At the beginning of my review I mentioned that I love it when horror parodies respect the classic source materials. Well, in the house of Dr. Gray, there's a picture of Claude Rains and it's explained that his character in the 1933 Universal classic invented the invisibility serum, but that it made him mad and eventually got him killed. It doesn't get more respectful that this, I reckon.
"Martin" is, bluntly put, just as subversive, thought-provoking, satirical and progressive as the landmark zombie movies. However, apparently not even George A. Romero could break through the traditional barriers of established vampire cinema classics. "Martin" invites you to think outside the box and look beyond every known vampire cliche or traditional stereotype. Straight from the dazzling opening sequences, which - for the record - require a rather strong stomach, you realize that the titular anti-hero isn't the vampire you came to expect via legendary actors like Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee. Romero plays games of juxtaposing fable and reality. An atypical kind of vampire or a certifiable case of extremely dangerous psychosis? The boy, Martin, certainly seems convinced that he's a vampire, but he's more likely to be a severe mental case. Of course, Romero also grabs the opportunity to insert some of his favorite pet peeve trademarks, like pitch-black humor, socially relevant criticism (notably against the contemporary alienation and increasing types of personality problems) and the portrayal of Pittsburgh as a desolate and raw middle-class wasteland. The director's sardonic sense of humor is best illustrated via the key moments during which Romero oh-so provocatively deconstructs the traditional vampire lore.
"Martin" also marked the beginning of Tom Savini's career. He makes his acting debut in a modest supportive role, but more importantly it gave him the chance to demonstrate what kind of realistically engrossing and horrifying make-up effects he could achieve, even with limited financial means. The horror in "Martin" was pleasingly shocking and imaginative, and the duo went on to make "Dawn of the Dead" together. The rest is history, as they say.
The joyfulness already begins with the director's name (Buddy Cooper) and the catchy opening credits song "Fall Break". Oh yes, "The Mutilator" is straightforward, unhinged and sheer entertainment! It was the early 80's and anyone capable to come up with a nasty title and a handful of dollars was given the freedom to produce a slasher. Buddy invented the title "The Mutilator" and made his lifelong dream come true. Good for you, Buddy! The whole thing doesn't make much sense, as the intro depicts how a young boy accidentally shoots his mother in the back on his father's birthday. It's supposed to drive the father crazy, but all he does is remain stoically calm and pour himself a drink. Several years later the father asks Ed Jr. to go up to their family beach house and close it for the summer. Considering it's also fall break, Ed and his friends, six dim-witted teenagers in total, see this as the ideal occasion to spend a little holiday. Little do they know, of course, that Ed Sr. arranged for his son to come to the cabin and kill him. Now lucky Big Edhas six teenagers to annihilate! "The Mutilator" is full of memorably nonsensical moments, like nude swimming parties, dull games of Monopoly and endless supplies of beer coming out of the rustiest refrigerator you'll ever see. The acting performances are stupendously terrible; - most notably the tall blond guy and the obligatory practical joker-guy. Our over-enthusiast director Buddy Cooper also knows all the cliches and he's not afraid to use them! Virgins have a fair chance to survive ordeals like these and the killer's dead body will have vanished when you turn on the car's headlights! Finally, the obvious reason to adore a film like "The Mutilator" are the vile and uncompromisingly gross slaughtering methods, as well as the unsubtle and explicit make-up effects. Apart from a couple of commonplace murders, executed with pitchforks or shiny axes, this genre gem features a rather unique speedboat-engine kill and a truly cringing scene involving a fishing hook and a young lady's lower regions. Auch!
"The Kirlian Witness", which is the official title, also brings forward some very original and intriguing themes but - unfortunately - it's too much of a poorly produced and amateurish effort to be entertaining. With better production values and slightly more competent cast & crew members, I'm sure this could have been a modest cult gem, but now it's destined to remain an obscure oddity for avid collectors. The idea of communicating with plants, and even depend on them as witnesses of vile crimes like murder, may sound foolish but actually it's quite compelling and suspenseful (given that the screenplay is better elaborated than here). Laurie is an introvert girl, obsessed with botanical flora and persuaded it's possible to telepathically communicate with plants. She's found murdered on the rooftop of her apartment complex one day, and since writer/director Jonathan Sarno could only afford Lawrence Tierney one single day for a cameo appearance as the Police Detective, it's up to Laurie's sister Rilla to identify the killer herself. Since there are only two main suspects, and one of them obviously did not do it, the script isn't exactly compelling or exciting. In fact, "The Kirlian Witness" is a painfully tedious film that only exists of lame conversations between 3 terrible actors and an endless amount of shots of Sansevierias hooked onto seismograph devices. There's one moment of spectacle, when someone makes a nasty fall down an elevator shaft, but that's also over in the blink of an eye. I'm giving it a generous rating 4/10, because I still very much like the main idea and because of the little shiver the title gave me, but it sadly can't be recommended.
And thus, I did! Throughout the entire second half, "Mandy" is a fantastically absurd, blood-soaked, blackly comical and bizarrely intense horror delight, and that's what I primarily want to remember! This means, of course, that I found the first hour often tedious (with incomprehensibly muttered lines by Andrea Riseborough), pretentious (most notably the animated sequences) and surreal just for the sake of being surreal. Quite frankly, I didn't understand one iota about where those Cenobite bikers came from or what was the significance of that Seraph with his tiger. What I did understand, and loved, was that Cage's manly and robust lumberjack character goes bonkers when a clique of Jesus freaks kidnap and kill his beloved muse Mandy, so he manufactures himself a giant shiny axe and heads out for a massacre! The violence is masterfully choreographed and delightfully explicit, Cage unleashes his acting demons for 200% and the Jóhannsson soundtrack is truly unique.
Please don't misinterpret the feeble attempt at humor written directly here above! I truly do worship Charles Bronson, and even if he would have made a hundred lousy action movies more during his career, I probably would have watched those hundred lousy action movies as well! Fact remains, however, that during the 80s, Bronson exclusively appeared in excessively violent but routine action vehicles that are long-forgotten and look heavily dated by now. "Assassination" (even the title is unremarkable) isn't an exception despite being directed by a former James Bond guy (Peter "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" Hunt) and featuring a handful of impressively staged stunt sequences. Bronson's character Jay "Killy" Killian gets assigned to protect the flamboyant new First Lady, who has the reputation of being a difficult and insufferable shrew. This initially feels like a degradation for an experienced veteran like Killian, but he rapidly turns out to be the right man for the job, as the notorious terrorist/hit man Eddie Bracken is on a mission to kill her. "Assassination" delivers in terms of straightforward an action-packed entertainment, with plenty of virulent chases and numerous explosions, but the plot is predictable, and Charlie too obviously acts on automatic pilot. At least I hope he enjoyed being able to fire off bazookas, because the rest of his stunts were clearly performed by much younger men. For Jill Ireland, Bronson's wife and frequent co-star, "Assassination" was the last film. She died from breast cancer in 1990, at age 54.
By this tirade, I certainly don't intend to claim that "The Lost Boys" is a masterpiece of horror. On the contrary, I even think it's quite overrated and that many people only regard it so dearly because they saw it upon its initial release and thought it was the hippest, freshest and coolest product since Coca Cola Light (or Diet Coke, depending where you are from). Following a few script-rewrites, "The Lost Boys" allegedly changed from a vampire version of Peter Pan (with child protagonists) to a Californian pop-culture vampire flick with teenage and adolescent protagonists. Whatever it is supposed to be, director Joel Schumacher fools around with all the traditional vampire trademarks and puts them down as nihilistic biker punks with flamboyant hairdos and party animal lifestyles. Hence the legendary tagline "Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It's fun to be a vampire". The vampires' haven is the beach community of Santa Carla, where the town's carnival remains open 365 days per year and excessively oiled muscular saxophone players give away free open-air concerts. Santa Carla is nevertheless known as the murder capital of the US, as illustrated by the hundreds of "missing children" posters hanging all over town. We're supposed to assume that head vampire David (Kiefer Sutherland in an iconic role) and his gang are responsible for all these disappearances, but we actually don't ever see them murdering or abducting any victims. The main plot revolves on two brothers, Michael and Sam, moving to Santa Carla with their mother, following her divorce. Adolescent Michael is immediately drawn to David's cool vampire gang, whereas teenage Sam joins forces with the crazed Frog-brothers; who always hang out in the local comic book store and claim to be experienced vampire hunters.
Several aspects of "The Lost Boys" are undeniably fantastic and utterly cool, like Corey Feldman's OTT performance, the soundtrack, the hanging-from-the-bridge sequence and the explicitly gross vampire deaths during the climax. Other, and sadly more important elements, are downright disappointing, like the absence of tension or genuine frights, the lack of real menace coming from the vampire characters, the inefficient comic reliefs (like grandpa) and the expulsion of mandatory monster essentials. For example, since when can you become a vampire by sipping from a bottle instead of getting bitten? "The Lost Boys" remains a must-see for horror lovers and admirers of typical 80s cinema in general, but in case you're searching for a truly great alternative vampire gem, check out "Near Dark" which got released in the same year, 1987.