Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Women of Elmore

Fantasy artist Larry Elmore was one of the major reasons TSR, Inc. and its roleplaying games became as popular as they did. His iconic fantasy images, particularly the paintings and character designs he created for the "Dragonlance" property, fueled the imaginations of a generation.

Elmore's lines grace my two latest releases--"ROLF!: The Rollplaying Game of Big Dumb Fighters (Revised and Expanded... Because Bigger IS Better)" and "Houseboat on the River Styx". I am celebrating by presenting a selection of beautiful women from his drawing board (hopefully the first of many Elmore "exhibits" to brighten your Wednesdays here at Shades of Gray).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Joanna Pettet

A British-born actress, raised in Canada and trained in New York City, Joanna Pettet had a long and busy career, stretching from the early 1960s through the mid-1990s, appearing in TV shows and films of just abput every mainstream genre. Horror roles of note include multiple appearances on "Rod Seling's Night Gallery" series, "Welcome to Arrow Beach", and a great starring turn in haunted house chiller "The Evil" during the 1970s.

Pettet's last horror movie appearance in 1983's "Double Exposure," one of those films with a cast better than the material deserved. As the 1980s wore on, she kept busy with recurring roles in television drama series and multiple guest-shots on "Fantasy Island" and "Love Boat", but parts where she had even the smallest chance to show her talent became fewer and farther between.

In 1995, Pettet retired from acting after her only child died from a fatal heroine overdose.

Pettet was one of the many talented actresses who throughout her career got roles that called for her to primarily just look beautiful rather than act. As a result, she is one those people whose face we recognize when we see it on the screen, but can't put a name to. In the end, her greatest claim to fame has become that she was one of the last people to see pregnant actress Sharon Tate alive, visiting with Tate on the afternoon before the Manson Family brutally murdered her on August 8, 1968.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A film with better performances than it deserved

Double Exposure (1983)
Starring: Michael Callan, James Stacy, Joanna Pettet, and Seymour Cassel
Director: William Byron Hillman
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A photographer (Callan) on the verge of a mental breakdown starts having vivid nightmares in which he murders his beautiful models. When a mysterious serial killer starts making his dreams reality--by murdering his models in exactly the manner he dreamed--both he and the police become convinced that he is the killer.

"Double Exposure" is a fairly run-of-the-mill low-budget murder mystery/sexual thriller that features substandard dialogue but better-than-expected acting from the cast members. Time and again, Callan, Stacy, Pettet, Cassel, and the extensive supporting cast of suspects and victims prove the truism that a good actor can make even the worse lines sing.

Callan in particular is good. He presents a believable performance as a man who is coming apart at the seams, and manages to make a character who might come across as slimy likable--given that he's a guy in his forties rutting with women half his age--which makes the maybe-dream-sequences all the more effective and shocking when he turns from nice guy to killer. The violence during the kill sequences is also startling because it mostly comes with very little build-up.

There are two major flaws with this film that the actors can't overcome, however.

The first are the painfully boring stretches of padding, with the worst of these being a pointless sequence of the characters dancing the night away at a disco. If not for the shuttle feature on my DVD player, I may have given up on this movie at that point. Yes, there was a tiny bit of plot that unfolded during the long--oh so long!--disco scene, and it helped set up the twist ending a little, but it was nowhere near enough to justify the torture of sitting through that scene. Even with liberal application of the shuttle feature, it was too long.

The second is the way the story is executed. As mentioned above, the film has a twist ending in-so-far-as who the real murderer is. However, the lines between the main character's reality and dreams become so blurred that even the viewer can't keep track of what's what. At roughly the halfway point of the film, I decided that I was watching a really bad attempt at making a film like "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" where the hook of the story isn't who-dunnit but rather how the psycho killer will ultimately meet his end. The level of padding, though, was so severe that I almost didn't stick with the film to the end. The only thing that kept me watching was several inconsistencies in the timeline of the killings versus where the photographer seemed to be at the time... they seemed a little too deliberate to just be sloppy writing, so stuck with the film to see if I had been right in my assumption.

It turns out that I was not, but that this film follows the more standard path of having one of the characters framing/exploiting the main character's unstable mental state for his own twisted purposes, in addition to serial killing that is. While there are clues to whom the actual killer is sprinkled throughout the movie, the revelation of the identity, the how, and the why really don't make a whole lot of sense, nor do they seem terribly plausible if one applies a little bit of thought.

Then again, this movie really isn't worth your brain-power, and watching it may just make you feel sad for the actors who are giving this poorly conceived crap their best efforts.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Trisha Escheverria

Trisha Escheverria is a Toronto-based model-turned-actress and up-and-coming Scream Queen. Her first starring role was as the title character in the 2010 horror film "Mary", and she's followed that up with the leads in the made-for-TV sci-fi horror film "The Mystic" and the upcoming haunted Quiji flick "The Unleashed".

"The Unleashed" will receive its world premiere at the Queen Elizabeth Theater in Toronto on June 25. Click here for more information and to watch the film's trailer. The film received wide release on August 7, although as of this writing, only Canadian screening locations have been announced.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

'Unborn Sins' is a concept that deserved better

Unborn Sins (2005)
Starring: Michelle L. Harris, Sean Contrearas, Jim Barbour, and Paul "PJ" Peneloza
Director: Elliott Eddie
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A psychic detective (Contrearas) and his partners attempt to stop the deadly rampage of the spirit of an aborted baby (Peneloza) that has been summoned into the world by cultists so it can take revenge on everyone involved it having it aborted, including its would-have-been mother (Harris).

"Unborn Sins" is one of those movies that has an intriguing idea at its heart--what happens to the souls aborted babies?--that deserved a far better execution than the means available to writer/director/producer Eddie Elliot. With decent sound work, decent lighting, better cinematography, better actors, and a script that had been taken through a draft or two more--or perhaps revised by a more experienced writer--this could have been one chilling movie. As it stands, it's a movie that I really wish I could like more than I do, and a movie that I wish could be remade in stronger hands.

Lighting and sound problems aside, the biggest weakness of its film is its running time. There are several scenes that are near-pointless (such as the one where Harris' repulsive boyfriend dances by himself to rap music for what seems like forever, or the basketball game at the park that likewise went on and on and on) and a subplot involving some sort of kidnapping/drug deal that doesn't have anything to do with anything else in the movie, except that the detective agency was somehow involved with that case. If the film had been tightened up from and its running time of nearly two hours shortened to 80 or 90 minutes, I think it might have rated as much as a 4 on its ideas alone.

(The technical problems and the running time aren't the only problems. There's also quite a bit of unintended hilarity in the film, such as when the obnoxious boyfriend is prowling through his apartment trying to look all Gangsta with a gun in each hand, holding them right next to his face. I kept hoping he'd fire, because watching the ejected cartridge smack him in the face would have been very amusing. Similarly, the Big Fight between the heroes and the angry spirit is more ridiculous than suspenseful because everyone starts behaving as if they just escaped from a Kung Fu movie made in 1973. These elements might make the film worthy of inclusion in the line-up for a Bad Movie Night, so long as you keep in mind there will be long stretches of overly padded scenes.)

"Unborn Sins" is one of the most intriguing films I've ever given a low rating to, and I wish I liked it more than I do. As I said at the top, the whole abortion angle is an intriguing jump-off point for a horror film and I wish this had been a more solid film. Therefore, despite its many flaws, I think it might be worth checking out for those who are able to look at low-budget films with kind eyes and forgiving hearts.

"Unborn Sins" is available as part of the inexpensive "Sinister Souls" 6-movie pack, the even-cheaper-by-the-movie "Tomb of Terrors" 50-movie pack, or as a stand-alone DVD. I think you'll find your money better spent if you acquire it along with 5 (or 49!) other low-budget indie movies. I think it's worth seeing, but it's not worth full price.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Picture Perfect Wednesday:
Signs of the Bad Economy

She can't afford shirts...

... she can't afford pants...

... she has to ride the bus to work...

... and she gave her soul to a nameless Lemurian demon god
for a carton of cigarettes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

This has probably been used in torture sessions

Dungeon of Harrow (1962)
Starring: Russ Harvey, Helen Hogan, William McNulty, Maurice Harris, and Michele Buqour
Director: Pat Boyette
Rating: One of Two Stars

A shipwrecked nobleman (Harvey) finds love and lepers in the castle of the insane, torture-obsessed Count DeSade (McNulty).

If anything, "Dungeon of Harrow" shows clearly that Pat Boyette made the right call when he stopped making movies in favor of a career as a painter and comic book artist; this goes double if it was Boyette who painted the artwork for the promotional poster for this film as it's the best thing about it. This film is Boyette's in every way--he helped write it, produce it, direct it, edit it, and even scored the music for it. The only thing that isn't terrible about it is the voice acting present in the narration, which was also done by Boyette, and which aleviates some of the pain of sitting through stretched-out scenes of actors wandering, sitting, or lounging around.

Every other actor in the film is as stiff and unnatural as the dialogue they deliver. Boyette was clearly going for an Edgar Allan Poe vibe with this movie, with the narrator looking back on horrible events, rampant madness, florid dialogue, and a storyline that will remind well-read viewers of "The Oblong Box", "Fall of the House Usher", and "The Raven" in equal measure.

Unfortunately, none of Boyette's actors have the chops to deliver the lines with the amped up melodrama present in the Corman Poe-inspired pictures from the same period and instead perform as though tye are under sedation for the entire film; I don't think there's ever been a movie about torture and madness with a more subdued set of performances ever released for viewing by the general public. Time and again, the lethargic actors turn what could and should have been frightening or dramatic into a test of patience so severe it would be out-and-out torture if forced upon a captive audience.

It's equally unfortunate that no-one seems to have taken the script further than a first draft, nor read it from beginning to end at any point during rehearsal, filming or editing. If someone had, they would have noticed characters behaving in contradictory and inconsistent fashions (not counting the batshit crazy DeSade), and several plotlines and characters appear and are dropped seemingly at random.

The film has two worthwhile and scary scenes--one where the Count believes he is being visited by a demon, and another where the main character is chained in the dungeon with an insane leper--but they are not worth sitting through the crap that surrounds them.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Then she lit up a candle, and she showed me the way

Is there anyone out there who doesn't love "Hotel California"? It's a great tune and a great spook story!

Here's a moody metal cover of the classic Eagles song. (Not much of a video, but then no one has really made one.)

Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Welcome to the Hotel California, Iran

There may be maniacal mullahs running the country, but this is one rockin' clip from Iranian television.

And here's a straight version of the song from Iranian-Armenian pop star Andy.

Princesses of Mars: Part Ten

More visions of Martian Princesses, as the series enters double-digits!

By Dave Hoover
By Marc Laming
By Rich Larson
By Gene Gonzalez
By Rafael Kayanan

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Jacqueline Pearce

Jacqueline Pearce's distinctive face and attractive figure were regularly featured on British television from the mid-1960s through the late 1990s. She is best known for her role as the villainous Servalan on the dark space opera series "Blake's Seven", but she also apeared in numerous horror series, such as "Shadows", "Leap in the Dark", and "Dead of Night".

Although her career was mostly spent on television, in 1966 Pearce appeared in two of the most Gothic horror films from the venerable Hammer Studios, "Plague of the Zombies" (as a victim of the evil zombie master) and in "The Reptile" (as the mysterious daughter of a nobleman tortured by the past).

Pearce retired from acting in 2007 and moved to South Africa to take care of orphaned vervet monkeys. (Hey, someone's gotta do it!)

Friday, June 10, 2011

'Puppet Show' fails to live up its potential

Puppet Show (2006)
Starring: Erica Slider, Tom Wooler, and Nina Tepes
Director: Jay Gowey
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

After her grandfather is murdered, Casey (Slider) inherits Charlie Chowderhead, the puppet that helped make him a star during the Golden Age of Television. Unfortunately, Casey also inherits the family curse, and she is soon at the center of a maelstrom of death and horror.

"Puppet Show" is another one of those low-budget efforts that fails to live up to the potential of the ideas contained within it, not because of lack of funds but because its execution was botched. It's another one of those movies I sat down wanting to like--how can you NOT want to like a slasher movie featuring a demonic clown when your tastes run along the lines of mine?--but which nonetheless disappointed.

The biggest problem is that even at a scant running time at just over an hour "Puppet Show" feels padded. There are several scenes that drag on well past the point where they should have ended and others that serve no purpose whatsoever. It also doesn't help that the acting leaves a lot to be desired on the part of most performers who either overact fiercely or seem to be heavily medicated. (The only exceptions here being star Erica Slider as the unfortunate Casey, Nina Tepes as her slutty best friend Kat, and Tom Wooler as Casey's grandfather "Ringmaster Rick", each of whom give a decent accounting for themselves.)

The film does have some good moments, however. The dream sequence where Casey is a puppet being manipulated by a giant Charlie Chowderhead is very creepy, Kat's death and the subsequent mutilation of her body is shocking, and the demonic puppet is very well done for a movie of this level... which isn't surprising as the production company behind it, Monsters of Extinction, is first and foremost a special effects firm. That said, I wish the filmmakers had sprung for two puppets, one that looked less evil when it wasn't animated and stabbing people to death and the demon-faced one. The differences would have to have been subtle, but I think the end result would have been a scarier and ultimately more believable film monster.

A testament to the great ideas that are at the heart of this fillm is that as it unfolded, I found myself reorganizing the story in my head, putting it together in a more effective fashion and editing out the padded sequences and pointless scenes and characters. "Puppet Show" had great potential, and it's potential that shines brightly in a few scenes but is mostly not fully realized.

If you are really into killer puppet/doll movies, it's worth checking out, although you might consider going with Charles Band flicks like "Doll Graveyard" or "Blood Dolls" before this one. Everyone else might just want to give it a pass, because the worthwhile moments here are few and far between.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Family fun with werewolves in suburbia

My Mom's a Werewolf (1989)
Starring: Susan Blakely, John Saxon, Katrina Caspary, Diana Barrows, and John Schuck
Director: Michael Fischa
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A suburban housewife (Blakely) is seduced by a handsome petshop owner (Saxon) into enjoying an afternoon fling... but soon afterwards she starts transforming into a werewolf. As she tries to conceal her condition, her teenaged daughter and her horror-movie loving friend (Caspary and Barrows) set out to save her before it's too late and she forever transforms from housewife to were-wife.

"My Mom's a Werewolf" is a cute horror comedy that's hampered by listless direction, uninspired camera-work, lame music score, a final monster showdown that is anything but impressive, and a script that is not quite as focused as it could be. However, like everything I've seen from Mark Pirro--who wrote the script here--I found myself chuckling at the film as it unfolded more than anyone else in the room with me.

I can't quite say what it is I like about Pirro's films; I was almost banned from bringing movies to Bad Movie Night after I subjected friends to "Nudist Colony of the Dead", but I love that picture. And I obviously enjoyed this picture more than any of the people I watched it with. Something about Pirro's jokes just appeal to me more than others, I suppose. His genius must be one that it takes a special level of intellect to appreciate.

And I mean that in a good way. And I'll keep telling myself that.

I still recommend this film as something to watch with 'tweens in the household who might be interested in horror, especially girls. There is some strong language here and there, and the film admits plainly that parents have sex lives, but it is free of gore and the main characters are a pair of smart, decent kids that manage to save the adults from certain disaster. It's the kind of film I enjoyed as a kid... are children really that different today?

Despite my friends' bored reaction to the film, I enjoyed seeing John Saxon getting an all-too-rare opportunity to show his comedic side, even if he didn't have enough to do in the film. He was still quite funny in the scene where he proves to the girls that werewolves are immune to garlic, holy water, crosses, and just about anything else they brought to confront him with. (For full-blown Funny Man John Saxon, we have to turn to "The Girl Who Knew Too Much".)

Saxon, along with the film's other stars, can be given a good deal of credit for overcoming the film's lackluster execution. They all give funny performances, and Caspary is even likable enough to make a fairly predictable final joke quite funny.

"My Mom is a Werewolf" is available in several different budget-priced DVD multi-packs. It adds value where-where it's found.

The Milla Jovovich Quarterly

Milla Jovovich, ladies and gentlemen, presenting the unifying theme of the Shades of Gray blog.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Anita Ekberg

Anita Ekberg's show-business career began with her being crowned "Miss Sweden" in 1950 at the age of 19. She subsequently spent a few years in Hollywood as a model and playing bit-parts in RKO and Universal films. It wasn't until she returned to Europe in the late 1950s that her movie career took off, and she spent the next three decades in numerous starring or supporting roles in almost every conceivable film genre.

Most of Ekberg's horror roles came in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In some, she was perfectly cast, like in "The French Sex Murders" where she is supremely creepy; but in others she couldn't have been more miscast, such as "Fangs of the Living Dead" where she is too old to be playing a supposedly wide-eyed, naive girl.

Ekberg retired from acting in 2002.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Remember the Time...

... when Michael Jackson was King?

This 1992 video certainly represents those days. It also reflects the glory days of the music video. The song itself isn't exactly my favorite kind of pop, but the video certainly is fantastic. And with an all-star cast, to boot.

Remember the Time (1992)
Starring: Michael Jackson, Iman, Eddie Murphy, and Magic Johnson
Director: John Singleton
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

And if you click here, you can see a bit of clever recycling by a YouTube user. He (or she) took the Bangles hit "Walk Like An Egyptian" and set parts of the "Remember the Time" video to it. The dance sequence might even work better this way. (For some reason, I can't embed the video, but the link will open a new window and the video will play.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Picture Perfect Wednesday: Bruce Timm Horror

Here's a gallery of horror illos from animator and artist Bruce Timm, who is perhaps best known for his work on kids' TV cartoons featuring DC Comics' characters.

If you like the spooky stuff, you should visit Terror Titans, my review-centric horror movie blog.

And I thought '2001' had a crappy final reel

Crucible of Horror (aka "The Corpse") (1971)
Starring: Michael Gough, Yvonne Mitchell, Sharon Gurney, and Simon Gough
Director: Viktor Retelis
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Edith (Mitchell) joins with her teenaged daughter (Gurney) in a plot to murder the domineering, sadistic, obsessive-compulsive head of their family (Michael Gough). But something goes wrong....

"Crucible of Horror" is the most bewildering movie I've seen this side of "2001." And in the end, I hate it almost as much.

For most of its running time, it's a nice little gothic thriller that's a bit slow in the uptake and prone to abandon plot threats almost as soon as they are introduced, but it's a fairly solid film until the final 10-15 minutes. Then it all goes to crap.

Oftentimes, with a movie like this, I can say, "Stop watching after this or that happen... you'll still end up enjoying the movie, because you'll never experience the shit that spoils it at the end." That doesn't work with this one, because even if you stop watching, there are so many unresolved plot threads that you won't be satisfied. Sadly, those plot threads NEVER get resolved, and the film ends in such a baffling, nonsensical and convoluted way that even the parts you thought you knew what was going on end up not making any sense in context.

I try not to spoil even the crappy movies--because, after all, one man's trash is another man's treasure--but I don't think it's a spoiler to say that the mother and daughter do not successfully kill their tormentor; it a feature of this type of film--either the dead man isn't dead, someone is posing as him, or he's a ghost. At least I don't think they do. The ending is so messed up that I really can't say for sure, because it is so out of step with the earlier film. I kept holding out hope that what was happening in the movie was that the apparently dutiful son (played by star Michael Gough's real-life son, Simon) had also planned to murder his father and that their plans had gotten tangled in each other. That turns out to not be the case, but it would been a far better movie it had been.

The only thing that saves this film from being relegated to Movies You Should (Die Before You) See is the performance given by Michael Gough. He exudes evil in this rare starring role, and it's a performance that shows that he should have been given more chances to take center stage like this. It's a shame it was wasted on a turd such as this.

The rest of the cast is also decent, and the movies technical aspects for the most part solid... even if I could have done without some of the quick-edit flashbacks and the kooky, trippy dream-sequences.

Trivia: Simon Gough and Sharon Gurney, who play bother and and sister in this film, were actually husband and wife.