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Strange psycho-drama; first half much stronger than the second., 21 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Blonde-haired, blue-eyed twins Jacki (Judy Geeson) and Julian (Martin Potter) have more than just clean-cut good looks in common. They're both also extremely immature, childish, naive, spoiled and really need to grow up and so clingy, affectionate and dependent on one another they turn suspicious eyes wherever they go because everyone assumes they're lovers. When we first meet the duo, they're on their way to London via bus to take up residence in a posh new flat. We're never given insight into how they got their money, where they come from, what kind of upbringing they had and or how their life was before this London trip, but we can assume something wasn't quite right. After all, one of the first things they do upon arrival is trip their grumpy landlady down a long flight of stairs with a strategically-placed teddy bear! Of the two twins, it's Jacki who seems to want to live the normal life. However, they soon discover "normal" is anything but when they begin hobnobbing with some rather unsavory types.

Unemployed bisexual hustler Clive (Alexis Kanner) becomes their first acquaintance after he actively seeks them out at a club and, along with his more level-headed female friend Denise (Marian Diamond), the quartet begin indulging in drink, drugs, parties and sex. But the fun times don't last. For starters, Julian can't seem to move past his unhealthy obsession with his sister. In fact, his unrequited sexual desires for her are driving him a bit mad and he can't help but to paw at her, kiss her and spy on her changing clothes. He also becomes extremely jealous when other men show any interest in his sibling. Clive's been showing interest but he has bigger fish to fry: He's gambled away all his money and is indebted to a violent goon. In order to get some quick cash he decides to ply his new pal with booze and drugs and then lure him to a hotel room where he takes photos of him having sex with a pair of drag queens (!!) Blackmail, murder and a police investigation follow.

This is an unsuccessful and pointless but interesting little film that's more entertaining as a time capsule look at Swingin' London than it is a drama or a thriller. Some part of me seriously doubts sexual mores were so loose even in the underground during the early 70s (observers of the brother's incestuous behavior behave like it's no big deal and every guy seems to be into what one character hilariously refers to as "the queer boy circus"), but it's a unique angle to take nonetheless. Unfortunately, the director drops the ball after the first half and settles for a more routine 'killer on the lam' storyline that grinds the film to a screeching halt. As a huge horror / thriller fan I think it says a lot about the potency of the 'thrilling' scenes that I found myself more entertained watching a transvestite do a strip routine at a bar than I was whether whoever will get away with murder.

Director Gibson isn't very well-regarded in horror circles and movies like this and his two Hammer Dracula films (which are arguably the two worst in the entire series) show why. His direction here is flavorless, completely devoid of an individual signature style and he shows no attention whatsoever to visuals or detail. I guess if he does anything right it's getting solid work from his lead actors, though there's only so much they can do with this script. The 'names' in the supporting cast - like Michael Redgrave and Freddie Jones - are given nothing of interest to do.

Leigh brings her A game to an otherwise weak psychological horror tale., 19 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I love haunted house films, psychological horror films and especially combinations of both where one element is frequently at odds with the other and you're never quite sure whether there's an actual haunting taking place, the protagonist is going insane or both are happening simultaneously. I also love Jennifer Jason Leigh. Unfortunately, this movie just didn't do it for me. It's the type of self-indulgent, needlessly cluttered 'art' film the gives me a headache because it was made by someone less interested in crafting an affecting, thoughtful movie than they are showing off how 'original' they are at every turn with random weirdness for the sake of random weirdness. In 1965, when Roman Polanski utilized surreal imagery to reflect the crumbling mind of Catherine Deneuve's character in REPULSION, he did so with purpose and restraint. This movie attempts to update that same exact story and give it a kinkier whitewash as well as a last minute twist, but it all ends up succumbing to the director's own pretensions. This guy just does not know when to quit.

I mentioned Polanski's film for a good reason: This movie is slavish in its dedication to it. Like REPULSION, it features an aloof, attractive blonde with a history of mental illness possibly due to childhood sexual abuse. Both characters are named Carol and both begin hallucinating and going off the deep end once they're left alone to their own thoughts in a quiet location. This also swipes the cracking walls, the unnerving sounds of water dripping and clocks ticking, possibly imaged sexual assaults and the macabre time passage symbolism (Polanski used sprouting potatoes and a rotting skinned rabbit and this one uses an apple that begins to fester with worms) from Polanski's movie. Of course, so many borrowings could potentially place this in the category of 'rip off' but the director makes it all as blatant as possible because when you're REALLY obvious people will claim you are 'cleverly referencing' a movie and not copying it. Hell, Quentin Tarantino has made an acclaimed career for himself out of just that for the past 20 years.

I won't go too heavily into the plot, just to say Leigh's "emotionally delicate" character, who's spent some time in an institution, inherits 10 thousand dollars and what she believes to be an ordinary, warehouse- sized nightclub from her late Uncle. Against her mother's (Brenda Vaccaro) wishes, she decides to move in and fix the place up. While the first floor of the building is indeed just a regular club under renovation, the second story of the joint is another matter entirely. Upstairs is a red hallway with flickering lights and walls lined with numerous multi- colored locked doors; behind each a room catering to a specific sexual fetish. Rooms have beach themes and library themes, some have mattresses lined on the floors, mirrors on the walls and cameras with monitors. TVs play porn cartoons and sex loops and there's even an XXX video game. The creepiest of the rooms which ends up having the most significance is a some kind of S&M chamber with chains, leather, mannequins and words like "Master" and "Obedience" painted on the walls.

Almost immediately after moving in, Carol begins having strange visions and meets even stranger people whose motivations and identities are unclear. The foreman (James Redhorn) working on restoring the building is reluctant to alter the dead Uncle's original plans but won't say why. A trio of guys (including Steve Buscemi) attempt to rape her, but a police chief (Frank Stallone) chooses not to believe her story because apparently she'd cried wolf in regards to sexual assault in the past. She's befriended by both a rape crisis counselor (Denise Dumont) and a mysterious man (Peter Coyote) who shows up pretending to be a detective but is someone else entirely. As that's all going on, the director plies on the bizarre imagery at an alarming rate. Doors constantly open and close by themselves, apples appear everywhere, children's laughter is heard, a bicycle flies down a hallway, a giant eyeball crashes through a door and appears inside a water bed, etc. Oh yeah, and let us not forget the last minute appearance of a crazed transsexual for good measure!

Leigh is given an extremely difficult character to play here. She's a sexually repressed neurotic who constantly talks to herself, a chain- smoking former alcoholic, a survivor of sex abuse plagued by flashbacks, a near-hysterical woman suffering from paranoid delusions... the director really piles it on in this one and it's a testament to Leigh's brilliance as an actress that she manages to plausibly play this ridiculously complicated character regardless of all the crazy things going on around her. It's just too bad the performance is wasted in service of a subpar, poorly-scripted film few people wanted to watch. The only way distributors were able to even sell this mess was by misleadingly marketing it as an erotic thriller, which it is certainly not.

Bad writing, bad acting and dumb characters... but delivers what it should., 19 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

You get the impression the director is just checking boxes along the way with this one, but at least he knew what to do. It's a slasher film so of course it needs blood, gore, a remote location, a bunch of twenty and thirty somethings pretending to be teenagers to supply a body count and a little T&A, right? That's precisely what this delivers. The opening prologue at a secluded West Virginia mental asylum sets the stage as three deformed white trash children manage to bust out of their cell, unleash the other patients and then kill off the staff in gruesome ways that include biting off a security guard's nose, gouging out an eyeball and ripping all of the limbs off a doctor with barbed wire. The film then immediately cuts to present day at a college where we briefly meet a few students. Well, we don't exactly meet them since this film has no characterization to speak of, we just get to see a straight couple having sex and then a lesbian couple having sex... and they're in the same room watching each other the whole time! That's just... weird.

The above two couples, along with two other couples, then decide to take their snowmobiles out to a cabin to spend the weekend partying. On their way, they take a wrong turn, get lost and are then forced to spend the night in the now-abandoned asylum. Guess who's still living there? Yup, the three "inbred West Virginia hillbillies" from the opening sequence, now all grown up but none the nicer and now with a taste for human flesh. The rest plays out just as you expect with the "teens" running for their lives and doing incredibly stupid things while getting killed off one by one. Most of the characters are pretty irritating, especially our heroine, who is bossy, kind of bitchy and insists no one kill the cannibals once they have them trapped because she doesn't "want to be reduced to their level." Oh please. Of course that poor decision ends up biting them all in the ass later on, but it also requires the lookout guy to FALL ASLEEP so they can escape their cage. I don't know about you, but if I was just a few feet from a group of deformed psychos who've already killed and eaten a few of my friends, I seriously doubt I would nod off regardless of how tired I was!

I could spend an hour detailing all of the stupid things these people do over the course of the movie, but I'll just discuss the gore and nudity instead since that's the main reason this movie was made. I actually liked many of the kills. The fx work is a combination of good old school makeups with a bit of CGI that admittedly looks like crap in a few instances but overall does the job OK. There's a really bloody hanging via barbed wire, a guy getting chunks of flesh slowed sliced off and fried in hot oil (human fondue?), a head skewering, several decapitations, a comically huge drill being thrust through a body and more. The director is smart enough to make sure nearly everyone's death is shown on-screen. He was also smart enough to hire a hot black actress, a hot Asian actress and a hot white actress (each with all-natural bodies) to do the nude scenes so that we get a little variety. Flaws and all, this movie actually compares favorably to several big budget slasher remakes of recent years like the awful Friday THE 13TH and ELM STREET re-dos.

I also liked the filming location, some of the photography choices and camera placements and the snowy setting featuring (gasp!) REAL snow. That may not seem like a big deal, but I've recently seen several films with CGI snow and it looks absolutely terrible, so at least they went on location to Canada to film this instead of trying to fake it. And hey, considering the guy who made this also made the terrible previous entry - WRONG TURN 3: LEFT FOR DEAD (2009) - this at least is a marked improvement. He's even able to generate a little bit of excitement here.

They'll love the very life out of your body!, 15 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A man with no previous history of heart trouble is found dead of a heart attack in his hotel room. Cause of death? Well, according to the coroner something like "extreme sexual exhaustion" (or, in layman's terms, he's been screwed to death). And thus begins a series of strange events in a small California town called Peckham that will soon have a large body count attached to it. Neil Agar (William Smith), a government agent with the U.S. Department of Security, shows up to investigate the death of the first victim (another government employee) and teams up with both local law enforcement officer Captain Peters (the always great Cliff Osmond) and meek lab archivist Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri) to get to the bottom of things. As more dead bodies turn up, clues eventually lead them back to the Brandt Research Facility, where shady shade-wearing beauty Dr. Susan Harris (Anitra Ford) is up to some rather bizarre experiments.

This is a prime example of a well-executed drive-in movie. It certainly doesn't qualify as a so-bad-it's-good film like some are stating simply because it is completely self-aware of what it is. The makers are in on the joke and just decide to run with it; injecting humor whenever possibly without compromising the flow of the plot. I laughed a lot watching this and much of the dialogue is intentionally tongue-in-cheek and goofy. However, the primary objective here is sexploitation and this doesn't skimp on that either with the sultry and gorgeous Ford (a former showcase model on "The Price Is Right"), Vetri (a Playboy Playmate of the Year) and nearly every other female in the cast losing their clothes at one point or another. This certainly accomplishes its goals of being a silly T&A spoof of horror and science fiction films. Surprisingly, even many "serious" critics like Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin have sung its praises over the years.

The bee girls themselves aren't really monsters in the traditional sense like, say, "The Wasp Woman" from the classic Corman film, so don't go in expecting it. Instead, these lethal ladies just wear shades when they're about to kill because their eyeballs turn black. We never really get to see any of them in the 'act' of killing one of their victims, but we do get to see a hilarious and awesome conversion sequence at the very end that involves spreading a nude woman with some sticky white substance, putting her in a radioactive chamber, covering her with bees and then shooting her with a laser beam.

I also have to defend this movie on several other fronts, in particular the digs at the acting and cinematography. The performances are actually NOT awful like some are saying. If you want awful, watch one of today's low budget movies and you'll quickly realize the people in this one are like Oscar contenders by comparison. I thought each of the leads did a good enough job with what they were given to work with. Secondly, the film is also not as dark and poorly shot as some people are saying. My guess is that they watched the public domain print of the film and not the legit DVD version from MGM. The late Gary Graver shot the movie and did a very competent job of it. I also loved the bizarre music score from Charles Bernstein, which is delightfully bizarre and perfect for the material.

A few dumb laughs due to ineptitude but mostly just boring., 14 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This was another of those ultra-low-budget City Lights direct-to-video releases that served primarily as shelf filler in the late 80 and was a warm-up to Joseph Merhi and Richard Pepin's more lucrative later venture PM Entertainment Group. Most of these were cheap-o urban action flicks, but they also put out a number of horror films like THE NEWLYDEADS (1987), HOLLOW GATE (1988), EPITAPH (1988) and this one. Troma later acquired the catalogue and issued DVDs, but regardless of where you get it or the format, it's worth noting that ALL versions of this shot-on-video effort look (and sound) like absolute crap. I suppose in a way that's fitting because the film itself is inept in every way possible, but the murky and sometimes blurry picture quality combined with incompetent audio recording rendering much of the dialogue completely inaudible make this a chore to sit through. Now I like cheap / bad movies as much as the next guy, but I didn't find this to be all that fun despite a couple of memorably off-the-wall moments. Actually, I was mostly just bored.

Cary (Lenny Delducca) decides to pay his crippled taxidermist Uncle (Theodore Lehmann) a visit at his remote county house. Also coming along are his girlfriend Shelly (Kelly Sullivan), his leather-jacket- wearing meat head friend Gene (Jude Gerard) and Gene's hot girlfriend Linda (Laura Albert), who speaks so softly you can barely ever hear her but at least takes her top off twice. Rounding out the group is Lenny, who's played by Ken Sagoes, the only real "name" in the cast because he was in a few of the ELM STREET sequels around this same time. Because Sagoes is black, he's of course the token third (fifth?) wheel of the group and the scriptwriter has poorly tried to emulate his Kincaid persona by making sure he's loud, frantic and curses a lot. The uncle lives with a sinister-acting female companion (Judy Gordon) and a handyman who gets torched in the opening scene by a shrouded woman brandishing a flamethrower and whose rotting corpse turns up minutes after the "teens" arrive yet isn't enough of a red flag to alter their vacation plans any.

After the corpse is hauled off by police, the teenagers decide to "get crazy" by playing volleyball, throwing a Frisbee, having a chicken fight and flying a kite. What animals! After having a deep discussion about how it would suck to be decapitated ("I don't know about you guys, but there's no way I want to die!"), Shelly finds a script called "Victim" and begins reading it. As it turns out the script has been cursed by an ancient Amazon tribe (!?) so people begin to die. While having sex in the barn, Linda gets blown through the wall but returns later on in a dream sequence where she strips off her top and then rips her boyfriends head off with a scarf (!?) after he drives up to her in a race car (?!) One of the guys stumbles onto some hair band playing in the middle of the woods (!?) and his head explodes after he's hit with a guitar. A detective is sucked underground and then pops back up covered in melted bubble gum before disappearing again. A monster, a bald demon with a sword and couple of zombies on motorcycles (!) pop in to join in on the fun. This all sounds more fun that it actually is.

Can't say any of this made much sense. It's mostly just a bunch of random ideas senselessly strewn together by people who had no clue how to make a movie. The haunted script premise isn't a bad idea at all but it's mishandled and not nearly as interesting as it could have been. Near the Uncle's home is a deserted ghost town which used to be a movie set but it too is barely even used. The acting, continuity, music and editing are all terrible, the dialogue (what I could make out of it at least) is even worse and the film is littered with incredibly boring scenes where characters sit around talking about nothing in particular, which makes it drag on for what feels like an eternity in between the scant goofy horror scenes. Throw in a couple of awful 80s songs, some cut rate makeups and a few surprisingly decent stunts and that's pretty much all she wrote with this one.

You can ring my be-e-ell., 9 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

College student and lunch truck driver Linda Schumacher (Jo Ann Harris) is getting ready for a date when she's attacked by a psycho decked out in a hockey mask and orange jump suit. He kicks her in the head, chases her into a barn and then punches in her face before raping her. As if that isn't bad enough, the guy really gets off on humiliating her by making her say "Thank you Mr. Rapist for choosing me" before the rape, sing "Jingle Bells" (!) during and then forcing her to tell him "I loved it" afterward. Linda goes to the cops to report the assault and is treated like she's at fault by crude, condescending officers who insinuate her skimpy attire provoked the act. One of the cops even goes so far as to mock her by saying "I wished that would happen to me sometime. I'd just lay back and enjoy it." After learning the doctors can't help either when no traces of semen are found, Linda goes to her boyfriend (Steve Kanaly) for comfort. Oops! He's a man too, so he just tells her she's a whore and possibly a even "Diesel Dyke." Yes, men sure can be pigs.

During a suspect line-up at the police station, Linda meets four other women - Nancy (Jennifer Lee), Karen (Lisa Moore), Angie (Patricia Estrin) and Teresa (Connie Strickland) - who've also been a victim of the same man and who are all also clamoring for justice. Since the police can't really do anything, the girls decide to organize their own vigilante group called "The Rape Squad" in hopes of educating and protecting other vulnerable women in the city. This involves passing out flyers, manning phones, going to black belt Tiny (Lada Edmund Jr.) for martial arts training and sitting in a Jacuzzi tub naked discussing their future plans. The ladies raid a rapist club owner's apartment, destroy everything he owns and pretend like they're pouring sulfuric acid on his penis (which is actually blue dye to "mark" his manhood so he can be easily identified in the future). They also set an obscene phone caller straight by humiliating him in public ("Let me see your wang!") and kick an abusive pimp's ass during a hilarious scene. For an encore, our heroines foolishly head out into an abandoned zoo late at night to meet up with their attacker (Peter Brown), whose sexual assaults are beginning to amass a body count.

With its bad (though earnest) acting from a cast taking this completely seriously, laughable dialogue ("Just thinking of challenging a rapist gives me the chills!"), exploitative nudity at every opportunity and poorly choreographed karate fight scenes, this AIP release is impossible to ever take seriously. However, none of that really matters as it's undoubtedly a hell of a lot of fun watching a bunch of angry women running around beating up men and spouting insipid one-liners. Adding to the comedy value is the fact nearly every single male character, right down the smallest of parts, is a sexist jerk or perv. The girls can't even walk down the street without some guy chipping in something like "A little rape every once in awhile should make life more enjoyable!" It all becomes rather comic after awhile. Though rape itself is hardly funny, that doesn't mean a film attempting to seriously tackle the subject and failing miserably to pull it off can't be.

False Face (1977)
A twisted Southern Gothic psycho-drama. Forgotten but worth searching for., 8 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing) is an esteemed plastic surgeon and murderous sociopath whose greed and perversity seem to know no bounds! Not only responsible for his own wife's drowning, he also killed his piano prodigy daughter's boyfriend after angrily stumbling upon the two of them having sex; in both instances successfully staging the killings to look like accidental drownings in their backyard pond. After having caught a brief glimpse of the death of her lover, the daughter - Heather (Judith Chapman) - ran off and hasn't been seen or heard from since. Problems arise a year later when Phillip's rich father-in-law croaks and not only shafts Phillip in the inheritance but also his own drunkard ne'er-do-well son (Arlen Dean Snyder); leaving Heather every penny of his 5 million dollar estate. Heather cannot be located, but Phillip stumbles upon a possible solution to his predicament in the form of a topless stripper who's just had her face smashed to a bloody pulp against a wall and happens to wander out in the street in front of his car.

Phillip takes the woman (also played by Chapman) back to his clinic and soon discovers she has no identity, no family and no home to go along with her disfigured- beyond-recognition face. Realizing he has a clean slate to work with, the doctor strikes up a bargain with the "Jane Doe" in his care: He'll reconstruct her face to look exactly like his missing daughter's if she'll impersonate her to make appearances at a few family functions and then claim the inheritance. Things go off without a hitch, aside from the duo having to bump off the weak-hearted brother-in-law after he becomes suspicious because "Heather" cannot play piano. As they wait to collect their money, the two become a little better, uh, acquainted in a very Freudian manner, but their entire plan is threatened when the REAL Heather finally returns home.

This plays out sort of like a demented version of "Pygmalion," with an older male trying to turn a young woman from the other side of the tracks into a classier, sophisticated Southern belle, with a dash of EYES WITHOUT A FACE thrown in. Added to that is a very perverse incest theme with the surgeon clearly having sexual designs on his own daughter. He kills his wife for her and eliminates the daughter's potential suitor in a jealous rage just so he has her all to himself. Taking things one step further into the realm of the uncomfortable, "Jane Doe" then becomes his flesh-and-blood way of actually acting out his lustful, unnatural feelings. When Heather finally comes back into the picture, Dr. Reynolds finds the real thing more irresistible than his creation; an urge that aids in his eventual downfall.

This is NOT a flashy movie in terms of photography, direction or visual style. However, I'd personally rather watch a low-budget, low-key movie like this that has an intelligent script and good performances than a stylish, slick big budget movie with safe, soulless writing. Of course one's enjoyment hinges a lot on whether they can accept an admittedly absurd premise but if you can there's a lot of interesting things bubbling underneath the surface and macabre humor to enjoy. The director is also able to get good performances from the cast, with Lansing giving a great performance as the arrogant, disturbed doctor, which is played with just the right amount of restraint. The biggest surprise though is Chapman, who manages to create two different characters in a subtle and non-showy way. I thought she looked familiar and then discovered she's the younger sister of Euro exploitation actress Patty Shepard, who starred in over a dozen horror flicks in the 70s and 80s. The two look a LOT alike but I'm afraid Patty never got a role as good as this one to play.

SCALPEL has sadly fallen into obscurity over the years and there is no DVD release as of this writing. The current prints floating around are sourced from the Charter VHS release, which is in terrible shape and is likely the same edited version that used to play on TV. You'll notice abrupt cuts in the sound and picture at times, especially the scene where the stripper is manhandled.

Falls into the 'hard to believe it was ever made' category., 8 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This very bizarre British B flick centers around a violent motorcycle gang called "The Living Dead," whose favorite pastimes include running motorists off the road, terrorizing people in public squares, smacking baby-carriage-strolling women on the ass as they pass by and treating graveyards like cheap hotel rooms. Gang leader Tom (Nicky Henson) is obsessed with crossing over to "the other side." Luckily for him, his mother (Beryl Reid) is some kind of clairvoyant who makes money holding séances and is somehow in league with Satan. She also may have killed his father years earlier and claims to know the secret to eternal life. Eventually, mum grants Tom access to her knowledge via some portal in a locked room of the house and a special medallion. Tom kills himself by running his bike off a tall bridge, is buried in a grave sitting upright on his motorcycle (!) and soon comes roaring to life. He also decides to share his secret with his biker buddies, who start killing themselves to gain immortality.

It's hard to believe that once upon a time someone out there thought this was a good idea for a movie. I could never quite put my finger on just what this was trying to accomplish. Black magic elements aside, this doesn't quite work as a horror film, as it never once attempts to be scary or creepy. It also doesn't work as an exploitation film because it's far too tame. There's no sex or nudity and hardly any violence. Hell, I don't even remember so much as a drop of blood being spilled and the "zombie" bikers look no worse for wear than they did prior to ending their mortal life. However, this does somewhat work as a gimmicky, silly piece of brainless entertainment. Clearly made to cash in on the big biker movie craze of the 60s and 70s, which took off after the success of EASY RIDER (1969), this is seldom boring and pretty lively, amusing and fast-paced. The score and stunt work are good and there are some genuine laughs along the way, such as a hilarious montage of bikers offing themselves in a variety of ways, such as driving out into traffic and leaping from tall buildings, bridges and even airplanes!

There's definitely an attempt at an anarchic youth appeal here, with rebellious long-haired drop-outs doing their thing regardless of what any adult has to say in the matter. Also to appeal to the younger crowd, the film eventually becomes less chaotic toward the end in favor of a 'doomed love' subplot where Tom's girlfriend Abby (Mark Larkin) can't decide whether to live her mortal life or kill herself to join her boyfriend for all eternity. Needless to say, with all of the silliness going on, that aspect of the plot is not very compelling. The story is all over the place and confusing in spots, incorporating things like 100 year old toads, magic mirrors and George Sanders in a weird role as a cross-hating butler who never ages and may be Satan himself... though I'd like to think Satan has more exciting things to do than cater to an old psychic and her delinquent son for decades!

Though many of the people involved in this film would just soon forget their participation in it, this is certainly worth a look for fans of strange minor cult flicks. If nothing else, it offers a freewheeling, quirky change of pace to some of the stuffier British genre films of the time being offered by Hammer and other studios. If you're thinking about purchasing it, buy the Severin DVD. It offers the uncut version and some good extras. The Geneon DVD is missing 4 minutes, most of which is the séance scene at the beginning, and offers no special features.

Not entirely successful, but interesting enough., 17 September 2014

*** 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

*** 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.

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