Terminal Rush (1996)

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Long-term readers may remember our reviews of the “Bloodfist” series, 9 movies which mostly featured Don “The Dragon” Wilson, playing a variety of characters in a variety of environments. It could have been a “Bloodfist”, I suppose – released the same year as “Bloodfist 8”, it bears the same relation to the rest of the series as that one does (none whatsoever). “Terminal Rush” does bear a passing resemblance to one of the more enduring B-movie templates of all time, but more on that later.

 

“They’d have to be a real nutcase” to try and take over the Hoover dam, says a cop near the beginning. Luckily, the movies are lousy with erudite nutcases who want to blow things up and steal things and make a ton of money from doing so, and “Terminal Rush” is no different. Harrison Dekker (Michael Anderson Jr, “Logan’s Run”) leads a team of mercenaries into the Dam, killing some guards, taking others hostage and threatening to blow the dam up unless he gets $25 million. His sidekick is Bartel (the late, great “Rowdy” Roddy Piper) and if you’ve seen any promotional images for this movie, you’ll have noticed Bartel’s rather unusual make-up choices.

 

Wilson is local Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Harper (who spent 6 years in Special Forces, we are helpfully told at one point) and he seems to like the life in whatever small town it is that’s next to Hoover Dam. Unfortunately, his wife Katherine (Kate Greenhouse) doesn’t, I guess – it’s never really elaborated on – and as the movie begins, she’s packing her stuff to move out. She wants Jacob to go with her, but he won’t because his grandfather told him his destiny is to perform an act of great heroism in this town. We discover later that she’s pregnant, and her brother is one of the other Deputies, so her insistence on leaving town right at that moment feels a bit off; but literally no-one in the universe is watching this for accuracy in the depiction of marriage, so I won’t dwell on it too much.

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As you’ve probably guessed by now, it’s a “Die Hard” clone, with a bit of “Under Siege” thrown in for good measure. Don finds out that the Dam has been taken over so goes in through a secret maintenance tunnel and starts kicking ass. The FBI are brought in, and they try and stop him; then the Sheriff asks for the Army to be brought in too. In a moderately interesting twist, it seems some of the people on the outside are working for the people inside, and $25 million isn’t going to make much of a difference divided that many ways, so there’s a whole other reason for them being there and a whole lot more money to be made. Can Jacob stop them all? Can Dekker stop doing that thing where the villain shoots one of his own guys in cold blood to prove a point to the other guys?

 

There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be decent – I’ve liked a lot of those cheap ripoff movies, think Don Wilson is a decent enough actor and a great martial artist, and love Roddy Piper. It just feels like a cover version with no soul, though. Take the gunfire scenes (please) and watch how many people appear to be just firing randomly into the air. Or, even with a complete amateur’s limited knowledge of tactics, how stupid they all seem (set yourself in position before you start firing, don’t run and gun from the hip, you’ll never hit the bloke). It’s mostly in one of those disused factories that we B-movie fans know and love, but there’s no sense of where people are in relation to other people…

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It’s just poorly directed. Full of Dutch angles, and that thing where people are shot from a camera which appears to be sat on the floor, meaning we see up a lot of noses. Lord knows why, it becomes irritating really quickly. Director Damian Lee is in regular work (and made ISCFC non-favourite “Ski School”, among others), making those thrillers you’d see on the video shop shelves starring former big stars who still have some name recognition (Dominic Purcell, Andy Garcia, Forrest Whittaker, Cuba Gooding Jr, Christian Slater), and maybe he got better, but this is just bland. Even Piper is sort of bland in this, like he got the weird face-paint but wasn’t allowed to go over the top at all.

 

A word about screenwriter Mark Sevi, who seems to have written more sequels than any other writer ever. To list his first seven credits: Excessive Force II: Force on Force; Dream a Little Dream 2; Scanner Cop II; Relentless IV: Ashes to Ashes; Ghoulies IV; Fast Getaway II; Class of 1999 II: The Substitute; Dead On: Relentless II. “Terminal Rush” was only his second original screenplay – well, okay, “original” is pushing the definition a bit much.

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I expected the ending to be “well, husband, you’re good at your job, therefore I love you again” but they did a surprising (and quite welcome) twist on that sad sexist old trope. It is, unfortunately, the only remotely surprising thing about the movie, and while it’s certainly tolerable, it’s just a bit too amateurish. When you have a movie where Roddy Piper gets to blow up helicopters with a rocket launcher and you’re not grinning from ear to ear at the end, you’ve done something wrong.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Witchcraft VIII: Salem’s Ghost (1996)

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When people who’ve voluntarily sat through the first 7 Witchcraft movies say “this is a bad one”, then you know you’re in for a tough time. The thing is, I don’t want to overload with the angry bad movie hyperbole, because that might give you the impression that it’s in any way worth watching or spending your time on – what I want is to send writer/director Joseph John Barmettler’s details to any serial killers currently operating in the Los Angeles area, because then at least something positive might come from this thoroughly wretched experience.

 

Two things happen in the first twenty minutes that left me sad, because it was manifestly clear that no-one involved in this at any level gave the tiniest bit of a damn about it. Firstly, and I’ll accept this might bother me more than it would bother this movie’s average viewer, new professor Sonny Dunaway is telling his class at Salem College about the history of witchcraft, only it’s one of those history lessons designed for us rather than the people in that room, because you’d hope they’d already know. Anyway, this isn’t the thing that annoyed me! To him, places like Salem happened just because, and had nothing to do with viciously puritanical men wanting to keep women in their place (okay, not the only reason, but certainly a critical one).

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But most important comes when we find out that the house Sonny and his wife Mary Ann move into was built over the top of a crypt designed to magically trap the super-powerful warlock Simon Renfro for all eternity. Leaving aside that the enormous mansion would be a bit out of the price range of a teacher (and the one next door, owned by a plumber), you’d think that if you were an expert on the history of the area, you’d have investigated the house you were buying before buying it – or at the very least would have looked round, including the gigantic basement. Well, that’s what people in real life would do, and this is a Witchcraft movie. Sorry.

 

These are far from the only examples of whatever the level below “will this do?” is, but I’d best at least mention the plot. Couple moves to Salem so the husband can teach at the local college; they accidentally release The Warlock, and a guy from the “Protestant Church Of England” comes to help them put him back. Wow, that was a bit quicker a recap than even I expected. There’s an utterly irrelevant subplot about Sonny having cheated with one of his students before, and all the women in this class being gorgeous models who inexplicably are hot for this unattractive, boring-looking guy, but that can safely be ignored. Compared to part 7, there’s barely any sex in it too, although all three of the main women are, of course, required to disrobe at least once.

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The real reason the Warlock is released is down to Sonny’s neighbour, Mitch. He and his wife Gayle just walk into Sonny’s house without being asked or invited and make themselves at home, which is one of my least favourite bad movie tropes; but they double down by having Mitch, later, break into the house while Sonny is (for some reason) having a lecture in his lounge, go down to the basement, tear a massive hole in the wall, discover the sealed up crypt, break into that as well, and steal the magic cross which has kept The Warlock trapped for the last three hundred years. This eventually turns Mitch mad and he’s carted off by the police before the end – this movie is so miserable I was hoping the police would knock on my door and treat me the same way so I’d be spared any more of it.

 

My notes are full of angry lines in all caps. One, “SELL IT YOU IDIOT”, relates to when the Church guy McArthur turns up (by the way, an actual C of E person would never describe the faith as “the Protestant Church of England”, but he does several times). He says the sale of the house was a mistake and offers to buy it back – and even though several horrible things have already happened, Sonny angrily turns him down. What? So McArthur just hangs around helping them protect the house, trap the Warlock there and ultimately defeat him (check out the completely non-Christian things they do, for fun). They figure out that the neighbour probably has the cross, but don’t bother doing anything as sensible as knocking on his door and asking for it back. Why would they? HAHAHAHAHA

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Sonny is claustrophobic, referenced several times throughout the movie, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that at some point he’s getting trapped in a coffin. What happens isn’t so much that he bravely gets over his fear, but just ignores it – he’s locked in the coffin and barely panics, shouting advice to his wife and looking for a weapon in there.

 

Damn, is this film bad. It rips off better films for no reason – from the fridge sex scene in “9 ½ Weeks” to iconic images from “The Exorcist”, “Poltergeist” and “The Omen”, and all that brings to mind is “I wish I was watching one of those movies”. It has a miserable collection of “actors”, most of whom have this as their only credit, doughy ugly guys with ridiculously hot wives, and a lingering feeling of sadness that all the people involved with this thought this was as good as they could do.

 

A brief mention of continuity, because I know that’s what you all come here for. “Witchcraft 7” ended with the death of Will Spanner – whether it was intended to be the end of the series is unknown, or I can’t be bothered to find out, either way. This movie, despite sharing a producer, wasn’t intended to be part of the rich, wonderful “Witchcraft” universe, being named “Satan’s Ghost”, but plans to make this a spin-off series were shelved and it was renamed before release, so now 20 years later I’m wasting two hours of my life and however long it took you to read this of yours. As we’re expecting parts 14, 15 and 16 of this franchise later this year, the “series ending” didn’t exactly take. Will Spanner is back from the dead in part 9, so…I was about to say “we have that to look forward to” but I’m definitely not looking forward to it.

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There is one redeeming feature. And you don’t need to even watch the movie to enjoy it. Should you ever find a VHS tape of this for £0.01, grab it, pop it in and fast-forward to the end credits. A fellow called Steve Jacobson wrote a song based on the action in the movie (I do love movie songs which describe the plot), and it’s…well, amazing, and were it on Youtube I’d be sharing it with you.

 

As we hit the halfway mark of this series, I’m…glad there’s only 8 left. And as 14, 15 and 16 may never see an official release, that means there’s only 5 more! 5 is easy to handle, right?

 

Rating: thumbs down

PS – one last thing, the end of the end credits reveal how little these scumbags cared.

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Witchcraft VII: Judgement Hour (1995)

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As it would be almost literally impossible to be less interesting than “Witchcraft 6”, part 7 is an uptick for the franchise. New things happen, new characters are introduced, and there’s quite big news for the “Witchcraft” universe at the end. Also, and I think this is sort of important, this is the first movie with absolutely no witchcraft in it at all. No spells, no powers, no Satanic sacrifice, no nothing.

 

It’s also another movie by ISCFC hero-turned-villain Michael Paul Girard. From “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars”, to “Getting Lucky”, to writing part 4 of this series, he had a career filled with…one good movie and a huge stream of garbage. He directed this and part 9 (Witchcraft 8 being a different movie that the producers bought the rights to and renamed) too, before helming the reprehensible “Different Strokes”, making a few straight-up softcore porn movies and then “retiring” – he now writes awful-sounding novels and hopefully never goes near a movie set.

 

What he has done, though, is inadvertently allow you, via the medium of the fast-forward button, to create a “non-director’s cut” of this movie. Every time a couple moves in for some sexy fun times and the music starts – you know the sort of music I’m talking about, all saxophone led and slow and sensuous – hit that FF button and be your own editor. Once you’ve seen one mid-90s softcore scene, you’ve seen em all, so unless your enthusiasm for boobs is way way off the charts, you can turn a flabby unerotic 90 minutes into a moderately tolerable 60. By the 24 minute mark, I’d already counted 4 sex scenes, for example, so you need to keep that remote close at hand.

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Part 7 brings back the main people from the previous instalment, but has chosen to replace all the actors playing them. This is fine, as they all sucked, but in one case (the bald sidekick, “Lutz”) the character is now a woman! I admire the sheer laziness of not just giving her a different name. Anyway, Will Spanner, who rumour has it was once a warlock although in seven movies he’s not cast a single spell, is now played by yet another “actor”, David Byrnes. Byrnes is not the busiest thesp of all time, basically never working outside this and part 9, and nor is he the best – he actually looks quite a bit like a sleazy lawyer, but not enough like the lead actor of a movie about witchcraft. April Breneman gets the job of his wife Keli, and she’s got quite the range (more on her later). But…and I don’t know if this is just the terrible quality of the movies I’ve watched recently, but the two cops are actually sort of okay! John Garner is Craggen, and Alisa Christensen is Lutz. Christensen is the only actor with any sort of decent credits (and even she’s much better known as a stunt performer – don’t read about her life after acting if you want to keep a smile on your face), but the two of them try their hardest with the awful wooden dialogue they’re given, so kudos to them.

 

I really don’t want to talk about this movie, as you might have guessed, but here goes. Thanks to being in the hospital on a completely unrelated case, Will discovers a huge conspiracy involving…vampires! Some ponytailed douchebag from Eastern Europe is in town to buy up the insurance company that deals with all America’s blood supplies, for vampiric purposes (really not sure what he wants it for, as it’s not like they’re trying to give up eating people). After a scene where Will and the cops chased the newest vampire through the streets, many questions can be immediately posed. How come she can run through the streets in the middle of the day, basically naked, when the Boss Vampire appears allergic to sunlight like normal? And how on earth did they think the rain effect they used (which looked like a hosepipe held above the camera with a few holes punched in it) would be good enough to pass muster in a real, properly released, expect-people-to-pay-for-it movie? At this point, my wife (enjoying her first “Witchcraft” movie) turned to me with a look of comedic disdain and said “are you enjoying the boobs?” and I replied “I’ve seen a million boobs in movies, but I’ve never seen a special effect as pathetic as that”.

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Will kills this new vampire, but his cop buddies cover for him. Then…and this is perhaps the stupidest scene in the movie…he goes home to Keli, who immediately starts screaming at him because he was out late. Rather than saying “I just killed someone who was probably a vampire”, he answers a lot of questions exactly the same way an adulterer would, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, other than to extend this brain-buggeringly stupid scene for a few more minutes. Luckily, minutes later, she’s entirely put aside her angry suspicion of her husband and has some sex with him. It’d have been cool (if unlikely, given the quality of everything else in this piece of garbage) if her insane mood swings were part of the plot, but it’s just terrible acting, writing and direction.

 

The villain’s plot is foiled pathetically quickly, and despite having been around for hundreds of years and, as we’re shown in a previous scene, being really good with a sword, he gets his ass handed to him by the completely untrained non-supernatural Will. Or does he? And here’s where I guess I ought to warn you about upcoming spoilers, because (go to the next paragraph)…they impale each other on the same bit of wood and both die! Yes, that’s how you treat your heroic lead character – have him do basically nothing for 6.9 movies, then have him killed right at the end. For nothing, as it turns out he didn’t even successfully kill the main baddie either – he sort of escapes and crawls all the way to Keli, who he’d previously turned into a vampire, only for her to finish him off.

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Three examples of why sometimes, if you can’t afford a special effect, you shouldn’t even try. Head Vampire (I should probably have bothered learning his name, but who cares?) turns into a sort of troll / gargoyle thing from time to time, and it’s embarrassingly bad. I’ve seen puppets in second-hand shops that look better than that; and keeping with the villain, when he’s finally sent to his death, he falls into an endless whirlpool of fire, an effect that would have you laughed out of any CGI for dummies school in the land. But I think these two pale in comparison to Will’s hair. Throughout, Will has floppy 90s businessman hair, which is ugly but dependable. Then, while in his office one day, his hair’s slicked back (not tied back, it’s not long enough). He gets a call from the cops, and in the next scene is walking down the street with them, hair floppy again. Oops! Then, they go to the club / hotel / evil den, and it’s slicked back again, and they even try and cover it by having Will smooth his hair into place for a second. Unless you secrete pomade, my man, just reshoot the scene!

 

You may remember I said this was a step up from part 6, then spent a thousand words insulting it. Well…a D grade is better than a D-, I suppose? It’s just a parade of terrible actors making a stupid, badly written movie, with a director who got lucky once and then spent a decade clinging on to the bottom rung of the dirtiest, sleaziest ladder in Hollywood by the skin of his teeth.

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There is the barest modicum of entertainment to be gotten from this. I promise, readers, when this series is done, we’ll move onto something decent. I’ve heard that “Leprechaun” has a few fun instalments, and I liked the first three “Hellraiser” movies too.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

Witchcraft 666: The Devil’s Mistress (1994)

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NOOOOOOOOOOOO

 

I’m 6 movies in, and there’s still the entire length of the longest series we’ve ever covered (Friday 13th and Puppet Master each have 10 in their “canon”) to go! Why did I think this would be a good idea? There has to be a limit on the human brain’s capacity to tolerate crap, right? My friend Ben on Facebook talks about the cool stuff he watches regularly, all arthouse and award-winning, and I have…the sixth Witchcraft movie!

 

Let’s see if we can have some fun with it though, eh? William Spanner, moderately useless lead character of the previous four instalments (I don’t think we can blame him for part 1, he was only a baby) had, I thought, become a cop. There’s a wacky cop duo – one bald and constantly cracking jokes; the other so painfully generic that it’s 12 hours since I watched the movie and I can barely remember a thing about him. I thought cop no.2 was our guy, but it turns out they hadn’t quite reached their quota of white guys who can’t act worth a damn; Jerry Spicer becomes the third adult to play the part.

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A quick aside, because almost anything is more fun than talking about this movie – if you look at Spicer’s IMDB profile, you’ll notice two things. One, he’s not got a photograph, the sign of un-quality; and two, all his other roles apart from this are “guard #4” and “man at bar”. How this perennial bit part guy got a starring role is a conundrum best left to the ages, but never mind that as we’ve got a movie to get back to.

 

A big guy and his extremely hot sidekick Cat (Shannon McLeod, perhaps the only cast member who realises how terrible this all is and has fun with it) are seducing women, injecting them with some weird liquid then taking them to their boss, who has the power to create a pentagram on their bellies by just touching them. It’s a whole thing about an upcoming total eclipse, and wanting to bring Satan back, you know, the usual. Bald Cop and Generic Cop are chewed out by their Captain so, poring over crime scene photos, they find a clue and, thinking outside the box, bring in an expert on the occult to help them crack the case. Quite how anyone knows that Will is an occult expert is beyond me, given he never expresses any interest in it and seems determined to put that part of his life behind him.

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The main villain is Savanti (the unfortunately named Brian Nutter), and compared to the guy from part 5, he’s almost comatose. He sends Cat to hire Will, bringing him into their world and also trying to seduce him; if Savanti had left well enough alone, his plan would’ve worked flawlessly and Satan would right now be flaying the flesh from all our bones. Ah well. Anyway…god, this plot is thin and unappealing. All the ladies in the movie disrobe at the drop of a hat – Cat has sex on a car bonnet right next to a street where several cars pass; as I’m sure they didn’t close the set, some lucky / unlucky commuters got an eyeful that night. Will’s wife Keli has a bath on her knees so the camera can see her boobs properly. You know, the sort of thing that we lovers of the lower end of the cinematic universe have come to understand, sadly, is just part of the price of admission.

 

This movie drags, and drags, and drags. And it’s stupid, too, but I’ll only give you one example because thinking about this movie is making me sad. At one point, Savanti’s main goon goes to Will’s house to kidnap Keli. Keli is smart, though, and hides, stabbing the goon with a pair of scissors. There’s presumably blood and fingerprints everywhere, we know the guy’s name and where he works, and Will has a couple of friends in the police department. CALL THE COPS! But no, Will and his cop friend go and do something else instead, leaving his traumatised wife alone.

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If you really like boobs, and I mean a lot, then there’s worse ways to spend 90 minutes than with this movie. It tries to be funny (even though it fails) and Shannon McLeod is always fun when she’s on screen. But it’s got a dull villain, an astonishingly dull star, basically the same plot as the last movie and looks like a cheap episode of a TV show. And it goes to show that hacky, exploitative crap is not just the domain of men! Writer / director Julie Davis would go on to slightly better things, but she doesn’t exactly cover herself in glory here. It’s not the worst Witchcraft (I think part 2 wins that) but it’s still really bad.

 

Rating: thumbs down

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

 

Dunwich_HorrorI occasionally like a good pop culture debate with no real right or wrong answer, and a fine example of this is “when did modern horror start?” What do you mean by modern, what do you mean by horror, etc, but two front runners for this particular prize are “Night Of The Living Dead”, from 1968, and “Halloween”, from 1977. Pretty much everything before “Night…” could be classed as “old-fashioned”, everything after “Halloween” is modern. Obviously, there are exceptions, which is why it’s a fun argument, but there’s also some interesting movies made in the middle, and “The Dunwich Horror” is one of those.

 

Our HP Lovecraft review series rumbles on apace, after the really pretty good “Colour From The Dark”. I was in a good mood from the opening credits, which felt like Bond crossed with Morricone, and the names that came up left my cult-movie-loving brain in happy anticipation – AIP, Samuel Z Arkoff, James Nicholson, and Roger Corman – Corman, working for AIP, made the extraordinary run of Edgar Allan Poe-based horrors in the 60s. Add in a script from future Oscar-winner Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential), an early role for Dean Stockwell, and expectations are, for once with one of the movies we review on this site, moderately high.

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Although this wasn’t directed by Corman – this one’s credited to Daniel Haller, who’d go on to direct loads of TV shows – it has that same feel, with the gorgeous super-bright technicolour in full effect (some beautiful purples in the Whateley house, for example). Our story kicks off with the Necronomicon, the “ancient” book of spells and demonic knowledge that Lovecraft made up and loads of people since have tried to prove is a real thing – Professor Armitage (Ed Begley) is giving a lecture about it and then just asks two of his students, Elizabeth (Donna Bacala) and Nancy (Sandra Dee, who got 5% of the profits from her participation) to just put it back in its locked box again. Ah, more casual times! In walks Wilbur Whateley (Stockwell), who wants to borrow the book; the Professor is all “no can do, random stranger”; there’s an attraction between Wilbur and Nancy; an extremely well written restaurant scene; and then Wilbur wangles a lift back to Dunwich as he’s missed his last bus.

 

Up to now, there’s been a bit of doubt, but Wilbur’s sabotaging her car lets us know for certain he’s up to no good. She’s forced to stay with him in his big old mansion, and then (thanks to a cup or two of magic tea) she’s in his power, forcing Elizabeth and the Professor to track her down. Because it’s Lovecraft, you know there’ll be some unusual family secrets, small towns and large dark forces; and because it’s Corman, you’ll know it’ll be quickly told and probably a little cheap. I’m being way unkind to Corman, though, who had a huge affinity for this sort of material and made some of the best horror of the 60s.

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This might be the best of the Lovecraft films we’ve done so far. A lot of criticism at the time came from its psychedelic trappings (filmed in 1969, released in 1970, it’s safe to say that “2001” had a bit of an influence), but when you’re dealing with something which, as in the original story, is invisible, trying to give some visual cues to the audience, the way they did it works extremely well. If you’ve got no money to represent a mutated child of an Elder God, then give us a light show from the monster’s POV. Well done movie!

 

Also, a good portion of Lovecraft adaptations get to the point of the story where Christianity is irrelevant and the creatures of the Cthulhu mythos come into play, and just go “Satan is sort of the same as these guys, right?” Some of them work, most of them don’t, but they all miss something important with the reduction, that idea of men (it’s always men) looking further than they should, staring into the abyss and definitely having it stare back into them. “The Dunwich Horror” lets you know right from the off it’s going to be doing it the right way, with Yog-Sothoth mentioned by name in the first five minutes and worshipped thereafter. Which isn’t to say it’s an extremely close adaptation of the story, but it gets the important stuff right.

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It’s perhaps a little creaky, erring more on the side of the early 60s Corman than the modern – with a few trims for hippie nudity, it could have easily been made 15 years earlier. And the ending’s a little bit rushed, with them perhaps battering you over the head with the similarities to “Rosemary’s Baby”. But it’s got a great atmosphere, well told, well directed, with some – okay – pretty ropey performances (Stockwell’s a bit mannered) and at least one really good one from Ed “dad of Ed Begley Jr” Begley; it was his last role as he died three months after finishing this.

 

Add this to the top of your hypothetical Lovecraft movie list, I say.

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Rating: thumbs up

Witchcraft V: Dance With The Devil (1993)

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Today I learned that if you try hard enough you can pretty much wipe the evidence of your involvement in the fifth instalment of some cheap erotic horror series from the face of the Earth (or the internet, which is the same thing). Nicole Sassaman, the villain’s sidekick Marta, is now a high-end interior decorator, and I thought she was great in this (review opinion spoiler!) so I looked her up and…nothing. Her IMDB page is right down at the bottom of page 1 of a search, and in the first four pages of looking there’s not a single reference to her acting career. Youtube has pages and pages of interior design tip videos from her, most with less than a thousand views, but there’s not a single compilation video of her movie stuff? Kudos to her for figuring out a way to beat the legions of horror nerds who’ve made “stars” out of actresses far less capable, I guess.

 

Or maybe it’s a misspelling, and they’re two different women, or something (20 years and a change of hair colour, but they certainly look very much alike). Or I’m a lunatic, she’s absolutely terrible and everyone made a conscious decision to ignore her. Who knows? But let’s talk about an above average episode of the “Witchcraft” series.

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In a surprisingly good and coherent opening, three stories collide. First up is a hooker con gone wrong (woman entices man, woman’s boyfriend batters fella over the head, they leave with his money, only this time they kill the guy). Marta and her useless boyfriend go to hide the body, but on the way they run over a hobo! Now that’s a rough night of accidents for any couple. Stopping to check on the hobo is the limo carrying the genuinely decent Reverend Meredith and his assistant; before he dies, the hobo releases some spirit he’s been carrying into the Rev, which causes him to change his personality quite considerably (but not entirely). Then, Marta’s car breaks down in the woods, and they just abandon it (solid plan) and walk to the nearest town. On the way, they meet the obvious lunatic Cain, dancing round a fire in the middle of the woods. He recognises evil and kills the boyfriend, brainwashes Marta and decides now is the time to go collecting souls to free Satan.

 

David Huffman as Cain is truly amazing, one of the most demented overacting performances you’ll ever see. He looks like a cross between early Michael Bolton and Vigo from “Ghostbusters 2”, and he was too good for this world, as he never bothered acting again. Why improve on perfection, eh, David?

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The first act is solid! I was as surprised watching it as you are reading this, I imagine. Perhaps, by part 5, everyone knows only the hardcore fans are sticking around, so they can afford to do something interesting. Of course, we’ve got series “hero” William Spanner to go yet. The last actor decided NASCAR was a better use of his time so quit acting for a while, so in stepped Marklen Kennedy. He’s better known these days as a producer, bringing the world reality TV such as “Gigolos”, but still acts, and he must have improved because he’s terrible in this – although I thought the last bloke was terrible too, and a lot of fans seem to like him. He’s still a lawyer, but doesn’t get involved via a case – his girlfriend Kelli takes him to a dance club, and completely coincidentally Cain glamoured the bar owner to let him put on magic shows there. Cain recongnises that Will has power, but for some unknown chuffing reason Will, the most passive lead character a movie series has ever had, just lets himself get hypnotised by this obviously super-powerful warlock, who then sends him out to collect souls for him.

 

Here’s where things really slow down. For reasons unknown, Cain sends Marta to check up on Will, and the two of them have sex. I know I don’t watch tons of this sort of movie, but it seems well shot, and it tells a story rather than just shows us naked flesh (although it certainly does a lot of that, too). Will takes a couple of souls for Cain, but they’re both shot in exactly the same way with the same result, so it’s obvious padding, then he has sex with his girlfriend in the show, then has another sex scene with Marta…while Sassaman is extremely attractive and can act, it’s still quite a bit more sex than is strictly necessary to sell the story, while not being enough to attract the softcore fan crowd.

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Luckily, they figure out Will is possessed or brainwashed or whatever it is, and Kelli calls her Reverend for help, Reverend Meredith! Okay, I’ll buy it, sort of. He knows all about demonic possession (thanks, I guess, to the spirit hanging out in his body) so calls on his “Channeller” friend Anastasia to supervise all the protection spells and so on. Anastasia is played by Ayesha Hauer, perhaps best known for the men in her life – the daughter of Rutger Hauer and formerly married to Thomas Jane, and is fine if a little filler-y too.

 

The movie itself looks cheap, shot on some TV cameras, but one must adjust expectations if you’re five movies deep in a franchise like this. There’s a fun moment when a young Greg Grunberg pops up as a bar manager, probably praying for JJ Abrams to take him away from this life of low budget misery, but aside from him, a lot of the acting is weak (only Sassaman and Huffman are worth watching, with an honourable mention to Lenny Rose as the Reverend). The whole thing with the spirit inside the Rev, which ought to have been a major plot thread, is completely undercooked, but…the ending is fun (even if it is incredibly abrupt) and the main bulk of the movie is surprisingly decent. If you’re going to watch an erotic thriller, given how much screen time is going to be taken over with sex scenes, it’s nice if they’re shot well I suppose, so thumbs up on that score.

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At this point, I’ve got no idea why the series continues to follow William Spanner around. No-one can be bothered to do anything with him, and a white witch who never uses his powers becomes boring after a while (that point of boring-ness for me? About ten minutes into part 2). Yet, aside from parts 8 and 10, which were apparently not made as “Witchcraft” movies but bought and renamed by the producers, he appears in every damn instalment. Perhaps he gets more interesting later.

 

Trim 15 minutes or so from this movie (cut the sex scenes way down, and get rid of one of the soul re-possessions) and you’ve got yourself a great little movie. Well, at least an above average one. I think an article about “movie series that had good instalments past part 4” might be fun, if anyone has any favourites, leave them in the comments.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Dead And Breakfast (2004)

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I think “Dead And Breakfast” is a victim of over-expectation. The pull quotes used on the trailer are full of praise, even if one or two of them are weirdly indirect – “sure to become some sort of cult classic” is an odd one. There’s a level of expectation built up (the trailer also features two moderately big names, Portia De Rossi and David Carradine, when their level of participation in the movie is barely more than those few seconds, which is a bit of a dick move) and I feel if they’d toned it down a smidge, viewers would’ve been a lot happier with what they got.

 

But they really give it their all. Everything is thrown at the screen, every gore effect and comedy style you can think of, and…most of it is pulled off. In terms of what the finished product is most like, I’d say it’s more “Brain Dead” than “Shaun Of The Dead”. There are a couple of straight lifts from other horror-comedies, but by and large it finds its own niche.

 

How many horror movies have started with a group of teenagers / young adults in a camper van? Hundreds? I imagine fans of romance movies also do this mockery with stuff like…a woman rushing into an office with her clothes all dishevelled because she had to run for the bus and her heel broke? I don’t know, I don’t watch them. Anyway, this group are driving to their friend Kelly’s wedding (De Rossi), and in amusingly perfunctory fashion, get lost on the way and end up in the small town of Lovelock. Even though they’re driving in a massive camper van and could all sleep in there (presumably the reason they picked that particular mode of transportation) they stop off at a bed and breakfast, run by Mr Wise (Carradine) with an assist from exceptionally rude French chef Henri (Diedrich Bader). Because of reasons, there’s an ancient and powerful magic box just stored on a shelf at the B&B, and when it falls off and is opened, an ancient evil spirit is released and people start getting murdered sharpish; the person in charge of the box can put a small part of someone else’s body in there (blood, hair, a finger) and then that person becomes a mindless sort-of-undead slave.

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So, all hell breaks loose. Our heroes and a few friendly residents (the Sheriff, the lady in charge of the Hall Of Records) up against a horde of sort-of-zombies. A mysterious drifter, who knows all about the box, also helps out – there’s a group trapped in the B&B and a group who go to find Wise’s body so they can do some ritual to stop it all. It’s a bit tenuous, but it works. They’re forced to improvise weapons, and the blood! So much blood. Gallons of the stuff – one particular gruesome beheading drenches an entire room (bringing to mind that classic lawnmower scene in “Brain Dead”).

 

I’ve already mentioned some of the cast, but the rest of them are strong too. Jeremy Sisto is sort-of star Christian, the sensible-ish one; and Erik Palladino is hot-head David (Palladino and Sisto look enough alike to easily play brothers, but don’t). The female side of the camper van crew is Gina Phillips, Ever Carradine and Bianca Lawson, and all five are solid TV and movie hands. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, just pre-“Supernatural” and much bigger fame, is the Sheriff, and lovers of “Friends” will recognise Vincent Ventresca, aka Fun Bobby, as the town doctor. In a direct lift from “There’s Something About Mary”, there’s an onscreen musical narration from time to time, supplied by actor/musician Zach Selwyn – although Jonathan Richman never performed a rap song about how him and his zombie buddies are coming to eat you (the little zombie dance is another lift, though, from “C.H.U.D. 2: Bud The C.H.U.D.”)

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I’ve not even mentioned the comedy yet. It’s a mix of every comic style you could think of – there’s some nice wordplay in there, lots of juxtaposition (zombies shouldn’t behave in this wacky way!), lots of situations where the wildly OTT action just becomes funny; but most of all it’s farce. Farce is a tough one to pull off alongside everything else, but they manage it, with some lovely pratfalls and visual gags.

 

I appreciate I like movie trivia probably more than some of you do, but “Dead and Breakfast” has some interesting examples. Credited co-writer is Billy Burke, the actor known for “Revolution” and the “Twilight” series; turns out he and Jeffrey Dean Morgan have been friends since childhood. Burke was going to play the Drifter, but got a bigger gig; Burke asked if their other childhood friend, Brent David Fraser, could play the part instead. All three have been friends with director Matthew Leutwyler since their first days in Hollywood in the early 90s, and Leutwyler must be a good guy to work for as Palladino, Burke, Morgan and Sisto have all appeared for him multiple times.

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So, it’s a decent movie. Not as hilarious as it could have been, but handles the horror / comedy split better than most. Approach it with a friendly mind and you’ll have a fine time.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Witchcraft IV: The Virgin Heart (1992)

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For as many good things as Lloyd Kaufman has done, seeing his face at the beginning of a movie he had absolutely nothing to do with just rubs me the wrong way. Not only is he an idiot (he thinks “organised labour” is just as bad as the military-industrial complex, for one), but he’s a shameless self-publicist who seems to get away with using the intro to a movie as an advert for his book in a way that few others would. I find him boring nowadays. This Troma special intro to “Witchcraft 4”, filmed 15 years later, features co-star Julie Strain in her bathroom talking about the movie, entirely naked. They tried to grab your attention at the start, I suppose? Well, in a bad sign, Strain also completely spoils the twist, but on the off-chance you’re about to watch this without the intro and want my non-spoilery opinions, let’s not say exactly what that twist is.

 

We’re now at the quarter-way mark of this series, and…they’ve done a sort of “Angel Heart” ripoff. Now, “Angel Heart” is a classic, an amazing work of cinema with a couple of nearly perfect central performances, a truly riveting plot, and a gorgeous look to its grossness and depravity. Obviously, this has none of those things, but if you’re going to take your inspiration from anything, might as well be something good.

 

Charles Solomon is back for his final appearance as William Spanner. Having watched three movies with him in, I’m still at a bit of a loss who he’s supposed to be. He’s just…there, and as he was a lawyer in the last movie they feel duty bound to make him a lawyer in this one too, even though he acts like a PI, has a PI’s office, does the classic PI’s voiceover, and never goes anywhere near a court. He has no appreciable character traits, no quirks – you’d think even a poor actor like Solomon would have thought of something for his guy to do over the course of three movies. He’s asked to take on the case of Pete, a kid who’s suspected of killing his girlfriend, and he goes from “no, I’m not a public defender any more” to threatening to beat up a cop for withholding information that could help his client in about 2 minutes.

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That whole opening scene is a curious one. From the opening credits misspelling the writer’s name (Michael Paul Girard, of “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars” fame) to the way a guy falls out of a tree, makes “I’m in pain” noises then passes out; to the way his girlfriend gets to a phone box to call for help, calls 911 and gets an engaged tone (!) but gets through to some random old lady; to the way she drives past a cop on her way to the phone box…it’s a curiously put together scene, that’s for sure.

 

The next day, William and Lily (Pete’s sister) go to inspect the girlfriend’s last known location, and find a matchbook for a club called Coven. Now, thinking on this little segment after watching the movie, none of it makes sense; but given what a huge clue it is, why didn’t the police pick it up when they investigated? They fingerprinted the coins, for heaven’s sake, but didn’t pick up a matchbook? Anyway, this takes William into the world of erotic dancing, where he meets Belladonna (Strain), who not only strips but is also an amazing singer, performing at a late night blues club after she’s done with the disrobing. Now, as this is the IMDB headline for the movie, it’s not really a spoiler – there’s some very weak plot about musicians selling their souls to the Devil, and I guess if you’ve recently suffered a severe head injury you won’t be able to tell who the Devil is in this one. I like the atmosphere of the club, which means there’s some set designer who deserves to be paid more; it has a Twin Peaks / Vamp feeling to it.

 

I could just recap the movie, but I don’t like reading those sorts of reviews and I hope you don’t either. “Witchcraft 4” has the worst sound of any non-Donald Farmer movie I think we’ve ever covered on here. Approximately two-thirds of the conversations are drowned out by the incidental music, which indicates to me some sort of shot on video with live sound deal, or just a very very bad sound guy. It’s also a reminder of why movies have foley artists, as the scenes where people are walking, and all you can hear is the sound of their feet, are really off-putting. Also, someone involved in this movie was allergic to light, as it’s murky as hell. When you have both sound and light operating in the same scene, then it’s sort of a guessing game as to who’s there and what they’re saying. I like it!

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William gets closer to cracking the case, he and Belladonna become closer, and he – again – resists using magic. Now, I’m not title literalist. But. If you’re going to have a movie series called “Witchcraft”, it might be fun to have some witchcraft in it from time to time, I reckon! Just a bit, to sprinkle over the duller parts of the plot. Given that William barely uses anything approaching magic in these movies, and he’s referred to in the promotional literature as a “warlock” anyway, we’ve now had two movies in this series without a single witch in them. I don’t know, it seems a stupid thing to fixate on, but I just don’t think these plots are good enough on their own. Also, there’s a lot of smoking in this movie. More than would be necessary, even if the plot were about a bunch of smokers who really enjoyed smoking. Maybe Philip Morris sponsored the movie?

 

After all this insult, it’s probably the best of the series so far. While she’s a long way from being great, Julie Strain at least looks like she’s happy to be there, and Solomon has improved (marginally) as an actor. The rest of the cast are almost uniformly terrible (special non-kudos to Santara, the English DJ at obvious-clue-station-title K-STN), but there’s an energy to proceedings which the first three parts definitely didn’t have. And, like I said, the “Angel Heart” template is a strong one – it’s like ripping off “Die Hard”; the plot does half the work for you.

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Rating: thumbs in the middle