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 IshirĂ´ 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: IshirĂ´ 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.)