Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Return To Horror High - 2/5

From the title one would think this is a sequel to the 1974 horror film "Horror High." The Internet Movie Database lists this slasher as a sequel to that drive-in "classic" but I am very skeptical. First of all the plot has absolutely NO connection. The first film was about a Nerd that drank a potion he concocted turning himself into a hairy "Hyde" like figure to kill the people who had done him wrong. "Return to Horror High" is tongue-in-cheek slasher spoof that pokes fun at the "stalk and slash" subgenre. To me the "Return" in the title is referring to the films plot about a movie crew returning to high school where murders occurred in 1982. The ending to this film also puts a kibosh on any connection. I can't find any other sources on the subject to prove that it is or that it isn't a follow-up. Since this film is completely different than the film "Horror High" one should go into this film with a fresh new perspective.

I touched on the plot before but the film begins with a group of cops (one being Maureen McCormick of Brady Bunch fame) on site of a mass murder where a killer butchered a movie crew who was filming at a high school where mass murders occurred five years before. The films plot diverges between flashbacks to the movie crew filming the movie to flashbacks of the original murders taking place. This is where the plot flow gets really messy.

The real problem with this film is it has plot lines going every direction and loses the audience in the process. The film begins with cops on site investigating the murder of our film crew, then the film flashbacks to the crew actually making the film, then the film flashbacks to when the first set of murders take place, but wait! It was just the movie crew filming a scene for the film! Later the film flashbacks to the original murders BUT it's an actual flashback this time and not a movie scene. Then the film flashes forward, back, forward and there is even a dream sequence shoved in there to royally fuck with the viewers. One almost needs a pen and paper to jot down notes to get this plotline straight! When I first saw this slasher in high school I remember not knowing what the hell was going on. Watching it again as an adult one really has to pay attention to know which plot line goes where.

What I do like about this film is that it spoofs the slasher genre, and low budget filmmaking in general, without being a full fledged comedy like "Scary Movie." It spoofs and at the same time it's an actual slasher film with enough blood and carnage to please gorehounds. I also like the portrayal of some of the characters, the highlight is Alex Rocco as the film producer as the just hams it up wonderfully as he screams "more blood" and "more nudity."

Since the films plotline takes so many god damn detours we never really know who are the main characters we are supposed to follow until over half-way through the damn film. Since the film jumps around so much we don't get to know our leads well and by the end after plot twist after plot twist I found myself not giving two shits.

"Return to Horror High" could have worked wonderfully if the damn plotline could have been tightened up better with writing and editing. Viewers are just destined to get lost in the timeline jumping mixed with "fooled ya" flashbacks. Despite those problems the characters are colorful, the violence is bloody, and it has a nice humor streak poking fun at the slasher craze. It's definitely worth a look for slasher fanatics but others need not apply. Keep an eye out for a small early role for George Clooney.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Centurion - 2.5/5

Well I suppose everyone has to misstep at sometime, right? That's how I feel about Neil Marshall's sword epic "Centurion". Although Marshall has created an instant classic horror with "The Descent" and an 80s throwback romp with "Doomsday", his pseudo-historical (actually I have no idea how historically accurate this film is) sword and survival film tends to stumble on its way to glory. With some seriously awesome visual style and a great cast, its actually fairly sad to see it falter, but it does.

Quintus Dias (Fassbender) is the lone survivor of a Picts attack on his Roman outpost. Taken hostage, he finally escapes and finds his way into the arms of the Ninth Legion. This legion is sent on a mission of brutality to thrown down with Picts in Britain for Rome to establish a great empire up north. When the Picts show they are more warrior than the Romans, the remaining members of the Ninth Legion have to get to safety very quickly. Hunted by a female tracker with no tongue and a knack of killing everyone in her wake, these few Romans will have to do anything to survive.

There is one thing that I have to give "Centurion". They certainly do know how to make the action sequences brutal. Despite my disappointment with its first act speed racing through characters, plot points, and random settings to get us to where we needed with the Ninth Legion marching into Britain, I'll be damned if the action sequences didn't have my eyes light up with glee in its brutality and sheer destructive awesomeness. Medieval battles do appear in rather over the top excess and its quite awesome. Partnered with Marshall's penchant for epic shots and gloomy settings, these are easily the highlight of the film. By the time the Picts ambush the Ninth Legion with giant flaming balls of raining pain (queue Manowar track "Wheels Of Fire" at this point) followed by a bloodbath, that's not an exaggeration, this film really dishes out the dark age brutality.

Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot of substance to back up the visual magic of "Centurion". Characters seem rather dull and forgettable if not killed far too quickly to actually gather any audience empathy for their plight and the story seems to rush its first act at light speed to get to a rather monotonous chase sequence that only is made interesting by its rapid change of settings. With some solid actors and actresses, its sad to see them squandered away with the poorly painted 'heroes' and 'villains' of the picture.

To say that "Centurion" turned out to be a larger disappointment than I wanted is one helluva understatement. It looks great and is littered with grand battle sequences of swords and arrows, but it lacks significantly in its depth and character work. This creates a feast for the eyes, but rarely for the mind.

BONUS RANT: What's with the flying credits? Now it shows off some great scenery and gives it a very modern flair, but when the end credits popped up and did the same thing, I felt like I was missing something. I just don't get the why I guess. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Blade Runner - 5/5

If I had to stake claim to my favorite science fiction film at this moment I would easily claim it to be "Blade Runner". Despite its 1982 release date, this dark and gritty detective story continues to hold its own (if not gathering more steam) in its depiction of the future, analysis of humanity, and its gaze on the eternal science fiction question 'what is human'. The film is rather slow burning in its neo-noir visual style and build, but its depth and execution more than make up for it. Even today, "Blade Runner" carries a film excellence that became a mark for all science fiction films since to be compared to.

Deckard (Ford) is an ex-Blade Runner, a type of law enforcement created to hunt down faux created humans called Replicants from going AWOL, who is brought back into the game to hunt down a group of Replicants attempting to bypass their fail-safe four year life spans. Lead by a militant Replicant Batty (Hauer), Deckard is going to have his hands full just stopping these supposedly deranged things.

*Note: There are various versions of this film out there now available to watch. This review will try not to give away too much about the various endings or nuances between the versions. It will be more of an overview of the films generalities. I highly suggest watching the various versions and starting with the Director's Cut first as it is generally a great jumping off point into the experience that is "Blade Runner".

With Ridley Scott's science fiction visual prowess (the man also directed the stellar "Alien"), one of the highlights and most memorable parts of "Blade Runner" is its dark visuals of the future. The movie is shot extensively in the dark with significant use of its setting (the increasingly vertical and larger than life cityscape) and with its subtle acting from a stellar cast and its fairly limited dialogue, this film rocks on so much atmosphere its not even funny. Granted, as I mentioned prior, it does promote a slow burning story build as a plethora of characters are introduced and built up. If you allow yourself to be embraced by the atmosphere then its a riveting watch...but it might throw some off with how slow it moves.

It also has to be mentioned that Rugter Hauer as the villain Batty is one of the greatest villains to grace the screen. His borderline insanity and cool collected calculations make him a perfect opposite against the rather flustered and emotionally distraught Harrison Ford. Particularly when the lines of 'human' begin to fuzz out in the last act (during a very intense chase sequence) and Hauer's character suddenly gathers a sympathetic tone. This duality of villain and hero make the last act something to be remembered.

The different versions contain various depths of how the film goes into its moral ambiguities and how it approaches them (with the Theatrical Cut having a rather lackluster voice over to give it a more extensive Noir feel). So to analyze its depth of thought is something that might spoil the viewing experience. Thusly, just know that with the different versions you may watch have different undertones to how the film plays out - which only heightens how well rounded it is.

Once again, "Blade Runner" comes highly recommended for fans of smart science fiction. It's distopian look and atmosphere of mechanical/organic comparisons rocks the pure science fiction visual style of the film and despite its age holds up amazingly well to this day. Executed damn near perfectly (in some versions) and even greater in its writing, "Blade Runner" is a must see, if not must own. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, November 29, 2010

Horror High - 2.5/5

Another film about the picked on nerd that gets revenge. Horror fans have seen this story done a hundred times most famously in "Carrie." The interesting thing is that "Horror High" was released in 1974 beating almost all other "nerd gets revenge" films to the punch, even the film "Carrie" by two years. In respect the novel "Carrie" was published in 1974 so who knows maybe writer J.D. Feigelson was inspired by King's work. Hell maybe I'm drawing too much of a connection between the two as "Carrie" was blessed with psychic abilities to wreak her vengeance whereas our nerd here uses SCIENCE! (Bill Nye would be so proud!)

Vernon is your typical nerd. He's pimply, wears glasses, has longer greasy hair and spends far too much time in the Biology lab studying his pet guinea pig Mr. Mumps. Everybody seems to pick on him including jocks, teachers and the janitor. Well that's all going to come to an end as when the janitor makes Vernon drink his own special solution, it turns him into a hairy beast that kills all the people who've wronged him in bloody ways. Can detective Austin "Assault on Precinct 13" Stoker solve the crimes before the whole school succumbs to the nerds primal rage?

As you can guess this is basically a loose retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the "nerd gets revenge" subgenre mixed in. For the most part it works. Horror fans will dig the killings more than the plot though as they were pretty unique for 1974. We get a janitor stuffed in a barrel of acid and a teacher who gets here fingers sliced off with a paper cutter. Ouch! All these people that our nerd seeks vengeance on are really despicable people. The janitor bitch slaps Vernon around for shooing his cat away from his guinea pig cage. His English teacher has the nerve to slice up his biology report due to the fact he spent more time writing it than his English paper. The P.E. teacher even blackmails Vernon to help his star football player to pass Chemistry. These teachers are complete assholes! Oh you can't forget the love interest for Vernon who is torn between Vernon's nice personality and the jock she's going steady with.

The acting for this type of film is acceptable but the actor that steals the show is Austin Stoker. This guy just commands the screen when he appears and it's a damn shame he didn't appear in more movies. Director Larry N. Stouffer, despite only directing one film prior to this, also does a credible job.

"Horror High" isn't a great film by any means but it's a decent drive-in fare that's worth a look for horror fans. The film went unseen for years on video until it popped up recently on DVD in 2 different editions. Code Red released an uncut version and Mill Creek released a slightly cut version in a DVD set containing 11 other films. Is the film worth the extra footage or would it be a better purchase it with 11 other obscure films? The choice is yours! A "sequel" (as in name alone) would follow 13 years later with "Return to Horror High."

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Land Of The Minotaur - 2/5

The Minotaur has always been a favorite of mine from Greek mythology. I always wanted to see a movie about the Minotaur as I thumbed through books on the subject. The idea of a half man, half bull monster chasing people through a labyrinth sounded like a great suspenseful idea. From the title of this film and the poster artwork I expected this film to be about... well... a Minotaur chasing and killing people. Again distributors lie to get more people to buy tickets. Well "lie" might be too harsh of a word. Perhaps "mislead" fits better as there is a minotaur in the film, it just happens to be only a stone statue that is worshiped by Satanists. "Land of the Minotaur" is actually just another 70's satanic horror film that was originally made as "The Devil's Men" but retitled in America to give audiences the wrong impression on exactly what the film was about.

What we have is a group of archeologist hippies meet up with a priest (Donald Pleasance) in order to go study the ruins of a local castle in Greece. The kicker is that the castle is the home of a satanic cult who worships a Minotaur statue and soon our three hippies disappear. A girlfriend of one of the missing hippies arrives on site and our priest calls a detective friend from New York to come and press the local Baron (Peter Cushing) to see where the missing hippies are.

What I don't get is why would Satanists worship a statue of a Minotaur? The Minotaur in Greek mythology was never a "satanic" figure and it is none of the writings of Christian history. Very odd indeed. Our Minotaur statue does oddly have the ability to talk with no mouth and blow demonic flames through its nostrils. Ouuuuu....scary!

The main attraction of this film to horror film fans is that it has two seasoned actors of the genre with Donald Pleasance and Peter Cushing. Their appearance does aid the film but they seem underused and the dialogue is definitely not up to their usual caliber. It's almost humorous to hear Pleasance say such lines as "he was on the edge of death but it takes more than the force of an automobile to destroy them." The character's also have odd relationships. How do Pleasance and the detective from New York know each other? Despite Pleasance calling on him for help, he sure doesn't seem to like him too much and always criticizes his driving. Our detective even saves Pleasance's life by pushing him out of the way of a speeding car and he has the gall to say "Did you have to push me so hard!?" Some thanks! The rest of the cast is adequate and the two blonds in the cast are nice eye candy as they wear shorts so tight and short that they look like denim underwear.

With a cast like Donald Pleasance and Peter Cushing this film should have been far better than it is and the film feels like it's beneath their talents. Satanic cult horror films in the seventies were a dime a dozen and this is definitely not one of the best yet it at the same time it lacks the cheesy goodness of such trashy efforts like "The Devil's Rain." The film might be of minor interest for fans of 70s horror cinema or fans of Pleasance and Cushing otherwise horror fanatics are better off checking out Hammer's "The Devil Rides Out."

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Secrets Of The Clown - 0/5

Technology has really hurt the quality of horror films being released today. The reason being is that now relatively anybody can make a film thanks to cheap digital cameras and editing programs that can be used on personal computers. Since movies can be completely done at the convenience in anyone's home, a lot of people who have absolutely no right making a movie are giving it a shot. Due to this the video store shelves are loaded with absolute crap from people who took their cheap digital cameras and banged out a film in a few days and then somehow finagle DVD companies (Lionsgate is the biggest culprit) to release their shit films onto the unsuspecting market. This is the reason I am so damn careful when it comes to renting or buying modern direct-to-video horror films today as it seems 90% of them are this homemade crap. "Secrets of the Clown" is one of these such "films".

"Secrets of the Clown" is also another entry into an ever-growing subgenre of "Clownsploitation" horror. The problem is for every "Killer Klowns from Outer Space", "Clownhouse" and "It" there are 100 films like this homemade piece of junk. Since I hate modern home-made horror films and clown horror excluding the one's I mentioned before, then why did I sit down and waste my time with "Secrets of the Clown?" Well the reason I watched it is because I own it. Hold on! Let me explain. I bought a quadruple feature for the 1983 slasher classic "Curtains"."Secrets of the Clown" was one of the of the three other films so technically I got the damn thing for free. Having some free time due to a blizzard snowing me in from work, I decided to watch this hunk of shit to see how bad it really was. Nothing could prepare me for the absolute horror I would experience by having this crude being channeled through my DVD player to my television.

The "plot" opens with a murder of two people by someone that seems to be dressed as a clown (though the killer is mostly kept off screen). The next door neighbors hear of the occurrence and the killer makes their way over and stabs the best friend of our main character. Now the film takes a supernatural turn when the friend that got diced seems to haunt the house. There is also some mumbo jumbo of about our main character's girlfriend having a possessed clown doll but all these crummy story arcs never come together properly.

For a low budget horror film to work, it needs to have an interesting story, flashy directing and/or creative gore. This novice effort lacks on all accounts. The story is poorly written and uninvolving and the performances are below porn level. Seriously this is some of the worst acting I have ever seen! The camerawork is amateurish and the whole film has a cheap digital camera look to it. The sound is even poorly mixed and it sounds like loud dubbing. The films greatest sin however is that it doesn't live up to its title and people expecting a slasher dressed as a clown marching around and butchering people throughout the entire picture are going to be sorely disappointed.

If this were a high school film made for an English class then it might be "good." For a film given a wide release on the direct-to-video market in which people have to PAY to see then this absolute dog shit. The secret of this clown deserves to stay a secret and the DVD case is destined to stay on the video store shelf collecting dust and having its cover artwork slowly faded by the glaring sun. The simple fact that this crap is packaged in the same DVD set as "Curtains" royally pisses me off.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Bruce Lee: A Dragon Story - 1/5

Oh boy what can I say on this Bruceploitation turd. For one thing this is probably the worst Bruceploitation film I have ever seen and considering the subgenre is 99.9% trash that is quite a statement. This "biopic" picture of Bruce Lee (starring Bruce Li in the title role) is both an insult to the Bruce Lee name and to fans of trashy martial arts films. Yes it's that fucking bad.

Being a biopic the film is based on "true" life events of the amazing martial artist Bruce Lee on how he rose to fame on TV and films, married an American women, cheated with a famous Chinese actress which then lead to his untimely death.

Like most Bruce Lee biopics which claim to be based on true facts, this one is no different and is completely inaccurate. Sure they get the basics right but the filmmakers take too much leeway with the material in order to make a more interesting and "action packed" movie. Some of these "freely adapted" scenes are quite unintentionally funny. For example is it is amazing how many groups of warriors challenge Bruce Lee throughout the film. The strangest is when Li and his wife are in America and suddenly a group of three samurai come up and after Li kicks the crap out of them he retorts "this is a awful place to live." Sure... that's exactly how it happened...sheesh.

The acting is dreadful and the filmmaking is absolutely the lowest common denominator. Great filmmaking is never an ingredient in Bruceploitation films but even for a Bruceploitation film this is bad. The directing is dilapidated and the editing seems to be done by a psychotic samurai warrior wheedling his blade around. I lost count on how many jarring edits that are so rough they seem to knock the viewer out.

The dialogue is cringe worthy and it matches the emotionless dubbing. The dubbing for director Wei Lo is by far the worst as he says such makeshift lines as "So What! Does that mean I'm not still a man!" The dubbing for Bruce Li is so drab that the character might as well been dubbed by Ben Stein.

I'm not a fan of biopic Bruceploitation films to begin with and the only one I've seen worth while is Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth. The rest are pretty much crap and this very well might be the worst biopic, maybe even the worst Bruceploitation film ever made. There are much more enjoyable films in this interesting subgenre so my advice is to skip it.

Bonus Rant: There is a love song played on the soundtrack during emotional scenes between Bruce Li and his mistress and the filmmakers decided to subtitle the lyrics of the song in both Chinese characters and in English. Thanks to the films picture ratio being fucked up (yes again! This is the fifth DVD I've seen of a Bruceploitation film where the picture ratio is fucked up!) the subtitles end up being cut off on both ends. Damn you DVD companies and giving such trash movies trashy transfers!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

ZMD: Zombies Of Mass Destruction - 1.5/5

Despite its initial zombie appeal (what zombie movie isn't somewhat appealing to those of us writing for and reading Blood Brothers?), the final film for me to watch of "After Dark Horrorfest 4" is a solid let down. "Zombies Of Mass Destruction" takes itself too seriously to be a comedy and is far too humorous to be taken seriously. Not to mention it beats you in the face with its religious/political/ethical agendas. Not that those can't be present in a zombie film (watch any of George A Romero's early "Dead" films) but "Zombies Of Mass Destruction" fails to really do any of it well.

A group of survivors on a small island called Port Gamble find themselves in the middle of a zombie outbreak. As it spreads and the tensions rise, the survivors look for reason and explanation to disengage their panic. Soon they turn on each other using religion, race, and sexuality to becoming worse than the things outside. Oh, and its supposed to be funny too.

When you start using stereotypes to try to make a point, whether it be for your own point or not, you run a line of insulting a lot of different people. "Zombies Of Mass Destruction" fails to really catch its own drift here and ends up producing completely 2D characters to represent various subcultures of humanity. What this does is create people that don't even seem like real characters. This somewhat defeats the intentions of the film. Instead of preaching its political and social agendas in ways to open the audiences eyes, it becomes a series of semi-serious and often awkward situations that become rather cartoonish. Thusly undermining its own intent. Which is where the film fails on its more serious side.

As for its humorous tact, its rather hit or miss. As I watched it, I knew what was supposed to be funny but I rarely found it funny. It forced a lot of its punchlines and only occasionally succeeded in working its moral agendas towards its humor. There are a couple of pretty damn funny moments that very much pull on classic horror/comedies like "Evil Dead 2" (with one moment in particular that has a zombie eat her own eyeball that was well timed) but more often than not the timing was off for it to work like it should have.

The best part of "Zombies Of Mass Destruction" is the horror element of the film. There are some solid special effects (sans some random CGI ones that tended to be out of place) with some nice gore moments that brought to mind Peter Jackson's over the top style on his older films like "Dead Alive". When the film throws aside its political satire and focuses on its zombie action is when it actually works and earns it a star and a half.

Despite some solid special effects and nice zombie moments, "Zombies Of Mass Destruction" is a large letdown. It tries so desperately hard to convey its message it turns down its viewers by bashing "open thinking" into their skulls. Perhaps its just this reviewer, but I would rather not have a sermon preached to me in my zombie films. Great idea here, its just poorly executed. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Crater Lake Monster, The - 1/5

One quick glance at the title and one would think this was one of those cheesy black & white monster movies from the 1950s. Well it's 2 out of those 4. It's cheesy and a monster movie but it's in color and from the 1970s. "Crater Lake Monster" is a 1977 picture actually intended to be a nice throwback to the monster films of the 50s except it fails on one major aspect: it just plain and simple sucks ass.

Some paleontologists uncover a hidden cave which contains drawings of humans fighting a dinosaur (a plesiosaur, I know that thanks to my brother who wanted to be a paleontologist as a kid). Soon after a meteor comes crashing down into the nearby lake and the heat warms the water hatching a long doormat dinosaur egg. Along with our big dinosaur comes a big appetite and he starts munching on local people and livestock leaving the sheriff dumbfounded.

I know low budget horror films can have some pretty horrific acting but sometimes it adds to the charm. The acting in this film is so bad though that it actually made me sick to my stomach. Richard Cardella as our lead sheriff is awful and it comes to no surprise this is his one and only acting credit. No doubt he was a sheriff in real life near the lake they shot this turkey at.

Along with bad acting comes bad characters and these characters are pretty wretched. The worst characters are in the form of two bumbling rednecks who try to provide the film with "comic relief." I found myself laughing not because they were funny, but for the fact the director actually intended their characters to be funny. Just watch in awe as they fight on how to spell the word "bait" and how they get scared of a fallen tree. These guys are lame even compared to the two bumbling cops in "Halloween 5" and those guys were even accompanied by clown noises while they were on screen!

The most "what the fuck" moment as the filmmakers add a weird sequence where man shoots a convenience store clerk and a shopper only to take one bottle of liquor. I mean what the hell was that! It fucking comes out of nowhere and to top it off he kills two people for one measly bottle of liquor. If you're going to go to the trouble of killing people wouldn't you want make it worth while, like also taking the money out of the register or hell maybe even taking 2 bottles of liquor. This bizarre sequence has our robber getting chased by our sheriff only to become dino food. Again what a bizarre sequence to introduce a character that's only purpose is to be a dino snack.

The special effects range from good to shit. The good portion of the effects are thanks to the late great David Allen for providing nice stop motion. I'm a sucker for stop motion effects and Allan was amazing at providing these cool on screen images for tons of low budget films up until his death in the late 1990s. The rest of the effects look like they come directly from a local guys wood shop as the close up shots of the monster is nothing more than a big wood and plastic head floating around.

Instead of being a tribute to the monster films of the past, "Crater Lake Monster" comes off more as an insult ensuring it would be William R. Stromberg one and only film credit. The only aspect to recommend about this feature is the nifty stop motion effects as the bad acting, bad directing, bad comic relief and the uninspired climax makes this B-movie a chore to sit through. Alcohol may be needed.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Godfather, The - 1.5/5

With the popularity of "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II" in the early 70's it would only be a matter of time before a Blaxploitation imitation of those epics oozed its way into the grindhouse cinemas. They made "Blacula", "Blackenstein" and "Dr. Black Mr. Hyde" so "The Black Godfather" seems like it's a step in the right direction as now the genre is cloning academy award winning films opposed to horror B-movies. Sadly the combination of such grand films and the interesting Blaxploitation genre didn't come out near as promising or entertaining as one might expect and even the Blaxploitation horror knock-offs are far better than this.

Our film opens up with two goons trying to hold up a place and they both end up shot, one dying and the other being taken in by the "Black Godfather" who in turn saves his life. Our "Black Godfather" takes J. J. (NFL star Rod Perry) under his wing and soon J.J. becomes the black godfather himself and decides to clean up his hood from drugs and starts a personal war against a rival white gang.

The perplexing aspect of the plot is that J.J.'s gang murders and robs which seems to be kosher but drugs pushes their ethical line over the edge. Murdering in cold blood is so much better than selling crack to a teenager...sheesh. That just makes no sense and the thought of it is quite laugh inducing.

The acting is as expected for a low budget Blaxploiation effort but the filmmaking is quite poor. The direction is shoddy, the sound is deplorable, and the editing is sloppy. I even saw the shadows of the camera crew a few times during driving sequences. The score is just dreadful and makes a blood drop from your ear lob after a half hour of having it stab into your eardrum.

With a title like "The Black Godfather" this should have been a monumental effort in the Blaxploitation subgenre. I mean your referencing one of the best films ever made! Thanks to poor filmmaking all around it doesn't live up to the concept and just comes out being another poorly made Blaxploitation effort . It may not be the worst the genre has to offer, but there are many many many more better examples and I only recommend this for viewing for the most hard-core fans.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Dirty Games (1989) - 1/5

I truly hate Jan-Michael Vincent. I've always found him to be a poor actor and it is known that he is a rather difficult actor to work with. I even have a hard time standing him in my favorite Charles Bronson movie "The Mechanic." With my hatred for him it should come as no surprise that I hated "Dirty Games." Some people may say "well you're judging the film too harshly just for the fact you don't like the lead actor." That may be true but even if you take Vincent out of the equation "Dirty Games" still sucks.

The uninvolving plot has Vincent as a scientist that has created radiation impenetrable containers to store toxic waste out in the middle of desert. With the help of his ex-partner's daughter (who suspects him for aiding his murder), he has to stop a small group of terrorists from blowing up his new toxic waste compound.

The plot makes absolutely no sense. Why would terrorists want to blow up a toxic waste storage facility that is located out in the middle of fucking nowhere? It's not like it will kill a large number of innocent bystanders. The rest of the time we are left with Vincent giving the camera quizzical looks as he tries to locate the terrorists and win back the love of his ex-partner's daughter.

Typical with Vincent his performance is despicable. It might just be me but every film I see him in it seems like he doesn't give two shits about the film and is only doing the bare minimum to quietly collect his unearned paycheck once filming wraps. The scenes where he and his love interest share screen time are especially nauseating with their dry, embarrassingly bad acting and dialogue. Everyone else in the cast seems equally unenthused and sleepiness will soon take over the viewer.

The pace is complete shit and I found myself dozing off numerous times during the run time of the film. I actually had to finish the films in three sittings as I lost interest and by the time the credits rolled I had already completely forgotten this film even existed. Even writing this review I am struggling to remember anything remotely worthwhile in the movie. I truly can't dig anything out of my memory remotely good about this quote, unquote "action film" that lacks action and suspense.

I happened upon this film in a quadruple feature with three other completely unrelated action films and this was by far the weakest film in the collection and I thank God I didn't actually waste money on purchasing this film by itself. Then again I never would have due to its lead actor and therefore would have never have wasted my precious time watching such unmemorable crap. Can anyone give me back the money that I wasted on electricity to watch this cinema diarrhea?

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Phantom, The (2010) - 2.5/5

When I first heard of the SyFy reboot of the comic legend "The Phantom" (which was previously done in film form back in 1996), I was terrified. SyFy did this reboot? It had to be utter shit then right? Then I found out that it clocked in at around 3 hours since it was a two part miniseries on the iconic channel. 3 hours?!?! Of course, by this time I was so curious to see it that there was no way I could miss it. Thusly, you are now reading a review of SyFy's 3 hour epic modernization of "The Phantom"!

Chris Moore (Carnes) is a smart kid with good looks and an even more impressive physical prowess that he shows off doing some parkour. His only problem is his restlessness and his memories of odd places and a women in a car accident. When a strange organization finds him, his whole world does a flip. He's actually Kit Walker, son of the last Phantom. When his family is brutally murdered by an evil organization (The Phantom's nemesis) he throws on the updated purple gear and goes on a quest to find out his past, which leads him onto a bigger conspiracy that may lead to an assassination.

"The Phantom" circa 2010 is much better than I had hoped. For SyFy, this is award worthy material. I kid you not. At least its coherent, which is more than most SyFy films. Granted, its still a significantly flawed film that is harmed from some of its length and cheesiness, but its more impressive than I could have imagined.

"The Phantom" does actually have a pretty legit story down underneath some of its low budget and cheese. Updating an older comic like this is tough to do and story wise they hold it down. It's length does get to be a bit much at times and its easy to tell that this was intended to kick start a franchise (or straight up TV show) with its significant amount of character build. It's halfway through the film that the main character actually becomes The Phantom, but it mostly pays off in its own way.

Sometimes the character work is a little much and the film fails to actually utilize its concept and lacks any kind of solid action sequences. What ones do appear are much appreciated although budget constraints and his oddly designed costume undermine the experience a bit. "The Phantom" could have used a bit more bang for its buck here.

The film is also rather hit or miss on its casting. The leads do a surprisingly solid job (nods to Carnes on this one) but the supporting cast is a little shallow. Our villain is pure TV villain cheesiness of over acting and even some of the larger roles seem under-developed and poorly executed, like The Phantom's female counterpart in the organization. This really makes the film feel cheaper than it actually is.

Despite its flaws in some of its design work, casting, and lack of action "The Phantom" still surprisingly feels solid in the end. Definitely one of the best SyFy works I've had the pleasure of viewing and if it leads to more made for TV films or a series I just might have to jump on board for it. Not a great film, but worth checking out for nostalgic sake.

BONUS RANT: Why the hell does everyone fly back 50 feet when shot in this movie? With its added science fiction twists to the story, its not like its pushing for realism here but seriously. It's like bullets suddenly grew the power to carry people in this film. It's the cheesiest part of the whole thing! Well, sans the suit.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Train Killer, The - 3/5

I enjoy purchasing public domain DVD sets every once-in-a-blue moon as I can find some really obscure films that are of some interest. Most of the time the films are passable and even bad but I do happen upon some actual decent films that have fallen from the public memory years upon years ago. The interestingly titled "The Train Killer" is one of those very films and it shines a little brighter than most of the drivel included in such collections.

The film appealed to me as I have a history degree and the film is based on the horrific true events of a man named Matuska Szilveszter, also known as "The Train Killer." In 1931 following his tour of duty in World War I, Szilveszter terrorized Hungary by exploding and derailing trains, killing numerous innocent civilians in the process. His intent was never clear: was it to help spread communism or was he just simply insane. What I love about this story is that it is a obscure story here in America. I never once learned about "The Train Killer" in any of my numerous history courses so I ate this story up hungrily even going and doing additional research on the subject.

Despite being interested in the true events the film is based on, it still falls victim to many of the trappings of numerous other historical based films. The first problem is the pacing as the film never really gathers steam (sorry for the pun) and the whole film moves at a medium pace at best. The second problem is director Sándor Simó doesn't give the film much visual style and his approach is pretty standard focusing more on the plot instead of visuals. I prefer some great visualization directing mixed in with a strong plot so for that I have to mark down the film a few points. Another problem I have is how our 'train killer' is written. Though Michael Sarrazin is good in the role, the character is written so we don't get much incite to his madness or his background. I understand his purposes for the terrorist attacks was unclear but we see no decention to his character and I wish his character was a little flesh out by giving us more backstory to help the audience come to their own conclusion on what fueled his hatred. Some of the other characters are also oddly written to make illogical decisions. For example our 'train killer' rides down a women on a bicycle because she accidentally took his bag and then flips out on her. Later she sneaks up on him and takes his picture and he flakes out again yet she agree to meet him for a drink and dance, and ends up sleeping with him. What?! This guy was a total dick to her on the two occasions she met him and she still beds him?! A guy gets laid by a women he's a total jackass too... what gives?

For a Hungarian film the dubbing is surprisingly well done and the acting is rather good for the most part. The special effects are also wonderful and the climatic train bombing fooled me it was a real train and I had to rewind the film several times to see that it was actually a model. These are some of the best model effects I have ever seen, hands down, and it adds to the films realism.

Fans of early 1900's European history will want to hunt this film down as it gives us Americans an interesting slice of history that we never learned about here in the States. As is though the restrained directing from a visual standpoint makes this film have rather low replay value but it's well worth a onetime watch. The original Vestron video release is obtainable used or you can find it in numerous public domain DVD sets as a VHS transfer.

Written By Eric Reifschneder

Jonah Hex - 1.5/5

You know that a film is going to be something of a waste of brain space when it finishes and you think to yourself, "Damn, "Wild Wild West" with Will Smith was better". Unfortunately that's the thought I had at the end of comic book inspired "Jonah Hex". What should have been a fun romp through over-the-top-ville turns out to be an unfocused cut and paste film that seemingly has no urgency to it and it ruins a rather good concept. "Jonah Hex" might be as bad as many of the critic's reviews said it was.

Jonah Hex (Brolin) wanders the wild west as a bounty hunter of limitless skills and unearthly abilities lost as a world slowly changes around him. When his nemesis Turnbull (Malkovich) appears again, not dead as Hex assumed, he is hired by President Grant and the US government to find him and put an end to some sort of dastardly plan he has in store. With the help of his pseudo-girlfriend/prostitute friend Lilah (Fox) he goes on a quest to kill the man that took his family before he has a chance to restart the Civil War.

After thinking about this film for a while (way too long for this review I assure you), I've come to the conclusion that the main problem with "Jonah Hex" is that it has no idea what it wants to be. It want's mass appeal so it waters itself down and limits its darker elements but it still wants to be edgy so it retains some odd moments of violence and darker streaks. It want's to be funny and oddball so it throws in one liners, but it tries to retain a very serious underlying tone of why the Civil War was such an atrocity. It wants to be a comic book, but it never wants to be cartoonish.

Its these inconsistencies in its focus that really make it...well...boring. There is no urgency to its plot and no focus to its execution. It just simply clusters itself into incoherency. It never embraces any of its elements. It's written by the guys that did the "Crank" series and "Gamer" for goodness' sake! Embrace its over the top dark streaks and really go for broke! Don't doddle on this kiddie shit! Make it dark. Make it violent. Make it what it should have truly been.

Luckily, it does have some solid action pieces to spice it up occasionally and Brolin's performance is solid (although the rumored Tom Jane for the role might have been even better), but the rest of the characters are seriously under-developed and the plot seriously understated. The few solid things that this film could have had are undermined in these ways.

"Jonah Hex" is definitely one of the biggest disappointments of the year. With the rather slick story and comics it was based on, this film should have been cake to deliver. With its unfocused energy and rather bumbling executions though, its just one failed element right after another.

BONUS RANT: What the fuck is with 'the snake man' in the fighting pit? That scene was completely wasted and although they seemed to be building on Hex being through in to fight him, it fails to fulfill on its teases of more other-worldly hi-jinx. One more cool idea completely shit upon by the film's lack of focus. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Expendables, The (2010)

"Warning shot!" --Gunner

People have dreams. Some dream for money. Some dream for world peace. I, when I sleep at night, dream of less inspired things. I dream of watching Dolph Lundgren fight Jet Li. I dream of a room where Stallone, Arnie, and Willis talk about who's going to take a secret CIA operation to bring down a tyrannical leader who is building a drug cartel off an island. "The Expendables" is a dream come to life for this humble reviewer. Although not quite the perfect dream on screen as I would have hoped, its still more than a pleasure to watch the 80s action film reborn in this modern age.

Barney (oh yes, Stallone's character is named Barney) is the leader of an elite Mercenary squad of the world's largest bad-asses. When he is offered a job to take down a military leader on an island, he gathers his crew up (I'd list the awesome actors here but we'll get to that later) and they intend to go down and raise some royal Hell, take down a tyrant, and save the beautiful exotic woman in peril. It's everything basic and cherished in classic 80s action films rolled into one.

"The Expendables" is your basic action film, honestly. Although not to the farce extent that say "Shoot Em Up" was, this film more or less homages all of the classics straight down to its vaguely familiar story line and characters presented. As an action film, it gives us all that we need. A group of seriously manly men using large fists, larger guns, and the largest balls known to man to take down a tyrant in the name of honor, love, and freedom. What's more classic than that?

With more explosions and fist fights then Michael Bay can even shake a stick at, "The Expendables" even delivers on this front. Car chases, gun fights, explosions, and even an airplane attack make enough action to keep the dumber end of the audience delighted. The fights (with fists and knives) are particularly awesome with some stellar choreography (Cory Yuen even did Jet Li's fights) and great moments galore. If action is what you are looking for it's here.

I must also mention the amazing cast represented here. Although it would have been nice to see Snipes and Van Damme accounted for (they were offered but didn't take for various circumstances), the cast is absolutely stunning. As a combination of Action classic heroes and modern ones, the list is seriously one to make eyes glaze over in glee. Although some were not necessarily used to their full potential just having them all in the same film is enough to buy this film.

The film has a surprising amount of legit drama spliced into it. As it focuses in on our two main heroes (Stallone and Statham), it builds a little backing story to give more meaning to the action that it embraces. Although it never really gives us enough on the others, leaving only hints to their backing stories (here's to sequels to key us in!), its this drama that actually makes this film better than it should have been. There is even a very emotional monologue delivery from Mickey Rourke's cartoonish ex-mercenary character that highlight's this film.

As a fan of these classic Action films that I grew up with, "The Expendables" fulfills a need that hasn't necessarily been attended to in a long time in the US. Although Statham has been carrying the weight on his shoulders as of late, its nice to see it finally touched on with modern cinema. Although not quite a perfect film, it does what it intends and has a fine time doing so. A dream is fulfilled now. Guess I'm going to need a new one. Perhaps a franchise? 

 Written By Matt Reifschneider

Dead Space [Biohazard] - 1.5/5

In the coldness of space... even Hell freezes over - "Dead Space" Tagline

Why is that bad movies always have the best taglines? Look at it. Isn't it thing of beauty? Sadly "Dead Space" actually lives more up to its title as one really has to have 'dead space' between their ears to love this remake. What? Did I just type the word 'remake'? "Dead Space" is a remake? No way! Yes "Dead Space" (also released in Europe as "Biohazard") is a 1990 remake of the 1982 film "Forbidden World." Out of all the films you could think of that would warrant a remake, I guarantee "Forbidden World" was not one of the films thought of. The DVD box artwork claims this is a "loose remake." Loose? Bullshit! This film is so much like "Forbidden World" that they might as well ripped off the title page of the script to "Forbidden World" and replaced it with a title page that read "Dead Space." That's how close these two films are! Don't believe me? Watch them back-to-back and they are almost the exact same film, just this one is shittier. Since they are so much alike get ready for numerous comparisons to "that other film."

Like "Forbidden World", our "Alien" rip-off plot has a space mercenary (Marc Singer) and his robot sidekick respond to a distress call from a scientific research station. After blowing up some spaceships of some unknown enemy (utilizing stock footage from "Battle Beyond the Stars", just like "that other film"...hmmmm) he arrives and discovers that the team has had a biological creation bust loose and has started killing off the crew one by one and it's up to him to destroy it.

Since the plot is the same as "that other film", the filmmakers wisely decided to give this film a different look. "Forbidden World" had warm colors with lots of reds and oranges. "Dead Space " has the opposite with cool and sterile colors, meaning lots of whites, blacks and blues. I'll commend them there as at least they attempted to distance this picture from "that other film" in 'look' aspect. The scientists here also look and act more like real scientists whereas in "that other film" the scientists were goofballs or sluts. The best part of this remake though is Marc fucking Singer as he really seems like a space mercenary unlike that toad of a guy from "that other film."

Other than those aspects "Dead Space" fails miserably on all other accounts making this a worse picture than "that other film." First of all the directing is boring. Director Allan Holzman had a little more pizzazz and gave "Forbidden World" a cool 80's new wave look. Fred Gallo gives "Dead Space" a unflattering "direct-to-video" look. The special effects are much worse and less creative than its counterpart and our creature is reduced to a badly made stiff puppet by the end. Third is the sets and like the special effects, they are boring and cheap looking unlike the inspired sets of "that other film" (which were of course leftovers from "Galaxy of Terror." The score? What score? "That other film" had a cool retro 80's scoundtrack and I can't even remember the stock score for this picture. Though we get a topless scene, fans of the gratuitous nudity in "that other film" are going to be sorely disappointed.

After all that we have a lame, pointless remake of a trashy enjoyable classic. Marc Singer may be a better choice for a space mercenary but his presence isn't enough for this remake to rise to the occasion. I recommend skipping it unless you're a curious movie lover like me who wanted to see how Roger Corman could fuck up a remake of an older classic of his. Released on DVD in a double feature with "The Terror Within."

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Terror Within, The (1989) - 2/5

Not content on making two rip-offs of "Alien" in the early 80's with "Galaxy of Terror" and "Forbidden World" with his company New World Pictures, Roger Corman set out to make a third "Alien" rip-off in 1989 with the likes of "The Terror Within" under his new company banner Concorde Pictures. The result was, let's say, not nearly as successful or fun as his earlier trash classics.

In a post-apocalyptic future, a handful of scientists are held up in an underground bunker. When their food supply begins to run out, they are forced onto the surface to look for food and end up coming into contact with creatures they call "gargoyles." Happening onto a women survivor, they foolishly bring her back to the bunker only to find out she is pregnant with a monster. During an abortion process, the beast breaks out and grows at an incredible rate to stalk and kill our scientists. Sound familiar?

The filmmakers changed the setting from space to and underground bunker but audiences aren't that dumb to see that this is a complete "Alien" rip-off from start to finish, no matter what the setting is. Creature that rapes human beings to impregnate them: check. Monster chases through air ducts: check. Strong female lead: check. Monster that's harder than hell to kill: check. Token black mechanic: check. I could go on and on but you've seen these rip-offs a hundred times before already.

The budget is mega low and the film shows it with poor sets, bad lighting and a rubbery looking guy-in-a-suit monster. The monster design isn't terrible (the head is quite good) but director Thierry Notz decides to show the creature too much and in too bright of lighting which accentuates how fake the suit is. Hell even the amazing alien design in "Alien" would look fake in this lighting but that film was made by talented professions who know how to light the monster to make it look amazing unlike these hack second rate filmmakers. The origin of these monsters is also never explained. Are they a mutation due to humans being exposed to the disease that whipped out ninety percent of the population? Are they a natural evolution of man due to the harsher environment they have to live in? A little light on the subject could help!

The saving grace to this picture is actor Andrew Stevens who is a likable actor even in drek like "The Terror Within." He must of liked doing this film enough as he would end up directing the sequel "The Terror Within II" without the financial support of Roger Corman (That sequel is hard to get your hands on but I doubt I will try terribly hard to see it). George Kennedy is the biggest joke here. By this time in his career he was doing bad films only for money and it shows as he gives a dismal performance and even an academy award winner like him can't make some of the bad dialogue stomachable. (worst line: "Gargoyles, schmargoyles!")

"The Terror Within" is an uninspired ultra cheap rip-off that doesn't even have the decency to overly entertain with its shear badness like it's older counterparts "Forbidden World" and "Galaxy of Terror". There are lots more "Alien" rip-offs out there that are a lot more joyful to watch and I suggest hunting down those films first. Also released on DVD in a double feature with "Dead Space."

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vengeance (2009) - 4/5

"What does revenge mean, when you have forgotten everything?"

After waiting for what feels like an eternity for the latest slab of gritty crime drama from one of my favorite director's Johnnie To, "Vengeance" finally hit the US. It was worth the wait. Its low key energy and subtle humanity spliced into its dark atmosphere make for a fascinating watch. Although not necessarily the most unique kind of film (how many revenge flicks are there in the cult film world?), the execution is stellar and the heart of the film lies there.

Costello (Hallyday) finds himself in Macao, China after his daughter and her family find themselves at the business end of a professional hit squad. She barely survives, but Costello promises her vengeance. On the trail of the big boss who ordered the hit, he comes across a three person hitman squad whom he hires to help him out. Now these four men journey into the dark depths to find out just to what lengths they would lose and gain a soul to finish the revenge promised.

Despite its rather basic premise, "Vengeance" really strikes all the right moments when it needs to and builds on an atmosphere not usual for this sort of film. Johnnie To really packs a punch with his gritty visual realism (very similar to another one of his films "PTU") that brings the film to a grounded plane of reality. The subtlety of its performances on screen, particularly from Hallyday and his three cohorts, really matches the visual intensity of the film. The humanity that is touched on dealing with the complexities of revenge are quite impressive and insightful and it balances some of the more intense gun fights.

There are moments where I can foresee some criticism on there film including its stylized gun violence. The bullet wounds blast out a powder like spray rather than liquid and it does add an almost artful look to the film but pulls away from its sense of reality. The film also has a little odd twist dealing with Costello's memory lapses which somewhat comes out of left field. That definitely could have been fleshed out more although its subtlety inserted into the film.

With its great atmosphere, gritty and realistic visual style, and subtle character builds "Vengeance" strikes a brilliant balance between its moments of artistic violence and its heavy drama. It does have some off beat moments that veer off its path here and there, but overall its another pretty awesome success from camp To. Definitely worth checking out though and one of the better revenge tales I've had the pleasure seeing.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, November 22, 2010

Death Merchants, The (1973) - 2/5

Since this film was packaged on the same disc of the dull espionage blah-fest "Embassy" I went into "The Death Merchants" with a similar mindset that this was going to be, oh let's be kind, a well below average picture. It was a better film than "Embassy" but not enough to warrant any extra stars in my rating. It's still dull, it's still overly talky, and most of all the plot can be a bitch to follow.

"The Death Merchants" is obviously not the original title for this forgotten espionage want-to-be thriller as the font for the title is completely different from the rest of the credits showing it was changed at a later date. The film is actually a 1973 West German film that got released in the United States in 1976 as "The Spy Who Never Was" then changed to "The Death Merchants" in many areas. The original title actually fits the film perfectly but leave it to big-headed distributors to change it to something as misleading as "The Death Merchants" in order to garner more tickets by fooling into the public this was going to be a violent action orientated film.

The plot follows Doctor Hersfeld (Hardy Krüger), an everyday German citizen who unwittingly reads a message at an airport that was originally intended for a double agent. Now he is on the run from middle eastern terrorists who believe him to be the agent. In order to clear his name from the identity mistake, he eventually finds help from an intelligence agent (Jason Robards) and finds time to fall in love with one of the terrorists tailing him.

This plot is not easy to follow and American distributors must have thought the same as they hastily added in a jarring, poorly written narrative into the beginning of the film to help the audience understand what the hell is going on. Though the narration is poor, it still helped me figure out the plot otherwise I would have been completely lost. The part that gets me about this film is that this doctor doesn't seem too worried about being misidentified as a double agent. He just walks around like an arrogant ass like he has it all figured out. He seems unwilling to take help from the intelligence agent and he even treats the terrorist he has fallen for like a dog, slapping her around from time to time. Hell this asshole deserves this headache he gets. I personally found the ending very suiting for this jackass.

The film is shot rather well and it showcases wonderful Europe and Middle Eastern locations. The acting also isn't bad with class act Jason Robards being the one actor that shines the most, even if his role is rather thankless.

Overall this is a rather drab espionage picture with an overly complex plot that is remarkable dull through most of the picture and some good directing sadly can't get it past the plot obstacles. Like "Embassy", "The Death Merchants" is another espionage thriller from the 70's that will remain forgotten and I doubt anyone will miss it.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dagon - 4/5

Stuart Gordon may not be the world's most diverse director nor the world's busiest, but I'll be damned if the output he has going on isn't some of my favorite stuff. That's why "Dagon" happens to be on my list of 'massively underrated awesome Horror films'. Although it's budget constraints do hinder it at times, "Dagon" slaps on some serious atmosphere to garner some great Horror moments and balances it with enough dark humor to give it that Gordon style. If you are a fan of low budget success or just a fan of Gordon, than this is definitely worth the gander.

Paul (Godden) and Barbara (Merono) finally have gotten away from the business world upon a friend's ship for a nice vacation off the coast of Spain. When a freak storm crashes their boat on some rocks, Paul and Barbara rush to a nearby village called Imboca to retrieve some help. What they find in this cursed village is worse than the storm raining down on them. The people of the village seem to be transforming into creatures of the sea and its source seems to be a mythical creature of the sea that they have come to worship named Dagon. When Paul and Barbara become separated, its up to Paul to seek out his other half to save her and get out of this God forsaken village.

The surprising quality of this low budget (often shown on SyFy) flick, is perhaps its strongest quality. With some solid acting from the surprisingly empathetic Godden, whose oddly humorous but frantic style is reminiscent of previous Gordon regular Jeffrey Combs, and the well crafted atmosphere that utilizes its nightmarish settings to full effect, "Dagon" uses its strengths in all the proper ways. The dark humor is still undertones to the horrific tension it focuses on but it brings forth the Gordon factor that many have come to love (like myself).

These strengths mostly overcome its faults in the end and make for a more than enjoyable 'monster flick'. Although its occasionally poor CGI use does make for some cringing times, including the one glimpse we get to see of the mighty Dagon as it leaps from a water pool towards the finale, the regular special effects also make up for it. If there was one major complaint for this film it would have to be its ending. Although it stays fairly true to its source material (including a line pulled directly from the H.P. Lovecraft tale), the film never really properly explains the final character arc for it to work as it should have and makes for a somewhat disappointing ending.

Despite a few flaws here and there, "Dagon" still rocks the boat nicely (pun intended) and it comes off as a highly underrated little horror film that not many people have seen. Gordon updates the material wonderfully and it makes for an enjoyable watch. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Embassy (1972) - 2/5

An espionage action film starring "Shaft" and "The Exorcist" would be one helluva thrill ride, wouldn't you think? Richard Roundtree, hot right after his smash hit "Shaft" would follow-up his hit with another amazing film, wouldn't he? That would make too much sense! "Embassy" was the baby of actor/producer Mel Ferrer and it proved to be a costly independently produced bomb well deserving of fading into obscurity.

Max von Sydow plays a Russian defector who seeks refuge at an American Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon headed by Ray Milland and Richard Roundtree. He promises valuable information about the Russians so they agree to grant him asylum. Chuck Conners is a Russian spy who works his way into the Embassy to kill the defector and Roundtree has to figure out how to get him out of the Embassy and to the United States before he is killed.

Sounds like it should be an action-packed espionage thriller right? No instead we get a long talky, bore-fest with some unintentional laugh educing sequences mostly surrounding the Embassy's security system, or lack thereof. This Embassy has to have the worst security program ever to be in a United States government building! First of all Max von Sydow is able to get into the Embassy and then into Richard Roundtree's office while packing a gun! Later he gets drunk (why did they let a defector bring in Vodka anyway?) and ends up stealing the gun of the head of security who foolishly left it on a table. Later assassin Chuck Conners is able to enter the Embassy with a GUN and manages to kill a worker and wound Sydow before being subdued by Roundtree. Wait, there's more! He later knocks out a security guard, takes his gun and escapes but is later captured. He escapes AGAIN by acting sick and tears through the Embassy to find Sydow. This is getting fucking ridiculous! How many times can the security get breached? Pathetic!

Almost the entire picture takes place within the Embassy building and director Gordon Hessler allows the blah backdrop of the film to affect his shooting style as it is completely lifeless. Gordon directed a number of Vincent Price horror films for American International Pictures and his products for that company are Price's worst films under the AIP logo. This guy's track record should have proved to producer Mel Ferrer that he didn't have the skills to command a film with such a powerful cast.

Look at this cast as it's absolutely amazing yet the script and our director doesn't use them to the film's advantage. Roundtree basically plays himself, likable and tough but the character was hardly a stretch for him. The late great Ray Milland sadly is wasted has the chief of the Embassy. Sydow really is the only thing great about this film as his portrayal as the Russian defector is wonderful and he even delivers a believable Russian accent, something Chuck Connors' assassin sorely lacked.

Despite its strong cast, "Embassy" fails miserably at being a taunt espionage thriller and instead of getting the audience on the edge of their seats, it bores them to sleep. I would have feel asleep it weren't' for the ridiculous nature of the Embassy's security system that constantly got me saying "What the Hell!" I decided to be generous and give the film a two star rating just for Sydow's strong performance as the defector. "Embassy" just lacks the essential ingredients to make espionage thriller (notably ACTION) and remains a forgotten film that deserves to stay that way.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Return Of The Tiger - 2/5

It's been a while since I've viewed and reviewed a Bruceploitation film and what a better way to jump back into this wonderful subgenre than to watch "Return of the Tiger", Bruce Li's sequel to my personal favorite Bruceploitation 'classic' "Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger." Is it a true sequel? Well not really as Li plays a different character but it was advertised as a follow-up to that shameless martial arts magnum opus and most likely took its title by combining "Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger" and the Bruce Lee classic "Return of the Dragon." Despite not being a 'true' sequel, it was great to see 'Tiger' return in another enjoyable Buceploitation fest.

Rather than playing Bruce Lee's successor as he did in "Exit", this time he plays a secret agent that goes undercover with his female partner to take down two heroin drug rings by pulling a "Yojimbo" and playing each side against each other. Lots of and lots of mindless fight sequences ensue.

Bruce Li, my personal favorite of the Lee clones, is likable as ever but the unforeseen addition of brutish actor Paul Smith very well might be the best part. This 'Bud Spencer' of the rest of world cinema is mostly known for playing a sadistic prison guard in "Midnight Express" and Bluto in Robin Williams' "Popeye" and his appearance in a Bruceploitation film is enough to make anyone scratch their head. However he landed in this film I'm sure glad he did because he is a menacing looking bastard and surprisingly he able to hold his own in fight sequences with our clone.

Like "Exit the Dragon", I love the 'modern' urban 70's setting as opposed to a period setting and the filmmakers again utilize great locations for their fights such as abandoned factories. There was even an awkward fight sequence which included goons on motorcycles corralling in Li in a junkyard.

Typical with Bruceploitation films, some of the fight sequences go on for far too long, even fights that Li is absent and don't even add anything to the plot, then again what am I talking about? No one watches Bruceploitation films for plot! It's for fighting and trashy entertainment and "Return of the Tiger" delivers on that aspect. Our fighters even defy the laws of physics in very awkward moments, like jumping off invisible objects in thin air and doing fly kicks the length of a basketball court.

What's the worst aspect of this movie? No not the dubbing, though it is dreadful. No not the character development even though we get no back-story what-so-ever for our two secret agents, especially the women. No not the music which is actually good, no doubt because some of it is STOLEN from the James Bond movie "Live and Let Die" (what is with Bruceploitation films stealing James Bond scores?). Is it the DVD? You guessed it! Another bad transfer, surprise, surprise. The DVD I have is from Trinity Entertainment and like their release of "Exit the Dragon", they completely botched the picture ratio. When in full screen mode it's squished and in 16x9 mode everything is stretched. GOD DAMNIT! It was extremely annoying to watch the film this way and I had to beg my friend Bill to fix the picture ratio like he did for me for "Exit the Dragon."

Picture ratio problems aside I found this to be another entertaining trashy Bruceploitation film and it was refreshing to see Li play a role that wasn't Bruce Lee or his successor. I didn't quite like it as much as "Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger" but for fans of these trashy martial arts films "Return of the Tiger" is a must watch.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Oldboy - 5/5

There are certain films made to entertain. There are films made to tell a story with fantastic characters. There are films that have underlying life meanings meant to change your outlook on how you view the world. There are very few movies that do all three. "Oldboy" not only does all three, but it makes it look like second nature as it easily balances them never loses its footing and always remaining sleek.

Dae-Su (Min-sik Choi) took his life, his wife, and daughter for granted. Someone else knew it too. Someone with a chip on their shoulder against Dae-Su. One day Dae-Su finds himself imprisoned in some sort of hotel room. That one day quickly turns to 15 years and while his sanity is pushed to the edge, the person keeping him won't let him out or kill himself. Then out of the blue, he is released back into a world that has moved on without him. He is consumed with vengeance to the person that is done this to him. Given a few clues and spurred on by a mystery that reaches further than he could imagine, Dae-Su has to find a life worthy of his vengeance.

There are a few directors out in this world that I will stand behind pretty much no matter what. Park Chan Wook is one of them. His amazing ability to blend style and substance into his films is something that everyone should admire and appreciate. "Oldboy" is a prime example of this. Although the tale itself is a fascinating journey inside the human mind and the bare emotions that run with it as we watch this one man have to essentially rediscover life itself, its the execution onscreen that really makes this film a wonder to watch. Between the stunningly awesome acting of our lead Choi and his entire supporting cast (including a well paced and delivered neo-noir voice over narration) and Park Chan Wook's amazingly timed shots, editing, and knack for showing us instead of telling us style of modern Hitchcock-ian presence, "Oldboy" delivers onscreen easily. It's paced damn near perfectly and it builds so tensely that by the time the final reveal is made (the twist end is definitely a shocker) it has stripped its audience of their own inhibitions and leaves them feeling vulnerable. It's this kind of experience that so many films don't even dare try to accomplish anymore.

From its initial oddly edited and darkly humorous drunken brawl at a police station to its tiring side scrolling never edited hammer/gang hallway fight sequence to its final twist that will have you cringing in awkwardness, "Oldboy" is a smash film from the first second on. Unafraid to take some very strange turns and chances with its plot, including an odd ant sequence that makes your skin twitch, this film just deserves as much praise as I can possibly give it. Ballsy, dark, funny, and completely unapologetic, "Oldboy" is some of the best that modern cinema has yet to create. An instant classic.

If there is one foreign film out there (or any film for that matter) that you need to see next, its "Oldboy". 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Evil, The (1978) - 3/5

Now this is a haunted house picture! Films like "The Haunting" (the original of course), "The Legend of Hell House", "Poltergeist", "The Changeling" and "The Amityville Horror" (original again) are among the most popular and are all fine films of the "haunted house" subgenre (well not so much "Amityville Horror") but beyond those "The Evil" is the one of the best of the Haunted House films that were released under-the-radar. Even the simplistic title fits this picture as this house is plain and simple evil incarnate.

Psychologist Richard Crenna and his doctor wife decide to purchase a huge abandoned mansion. To get the house prepared they invite a handful of friends. It doesn't take long for the shit to hit the fan as a dog allowed in the house starts going ape-shit barking at a sealed door in the basement floor. Crenna, being the curious house owner, removes an iron Christian cross holding the door shut (Note to self: If a room in the basement is sealed with a cross, there's a damn good reason it's there SO DON"T OPEN IT!) releasing an ancient evil which traps all the inhabitants of the house and playfully kills them one by one. Crenna is a man of science and can't believe a supernatural force has taken over but his wife sure believes and she has to beat the clock using an old diary of the man who built the house in order to destroy the evil once and for-all.

Director Gus Trikonis is able to generate some great atmosphere in the house beginning with the opening credits that are amazingly similar to "The Amityville Horror" which didn't even hit theaters until the next year. Trikonis also is able to craft some eerie and inventive death sequences. My personal favorite is a character running, stops to look up a dark stairway and start screaming. Another character comes bursting into the room and from a distance sees the women dragged up the stairway into the ill-lighted story above. It's an eerie scene made even more uncanny as we never know her outcome, but it is very obvious that she came to a horrible demise. Apparently in the original script it was supposed to be a little demonic creature that drags her up but due to budget restraints the monster was never filmed and the scene is more creepy with out it. This just proves that some of the best deaths are left to our morbid imaginations. This doesn't mean there isn't some violent deaths on camera as there is a burning, an electrocution and even a circular saw through the hand but for the most part this is a rather bloodless film. Sorry gore hounds! "The Evil" is some-what old fashioned in this sense as Trikonis goes for the "less is more" approach to the killings and blood, a concept that works.

He does, however to the films detriment, decide to show the transparent ghost of the former owner which just comes across as a little hokey. The cheese factor of this special effect could have easily been done away with. This however is not the biggest sin the film commits. That comes towards the end when Crenna and his wife come face-to-face with "the evil" that occupies the secret compartment in the cellar. This claptrap plot addition almost derailed this train into oblivion, causing the house to almost collapse on its own foundation. Showing what "the evil" was, without giving it away, was completely idiotic and would have been laugh educing if I didn't like the rest of the film so much. To be honest, that sequence royally pissed me off and almost ruined the entire picture for me. Apparently I wasn't the only person this "revealing sequence" pissed off as the distributors of the film (Roger Corman's New World Pictures) actually had the sequence removed from many of the prints due to audiences unintentionally laughing at its silliness. To be honest I don't remember this sequence when I originally rented it on VHS many years ago. It very well might have been there but I must have been so traumatized that the filmmakers would stoop to that drivel that I put it out of my mind. This asinine sequence is restored on the wonderful DVD release from Shout! Factory.

"The Evil" is a good haunted house thriller with a solid cast, a tense atmosphere and some eerie deaths. I would have easily given the film three and a half stars but thanks to the botched revealing on what "the evil" was I had to deduct the film a half a star. If you're a horror film fan, especially of 70's material, then "The Evil" is well worth a purchase. Shout! Factor was nice enough to release this lost gem on DVD in a double feature with "Twice Evil", a not so hot haunted house flick.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Matrix Revolutions, The - 2.5/5

As with "Reloaded", the final part of the rather epic "Matrix" trilogy is still a flawed piece of work despite some very nice attempts at making it the ending that everyone desired. Although still full of great visual work and some very intense action sequences, "Revolutions" just doesn't cut the cloth even as well as its first part did. Coming off as less intense and less smart and too focused on wrapping things up, which it doesn't do as neatly as hoped. It's still a fun watch and partnered with "Reloaded" it sits better than on its own.

Neo (Reeves) is now on a crash course with destiny. The machines are making their final legs towards Zion to kill all of the rebellious humans and even his believers seemed shaken in their faith that he can bring peace. So Neo makes a plan to save Zion by making a deal with the machines against a common enemy, Smith (Weaving) who has become a rampant virus in the Matrix and is knocking at the door for the machines in the real world. Now Neo has to face his arch nemesis one last time, before the machines utterly annihilate Zion and all of free humanity.

Once again, the biggest issue with "Revolutions" as a film comes from its lack of 'feeling whole'. As the second part of the 2-part film that started with "Reloaded" it tends to lack much of a story and focus mostly on the climax of the film and wrapping it up. Which hurts its overall story telling abilities and makes it feel rather lack luster. It starts off on a kicker and never really lets up and just sort of quickly ends loose endings to get it done. Some of these loose ends seem a little vague (like how exactly is Smith destroyed? I could venture a guess having to do with anti-virus software development but really I don't know shit about that) and too much time is spent on the epic-ness of the action and not enough on finishing off those character arcs.

Which brings up the action sequences. Although still good, they just can't top the sweet ass material we saw in "Reloaded". Yeah the "Mech Warrior" inspired defense of Zion is cool, but it really does look like a video game most of the time and of course the final throw down between Smith and Neo is shot in impressive manners, but it just doesn't quite utilize the choreography like it could have. Nothing quite lives up to what the franchise has established for "Revolutions" and it makes it sort of a let down.

The film also seemingly loses a lot of its smart philosophical tripe. Although it does have it in some of its plot developments and details (like Neo being blinded for example), it never really develops some of the philosophical work that was smashed into viewers from the previous film. It occasionally does tap a few here and there, but rarely does it fulfill the need for those moments that "Reloaded" prepared us for. One more thing that just doesn't make the cut.

The execution is still there, the Wachowski brothers are still ripe with visual work and their writing is still solid and the acting portion is as good as it can get with Reeves in the lead role. (Side note: Seriously, you would think that he would get better with time and experience but this last one might be his worst yet for the franchise.) But the film just fails to get the ending feeling that it needed. It leaves you a little longing in the end for more and it never answers some of the necessary questions.

As a second half to a really long film, it works better than it does on its own but it still doesn't quite live up to what it should have been. "Revolutions" gets the job done with a little flair, but it should have been the topping on a science fiction mountain cake. It just isn't.

Written By Matt Reifschneider