Friday, June 1, 2012

I REALLY wanted to like this one....

The Dead Want Women (2012)
Starring: Jessica Morris, Ariana Madix, J. Scott, Robert Zachar, Jean Louise O'Sullivan, Circus-Szalewski, Jeannie Marie Sullivan, and Eric Roberts
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band, Dustin Hubbard, Tom Landy, and Rick Short
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A pair or young realtors (Madix and Morris) think they've finally managed to unload the supposedly haunted mansion of long-dead silent movie star Rose Pettigrew (O'Sullivan), but they instead learn that the legendary hauntings are all too real.

I'm starting to know what fans of Dario Argento feel like when they keep hoping for another "Deep Red" or "Cat o' Nine Tails" and instead get "Do You Like Hitchcock?" or worse. Because I keep hoping and hoping for Charles Band to bring me another "Trancers" or "Puppet Master" or "Head of the Family" or even "Crash and Burn" or "The Creeps", but he brings me stuff like "Gingerdead Man" and his latest effort "The Dead Want Women" instead.

And I really thought I would like "The Dead Want Women". First of all, it's a great title. Second of all, it's rooted in old-time movies, a topic I love so much I write reviews whenever I watch a old-time movie. Thirdly, it stars Jessica Morris who was one of the best things about "Haunted Casino". And, last but not least, I LOVE haunted house movies--and, again, I love them so much I write about it whenever I watch one!

And make me even more excited about the film, I loved the approach Full Moon took to marketing it. Once again, it had fabulous preview/trailer and the "who is the secret big-time movie veteran in our new movie?" teasers on the web-site were nicely done.

And the main titles sequence is also extremely well done. It is perhaps the best credits sequence for any Full Moon film... and long-time fans know how Full Moon loves its long main title sequences.

Unfortunately, once the credits run their course, this turns out to be another one of those Charles Band films that doesn't live up to my expectations. It's not the worst he's done, and it's far from the worst that's been released under the Full Moon logo, but it's a disappointment.

It's not the actors' fault. They all do the best they can with what they have to work with, but the problem is they don't have much to work with. In fact, it's a testament to the great degree of talent of everyone on the screen that the film comes across as entertaining as it dopes, because the actors are dealing with a pretty awful script here.

When I reviewed the last film Band directed--"Killer Eye: Halloween Haunt"--I complained that the script was flimsy. That complaint applies here as well. In fact, worse, "The Dead Want Women" feels like it was shot using a partially finished first draft that was missing part of Act One and all of Act Three.

This may, hands down, be the worst script that has ever been the basis for a Charles Band moviem and it's a testament to the talent of the actors that it doesn't come off worse than it does. The preview for the film has a better dramatic structure than the film itself, because the way the real movie unfolds it's hard to tell where the focal point of the story was supposed to be... and not just because the characters are universally badly defined. In fact, just as the film seems like it's finally starting to get going--after opening with one of the most listless Roaring Twenties parties you'll ever witness on film, a secret Satanic sex orgy that makes me wonder if Band is longing for the days of Surrender Cinema, and some truly dull bits with Jessica Morris and Arina Madix playing the BFF realtors getting the house ready to show to their mysterious client--with the evil ghost of Miss Pettigrew and her sidekicks doing their thing, the film ends. Like most Full Moon pictures these days, the film barely breaks the one-hour mark... and in this case the run-time is not only half of what we expect from most movies, but the MOVIE is half of what we expect from most movies.

Viewers looking for lots of female nudity will enjoy the film--there is an actress who is naked for literally 99% of her time on screen. Hardcore Full Moon fans will also be able to enjoy a few of those Charles Band touches we know and love--but they will mostly be outweighed by truly awful moments of lazy writing and lazier direction. (Ohmygod... the ghosts have our hapless realty ladies chained up and they are about to do horrible things to them. Oh wait. One of them just undid her shackles easier than I undo my belt when I need to take a dump. And now she's freeing the other chick just as easily. WTF? When did she get possessed by the spirit of Harry Houdini?! And where did the ghosts suddenly disappear to? WTF?!)

The Two Rating might be a little harsh... it film really is teetering between Two and Three. But in this case, I am being miserly with my rating, because this film could have been so much more with just a little more effort. Meanwhile, here's the preview for the film. If the finished product had followed its flow, it might have been a little stronger....

(By the way, is it coincidence that in the past month, I've seen two movies with Eric Roberts doing a goofy accent? He does a Texas/Oklahoma kinda accent in this film, and he did Russian in "The Tomb." Is that something he's known for, and I've just not noticed until now?)

Mars Needs Bikini Babes!

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965)
Starring: Marilyn Hanold, Lou Cutell, Robert Reilly, Jim Karen, and Karen Grant
Director: Robert Gaffney
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A sexy alien queen (Hanold) and her pointy-eared second-in-command Dr. Nadir (Cutell) come to Earth to abduct bikini babes to replenish the breeding stock on their homeland. Unfortunately for them, their arrival on our world interferes with the test-flight of a cybernetic astronaut (Reilly), causing his ship to crash near the alien landing site.

Some movies derive their entertainment value from the fact that you will spend the entire time you're watching wondering if what you're watching was really that nonsensical on paper, and how one director could make so many bad decisions in the course of one movie.

Even in 1964, the "Mars needs women"-type scenario must have seemed silly, although it does provide an excuse to show attractive women in little bikinis so one can understand why the filmmakers and viewers ran with it. But one wonders what bizarre fetish the writers or director must have been trying to bring to the screen with the oddball "physical exam" that the aliens use to determine the fitness of the women for alien breeding stock.

That said, for a film that was clearly designed to show off fit birds (to borrow a phrase from Joe Bloke's excellent blog) the director made a bizarre choice in casting Playboy-Bunny-turned-actress Marilyn Hanold and yet hardly showing her body off at all. Viewers can see hints of a sexy costume, but she spends most of the movie seated, so it hardly gets shown off.

The only thing that makes the film mildly interesting, aside from the bikini babes if you're hard up, is when the heroine gets grabbed by the aliens and almost becomes chow for the Spacemonster of the film's title, and the runaway robot who stumbles his way through the movie to ultimately serve as something of a literal deus ex machina plot device. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite qualify as a "Frankenstein" in any sense, but instead serves as an illustration of the illiteracy that seems to have been a mainstay of the movie business from the get-go.

(By the way, if I had watched this movie three-four weeks ago, "ROLF: Attack of the Commies from Jupiter" may have been an unauthorized adaptation of this film given there are some similarities content-wise. Heck... there may still be one forthcoming, given its mostly designed. :) )

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Jessica Morris

Jessica Morris' first professional acting job came at the age of 16... in a Japanese commercial for crackers. After a few bit parts on television and in film, she landed a major recurring role on the soap opera "One Life to Live" in 2001.

Jessica remained on the series until 2005, at which point she moved to California and became a regular face in the quirky low-budget horror films from Charles Band's revitalized Full Moon production companym usually appearing in the films he directs instead of just produces. She has so far appeared in "The Haunted Casino" (2007), "Decadent Evil II" (2008), "Dangerous Worry Dolls" (2008), and the just-released "The Dead Want Women" (2012).

She has also starred in other low-budget horror flicks along the way, including "Venom" and "The Fading of the Cries" (both in 2011), "Demons" (2007), and "Bloody Murder" (2000), a film she claims to have hated making.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Lisa Zane

Lisa Zane is a successful singer/song-writer who specializes in cabaret-style performances and who in 2006 was recognized by The Songwriter's Hall of Fame recognized as one of their new songwriters of the year. Zane, however, has also maintained a steady sideline in television and film acting, with numerous horror films to her credit.

Zane is probably best known to horror fans as the girl with a mysterious tie to Freddy Krueger in the closing chapter of the original "Nightmare on Elm Street" series, "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare" (1997). Among her other horror credits are "Terrified" and "Her Deadly Rival" (both from 1995), and the sci-fi chillers "The Age of Insects" (1990) and "Natural Selection" (1994)

If Zane's last name seems familiar, it's because she is the older sister of Billy Zane, who's appeared in close to 100 horror films, including five in various states of production.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Avoid 'The Killer Eye'!

It's two reviews in one... A Pretty Little Maids Special!

The Killer Eye (1998)
Starring: Jonathan Norman, Jacqueline Lovell, Costas Koromilas, Blake Bailey, Dave Oren Ward and Nanette Bianchi
Director: Richard Chasen (aka David DeCoteau)
Producer: Robert Talbot (aka Charles Band)
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

Dr. Grady (Norman) has discovered a way to look into the 8th Dimension using eye drops and a special inter-dimensional microscope. Unfortunately, a creature from that nightmarish realm has used his mehtod to cross into our world, possess the eyeball of a male prostitute and grow it to giant size, bursting free of his skull... and it is now roaming the building where Dr. Grady has his lab, seeking women to hypnotize and fondle with its tentacles.

"The Killer Eye" sounded like it might be a fun spoof a Lovecraft-style tale where scientists unleash horrors from distant dimensions. It is not. It is a film that fails on every level, and the only kind things I can say about is that the camera is never out of focus, the soundtrack is audible, and none of the actors are awful... but none are particularly good, either. (Blake Bailey, who plays an attic-dwelling weirdo, is the best of the bunch and the only player here who manages to deliver laugh lines in a way that actually manages to make viewers smile. Even Jacqueline Lovell, who plays Dr. Grady's slutty wife and the Killer Eye's favorite fondle target, gave a barely passable performance. This was surprising to me, because she was so great in "Head of the Family" and "Hideous!"... but I suppose this is just further proof that many actors are only as good as the material they have to work with.)

"The Killer Eye" fails as a comedy, because it's not funny. It fails as a horror movie, because nothing in it is scary. It even fails as a softcore-porn flick with live tentacle-monster action, because the sex and nudity scenes are shot in a timid, almost prudish fashion and are overly long and boring. It even fails completely as a movie, because, even with its scant running time of just over an hour, it's obvious that there's about 25-30 minutes of actual material here that's been stretched longer than the groping tentacle of a monster from the 8th Dimension.

If the comments above haven't warned you off "The Killer Eye", consider this: The director, David DeCoteau, is hiding behind the psuedonym of Richard Chasen; and producer Charles Band is hiding behind the pseudonym of Robert Talbot. So, if people like DeCoteau and Band, whose names have appeared on some real stinkers, didn't even want the Full Moon label associated with it, it should be clear that this film (hopefully!) marks the fetid bottom to which the quality-level of a Charles Band production can sink.

Killer Eye: Halloween Haunt (2011)
Starring: Erica Rhodes, Chelsea Leigh Edmundson, Olivia Alexander, Ariana Madix, and Lauren Furs
Producer: Charles Band
Director: Charles Band
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Jenna (Rhodes) recruits some friends (Alexander, Edmundson, Furs, and Madix) to set up the Halloween haunted house she runs with her mother. They soon trade work for getting half-naked and drinking while watching a cheesy horror movie they find in a box, "The Killer Eye". However, a magic crystal ball has a strange reaction to the movie and the half-naked girls... it brings a model of the Killer Eye from the movie to life, and the proceeds to make the movie a reality as well.

I give "Killer Eye: Halloween" haunt some credit for being a clever non-sequel to the original film. By making it just a movie within the world of the sequel, it both embraces and dismisses the suckitude it represents.

I disliked the first film so much that I fully intended to ignore this sequel--I don't seek out films that I know I'm going to hate--but the fine folks at Full Moon sent me a little care package that included it and three other films. And on the disc of one of those other films ("Necropolis," which is debuting on DVD as part of Full Moon's Grindhouse series... and which I'll review next) was the preview for "Killer Eye: Halloween Haunt".

And what a great preview it was. It got me very excited to watch this film. In fact, it got my hopes up to the point where I thought THIS might be the film that would mark the return of the Charles Band who gave me "The Creeps" and "Blood Dolls". Or at least "Doll Graveyard".

But, as I settled in to watch the film, I quickly realized that I was not in for an old-time Full Moon experience, but something closer to the generally lackluster offerings that Band has delivered since the turn of the millennium.

The two biggest problems this time out is that what passes for the razor-thin story in the film is so flimsy that it barely manages to hold the scenes together, resulting in a sense that the film consists of vignettes rather than a coherent whole. Secondly, the characters are even flimsier than the plot, only qualifying as such in the most general sense as they barely rise above the level of stereotypes... and when you have a cast of actresses who seem to have been hired more for their bodies than their acting talents, giving them and the audience a little more meat on the movie's bones is a necessity.

The comedy in this horror comedy is virtually non-existent and the horror is in short supply as well--with the exception of the final 15-20 minutes. As the film is building to its conclusion, we finally get some of the Charles Band Magic that we loved so much. If the rest of the film had been this focused and driven, this could have been a classic that lived up to the promise of the preview.

In fairness, as disappointed as I was in this film, it was a great improvement over "The Killer Eye"; it is as the sequel to "Gingerdead Man" was to the film it followed. I also appreciate the fact that more effort seems to have been put into the sets than in other recent offerings, such as "Gingerdead Man 3" and "Evil Bong 3D". Finally, the use of computer-generated special effects is more artfully applied here than in films with budgets ten times what Band and his crew work with... the computer generated gore splatter in one instance was very well done. However, those improvements just wasn't quite enough to make it a worthwhile picture.

That said... if you're a fan of Charles Band and Full Moon, the final bits of the film might be worth watching for. And even before it gets good, you can always enjoy the pretty young girls in very little clothing.

And you can silently weep at what could have been, especially in the light of this killer preview:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Amanda Righetti

Amanda Righetti has become a familiar face to television viewers as Detective Grace Van Pelt, who must play the adult to the antics of conman-turned-police-consultant on "The Mentalist", but she landed her first major recurring role on "The O.C." and she has been working steadily in episodic television ever since.

Along the way, Righetti has also appeared in numerous horror films. Her first film role was in the low-budget chiller "Angel Blade" (2002), but her successful television carer led her to starring roles in "Return to House on Haunted Hill" (2007) and the 2009 remake of "Friday the 13th" and the recently released "Shadow of Fear".

Righetti continues to star in "The Mentalist", but she is also working on "Deconstruction Red", a thriller slated for a 2013 release date.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Salma Hayek

It's Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday that is, apparently, a bigger deal in the United States than in Mexico, but I figured I should profile a Mexican actress anyway.

Unfortunately, the only Mexican actresses I could think of with any horror credits were Salma Hayek and Julissa. And since I couldn't find a good picture of Julissa, and attempts at doing screen captures from the movies I have she's been in were blurry at best, Salma Hayek won the honor of being today's Scream Queen.

Born in 1966 to a wealthy Lebanese business man and a famous Mexican opera singer, Salma Hayek decided at a young age that she wanted to be an actress, and she directed all her efforts toward achieving that dream. (Well, aside from playing pranks on the nuns at the convent school she attended as a child... pranks that eventually got her expelled.)

In 1989, Hayek acheived star status in her home country of Mexico when she landed the title role on the hugely successful soap opera "Therea". She had her sights set on a movie career, however, and by 1991, she left the show and Mexico behind with the intent of making it in Hollywood.

After a string of bit parts on television shows, she finally reached Hollywood stardom when she played opposite Antonio Banderas in "Desperado" (1995) and as the vampire stripper that most horror fans know her as in "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996), where she appeared with George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, and Cheech Martin.

Hayek fame and career have been on a steady upward trajectory ever since, but she has focused mostly on dramas and comedies. Beyond "From Dusk Till Dawk", the only other horror film she has appeared in was "The Hunchback" in 1997... although if one really reaches, one can include 2009's "Cirque de Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" as a horror credit.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Diana Terranova

Diana Terranova is best known for her role as a super-powered cheerleader on the sci-fi television series "Heroes", but her resume is full of appearances in low-budget thrillers, sci-fi films and horror flicks where her presense in the cast was, to a large extent, dictated by her two most obvious talents.

Recent horror credits for Terranova include "Gacy House", "The Butcher" and the soft-core porn horror spoof "The Hills Have Thighs".

Saturday Scream Queen: Amy Acker

Born in 1976 in Dallas, Texas, Amy Acker was destined for show-business from a young age. She spent her childhood studying ballet, modern dance and jazz dance, but knee surgery in high school forced her to abandon that path and turn to acting.

While still in college, Acker landed her first television roles on the children's series "Wishbone", and soon after graduation she landed the role of Fred on the "Buffy the Vampire Splayer" spin-off series "Angel" om 2001. Acker's character that was put not though one but several wringers... and ultimately transformed into a demon.

Acker's career has thus far been mostly focused around television, with one-shot appearances on numerous seriem and recurring roles on shows such as "Alias", "Dollhouse", and "Happy Town", but she has managed to fit in a few movies along the way, some of them in the horror genre. In 2008, Acker starred in "A Near Death Experience" and she can currently be seen in movie theatres in "The Cabin in the Woods".

Friday, April 13, 2012

'Ghost Whisperer' got off to a strong start

I was gifted with Seasons 1 and 2 of "Ghost Whisperer" some time ago, and I recently got around to start watching them. So, I will be reviewing the episodes in this space. I only watched the show once in a blue moon during its five year run on CBS, but every time I did, I was impressed by Jennifer Love Hewitts two great talents. She's also quite an actress.

Ghost Whisperer (Untitled Pilot Episode) (2005)
Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, David Conrad, Aisha Tyler, and Wentworth Miller
Director: John Gray
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Her entire life, Melinda (Hewitt) has been able to see and communicate with ghosts. As she grew up, she began to pass messages from them to the living, so the restless spirits would feel relieved of their earthly duties and finally be able to move onto the afterlife. Even on her wedding night, she spends time with both the living and the dead... when for the first time one of the dead (Miller) invade her very home in search of help.

"Ghost Whisperer" got off to a strong start with its 2005 pilot episode. A deftly written script that introduces us to likable newly-weds Melinda and Jim--she sees dead people and tries to help them move onto the next life, he is a paramedic and tries to help people stay in this one, which is an interesting arrangement that I'm sure will get play as the show unfolds--and Melinda's sassy employee at the antique store she runs. I expect Melinda's doting and supportive husband will give rise to nearly as many plots as the ghosts he will help as I watch this series... and I expect her employee will come in at a close second, probably not directly but rather through antiques that she brings into the shop that Melinda owns and operates.

The pilot also presents what I know to be the show's formula from what few I've already seen: Melinda encounters a ghosts here and there, but one or two become her focus. After some initial sleuthing and plot complications, she finds the key to helping them resolve the issues that are keeping them in this world. After a tearful goodbye with family members and loved ones, the ghost moves on, and Melinda returns to the arms of her loving husband.

But the pilot also features a near-perfect mix of sappy and creepy that made the best episodes of the show that I've seen so much fun. Just when you think the schmaltz might be going on just a little too thick, scary ghost stuff starts happening.

What I found most entertaining about the pilot episode was the way it time and again made me wonder what it would be like to go through life never knowing if the person sitting across from you is alive or dead... until you realize that you're the only person who can see him. If the show keeps that aspect alive, I think this is going to be lots of fun.

Things Learned About Ghosts and The Afterlife in This Episode: Major life-changes for those the departed care about may "awaken" their slumbering, lingering spirits and draw them to the location, even if they don't know why. Ghosts somehow communicate even with the ghosts who are stuck in this world... and sometimes they tell those who are stuck to seek out Melinda for help.

I hope he doesn't call for a boycott....

The guy in charge of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, is upset because Kate Upton appears in a "nun bikini" in the "Three Stooges" remake that's just been released in U.S. movie theaters. Although the very smart lady who is my office assistant and receptionist said she thought that film would be right up my ally, this is a film I have Zero Interest in. And a film that I suspect is at a level of "Love Guru" as far as cinematic atrociousness goes.

I just hope no jackass starts calling for a boycott and thus makes me obligated to go see it for review purposes. (Although if someone DOES see it, let me know if my pre-judgement is incorrect.)

But no matter what I may think of the film, I can still post a couple of stills of Kate Upton in the offending outfit.

Personally, I don't see the problem. Upton's hair is covered, so at least she's not one of those immodest women who will cause earthquakes. The great and wise Imam of Imams Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi can masturbate with a happy heart while enjoying his bootleg copy of "The Tree Stooges."

You can read a little more here at "The Hollywood Reporter".

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Jennifer Aniston

This week's Scream Queen is perhaps the biggest reach yet, as American actress Jennifer Aniston, best known for her role on the 1990s sit-com "Friends", has spent her career making people scream with laugher rather than terror. And she's only rarely screamed herself.

But it's Easter weekend, so I figured it was okay to put up a ham.

Jennifer Aniston's single horror outing to date was her first starring role in a feature film--1992's offbeat chiller "Leprechaun". The film was treated harshly by critics, and, even if the film was a commercial success, Aniston was seriously considering quitting acting after making it.

But then she found "Friends", and she transformed into the star of screen and television that we know today.

Monday, March 26, 2012

'Over-Exposed' is a nice showcase for Cleo Moore

Over-Exposed (1956)
Starring: Cleo Moore, Raymond Greeleaf, Richard Crenna, Donald Randolph, and Isobel Elsom
Director: Lewis Seiler
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

An arrest for vagrancy ends up leading to a young woman (Moore) to discover that she has a talent for photography. She parlays that talent in to wealth and fame, trampling on supporters and friends as she climbs her way to the top. But at the pinnacle of fame, she becomes a target for the mob when she witnesses a murder.

Despite showing lots of talent, actress Cleo Moore seemed to have been treated more like a pin-up girl than an actress by studio publicists. In films where she had bit parts, such as "Women's Prison" she was all over the promotional material in varying states of undress, and in films where she was the lead, such as this one and "One Woman's Confession", sex appeal also seemed to be emphasized over anything else.

And this is rather a shame, because I think Moore had greater talent as an actress than she ever really had the opportunity to show, and I think that is exhibited best in this picture than any others I've seen her in.

Moore's character goes through several stages during this film and she gets to portray a range of emotions... always tinged with a mixture of hardness that seems born from a rough life rather than any sort of emotional or mental defects. In a couple of scenes, she is particularly effective in showing emotional pain with some rather subtle acting that manages to keep the audience's sympathy for her character as she behaves like a bitch to those who care for her. Moore deftly keeps the character on the side of seeming tragic while a lesser actress might have caused her to come off as pathetic.

Moore is supported by good performances from the rest of the cast, especially from Raymond Greenleaf as the burn-out drunk who becomes Moore's gateway to the world of photography and who rediscovers his own gift while helping to develop hers. Greenleaf's character is kindhearted and funny, and is so likable that viewers will almost despise Moore's character for not making a greater effort to keep their relationship intact later in the film.

I probably would have rating this film a 7 if not for the ending. Given it was made in the 1950s, I suppose it comes as no surprise how things turn out for Moore's character, but couldn't the screenwriters have paired her a more manly man? Richard Crenna's character spends most of the movie whining and being obnoxiously insecure (possibly even jealous) about Moore's success. Sure, he punches out a few gangsters, but it still seemed wrong that Moore should give up her career for someone like that.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Carrie-Anne Moss

Canadian-born Carrie-Anne Moss made the switch from modeling to acting starting with roles in horror anthology series "The Hitchhiker" and "Nightmare Cafe" and was soon a regular face either as guest-star or as recurring characters on mystery television series throughout the 1990s.

With the coming of the new millennium, Moss mostly left television acting behind--with the exception of a couple of TV movies and a recurring role on the final season of the action-comedy series "Chuck." She is best known for her role as Trinity in the sci-fi action film "The Maxtrix" and its sequels and spin-offs, but she has also appeared in several horror-tinged films, such as "Disturbia" (2007), "Suspect Zero" (2004), and "Red Planet" (2000).

Moss's latest horror project is "Silent Hill: Revelation 3D", which is currently in post-production and slated for release later this year.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Milla Jovovich Quarterly:
The Case of the Missing Pants

"My pants?! I sat down, I was wearing them. I stood up, they were gone! Has anyone seen David Copperfield or Chris Angel today?!"

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen:Sarah Michelle Gellar

Sarah Michelle Gellar started her acting career as a child with a recurring role on the daytime drama "All My Children" and made her transition to adult actress while starring on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

Even while starring on "Buffy", Gellar maintained a busy filming and voice-acting schedule, remaining in front of the camera and microphones pretty much non-stop through her teen years and 20s, and into the present day.

Most recently, Gellar has returned to series television as the star of "Ringer", a show where she plays a woman on the run from the mob who poses as her missing twin sister... only to learn that her sister's life is no less dangerous than her own.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Who's Next?

I've featured roughly 120 Scream Queens in this series. So, the question is... who do YOU think the future should bring to this space?

Who haven't I covered that you think the world needs to know about?

Monday, March 5, 2012

'Demon Kiss' is flawed but watchable

Demon Kiss (2010)
Starring: Sally Mullins, Elizabeth Di Prinzio (aka Jessica T. Perez?), Sebastian Gonzales, and Jamie Macek
Director: Dennis Devine
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A demon goes on a bloody killing spree, thinning the roster of an escort service while moving from body to body while searching for the reincarnated Mary Magdalene, the "mother of all whores." Meanwhile, a police detective (Gonzales) and the "psychoanalyst to the working hooker" (Mullins) are desperately trying to identify who the serial killer is and stop him.

"Demon Kiss" is a movie I should come down on like a ton of bricks. Its director, Dennis Devine, has helmed better movies (with "Caregiver" from 2007 springing immediately to mind); the cast is mostly community theatre-level when it comes to both acting skills and acting styles; the production was so cash-starved that the gore effects are weak and almost no effort was made to hide the fact that the same room is recycled as different locations, and the theological and historical under-pinnings of the story are so shaky that it made my old-time Humanities Major heart cry out in pain.

Despite all those negatives, however, the film held my attention... and that's saying a lot these days when I'm being pulled in all kinds of directions by non-movie related demands. I can't quite put my finger on what made this movie more entertaining than annoying, but the fact that ten minutes didn't go by without a attractive woman getting naked was part of it.

Another part was, despite the fact that the tired cliche of a "hooker with a heart of gold, looking for a way out of the profession" was joined with the slur that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute was one part of the script that stuck in my craw more than anything, was that Elizabeth Di Prinzio (or Jessica T. Perez in some credits listings) gave such a good performance that I wished she'd had more screen time. I was interested in seeing how things turned out for this character, especially with all the references in the film to Jesus having returned to Earth and that they two of them were fated to meet again. (And this is the demon's plan: possess the reincarnated Mary and thus later possess the reincarnated Jesus. Not a very good plan, but still a plan... which is impressive given how stupid and shortsighted this demon is portrayed as.)

A fun, over-the-top performance by Jamie Macek as a demon-possessed homicide detective was also something I found entertaining. He gives viewers a villain to hate even when he's not possessed by the demon.

The rest of the cast, as I mentioned above, are about par for the course for movies at this budget level, including the lead actress Sally Mullins (who also produced the film and co-wrote the script with Devine), but none are downright awful--a couple are borderline, but they were obviously hired for their boobs and tattoos rather than acting talent. But with the two fun performances to lift the film up, everyone else is passable.

The only things that keep this film from getting a Five rating from me instead of the low Four it has now is that Devine and Mullins weren't very adept in hiding their sources of inspiration for the story. I'm not talking about Bible sources, but rather films like "Fallen" and "The Exorcist" and/or low-rent rip-offs like "Eerie Midnight Horror Show". Not hiding your sources becomes a danger when the audience keeps thinking how the source borrowed from is better than what we are currently being subjected to... and it becomes downright fatal when the movie's climax is one that has been done better many, MANY times over. And to make matters worse, the whole bit with Jesus walking the Earth and Mary Magdalene being reincarnated never really pays off... and the obligatory "shock twist ending" pretty much established that it never will.

In the end, "Demon Kiss" stands as a deeply flawed but watchable film... assuming you don't mind boobs and gore mixed in with a weakly conceived theological horror plot.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Melanie Denholme

Melanie Denholme is a young British actress who got her start professionally in the theatre in 2009, but by 2010 she had jumped career tracks to low-budget horror and sci-fi films. In two short years, she has appeared in half-a-dozen horror flicks, all directed by Philip Gardiner and several produced by Denholme herself.

According to interviews she has given, she likes roles where she gets to stretch herself, with vampire film "Lady of the Dark" being the film where she so far feels she has gotten to play the greatest range of emotions and become the furthest removed from herself.

Distributor Chemical Burn has provided me with several films starring Denholme, so expect to see her name and face here over few weeks.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

'The Dark Watchers' is almost worth watching

It's been a while since I've had time to post an actual review here. Hopefully, this marks the reversal of that trend!

Men in Black: The Dark Watchers (2012)
Starring: Melanie Denholme, Eirian Cohen, Val Monk, Lee Roberts, and Rudy Barrow
Director: Philip Gardiner
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A group of UFO enthusiasts (Barrows, Cohen, Denholme, and Monk) become targets of the Men in Black and gradual transformation into something not human!

This film offers a model on how to make the modern exploitation film. It's a cheaply made movie that's being promoted with great-looking graphics and a fascinating preview that highlights the three attractive women that play the lead roles and which, together with the title, bring to mind the completely unrelated big-budget "Men in Black" movies starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. The timing is also ideal, as there's a third Jones/Smith "Men In Black" film due out this year. A simple, great-looking website (which you can check out by by clicking here)further helps to make this film look like something you want to rent or buy.

Like the vast majority of exploitation flicks, the actual movie can't live up to the great promotional graphics and the nifty preview. (Actually, this can be said about a host pictures, including more "respectable" ones, but it is especially true of films like this one.) I was about 15 minutes into the film when I realized that it would not live up to the promises of the marketing material, any more than Roger Corman's "She-Gods of Shark Reef" did.

While the film is every bit as stylish as I would expect from the preview and it features decent acting and some great story set-ups, it fails to deliver on any of the promises inherent in those story set-ups. The film ultimately feels like an incoherent collection of vignettes during wich the main characters (and a couple of random chicks running around in blood-soaked clothes) are tormented by the Men in Black and the strange aliens who are heralding some unspecified doom. And at no point in the film does anything become any clearer, nor does anything that we watch ultimately seem to have any point other than to eat up the film's running time.

Ultimately, "Men in Black: The Dark Watchers" feels like someone edited out the film's content and left the padding. The music video included as a bonus feature on the DVD is more coherent, and therefore more interesting, than the main feature.

And this is really too bad. It's clear this film was written and directed by a creator of some talent, and the marketing is really very slick. If just a little attention had been paid to story, I think I'd probably be praising this movie instead of panning it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Evelyn Ankers

After getting her start playing uncredited bit-parts in British pictures, actress Evelyn Ankers emigrated to the United States in the late 1930s, and she signed a contract with Universal Pictures as World War 2 was about to erupt.

At Universal, Ankers was the queen of the studio's B-movie line-up, appearing in landmark pictures like Abbott and Costello's first horror comedy "Hold That Ghost", the horror-genre shaping picture "The Wolf Man", the quirky Southern Gothic vampire flick "Son of Dracula", and two of the Basil Rathbone-starring "Sherlock Holmes" movies. She also has the distinction of co-starred with Lon Chaney Jr. more than any other of Universal's leading ladies, including appearances in two of the "Inner Sanctum" movies. Interestingly, Ankers and Chaney had a strong dislike for each other, despite their frequent pairing on screen.

Between the years of 1941 and 1945, Ankers made 29 films for Universal. Her ability to scream was a trademark during these years, as was the way form-hugging and elegant gowns showed off her body. In 1946, she went freelance and made films for Republic Pictures and Columbia Studios, but by 1950, the sort of thrillers and horror films she had built her career on were no longer popular and she entered semi-retirement at the age of 32. The 1950s saw her do occasional guest shots on television series, and she retired permanently from acting in 1960 after co-starring in the religious drama "No Greater Love" with her husband Richard Denning.

Ankers passed away in 1985 at the age of 67.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Tiffany Shepis

Born in New York-born Tiffany Shepis got her start in modeling and acting while still a child, appearing in music videos, but in her late teens she began an association with Troma Films that saw her appearing in numerous shorts with director/producer Lloyd Kaufman, as well as in Kaufman's offbeat/off-color horror comedies "Tromeo and Juliet", "Terror Firma", and "Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie."

Shepis actively seeks out horror roles and prefers to work in oddball indie pictures. Since her film debut in 1996 she has appeared in more than 90 movies.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Nina Dobrev

Nina Dobrev immigrated to Canada with her family from Bulgaria at the age of two, and she showed a great enthusiasm for sports, dance and acting while still very young.

She landed her first acting jobs while in her teens, including a leading role on the TV series "Degrassi High: The Next Generation."

Although only now in her early she has major roles on two television series to her name, and appearances in almost 20 movies. In the horror genre, she co-starred with Kevin Sorbo in "Never Cry Werewolf" (a SciFi Original Picture that actually was pretty good), had a supporting role in the Liam Neeson-Starring thriller "Chloe" and she can currently be seen in a major recurring role on the television series "The Vampire Dairies".

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Debra Paget

Debra Paget was the daughter of a "stage mom" who pushed all her children into acting careers. Born in 1933, Debra was placed under contract with 20th Century Fox at the age of 14, and went onto star in over 40 films, mostly westerns and "sword-and-sandal"-style fantasy epics ranging from "The Princess of the Nile" at the beginning to her career, to "The Ten Commandments" at the middle of it, to "Cleopatra's Daughter" as its end.

In between the epic costume dramas and westerns, Paget appeared in a few thrillers and horror films, most notably of these being two of Roger Corman's lush gothic chillers from the early 1960s "Tales of Terror" and "The Haunted Palace".

Paget retired from acting at the age of 30, at the height of her beauty, and married a Chinese millionaire. Paget reportedly divorced him in 1980, but has remained far from public life.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Karen Black

While Karen Black would probably want to be remembered for her roles in critically acclaimed dramas like "Easy Rider" and "Five Easy Pieces", or even for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's final movie "Family Plot", most film lovers of my generation, and horror fans in general, remember her as the woman menaced by an African fetish doll in "Trilogy of Terror", or as the ill-fated wife in "Burnt Offerings".

Since the mid-1970s, Black has split her career between dramas and horror films, with a few bizarre offerings mixed in--such as the low-budget Rollerblade Seven trilogy during the 1990s ("The Rollerblade Seven", "The Return of the Rollerblade Seven", and "The Legend of the Rollerblade Seven"). She nearly 200 film credits to her name, and roughly half of those are horror films or thrillers. Any horror fan who came of age in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s can almost certainly mention a Karen Black film they cherish.

Black is over 70 years old now, but she is still going strong. She worked on seven movies in 2007, including the soon-to-be-released horror films "Some Guy Who Kills People" and "The Ganzfeld Experiment".

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Rachel Ward

Rachel Ward is a top fashion model who turned to acting. She is best known for appearing in romantic items like "The Thorne Birds" and "Against All Odds", but her extensive resume also dotted with numberous chillers like "The Final Terror", "Black Magic", and "Double Obsession" (which also featured previous Saturday Scream Queen profilee Maryam d'Abo).

Rachel Ward was busiest as an actor during the 1980s and early 1990s, after which she split her time between her career and her three children. As the new millenium dawned, she added writer/director to her credits, and she has directed and/or written nine films so far.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wolf Man vs. Vampire Woman: The Rematch!

Night of the Werewolf (aka "The Craving" and "The Return of the Wolf Man") (1981)
Starring: Paul Naschy, Azucena Hernandez, Silvia Aguilar, Julia Saly
Director: Paul Naschy
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

An psychopathic witch (Aguilar) resurrects the evil vampire Countess Bathory (Saly) in a quest for ultimate power and eternal life. But she didn't count on the intervention of Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy), the tragically heroic reluctant werewolf and his sexy sidekick Karen (Hernandez).

By the time he wrote and directed "Night of the Werewolf", Spanish actor Paul Naschy had played the continuity-challenged werewolf character Waldemar Daninsky nine or ten times (depending on whether one counts a movie that may or may not ever have been released), and this film assured him his place in history as the actor to play a werewolf in movies more than any other actor. And he went on to play a werewolf six more times--including three more appearances as Daninsky.

It is therefore not surprising that "Night of the Werewolf" has a very familiar feel to it. Naschy follows the formula of previous outings--Daninsky is a recluse, trying to deal with his monstrous side, who is forced back into the world, first to save the film's love interest from bandits/rapists/her own stupidity... and then to save the world from an evil greater than he. And, in the end, Daninsky wins by performing the ultimate sacrifice and/or must himself be slain because the werebeast within him is too strong to overcome--hitting most of the same plot and emotional notes that worked in previous films.

The plus in this approach is that if you liked previous Naschy outings, you're bound to like this one, as there are just enough variations to the formula to add a little freshness to the going-ons. The negative side, however, is that if you didn't like the previous films, you want to avoid this one like it was a plague carrier. The twists on the formula won't be enough to make this film worth your time.

Decently acted and featuring a script that tries to address some of the common Stupid Character Syndrome mainstays of the vampire and werewolf movie--like why do vampire killers never seem to go looking for the monster's hide-out during the daytime, and why doesn't the werewolf always just lock himself away when the moon is full--it's further augmented by beautiful women who take their shirts off every now and then. While there are some awkward scene transitions and disappointing werewolf transformation effects, the good ultimately outweighs that bad.

Fans of Hammer Films' gothic horrors from the 1950s and 1960s may also wish to seek this film out. Naschy captures the mood of those films perfectly in several sequences... even if his film looks a bit shabbier, because he didn't have Terence Fisher's gift for making $1.95 look like 1.95 million. Still, there aren't many good gothic horror flicks outside the Hammer Films canon, so one has to take them where one finds them.

Reportedly, this was Paul Naschy's personal favorite of all the 12 or 13 Daninsky films, which is no great surprise as this was his first outing as both star, writer, and director. Personally, I think "Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman" (of which this film is, essentially, a remake) is better, but I enjoyed this one, too.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Jasmine Waltz

Jasmine Waltz's hard childhood in Las Vegas landed her in a maximum security facility for girls by the time she was 16. After her release two years later, she embarked on a career as a model, augmenting her income with bartending jobs.

Drifting through several cities, she eventually ended up in Los Angeles where modeling gave way to television commercials, commercials to bit-parts in movies, and bit-parts to supporting roles.

Although Waltz is presently more famous for who she does than what she does, she has enough screen presence that she might eventually get recognized more for her acting, as she is at the very beginning of her acting career. So far, the horror movies on her resume are "Cheerleader Massacre 2" and "Poker Run", both released in 2009. In 2012, that list will grow with "Demon" and "Murder 101".

Friday, January 13, 2012

'Poker Run' follows predictable trail

Poker Run (2009)
Starring: J.D. Rudometkin, Bertie Higgins, Robert Thorne, Jasmine Waltz, Debra Hopkins, Jay Wisell, and Skip Pipo
Director: Julian Higgins
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A pair of successful lawyers (Higgins and Rudometkin) buy a pair of motorcycles and drag their wives (Hopkins and Waltz) on a mid-life crisis inspired Poker Run in the California desert. However, they fall prey to a pair of psychopathic bikers (Wisell and Thorne), who abduct the women and force the men to perform a series of murders that they frame them for.

"Poker Run" merges the "killer hicks" genre with motorcycles and throws in a dash of torture porn and "The Hitcher". It's mostly well-acted, technically competent, and very suspenseful at times. Unfortunately, it's also very, very predictable. If you've seem two "city folks in the back-country" horror movies prior to this one, you've seem most of what this film has to offer--not necessarily done better as there are a lot of crappy movies with that theme, but you will have seen it.

The strongest aspect of the film is the performance given by Robert Thorne, as the murderous master-manipulator who seems to have every resident of the California desert obeying his every psychotic whim in order to preserve their own lives. It also ultimately becomes one of the film's downfalls, because his control is so absolute and so far-reaching that viewers find themselves at a couple of occasions reacting more with a "Seriously?" rather than a "Oh, my God!"

Another performance worth mentioning is that given by Debra Hopkins. She gives such a perfect performance as a shrewish wife that I've not found myself wanting a character to be killed so badly since Barbara Shelley in "Dracula: Prince of Darkness".

"Poker Flats" is available in at least one DVD multi-pack where it is joined by two decent flicks and one weak one. It's worth the asking price when joined with other films--if you enjoy Killer Hicks movies--but I wouldn't waste my money on it as a stand-alone.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Sara Paxton

A California blonde, born and bred, Sara Paxton began acting in films at the age of 8, and by the time she graduated high school in 2006, she had appeared in more than a dozen television series, and been a regular cast member on five of them.

Starting with the remake of "The Last House on the Left" in 2009, Paxton's resume has been loaded with horror films and thrillers, including 2011's "Shark Night 3D" "Enter Nowhere", and the just-released "Innkeepers".

Paxton appears in at least two more horror films slated for release in 2012--"Static" and "The Briar Lake Murders".

Thursday, January 5, 2012

'Legend of Sorrow Creek' has a few good moments

The Legend of Sorrow Creek (2007)
Starring: Christina Caron, Freya Ravensbergen, Joe Deitcher, Matt Turner, Stephen Walker, Russell Sangster, and Michelle Caron
Director: Michael Penning
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Four friends (Caron, Deitcher, Ravensbergen, and Turner) cut through a patch of haunted forest and draw the attention of wrathful spirits.

"Legend of Sorrow Creek" is a well-acted and well-filmed horror movie that shoots for a "Blair Witch Project" sort of vibe within traditional filmmaking approaches instead the "found footage" route. It's a low-budget horror film with a professional look to it, mounted by a director who obviously understood how to work within his means, and which delivers several genuinely scary moments.

However, the film is done is by an underdeveloped script (by director Penning) which relies on the characters behaving in idiotic ways in order to keep the plot moving forward, and which just sort of fizzles to a close (after perhaps the most astounding display of Stupid Character Syndrome ever put on screen) instead of ending with an explosion of horror. Perhaps even more damning, the film has a wrap-around sequence that features its worst actors and lamest dialogue, and which makes little sense in the context of the rest of the movie. I think something like it was needed for the film, but this wasn't it, and it's the most blatant sign that the script needed a lot more attention that it got.

If you like horror films with a "spooky forest" motif, or ones that revolve around "beautiful young people in trouble," this might be a film worth checking out. It's not exactly awful, but the shaky script foundation that supports the respectable efforts of the cast and crew result in a film that's not worth going out of your way for either. (I came across it in a set of eight different movies, among which were gems like "Prom Night", "Below" and four Charles Band productions. and in that context it's harmless filler. But I wouldn't bother with a stand-alone DVD unless you were renting it cheaply.)