original "Subspecies"--it picks up just one single night after the final scene of the first movie--and it's one of those very rare sequels that manages to turn out better than the movie it follows. This is an especially remarkable feat because a near-total cast change has taken place and the film takes some very unexpected directions as far as story goes.

The only actor to return in the sequel is Anders Hove, who repeats his performance as the extremely vile, supremely creepy Radu. Although Radu doesn't actually kill anyone in this film--or even sink his vampiric fangs into a single neck!--he's an even more menacing presense than he was in the first film. He developes a maniacal need to possess Michelle, the mortal woman who was made a vampire by Radu's brother Stefan and he seems to start deluding himself into thinking that she will care for him, partly because he murdered Stefan to gain her as a possession. This insanity makes him even spookier than he was in the first movie.

Radu also seems more creepy because of superior camerawork and lighting present in this film. From beginning to end, there is a consistant mood of dread and darkness in every frame of the film, most of it created with simple lighting techniques and camera angles. (The same is true of a number of low-cost effects that seem to make the vampires beings of living shadows--something that is created through well-considered placement of spotlights and cameras and the result is far more effective than more costly special effects could ever have been. (The one time where there is an animated shadow, it looks cheesy, but every time Radu's arrival or departure is demonstrated with shifting, giant shadows it's very dramatic and cool.)

Aside from the competent camera work and lighting, the film also sports a great soundtrack that is fresh yet still reminicent of the one present in the first film. The featured actors also do an excellent job in their various parts, with Denise Duff being particularly noteworthy for stepping into the role of Michelle quite nicely (even if one has to wonder why they chose to go with her as Michelle when Melanie Shatner, the actress who plays Michelle's sister, bears closer physical resemblence to the actress who played Michelle in the first movie) and Michael Denish for serving as the film's comic relief as a scatter-brained Van Helsing-type scholar.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the film when one considers it was produced by Charles Band's Full Moon Entertainnment is the fact that the film follows continuity from the first film very closely. Even with a near-total cast change and the film shifting in tone from Hammer-style gothic horror to a more modern sensibility, the storyline and all the characters remain consistent. Other Full Moon series, like "Puppet Master" and "Trancers" seem to almost go out of their way to screw up story continuity between the various movies, but writer/director Ted Nicolaou chose to actually pay attention to what he'd done before and remain consistent with it even though he took the story in a very different direction than the ending of "Subspecies" seemed to be leading toward.

Subspecies III: Bloodlust (1993)
Starring: Anders Hove, Denice Duff, Melanie Shatner, Kevin Spirtas, Ion Haiduc and Pamela Gordon
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After failing to rescue her sister from the clutches of the evil vampire prince Radu (Hove), Becky (Shatner) enlists the help of a young American diplomat (Spirtas) and a frustrated Romanian police detective (Haiduc) to stage a raid on Castle Vladislav. Meanwhile, Radu is educating the fledgling vampire Michelle (Duff) in how to use her new supernatural powers while attempting to corrupt her soul in order to make her is vampire bride in body as well as spirit.

"Subspecies III: Bloodlust" picks up at the ending of the previous film, seamlessly continuing the storyline of Michella, Radu, and the fearless (but hapless) vampire hunters led by Michelle's sister Becky. Characters who had minor roles in the previous film take the spotlight in this one and they launch a concerted and believable (once one buys into the idea that vampires and witches exist) effort to bring down the vampires.

Once again, the cast all give admirable performances, with Anders Hove making Radu even more disgusting in this installment than he had been in the previous ones. At the same time, however, he manages to evoke some degree of sympathy in the viewer as well. (He's a hideous, murdering monster who has more than just a few screws loose, but the love he has developed for Michelle--however twisted--and the pain it is causing him that she doesn't love him back gives the character a dimension that both makes him increasingly creepy but also gives the viewer something to relate to.)

In some areas, this film continues the trajectory started with the first "Subspecies" sequel, increasing the quality of the film instead of decreasing it as is the usual pattern when it comes to sequels. In other areas, the film holds its own quite nicely, and the end result is a film that will provide a satisfying viewing experience for lovers fo vampire movies of all stripes.

The script for this installment of the series is the best so far. I've already touched upon the great performances given by Anders Hove and Denice Duff, performances that wouldn't have been possible if they hadn't been provided with a great script as their starting point. The scripts quality is also manifested in the comic relief character of Lt. Marin (portrayed by Ion Haiduc), who has scenes that manage to inspire laughter on the heels of, or even during, some of the film's most intense and scary moments. The only complaint I have with the script is that I would have liked to have been given a bit more of a solid ending, but what we have isn't decent enough so that's a minor complaint.

The film isn't as impressive in the photography and lighting area as its predecessor was, with many of the shadow and transformation effects being acheived with animation or composite shots instead of simple lighting and camera tricks. The overall look of the film also isn't quite as dramatic as "Subspecies II", but it's still far beyond the average low-budget horror film and it is still good enough to place this film among the best movies to ever emerge from the Full Moon film factory. It is without a doubt evidence that the Golden Age for Charles Band and his Full Moon label was in the early 1990s. (Band may yet rediscover how to mount productions as impressive as this one, but nothing he has produced in recent years even comes close.)

"Subspecies III: Bloodlust" is one of the very best vampire films ever made. It should be on the "must-see" list of any serious fan or student of genre.

Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm (1998)
Starring: Denice Duff, Anders Hove, Floriela Grappini, Jonathon Morris, Mihai Dinvale, Ion Haiduc, and Ioana Abur
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Producers: Charles Band, Kirk Edward Hansen, and Vlad Paunescu
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Free of her master Radu (Hove), fledgeling vampire Michelle (Duff) enters the care of a doctor who claims he has discovered a method to reverse her undead condition. But Radu is not ready to let her go yet, and he launches an effort to retrieve her, with the reluctant help of Bucharest's most powerful vampire, Ash (Morris).

In the annals of unnecessary sequels, few are more unnecessary than "Subspecies 4". The 1993 third movie in the series provided a satisfying conclusion to the core story of the series--Michelle resisting Radu's attempts to turn her to evil--and the heroes driving off into the sunrise as Radu was burned to ashy oblivion was a nice period at the end.

But, Charles Band being Charles Band, a successful film WILL have a sequel no matter what, so four years later, Nicolaou was back in the director's chair at the helm of this film, which is an unnecessary sequel not just to the first three "Subspecies" films, but to the tangentially related "Vampire Journals", which was also written and directed by Nicolau. (Or maybe it's a prequel to "Vampire Journals"? With Full Moon's trademark disregard for continuity, I never can be 100 percent sure what they're intending....)

All that said, despite being a wholly unnecessary add-on to the other vampire films, it stands with the original "Subspecies" films and "Vampire Journals" as one of the most visually striking films to ever come from the Band direct-to-home-video assembly lines. Nicolaou really knew how to get the most out of the grand Romanian locations, especially at night. He also continues his flair for stretching his minimal budget to the point where he creates an end-product that looks better than films that cost ten times as much to make.

And while the film is not as good as "Subspecies 3"--the best film from Nicolau I've seen so far--it is an improvement on the overly slow "Vampire Journals".

As for the story, it's a tangle plots and counter-plots that rival the storylines envisioned by the creators of the 1990s roleplaying game "Vampire: The Masquerade" which these movies have always seemed like the perfect adaptation of. Radu plotting to conquer
Michelle, Ash plotting to destroy Radu, Dr. Niculescu's hidden agenda and dark secret... all of these intrigues swirl around Michelle who continues to resist the call of evil and dream of reclaiming her humanity. If you like the Anne Rice-style vampire genre and/or the 1990s White Wolf-style roleplaying games, you'll enjoy this movie.

You'll also enjoy the film if you liked Anders Hove performances in the previous "Subspecies" films. Hove's Radu is every bit as disgusting as he's always been, although he is also even more pathetic in this film that ever before, with his desire for Michelle now fully transformed from its initial need to possess into unrequited love. The rest of the cast do a good job as well, with Jonathon Morris actually being better as Ash in this film than he was in "Vampire Journals" and Ion Haiduc providing gallows-humor comic relief as a police detective turned bumbling vampire (making him the only returning character from the previous two films aside from Michelle and Radu).