Redneck Zombies (1987)

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I really thought this was going to suck, after the newly-filmed opening. Lloyd Kaufman, Troma head honcho, does the “hilariously” named Kaufman’s Kultural Korner (KKK ohmygodmysides) and interviews director Pericles Lewnes. As far as I’m aware, Troma had nothing to do with the production of the movie at all, only picking it up for distribution after the fact – one can admire Troma’s dedication to independent cinema, while finding their business model a little…sleazy? Plus, several honourable examples aside (brand new “The Slashening”, for one, which is amazing) their quality control can be non-existent, as I’ll never be able to truly love the company that tried to fob “Surf Nazis Must Die” or “Rabid Grannies” on their own fans.

 

But wow, was I ever wrong about my initial guess on the quality of this. One of the earliest shot-on-video movies, while it’s very obviously not the highest-budget movie of all time, it’s inventive and funny and has a cast of almost complete non-actors who, rather than looking bored or nervous like so many other low/no budget epics, commit to their roles with great gusto. Plus, it’s got a title that’s fun, and delivers on its promise!

Argh he sucks

Argh he sucks

Saying that, the beginning is confusing. We get an info dump about a missing barrel of something so toxic it could kill everyone on earth, but then a bit later the barrel is seen being driven around by an army guy. Anyway. For some reason (perhaps the most used phrase in movie reviewing history), the army guy is driving down dirt tracks in redneck country, in a jeep, with this super-toxic barrel just sort of casually placed in the back. When it falls off the back of the jeep, it eventually finds its way into the hands of a group of rednecks, who decide to use the barrel as the heart of their moonshine still. They can’t read, obviously, so the warnings painted on the barrel mean nothing to them.

 

The rednecks aren’t your average bunch, as since they got satellite TV all the “boys” have got odd ideas. In fact, one of them now wishes to be known as Ellie Mae, which annoys the Dad but is completely fine to the numerous customers the family has for their moonshine. Isn’t it sweet, with understanding, welcoming rednecks? But I’m getting ahead of myself a little. The new moonshine turns everyone who drinks it into a zombie, and Ellie Mae delivers it to a lot of local families (including, memorably, a couple of cannibalistic serial killers, who have a living soon-to-be victim tied up in their lounge). The army guy finally gets back to base and is told to go back out and find the barrel: he takes a bored lunatic and the campest stereotype I’ve ever seen. In the era before even “don’t ask, don’t tell”, this is a bold directorial choice. And rounding out the cast is a group of hikers.

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Well, I think they’re hikers. IMDB lists them as sophisticated city slickers, but some of them are definitely students…they have someone with them who’s either a guide or used to live in this area (again, unclear) so off into the wilderness they go. Thanks to this group, we get some quite clever video effects – first, when the “guide” lights a joint which is so potent it knocks everyone out (accompanied by every multi-colour video effect the director could manage), and second when they’re trapped in a shack with a corpse, and one of the group decides then would be a good time to drop some acid. His five minute, definitely improvised, bit where he pulls entrails out and his acid-fried mind imagines the handfuls of guts to be shoes, cans of beer, and so on, is exhibit A in “why you shouldn’t let some guy who says he’s hilarious have free rein to prove it on camera without checking first”. Or “film enough, so if one of your bits is terrible, you can cut it”.

 

Lewnes really goes out of his way to offend and disgust, and does it with some style. One of the moonshine customers is watching what I suppose you’d describe as porn, but super-weird; and the serial killers are watching footage of animal cruelty to really get them in the mood. Plus, there’s a zombie baby! It takes a while to get going (no zombies til about 40 minutes in) but when it gets going it just doesn’t stop. Entrails everywhere, blood and gore soaking everyone and everything…it shows they made every penny of the apparent $10,000 budget go a long way. The zombie makeup is wonderfully bad, on purpose apparently, and shows Lewnes probably deserved better than going on to be special effects supervisor on a bunch of Troma’s in-house productions.

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Of course, there are a lot of bits where you’re scratching your head in puzzlement, which is probably why it’s not that fondly remembered, even by some Troma fans. The hikers seem intent on burying their friends, implying they’re a long way from civilization. But, you know, they only set out that morning! And the rednecks are able to drive into town fairly easily, so if I saw the bottom half of one of my friends in the woods, I’d probably run like hell to the nearest road and get some help. And if we’re talking things that put you off, the camper who takes the acid is so far over the top that it’s almost impossible to like him. And there’s the way the gay soldier runs into the middle of the redneck zombie horde, without realising their zombies, saying “you ever seen Deliverance?”, the implication being he wants them all to rape him. Oh dear.

 

So, you have to take the rough with the smooth. But it’s so wild, and tries so hard, that I think you’ll enjoy it. Or perhaps I’m so far down the rabbit hole of crap that I can’t see daylight any more. Either way, check it out!

 

Rating: thumbs up

Terror Vision (1986)

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This particular review series has been dormant for so long that I forgot about it when I was writing about our long-dormant review series the other day! But, much like my dog keeps going back to the spot he found a cheese sandwich once, so the ISCFC will keep going back to Charles Band and Full Moon (although this was produced under his “Empire Pictures” name, when they were getting major studio distribution).

 

This is very much Charles Band and his crew – in this case, his dad Albert as producer, brother Richard as composer, and regular director Ted Nicolaou – in their classic mode.  What is “classic” Full Moon, I hear you ask? Well, there are a couple of criteria that need to be matched.

 

  • Strong cast, top to bottom (kids don’t count)
  • Monster of some sort, created using practical effects
  • Very light tone, a whisker away from being a full-blown comedy
  • Great use of sets for what I presume is a limited budget
  • The poster was designed first, the movie later

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When you think of 80s B-movies, chances are at least some of what you think about will be Full Moon-related. And you can watch em all for a low monthly price these days! Go to www.fullmoonstreaming.com and knock yourself out. But never mind that, on with the review!

 

The Putterman family are just your average, wholesome, good old fashioned American family. Mum and Dad (Mary Woronov and Gerrit Graham, B-movie royalty) are swingers and have decorated their home in spectacularly hideous 80s pornographic “art” fashion, complete with gaudy lighting, a massive indoor Jacuzzi, and so on. Daughter Suzy (Diane Franklin, “Better Off Dead”) is a punk with a boyfriend called OD (Jon Gries, super “That Guy” actor). Grandpa (Bert Remsen) is a survivalist who’s built a bomb shelter underneath the house, and happily watches gory horror movies with his grandson. You know, like all families!

 

Dad installs a satellite dish in the back yard – perhaps the fakest looking “outside” set ever – to get tons of bootleg TV, but it has an unfortunate extra bonus. On the far side of the galaxy is an alien race who’s figured out an easy way to get rid of their rubbish, and it’s to turn it into energy and just fire it out into the universe. Two problems manifest themselves, and the first is that a garbage monster was accidentally beamed away with the rest of it. Second, of course, is that a slight miscalculation leads the energy beam to find the Putterman’s satellite dish, and materialise in their back yard (it has the power to beam itself in and out of TVs, because of course it does).

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The Grampa and grandson see the alien first  – well, the satellite repair guy really sees it first, but he gets eaten immediately afterwards – and then it’s sort of a cat-and-mouse game, with time spent trying to convince the rest of the cast that the alien is real, including a Medusa-dressed local midnight movie TV host, and the swinging couple that the parents bring back. OD even briefly pacifies the alien, a nice touch. The alien garbage man who made the mistake even beams himself to Earth to try and help the humans, and his story arc is hilarious.

 

So, there’s lots of fun little touches in this movie (including the information that the director and production designer did a tour of swingers’ homes to get some visual ideas. I wish I could have seen those photos) and the central performances from Graham, Woronov and Gries are all hilarious. Band and co know how to make a tight, light monster movie, and if I’d seen this at the time I’d have loved it even more. But…there’s that problem again, where Full Moon seem unable to fill the middle part of their movies with anything particularly exciting. The swingers were given an enormous amount of screen time, considering their fate and how central they were to the plot, and it felt like Grampa chased that damn alien round the house for about three hours. The beginning – fantastic; the ending – stupid and very good fun; that middle bit – *shrug*.

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Still, if you see Charles Band’s name attached to anything before about 1997, you can watch it, safe in the knowledge you’ll get some good cheap gory fun.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Fist Of The North Star (1995)

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Another to check off the “I should have watched it when it first came out” list. Regular ISCFC readers will know Gary Daniels’ name – as well as being the goon in a ton of low-budget martial arts movies starring people like Jackie Chan and Don “The Dragon” Wilson, starting with 1994’s “Deadly Target” and ending around 2001’s “Queen’s Messenger” he had an extremely busy time of it as a leading man. He’s a very good martial artist, and not the world’s worst actor, so if you’re a lover of B-movies and see his face on the cover of something, there’s a baseline of entertainment there. He’s still working, too (he was in the first “Expendables” movie) but more as second or third banana these days.

“Fist Of The North Star” is based on an anime, which I know basically nothing about, so if I get any details wrong or make any assumptions about the source text which are way off the mark, please excuse me. But that’s not important because THIS MOVIE IS BADASS! It’s got a classic martial arts movie plot, with a really well-done post apocalyptic visual style, and it starts with the battle between two rival schools. Well, I think they’re schools, it’s honestly never clear. The North Star and Southern Cross represent some sort of balance, and “the ancient teachings” (seriously, you ancient teachers, leave more behind than just vague aphorisms) say how they should never fight each other, or something. Who cares?

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Anyway, one day the Southern Cross finds itself with Lord Shin (Costas Mandylor, sporting a sweet mullet) in charge, and he’s not into balance. So, he murders Ryuken, the boss of the North Star (Malcolm MacDowell, in the middle of his “I will appear in literally anything” phase) and takes over the city, at the same time (it’s hinted) causing some sort of environmental disaster. It’s all about the balance!

So, all there is outside the city is endless desert-wilderness, with the occasional small settlement, and one of these is X (I’m sure it had a name, but I didn’t write it down), with such acting luminaries as Downtown Julie Brown and Melvin Van Peebles (!) among its residents. They “farm” water, try and avoid the acid rain, and generally live the sort of mud-and-rust existence you’ll be familiar with from a hundred other post-apocalyptic b-movies.

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Southern Cross decides, pretty much on a whim, to invade the little town, and Shin sends his top goons, including Jackal (Chris Penn, with a horrible mesh headpiece to hold his skull together), Stalin (Clint “Gentle Ben” Howard) and Goliath (pro wrestler Vader) to kill or enslave them all and steal all their water; a task they take to with great relish. At the same time, out of the wilderness comes Kenshiro (Daniels), Ryuken’s son and now-inheritor of the North Star…clan? School? Mystical power ring? Perhaps the film told us and I wasn’t listening, I apologise. He wants revenge, although when we first meet him he doesn’t seem motivated by anything in particular.

The plot has very few surprises if you’ve spent any time in the deep end of the straight to video pool, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad because it still takes skill to tell a standard story with a bit of excitement – see, every Albert Pyun movie for how to get it wrong. Anyway, Kenshiro, after a bit of encouragement from a few plucky children, helps out the small town, first by beating the crap out of the invading goons (with some truly spectacular set-pieces where people get broken in all manner of interesting ways) and then by heading off to Southern Cross to get his revenge for the death of his father. There’s a love triangle element to it, but it doesn’t really make much of a difference to anything, apart from to get our hero up off the floor at the crucial moment of the final battle, so we can safely skate over that.

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The cast definitely realise what sort of movie they’re in and have a good time. Penn delivers a line as dumb as “it ain’t easy being sleazy” remarkably well, and while it’s not much of a stretch for Gentle Ben to play a weird-looking psycho, he gives it his all. Daniels is a bit more serious than everyone else, but kudos to him for keeping a straight face when Shin takes his cloak off to reveal perhaps the ugliest outfit in the history of cinema – like the top section of leather dungarees. It’s fun!

Now, a very rare section of an ISCFC review – praising the technical aspects of a dirt-cheap post-apocalyptic kung-fu movie. The cinematography hides the low budget well (the shanty town looks like a real shanty town, for one), and some of the sets at the end of the film look surprisingly good. The art Shin has chosen to decorate his throne room is a mix of Russian and Chinese state propaganda styles, which is a nice touch they didn’t need to do. But it’s also the way it’s shot and edited. Two last examples – there are two very different fights going on at the same time at the end, and the mirroring of them is just superb, as a move from one fight is subtly altered and replayed in the other fight. Great stuff.

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But there’s one touch which is just cleverness on a level these movies very rarely achieve. Kenshiro and Shin, in the final fight, both have their supernatural “finishing moves”. Shin uses his on Kenshiro, which seems to cause blood vessels in his arms to explode and nearly finishes him off. But Kenshiro is made of stronger stuff, of course, gets up and continues to fight…but doesn’t use his arms. So many movies treat injuries to their leading man as a mild inconvenience, so when someone bothers paying attention it really stands out.

This movie has had a rough time of it, critically. Looking at IMDB, a lot of negative reviews are from people who are familiar with the anime – I’ve never seen it – or just seemingly annoyed at watching a good old martial arts film. And that’s what it is, at its heart, with a fantastic martial artist sort-of acting his way through a good, fast-paced, fun movie. It’s unlikely to make you rethink your life, but you’ll have a damn good time watching it.

Rating: thumbs up

PS-  I’m glad the era of Western anime nerddom seems to be over, because most of it was a right load of old rubbish. Have you ever seen “Legend of the Overfiend”? Like asking an 18 year old to just list the most shocking and offensive things he could think of, for 90 minutes – anyway, a story for another time.

Lake Placid vs. Anaconda (2015)

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The great Satan that is “Sharknado” has sort of spoiled B-movies. For ages there, it was a fun little world, full of stupid monsters and movies that at least pretended to take themselves seriously, with former stars rubbing shoulders with people from sci-fi TV shows. Now, of course, everyone has to be in on the joke and the threat must be hybridised – there’s a staggering amount of “Mega X vs. Giant Y” movies either released or in the pipeline.

 

A couple of years ago, I’d have at least tried to cover them all, but there’s no point, as they sort of defy analysis. They’re not made to be good, they’re made to get people on Twitter mocking them, to provide a few cheap “look at this garbage” laughs and make a few dollars. The theory of indifference, as I christened it a while back.

 

The reason I picked this one to cover is due to its sequel status to “Lake Placid: The Final Chapter”, which we reviewed a while back. Ah, “final chapter”, when are you not a lie? Apologies if I get one of the names wrong, but Black Lake is where all the bad stuff happened in that movie, and the action in this one moves to Clear Lake, a distance down the road. Returning are Yancy Butler as Reba, now the Sheriff of Clear Lake; and Robert Englund as poacher Bickerman, who keeps getting bits bitten off himself but carries on.

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Before we get cracking with the trademark ISCFC half-remembered recap of the movie, a word about Yancy Butler. She had a pretty rough time of it for a few years there around 2003-2008, in and out of drug treatment facilities, pretty heavy alcoholism, and lots of trouble with the law. While the roles have slowed down somewhat since then, it’s always fun to see her, and I hope she’s turned herself around.

 

Bickerman has taken Beach (Steven Billington) and some scientist guys to Black Lake (remember, despite being the title of the movie, there hasn’t been an actual Lake Placid in this series, ever) for reasons of evil science. Sarah Murdoch (Annabel Wright), evil CEO, is funding all this for a good old fashioned monster movie reason – eternal life! DNA from one of the super-evil crocodiles, injected into a gigantic anaconda, and from the eggs of the snake will come CROCOCONDA!!! I guess these guys will have something in their blood that Murdoch thinks will do the trick but, of course, humans are stupid and you know those creatures are getting out!

 

Much like the previous Lake Placid movie, it’s divided into three sections, I’m guessing to save money as you only need to pay one group of actors at a time. You’ve got Sheriff Reba, Fish & Wildlife guy Tull (Corin Nemec, sadly not playing his role for laughs), and their people; you’ve got Bickerman, Beach and Murdoch, doing their evil science; and the largest group with the most time devoted to them, two cars full of girls who are pledging to a sorority. Most of them are just meat for the beast, but there’s a core of excellent actors with properly set up personalities. Bethany (Skye Lourie) is Tull’s daughter – traditional for one of these sorts of movies; goth-ish Margot (Ali Eagle), who’s pledging so she’s got material for her psychology class; Tiffany (Laura Dale), the super-bitchy chief sorority sister, a magnificently monstrous performance; and Jane (Heather Gilbert), the sad-sack who gets mercilessly picked on.

Okay, this bit was great

Okay, this bit was great

Talking of actors, you may notice while watching this that there’s a heck of a lot of dubbing going on. Scrolling further down that cast list, you’ll notice that pretty much everyone who doesn’t survive has an Eastern-European name – filmed in Bulgaria, the home of low-budget US cinema since the late 90s, they must have saved money by just using anyone they could find who could speak English (so the lips roughly matched) and then dubbing them afterwards. A bit off-putting, to say the least.

 

This movie is really a lot of fun, though. You know what’s going to happen – crocodiles are going to fight giant anacondas – and they give it to you, with blood being thrown about like it’s going out of fashion. Crocodiles eat the smaller snakes, but the bigger ones just wrap themselves around the crocs, squeeze and rip. When you’ve got a croc with a nubile teenager in its mouth at the same time? Gore, and lots of it. Plus, for those of us used to the more chaste world of SyFy Channel movies, there’s a heck of a lot of nudity in this movie too – you don’t hire Eastern European extras for them to keep their clothes on, one would presume. Or SyFy were told they were allowed to have nudity in their movies now and leapt in with both feet, as it were.

 

Quick note about the special effects: they’re all terrible. If that’s your thing, avoid this like the plague. But if you’re drunk enough, you won’t mind!

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I think it’s important to keep mentioning this when it happens, on the off chance that the critical mass of voices will be reached, and movie companies will stop doing it – it’s the blatant double standards. One scene, on a speedboat, the male driver is wearing shorts, a t-shirt and a jacket, yet not only are the two women in the scene wearing tiny bikinis, one of them takes her top off pretty much just because the driver asks her to nicely. The two of them stood together is everything that’s wrong with recent B-movies, in a nutshell. I don’t accept that I’m being a prude, or that feminism is a dead cause, or any of that. No-one, absolutely no-one, watches a movie called “Lake Placid vs. Anaconda” to get turned on, and it’s sleazy middle-aged male producers, directors and distributors that insist on it. Lord knows why. I feel like society has moved on but low-budget movies seem almost to be moving backwards in some of their attitudes.

 

After the Deputy proves himself too stupid to live (yet somehow survives) and we get an ending which is just drenched in blood and guts, that’s it for another low-budget bit of monster fun. And I know I’ve just spent a chunk of this review criticising it, but that’s more the background noise that so many movies exist in these days than anything terribly specific to this one. It’s got a cast packed with dependable old hands, two low-budget royalty (Butler and Nemec), and a lot of really good new female actors who ought to go on to bigger and better things – I could absolutely see Heather Gilbert in a major network sitcom, for example. But let’s keep our fingers crossed this modern sci-fi portmanteau monster trend dies off soon so we can get back to the classics. I miss a good werewolf movie.

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Rating: thumbs up

Combat Academy (1986)

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Certain films from the olden days (well, the 1980s) only get brought up in modern conversation because of an A-lister slumming it in an early role. We’ve covered “Private Resort”, with a very young Johnny Depp; and today it’s the turn of “Combat Academy”, which I’m guessing has a recent-ish DVD re-release with third-billed George Clooney’s face plastered over the cover. Clooney had the good fortune to be in a few pretty good low-budget movies before fame took him – meta-shocker “Return To Horror High” and the classic “Return Of The Killer Tomatoes” – so will this join them?

 

While this is billed as a comedy, a much more sensible reading of it is a horribly dark drama, a cry for help from a psychotic. Keith Gordon is better known as a director these days, but he started off as an actor (you may remember him from “Back To School”), and in this he’s Max, the prank-pulling class clown. But there’s pranks and there’s pranks, if you get my meaning, and his go over the line from mild fun to feeling desperate. Max wires up the school the wrong way, changes the names on the doors, and releases pigs in classrooms, among many other things, and while he laughs he seems to gain no joy from any of it. His sidekick is Perry (Wallace Langham, a series regular on “CSI” for the last decade), and they both act like scum who’ve never had to deal with a problem a day in their lives. Max’s dad is a frustrated wannabe prankster and loves his son’s shenanigans, so there’s at least a mild reason for it all, I suppose.

Check out the gormless look on the extra to the left

Check out the gormless look on the extra to the left

Anyway, they’re kicked out of school by Principal Dick Van Patten, the first of a number of moderately big name stars who pop up – also, Robert Culp, Jamie Farr, Sherman Hemsley, Dana Hill and Richard Moll. On their way home from their suspension, they trick a group of workers into drilling the wrong side of a road, causing a huge traffic snarlup and puncturing a water line, get arrested and then end up in military school. Y’know, like normal pranksters do!

 

If you were particularly cruel, you could probably enjoy that first section. We’re clearly supposed to sympathise with / support Max and Perry, even if they come across as scum (imagine being one of those commuters, trapped in your car thanks to them just randomly deciding to mess with some working people?) but it’s when they get to military school that you start wanting to punch Max in the face, over and over. This is absolutely the end of the line for both of them – it’s this or prison, but Max just views this as an opportunity to be horrible to everyone he meets, snark after snark after snark, including the school head’s son Cadet Major Biff Woods (Clooney). There’s a scene where, after taking more than his fair share of crap from Max, Biff snaps and sets up a fight between the two. I, like everyone watching, was screaming at him to murder the obnoxious little prick…but he doesn’t, due to his conflicted relationship with his father and his lack of desire to be a real soldier, blah blah blah. You had your shot, Biff!

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So, Max keeps on playing pranks, some extraordinarily elaborate for a person trapped in military school, and befriends a few of the school’s other misfits – Andrea (Dana Hill, far too short at 5’ to be in the military, one would have thought) and Jai (Danny Nucci). Perry decides he likes military school and starts a relationship with beautiful wholesome Mary Beth, and during one of their punishments, the two of them have a big falling out.

 

Even though it’s not been terribly funny to this point, the movie basically switches gears and becomes a drama at about halfway, and also improves, a bit. A Russian military school turns up for a war-game exercise, and it’s screamingly obvious that the last 20 minutes or so of the movie will be the game, where Max has to do something or other in order to win the day (in this instance, getting Biff to snap out of his funk and lead the US to glory). There’s a tacked-on bit of romance for Max, and Richard Moll as one of the teachers seemingly got to write his own lines as he’s doing what amounts to a very poor bit of standup every time he’s on screen. As he was in the middle of his run on NBC sitcom “Night Court” at the time, it’s entirely possible he was viewed as the biggest star in the movie by some idiot producer and given the leeway to do whatever he wanted.

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It’s an extremely standard plot, and if you knew nothing but the title and the first five minutes, you could work out everything major that happens.  The only thing that really stands out is the beyond-obnoxious central performance, and I can’t think of a leading character in a movie I’ve wanted to punch more (and bear in mind, the last movie we reviewed was “Getting Lucky” – Max has that soggy douchebag knocked into a cocked hat). I’m as big a pacifist as exists, and I was firmly of the opinion that thrashing some sense into him was the only option.

 

It’s…tolerable. Clooney, while fine, gives zero indication he’s soon to be one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and he definitely grew into his looks, as my wife said. It was made as a TV movie, apparently, and I can imagine happening upon it on a lazy evening on TV and not being terribly upset at having watched it. So…eh?

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

Getting Lucky (1990)

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Or, as my wife memorably christened it, “the movie where they act better on the cover” (see above). After watching and thoroughly enjoying the lowest-of-the-low-budget “Over-Sexed Rugsuckers From Mars”, I decided to check out the next Michael Paul Girard movie, one I could only assume to be some sort of teen sex comedy. In other words, right up my street! What I found, though, was a movie I’m still struggling to describe with human words.

 

Bill is a nerd, sort of. Actually, saying that is crediting this movie with giving him some sort of consistent character. Bill is a human being, probably, and he’s been in love with Krissi, the “beautiful” cheerleader, for years. His friend Tim, who’s in love with new French exchange student Babette, tells him to just go for it, but Krissi is sort of going out with evil jock Tony, who’s solely interested in sex. Now, I feel I ought to pause things briefly, because I can already feel this movie slipping away from me and I’ve only recapped the first five minutes.

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“Rugsuckers” was wonderful because while it was one of the cheapest movies ever made, all the handmade odds and ends added to that “labour of love” feel. The most generous possible reading wouldn’t call this movie a labour of love. From the very first minute, the supposedly upbeat, fun activity on screen (cheerleaders, people ogling cheerleaders, jocks doing jock things) is overlaid with dark, downbeat music, as if we should be looking at these people and tasting the cold ash of death in our mouths, knowing that all activity is futile and all joy is not just fleeting but illusory.

 

Or, you know, the music might just suck. I’m not a professional. But the weird nightmare of seeing the cheerleaders dance can’t possibly be meant to be titillating? So anyway, Bill, as poorly written and unbearable a lead character as the movies have given us in a long time, becomes a towel boy in order to earn money for college. The jocks are not just mean to him but almost psychotically violent, assaulting him and forcing him to clean up a flask of rotten old soup. You’ll get used to this feeling, but the buildup for what is a terrible gag (a rutting couple covered in puke-water) is really long. At least, I’m guessing it’s buildup, it’s hard to tell. When it’s a bunch of athletic men who look about 30 years old beating up a teenager, I struggle to make sense of any of it.

 

I’ve got to put my game-face on! This movie needs reviewing! As Tony keeps trying to get in Krissi’s knickers, Bill ditches his job and goes back to picking up and getting money for depositing recycling. One beer bottle…contains a leprechaun called Lepkey! Lepkey is a bit rubbish but basically helpful, giving Bill three wishes, although in the end it turns out to be six or seven, depending on how you view the horse thing. The most “famous” scene in this movie is when he completely cocks up a “make this wrench very slightly smaller” request, making Bill an inch high. Bill then…seriously can’t believe I’m writing this…climbs into Krissi’s underwear, hangs on to her giant-looking pubic hair and gives her an orgasm. This scene achieves that all-too-rare trifecta of being unfunny, looking awful and going on forever – you will be screaming at the screen to just make him normal size again and get on with it, long before it’s through.

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Bill wins over Krissi by just being a decent guy, and Tony gets a tennis racket rammed up his arse by the leprechaun. So ,he decides to rape Krissi, gets arrested and throws Bill under the bus by claiming he’s a drug dealer…and on the say-so of someone trying to get out of a rape charge, the police put 24/7 surveillance on Bill for six weeks. You know, like the police do.

 

Perhaps because they spent so bloody long on that “honey, I shrunk the nerd” scene, the bit where Bill and Kristi suddenly decide to get married, but wait til they’re married to have sex, appears schizophrenically fast, like all this has been happening in a different movie that we didn’t get to watch. Then we’ve just got more attempted rape, a weird guy riding two horses by standing on top of them both, a guest appearance by the hobo from “Rugsuckers”, and our loving couple ride off into the sunset.

 

Although I’ve used a lot of them, this movie has rendered me at something of a loss for words. It’s so deeply odd, that I genuinely can’t decide if it’s just horribly misjudged or if it’s a work of absurdist genius. I will say that if I knew nothing about the director, I’d have been insulting it from the first sentence, but that first movie has given him a lot of leeway in my eyes – plus, he was apparently living in a van when he made this movie. Is that dedication and spending every penny you have? Or was he just kicked out of everywhere he lived? Of course, the flipside of “great first movie” is “terrible every other movie”, and it appears Girard spent the next decade directing late-night T&A thrillers (including a couple of entries in the “Witchcraft” series, which looks awful enough to be an ISCFC project) and awful family movies, before hanging up his directing hat in 2006.

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But I can’t just dismiss this. Despite a cast full of people we’d never see again (of the six top-billed people, three have this as their only acting credit, and the star only appeared in one other movie) there’s something to be said for normal-looking films which end up being completely wrong-headed. Being able to be bad, but in a new way, is just as important as making something which is good, although admittedly occasionally tough to watch. Would you rather watch (to pick two recent Best Picture Oscar winners) “The Hurt Locker” and “The King’s Speech” every day, or this and “Rugsuckers”? You could spend ages puzzling this movie out – although don’t do that, it would be a bad idea and life’s too short.

 

Plus, we’ve got those for-no-reason weird sex jokes in the credits. Every other name is a fake one (presumably Union people working on the quiet?) – here’s an example:

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I say watch it. The days of the utterly irresponsible teen raunch movie are long behind us, so we ought to celebrate them from time to time, while being glad that they’re not still being made. And we ought to thank Girard for employing a cinematographer who was only 2 feet tall – seriously, the number of shots from below (usually of cheerleaders and their underwear) goes beyond directorial fetish into a whole new area.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Over-Sexed Rugsuckers From Mars (1989)

OverSexedRugsuckersFromMarsThis movie is, like few others, inextricably linked with my youth. I found a VHS of this on a market one day, was entranced by the title (obviously) and watched it over and over with my group of friends, forced it on unsuspecting visitors to my house, and so on. But that was 15 years ago, so how does it hold up?

For a film which apparently cost $1,100, beginning to end, it’s an absolutely amazing achievement, a demented gonzo comedy which seems even stranger today. If you’re at all interested in low-budget filmmaking, and don’t mind a weird hobo performing a sex act on a tiny plasticine alien, you’ll have a great time with this.

But that would be a very short review, so let’s talk “Over-Sexed Rugsuckers From Mars”. First things first – it’s an expanded version of a short film called “Vac-U-Sapien” (which you can see on the DVD), and the budgetary restraints are visible immediately. The credits must have been taken from that earlier version, except the new title is just slapped on, with a different font and a spelling mistake (“rugsucker” singular). But it’s charming rather than lazy – these people had basically no money and if they got it wrong the first time, there was no second time.

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Plasticine aliens with grotesquely large genitalia created the human race millions of years ago, and have decided to pop back and see how their experiment is getting on. Their ship is, of course, an upturned “Simon Says” game with some foil on top, and unfortunately they land next to Vernon, a hobo sleeping next to an old-fashioned hoover, which gives them a skewed view of humanity. One alien pisses in an empty bottle; the other crawls inside the hoover and, because he’s drunk, messes up the programming – it was supposed to clean up humanity, but Dusty the hoover just becomes  violent and horny. But that alien pee! When the hobo drinks it, it gives him a boost to the ol’ libido, and he has sex with the hoover, seemingly consensually. It’s a love story for the ages!

The other half of the story is the extremely unhappy marriage of Tom and Beverly. Now, I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say these people were not acting using their real names, as Tom, who certainly sounds English, is “Billybob Rhoads” (I 100% guarantee you there’s never been an Englishman called Billybob) and Beverly is “Lynne Guini”. Tom spends his time hassled by his wife to buy expensive appliances for their tiny hovel of an apartment, despite them drowning in debt; and his only “relief” is spying on their beautiful neighbour Rena who helpfully shaves her legs in the nude right by the window. They get together later on, so it’s not creepy. I guess.

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The stories intersect when Tom, dispatched to Neiman Marcus (which I’m helpfully informed would be like going to Harrod’s for a hoover), buys a hoover off a street hustler, who steals it from Vernon. Poor old Vernon is caught up by the Department Of Indigence who try to clean him up and turn him into a productive member of society; Dusty the hoover is left outside. Dusty has a mission from his alien overlords to clean the planet up, but in terms of a movie with a $1,100 budget, this means killing Beverly, raping Tom and Rena, and saving Vernon when the police finally realise what’s going on and pursue the two lovers. Part of this police plot is a magnificent gem of a scene, a police line-up with hoovers in it. Well played, sirs!

Director Michael Paul Girard and his crew squeeze every drop from that budget, though. They filmed without permits on the streets, and made their non-effects work for them – just check out stuff like the obviously hand-made box of “Weeping Wanger” tea in the cupboard, Oh, and the way the only outfits they could get for their cops was the stereotypical 40s detective gear, so they just had their head detective do a Humphrey Bogart impression – although I don’t think Bogie was ever in a relationship with a sheep in any of his movies. Then you’ve got freeze frames trying to pass themselves off as actual footage (this happens more than once), a car chase but instead of cars they use shopping trolleys, and a SWAT van with lovely curtains in the back windows. Oh, and there’s the baby that comes from Dusty’s rape of Rena, a prop for the ages.

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A quick word about the music, which is both almost perfect and ear-shreddingly terrible, often at the same time. Girard did pretty much all of it himself, and when it’s just a weird tuneless accompaniment to the action (to the point of just describing what’s going on on the screen) it’s amazing. But then there’s a band called Ray Zone Day, of which he was the keyboardist / chief songwriter, and they’re a terrible cheesy rock band. But one shouldn’t grumble too much.

Low-budget movies these days seem to be “less”. We get lots of walking through the woods, tedious dialogue scenes which are only there to fill up space, and simple dull plots. But there was a time when insanely inventive movies like this could find their way from some weirdo in LA to worldwide VHS distribution (well, the USA and the UK, at least). Okay, the acting’s ropey as hell, and it wears its tiny budget as a badge of pride, but I can guarantee you you’ll never see another movie like this.

Rating: thumbs up

Scarecrow (2013)

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Or, as I like to call it, “Selective Deafness: The Movie”. Even when they establish there’s a killer scarecrow-thing after them, characters seem completely unable to answer someone desperately shouting their name, in some cases jeopardising their own lives. Hey dum-dums! The scarecrow knows where you are anyway! You’re not fooling him by keeping quiet! You’re only doing it because it’s a stupid gimmick to generate suspense!

 

The ISCFC has a number of projects in various stages of completion. Our trip through the movies of The Asylum is done with forever, thanks to them being scum (and making absolutely terrible movies). We’ve got baseball and wrestling movie threads ongoing. We’ll be returning to ski-based comedies come the wintertime, and our “Endless Bummer” T&A comedy season will be coming back as soon as I can find another good one. But our grand project, the one we’ll never ever finish because there’s too damn many of them, is SyFy Channel original movies. Hats off to them for churning them out, and for occasionally hitting gold (“Dark Haul”, for example, is a genuinely brilliant film with an amazing central performance), and we’ll stick with em as long as they keep doing em.

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“Scarecrow” gives us two reasons to celebrate, right at the beginning. First up is the strong cast – ISCFC favourite Robin Dunne is the schoolteacher; his ex-girlfriend and local farm owner is Lacey Chabert, ex of “Party of Five”; and the kids in Dunne’s charge are all solid TV regulars (including Nicole Munoz from SyFy’s “Defiance”). And second is the fantastic scarecrow special effect! Credit where credit’s due, it’s one creepy looking thing, all made from tree roots – give that CGI guy a raise, SyFy.

 

The plot, unfortunately, isn’t so strong. For school detention, 6 kids get taken on a school bus to a “local” farm (although, too far away for anything like a phone signal) to dismantle a large scarecrow from last year’s local Scarecrow Festival to take to the middle of town, and re-assemble. They’re your average gang – the quiet one, the horny couple, the ticking time bomb (Beth, played by Brittney Wilson, top drawer stuff) – but no sense getting too attached to any of them, if you know what I mean. I mean, they’re all going to get slaughtered! At the same time, a couple who are friends with some of the detention kids go to the farm, and thanks to them falling through the floor of the barn, awake the scarecrow, buried there over a hundred years ago or something. Just putting it in the cellar of your barn seems like a pretty sucky way to do it, but what do I know?

 

Farm owner Kristen (Chabert) has come back to town to both sell the farm and try and rekindle her relationship with Aaron (Dunne) – but she’s also invited her other ex, Eddie, for reasons completely unknown. I mean, they explained it, but the explanation was so dumb that I immediately forgot it. It’s a fun idea to have the adults be in the cheesy love triangle with the kids around, but this movie isn’t for developing fun ideas – it’s about death!

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So the scarecrow stirs, and immediately goes after the humans, although it’s sort of hinted at that he really just wants Kristen, for some sort of family curse reason. Their vehicles are either parked unfortunately (seriously) or their engines won’t start, so they’re stranded, plus there’s a giant ship graveyard nearby. Kudos to whoever found that, because it’s an amazing place to film, even if it makes no sense to have it where it is. Anyway, at one point some of the characters walk all night and still don’t get to any other civilization – how far out of town is this farm?

 

As well as the previously mentioned selective deafness, which dooms more than one person, they’ve got the “let’s split up” disease. I’ve rarely wanted to reach through the screen and slap a set of characters more – if you have to resort to such cheap tactics to generate suspense, movie, you’re doing something wrong.

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It’s very much a film of two halves. All the technical stuff is strong as hell – great locations and special effects. The acting is good too, and the opening scene in the cornfield is a lot of fun. But that writing! I’m far from the smartest movie fan out there, and I could pick holes in this all day. A shame for sure. I’ll leave you with one last scene – they do, at one point, find another local farm and ask the farmer for help. He provides the backstory about the history of the scarecrow, but if you think about it for more than a second…how the hell does he know? And why is he living down the road from a place that has a supernatural scarecrow buried in its cellar? Move, you fool!

 

Rating: thumbs down