Vampire Cop (1990)

Now that's how you do a tagline!

Now that’s how you do a tagline!

As a bad movie enthusiast, I occasionally worry about running out of the really weird, low-budget movies whose reviews have littered these pages and which have become so famous. I think “there’s only a finite amount, right? One day I’ll have seen the last really bonkers one”; but every time I feel that way, I pop on something like this and discover a masterpiece.

 

This may be a tricky movie to track down, especially on this side of the Atlantic, and not just because it’s fairly obscure. There are lots of self-published “dark romance” novels about vampires and cops, the Rick Springfield “Forever Knight” pilot has been renamed “Twilight Vampire Cop” by some enterprising soul, there’s a Japanese film called “Vampire Cop Ricky”, another movie called “Vampire Cop” from 1993 which was eventually renamed “Midnight Kiss”…but of this, no trace. Hell, if “Hollywood Cop” and “Demon Cop” can get distribution and bad-movie love, this deserves to be there with them!

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The first ten minutes of the movie, as well as having one of the most amazing opening songs of all time, appears to be the psychic visions of a sleeping Melissa Moore (who we loved in “Samurai Cop”, talking of amazingly bad movies whose titles end with that word). Some drug deals go down, a guy appears to buy two women from a bikini beauty contest (?), a scumbag tries to rape a woman, and we meet the mysterious backlit vampire. Over and over again, the guy is backlit, even after we know who it is and it makes no sense for him to be stood that way – well, it might make more sense to say they repeat the same bit of footage, a complaint we’ll return to later. Moore is Melanie Roberts, a TV news reporter, and after being approached by a woman who the vampire saves from rape, decides to do some investigation.

 

Our hero is amazingly billed on IMDB as “Vampire Cop Lucas”, just in case you confused him with one of the movie’s other Lucases, and is played by a guy called Ed Cannon, for whom this was his one and only acting credit. He’s bloody terrible, in case you were wondering, but I’m kinda interested in how he got the role, and his acting seems to mainly consist of baring his awful vampire teeth and slowly walking towards people who are shooting at him. Well, that and sex. The love scenes are enough to make me bored of sex, as they just go on and on, making sure the man is as fully covered, and the woman as naked, as possible. Poor Melissa Moore has to take a phone call related to her job with one of her boobs hanging out!

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I’ve still not really described the plot of the movie, have I? The local drug kingpin wants to keep the cops and reporters off his back, and does this by giving lots of money to charity (and killing a surprising number of people, including taking a chainsaw to a police Lieutenant who’d just gone on the air to say he was going to bring the guy to justice!) He realises Lucas is a vampire and wants the power for himself, while Lucas, on the other hand, despite having lived for over a century, has inexplicably become sloppy, biting his enemies and letting them turn into way more powerful enemies. He’s also not exactly a nice guy, being seen killing and eating at least one prostitute – which was perhaps justified as cleaning up the streets? God knows. Anyway, good ol’ Vampire Cop kills and eats his way to victory, with Moore pretty much just along for the ride (although she does finish off the last bad guy by exposing him to sunlight, and then is given perhaps the stupidest ending of any movie ever).

 

Somewhere in this movie is a sense of humour. The news producer talks about his favourite former segments, which include “Transsexual House Pets” and “Men Who Name Their Testicles”, and one of the Kingpin’s goons (no names on IMDB, so I can’t narrow it down) is clearly having a good time. But these moments which are funny on purpose are few, and far between. The stuff which is brain-hurtingly bad by accident is far more plentiful.

I've got no idea why this bloke was in the movie

I’ve got no idea why this bloke was in the movie

I’d lay good money on this movie having an interesting backstage story. First up, it’s only 82 minutes, with an extremely slow credit sequence taking up a good 7 of them. The Vampire Cop just disappears a few minutes before the end, never to be seen again, which makes me wonder if he was a little “difficult” – also, check out the number of times the same footage of him driving his car and standing there backlit is repeated over the course of the movie. And then there’s the slow motion! Almost every scene has some slow-mo in it, including those for which it actually works against the story, or is just meaningless (Moore running down some stairs at her beach-house, for example). So, if you take out the credits and the repeated footage, speed up the irrelevant slow motion, and halve the sex scenes (which would still leave you with a heck of a lot of sex) this movie would be about half an hour long. But it’s a fun, bizarre half an hour!

 

It’s a movie set in a variety of ugly spaces. One scene set in Moore’s bedroom pans across a little too far so you can see the other bed in what is very obviously a hotel room; in fact most of the movie seems like it was filmed on the fly in whatever cheap motel had an offer on that day. To this barrage on the senses, you can add the cheap, gaudy cars that everyone drives too – drug dealers and cops alike.

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I feel bad for Moore, exploited in movies like this and “Samurai Cop”, and I feel bad for that one good actor (not enough to find out his name, obviously). But everyone else pretty much deserves whatever they get. Writer/director Donald Farmer appears to have spent his career making movies of this sort – “Cannibal Hookers”, “An Erotic Vampire In Paris” and “Chainsaw Cheerleaders”, among others. If only they’re all as wonderfully terrible as this!

 

Wholeheartedly recommended (if you can find it) for your next bad movie night.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Aladdin and the Death Lamp (2012)

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We have my friend Vicky to thank for this review – when I showed her a list of the SyFy Channel original movies I’d yet to review, this one leapt out at her. For good reason, I mean, “Aladdin and the Death Lamp” is a badass title, but for those of us who live in the cinematic gutter, we know a great title is no guarantee of a great movie. Perhaps there’s an “Uncanny Valley” style thing for movie titles, where normal ones are okay, then wacky ones are good, really wacky ones…drop into a pit of misery!…then the really really really wacky ones emerge victorious on the other side.

 

I miss the old-fashioned genies, who would just hang out, wearing sweet robes, granting three wishes. Blah blah “closer to the original legends” blah blah, we see four magicians fighting an evil jinn (which is a really good special effect, by the way, it feels like it has some weight and exists in the world of the movie), while at the same time getting a voiceover which fills the uninitiated in on the myth. Vanquished and trapped in a lamp – why is it always a lamp, I wonder? – we then leap forward in time to where our hero Aladdin and one of his buddies are doing a spot of tomb-robbing.

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Rather than finding the lamp straight away, they find a book that leads them to the lamp, and this book intrigues salesman / murder enthusiast Abdul, as well as Aladdin’s foster-siblings and –father, so there’s all manner of shenanigans out in the wilderness. Can they control the jinn? Stop it from opening its portal to the jinn dimension and unleashing a torrent of murder on the people of Earth?

 

I first became aware of director Mario Azzopardi from “Highlander: The Series”, one of those cheesy shows from the 90s I adore. Knowing he’s one of those Canada-based guys who’s directed a ton of TV, I then started paying a bit of attention to the backgrounds, and noticed how…let’s be polite…it doesn’t look remotely like the Middle East. Not even a bit. It looks like rural Canada in the spring, and it’s so awful it draws you out of the movie at times. But as we try to be a bit positive about SyFy’s TV movies, one thing they have done is got an almost entirely non-Caucasian cast, which is an event so rare in mainstream movies that it deserves an approving mention.

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Now, if it had been a good non-Caucasian cast, we’d have been onto a real winner. But before we get going, a sad RIP for Aladdin himself, Darren Shahlavi, who died suddenly in January 2015 of a rare heart condition. He was born in my part of the world before going off to Hong Kong and then Hollywood, doing stunt work and acting, and while he wasn’t the greatest actor in the world, he gave a little movie like this his all. Complimenting him is Kandyse McClure (Battlestar Galactica), but basically everyone else in this movie sucks, with wooden line readings and bizarre facial expressions aplenty – special criticism to Eugene Clark as father/mentor Khalil, who takes (admittedly, not great) dialogue and mangles it so it resembles more a close cousin to English than English itself.

 

Like so many SyFy movies, that second act is a real problem. I like the characters and their introduction – you sort of believe Aladdin is a driven guy who’ll ignore good advice, the moral quandary his friends are in rings true…then there’s a ton of wandering about the forest as the lamp and control of the jinn is passed to and fro among the cast. When the plot gets going again, it picks up, but that mid-movie lull is a killer.

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And before we leave the rich world of SyFy for another day, the jinn himself. Later on in the movie, it seems to need people to make a wish before it kills them. Okay, I have no problem with that. But at the beginning of the movie, it’s killing people willy-nilly, and the end too. Stick to your own damn rules!

 

It’s a fun title and a great potential backdrop (I love that rich world of adventure you can get from that medieval / Middle East setting), but wasted on this.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Dead Rising: Watchtower (2015)

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While your Netflixes and Amazons are getting into the original “TV” series game, other popular websites have worked out there’s money to be made by producing their own movies. So far, we’ve had College Humour making “Coffee Town”, Splitsider and “The Exquisite Corpse Project” (plus a standup compilation movie, but that barely counts), and now this. Crackle were known for distributing old, forgotten TV and movies for free – so, years ago, you could watch “The Tick”, “Battledome” (I loved that ridiculous show) and a ton of anime, with the only cost being adverts – a business model which clearly did pretty well for them. Saying that, Crackle also made the “Joe Dirt” sequel, but there’s no way in hell I’m deliberately watching a David Spade movie.

So, “Dead Rising”. I’ve played the first game, a bit, but I got bored of how quickly your weapons would break and how there’s no end to the zombies, ever. I presume someone (should anyone read this) would tell me this isn’t the case, but I’ve killed every zombie in *enclosed area* only to turn round a few seconds later and find it full of the shuffling bastards again. But this isn’t “Mark’s Computer Game Reviews”, because they’d all be “why is this happening so fast? Stop making it so difficult to control!”

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I know enough about the games, though, to know that there are a ton of references in here for fans. Making bonkers weapons out of two unrelated weapons (a sledgehammer taped to a chainsaw, for example) is the main one, and there are a few props and “scares” lifted from the game too. But, the one I was most interested in, and the thing that got me to watch the movie from the trailer, is the presence of comedy superstar Rob Riggle as the first game’s protagonist, Frank West. He became something of a star after surviving the mall outbreak and is in the studio, being interviewed by UBN news. He’s like the expert interviewee as the small town of East Mission, Oregon is in the middle of its own zombie outbreak, with quarantine areas and distribution of the anti-zombie drug “Zombrex” and so on. His bits are hilarious, as he gives advice based on how he survived the first game, ignoring the calming attempts of the news anchor (Carrie Grenzel, also funny).

The rest of the movie is every other zombie movie you’ve ever seen. Two reporters (Jesse Metcalfe and Keegan Connor Tracy) for an online news site are in East Mission, doing a story about the government attempts to control the outbreak. The town is being evacuated, slowly, but this all goes to pot as the Zombrex appears to stop working, leaving people to go full zombie right left and centre. Add in a beautiful and mysterious woman (Meghan Ory, “Once Upon A Time”) and a grieving mother (Virginia Madsen, and yes, I was surprised to see her in this too) and you’ve got yourself a group of protagonists! Then, because Capcom – the game company behind “Dead Rising” – seem determined to plagiarise every last bit of “Dawn Of The Dead”, we get an evil biker gang; and for a little “Day Of The Dead”, we’ve got a morally ambiguous group of soldiers too, led by Dennis Haysbert. Our heroes are trying to find evidence that Zombrex was made bad on purpose and to stop the firebombing of the town, and the people on the outside are feuding about how to deal with it.

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It starts off surprisingly well, I think. Riggle is brilliant, and the movie as a whole has a strong sense of humour, moves quickly, is well acted and has clearly had a lot of money spent on it (I reckon Capcom must have ponied up quite a bit of money for this, because Crackle Original movies shouldn’t look this good). There are some wonderfully horrific images from time to time as well, such as a zombie Dad with his baby in a carrier, taking the occasional bite as he’s strolling along. Okay, the characters are a bit generic, but one shouldn’t expect too much in a movie based on a computer game.

It does get sluggish, though, and part of that is the almost 2 hour running time.  There’s a rather long opening sequence that then cuts to “24 hours earlier”, but they then repeat most of that sequence as well as have the moment where the movie catches up to the opening come at around the halfway point, leaving it sort of pointless. It didn’t teach us anything and wasn’t directly related to the ending, so it just feels like padding in a movie that really didn’t need it – and I’m beyond tired of that device being used in movies. I could have done with a bit less of the weapon POV camera as well – a fun device once, but adds nothing the tenth time.

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“Dead Rising: Watchtower” has a nice occasional comedic tone, which makes the lurches into military conspiracy a bit odd to watch. And it obviously had no idea how to wrap things up, which leaves us with a world which is worse at the end of the movie than it is at the beginning, and no real resolution to any of the stories. I imagine if this does well (and I’ve got no idea how they’ll judge the success of a movie which was released effectively for free) we’ll get a sequel, which will no doubt leave a bunch of hanging threads for the end of the trilogy, and…it’s good enough to bother getting annoyed with the things it does wrong.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Gravy (2015)

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James Roday is an interesting fellow. You’ll probably know him best as the star of “Psych”, the long-running TV comedy about a fake psychic who helps the police, but he’s also heavily involved in theatre in Los Angeles, and is a writer – he co-wrote the 2006 werewolf movie “Skinwalkers”, as well as 16 episodes of “Psych”. Aside from episodes of his own show, “Gravy” is his directorial debut, and looks…well, not like the sort of thing you’d expect from a light comedy TV guy.

 

Kerry (Sutton Foster) has passed her paramedic exams and is completing her last shift, on Halloween, at a Mexican-themed bar/restaurant, and the rest of the staff is gathered to celebrate with her. There’s friendly boss Chuy (Paul Rodriguez), security guard Winketta (Gabourey Sidibe), perpetually angry prom-dress-wearing Cricket (Molly Ephraim), and boxer-in-training Hector (Gabriel Luna), with a French chef and a customer who passed out after having his proposal turned down thrown in for good measure.

 

Upon discovering the (unlockable) door is stuck fast, the staff come into contact with three psychopathic cannibal killers who have a very specific MO – find a place with no windows or security, weld the doors shut and go to work. We’ve got the Wish brothers, Anson and Stef (Michael Weston and Jimmi Simpson) and Stef’s girlfriend Mimi (Lily Cole) and boy oh boy do they enjoy their work. When Mimi bites out Winketta’s voice box, you know it’s on! Our three cannibals then put the staff through a series of pop-culture themed games (including “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”), the losers getting murdered in some particularly gruesome way and eaten.

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I don’t want to give any more away, as it’s out on VOD today, and yes, that’s just the speed we produce these reviews at. But let’s talk horror-comedy. Despite it being a long-running genre – horror-comedies have been around as long as we’ve had horror or comedy – they’re really really difficult to get right, with a tiny handful of recent successes (“Cabin In The Woods” and “Tucker And Dale vs. Evil” spring to mind). You tend to get quite a lot of comedies which are about the tropes of horror more than being horror movies themselves, such as “Shaun of the Dead” or “Young Frankenstein”; less often, straight horror movies where the characters occasionally crack jokes (“Hatchet”, “Behind The Mask” – and yes, there’s a reason you’ve heard of one set of those examples but not the other).

 

Now, “Gravy” is way more a straight-up comedy than it is a horror, but it’s an exceptionally dark one, liberally (and I mean liberally) drenched in blood and guts. Roday and team throw everything at us – characters get chopped in half, have their feet hacked off and then have those feet offered to their friends, get their heads rammed into fan-blades, and so on, and so on. It’s just so…relentless, like a hyperactive child trying to recount a movie to you.

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I think we ought to have a moratorium on ultra-verbose pop-culture-obsessed psychos, too. Firstly, I don’t think they exist – once your mind’s in a place where eating people seems okay, I’m willing to bet there’s not a lot of room in there for discussions about obscure Wil Wheaton movies. Secondly, okay, it’s a comedy and I bet there are an extremely tiny number of decent, friendly 40-year-old virgins out there too; but there’s the horror part of the equation to consider, and I don’t find the switch from movie trivia to sticking a skewer through someone’s liver to be intrinsically frightening (or funny).

 

Having seen every episode of “Psych”, I’m now aware of just how much character and actor came to resemble each other later on in the show’s run. Curt Smith of Tears For Fears made several appearances in that, and does the soundtrack for this; plus, there’s the episode which was an homage to “April Fool’s Day”, perhaps the greatest horror comedy of all time. In Roday’s writing for “Gravy”, there’s a lot of “Psych” coming through, especially in the Wish brothers and Mimi, who feel like little more than a deranged version of the central three characters from that show, most of the time.

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Roday should have probably resisted the desire to put himself and Dule Hill in cameo roles; but he’s got some really strong performances from superstars of alt-comedy (Simpson, Weston, and a cameo-ing Sarah Silverman), and most of the rest of the cast is great too. Kudos especially to Sutton Foster, who takes what could be the straight-person role and gives it some real meat.

 

Ultimately, though, the movie just tries too hard. It’s so relentlessly trying to shock that by the end, even the grosser events sort of just elicit a shrug, and the ending really doesn’t make a lick of sense, being one of those things that happens in horror movies that would 100% never happen, ever, in real life. Plus, and this is the mortal sin, it’s not really all that funny. There’s some nice jokes in there, sure, but watching it made me remember how tough “Psych” could be to watch when Roday was given full rein, and writer/director on a low-budget comedy is pretty much the definition of full rein. It’s really difficult to do a gore-drench black comedy when most of your cast feel like they’re acting in a sitcom, and I’m not sure this movie pulls it off.

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It looks like the movie distributors of the world agreed with me, as this has ended up being picked up by Shout Factory, best known for box sets of old TV shows. But…it’s not terrible, just a bit much. By all means get it via your favourite VOD service, support independent cinema and keep your fingers crossed that someone can marshall Roday’s considerable talent a bit better next time.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle