Nixon and Hogan Smoke Christmas (2010)

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The wonderful thing about low-budget cinema is that it’s seemingly a bottomless pit of stuff. Every time you think you’ve got a pretty good handle on the main players, some other company you’d never heard of, working out of a small town in seemingly complete obscurity for years, comes to light. Today’s example of that is Hack Movies, who operated in and around the St. Louis area from 2003 to 2010, making a ton of movies and short films with the company tagline “Where Comedy Punches Horror In The Balls”.

I think the simplest way of describing this would just be to lay the plot out for you. By the end of this paragraph, you’ll either be in and will ignore anything else I say, or you’ll think I’m some sort of lunatic. So, here goes…Nixon is busy trying to masturbate when his friend Hogan calls him for no reason. The two of them meet up at Nixon’s house to smoke some weed, they only have a tiny amount but luckily Santa comes in with Nixon’s present, a huge bag of weed which he stole from Sasparilla the Weed Witch. Unfortunately, Santa grabbed the wrong bag, and smoked some on the way from the North Pole, so the voodoo weed he took has turned him into a zombie, sort of. So, Nixon and Hogan have to deliver the last three of Santa’s presents, while putting up with an evil shaman and a super-villain; Santa chills out until a couple of women with a Santa fetish come round and have sex with him. Sasparilla then decides to steal the spirit of Christmas by raping a vicar and then raping Santa (the spirit of Christmas being located in his anal cavity, obviously). Can our two heroes defeat the witch and stop Santa from going full zombie? Will they get a proper bag of weed?

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To call this movie low-budget is almost certainly to overestimate how much money was spent on it. It could well be the cheapest movie we’ve ever covered, and the fact I enjoyed it as much as I did is testament to the demented genius of writer/director/producer/co-star Kevin Strange. As you probably grasped above, this movie feels like it was plotted by a group of extremely drunk / high individuals just riffing on each other – “so, then Santa comes down, but he’s a zombie, and…”, but the huge difference here is that Strange and his friends actually got up off their sofas and made this movie. Whenever anyone says “I could have thought of / done that”, what they’re missing from the end of the statement is “but I’m far too lazy to have gone through with it”. Not Strange, though (who now writes novels which I’ll be checking out soon).

 

Nixon and Hogan are a bundle of weird tics formed into two characters. Hogan (Strange) never walks normally, but twirls and stomps and waves his arms and gibbers; Nixon just wants to get high and watch porn, but shouts angrily at everyone, along with putting “piece” at the end of at least one word in every sentence (the Hack Movies house style, I believe). They, and everyone else, talk in a sort of super-exaggerated spin on rap slang (swearing almost constantly), and in terms of acting, everyone starts off at the wildest point of overacting you’ve ever seen, and just goes from there – it’s truly a wonder to behold. Everyone appears to absolutely believe in Hack Movies and gives it their all. Also, and this might be a dealbreaker for some, it shares a fascination with poop with “Bikini Bloodbath Christmas”, but pushes it to even grosser extremes.

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Now,  I understand it’s stupid to review a movie this bizarre in anything like a normal way. It’s made for no money and is about stoners helping zombie Santa defeat a witch who makes enchanted weed. So while I’ll give it a slight demerit for its obsession with anal rape (plus, Santa calls our two heroes “homophobes”, but they’re far too stupid to have their opinions worried about) it deserves far more praise. I think, if you watch the first five minutes of the movie and the tics and weirdness doesn’t put you off, you’ll have a fine time  – if you want to punch them after that time, things definitely don’t improve, so just abandon it.

 

If you’ve got love in your heart for the most bargain basement of bargain basement movies, insane overacting and humour that never strays far from the toilet, then I think Hack Movies could be the company for you, and “Nixon and Hogan Smoke Christmas” could be the entertainment to pop on while you and your family are all gathered round the fireplace with your glasses of sherry.

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Rating: thumbs up

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Christmas Evil (1980)

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BOOOOOOOOOO

 

YOU LIED, MOVIE

 

Have a quick glance at the poster above. Released in 1980, and they’re clearly desperate to make you think it’s a slasher film, as slashers were big business at the time. But it’s so much less than that! Yes, ISCFC readers, I’ve found a movie even worse than “Friday The 13th”…but it’s not worse in a fun way. Oh no, because that would have provided entertainment! Fun fact: this is John Waters’ favourite Christmas movie, which goes to show that even incredibly talented people can have rotten taste.

 

It’s 1947, and a couple of kids and their mother are watching Santa deliver the toys. A charming little scene, staged by the parents for the kids, but young Harry sneaks back down later and sees Santa on his knees, kissing the underwear-covered crotch of their mother. This extraordinarily un-erotic display apparently tips him over some sort of edge. It’s a classic horror setup.

 

Fast forward to the present day, and Harry (Brandon Maggart, who’s Fiona Apple’s father, trivia fans) has a Christmas themed apartment, sleeps in Santa pyjamas, etc. We know he’s not quite right because the sign says “55 days til Christmas”…oh, and because he goes to the roof of his building to spy on the neighbourhood kids. Turns out, ol’ Harry has a couple of gigantic books, one with “Good Boys and Girls 1980” on it, the other “Bad”, and he’s got the names of the kids in there, with the list of good / bad things they’ve done.

Feel the heat

Feel the heat

Now…if I was a book-binder, and some guy came in and asked me to make those books (because they’re clearly custom-made, and probably quite expensive) I’d be on the phone to the police right away. “Keep an eye on this one”, I’d say, but luckily for this movie they didn’t. Well, I say luckily. Do you see how desperate I am to not talk about “Christmas Evil”? Also, it might reasonably be expected that those lists mean he’s going to kill some kids at some point, which would at least be interesting, but no.

 

He works at a toy factory, making cheap plastic garbage – they filmed in a real toy factory, but none of the company’s presumably much better merchandise was featured – and although he’s been promoted from the shop floor, he’s still keenly interested in the toy process, talking about how good solidly built toys are, to his utterly uninterested co-workers. He’s got a brother (Jeffrey DeMunn, who many years later would play Dale in “The Walking Dead”) who thinks he’s pathetic, the other managers at the factory are scum, and other than that he’s got nothing.

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There’s a central flaw to this movie. Slasher films are from the perspective of the victims, usually, and they have an arc – the teens go from oblivious to scared to either dead or triumphant. It’s solid. But even for movies that are from the perspective of the “villain” – hell, if you want to be specific, even for Christmas themed horror movies that are from the perspective of the villain (“Silent Night, Deadly Night”) – it’s nice to have an arc. To see the descent into madness, how this affects people around them, then getting on to the actual horror part, at least gives the story some movement. This, on the other hand, clearly shows that Harry is crazy from the very beginning. He doesn’t change, particularly, so from the ten minute mark (when his peculiarity has been firmly established) you’re just waiting for something to happen. He doesn’t put on a full Santa outfit til the halfway point, I don’t think that qualifies as an arc.

 

Harry never commits. He steals toys from the factory to take to the kids at a hospital (the hospital his business is allegedly supporting in its fraudulent charity scheme, designed to force the employees to work for free and even give up their wages), so he’s a good guy, but he doesn’t do it til after he’s murdered three people. There’s no rhyme or reason to the things he does.

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It’s not a slasher film. It’s not even, really, a horror film. I guess, if you were being kind, you’d call it a psychological thriller, but it’s really just nothing. There’s a scene where you think he’s going to go and kill the main kid on his naughty list, but all he does is leave a sack full of dirt, addressed to him, on his doorstep. It’s a perfect summation of “Christmas Evil” – big expectations, then a sack of dirt. There’s a few scenes which are played for laughs – like when Harry tries to fit himself down a chimney, or the Santa lineup at the police station, but for every one of them there’s a terrible scene like the bit where the locals all get flaming torches and chase him through the streets. Clearly not supposed to be “real” (which fits in with the surreal ending) but there’s so little of it, and it makes so little sense, that you could be forgiven for wondering why on earth any of it was happening.

 

The ending is just abysmal, and given the character Harry was shown to be, the sort of “he was too good for this world” message we’re given by that last image is pathetic. One thing from Waters’ view of this film I did like is being Santa was like coming out as gay or trans – he felt like he had to hide who he really was until he could emerge to the world. While it’s an interesting reading, I’m 100% sure the director didn’t have that in mind at all.

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It seems like I’m in the minority for this movie, which has been given a beautiful new blu-ray release, chock full of special features, and is beloved by many of its reviewers. Some love the creepy atmosphere generated by Maggart’s central performance, and while it was pretty good, it was put in a movie that went nowhere, did nothing and made no sense, extremely poorly directed and written by a fellow called Lewis Jackson, whose sole previous credits are a couple of lost soft-core porno movies from the 70s, and who never worked in the industry again after this. Probably for the best.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Happy Christmas (2014)

Christmas films seem to fall into two camps: those merely set at Christmas (Die Hard, Love Actually) and those where Christmas is central to the plot (Gremlins, The Nightmare Before Christmas). Are films in the former really Christmas films? Well, that’s an argument for the ages…

Happy Christmas is one of the former. But it was on Netflix’s Festive Films category, which brought me to watching and reviewing it…

Anna Kendrick plays Jenny, a 20-something who just broke up with her boyfriend (though it’s not clear who did the breaking up) and has moved in with her brother, his wife and their baby.

It became pretty apparent early in the viewing that this is one of those character driven ‘slice of life’ movies with no real agenda or plot to speak of. Given it had 1 and a half stars on Netflix, I wasn’t expecting much from it but actually, this is solid.

Anyway, Jenny has no job to speak of, direction or any apparent goals in life, and spends most of this movie being a bit of a bit of a fuck-up, largely getting wasted in a variety of ways.

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Within 20 minutes of the film starting, she has eaten with the family and then skipped out on them to go to a party. She gets so wasted at said party that her friend has to call Jenny’s brother to take her home and then Jenny doesn’t get out of bed the next morning when she should be babysitting her nephew.

She’s a fuck up but it’s never really explained why. In other films, there would be some big emotional scene where she breaks down and reveals that her ex-boyfriend dumped her (or some other super important explanation why she is a fuck up) and then that puts her on to the road to recovery.

But not here: this film tries to play things realistically. Jenny isn’t a total fuck up, not exactly going from one mess to another, because in real life, no one is a constant screw up without redeeming qualities. And sometimes people are just fuck ups because they are. There isn’t always an underlying reason.

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Jenny actually has some positive influence on her sister-in-law, Kelly. Kelly is a stay at home mother whose life revolves around their young son. She used to write (and it is clear that Jenny has read some of her stuff) and Jenny’s enthusiasm for life pushes Kelly into writing some erotica (and their discussions around what and how to write it are a lot of fun).

In fact, the chemistry between all the cast is what makes this film really rather good.

It appears to be filmed largely on a hand-held camera and follows the cast around so the viewer is a bystander to the action.

There’s not much story to the film but that’s okay, it isn’t about the plot. It’s about the characters and everyone is brilliantly normal.

There’s no overwrought cathartic scene, no huge life threatening fuck up (the worst thing Jenny does is burn a pizza early in the morning) or anything like that: this is just how drama plays out in real life.

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And that’s the point of this film, I guess. It is real life, with realistic characters, and we as the viewers are right there, following Jenny around.

Very early in the movie, I was very impressed with how natural the dialogue was. I believed that Jeff and Jenny were siblings and that’s impressive. As it happens, as with a lot of Joe Swanberg movies apparently, the dialogue is 100% is improvised and that’s why this film works.

We’ve all known people like Jenny, Jeff and Kelly. Take Jenny: we all know people who are perfectly charming but have flaws that make dealing with them problematic. And like I was saying earlier, no one is a constant screw up without redeemable qualities and Jenny is very likeable, fun to be around and enthusiastic, when she’s not drinking and smoking to excess.

But living with her? Dating her?

There’s a pivotal scene where the fellow she is kinda dating has ‘travel plans the next day’ and ‘can’t’ stay over with Jenny. And the problem with Jenny here is that we don’t know whether this guy wants out of their burgeoning relationship or legitimately is being responsible and simply doesn’t want to let his family down. Because Jenny wants this guy now and would sack off whatever plans she had the next day. When he doesn’t do that, she takes it as a rejection. And that’s her deal. That’s her. That’s what we take away from this film.

And that’s why this film ultimately works. The four cast members (five if you count the cute baby) do a fantastic job of drawing us in and making this real.

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To be frank, I was expecting this to be an indie acting-vehicle for Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Twilight) in much the same way Rachel Getting Married was for Anne Hathaway. But where the latter comes across as Hathaway chasing an, any, award, this feels less cynical and more like Kendrick was into it.

I enjoyed this film quite a bit. Surprisingly so, given I thought it was a random library-filler on Netflix but it’s more than that.

As an aside, Joe Swanberg wrote, directed and stars as Jeff (an indie movie maker). That’s pretty impressive. I will definitely looking for more of his work.

TL;DR “Random Christmas indie film is far better than expected.”

Apocalypse Female Warriors (2009)

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If you’ve read many of our reviews here, you’ll know we’re big fans of Len Kabasinski, the micro-budget director who’s brought us many fun genre movies. We’ve even reviewed this before, under its original title, “Warriors of the Apocalypse”, so please read our initial review here.

 

Why are we reviewing it again? Well, Kabasinski decided the initial release wasn’t up to scratch (it does seem like the original post-production was quite troubled), so decided to re-edit and improve some of the special effects. If I’m reading the IMDB page right, it’s also a bit shorter than the original, clocking in at a splendidly trim 74 minutes.

 

No sense recapping what we’ve already written (as nothing significant or plot-dependent has been changed), so let’s talk technical stuff. Everything works a lot better! The fights snap along, and the editing is top-notch; while I haven’t done a strict comparison between the two, it feels like hundreds of changes were made. The special effects, although still definitely at the cheap end of things, look sharper, the blood looks more realistic and the explosions (which I liked before) also look a little improved.

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I want to give Len Kabasinski some praise. There aren’t a ton of filmmakers who’d be happy with someone coming in and re-editing their movie and tweaking the special effects, but that’s what he did with Chris Young (who joins Len on one of the DVD’s new commentary tracks). From the – admittedly little – I know about him, he seems a remarkably ego-free guy, who’s happy to learn from anyone and everyone.

 

Additional praise goes to inviting the Red Letter Media guys to do the other commentary track. Even though Mike, Rich and Jay are clearly fans, they’re also totally honest about all the technical shortcomings, and honest commentaries are a rare thing. Being a fan of Red Letter Media too, it was cool to hear them talk about it, and they gave plenty of insights into the making of micro-budget movies, as well as wandering down many conversational paths (how they’d probably fail to survive an apocalypse was a highlight). They’re funny guys and their commentary is well worth listening to (as is Len’s).

The RLM fellows

The RLM fellows

One of the things about grindhouse and 80s / 90s shot-on-video stuff is that they were often pretty short. Donald Farmer’s early movies clocked in at under an hour, and the history of low-budget cinema is littered with 70-75 minute gems. Okay, it’s not all of them, or even most, but it’s not necessarily bad to have your movie come in at that length. I think a few low-budget moviemakers, perhaps worried about selling to TV and their 2 hour (with commercials) slots, have forgotten this, and we have been subjected to many “hey, the lead’s sister is trying to get to this place for some reason” subplots which go nowhere and add nothing. What I’m getting at in a roundabout way is that there are thousands of movies which could benefit from what Kabasinski has done with “Apocalypse Female Warriors”, and that’s trim all the fat. Exciting 75 minute movies are better than sort-of-okay 90 minute ones (although I liked the original version just fine, this is much improved).

 

It’s available where all good movies are sold, and I highly recommend it. Support low-budget filmmaking, because if you don’t then we’ll have nothing left to review.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Spaceballs (1987)

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Thanks to the news of some big sci-fi film or other being released this week, I decided to re-watch a beloved parody of my youth. While it was kicking off, my wife and I had the conversation that everyone has while watching a Mel Brooks movie in 2015 – when was his last good one? Of course, he had an amazing career as a writer of jokes for other people before the movies, but that falls somewhat outside of our remit here. Anyway, I realised he’s not actually directed anything since 1995, and I think the case is there for his first decade as a director being as good as any decade by anyone – from “The Producers” through to “High Anxiety”, several enduring comedy classics. But then…boy oh boy, did he fall of a quality cliff. “History of the World Part 1”, then a very long break, then “Spaceballs”, and then onto a career-killing trio – “Life Stinks”, “Robin Hood: Men In Tights” and “Dracula: Dead And Loving It”. Ye gods! I walked out of a cinema showing of “Men In Tights”, it’s just unbearably bad.

 

Since then, he’s seemed content to show up occasionally in other peoples’ projects (including those of the guy who managed for a time to be an even worse version of late-era Brooks, Ezio Gregio), make an animated series based on this movie, and collect fat royalty cheques for “The Producers”. Good on him, I say, but we’re not here to talk about his later life, we’re here to talk about 1987’s “Spaceballs”.

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Where to start? Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) has been dispatched from planet Spaceball to go and suck all the air from planet Druidia and take it back, as Spaceball is running out. Druidia has, for some reason, a protective dome covering the entire planet and the only way through it is with a password, so Dark Helmet decides to kidnap Druidia’s Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga). Her father the King then employs interstellar “hero for hire” Lone Star (Bill Pullman) and his half-dog sidekick Barf (John Candy) to get her back. In the course of their adventures, they meet the small, odd mystic Yogurt (Mel Brooks), President Skroob of Spaceball (Brooks again) and Vespa’s robot sidekick Dot Matrix (voice supplied by Joan Rivers).

 

But really it’s just a long parody of (mostly) “Star Wars”. The Force becomes The Schwarz, Darth Vader is Dark Helmet, C3PO is Dot Matrix, etc. etc. etc. Not only are there bits and pieces of other movies in there, though (like “Transformers” and, most memorably, “Alien”, with John Hurt popping up), but Brooks being Brooks, it’s got more of his humour in it and less straight parody stuff. So Dark Helmet is sort of powerful and feared but he’s more the stereotypical nebbish; the President is nothing like the Emperor, he’s just an idiot; and while you can track Star Wars characters onto the four main cast members, they don’t really share any characteristics with the originals.

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Brooks asked George Lucas if he could do a parody movie, and Lucas was apparently delighted by the idea, even letting him use Industrial Light & Magic to do the special effects. The only condition was that they make no “Spaceballs” merchandise at all, which goes some way towards explaining the running gag in the film where they keep having more and more “Spaceballs”-themed stuff on screen…talking of which, the whole gag about there being too much merch has been ruined by the most recent “Star Wars” movie, which has got tie-ins with just about everything – Star Wars water, Star Wars cheese, and so on. Never a good sign when reality is worse than a parody movie.

 

There are some great bits in it, to go along with the lame parody jokes and awful puns – I really liked the section where, to figure out what was going on, Dark Helmet and his cronies get the VHS tape of “Spaceballs” and watch it. The best jokes were them messing with the fabric of the movie itself, like when the bad guys accidentally captured the stunt doubles (a brilliant idea). Someone as talented as Mel Brooks is always going to be able to throw a couple of gems out there, and I liked the Jewish humour / deep space juxtaposition.

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“Spaceballs” is beloved by people of a certain age (mine, roughly); both as a great comedy and as part of that pre “Scary Movie” tradition of parody movies that don’t suck. But…the years have not been kind to it. There’s way too many gags that make you groan or just flat out suck (“comb the desert”, dear me), and it was almost as if Brooks’ heart wasn’t really in it any more. It sadly bears more in common with his later movies than his earlier ones, and while it was still entertaining enough to watch for me, an old fan, I think if you’ve never seen it before then…well, perhaps stick to Brooks’ classic period.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Bikini Bloodbath Christmas (2009)

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First things first and let’s get it out of the way – you really ought to know what to expect when you rent a movie called “Bikini Bloodbath Christmas”. While that’s not necessarily an excuse (we wouldn’t be thrilled about people making really racist movies and then telling us to just not bother seeing them if we don’t agree with it), it’s more a quality guide – as in, if you like quality cinema, probably best skip this one.

The “Bikini Bloodbath” series is, quelle surprise, the brainchild of two men, Jonathan Gorman and Thomas Edward Seymour. These two valiant campaigners for feminism have crafted a series where…get ready for it…women in bikinis get murdered! The male cast is an unappealing and doughy bunch (presumably both directors and their friends) whereas all the women are either gorgeous and skinny (comparatively, this is a very low budget film after all), or have absolutely enormous breasts.  The villain in this enduring series (four movies and counting, although it looks like it’s done) is Chef Death, who might as well be called “Generic Slasher Villain X”, and they’re filmed in a tiny number of locations.

Now that’s out of the way, I have a confession to make, dear reader. I sort of enjoyed this movie! It was picked purely due to it being a Christmas movie, and having Debbie Rochon in it (who we loved in “Colour From The Dark”), but there’s a definite real sense of humour at work here. In fact, the comedy is by far the best thing about this movie – the gore effects, while certainly gross, are very cheap, and the nudity just becomes numbing after a while due to its ubiquity.

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The plot, such as it is, involves a feud between a weed shop and a deli, two stores that share the same yard. It’s Christmas time, and both shops want their own Santas outside, but there’s not really enough space for both of them, so there’s a fight between the store owners, the two Santas, and a few sharp words between the women, before it’s completely forgotten. For some reason, despite weed shops and delis not being the typical sort of place you’d expect to get served by a woman in a bikini, both owners are insistent on their staff being decked in as little as possible, and the film is kind enough to show every single scene of dressing and undressing which is physically possible.

I’m really not selling it well, am I? Tell you what, let’s get the rest of the bad stuff out of the way before we get to what the film really does well. The two bosses insult the women in the movie almost constantly, and while it’s not supposed to be taken seriously, the sheer volume and vitriol of the insults really wears on you after a while. It’s like the movie is determined to tell us that these bikini models are no better than you or I, and I honestly don’t understand why they’re doing it. The women don’t feel they have any agency in their own story – they’re insulted from pillar to post, and every now and again one of them will get butchered.

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Okay, I admit it. Criticising the lack of agency in a movie like this is so far beyond pointless that I wish I could get the skin cells that wore off typing those words back. But there’s a reason that stuff is annoying, and it’s because there’s a lot to like otherwise. There are some great jokes, some surprisingly inventive visual moments, and there are a couple of great performances in there too. Rachael Robbins as Jenny, the final girl from the previous two movies, is great, and Margaret Rose Champagne as “William Dafoe”, the evil Frenchwoman, is absolutely hilarious. Rochon is in it for maybe thirty seconds, which makes her top billing a little annoying…but the women do pretty well, all told.

There’s one scene which angered my wife so much I have to write about it (and it’s an amazingly new way to gross people out). Desperate to use the toilet, only there’s a dead girl on there, one of the characters opens a window and dangles his bare ass out of it. Rather than just having gross sound effects, we are treated to an extreme close up of a fake butthole, with a stream of shit coming out of it. I salute them for finding a level below the bottom of the barrel, I suppose?

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If the film had tried a little less hard to offend, and someone had told the directors that in an era where nudity is available at the click of a button, for free, for everyone in the world, then concentrating so hard on nudity might not be the best plan; we might have had a little B-movie gem. They have a talent for comedy, and a cast which doesn’t suck – try something that plays to those strengths, and you might even be able to find some decent actresses (or just ones who aren’t thrilled about constantly disrobing for a couple of sleazy guys).

Rating: thumbs in the middle

PS – if there was ever a sign of non-quality, it’s having a Lloyd Kaufman cameo in your movie. He presumably wrote his own dialogue, so unless you’re desperate to see a sad, pathetic old man say “I’m just off to rape a pregnant woman” feel free to hit fast-forward whenever you see his face.

Colour From The Dark (2008)

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When HP Lovecraft wasn’t insulting the working classes or non-white people, he could turn out a pretty fantastic story, and as he’s both famous and in the public domain, lots of movies have used those stories, and have had no problem with altering large portions of the source material. Sometimes, like “Cthulhu Mansion”, it’s an “inspired by the fiction of” credit (which means “we took the famous words and ignored the rest”); sometimes, like with  “Dark Heritage”, they try and stick closer.

“The Colour From The Dark”, though, is a sort of halfway house. The title gives us a clue – HPL’s original is called “The Colour Out Of Space”; and is about the horror caused when a few people interact with an very alien race (this is a very very brief and incomplete summary of the original). Lovecraft apparently spent a great deal of time imagining what an alien race completely and utterly different in all things to humanity would act and behave, and that fed into the story, one of his very best. He also tried to imagine / describe a brand new colour, which I’m sure you’d agree is a bit tough for a visual medium like the movies. This, on the other hand, puts the action very much in the hands of people (so I think, it’s open to interpretation).

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It’s Italy, in 1943. A small family is farming the land as families there had probably done in roughly the same way for centuries, and it looks a beautiful peaceful little idyll. Of course, the date should give you a clue, and when we see the neighbour of our main family giving help to a Jewish woman, we know something’s not right (even though there’s only one Nazi in the movie, really). Pietro the farmer, his wife Lucia, and Lucia’s younger sister Alice live together, but all is not well with Alice – for reasons which I think remain unspecified, she is mute and has some “difficulties”.

 

One day, Alice drops a bucket down the well, and trying to retrieve it, Pietro causes…something?…to happen. Smoke billows out of the well, along with a sort of lightning-looking thing, and things start happening pretty much immediately. The vegetables they’re growing, watered by that same well, start growing to monstrous size, and then even stranger, soon Alice is talking again and Lucia has become a sexual dynamo. Only Pietro appears unaffected initially, but things get darker and darker for our family, and…well, it’s available to watch for free, I’ll leave you to discover that.

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“Colour From The Dark” does a remarkable job of giving that feel of Lovecraft’s best fiction, perhaps more strongly than any movie the ISCFC has covered so far (with the exception of “Dagon”), that we are ultimately powerless against forces much too big and alien for us to understand. Now, here’s my theory about this movie, as it’s definitely not to do with aliens. The thing that causes the crops to fail and the people to slowly descend into madness is a Nazi chemical weapon, accidentally dropped in the bottom of the well. The Nazis and fascism could count as the “alien” belief system, which isn’t so much fought against as survived by people like the Italian villagers. I do want to point out that I ran this past my friends, who watched the movie with me, and they think I’m talking rubbish. So you may have a very different take to me.

 

It’s let down a little by some technical stuff. The CGI is awful, and presumably the budget was very small indeed (tiny handful of sets, a garden with very obvious blue screen behind the cast for some shots). It’s quite visually boring, too – look at a movie like “The Reflecting Skin” for how to shoot those sorts of locations with not much money. The three main women in the movie all look way too similar, which leads to unnecessary puzzlement at the beginning of a few scenes; although the acting is fine, with a series of perfectly workmanlike performances, with one particular exception.

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Debbie Rochon, as Lucia, is absolutely amazing. Her transformation is entirely believable, her sexuality almost leaps through the screen and grabs you, she’s mysterious and beautiful and far far too good to have just had a career as a low-rent “scream queen” (including a lot of Troma movies and a couple with Donald Farmer, so we’ll be seeing her again soon). Every scene with her in ends up elevated.

 

Sadly, the low budget is not my only criticism. While filmmaker Ivan Zuccon nailed the atmosphere (he’s made a lot of Lovecraft adaptations, so it’s perhaps to be expected) he really didn’t write enough movie. The middle is really slow, and while I’ve tried to spin the Nazi thing as a plot substitute for aliens, the whole thing with the Jewish refugee and the town’s Nazi never really went anywhere. It could have been set literally anywhere with the tiniest bit of tweaking.

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But, this is definitely in the “win” column for Lovecraft movies. Great atmosphere, interesting plot, and one amazing performance.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Vicious Kiss (1995)

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I think it’s time for a new ISCFC rule – the “Genre Director Rule”. Basically, it means when you’re enjoying the genre (horror, sci-fi, fantasy, post-apocalyptic, whatever) work of a particular director, don’t follow them into normal stuff. Applied very specifically to ISCFC flavour of the month Donald Farmer, it means “don’t watch his erotic thrillers”. Saying that, though, he manages to find a new way to make this film suck, so perhaps he ought to be commended.

 

It’s an unwelcome return for Danny Fendley, “star” of Farmer’s previous effort “Compelling Evidence”. And it’s also an unwelcome return for that movie’s plot! Okay, the whole “I can’t leave my wife because of money” thing is very much the B story here, it’s still I think pretty compelling proof that Farmer was having some trouble with the ladies in the mid 90s. Or really really liked that plot idea, one of the two. Anyway, James (Fendley) is cheating on his wife, and the wife busts in…but it was all a dream! Or was it? Angela, the wronged wife, wakes up and touches the incredibly cheesy portrait of her husband that hangs in her home. That the infidelity was shown by a scene in a hotel room, followed immediately by a different scene in a different hotel room, shows right away that Farmer doesn’t care for your desire to have movies that make sense.

 

Fendley again! This time he’s got obviously fake long hair and is an artist called Jason, about to have his big opening. His wife’s there, and so is Angela, who sees her dead husband in front of her so…well, immediately decides to get herself involved in his life. This involves buying one of his paintings, getting him to deliver it, drugging and raping him, then trying (quite poorly) to convince him he’s actually James. Lisa, Jason’s wife, is a bit nonplussed by all this erratic behaviour, plus there’s an art critic subplot that I thought might go somewhere, but is really just an excuse for Farmer to insult critics some more (I do hope he agrees to do an interview with me when I’ve watched all his movies!)

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Before we go any further – or because I don’t want to go any further and would prefer to talk about something fun – let’s take a wander through technical things. While this movie is shot with a more expensive VHS camcorder than his previous movies, it still has that lovely VHS quality to it; but that’s not the only thing that should worry us. I’m talking acting. Fendley is still operating on his two-level approach – blank or angry – but he’s joined by some real troopers. The art critic could be the worst actress I’ve ever seen (I think it’s Robin Joy Brown, whose career amounts to this and a walkon part on “Just Shoot Me” five years later); indeed the only remotely bright spark is erotic thriller mainstay Monique Parent as Angela. She does what’s needed of her, and while she’s never going to win an Oscar, she’s head and shoulders above the rest of the cast.

 

Then we come finally to Jason’s wife Lisa. Lisa is played by Margaux Hemingway, another cautionary Hollywood tale to join that of Dana Plato from “Compelling Evidence”. She was the less famous and successful sister of Mariel, and after trips to and from rehab, drank and drugged herself to death the year after this film was released, dying alone and remaining undiscovered for several days. I was going to mock her bizarre speech patterns and complete inability to look like a human being in any scene, but she was firmly in the grip of her addictions when shooting this, so let’s move on.

 

I checked the time with what I expected to be about 15 minutes to go and discovered I wasn’t even at the halfway point! It’s almost unbearably repetitive, with Angela letting Jason go, then capturing him again, sex scenes used as padding, then trying to convince him he’s someone else, then him escaping…when she hires some drunk guy she finds outside a bar to murder someone and pin it on Jason, I almost cheered because at least it was a different face on screen. So this goes on and on for what feels like three movies, moving from “Fatal Attraction” to “Misery” and back again, before sort of stumbling to a lame conclusion. Once again, a man who’s had a murder pinned on him by a deranged female  in a Donald Farmer movie appears to just have everyone believe him, and be fine, at the end. By the way, he’d already beat the crap out of two police officers and escaped arrest, so he’s definitely spending some time in a jail cell. And then there’s a fight with a crazy old man somewhere near the end too. And another propaganda piece about California’s community property and divorce laws is over.

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I just don’t understand why this movie exists. It’s not like psycho woman movies were big business in the mid 90s (“Misery”, “Fatal Attraction”, “Single White Female”, etc. all significantly predating this), so the usual excuse of the low-budget people chasing the Hollywood trends doesn’t hold here. If he’d done that, it would’ve been some smart-ass crime thriller. At this very very low budget level, I guess Farmer could pick whatever subject he wanted, and for the second movie in a row he wanted an “erotic” thriller about cheating spouses. He wanted it absolutely chock full of awful sex (at least Fendley took his trousers off in this movie) and a plot that absolutely went nowhere, slowly.

 

Next up is the first of the “Red Lips” trilogy, and it appears to be sort of about vampires but not really. Anything other than this garbage will be fine.

 

Rating: thumbs down