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.)