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Deathgasm (2015)
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First Wyrmwood, then I Survived a Zombie Holocaust, and now Deathgasm: antipodean splatter is well and truly back., 3 October 2015

After his meth-addict mum is sent to a mental asylum, teenage metal-head Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) moves to the suburban town of Greypoint to live with his bible-bashing Uncle Albert (Colin Moy), Aunt Mary (Jodie Rimmer), and obnoxious cousin David (Nick Hoskins-Smith). There he befriends role playing game-nerds Dion and Giles (Sam Berkley and Daniel Cresswell) and wild rocker Zakk (James Blake), with whom he forms a band, Deathgasm.

When the guys chance upon and perform a song written by Satanic metal star Ricky Daggers (Stephen Ure), they unwittingly unleash a plague of demons that possess the locals and kill the living in order to pave the way for the coming of an ancient evil known as Aeloth, The Blind One. With the help of axe-wielding blonde hottie Medina (Kimberley Crossman), the metal-heads try to find a way to prevent Hell on Earth.

Is there anything more sublime in this world than a heavy metal horror movie? The world's foremost form of music fused with the greatest genre of film known to man to create an exquisite elysian experience for connoisseurs of peerless audio visual entertainment. If I'm brutally honest, the script for Deathgasm is a bit of a mess, the action lurching awkwardly from one scene to the next, but its combination of metal mayhem and outrageous splatter is so irresistible that a completely coherent narrative is of little consequence. The riffs are heavy and the gore is very gory (with the graphic dismemberment achieved through the use of practical effects), which is what matters most with this type of flick.

Directed by Jason Lei Howden, who clearly knows his music and his horror, Deathgasm owes a lot to the splatter classics of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, his film possessing a similarly energetic and madcap style. When the demons attack, anything and everything becomes a weapon: an angle grinder, an engine block, a chainsaw, an axe, a weed whacker, a big, black, double-ended dildo, some love beads, and a pair of vibrators. That's right… Deathgasm features a fight scene in which the heroes are armed with sex toys, which should give you some idea of just how demented the film really is.

7.5 out of 10, rounded up to 8 for IMDb.

Mel Brooks fails to bring much life to his parody of Frankenstein., 3 October 2015

Mel Brooks opens his 1974 parody of Universal's classic Frankenstein films with a suitably atmospheric scene in which the camera, having slowly closed in on the Frankenstein castle during the credits, glides across a rain-lashed courtyard and into a room where lies a coffin emblazoned with the name and crest of Baron Von Frankenstein. The coffin lid swings open to reveal a decomposed corpse clutching a box; at this point, Mel Brooks starts with his puerile comedy, a hand trying to snatch away the box, the corpse pulling it back. It's all downhill from here-on in, the dreadfully unsophisticated humour rarely hitting the mark.

It's clear that Brooks has an affection for his subject matter, such is the attention to detail in the sets and the acute cinematography, but his gags simply do not do the concept justice, the material ranging from broad farce to puerile smut. To make matters worse, Brooks frequently has his performers break the fourth wall, giving knowing looks to the audience, which is plain embarrassing. While he was at it, he should have had some of his cast apologise to the viewers for their dreadful performances as well: Gene Wilder is particularly irritating, shouting his way through every scene, Marty Feldman simply mugs a lot and rolls his huge eyes, and Madeline Kahn is annoyingly shrill.

The film's most credible turn comes from Peter Boyle, as the creature, who is far better than the dross he is given to work with. The movie's other saving grace is Teri Garr, as Frankenstein's sexy assistant Inga: her performance is Teri-ble, but at least she is Garr-geous to look at (believe me when I say that my awful puns are no less funny than any of Brooks' gags).

More monkey business., 2 October 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Made two years after the original Apes movie, 'Beneath' spends the first half retreading old territory, before going off on a wacky tangent that leads to a unexpectedly downbeat and explosive finalé.

After repeating the twist ending of the first film (Damn you! God damn you all to hell!), the film introduces astronaut Brent (James Franciscus), who has crash-landed on a desolate planet in the year AD 3955, having followed the trajectory charted by fellow NASA explorer Taylor (Charlton Heston). By a remarkable coincidence, Brent encounters Taylor's mute squeeze Nova (Linda Harrison), who takes him to Ape Town where chimpanzees Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (David Watson, replacing Roddy McDowell) inform him that Taylor has ventured into the wasteland known as the The Forbidden Zone.

Nova and Brent leave the town as soon as possible, hoping to find Taylor, but are quickly captured by gorilla troops, who intend to use them for target practice; however, while being escorted to the shooting range, the pair manage to escape (with a little help from Zira), eventually finding sanctuary in a cave where Brent discovers the shocking truth: he is on Earth, the human race having finally 'pushed the button'.

So far, so familiar. But then things take an unexpected turn…

Following the strange noise emanating from deep within the cave, Brent and Nova discover a race of telepathic mutants whose first line of defence is the use of mental illusions, but who also worship an ancient and still primed Russian 'Doomsday' device. Brent also meets Taylor, who is being held prisoner by the subterranean freaks. When the gorilla army enters the forbidden zone and attacks the mutants, Brent and Taylor escape, but are shot during the mêlée. In a final act of defiance, Taylor activates the bomb.

As much as I enjoy all of the entries in the original Apes series, 'Beneath' is must be considered a disappointment when compared with its excellent predecessor: the first half offers nothing absolutely nothing new, while the second half is just a little too silly for its own good, the most ridiculous moment being when the mutants take off rubber masks to reveal their true selves. Where exactly did they get the latex to make these convincing disguises? And more to the point, why did they make them?

Beneath's apocalyptic ending suggests that this is the end of the apes, but they would soon be back by popular demand in the very enjoyable Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971).

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

Short on scares., 2 October 2015

In order to discover the facts about survival after death, aged millionaire Rudolph Deutsch (Roland Culver) hires physicist Dr. Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) to investigate the notorious Belasco house, a supposedly haunted mansion that was originally home to infamous sexual deviant Emeric Belasco, who hosted orgies that reputedly involved acts of cannibalism, vampirism, bestiality and necrophilia.

Accompanied by his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), mental medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) and physical medium Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowell), Barrett sets about trying to prove that there are no malevolent spirits at work in the house, and that any spooky happenings are merely due to a build up of negative energy over the years that can be dissipated via the use of a massive metal contraption with assorted dials and twiddly knobs. Of course, it ain't as simple as that…

Adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson (from his novel 'Hell House'), and directed by John Hough, The Legend of Hell House is an undeniably atmospheric film (an incredibly moody score helping immensely), with a cool set-up and a great collection of characters, but it is sorely in need of a lot more scares. Much of the action is unnecessarily talky, making the film something of a bore rather than the thrilling spook-fest the wonderful title promises.

Even the film's creepiest scene—a shadowy figure lurking in Tanner's shower cubicle while blood runs from under the glass—somehow manages to disappoint. The film's silly climax reveals the real reason for Belasco's supernatural rage, and it's a howler; I imagine that laughter was probably not the intended reaction.

To be honest, the scariest thing about the whole film is just how yellow Tanner's teeth are: doesn't she own a toothbrush?

Classic Women-In-Prison action from director Jack Hill., 30 September 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Big Doll House pretty much sets the template for the whole WIP genre, with the introduction of several new prisoners to a banana republic womens' jail where the head warder abuses trouble-makers for the amusement of the wicked governess. After experiencing the suffering first-hand, the (ridiculously attractive) inmates of one cell decide to make a break for freedom.

Director Jack Hill's film treads a fine line between straight up exploitation and tongue in cheek fun: it's nowhere near as harsh as the average European WIP flick, but not quite as camp as Hill's follow up, The Big Bird Cage, which emphasised the absurdity of the genre in a more playful manner. Hence, we get an assortment of relatively light torture scenes (including that WIP favourite, electrodes on the breasts) and some bloody violence (the sudden death of one central character is particularly harrowing), all of which is mixed in with such lighter nonsense as a mess hall food fight, a spot of mud-wrestling, and the exploits of a pair of randy male fruit-sellers who dream of scoring with the banged-up birds.

With plenty of gratuitous nudity from the gorgeous gals (whose numbers include blaxploitation legend Pam Grier and Death Race 2000 babe Roberta Collins), another fun turn from Hill regular Sid Haig, and a surprisingly down-beat ending that sees all of the escapees either shot or recaptured, this is a very enjoyable slice of exploitation from one of the genre's most dependable film-makers (Hill also gave us the excellent offbeat black-comedy/horror Spider Baby, and Grier blaxploitation classics Coffy and Foxy Brown).

7.5 out of 10, rounded up to 8 for IMDb.

Up there with Peeping Tom as one of the best British psychological thrillers of the '60s., 27 September 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Late '60s British psychological thriller Twisted Nerve makes a rather insensitive connection between mongolism (Down's Syndrome) and psychopathic tendencies, which may be upsetting for some viewers (the film ran into trouble on its original release for just that reason); however, political incorrectness aside, this is a very entertaining movie—a deftly directed, well acted study of a dangerous character who is completely unable to understand, feel or function like a normal human being.

A young Hywel Bennett plays 22-year-old Martin Durnley, brother to a mongol, whom he regularly visits at a care home. Stopping off at a store on the way home, Martin spies lovely librarian Susan (Hayley Mills) in the toy department, and employs a rather unorthodox strategy to make her acquaintance: he involves her in a case of shoplifting, subsequently pretending to be mentally retarded to excuse his actions. Calling himself Georgie, he proceeds to concoct an elaborate ruse to worm his way into Susan's life, eventually taking up residency in the guest house she shares with her mother Joan (Billie Whitelaw), and lodgers Shashie Kadir (Salmaan Peerzada) and Gerry Henderson (Barry Foster).

As well as providing an excuse to get close to Susan, Martin's deception enables him to be rid of his domineering and disapproving stepfather Henry (Frank Finlay): one night, when 'Georgie' is supposedly tucked up in bed, Martin sneaks out of the guest house and murders Henry, returning back before anyone can notice his absence; however, there's no such thing as the perfect crime, and circumstances lead Susan to suspect that Georgie isn't quite the innocent simpleton he seems to be, putting herself (and her mother) in mortal danger.

Although it is Mills who is arguably the 'star' of Twisted Nerve, it is Bennett who impresses the most, putting in a thoroughly chilling and utterly convincing performance throughout, both as Machiavellian Martin and gormless Georgie (the ease with which he switches between personas is superb). Billie Whitelaw also puts in a very strong turn, adding a further level of complexity to the story with her troubled character, who finds herself drawn to Georgie like a moth to a flame (or like a sexually-frustrated, middle-aged woman to an axe). Director Roy Boulting handles the tension brilliantly, with one scene involving a plate of biscuits almost worthy of Hitchcock himself.

The Hitchcock connection continues with a haunting Bernard Herrmann score (that will be familiar to fans of Kill Bill) and a Psycho-style ending that sees Martin shooting at his reflection in a mirror, effectively killing off that part of his personality, leaving only Georgie remaining. Like Norman Bates, he is last seen in a prison cell, a psychological mess repeatedly calling out for Susan.

Beware! Troma at work., 27 September 2015

Young Glenn Randle (Eric Tonken) and his father (Bernard Hocke), a college professor of medieval and Anglo Saxon English, go on a camping trip into the wilds, where they fish, sing songs based on the Old English poem Beowulf, and play hide and seek (sounds like fun, huh?). It is during one of these games that Professor Randall steps on a bear trap, breaking his leg; unable to move, he lies there for three days, his son by his side, gradually going delirious as the wound becomes infected. Then he carks it. Affected by his dad's final feverish talk of 'gulping blood' and 'gobbling flesh', Glenn slices open his pop's belly and feasts on his entrails.

Ten years later, writer John DeWolfe (Michael Robertson) and his family—hypercritical wife Julia (Lori Romero) and daughter Kara (Jamie Krause)—travel to the same area to visit John's Vietnam buddy Ross Carr (Rich Hamilton), a local sheriff whose daughter Amy is just one of several children to have gone missing over the past few years. No prizes for guessing that crazy cannibal Glenn is responsible, having abducted and brainwashed the kids into believing that he is the mythical monster Grendell from Beowulf, and that they are flesh-eating demons.

Cannibalistic kids sure sound like a whole lot of demented fun, but despite the occasional smattering of bargain basement gore (including a cheezy bodily bisection by scythe, a slashed throat, an impalement on spiked stakes, and a mutilated corpse with a rat on its face), plus a couple of rather twisted sexual moments (Glenn/Grendell's rape of a woman while the killer kids watch on, and jail-bait Amy offering herself to John), Beware: Children at Play is mostly dull talk and uneventful wandering around the woods. The direction is uninspired and the acting is largely wooden, with my 'worst performance' award going to Stephanie Jaworski as irritating psychic Alice Allegari, who calls everyone 'deary' and deservedly has her guts eaten.

Still, this is one of those films where you might just want to hang on in there for the final few minutes (or get busy with the scene advance button), because the film almost redeems itself in the closing moments with a memorable spot of truly outrageous carnage, as the crazed kids are brutally massacred by the locals. Violence against kids is a touchy subject, even in horror films, but director Mik Cribben clearly doesn't care, with one terrible tyke getting a pitchfork through the neck, another having their entire head blown off by a shotgun, and another being forced to take a gun barrel in the mouth, with inevitable splattery results. OK, so all the 'dead' kids can clearly be seen still breathing as the camera surveys the carnage, but at least the film tries to push the boundaries of taste, and for that I'll generously give it a rating of 3/10.

Not to be confused with Trick 'r Treat (2007) or Trick or Treat (1986), neither of which are great, but still much better than this stinker., 27 September 2015

Apparently, if you're looking to take your other half out of the picture, all you need to do is call up the local nut-house, who will send round a couple of orderlies with a straitjacket to cart them away, no questions asked. That's what Joan (Carrie Snodgress) does to her husband Malcolm (Peter Jason) who spends the next four years in an asylum going genuinely crazy. Of course, there's always the danger that they might break out and go looking for a spot of revenge, which is precisely what Malcolm does, disguising himself as a female nurse to do so.

When Malcolm finally arrives home, his ex-wife isn't there, having gone partying with her new man Richard (David Carradine); instead, he makes do with terrorising her pretty babysitter Linda (Jacqueline Giroux), who is staying the night to look after chubby, magic-obsessed, practical joker Christopher (Chris Graver), quite possible the most obnoxious little s**t to have ever appeared in a horror movie.

What sounds like standard '80s slasher nonsense feels like anything but, the entire cast clearly not taking matters very seriously (and who can blame them given the very silly script); unfortunately, despite what I can only presume are attempts at humour, the film is never funny enough to qualify as a comedy horror, and with zero scares or gore, no nudity, plus that really irritating kid grating on the nerves throughout, Trick or Treats manages to be an utter failure on practically every level. Even the utterly stupid, highly predictable 'shock' ending blows.

Cooties (2014)
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Cootilicious!, 26 September 2015

According to Wikipedia, "cooties is a fictional childhood disease, used in the United States of America and Canada as a rejection term and an infection tag game". In comedy/horror movie Cooties, the term is used to describe a very real and very virulent virus stemming from a batch of tainted chicken nuggets, infecting only pre-pubescent children, turning them into bloodthirsty savages.

When the virus breaks out in the small town of Fort Chicken, Illinois, a group of teachers find themselves trapped in their school, surrounded by flesh-eating brats; in order to survive, they must fight their natural instincts and kick some serious kiddie butt.

Children aside, Cooties doesn't offer very much in terms of originality, employing the generic 'siege/fight for survival/escape' set-up used by countless other similar zombie/infected films. It does, however, deliver a likable collection of kooky characters, lots of absurd comedy (the majority of which works very well), and plenty of entertaining gore (can't beat the sight of a little girl using intestines as a skipping rope), all the while breaking that still rather taboo subject, violence against children, the kids getting crushed, sliced, beaten, kicked and set on fire.

Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood heads up the cast as supply teacher Clint, proving that he has a great sense of humour and is willing to take a risk; solid support comes from Rainn Wilson as insecure gym teacher Wade, Leigh Whannell (the movie's writer) as weird science teacher Doug, Alison Pill as Lucy, the love interest for both Clint and Wade, and Peter Kwong as karate janitor Mr. Hitachi.

Cooties does suffer from a rushed ending that leaves the viewer wondering whether they might have blacked out and missed a chunk of the action, but on the whole this is a very enjoyable addition to the comedy zombie genre.

Arsoli!, 25 September 2015

Successful American horror novelist Cheryl (Virginia Bryant) has suffered from recurring nightmares since she was a child; in these dreams, she finds herself in a dark cellar where she witnesses the birth of a hideous monster from a gelatinous, glowing sac attached to the ceiling.

While vacationing at an old Italian castle with her husband Tom (Paolo Malco) and young son Bob (are all irritating kids in Italian horror films called Bob?), Cheryl's nightmares become reality, as she and her family are terrorised by an ogre that lurks in the shadowy basement.

Don't let the Demons 3 monicker fool you into thinking The Ogre is another dose of gloopy, gory fun from Lamberto Bava: what we have here is a really lame made-for-TV snooze-fest that has no real connection with the director's earlier Demons movies, and which is totally devoid of the splattery craziness that made those film so enjoyable.

The Ogre consists of a series of not-in-the-least-bit-scary supernatural scenes that make very little sense, the film running on the same type of dream logic (i.e., absence of logic) as many a late 80s Italian horror, where anything can happen and nothing is adequately explained.

There's some ridiculous nonsense about the scent of orchids attracting the monster, Cheryl gets more and more hysterical while wandering around the sprawling castle corridors (and diving into a corpse-strewn swimming pool in the cellar?!?!), and Bob plays hide and seek with his pretty babysitter Maria (whose sister Anna is a major hottie). All the while, Cheryl tries to explain her concerns to her long-suffering husband, but he is having none of it, at least until the ogre finally makes an appearance (turning out to be a man in a fancy tunic, a bad rubber mask and hairy gloves).

In a suitably weak ending, Cheryl runs over the ogre in her car and it disappears. Was the creature simply a manifestation of her life-long fear that has finally been vanquished? Do we really care?

Simon Boswell's cool synth score lends a touch of class to proceedings, but the most memorable things about the whole film are, as far as I'm concerned, hot sisters Anna and Maria (who ALMOST provide some nudity), and the fact that, according to end credits, filming took place in the Castle of Arsoli, which almost made me snort some tea out of my nose.

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