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"Berserk" is another movie about violent deaths in a circus that is certainly no better than any other film of it's type, it's probably not better than "Circus of Horrors" from the same era, which had a far more sensational plot than this does. "Berserk" sees star Joan Crawford playing circus owner Monica Rivers, whose travelling show is suddenly beset by violent accidents. Bodies pile up until the killer is finally unmasked.
You won't really care about this slender story, what people no doubt come here for is Joan Crawford's performance. She doesn't disappoint, and even though the film is low budget and low on thrills, Joan is always able to hold your attention. What does grate, though, is that in EVERY medium or close shot of the ageing star, a black shadow is deliberately placed between her and the lighting to cover her (presumably) unflattering chin and neck. It looks like artful "mood lighting" the first time they do it, but after it's repeated over and OVER again, it becomes a game to count how many scenes Joan acts with the same horizontal dark shadow cutting her head off.
The violent deaths in the movie are not particularly graphic, and there is never much of a build up to them, although I suppose in 1967 audiences might have found it exciting. What I found harder to withstand were the extended sequences of the regular circus acts, which include lion taming, performing elephants, performing horses and "intelligent poodles". All of which do nothing for the plot but fill out the running time substantially. As does a truly hideous "singing performance' by some of the circus performers to their own colleagues, with a little ditty called "It Could Be You". Most of the acting is forgettable, and you won't really care who is responsible for the murders, but prepare for a laugh when you do find out, as the revelation is extremely implausible.
So to sum up, Joan does her best, but she's got little to work with here and the film is a dud
Death Spa (1989)
I hadn't heard of this before until it came up in a recommendation on Amazon. Sadly there was a good reason for me not having seen it...it's pretty awful!
Story goes something like this...a state-of-the-art health spa suddenly becomes accident prone and it's customers meet with hideous fitness-related accidents and deaths. Seems like the fully automated, computer controlled system is being controlled by a mysterious presence! Who is to blame? Who will be next? Let me spoil this for you...you won't care.
Death Spa is hilariously dated, and it shares a similarity with "Evilspeak", which also used computers as a "means of supernatural manifestation", but just raises giggles when viewed today (sadly I presume this future obsolescence was not apparent at the time). Death Spa has forgettable characters (several of whom look the same), confusing motivations, a really silly true culprit, and really bad gore scenes which seem to be attempting the "operatic deaths" of more stylish horror movies of the era (late 80s). The film makers do attempt to gross you out with prosthetic heads and body parts but they just aren't very good...one decapitation scene leaves behind a body that appears to be just a costume draped over a broom. Sadly nothing really works, and even if you forgive the sniggering at the dated 80' computer wizardry, and the cringeworthy 80's fitness fashions, the film still doesn't deliver. I got pretty bored as the running time crawled by..I think you will too.
Tôkyô zankoku keisatsu (2008)
I've only seen a couple of Japanese "techno-horror" movies before this one, and have always found them a bit confusing, but I thought I'd give this a try and I found it to be really good fun.
Tokyo Gore Police is intentionally extreme and sensational in its use of blood and gore. If you choose to watch it, be prepared to see almost every part of the human body ripped apart in close up. Luckily the tone of the whole movie is one of black comedy, so although the effects are startling, they should not make anyone feel too nauseous. But if you can't stomach the sight of blood, I would stay away! The story sees a future version of Tokyo in which a new type of criminal is causing mayhem in the city and the futuristic police squad have a special "star officer" who excels in hunting them down. This special type of criminal is infected with a parasitic tumour that enables the host to turn wounds into weapons, therefore it isn't long before the screen is full of outrageously mutated characters who sprout knives, chainsaws and other killing tools from their own twisted flesh.
The movie starts as it means to go on with a shock gore effect pretty much within the first two minutes, and it barely lets up for the entire running time. Most of the action is directed at hysteria pitch throughout. In between action scenes there are fake commercials for tasteless products and recruitment messages on behalf of the police force. Japanese horror directors must enjoy parodies of TV advertising, as I had seen this before in "Stacy", which this movie resembles in a lot of respects.
There are very few quiet spots, but when they do happen, the movie benefits from a subtle but intense performance from Eihi Shiina as the leading character (the criminal hunter). She looks terrific, even though she spends a lot of the movie hardly saying a word. Mind you she is dressed up in some superbly fetishistic outfits, which also adds to the appeal. The look of the movie, is of course everything. The gore (of which there is a lot) is often jaw dropping, and yet sometimes also hilarious, and as a result the film is NEVER dull. Thankfully the plot is not complicated, and character motivations and fairly clear. I often have trouble unravelling character motivation in Japanese cinema, I assume it's a cultural thing, because they expressions on the actors faces often seems at odds with the translated English dialogue we get, but here it mostly seemed to make sense.
I should point out that I saw the DUBBED version of the film where all the dialogue is in English. This seemed very out of place, the American drawl given to all characters seemed very far away from their real cultural identity. I would have probably chosen the subtitled version given a choice, as the lip synching was terrible, as much as the accents were. However having dialogue in English did allow me to focus purely on the visuals. Oh and also the music the movie features a terrific theme tune, very much like the gladiatorial anthem from "Kill Bill", which crops up throughout, and it really works wonders, elevating the stylishness of the movie still more
Watching Tokyo Gore Police made me curious to see more in the same style, so after seeing it I tried "Meatball Machine", which was only half as good, so in my opinion, "Tokyo Gore Police" is one of the better examples of the "high-gore" trend coming out of Japan.
Dead Silence (2007)
I like it
Dead Silence is good old fashioned horror entertainment, done right. Helped by a sense of style and great imagery, it's slim story works well enough and the movie does provide some good scares
So, to the plot - a creepy ventriloquists dummy is delivered anonymously to the door of a young couple. Naturally this precipitates something supernatural, ending in violence. The hero of the tale is the husband, who recognises the dummy and takes it with him on a trip to his childhood home which is now a ruined ghost town only inhabited by a few crazy folk. The rest of the story is spent unravelling the history of the town and why the dummy brings death to the people who come into contact with it.
The story is not complex but it's a good one, and it holds your interest. What supports it is the great look of the movie, with some spectacular sets and locations including several elaborate buildings. There's atmosphere in abundance, and the film is littered with lots of clever touches, like scenes changing from maps into real roads, or dissolves from drawings into flashbacks, plenty of fluid camera-work and unusual angles. Too much of this could have got gimmicky, but it's kept in check just enough. If anything it's the shots of the creepy dummy that start to get boring, as there are only so many times that slowly swivelling eyeballs are going to give you goosebumps
The acting is so-so, the film certainly does not live or die by the performances, but they are all fairly good. There are some gory scenes, and there is a pretty good twist at the end too. Because of the great camera work and sense of style the movie looks pretty classy. I can forgive a few plot-holes when I am being entertained, and "Dead Silence' is certainly a lot of fun
Yet another creature feature from Asylum, this time we see lampreys (eel like marine creatures) running amok in a lake and killing people. A heroic wildlife expert tries to stem the invasion, while at the same time tussling with a grumpy town mayor who doesn't want to scare away tourists. You can work out what happens yourself, I'm sure.
The problem with this movie is that it thinks people will be so entertained by the concept of lampreys attacking that they will overlook a LOT of bad movie making. This is a mistake. Viewers do care about logic and common sense, but there's very little of that in Blood Lake... The attack style of the lampreys is maddeningly inconsistent. When a supporting character comes across a pack of them, the lampreys attack and kill in seconds. Yet anytime one of the main cast members is in peril, the lampreys just writhe around on the floor and give the actors plenty of chances to escape.
Some examples: A woman is killed by lampreys invading her indoor pool, but while she dies instantly, the two main cast members - who are also fully in the water - are unscathed. A policeman turns up to help and he falls in the pool. And then he dies instantly! Later on Shannon Doherty and her daughter are searching a house. Shannon is suddenly trapped in the shower with the cubicle door closed (why?) and dozens of lampreys swarm the bathroom. The daughter and Shannon escape unharmed. Shannon's young son is on the beach and finds a couple of bodies of strong healthy adults who have died. The kid is about 10 years old and a bit shrimpy. Lampreys attack him and of course only one of them even manages to land a hit. The wildlife expert and his assistant enter a flooded home swarming with lampreys where other people have been killed in seconds. They each suffer one single lamprey bite each. Later still, the young son is trapped in a room with a single window that is just barely too high for him to reach. Although the room is chock full or chairs, desks, tables and so on, he never tries to use anything to climb up and reach the window. Meanwhile lampreys are busting out of pipes and ducts all over the ceiling and dropping on the floor. Not one of them manages to attack him. And most laughably of all, at the movies climax, two of the main characters have a "don't be a hero" argument in the middle of a sewer, full of the entire pack of squirming lampreys, which patiently wriggle around them, without making a single leap, so that the full dialogue can be played out in comfortable time. The on screen effect is so bad, it makes it appear as though the characters are surrounded by an invisible shield!
At no time does there ever seem to be a real threat to the main cast, the film makes it glaringly obvious that they are all invincible. One additional moment of "heart stopping terror" is provided by scenes with people clutching onto or falling from a slightly wobbly ladder. Another great moment is the revelation that lamprey livers will provide the solution.
Watching this movie will make you as bored of spotting these examples as I am of writing them down. The acting is not good either...especially the shrimpy son and the wailing daughter. Shannon Doherty and Jason Brooks do okay in the lead roles but it's a shame to see screen legend Christopher Lloyd stooping to such lows as this. All the lamprey effects are poorly conceived CGI, and none of the wounds on any of the actors look real. Films like this are like the new b-movies of the 1950s. They seem a lot glossier now, but in reality they are still as cheap and as rushed out as "The Giant Claw" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space".
This film caused a stir when it was classed as a "Video Nasty" in the mid 1908s. but before then I don't remember it being reviewed or mentioned in most reference sources. Which is probably because it's mundane and forgettable.
The film sees Udo Keir play a reclusive writer who has rented a remote cottage to bang out his next raunchy novel. Advertising for a typist produces sultry Linda Hayden as the (presumably) only applicant. As soon as she arrives you can tell from her frosty demeanour that she has an agenda of her own. Udo has his own problems, being troubled by continual flashbacks to some bloody trauma. The typing of the novel begins, intercut with a couple of appearances by British model Fiona Richmond as Udo's lover/prostitute, and couple of deaths of incidental characters as well.
None of this is very engaging or gripping. The performances are almost all pretty bad. Fiona Richmond really has no acting talent at all, her inclusion in the film is purely for visual purposes (she gets naked in every scene she appears in). Linda Hayden does have proved acting ability, but here she seems to have been directed to sleepwalk her way through the script. Udo Kier is dubbed, so his performance has no depth at all, especially as he is given some very ridiculous things to do, especially in his sex scenes with Richmond. Actually, all the sex scenes are awkward and embarrassing, lacking any erotic charge and very poorly simulated. The same goes for the scenes of violence, in which those tiresome knives that squirt blood when drawn over skin are the tool of choice - I can't believe that when any of the knife attack footage was reviewed after shooting, they didn't realise how bad it was.
Eventually the thing comes to a close with a rather unsurprising "reveal", and the credits finally roll - thank god. It's hard to believe that "Expose" was banned as a video nasty with content as lame as this, but that's what hype and hysteria does. Apparently this new Bluray release is uncut, so that means the British VHS release was even less impressive than this - if that's possible.
Is it worth watching? If you like lots of female nudity, no matter how un-erotic it looks, then yes. Actually Linda Hayden comes across as far more alluring than Fiona Richmond, who I can now only remember for unwittingly displaying a mouth almost completely full of gold filings. But does it have tension, thrills and a gripping story? No.
The Wicked Lady (1983)
Other reviewers are right - Michael Winner's remake of the vintage classic The Wicked Lady turns out more like "Carry On Dick" only with bigger star names.
I can only assume the film was intended to be a comedy, but it's hard to tell as the film wavers all over the place. Faye Dunaway and Alan Bates act like they are in an uproarious bawdy romp, but the rest of the cast play it straight. Faye Dunaway is particularly odd, she continuously pulls the most bizarre comedy faces and bugs her eyes out in an effort to portray the scheming and greedy personality of the lead character Lady Barbara Skelton, whose exploits form the main story of the film. There's definitely a juicy tale here, with Lady Skelton robbing, seducing, lying and murdering her way through the cast to get what she wants, but the presentation here really wastes the material. The events of the story are dashed through at great speed, giving the viewer little chance to empathise with any of the characters, but as most of the emotions are portrayed in such a throwaway manner, I certainly never felt drawn in. Again Dunaway suggests no depth to the character she plays. But the presentation of the action is the real offender. There's no time for anything to sink in. As soon as the film starts, Lady Skelton is stealing a man, then next minute she's married, then stealing, then tricking, all without pausing for breath
There are some things to enjoy, including the beautiful English scenery and antique architecture, plus some nice performances from Denham Elliott and Prunella Scales in supporting roles, but the smaller parts, such as bawdy waitresses and strumpets (of which there are many), are wretchedly hammy. There are many scenes of nudity, all of which look completely incongruous for the period the film is set in, and exist only for titillation.
To sum up this is a very juvenile film with little depth, and a huge waste of talent and money.
Flesh Feast (1970)
I bought this for a few dollars in a second-hand store as I had long been curious about Flesh Feast as it is Veronica Lake's last ever movie. That's really the only thing it has going for it. Flesh Feast is an utterly forgettable, amateurish waste of time.
Lake stars as a "doctor" in some kind or nursing home/retreat who does secret experiments using maggots to restore youth. She is called upon by a foreign military group to treat their leader and this eventually leads to the "shock ending".
The film doesn't make a lot of sense. All the acting is poor, and Veronica Lake is no exception, although as all the dialogue is dubbed, it's hard to tell how good she may have been if the sound had been recorded live. If Veronica Lake was a beauty in her Hollywood heyday, she certainly isn't here. She first appears in a black suit and hat which do hint at a glimmer of sophistication, but this is soon discarded and she spends rest of the movie wearing either a white lab coat or what appears to be a hideously frumpy blue bowling shirt. The movie saves the most unflattering view of it's star for the ending, when Lake is seen in close up, laughing, which unfortunately showcases her mouthful of brown rotten teeth.
Inbetween gawking at Lake, most of the film is very boring. For bad movie fans though, there is one spectacularly hilarious scene when a young woman enters the forbidden laboratory and comes across a dissected corpse. It's hilarious because the body parts are hanging from the ceiling in clear view of the woman the entire time, but the actress feigns ignorance of the horrible sight until she has walked all the way across the room, past the legs, arms and head dangling inches from her nose (in bright harsh lighting no less), until she is finally cued to turn around, "spot" them, and then burst into the hammiest screams of horror you have ever seen. Much hilarity, and almost worth buying for that scene alone.
But when I say "almost" worth buying, I really mean that. The current DVD release by Telefilms International/Beverly Wiltshire Filmworks is atrocious. It's a DVD recording of a video tape, and not a very good one at that. The source video itself is fullscreen, blurry and comes complete with dropouts, wobble and flickers, all lovingly preserved in the digital medium. Worse still, the print that the video was made from is crackly and full of scratches, missing frames and blotches on the print. But as there appears to be no official release available, I presume this is currently the only way to see the masterpiece that is "Flesh Feast".
For the very curious only, and while this is the only print available, I advise paying no more than five dollars for a copy. If a new print of "Flesh Feast" is ever found and remastered, it might make it onto a Classic Bad Movie DVD list... but not in this state.
La morte vivante (1982)
I'm rather a latecomer to this movie, as I don't seek out Jean Rollin movies (based on what little I have seen), but as this is supposed to be something of a classic of it's type, I gave it a go - but it is certainly not converting me into a fan.
The slim story sees a dead girl named Catherine unexpectedly revived in her coffin when disturbed by grave robbers. She quickly attacks one of them, and then seemingly in a daze, makes her way rather unsteadily back to an empty castle which is her former home. Her newly living status comes to the attention of her former best friend Helene, who seems to think the best course of action is to keep Catherine hidden in the empty mansion, rather than seek help - even despite the realisation that her friend craves the taste of fresh blood!
I was really expecting something more stylish from this movie due to it's reputation, but I have to say I think it's really poorly made. Jean Rollin was no genius, if movies like this are the evidence. Several shots are out of focus, the acting is poor, the dialogue stilted and the gore effects are downright terrible. You can clearly see the tubes that squirt blood from a throat in one shot, and the bag that Catherine is squeezing in her hand to squirt gore from a stomach wound in another. All Rollin seems to be interested in is keeping his actresses nude, for as often and as long as possible. The two leads are both very attractive, and the ornate mansion is very picturesque, but that doesn't mean that Jean Rollin is using any talent to show that off. Anyone who is not part of the main cast is so obviously an amateur, and the direction of scenes involving extras is terrible - they continually stare directly at the camera, in almost every shot. I guess the lighting is pretty enough in daytime scenes, but at night, everything is floodlit by flat, harsh industrial lighting. And the castle's underground vaults seem to have enough light to grow tomatoes in!
I also read that the portrayal of the relationship between the two women is strong enough to carry the film, but again, I don't think this is true either. As Catherine becomes more and more aware of what she is, things get more interesting, and there are moments that hint at some depth, but these are few. In conclusion, I am amazed that people rate this movie so highly. I think it is average at best. It has a lot of nudity, which seems to please a lot of viewers, but having acting and special effects that are as downright poor is they are here, strips this effort of any redeeming value.
The Killing of Angel Street (1981)
Wow I'm only the third reviewer of this movie? That's a real pity.
I remember first seeing "The Killing of Angel Street" on TV back in the 1980s and it left a lasting impression on me. Watching it again today, I felt the same way. The story is simple, a corrupt property development company wants to build a high rise apartment block in Sydney, but a few angry residents and some tatty old terraced homes stand in their way. A young woman named Jessica arrives home to find her father's house in the middle of the controversy and events take a turn for the worse as people who fight the demolition of the street start disappearing or dying with no apparent reason. Jessica is torn between standing up for justice, or keeping quiet for her own personal safety
The acting is very good in this movie. Liz Alexander holds her own in the starring role of the reluctantly battling protester against the might of a huge corporation. Most other roles are also well played, and the street and derelict houses look like the real thing to me - if they are not the film makers did a very good job of setting up a fake street!
It's the events that drives the film, though and the opposition that Jessica faces turns more and more nasty as the film moves on. You can feel the helplessness of the character as she starts to realise that nobody can be trusted, not even the police. The film gathers pace towards the end (which I wont spoil), and leaves you feeling angry at all the injustice that has been portrayed along the way. Which means that the film works, because you believe it could really happen...the sense of frustration is tangible.
The film is now REALLY hard to find, which seems a real shame as so few people today are going to get a chance to appreciate it, but there is an Australian DVD release, which I recommend, as it's a film that rewards your attention.