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Not entirely successful, but interesting enough., 17 September 2014
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Smarmy, burnt out middle-aged porn king Mike (Don McManus) runs his own adult film empire in L.A. that specialize in things like live streaming rape-fantasy scenarios. One of their other sites - "Lucky Bastard" - offers subscribers a chance to come in and film a sex scene with one of their actresses. Site favorite Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue), a single mother of two who's not lived a charmed life and adopted a tough exterior as a result, decides to do the job for 1500 bucks. They screen a bunch of applicants who send in submission videos and finally settle on an awkward, geeky redhead named David G. (Jay Paulson), who claims to be well-educated and an army vet. Once David is picked up for the shoot, his odd behavior and constantly- changing stories raise some red flags for the perceptive porn queen, who's faced a dangerous stalker in the past and knows David fits the m.o., but her suspicions are all but ignored by everyone else. They - along with a few cameramen (David Wylde, Lanny Joon) - then go to a rented Hollywood hills mansion filled with surveillance cameras for the shoot and then things take a violent turn.

After David finds himself unable to perform for the cameras (well, he actually "performs" a little too quickly if you catch my drift) and is exposed as a virgin, he's humiliated and mocked by the crew, Ashley refuses to "act" with him a second time and Mike kicks him out of the mansion. They'll all soon regret their cruel treatment of the already- unhinged amateur when he comes back armed and ready to kill in order to retrieve the embarrassing footage he did shoot. Also getting caught up in the crossfire are Casey (Catherine Annette), Mike's much-younger porn starlet girlfriend who's fighting a losing battle trying to prove she's more than just a piece of ass, as well as a bitchy real estate agent (Deborah Zoe) who apparently rents properties by the hour and the porn stud (Lee Kholafai) called in to replace David.

If you're sick of found footage movies and mockumentaries set in dreary abandoned asylums and dark haunted houses, this at least marks a change of pace to that played-out formula. Aside from some crime scene footage at the beginning telling the eventual fates of some of the characters, it's filmed entirely during the day in bright, sunny California. Unlike most other films of this type, there's fairly strong acting (especially from Rue and McManus) and a decent (though dialogue-heavy) screenplay. If you've ever seen any behind- the-scenes footage on adult film sets or documentaries about the people who make and act in these kinds of films, you'll realize just how well- researched this is. The characters in this one are believable personalities that are true to life and each are fairly well-defined and fleshed out. The thriller / horror elements and violent backlash of the psycho toward the end are, unfortunately, far less taut and disturbing than I think the filmmakers intended, mostly due to the shooting format. I'm not really sure the "found footage" route was the right way to go for this kind of material.

There's clearly a message being conveyed here, so at least this has a focused point of view and something to say. There's an opening text that tells us "For too long the adult entertainment industry has pushed the boundaries not only of obscenity but common sense. Those who play with fire... eventually get burned." That in itself sets this up as message movie meant to expose the dangers of the porn industry. Fair enough. The film does develop a sort of victim / victimizer parallel between the money-centered porn veterans who are completely resigned to what they do and the fresh faces in the industry who are treated as being disposable with no regard whatsoever for their feelings. Again, this seems somewhat true to the industry based on what I've heard from many - though not all - of the people who have worked in the industry.

One thing that did take me by surprise was that this was directed and co-written by an extremely successful TV producer with five Emmy nominations to his name and not an ambitious amateur like I initially thought. The producer was prolific B movie / soft corn porn king Jim Wynorski, and this is certainly more thoughtful than the brainless T&A films he's typically associated with. Because of full frontal male and female nudity, lots of raunchy dialogue and two simulated sex scenes (which are about on par with what you'll see late night on Cinemax these days), this earned itself an NC- 17 rating. That unintended irony there is that this rating is likely to draw in a crowd of viewers who might not like - or will even be offended by - what this has to say.

Intruder (1989)
A showcase for KNB gore and film-student-level camera-work and little else., 16 September 2014
4/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

For its original VHS release, Paramount re-titled the film "Intruder" (it was originally called "The Night Crew") because they felt that name would appeal more to slasher movie fans. They then turned right around and hit those same slasher fans where it hurt most by eliminating nearly all of the gore (over 5 minutes worth) to get an R rating while refusing to release an uncut alternative. Talk about contempt for your target audience! However, none of that should come as a surprise considering how the same company treated their long-running Friday THE 13TH series, which ended up receiving more pre-release cuts than all Jason's victims combined. Still, it's hard to really blame Paramount: they simply had product to market and sell and knew that being slapped with an "unrated" or "X" label would kill a film's full earning potential. The real culprits were that horrible "moralist" Jack Valenti and his corrupt MPAA, who simultaneously showed considerable, hypocritical bias against not only horror films but independent films of all stripes, yet played favorites with the top brass in Hollywood. People like Steven Spielberg could pack as much violence and adult content into their films as they wanted and manage to skim by with PG or PG-13 ratings, while low-budget filmmakers were picked on and made examples of. INTRUDER is just one of many genre films to receive this kind of 'bastard stepchild' treatment in the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately, unfair treatment or not, this is not a very good movie at all, even in its uncut form.

In keeping with slasher tradition, the "plot" - psycho starts killing employees of a grocery store after hours - is as simplistic and thin as can be. A major suspect (i.e. obvious red herring) in established early on in Craig (David Byrnes), who we know is a bad guy because he's wearing a leather jacket and doesn't shave. Craig had drug problems in the past, spent a year in prison for killing someone (just a year?!) and now seems to be stalking his ex- girlfriend Jennifer (Elizabeth Cox), who works as a cashier at the Walnut Creek Market. The other major suspects are, well, pretty much everyone else who works there. Owner Danny (Eugene Robert Glazer) has sold the store to the city and plans on shutting the doors permanently in a week, which doesn't sit well with co-owner Bill (Danny Hicks) or the rest of the staff. Not that it really matters one way or another as the identity of the killer and their motive turns out to be as obvious and silly as can be.

But no one came here for the story, they came here to see the gore, you say? Fair enough. This provides at least that much in its unaltered form. You get knives sunk into chests and heads, a hook through a jaw, an eye-skewering, a head crushed by a hydraulic press, severed limbs all over the place and, most gruesome of all, a head sawed in half with a band saw. Some of the fx are well-executed by KNB, while others are rubbery, but they're fun all the same. Sadly, it takes more than a copious amount of fake blood and latex to make a good horror film and literally everything else about this one is poorly done. Next to nothing happens in the entire boring first half, the acting is terrible, the characters are annoying and not the least bit engaging, the music score is God awful, the attempts at comic relief are embarrassing, the editing is truly abysmal, the film lacks a proper ending and the makers are completely unable to generate any tension, suspense or excitement at any point in the film. Hell, they aren't even able to capture a sense of fun.

Worst of all perhaps is the direction and camera-work. Spiegel thinks he's being clever and original by shooting through a cardboard cut-out of a rotary phone, putting a camera in a shopping cart and wheeling it around, placing the camera underneath a character while they are sweeping the floor and constantly shooting reflections and weird angles through bottles, water tanks and windows, but all he accomplishes by doing this is destroying the flow and taking viewers completely out of the movie. While these silly shots are sporadically effective (there are a few good scene transitions that admittedly work well), they're done at such overkill this looks less like a movie than it does the work of some freshman film student attempting to show off. It also does nothing to distract from all of the other areas where this film fails.

Gotta say, I was expecting better from this one, especially considering its current 6.3 rating. The minor cult following it's achieved over the years I can only attribute to two things: 1. people were clamoring for the uncut version for years before it finally became available, and 2. fan boys who have made themselves believe this is better than usual just because Sam Raimi and a few other EVIL DEAD alumni were involved. Bruce Campbell even shows up briefly at the very end as a police officer but is given nothing to do.

The Cravens Have Bills To Pay: Part Dud, 16 September 2014
2/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Apparently desperately in need of money during his pre-Elm Street days, Craven agreed to write and direct this unnecessary follow-up to his 1977 cult success. After filming most - but not all - of the original script, the backers reneged and pulled funding before it could be completed, leaving the unfinished film to languish on a shelf somewhere for a spell. It wasn't until after Elm Street's success that the studio convinced Craven to finally finish it. And no, he wasn't given money to shoot the rest of the footage, he was simply left with the task of piecing together what WAS shot and then padding the rest out with "flashback" footage from the first. To tie it to the original, several cast members return to reprise their roles and the same basic premise and desert setting are retained, but the tone and the approach to the material is quite different this time out. In fact, it's almost impossible to believe the same man could possibly be responsible for both films. This sequel seems more like a second-rate cash-in made by an inept, inexperienced hack attempting to capitalize on the first film's success than an already-established filmmaker. It's no wonder Craven later disowned this film.

After the opening credit scroll informs us that "The following film is based on fact" (lol, please), we briefly catch up with original "Hills" survivor Bobby Carter (Robert Houston). Still traumatized by the events of the first movie, Bobby finds himself unable to accompany his buddies across the desert to a motocross competition to test out their new "Super Formula Racing Fuel." Going in his place is his friend Rachel (Janus Blythe), who, as "Ruby," was a member of the desert-dwelling family of the first film but is now a reformed ex-cannibal after having helped the Carter family put an end to her brood's murderous ways. Or so she thinks. Along with three racers, a mechanic, a few girlfriends and "Beast," the same German Shepherd from the first movie (don't ask), Rachel / Ruby soon finds herself back in familiar territory. Running short on time, the crew decide to venture off the main road and take a shortcut, their bus breaks down near an abandoned mine and then the rest plays out like business as usual as Pluto (Michael Berryman) and Papa Jupiter's hereunto unmentioned big brother "The Reaper" (John Bloom) start picking them off one by one.

Gone is the original film's intelligent subtext centered around two vastly different families clashing over harsh terrain and an ordinary, mild-mannered middle-class family forced to turn as vicious as their attackers in order to protect themselves. In its place we get a handful of obnoxious, ill-defined cardboard teenagers no one could possibly give two hoots about. While the first film was a tense, bleak survival film, this one is presented just like any number of other poorly-made slasher flicks with characters who continually do senseless and idiotic things, pitiful attempts at comedy and terrible dialogue ("You're not feeling psychic again are you like you sometimes do?"). The slasher feel is reinforced further by Harry Manfredini's rehashed music, which is nothing more than recycled bits and pieces from the Friday THE 13TH series. I could even live with all that, but this film is genuinely inept and filled with continuity errors and lapses in basic logic. It's almost mind-numbingly stupid... and the absurd moment the dog has his own flashback is really just the tip of the iceberg!

Early on, Rachel has a run-in with Pluto and uses karate (!) to defend herself. Immediately afterward she's shown laughing and joking along with the rest of the cast and accusing two guys who have disappeared of "playing pranks too hard" instead of, you know, putting two and two together they may have been killed by the psycho cannibal who'd just attacked her moments earlier. After she leaves the teens in her charge to go look around, they proceed to joke, play pranks on each other and and idiotically wander off by themselves so they can get killed. The movie probably reaches its low point when one of the cannibals steals a motorcycle, slaps on a helmet and starts driving around the rock cliffs while laughing maniacally. I wasn't even sure if this was supposed to be funny or not.

The murders themselves are rather tame. Someone's crushed by rocks and there are a couple of booby traps but most are just yanked off-screen and then found dead later on. The only gory moment is when one of the girls gets her throat cut and even that's not much. For what it's worth, our heroine (Tamara Stafford) ends up being a blind girl who has some kind of extrasensory perception, though the script doesn't really make novel use of that idea. The only thing this really has going for it are some nice-looking outdoor shooting locations and the underground lair the last few scenes take place in. Other than that, it's terrible.

"The world is full of freaks", 15 September 2014
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The sixth entry in this long-running werewolf series has nothing to do with Gary Brandner's book series or the previous five films bearing the same name and instead seems to take its greatest inspiration from Ray Bradbury's 1962 book "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Handsome British drifter Ian Richards (Brendan Hughes) arrives in the small, dying Southwest desert town of Canton Bluff with just 15 dollars in his pocket and a handful of papers he doesn't want anyone else to look at. Though the local sheriff (Carols Cervantes) initially tries to drive him away and others question his presence there, widowed pastor Dewey (Jered Barclay) agrees to give him room and board in exchange for helping to rebuild the communities run-down church. It isn't long before Ian's kind demeanor and hard work ethic manage to win over the town - not to mention the heart of the pastor's hot blonde daughter Lizzie (Michele Matheson) - but things are about to take a turn for the weird and horrific once a traveling carnival / freak show called Harker's World of Wonders strolls into town.

Headed by the charismatic and mysterious H.B. Harker (Bruce Payne), who is M.I.A. during the daylight hours (*wink*), the carnival boasts an array of oddities and human freaks. There's Mr. Bellamey (Antonio Fargas), the token geek who likes to bite off chicken heads, Mr. Toones (Deep Roy), a dwarf gambler with a tiny third arm he keeps tucked away in his jacket, transvestite stripper and torch singer Carl / Carlotta (Christopher Morley) and Winston Salem (Sean Gregory Sullivan), a meek, cat-loving burn victim whose scars are painted into scales so he can play "The Amazing Alligator Man." Ian turns out to be a "freak" himself and is in town with ulterior motives that coincide with the arrival of the carnival. Always on the lookout for a new monstrosity to add to his collection, Harker discovers that Ian is actually a werewolf. He has him captured, caged and then primed to be the new star attraction. Using a crystal and some chanting, the evil barker - who's also harboring a secret monstrous identity of his own - is able to make our hero transform whenever he wishes.

HOWLING VI suffers mostly from uneven writing. While the characters are surprisingly well-defined and the dialogue isn't bad, the story is unfocused and shapeless and there's next to no narrative drive to propel the plot forward. Thankfully, it has enough pluses to partially overcome that. For starters, I liked the fact the action centered around the same style of tortured werewolf from the Lon Chaney days, which is in stark contrast to the portrayal of the creatures in the first five "Howling" films. Not only is the wolf man sympathetic this time out, but it goes one step further by giving him partial control over his actions post transformation. While Chaney's Larry Talbot was a good guy turned murderous creature by the light of the full moon, the werewolf character here is pretty much a good guy in either his human or monster form. Though some people may be disappointed this doesn't feature a murderous werewolf, Payne's character more than makes up for it in villainy.

Another big plus is that the acting is vastly superior to most of the other films in this series. Lead Hughes not only does a fine job capturing both the mysterious and tender qualities of his character, but he's also physically perfect for this role because he has a gentle and kind look and non-threatening way about him. The well-spoken Payne is also very good playing the sinister and evil carnival barker, though he'd find himself being typecast in similar roles throughout his career because he played the bad guy so well. While some of the other actors aren't quite as good, no one really embarrasses themselves either like they do in most of the other "Howling" movies. The only real disappointment was them under-using Carol Lynley, who was once a star headlining major studio productions but has been reduced here to a small and rather pointless part.

For a low budget production, the sets are fairly good and the movie also delivers more in the way of makeup fx than the previous two films, which are well- executed by Todd Masters and the ever-reliable Steve Johnson (who also contributed to the scant fx in Part 4). The look of the werewolf here is somewhat old school in the face department (there's no wolf-like snout and the transformation scene is pretty weak), but it looks pretty cool regardless thanks to bipedal legs.

Below average slasher-thriller with above average production values., 14 September 2014
4/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

After a heated TV press conference, feminist journalist and non-violence advocate Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) returns home to find her house guest dead and sweaty, woman-hating, stress-ball-squeezing psycho Colt Hawker (Michael Ironside) ready to slash her to ribbons. After being stabbed twice, Deborah manages to get the attention of her neighbors and Colt flees. She's taken to County General Hospital, where she awaits surgery on her injured arm, while Colt decides to finish the job he wasn't able to complete earlier by continually sneaking his way back into the hospital and attacking her. Several other women inadvertently become involved, including sweet nurse Sheila (Linda Purl), a divorced single mother of two, and Lisa (Lenore Zann), a loose-living party girl who Colt takes home and beats severely, but lets live. Colt's homicidal misogyny is explained by a series of brief flashbacks that involve his mother flinging a pot of hot oil into his father's face, which of course has made him a maladjusted and impotent man who detests strong, independent women... just like Deborah.

VISITING HOURS has a lot going for it, especially in comparison to other films of this type from the early 80s. For starters, the budget is relatively high for a change, affording this very glossy production values and cinematography. The cast is more than competent, with Oscar-winner Grant as an atypically headstrong and authoritative middle-aged lead in a subgenre usually dominated by teenagers. Though she's not particularly likable or sympathetic, Purl's strong working class supporting character IS and helps to balance that all out. Genre regular Ironside also does an effective job playing the creepy psycho, while a toupee-sporting William Shatner is given nothing to do as Grant's agent. The script is quite ambitious as well in its attempt to bridge the gap between exploitative, disreputable slasher flicks and more socially-conscious thrillers. And yet all the above combined cannot save this film because it becomes an implausible mess after the first 20 or so minutes. That's a true shame considering the opening scenes offer up a few good scares and some genuine suspense.

What totally killed this film for me is its incompetent portrayal of the hospital staff and the police. The psycho manages to get into the hospital and has full access to Grant no less than FOUR DIFFERENT TIMES, which is completely ridiculous. The first time he poses as a florist and kills a patient and a nurse who are in the room Deborah was originally supposed to be in. Instead of informing her her life is in danger, the staff instead keep it a secret and she has to find out secondhand from another patient what's going on. The killer then sneaks in a second and a third time, killing people each time he's there, but nothing much is done. My question is: Where the hell are the security guards in this film? That's right, they're all hanging out in the downstairs lobby and none happen to be on the same floor people keep getting attacked on. At one point, Shatner's character assuredly tells Grant not to worry after several murders because "They've got a great security system here," which literally made me laugh out loud. He deserves some kind of award for being able to say that line with a straight face.

Any patient - let alone a celebrity patient like Grant's character - in her predicament would not only have several armed guards posted right outside her door at all times, but also guards in each hallway of the floor she's on. Not only that, but the hospital would have guards patrolling the outside perimeter of the hospital and ones in front of each and every door of that place considering the murders that keep occurring there. I also couldn't figure out why there was no attempt to relocate Deborah; if not to a new hospital entirely (she just has an injured ARM for Christ's sake!) but to another floor or even another room. Of course if this film used even the most basic of logic, there may not be a film at all. Then again, is that really such a bad thing considering how stupid this turned out?

Unfortunately, the idiocy isn't just confined to inept security, but is liberally spread through the rest of the film as well. Shatner's character manages to convince Grant to stay in the hospital just one more night by saying he won't leave her side and then in his very next scene is off at another location doing something else entirely. Toward the end, Purl's character gets a phone call from the psycho, who's at her home. With her children's lives in danger and knowledge of the psycho's whereabouts, she gets flustered and babbles some frantic, incomprehensible gibberish to one officer before rushing home all by herself! She could have simply said "Hey, the killer is at my house RIGHT NOW, how about you gather up a few dozen men and follow me over?" Nope, instead she rushes home in a panic and needlessly gets herself stabbed. This is followed by Colt getting into Grant's room yet again and chasing her around through empty corridors because we've already established the staff and police don't seem to care that people are being murdered right and left in this place. I can handle a few dumb moments in my horror films, but this simply has far too many of them.

I noticed defenders like to point out that it's "just a horror movie." And to that I say "Precisely!" This is indeed just another horror movie. It's not a good horror movie or a memorable horror movie or a thought- provoking horror movie. It's just another horror movie lost in a faceless sea of other poorly conceived and forgettable ones. There's a good reason this isn't very well-known.

"The dead are leaving cemeteries to attack the living!", 10 September 2014
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Prolific low-budget director Edward L. Cahn seems to get no love at all these days, but he's made some pretty good low-budget genre films like the fun alien invasion comedy INVASION OF THE SAUCER MAN (1957) and the highly influential IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958), which went on to be a major influence on ALIEN (1979). Aside from extraterrestrials, he was also fond of zombies, as evidenced by films like CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1954), ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957), CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN (1958) and THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (1959), which all centered around the undead. "Invaders" combines both the aliens and the revived corpses and it too ended up being somewhat influential by featuring the shambling dead nearly a full decade before George Romero rewrote the rules of such films with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). This film is however not the first of its kind and, unlike what several reviews are stating, it did not influence Ed Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE at all. Wood's film - which also involved aliens resurrecting the dead - was shot in 1956 and had its first public screenings in 1957. "Invisible" was shot in late 1958 and only had its general wide release a few months before "Plan 9" in 1959.

Nuclear scientist Dr. Karol Noymann (John Carradine) has been "driven beyond the line of endurance" due to long hours of work and dies in an accidental lab explosion. Because of the incident, his colleague and friend since childhood, Dr. Adam Penner (Philip Tonge), has given up working on "the race for atom supremacy" and become the loudest advocate for peace on the planet. That all changes when Dr. Penner is visited by the corpse of his dearly departed friend late one night. Dr. Noymann's body - not looking too worse for wear considering he died in a massive nuclear explosion! - has been inhabited by invisible aliens. The space visitors have found a way to change the molecular structure of their bodies to become invisible and have been living undetected on the moon for millennia. Now that the Earth is making huge scientific strides and will perfect space travel sometime soon, the moon men decide to put us in our place by staging a takeover.

Dr. Penner sends his skeptical protégé Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton) to warn Washington, but they scoff at their claims and both men are made laughing stocks in the papers. With the U.S. and the rest of the world unprepared, the aliens then resurrect the dead from cemeteries around the globe who then begin laying waste to entire cities by causing various catastrophes. Tall buildings and industrial complexes collapse to the ground, planes and cars crash, dams are destroyed and cities are reduced to rubble and engulfed in flames thanks to the miracles of newsreel footage and recycled clips from other films with budgets. Dr. Penner is put back on the "Atom Commission" and is escorted to a hidden military bunker by Air Force Major Bruce Jay (John Agar) somewhere in the desert where the two men, John and Penner's daughter Phyllis (Jean Byron) try to come up with a way to stop the invaders. They're able to capture one of the beings using an acrylic substance that encases their bodies and hope to get the information they need from it to find a way to defeat the invaders.

The premise used here is utterly ridiculous and senseless, starting with the fact the aliens are invisible, NOT bodiless, so how on Earth are they able to get inside and control corpses? Why they even bother inhabiting the dead in the first place and why they warn humans of their impending invasion are two other plot points that make no real sense. If they had just quietly done their thing as invisible beings they'd have easily been able to accomplish their goal instead of giving scientists information that is later used against them. If one can ignore the Swiss cheese story line and the droning, pointless narration, this is mildly entertaining for what it is, has some fun moments and the actors are OK. To a modern audience, however, this is mostly interesting as a precursor to what would come later on.

I probably had the most fun comparing this Romero's later films. Though the zombies here are corpses being used simply as host bodies, the film shares numerous other similarities with Romero's "Night," including 1. an attempt to portray an apocalyptic worldwide epidemic of the living dead, 2. zombies which are actually made up to look like corpses (pale skin, black eyes, wrinkly skin, bloody) and walk in a slow-stiff manner, 3. characters holed up in one location and sitting around trying to get information from TV broadcasts. In addition, the film also seems to have influenced Romero's third 'Dead' film DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). Both 'Day' and 'Invisible' feature a small team of bickering scientists and army men confined to claustrophobic military bunkers where tensions rise as they attempt to find a way to destroy the dead.

Bland, forgettable slasher; the two "sequels" are much better., 9 September 2014
3/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is another B-grade slasher from Roger Corman's Concorde Pictures and one clearly made in response to the success of the similar (and much better) THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982). It's essentially the same movie all over again with scantily-clad girls in a house being stalked and murdered by a psycho, only this time it's done with far less blood, nudity, enthusiasm, comedy and action. First-(and only)-time director Carol Frank should have paid more attention to what was going on while she was serving as assistant director on "Slumber," because she can't even find a sense of humor about how played out this material is nor add any new twists to this tired formula. Instead, she's too busy swiping plot points from the first two HALLOWEEN movies as well as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979) and numerous others. The results are extremely bland.

Ever since moving into the Theta Omega Theta house, virginal, orphaned sorority pledge Beth (Angela O'Neill) has been plagued by nightmares of little bleeding girls and some wacko coming at her with a knife. Meanwhile, at a nuthouse, psycho Robert (John C. Russell), who murdered his entire family save for his youngest sister years earlier, is trying everything in his power to bust out. Since this asylum isn't the kind of asylum that exists in reality and is instead the kind of asylum that exists only in bad horror movies, escaping is easier than even he probably imagined. Robert kills an orderly, casually walks out of two doors and then hops over a small fence and he's home free. No staff. No guards. No alarms. No tall fence lined with barbed wire. No security cameras. Nothing. Hell, no one ever bothers locking any of the doors! After he's out, Robert goes to a hardware store to steal a knife (and kill the owner), carjacks a woman's station wagon and then heads to the sorority house and does exactly what we all expect him do.

Despite having next to no plot, this film relies on an absurd amount of coincidence to keep going. Robert just happens to escape from the asylum on holiday weekend when most of the students are out of town and there just happens to be four sorority girls at the house; each to represent all four of his sisters. Beth just happens to be Robert's sole living sister who just happens to be pledging a sorority house that just happens to be the same house where the psycho murdered the rest of her family 5 years earlier. Talk about your bad luck! Since Beth was five when she escaped her mad sibling's knife, she doesn't really remember any of it, but being in the house once again starts triggering dormant memories of the crimes. These frequent flashbacks are another of this film's major problems. Not only are they wedged in at every possible opportunity, grinding the film's pace to a standstill in the process, but they're also repetitive after the first few and offer up no new information. In other words, they serve no purpose whatsoever. If you removed all these scenes from the film, it would probably run about 40 minutes.

I know one can't expect much from these kinds of films, but it doesn't deliver nearly as much as it should on any front. The poster is your usual bait-and- switch ad art featuring a large-breasted, attractive blonde in lingerie who isn't even in the film. Instead we get some rather average-looking lasses running around is butt ugly 80s clothes for the duration of the run time. Of the four main actresses, three of them briefly go topless, so at least it has that much going for it. Where this film flatlines most is during the supposed "massacre." Not only does it take over 50 minutes for Robert to show up at the sorority house, but when he finally gets there he only kills five people and every single one is stabbed in the chest or back with a dime store retractile knife. I have no problem with the director aiming for a more suspenseful, less exploitative film (despite the title / marketing campaign), but she's not able to pull that off either.

Other points of interest? Well... I guess the boom mic being visible at least three times should be pointed out, especially the shot where you can not only see the microphone but the ENTIRE POLE holding it. Can't say I knew that colleges in SoCal taught psych courses on "dream imagery" and how to hypnotize people either. There's also the mystery of the boxer shorts, where a naked guy running from the killer is naked, then wearing boxers, then naked, then wearing boxer shorts again. Nor can I figure out how the killer was able to be inside one minute yet leaping in through a second story window the next despite the absence of a balcony outside. Oh yes, and what 80s film would be complete without an 80s music montage? This has one of those, too, but it's kind of lame and the music sounds like something you'd hear in a dentist's office. The only interesting aspect was how there was an attempt to parallel the original killing spree to the current one and how that's all edited together. Aside than that, Zzzzz.

Two unrelated sequels - SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE II and HARD TO DIE - were eventually shot back-to-back by director Jim Wynorski in 1990 and both were a LOT more entertaining than this one. The thing is, when you are making what is essentially derivative trash for a specific audience, you have two options: take it seriously and come off as a bland copycat in the process, or be proud of the fact you're making trash and give the people what they REALLY want to see (gratuitous blood and T&A) with a cheeky sense of humor. I much prefer Wynorski's approach.

And Then There Were Barely Any Werewolves, 9 September 2014
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Count Istvan (Philip Davis) invites nine strangers to an isolated Hungarian castle that has been closed down for 500 years after everyone inside was slaughtered save for a baby. Among the guests invited to the opening are photographer David Gillespie (Ben Cole), doctor Catherine Peake (Victoria Catlin), airhead aspiring actress Marylou Summers (Elizabeth Shé), writer Gail Cameron (Stephanie Faulkner), pro tennis player Jonathan Lane (Mark Sivertsen), adulterous playboy Richard Hamilton (William Shockley), historian Professor Dawson (Nigel Triffitt), Scandinavian actress Anna Benson (Mary Stavin) and ponytail-sporting Aussie Ray Price (Clive Turner, who also produced and wrote the script). Quite a varied group, but each turn out to be connected in some way they don't yet realize and all happen to share the same odd birthmark on their arm. Oh yes, and one just so happens to be a werewolf. The Count has lured them all there to find out just who it is and to finally put an end to the curse once and for all.

Part V isn't at all like the previous four films. In fact, this is one bizarre series in general. The first is a vastly entertaining, in-joke- filled horror film with a sense of humor that helped put director Joe Dante on the map and was an entirely American production. The second is a misbegotten attempt at camp barely linked to the first film, which had UK backing and was filmed mostly in Prague. The third is a truly bizarre kitchen sink horror-comedy-social commentary that was an Australian production (with marsupial werewolves). Part IV was a serious and dull virtual remake of the first movie minus the professionalism and humor that was filmed in South Africa. And this one, which has clearly been influenced most by "Ten Little Indians," had UK, US and Hungarian backing and was filmed in Budapest. If you're keeping score, that's five different movies filmed in five different countries that seldom even relate to one another. None of the sequels come anywhere near the original film and this is no exception to that rule, but it's somewhat better than most of the other sequels.

One of the things I liked best about this was the Gothic setting, which is quite unusual for a werewolf tale. There are secret passageways and an endless labyrinth of catacombs underneath the castle for the action to play out in and the art direction and sets are fairly good in this low-budget film. It's also set during a bad blizzard that traps all of the characters inside the castle, so the snowy atmosphere was a nice change of pace, as well. That said, every other component to this film was highly uneven. The cast was a mixed bag of competent actors (Davis, Catlin) and embarrassing amateurs (Shé being the worst offender there, though several of the male cast members give her a run for her money). The dialogue is frequently laughable and the whole mystery plot (possibly influenced by the earlier THE BEAST MUST DIE [1974]) also isn't anything to write home about. The filmmakers employ at least one 'cheat' scene to conceal the identity of the wolf, which isn't revealed until the very end.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing of all is that this film is sorely lacking in werewolf scenes. You rent a werewolf movie to see werewolves, am I right? Well here we never once get a full view of one of the creature. It is almost always shown in silhouette or in shots too dark to make out and the werewolf's face is only shown two times that I recall, with both shots little more than brief flashes. Needless to say, that also means there are no man-to-wolf transformation scenes that the series bases hinges its reputation on and that all four previous films contain. Don't expect any blood, gore or on-screen deaths either. All of the victims either just react to an approaching werewolf or get pulled off-screen to die. If not for two instances of female nudity, this probably would have received a PG-13 rating.

A surprisingly good follow-up., 7 September 2014
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Director / writer Bob Kelljan, producer Michael Macready and star Robert Quarry as well as some of the supporting cast all return for this immediate follow-up to the very successful COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE from the previous year. If you recall at the end of the first, Yorga had been staked through the heart and his manservant Brudah had been stabbed in the chest. This sequel pretty much asks us to forget about all that and just concentrate on what's essentially a brand new story where the vampire is somehow resurrected by the "Santa Ana Wind" (don't ask - it didn't make much sense to me either). Yorga takes up residence in the nearby Gateway Mansion along with his facially-scarred half wit sidekick Brudah (again played by Edward Walsh) and a stable of lethal vampire brides dressed in nightgowns, who all miraculously rise from a nearby cemetery to do his bidding. I suppose the wind did that, too. The mansion is near the Westwood Orphanage, so there's a lot of female flesh for the evil Count to sink his fangs into.

Pretty orphanage worker Cynthia Nelson (Mariette Hartley) is tops on the love-struck vampire's list. Yorga sends his brides to massacre her parents and transform her sister Ellen (Karen Ericson) into a vamp. He then kidnaps Cynthia and uses his mesmeric powers to hypnotize her into forgetting the event and believing she's had a car accident (though she still frequently has flashbacks that threaten to knock her out of her trance). After several other ladies disappear and a few dead bodies turn up, Cynthia's psychiatrist fiancé (Roger Perry, in a role similar to the one he played in the first film) attempts to convince the police (Rudy De Luca and a young Craig T. Nelson in his film debut) to accept the possibility there's a vampire on the loose.

In many ways, this is exactly the type of sequel one would expect to a modestly-produced original film that went on to become a hit. The budget is clearly larger, the photography is cleaner, the camera-work is more imaginative and fluid, the sound design is more intricate, there are a few more recognizable names in the cast and the film delivers 'more' in nearly every regard. There's more Quarry (always a good thing), more victims, more bloodshed (enough to earn it an R rating as opposed to the original's PG-13), more vampires and slightly more plot this time out. There are also many more characters added to the works to complicate matters. The most interesting of these is a little orphan boy named Tommy (Philip Frame), who is put under the count's spell early on and from then on helps to cover up his activities and even lures people to their deaths (or just kills them himself).

Other characters of note are a witch consultant of sorts living inside Yorga's mansion, a priest who runs the orphanage and is later tricked into a quicksand bog and Cynthia's mute sister (played by Yvonne Wilder, who also co-scripted the film), who hauls off and slaps the s*** out of little Tommy after he lies to the police. In addition to them, Michael Pataki (who went on to play an excellent bloodsucker himself in the following year's GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE) shows up long enough to get strangled and there are special guest appearances from character actors Walter Brooke and George Macready (father of producer Michael); the latter getting to ham it up as a half-senile vampire expert in his final film appearance.

The debonair Quarry does about as well here as he did in the first film, gets plenty of amusingly pompous dialogue and is especially creepy wearing white makeup and rushing toward the camera in slow motion, though the character is not quite as intriguing and mysterious this time out. Though the plot meanders a bit in the middle, the lively finale - featuring numerous characters trapped inside Yorga's manor where they face off against the count and numerous other vampires while doors automatically close or open to either reveal the vampires or trap victims - really comes through. While less direct and focused than the first, "Return" still does what any worthwhile sequel SHOULD do by retaining the best qualities of the first film while also giving audiences something new.

At one point there were even plans for a third "Yorga" film, which would have paired up the vampire with Vincent Price's "Dr. Phibes" character. Unfortunately, that idea got scrapped after the second "Phibes" outing disappointed at the box office. Too bad. I for one would have liked to have seen more!

Good low-budget film. Quarry makes for an excellent vampire., 7 September 2014
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Bulgarian vampire Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) arrives via ship in Los Angeles harbor in a coffin-shaped crate, moves into a quaint country mansion, finds himself a facially-scarred, back-snapping henchman named Brudah (Edward Walsh) and immediately gets to work collecting brides for his cellar harem of bloodsucking babes. Getting caught up in all of this are two couples; Paul (Michael Murphy) and Erica (Judith Lang) & Mike (producer Michael Macready) and Donna (Donna Anders), who first make the Count's acquaintance during a séance meant to call up with the spirit of Donna's recently-deceased mother (Marsha Jordan), who mysteriously died after a three-week courtship with Yorga. Little does anyone realize, but ma didn't quite die; she was just transformed into a vamp who now resides in the vampire's home, and the Count has similar designs on both Donna and her female friend.

The Count starts out by putting the bite to the flirtatious Erica, who suddenly takes a turn for the weird. After she grows ill, distant and listless, starts looking a little pale and is finally caught feasting on a dead kitten, Paul and Mike consult blood specialist Dr. James Hayes (Roger Perry) for help. Blood tests reveal she's low a few pints and is in desperate need of a transfusion. That, combined with the fact she now has two small puncture wounds on her neck, means the diagnosis is pretty obvious. After both Erica and Donna vanish, and the police prove to be of no help, the guys are forced to confront Yorga all on their own. Though this plot sounds rather simplistic, there aren't many surprises along the way and parts are a bit awkward, the film itself is fairly well done using the most modest of resources. A clever scene where the heroes attempt to keep the vampire up until sunrise utilizing casual conversation as a form of entrapment highlights just why this film manages to be successful despite budgetary limitations. This scene relies only on the dialogue and the actors to carry it and manages to be both humorous and suspenseful.

The best thing this film has going it though is certainly Quarry. He's extremely charismatic and magnetic as the count, brings an air of class and sophistication to the film and holds his own with many more famous actors who've played vampires over the years. After years of toiling away in Hollywood, often playing bit roles and parts on TV, this part finally elevated him to star status in the horror genre. Alas, it would be short-lived as the days of the marquee 'horror star' were on their way out. Quarry's career also suffered several setbacks due to an accident where he was hit and seriously injured by a drunk a driver, and another where he was beaten and mugged. It wouldn't be until the late 80s that he staged a comeback by appearing in films for director Fred Olen Ray, which seldom made full use of his talents though he was always a welcome presence in whatever film he appeared in.

Originally conceived as a soft porn vampire film to be titled "The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire" (a title some prints still retain), this production underwent numerous changes along the way. Quarry stated in later interviews that he only agreed to play the vampire if the sex scenes were removed and it was made as a straight horror film, which is exactly what ended up happening. Distributor AIP went even further by pushing for a GP rating (which was the only alternative to an R or X back then), so numerous scenes had to be trimmed to secure that. I'm not quite sure what exactly WAS filmed, but what remains are some bloody moments (the one involving the cat being the most graphic) and major cleavage from most of the females in the cast. The film was later re- rated PG-13, which is appropriate.

All of the alterations to the original concept (plus the fact this was one of the first films to transplant a vampire into a modern day, non- Gothic setting) turned out to be wise from a lucrative standpoint as the film became a huge and unexpected hit and was immediately followed by the higher-budgeted sequel THE RETURN OF THE COUNT YORGA (1971), which brought back Quarry, Perry, Walsh and familiar character actor George Macready (who is the father of co-star / producer Michael and narrates this beginning and ending of this original).


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