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One of Dolph's better recent direct-to-video efforts
The last few Dolph Lundgren flicks have been rough going (specifically the Serafini ones like BLOOD OF REDEMPTION), so I entered RIOT with expectations lower than usual. So it was nice to see it actually putting forth some effort. It is essentially a vanity project (lead Matthew Reese's name appears 3 times in the first 30 seconds) and you have to suffer through UFC fighter Chuck Liddell - sporting a huge HGH belly - doing one of the worst Russian accents in the history of cinema (not an easy feat!), but the filmmakers came up with a twisty plot, some cool guard costumes and did some interesting fight choreography (which was obviously influenced by JOHN WICK and THE RAID films). Not a Dolph- classic by any means, but a decent 85 minutes.
Echo Effect (2015)
Michael Jai White deserves so much better than this
Micheal Jai White is one of the top direct-to-video action stars thanks to films like Undisputed II and Blood and Bone. His great martial arts skills are always complemented by his good acting. So how and why he got wrapped up in this amateur production is beyond me. Seriously, this flick is so flat and displays all of the style of something you would see on Hallmark or Lifetime. Even worse, director Kevin Carraway has very little insight on how to properly film and edit a fight scene (look for one shot where you can see the safety mat on the ground). Not allowing White to show case his abilities is just downright criminal. Add in a perfunctory plot and Steve Austin doing his best not to look off camera to spot a bank to cash his check and you have one of White's worst films in years. I understand he has to work, but I just wish it was with better people. I have no doubt White's forthcoming Never Back Down 3 will correct this.
Home for the Holidays (1972)
I don't feel so bad about my family now!
Revisited this after two decades since my only recollection of it was that it featured a lot of rain. Family matriarch Benjamin Morgan (Walter Brennan) has his three estranged daughters - Frederica (Jessica Walter, Christine (Sally Field) and Joanna (Jill Haworth) - join him and his fourth daughter, Alex (Eleanor Parker), for Christmas. His reason is simple - he wants them to kill his new wife Elizabeth (Julie Harris), who he believes is slowly poisoning him. This is an effective holiday horror with great performances by all of the leading ladies. The mystery by writer Joseph Stefano might be easy to figure out, but there are still some great moments of suspense. Some of it is pretty shocking for a early '70s TV movie. For example, there is one great bit where Benjamin is dressing down his daughters and he flat out says Frederica was a hussy in junior high. Don't think that would fly today. Director John Llewellyn Moxey does a great job creating the trapped, rainy night atmosphere and gets the most out of their location (which is the same farmhouse where Spielberg shot SOMETHING EVIL).
Captures small town America quite well
A mongoloid boy in a mask is kept in a dilapidated house by his mother. When she gives birth and tries to burn the child alive, he kills her. Ten years later, the mute boy is in a mental institution and sticking to having his face covered in bandages. He is scheduled to be transferred and, of course, he escapes from his driver Jason (Travis Patton). This is bad news for Staci (Amy Paliganoff) and her adopted 10-year-old sister Jodi (Andrea Johnson), who are traveling from Ohio to Virginia and cross paths with the boy. This is done pretty much in the mold of HALLOWEEN (1978) and doesn't offer anything really new to the genre in terms of plot. There are hints of something deeper going on here (is Jodi the killer's baby sister he killed his mom for?), but Tharpe never really expands on them. I'm not sure if I can credit it to calculated or inept scripting. Where Tharpe succeeds though is in his depictions of small towns, empty fields and isolated farmhouses. Shot on 16mm, the film captures tons of creepy locations and small town life. This would be on even greater display in Tharpe's second film RETURN IN RED (2007).
Return in Red (2007)
Both the film and motive are mysterious and enigmatic
A mysterious white van travels through a small Indiana town and at night it blasts residents with high frequency sound waves that make some residents go crazy. Catching onto the strange things happening are TV repairman Bodecker (J.J. Huckin) and factory worker Katie (Amy Paliganoff), who is seemingly immune to the blasts. Tharpe's second feature film is a decidedly measured dose of small town paranoia that reminds me of Romero's THE CRAZIES (1973). One of the great things about the film is the viewer is never privy to who is behind these small town high frequency attacks. Opening and closing bits imply the U.S. government, but viewers are never given answers. That along with some genuine surprises and a few really creepy scenes made this enjoyable for me. It is very leisurely paced. So much so that Ti West would scream, "Pick up the pace!" Once again, Tharpe captures a small Midwestern town perfectly. There are also some nice recurring shot motifs going on.
Good atmosphere and performances
Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw) arrives in San Francisco to meet her recently freed POW husband Paul (Frank Latimore). With his arrival delayed, Janet spends the night alone in the hotel and is woken up around 1am by a dream. In the apartment adjacent to hers she hears arguing between Dr. Richard Cross (Vincent Price) and his wife. She watches as he murders her and it puts her in a state of shock, so she is unresponsive when her husband finally arrives. The doc examining her recommends a preeminent psychiatrist who just happens to be...Dr. Cross! With Janet housed at his institute, Dr. Cross conspires with his lover/nurse Elaine (Lynn Bari) on how to be get rid of this witness.
A excursion into video roulette led me to this fun little horror- thriller that might be one of the first REAR WINDOW-type stories for the screen. Director Alfred L. Werker does a good job of moving things along quickly (the film only runs 70 minutes) and scores best in terms of atmosphere on a rainy night at the sanitarium. The cast is fine all around. Price is very good in his role as the doctor who is very conflicted on what he has done/is doing and seems to be helpless against the will of femme fatal Elaine. It is funny to me to see a time where a doc will suggest all sorts of crazy things to try on a patient and the husband is full blown "whatever you need to do, doc!" The story was completely ripped off for an entry titled "Mute Witness to Murder" in William Gaines' "The Crypt of Terror" in 1950; it was later adapted for HBO's TALES FROM THE CRYPT with Patricia Clarkson in the lead female role and Richard Thomas as the crazed doc. John Boy, how could you!
Banshee Chapter (2013)
Oh man, that music/radio feed is so creepy
Journalist Anne Roland (Katia Winter) gets on the trail of a mind altering chemical developed by the CIA and used in their MK-ULTRA experiments when her old college pal James (Michael McMillian) disappeared after taking it. The journey leads her into the New Mexico desert as she teams with gonzo journalist Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine, obviously doing Hunter S. Thompson) who was James' source for the drug. Unfortunately, she finds out that the drug doesn't really alter the mind, but makes it a receptor for things from an alternate universe. Writer-director Blair Erickson has the foundation of a great idea here, but it doesn't feel like he has fully developed it. Surprisingly, he also blatantly pays "homage" to his inspiration by having Blackburn bring up Lovecraft's "From Beyond" story. Where the film does excel is in a number of very creepy suspense scenes, most involving ham radio numbers stations that are very spooky to listen to. Unfortunately, the realization of the inter-dimensional ghouls is the same old tired look kicking around the genre since THE RING and THE GRUDGE remakes.
Curse of the Puppet Master (1998)
A long way from the fun first three films of the series
Dr. Magrew (George Peck) and his daughter Jane (Emily Harrison) run Magrew's Marvels, a sideshow that features the puppets of Andre Tulon (Magrew simply states that he bought Tulon's trunk of puppets at an auction; we're never shown what happened to them post-parts 4 & 5). They hire a guy named Robert (Josh Green) to work the show and carve some new puppets for Magrew. Naturally, the doc has more nefarious plans for his new hire. CURSE OF THE PUPPTER MASTER finds the series back in the hands of David DeCoteau, who previously made the good part III. Without the help of Paramount's funds though, the difference is quite noticeable. This is the first entry to not feature any original stop motion by David Allen. Even worse, 90% of the footage of the puppets is stolen from the previous 5 entries. There is one genuinely creepy scene where Jane discovers the burnt remains of a human-puppet hybrid in the woods and DeCoteau does have two surreal dream sequences where Robert thinks he is made of wood. But it isn't enough to salvage such a cheap production. It literally just ends with the characters never heard from again as the team went old school with RETRO PUPPET MASTER (1999) after this.
HAUNTS is haunting
Ingrid (May Britt, a long way from Sweden) lives on a small farm with her Uncle (Cameron Mitchell) in a small coastal California town. The town gets turned upside down when a small child is murdered and then a series of rapes take place. Ingrid suspects it is the work of local butcher Frankie (William Gray Espy) and tells the sheriff (Aldo Ray) her suspicions. Naturally, she soon becomes the attacker's latest prey. Chances are you will figure out this psychological horror flick before the film's revelation, but that doesn't deter from this interesting film by Herb Freed (GRADUATION DAY). Britt, the former Mrs. Sammy Davis, Jr., looks pretty rough but having her in this role is pretty clever casting for the stranger in a strange town. The film benefits from the small town location shooting, reminding me a bit of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976). Perhaps the best element of the film is a wonderful score by Pino Donaggio. It really adds to the film's final haunting shot. It should be noted the end credits have a 1975 copyright date for both the film and the score.
Circle of Iron (1978)
In a land that has never existed, Cord (Jeff Cooper) is a fighter searching for the secrets of a book guarded by Zetan (Christopher Lee). Along the way Cord encounters a Blind Man (David Carradine) who teaches him the art of philosophy through martial arts. This all comes in handy when Cord must face a series of opponents (all played by Carradine). Wow, where has this film been all of my life? Based on an idea by Bruce Lee, this is a really enjoyable flick that is as entertaining as it is outlandish. Carradine shines in all four of his roles and he and Cooper have a nice rapport (they were apparently friends in real life). It is also wild to see a buff guy pushing 40 like Cooper to be cast in the lead role. If this was made today, it would definitely be a kid. There are some quick supporting turns by Roddy McDowall and Christopher Lee, but the film's cameo highlight is Eli Wallach as "The Man in Oil." Yup, he is a guy bathing in a big drum of oil in the middle of the desert with the hopes it will make his genitals dissolve. Seriously! The entire scene unfolds as if they let Alejandro Jodorowsky do one day of filming for kicks. Cinematographer-turned-directer Richard Moore never directed another film after this and it is a shame as he gets some great use out of the locations in Israel.