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Welcome back, Frank!, 26 July 2014

In the late 80s, cult horror auteur Frank Henenlotter got a bad case of sequelitis, churning out two follow-ups to his low-budget masterpiece of splatter Basket Case in quick succession. Then he virtually disappeared.

Now, after a sixteen year hiatus from movie directing, he's finally back with something original—and my god, do I mean original!! Opening with the amazing line 'I was born with seven clits', the latest offering from Henenlotter is completely insane from the word go—a fabulously fun and filthy farrago of sordid sex, crazy violence and insatiable, self-conscious genitalia that is without a doubt the director's sleaziest effort so far.

Charlee Danielson plays Jennifer, the owner of the aforementioned multi-buttoned beaver, whose bizarre biology causes her to feed on orgasms and give birth to partially-formed mutant babies just two hours after sex. Understandably a little unbalanced, Jennifer has developed an uncontrollable rage that sometimes results in the death of her sexual partners. What she really needs is someone equipped to fully satisfy her urges... someone like Batz (Anthony Sneed) whose penis has grown to massive proportions after being repeatedly injected with a cocktail of drugs (many of which were designed for use on farm animals!).

Obviously, with a demented plot like that, Bad Biology is aimed at those discerning movie lovers who enjoy their entertainment 'out-there', and they will definitely not be disappointed: Henenlotter's bonkers script sees Jennifer enthusiastically work her way through several lovers, leave her screaming new born babies abandoned in the trash, and bash in one poor guy's head with a bedside lamp, pausing occasionally to apologise for her behaviour. Meanwhile, Batz wrestles with his prehensile member, tries to score obscure drugs from a local dealer, straps himself into a massive piston-driven sex toy for some fun, and causes a hooker to go into a never-ending spasm of pleasure. Eventually, his member detaches itself to go in search of action on its own, before locating Jennifer and allowing her to experience a state of rapture.

Given the bizarre nature of his films, Henenlotter has always had to fund his own work, and unfortunately, this time around, the lack of cash is obvious, with the film having a nasty, cheap look to it (despite reportedly being shot on 35mm film), and a cast who could do with a few more acting lessons. Other than that, however, the film is just too weird not to love: Gabe Bartalos, the man who made Henenlotter's lovable creatures Belial and Aylmer, is once again responsible for some rather shonky creations, including Jennifer's mutant snatch and Batz's thrashing schlong, but somehow the naffness of the effects only makes them more endearing (hell, I've almost forgiven the man for directing Skinned Deep); there's wall-to-wall nudity from a bevy of fit women (including a photo-shoot featuring topless models wearing vagina masks); and the film ends with the birth of a walking penis baby!! Now don't tell me that hasn't piqued your interest...

A reasonably fun, but far-from-essential Sammo comedy., 26 July 2014

A pair of likable thieves, Owl (George Lam) and Bumbo (Sammo Hung), are blackmailed by ex-cop Inspector Fung (Shui-Fan Fung) into volunteering at a juvenile detention centre, where the duo fall for two pretty employees at the centre (Deannie Yip and, in her first movie role, Michelle Yeoh), teach the unruly kids how to find a job, and foil a major smuggling ring led by the evil Au Gan (James Tien).

Owl vs Bumbo is unlikely to qualify as an essential Sammo Hung movie for most martial arts fans unless they have a particular yearning to see its portly star performing aerobics in a spandex leotard and legwarmers (in which case they should seek immediate help!). What we get is a typically daft knockabout Hong Kong comedy with a heavy dose of cloying saccharine sentimentality, but not nearly enough impressive kung fu scenes.

After lots of mildly entertaining silliness, the highlight of which is an impromptu Fred Astaire-style dance routine by Sammo, the film culminates with the obligatory showdown between the good-guys and the nasty criminal gang where Sammo finally gets to kick some serious butt, aided by the kids from the reform centre who turn up on BMX bikes to lend a hand.

5.5 out of 10, rounded up to 6 for IMDb.

Screamers (1979)
And I was so looking forward to seeing a man turned inside out., 24 July 2014

I first read about Sergio Martino's Island of the Fishmen in Chas Balun's '80s book Horror Holocaust, where it went by the alternative title of Screamers. Since Balun's book was all about the splatter, I immediately added the film to my mental list of must see gore movies, but have only recently been able to track down a copy of the film (via YouTube). Unfortunately, what I had forgotten was that Screamers, released by Roger Corman's New World company, was a re-edited version of Martino's movie, with extra footage added to make it more marketable to the US market, and that the original version, which I had found, was virtually blood-free!

The untampered Island of The Fishmen is a formulaic Jules Verne-style adventure in which a small group of castaways are washed up on an uncharted island where the owner Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson) has creating half-man/half-fish mutants in an effort to retrieve a valuable lost treasure from the submerged ruins of Atlantis. There is lots of dreary talking and plenty of unremarkable action, but graphic violence is limited to a man having his face clawed and another falling into a trap full of spikes, making it far from the gloriously gory epic I had long hoped it would be. The film doesn't even make the most of the presence of Bond beauty Barbara Bach, who remains fully clothed throughout (unless you count her strip down to Victorian underwear, which practically covers her entire body anyway!).

Shot in the same tropical locations as Lucio Fulci's Zombie, and with atmospheric cinematography from Giancarlo Ferrando, Martino's film has the look and feel of many a classic Italian gorefest, but remains a remarkably dry affair, and while the fishmen themselves are entertaining thanks to their ridiculous design and expressionless faces, the film as a whole is a rather tedious affair. I guess I'll just have to satisfy my yearning for excessively gory fish-man horror with repeat viewings of Corman's Humanoids Of The Deep (1980)—at least until I can get my hands on a copy of 'Screamers'.

Elves (1989)
So bad it should carry an official elf warning., 22 July 2014

The best thing about writer/director Jeffrey Mandel's trashy late-'80s horror flick Elves is its delightfully bonkers premise: on Christmas Eve, shop-girl Kirsten (Julie Austin) discovers that she has been raised as part of a decades-old plan engineered by the Nazis to selectively breed a hybrid human/elf master race. Can't say that I've ever seen that one done before.

Sadly, despite this wonderfully wacky story-line, which incorporates such exploitative elements as incest, Nazis, cat-drowning, gratuitous nudity, a couple of surprisingly mean-spirited deaths, horny young women in lingerie and, of course, a murderous two-foot tall supernatural creature, the film proves to be about as much fun as a deep root canal, thanks to a dreadful script, amateurish direction, poor acting, and a truly pitiful titular creature—a pathetic plastic creation with fixed facial features and limited articulation in its poorly crafted limbs (which makes it walk like it's got a bad case of diarrhoea, and might explain its permanent 'I think I've just crapped myself' expression).

A chain-smoking Dan Haggerty (of Grizzly Adams fame) plays the reluctant hero—ex-cop-turned-store-Santa Mike McGavin—but gives a performance that is almost as lifeless as the film's crappy elf.

1/10, generously bumped up to 2 for the Santa crotch stabbing, the girl who gets shot in the head, and the gag in which Haggerty glances at a stuffed grizzly bear display piece.

Switch off your brain and relax., 20 July 2014

When Eric Knox (Sam Rockwell), head of a successful software company, is kidnapped, Charlie and his 'angels', Natalie (Cameron Diaz), Dylan (Drew Barrymore) and Alex (Lucy Liu), are hired to rescue the missing man, unaware that they are merely pawns in a complex revenge plot.

No matter how dumb this big-screen adaptation of the '70s TV series gets (and it gets REALLY dumb in places), I find it hard to hate too much on any film that steadfastly refuses to take itself seriously, exploits every opportunity to squeeze its babelicious trio of stars into sexy attire, delivers several truly ridiculous action scenes, and features Crispin Glover as a creepy kung-fu kicking villain with a unique way of smoking a cigarette.

Some of the silliness can start to grate (yes, Tom Green, I'm talking about you!), but the gratuitous eye-candy and excessive scenes of mayhem more than make up for any cringe-worthy moments, best bits being the OTT opening that quickly establishes the 'anything goes' comic-book tone, Crispin Glover's alleyway brawl with the girls, Diaz dancing in her pants, and the sexy trio dressed as German milkmaids (patting each others' heinies to an Oompah tune).

6.5 out of 10, rounded up to 7 for IMDb.

Didn't their mothers warn them?, 20 July 2014

Two attractive, young English nurses, Jane and Cathy (Pamela Franklin and Michele Dotrice), ignore common sense and ill-advisedly pop on their tightest pairs of shorts for a cycling holiday through France, taking only the most rural roads available. When the girls quarrel, Cathy preferring to sunbathe than to cycle, Jane goes off alone, leaving her friend to soak up the sun. Eventually, Jane returns to the spot where she left Cathy, but finds that her friend has completely disappeared. Worried for Cathy's safety, she tries to find help, but can she trust any of the people that she meets?

The pairing of lovely Michele Dotrice (Betty from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em) and gorgeous Pamela Franklin make this film a treat as it is, but with a superb script from top TV scribes Brian Clemens (The Avengers) and Terry Nation (Dr. Who), and taut direction from Robert Fuest, who employs an effective slow-burn approach to gradually ramp up the tension, And Soon The Darkness proves to be a very stylish, atmospheric and chilling women-in-peril movie.

Despite its relaxed pace and lack of exploitative elements (there's no nudity or gore) the film is a thoroughly entertaining experience, gripping and suspenseful throughout: red herrings abound and there are multiple suspects, all of whom act suspiciously. The remote French countryside is used to great effect, cinematographer Ian Wilson capturing a palpable sense of foreboding and menace in the lonely landscape, despite the whole film taking place in bright sunlight. The language barrier adds another level of tension, Jane's inability to fully grasp what is being said to her creating several extremely uncomfortable moments (and with no subtitles, we the viewer are left equally unsure as to precisely what is happening).

Fuest does, perhaps, leave it a tad too long before concluding matters, but with a lead as appealing as Franklin, its not too much of a chore to hang on in there till the very end.

An utterly atrocious '80s comedy horror., 19 July 2014

The universe demands balance. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every positive there is a negative. Good and evil, courage and fear, happiness and sadness, dark and light: one cannot exist without the other. Likewise, for every really cool '80s horror movie, there's an equally dire turd from the same decade and genre just waiting to be rediscovered.

Death Row Diner is one such stinker, a foetid, almost unwatchable Z-grade crap-fest that attempts to inject some humour into its cheezy proceedings but which proves to be about as funny as an outbreak of Ebola. Set in an abandoned prison, it sees the vengeful spirit of film studio boss Otis Wilcox (John Content), who was wrongfully executed for the murder of his wife, returning from the dead to cause havoc for the cast and crew of a low-budget horror flick being produced by Otis's grand-daughter Julia (scream queen Michelle Bauer).

With a pitiful script that fails to deliver either scares or laughs, an amateurish cast who seem to be improvising most of their dialogue, lousy direction from B. Dennis Wood (who now calls himself D3 and works exclusively in the porn industry), and woeful gore effects, Death Row Diner is truly terrible from start to finish. The film doesn't even manage to deliver that most basic of B-movie horror ingredients, gratuitous female nudity: despite being more than qualified, busty blonde make-up woman Phoebe (Dana Lis Mason) fails to go topless, while star Bauer, who can usually be relied upon to flash some flesh, keeps (most) of her clothes on.

If anything, it's unique., 16 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Combining elements from both the slasher and the demonic horror sub-genres, The Redeemer sees a group of old college pals gathering at their now abandoned school for a class reunion where a killer is waiting to punish them for leading sinful lives.

The film opens in surreal style with a young lad, Christopher (Christopher Flint), emerging from a lake and boarding a bus, travelling to a church where he joins a tone-deaf boys' choir and gets bullied by a fellow chorister brandishing a knife. Soon after, we see the killer claiming his first victim, the school's caretaker, using the corpse to mould himself a latex mask which, in true Scooby Doo style, he wears to fool the group of unsuspecting, soon-to-be-dead friends.

The film then cuts to the arrival of the six victims, each of whom is guilty of one of the seven deadly sins. Once everyone is inside the building, the killer, disguised as the caretaker, locks all the doors and windows and, discarding his mask in favour of several other creepy guises, proceeds to bump off the victims one-by-one, his job made all the easier by the fact that the morons continually split up to wander around the vast school on their own.

The death scenes vary from completely bloodless to reasonably gruesome, the most graphic being a guy turned into a human torch (cool full body-burn stunt here) and another poor sap getting a large blade dropped point down onto his head from a height; however, anyone raised on a diet of '70s/'80s slashers will probably still find these rather tame in terms of gore.

What makes the kills much more fun and a bit more disturbing are their macabre trappings: the burn death is caused by a creepy life-size doll holding a blowtorch, while the blade death happens during a bizarre stage show in which the killer controls a freaky marionette. Another murder—a drowning in a sink—sees the killer wearing a disturbing clown get-up, while the final death scene reveals the killer to have two thumbs!

Once the six friends are all dead—the film is fairly unique in that there are no survivors—the action returns to the church where it is revealed that the killer was the priest (who I believe was being controlled by Christopher, who also has two thumbs). After taking care of the knife-wielding bully, the boy returns to his lake.

Frequently baffling, with awkward pacing, poor acting, and unlikeable characters, The Redeemer is far from a great movie, but it is so strange that I still recommend it to any self-respecting fan of bizarre, obscure cult horror.

The Goriest Story Ever Told., 14 July 2014

Remember that vicar in Peter Jackson's splatter classic Brain Dead who used his martial arts skills to smite zombies in the name of God? Well, here we have another fellow kicking undead arse for the Lord… none other than the son of God himself, Jesus Christ (Marc Velasco), who takes extreme and very gory measures after accidentally starting a zombie outbreak while showing off his power to resurrect the dead. With a little help from pal Judas (Noé Blancafort), JC chops, saws, hacks, punches and kicks his way through an army of mouldy flesh-eaters (which includes Pharisian zombies, Roman zombies, and Cowboy zombies—yes, you read that right… Cowboy zombies!) with only an endless supply of fish for weapons (it's that kind of film).

Incredibly stupid but also incredibly entertaining, Fist of Jesus is fifteen minutes of pure, unadulterated gore-drenched fun, directed with plenty of flair and energy by Adrián Cardona and David Muñoz, whose irreverent splat-stick style has clearly been inspired by the early work of the aforementioned Mr. Jackson. Guts are ripped, bodies torn asunder, piranha fish thrown and heads crushed, with as much blood and body-parts chucked about in the process as the budget will allow. By the end of the film, Jesus's traditional white robes have turned bright red. Needless to say, devout Christians should probably give this a wide berth: a healthy sense of humour about all things Biblical is a must.

8.5 out of 10, rounded up to 9 for IMDb.

More unfathomable buffoonery from Stephen Chow., 13 July 2014

Despite finding the distinctly Asian humour hard to comprehend AND struggling to follow the plot (none of which was helped by my DVD's diabolical sub-titles), I gave the first Royal Tramp a reasonably generous rating of 6/10 thanks to its sheer craziness.

Part II of the Royal Tramp saga is also fairly wacky, but with the plot's complex political wrangling being even more incomprehensible than before (bad subs not helping once again) and the perplexing 'mo lei tau' humour and slapstick even more low-brow, this one is likely to prove something of a chore for those who, like me, aren't schooled in the many nuances and complexities of Chinese culture.

Some bonkers violence (including an exploding horse, multiple decapitations and an impalement on a dragon statue's claw) and quite a bit of fanciful wuxia martial arts (including the Luk Hop fighters, who are controlled like puppets and armed with deadly golden rings) help to break up the tedium, but overall I just didn't find the Royal Tramp experience as entertaining second time around, even with the welcome presence of quite a few very lovely Hong Kong actresses (Chingmy Yau, Brigitte Lin, and Michelle Reis, plus Fennie Yuen and Vivian Chan as the Shang'er twins).

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