The Circuit 2: The Final Punch (2002)

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I feel confident that not a single person reading this review will be doing so to judge whether or not to see the movie. It’s almost impossible to get hold of – not available on DVD in the UK, quite expensive on DVD in the US, and not available to stream online (as far as I can tell). I had to resort to a torrent, which froze at 75% complete; this will lead to some oddities in the review, as several scenes were viewed in oddly glitching sections – something would start, then the screen would go all weird colours for a second, then it would jump ahead a random amount (usually a few seconds, but often 30 or more). Combined with the less-than-stellar editing of ISCFC non-favourite Jalal Merhi, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a confusing movie.

 

Luckily, the plot is so simple that I could have watched this entire mess on fast-forward and still got the everything. The first “Circuit” movie was a ton of fun, with action B-movie superstars kicking ass in a story of an underground fight league, avenging a brother, all that good stuff. The sequel is, to be polite, more of the same! The fight league this time is inside a prison, and this fact, along with the initial fight we see, poses a heck of a lot of questions. The only audience is other inmates, so no-one’s making money out of it, and fights are often fatal, meaning there’s a lot of “people getting killed trying to escape” stories in the press. This seems like a poor business model! It turns out there’s inter-prison tournaments at night on deserted beaches, with wealthy invited guests, but there really doesn’t seem like enough of them to make it worth anyone’s while. But, picking logic holes in a Jalal Merhi film I’ve only seen 75% of is a fool’s errand, so let’s continue.

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Star of the first movie Olivier Gruner is back as Dirk Longstreet, undefeated Circuit champion turned college athletics tutor; he’s joined by his English reporter girlfriend Nicole, and she’s the person who reveals the details of the prison fight league. Ol’ Dirk saves one of his students from committing suicide – not sure why, glitch; then, attempting suicide is apparently enough to get you sent to prison, so the poor kid gets locked up. During a visit, Dirk finds out about the league, and Nicole gets kidnapped, so…you know what’s going to happen…he gets himself inside the prison! It’s basically done by inventing a transfer from another nearby jail and sneaking him onto a bus, with the only problem being he’s sort of famous in underground fighting circles. When the Governor phones the other Governor and says “why did you transfer such a badass fighter?”, the gig is up immediately.

 

This perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise when you know Jalal Merhi dreamed up the plan, via his screenwriter Glen Doyle (whose 4 writing credits are all Merhi movies) – he’s also back to act as the editor of the newspaper, and they’re accompanied by pony-tailed legend Lorenzo Lamas as…not sure? A friend of the gang, I guess. I’ve just read a few other reviews and it seems no-one has any idea why he’s involved in this movie, so I’m happy to relay that information to you. What is important is the lovely little pug puppy that Longstreet and Nicole have does not die. Okay, both its owners are away for a very long time, but a friendly neighbour hopefully took it in.

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There’s just lots and lots of fighting. I know, not much of a surprise, but even in the “lots of fighting” genre, this one has more than average. Aside from Dirk and his MMA  style, everyone else sort of blends into a mass of samey punch-kickery. If you were expecting a bit of exploitation movie prison plotting, you’d be shit out of luck, it’s just the most convenient way to get all the people needed together with no way out.

 

I don’t like saying this about people, but I’m confident I’m a great deal smarter than Jalal Merhi. He’s in the business he’s in because he has money, pure and simple, and watching this is proof of that. There’s no tension built about Dirk fitting in, in prison – he’s just there and immediately fighting. The Governor finds out he’s not on the level but seemingly does nothing. We never find out if Nicole is okay or not, or why on earth the Governor let her go without killing her. The plans invented by the cast feel like the result of some kids inventing a game on their own. I know I’ve pointed out holes bigger than this in other movies, but the sense I got here is that Merhi genuinely thought he was being clever with all the plotting.

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Still, it’s entertaining, after a fashion. Gruner is an intense leading man, and a really good fighter; Lamas seems aware of how silly all this; I liked the beach location at the end; and, that’s about it. Perhaps of interest if you’re a Jalal Merhi completist, or just really like underground fight league movies (of which there are a surprisingly large amount), but otherwise avoid.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)

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For a series which has made a virtue of not using its central character, this could be the least Pinhead-y Hellraiser yet. His appearance as a “real” character is maybe a minute, and then another minute or two more in a dream sequence – despite this being the first proper written-for-the-series script since part 4, one could remove our Cenobite friends from this with no problems.

 

What’s so annoying about this is that it could have been good, as it has a decent central idea. There’s a computer game called “Hellworld” which is based on the Hellraiser series! Although the previous movies are never mentioned, Pinhead is a pop-culture phenomenon and the game is apparently in-depth enough to get a group of college students absolutely obsessed with it. One of the gang, Adam, gets too deep into things and ends up dying, and the movie starts at his funeral.

 

For those of you with long memories, or who discovered it recently and laughed heartily at its stupidity, this whole concept may remind you of “Mazes and Monsters”, the early 80s Tom Hanks-starring pile of crap which attempted to tell the youth of America that playing Dungeons & Dragons was a direct line to Satan. And it gets worse! Two years after the funeral, our friends are still friends, and one of them has carried on playing “Hellworld”, to the extent he’s unlocked the box (yes, that box) on the last level and has won an invite to a special Hellworld party, conveniently within driving distance of wherever they are. The game has lines from the previous movies in it, delivered in a bored computer game monotone by Doug Bradley, which is sort of a nice touch. So the rest of them do it too, and off they are to a party at Leviathan House (part 2 reference!).

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This is a classic “Meet The Meat” section, with Chelsea, the Final Girl with the gender-neutral name, and all this is a thing “Hellraiser” never bothered with before now. Has it decided to turn into a slasher movie? Well, sort of.

 

I guess SPOILERS will be coming now. It’s sort of difficult to go on past them arriving at the house without getting into the endgame, and so much of whether you like this or not will be down to how much you can tolerate of the twist. So let’s journey together, dear reader.

 

The first section of the movie is slightly clever, as there aren’t tons of sequels that treat the previous instalments as fiction in their fictional world. “The Blair Witch Project 2” springs to mind, “New Nightmare”, “Human Centipede 2” as well (I’m sure there are others, and I’m not referring to some sneaky joke line like “this is just like the last movie!”). As well as Chelsea, and a couple who are basically cannon fodder, there’s an early appearance from future Superman Henry Cavill as the sleazy womanising member of the group, and TV regular Christopher Jacot as outsider Jake, who’s gone to the party to meet his online girlfriend. They mock the “gratuitous boob shot” of horror movies, and drink in the faux-decadent trappings of the party before meeting “The Host”, one Lance Henriksen (who was approached to play the part of Uncle Frank way back in part 1, but turned it down).

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Henriksen has drugged them all and the entire party is a dream. There you go. From about the half-hour mark, all five of them are buried in the back garden of the house with pipes to give them air, and The Host is apparently some godlike super-genius with hallucinogens because he’s able to get them to have an identical hallucination, interact with each other and then get tracked down by Pinhead and brutally murdered, slasher-style. Why has he done this? Because he’s Adam’s father and blames them for his son’s death, despite being an absentee parent who never gave a damn before.

 

So let’s break down what “The Host” had to do in order to make this revenge plot happen. It’s a little difficult to parse what’s “real” and what’s just part of the hallucination, but I think we can manage a decent list. First, he needs to hack the game in order to provide the invites to those five, and only those five. He also needs to rely on them turning up and not just going “nah, mate, I’d rather do literally anything else”. Then, he needs to rent the mansion, kit it out with hundreds of props and (at least) dozens of background partiers. Then he needs to find a hallucinogen that acts in a way completely unknown to science, and figure out a way to give it to those five people. Then he needs to bury them in his back garden, and hope that no-one else sees what’s going on.

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At the “party”, they’re all provided with phones and masks with numbers on, and told if they want to hook up with anyone, they can just call the number on the mask. But right from the beginning, the phones display real names on them, and Jake just grabs a phone at random and never takes a mask. The two items aren’t linked. Now, this can be explained away by The Host putting a phone in each coffin, so this is the real world showing through the hallucination, but why didn’t the cast notice this? At one point, Chelsea calls the police and they turn up, Chelsea can see them but they can’t see her (hallucination!), but…if this is a dream, how is the Host not controlling this aspect of it? Why doesn’t he just block them from making 911 calls? If they’re stuck in a coffin, how are they making calls anyway? And how do they know what the police officers look like?

 

The Host’s plan goes perfectly, and he gets away scot-free. The people who die inside the hallucination are dead for real, with the only two people who survive – Jake and Chelsea – falling in love; it seems the ghost of Adam called the police and warned them where they were buried? In a twist on top of the twist, Adam built a fully working Lament Configuration and The Host opens it at the end, allowing Pinhead and his crew to come through, shred him to pieces and then be on their way. Hurrah for morally simplistic endings!

 

Everything in “Hellworld” is a lie, and that’s just irritating to the viewer. It’s full of plot holes which I’m sure weren’t deliberate, just people with no interest in good movie-making churning yet another horror sequel out; but if confronted with it, everyone involved would just go “it’s a hallucination!” Take, for instance, Leviathan House, apparently built by the original LeMarchand from part 4. “His second greatest creation”, says The Host, his first being the box of course. But…LeMarchand was a toymaker and died very soon after building that box, and lived in France. The Host might be thinking of the second Mr Marchand, from 1996, but he didn’t design the box, and no-one would be terribly impressed by a ten-year-old mansion. No-one seems sure if Hellraiser is literally real or just a computer game, either.

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Pinhead gets a mini-speech at the end, as per usual, but his last line is a Slasher-iffic “how’s that for a wake-up call?” I imagine Doug Bradley must have been thoroughly disgusted at having to deliver such nonsense, and is one of the reasons he turned down part 9 and refused the upcoming part 10 (he asked to see the script beforehand, and refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Woody Allen can get his stars to sign them, but not whoever’s making Hellraiser 10).

 

It feels like it was written by old men who’d never played computer games, or seen any previous Hellraisers. They were given a list of Hellraiser factoids and told “computer games are bad, okay?” In every other installment, the majority of Pinhead’s victims did something to end up in his grasp – either be evil scumbags, or push too far outside the realms of human morality. The people who die in this did nothing – Adame’s death wasn’t their fault. Their only failing was not detecting the latent mental illness in their friend; they all seem to be extremely sad he died and absolutely don’t deserve their fate. It’s a traditional slasher movie plot, where everyone dies but the Final Girl and the non-threatening non-love interest.

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It’s dumb, vaguely insulting to fans of the franchise and makes not a lick of sense.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Mandroid (1993)

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Another Full Moon review! They were the kings of the 1980s video shop, with major distribution for their low-budget shockers meaning they were absolutely everywhere. Check out our Full Moon tag to read our other reviews, and go to www.fullmoonstreaming.com for surprisingly good, cheap and comprehensive access to pretty much their entire back catalogue. Hey, if I had to struggle through “Puppet Master 8”, you lot can as well!

 

The more Full Moon movies one sees, the more their “house style” becomes apparent. It’s a mix of:

  • That slight straight-to-video softness of the image
  • Eastern European location / actors
  • A vague, mild “gothic” undertone
  • Awful music, from Richard Band or someone trying (for some reason) to sound like him
  • Slightly unreal colour scheme and lighting

 

Once you’ve watched a couple of Full Moon’s movies…this leads you, on occasion, to have major movie déjà vu – you see some people who look a bit like normal actors, but not quite as good or attractive, milling about some old knackered Transylvanian castle and you’re all “I’ve seen this before, right?” But it turns out not, that seen-it-before feeling doesn’t let up the longer you go into this one. And before we get going – “Mandroid”? Doesn’t “Android” cover the whole human / robot thing? I wouldn’t bake a bannoffee pie and call it “banoffeefee”. Also, Marvel Comics had “Mandroid” way back in the early 70s, but clearly weren’t as bothered about copyrighting everything to death back then.

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So the gist of everything is, deep in post-communist Russia, in a science station built way back and mostly just staffed by two old man scientists (Zimmer and Drago) and their assistants (Zanna – beautiful; Benjamin – sort of dull), a big discovery has been made. Superconn is the world’s most amazing element, harvested from weird veiny mushrooms, and it can cure all diseases and is the world’s cleanest fuel. Not bad! As an aside, they’ve also invented Mandroid, a big ol’ robot controlled by someone wearing a proto-VR headset (the controller has to move their arms and legs to move Mandroid’s, too, which causes problems obviously). Zimmer wants to give everything to the Americans, to help the world, and Drago wants to control it all and…you know, I’m not sure. Generic world-ruling nonsense? Making billions? Ah, who cares. Can’t help but feel this personality clash should’ve been dealt with before this crucial juncture, but whatever.

 

Into this ticking time bomb comes Wade, a US Government scientist, and Joe, the local CIA agent. Drago tries to steal Mandroid and a batch of Superconn, escapes with the robot but spills a batch of toxic mushroom-goo all over himself, giving him a standard Full Moon deformed face – and from then on it’s Drago and his creepy local helper vs Zimmer and his little gang. Wade and Zanna fall in love, obviously, and Benjamin…well, Benjamin gets knocked into the radioactive test-chamber during Drago’s escape and…slowly turns invisible!

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ASIDE: This movie has a sequel, “Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight”, with mostly the same cast and released the same year (presumably made back to back, another Full Moon tradition). Benjamin’s involvement in this movie is basically nil, and the longer it went on the more even the stupidest viewer could notice they were prepping him for his own movie. I guess if I can find a cheap copy, I’ll review that too? I’m not exactly full of anticipatory excitement.

 

There are tons of dead ends and red herrings in “Mandroid”. The biggest one is when Zimmer announces he sneakily made a better version of Superconn, and you’re all “okay, he’s going to build an even more powerful Mandroid and there’s going to be fighting!” Nope, sorry. It’s merely the MacGuffin that gets Drago to try and kill them all so he can possess it. There’s a shocking twist of one of them being a double agent…but it doesn’t go anywhere.

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The problem is, fighting and cool stuff like that involves special effects, and they cost money. If you’re just going to have Mandroid walk about a bit, then all you need is that bloody servo sound effect that has plagued many a movie – from filmmakers who don’t trust that their audience will remember the thing they’re looking at is a robot from one scene to the next. So what you’re left with is little more than a haunted house story, featuring a bloke in a robot suit. There comes a point where, if you want to make genre films like Full Moon clearly do, cutting back more and more just becomes self-defeating.

 

With a few exceptions, Full Moon are the background noise to the Video Shop era. They’re session musicians who kept trying to write their own material. They’re a cheap Ford Focus. I’m sure you can dream up a few analogies of your own. This is so painfully average with such little care put into its creation that I’m more annoyed than I would if it had just sucked.
Rating: thumbs down

Hellraiser: Deader (2005)

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I keep expecting the “Hellraiser” series to get properly rubbish, but it never does. I know we’ve got rough times ahead with part 9, made on the cheap to keep the rights to the name, but the surprising thing is despite numerous flaws and obvious twists, the first seven movies have easily been the best of all the long-running horror franchises.

 

Why is this, I wonder? I think the best option I can think of is the main character and the story opportunities he provides. Looking at the other ones – “A Nightmare On Elm Street” (child murderer); “Halloween” (mute all-round psychopath); “Friday The 13th (same); and “Children Of The Corn” (er…some corn? Never seen them). Even the lesser franchises, with their killer puppets, killer dolls, killer Santas, killer fun-averse summer camp counsellors, and killer builders of very elaborate traps, have no central character anything like as interesting as Pinhead. He’s not evil, particularly, he just has a morality that exists outside our own (when he’s being written smart, that is), only comes when he’s called, and offers pleasure as well as pain. Okay, he tried to take over the Earth that one time, and takes more souls than is strictly necessary, but Doug Bradley has helped make the character a fascinating one. He represents something (our desire to “transgress”, to push our boundaries further) in a way that none of the others really do.

 

They’ve also been pretty good with their casting, mostly, and part 7 is no exception. Starring is Kari Wuhrer, best known to me as the later-seasons star of TV gem “Sliders” but a superstar in this low-budget world (at least until having three kids kept her busy, she does mostly voice work now). She’s too-cool-for-school newspaper reporter Amy Klein, working for “The London Underground” doing exposes like “how to be a crack whore”. One day, her editor brings her in and shows her a tape, of a woman shooting herself in the head and then being brought back to life by a chanting group and a stereotypical “libertine” guy – longish hair, billowy shirt, pale skin; the group call themselves the Deaders, and this took place in Romania, so she’s off there to find Marla, the person who sent her the tape in the first place.

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While she’s watching the tape, I kept getting distracted by the edits and multiple angles on display, like it was a professional documentary and not some grungy snuff film. Also, who used VHS tape in 2005? Also, what newspapers still do old-fashioned exposes nowadays? Apparently, the movie sat on a shelf for a few years, but that doesn’t really account for it. Talking of editing, after watching the video, Amy and her editor have a conversation about going to Romania, and it’s done as a total ripoff of the famous scene from “Don’t Look Now”,  where you see the thing that’s happening intercut with the thing that happens after it – for absolutely no reason other than presumably someone hoped no gorehounds would notice the lift. Anyway, off she pops, and bribing her way into Marla’s apartment, finds her dead on the toilet, having committed suicide, and takes another videotape…and a box, which the dead woman is clutching in her hand.

 

Yay! The Lament Configuration shows up at 20 minutes, so we at least know we weren’t tricked by the opening credits and are in a “Hellraiser” movie. She takes the box, and…well, it’s certainly getting easier to open these days. She presses a button and it starts playing music (the box must have gotten an upgrade?) then pops open on its own. It’s at this point you may well wonder if it’s going to have the same overarching idea as parts 5 and 6, but I can inform you now that it doesn’t. Amy meets Joey (Brit TV great Marc Warren), the leader of a non-stop party on a subway train – I wasn’t sure of the logistics of running your own train down there either – who warns her away from the Deaders and Winter, their mysterious leader, but this is a movie and people don’t take sensible advice in movies. The train scene is hilariously stupid, like someone lined up every stereotype of cool edginess and shoved it all into one room, and is therefore a perfect metaphor for a trashy Hellraiser sequel.

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After the box is opened, we get a few seconds of Pinhead and then reality starts bending the same way it did in 5 and 6 (not surprising, as 6, 7 and 8 share a director, Rick Bota). It even manages to up the ante in the final act, as Amy becomes a “Deader” herself, stabbed through the heart but still walking and talking – the scene where she tries to remove the knife from her back is pretty great. Marla comes back to lead her through the maze of the plot – something to do with the LeMarchand family from part 4, but I won’t spoil it any further, and then she’s got a final confrontation with Winter to go.

 

Again, I’ve not mentioned Pinhead very much in this, and it’s for the same reason as the last two movies. Dimension Films had a bunch of horror scripts they’d bought over the years, and decided to use three of them to extend the “Hellraiser” series. The third act was completely rewritten and works surprisingly well, as Amy has to confront the mysterious flashbacks to her childhood, Winter, and Pinhead. He’s really good in this, the best part he’s had for a couple of movies (not difficult, admittedly), with motivations that seem entirely believable based on what we know about him.

 

The cast is great (the ones who aren’t just Eastern European extras hired for nudity, that is), especially Georgina Rylance as Marla, a fantastic performance. Wuhrer is always fun to watch too, but the one issue I have with her is – people refer to her “fucked-up, self-destructive” streak, but it’s more that if they repeat it, we’ll believe it, despite no actual evidence. Okay, she feels compelled to take on the dirtiest, most messed-up stories and definitely has a dark past, but she’s a completely likeable, strong woman who just seems a little over-confident. But she’s great, and the part where she tries to cover up her rapidly leaking chest wound is an oddly light scene, and she pulls it off. They also mention how nice her ass is like three times, which feels like it was a clause her agent got put in her contract – I mean, I wasn’t paying attention to it, as she wears mostly baggy trousers, which is why it felt weird bringing it up.

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It’s certainly not perfect. No-one bothers to explain how Winter figured out he could bring people back from the dead, and the randomness of who can and can’t open the box is a bit irritating. It’s also part of a spree of filming in Romania from Dimension Films, to the point where I’m not sure if everyone realised what movie they were in – they shot Dracula 2 and 3, Prophecy 4 and 5, and Hellraiser 7 and 8, all at pretty much the same time, sharing lots of crew and some cast. It also features what I think is the first ever jump scare in “Hellraiser” history, which is a bit of a disappointment, and the whole thing of Amy being some sort of Lament Configuration chosen one feels a bit underwritten, too.

 

Now I’ve come to terms with Pinhead being an ancillary character in his own movies, I really rather enjoyed “Deader”. Unlike “Halloween”, which tried to become an anthology series and failed, “Hellraiser” is perfect for it – characters going through their own “hell”, drop the box in to their story, and away you go. Given that killing Pinhead seems close to impossible, the story of the Cenobites finished after part 4, and if there’s money to be made they’ll never stop churning them out, I’d rather we had something like this than Indestructible Killer X vs. yet another group of dumb teens.

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Rating: thumbs up

Wendigo: Bound By Blood (2010)

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Because I often mock low-budget filmmakers and actors for not caring, I want to tell a story about people who do care. The ancient Native American spirit of the Wendigo has possessed a woman, played by Deanna Visalle. She films a scene where, entirely naked, she runs through snowy woodland. Now, standard B-movie fare, in one sense; but Visalle is also the producer of this movie, and the director, Len Kabasinski, shot the scene on a 30 minute lunch break from his day job. Can you imagine any other director and producer making a movie in such circumstances? My hat is doffed to both of them.

 

As we’re close to the release of ISCFC favourite Len Kabasinski’s new movie “Angel of Reckoning”, we thought we’d catch up with the rest of his oeuvre and encourage you, dear reader, to drop a few dollars on it when it comes out (or buy the newly re-edited and remastered “Apocalypse Female Warriors”, which is great). Len’s a nationally-ranked martial artist and makes movies in whatever time he can find, but is differentiated from the mass of other low-budget filmmakers by a couple of things. First, he has a sense of humour; second, he seems absolutely willing to learn from his mistakes and constantly improve; and third, he obviously loves this stuff, and isn’t following trends.

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It’s nice that he’s willing to learn from his mistakes, because sad to say “Wendigo: Bound By Blood” has a fair few of them. It’s worth watching, but be prepared to lean your head to the side a bit, as the use of dutch angles is so prevalent I was beginning to wonder if the entire world was skewed and I was seeing it wrong. And, one of the main actresses appears to blow a line in the monologue which is repeated at the beginning and end of the movie – that what we saw was the best take indicates some tough decisions must have been made.

 

But never mind that for now. After the monologue explaining to us what the wendigo is, we meet a couple who are hiking through the woods, completely lost. The guy says at one point that they’ve been walking for two days, but they appear to have a tent and are able to make fire, so…did they just lose their food? The people from “Alive” went a lot longer before they started seeing their companions as giant floating burgers and legs of chicken. So, he’s about to carve his girlfriend up for dinner but the Wendigo possesses her and just straight up eats him. I think – my DVD had a pretty bad stutter in the first half of the movie and I feel like I missed a few things.

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The Wendigo doesn’t really play much of a part in the rest of proceedings – unless it possessed one of the main cast during a DVD stutter, which is entirely possible. The story we get, though, is an interesting one. A man and a woman are witnesses to some mob crime and have been brought to the snowy wastes by a couple of Feds to keep them safe; however, he’s secretly in the employ of the Mob and is leading a group of assassins, led by the Len himself (under the screen name Leon South)  to where they are. At the same time, the local Sheriff (Brian Anthony, a Kabasinski regular) is investigating one of the Wendigo’s kills, and falls into a partnership with a native Doctor, Angeni Stonechild (Cheyenne King). These three stories circle each other until they come together in a pretty badass final shootout in and around a cabin.

 

Firstly, it’s an interesting change of style for Kabasinski. He’s out in the snowy woods, and it’s a more deliberately paced style he’s gone for, usually being one of the few low-budget directors who fills his movies with incident. It looks great, apart from the dutch angles (which smarter film critics than me have already told him about, so I won’t bang on about it too much), and I like that he’s trying new things.

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The acting is really ropey in places, though. Anthony is fine, King tries her best (blown line notwithstanding) and, once again, “Leon South” is the strongest actor in one of his own movies. He reminded me of David Caruso from “CSI: Miami”, but as a psychotic assassin, and I enjoyed every bit of his performance. Everyone else, on the other hand…they’re about as good as you’d expect for a movie made on a shoestring budget by people snatching time wherever they could. I did like that the two witnesses hated each other, and there’s a few nice touches that make it through the acting haze. There’s some good martial arts too – Len is clearly a pro, and he tries his best to make his opponents look like a million bucks even when they’re, to put it mildly, not natural screen fighters.

 

Bear in mind this criticism is coming from someone deep in the hole of low-budget genre cinema, so you may see this and go “what the hell is he talking about?” If you can ignore the occasionally less-than-stellar special effects and non-acting, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The scene where we find the first body is really nicely shot, and the use of music has vastly improved over such work as “Curse Of The Wolf”. Plus, the writing is strong, even if I’m still not entirely sure what happened to the Wendigo.

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I appreciate times are hard for us all, but if you have some spare entertainment money, there are many worse ways to spend it than on some KillerWolf movies. Maybe don’t start here, give “Swamp Zombies” and “Apocalypse Female Warriors” a go first, and if you like them maybe move on to this.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)

This is a really ugly poster

This is a really ugly poster

“Hellraiser 6” is the second of three scripts that were nothing to do with our friend Pinhead, but were rewritten when the producers decided making money was more fun and significantly more easy than making good films. Although, strangely enough, when they’d picked this one, they got Clive Barker on board in a strictly unofficial capacity to do some rewrites to the third act (saying that, it’s not like Barker had many good ideas left in him by 2002). They even bothered writing and filming a scene to tie in the plot of this movie to the “mythology” of the first two…but then cut it!

 

It’s a welcome return for Ashley Laurence as Kirsty, who was in the first two and made a cameo via videotape in part 3. Although I never really bought that she was particularly important to the Cenobites, it’s nice to have her back, she’s a ray of classiness in a franchise which has occasionally been less than smart in its casting choices. But, part 6 gives us another excellent casting choice in Dean Winters, as Kirsty’s husband Trevor. He was in the middle of his run on “Oz” when he made this, and has gone on to be a surprisingly brilliant comic actor in “30 Rock” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – he’s really pretty good in this too, so no complaints on that score.

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Here’s where we wander into slightly spoiler-y territory, because if you’ve seen the film I’m going to make several references to, you’re going to understand a lot of this movie’s plot. Something happens at the beginning which is a direct lift from one of the great scary movies, a lock for my top 20 movies of all time, an absolute masterpiece in every possible way. That thing is, a car drives off a bridge into a river and only one passenger survives.

 

“Oh no,” I thought. “They’re going to rip off Carnival Of Souls, aren’t they?” While it’s not exactly the same, the big twist is identical, and there’s a lot of similarities along the way. So, if you’ve seen “Carnival” (and if you haven’t, shame on you, go and watch it immediately because it’s really really good) it’s more a matter of waiting for them to get to the point than it is enjoying the ride. Perhaps this affected my enjoyment?

 

Trevor wakes up from a nightmare where he crashes his car, escapes from his side, desperately tries to get Kirsty out, but sees her drown. Turns out this actually happened, her body wasn’t found when they dredged the car up, and a couple of cops, who for some reason are never in the same room at the same time, are vaguely suspicious of him and his head-injury induced lack of memory about the incident. In a non-linear sort of trot through Trevor’s life, we discover he’s cheated on Kirsty with at least two women – a girl from down the hall and his boss at work; it seems that he’s either mad or someone is following him, killing those other women, which doesn’t help with the cop thing. Winters, for a guy who’s been given a fairly thankless acting task, is really pretty good throughout.

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We also learn, fairly slowly, about how he came to be in the possession of the box, the Lament Configuration. I feel like maybe I missed something as he just finds a card in his pocket, goes to a creepy disused factory, and finds Doug Bradley playing not Pinhead, but a weird salesman who gives him the box, refusing money and therefore indicating that the price to be paid is something different. As I’ve mentioned our friend, I suppose we ought to talk about him a bit – he’s in this even less than he’s in part 5, which renders the blazing arguments surrounding part 4 more pointless in retrospect. His character is less…whatever it was in the first four movies and more sort-of a guy who punishes evil people after they die, a virtually identical role to part 5. It leaves this one with no dramatic tension – at least in part 5 the main character was alive for the first half-hour of the movie, here the guy is dead before the movie starts. Everything about Pinhead and the other Cenobites is just window-dressing now, there’s no conflict between him and the cast at all.

 

We’re going to have to stray into spoiler territory from here on out, so if you’ve not seen it and want to be surprised, skip right to the bottom (or just go and watch “Carnival Of Souls”). It relates to the box, and possibly represents a badly papered-over crack between the original script and the Pinhead-ed final draft.

 

Why did Trevor go and buy the box? The justification is virtually non-existent – he finds that card reading simply “All Problems Solved” in his pocket and goes to visit the box-seller, but aside from a bit of mild kink with the boss, there’s no indication he’s as far off the reservation as Uncle Frank in part 1. He then takes the box home and angrily demands that Kirsty opens it – how did he know what it was? How did he know that she knew what it was? Why does she agree to open the box, knowing what would happen?

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It turns out, there’s a twist on top of the “he was dead the whole time” twist – Kirsty is immediately taken to Hell and it looks like Pinhead is finally going to get his gal. Only, she says “how about I bring you five souls in exchange for mine?” and Pinhead agrees. Wait, what? Here’s a quote from part 2:

 

Kirsty: Wait!

Pinhead: No more deals child, it is your flesh we want to experience, not your skill at bargaining.

 

Now, my memory is shot to hell, but if I can remember this stuff, then the people who made the damn movies ought to remember it. He said no more deals! Then made a deal with her! As if this wasn’t insulting enough, this deal involves Kirsty first killing the women he’d been sleeping with, then the guy who Trevor was conspiring with to kill Kirsty and steal her inheritance (that crappy old house from the first one, you mean?), and finally Trevor, shooting him as they were driving over a bridge. I’d have maybe picked a better spot to do it, but whatever. Pinhead has never given any indication of simply being a soul collector – and remember the time when he said that people needed to want (on some level) to open the box and join the Cenobites? Because the filmmakers sure don’t!

 

The ending is a real mess, I think. It’s piled high with stuff that doesn’t work in context of the series, the characters or just straight-up logic. We’re watching the post-death nightmare of a murdered adulterer, but the person who murders him and four other people gets away with it scot-free. Outside the last five minutes or so of the movie, not one scene is “real”, which is a hell of a crappy trick to pull when you think about it.

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But…the idea, on its own, is solid. Take a horror classic, give it a little twist, and away you go. I’d have loved to see this cast take on the material before it was rewritten to make it part of “Hellraiser”. The direction is fine, too, for what must have been a low budget. I’d give it a thumbs up for ideas, and a thumbs down for execution.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Youtube Film Club: Killdozer! (1974)

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Before “Sharknado”, this was one of the most famous TV movies of all time. That it’s slid a little from the public consciousness is evident by the first search for the word turning up a chap in 2004 who went on a rampage with a modified bulldozer and destroyed a town hall, the Mayor’s house and a bunch of other buildings in small-town Colorado. But Conan O’Brien mentioning it several times on “The Tonight Show” lead to millions of Youtube hits, a band named themselves after it, the media named the above incident after it, and “Mystery Science Theater 3000” tried extremely hard to get the rights to it so they could feature it on the show.

It shares several traits with other TV movies from the 70s we’ve covered on the ISCFC; namely, the Doctor Strange and Captain America ones. Not so much the wild superhero antics, but the surprising amount of “dead air” – it appears movies moved slower back then, or just weren’t afraid to have less stuff happen. Or (last hypothetical, I promise) entertainment like this just wasn’t made for young people (the superhero movies would have been stultifyingly dull for their intended audience). What makes this one tough to swallow is it has an exclamation mark in the title! That should guarantee excitement, surely!

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Based on a story by sci-fi great Theodore Sturgeon (who also co-wrote the script), we’re treated to some low-end (even for the time) meteor special effects, some time in Earth’s distant past, before being dropped in with a group of construction workers in the present day. They’re on an island off the coast of Africa, knocking down the old military buildings there in order to prepare the land for a mine. Robert Urich, the most recognisable face (“Dirty Dozen” actor Clint Walker is the star, but he’s too Western-y an actor for me to know well) uncovers that meteor, and in a haze of glowing blue light, some sort of energy passes from rock to bulldozer.

 

I don’t know if you were expecting much of a recap from me, but that’s about all you’re going to get. There’s six workers, and they get picked off until the survivors eventually figure out that a bulldozer chasing people, killing them and driving itself merrily is a bit out of the ordinary; even then, it’s an extremely curious “action” movie, one where hunter and hunted are aware of each other at all times and just sort of keep an eye on each other until it’s time for the dumb humans to make a lame run for some sort of safety, or the enormous bright yellow piece of earthmoving equipment to get way too close. Seriously, dumb-dumbs, if it starts moving towards you, run away! Run up hill! We’re treated to that sneaky trick of movies since time immemorial – if you can’t see a large vehicle , you can’t hear it either – a few more times than is strictly necessary.

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It would also appear that all six men are suicidal, as there are several occasions where Killdozer comes steaming towards them and their response is to…lie where they fell.  Come on, fellas! Up and at ‘em! But while I mock, they really bother to give the men personalities – foreman Lloyd (Walker) is a straight-laced recovering alcoholic, Chub (Neville Brand) is the crusty old mechanic and Dutch (James Krasner) is the guy who really wants you to know he was Robert Urich’s best friend. They’re dependable actors, for sure.

 

One ought to doff the cap to a movie which does a half decent job of convincing you a giant barely mobile bulldozer could be a realistic threat to an agile group of humans who could very easily just hop onto the beast and wreck its engine; and unless I knew beforehand, I don’t think I’d see this as a TV movie. Okay, the scale is pretty small – it’s a small group of shacks and lots of empty scrubland – but they make it look as cinematic as possible, with one or two really well-composed shots.

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I don’t have the fond childhood memories of it that some reviewers do, so I’m coming into this review cold, as you are too (if you’re reading reviews). A rather slow, not enormously entertaining movie, but one which is weirdly fascinating and hopefully worth your time.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Terminal Virus (1995)

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Perhaps you can help me, dear reader – I need a new term for a film where the first thing you see is boobs. Boobception maybe? If you have any ideas, please let me know. What boobceptions always are, is classy entertainment, and that’s certainly the case here, where the boobs in question belong to a young lady being chased through an arid landscape by a filthy lunatic. Yes, it’s more of that 90s post-apocalyptic action we’ve come to know and love, with its brown landscapes, rags-for-clothes, shoddily patched up cars, and so on.

 

This, at least, tries to put a fresh spin on the situation. 23 years ago, a great war of some sort ended with a chemical weapon of unusual hideousness – a virus that means any time men and women have sex, they both die. This has led to forced celibacy, and the entirety of humanity appears to be represented by a camp of guys and then, relatively nearby, a camp of women. Rather shockingly, the potential rapist and the woman involved are both killed by their respective communities, so you can tell the stakes are very high; but on their way back from killing the guy, the group of men (led by all-time great movie villain Richard Lynch, as “Calloway”) happen upon a perfectly preserved pre-war “outpost”. This outpost is small neat houses, and a few low buildings, and for absolutely no reason at all, Calloway and his men break the fence down and kill everyone.

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However, one person was away from the base, catching snakes; he’s Joe Knight (Bryan Genesse, “Screwballs 2”, “The Circuit”). With his dying breath, Joe’s Dad tells him to go down into the basement, which is a huge scientific complex, and there he finds a cure for the virus! His big plan is to find a man and a woman, give them the antidote and persuade them to have sex, they won’t die, everyone will be impressed and peace will reign. He has a friend in this mission – McCabe (James “husband of Barbara Streisand” Brolin), a wisecracking nomad who we first meet escaping from a Calloway-led execution. They kidnap a woman from outside the female camp, and for some reason which was presumably explained in a piece of dialogue I didn’t listen to, McCabe can’t have sex with her – luckily, one of Calloway’s goons is captured trying to break in, so he’s chained to the lovely lady and they’re both plied with champagne and romantic music.

 

As you may have guessed, it goes a bit silly around this point. For a bleak future with tons of murder, it’s awfully light-hearted! Perhaps Brolin turned up and went “hey guys, I’ve written a load of jokes, can I put them in the movie?” and no-one had the heart / guts to tell him no. While he’s not an A-lister, he’s a bit too big a name to be in trash like this so his influence could have been large.

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So, aside from Brolin, you’ve got Genesse as a naïve type (he’s one of the only children born after the virus, and despite being 32 at the time of filming and looking every day of it, plays a man of 20) and plenty of strong support. It’s a weird thing to say about a cheesy low-budget 90s movie I’d never even heard of until I picked it up for this review, but there are no super weak links in the cast.

 

But there are plenty of weak links. First up is just kidnapping a woman to procreate with, “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” style. It’s really very oddly done, and her falling in love with Genesse, while inevitable, is just the crappy icing on the awful cake. There’s the sheer number of double-crosses and “hey, can you unlock these handcuffs so I can use the toilet – whoops, I’m running off” scenes that make you want to slap several of the main characters too.

 

Worst of all, I think, is the big fight, as the women (who, it turns out, were amenable to a decent argument and didn’t need to be fought with) take on the men who are trying to blow up the laboratory and ensure the serum is destroyed for ever. Actually, why is Richard Lynch so desperate to never have sex again? Does he like ruling over a gang of rough-looking guys that much? Anyway, the fight is almost unbearable, going on for ever. In a movie that’s only just over 70 minutes long, having one fight scene go on for what feels like 20 minutes is a no-no. And if you’re really willing to go deep, hundreds of guys die in that scene and not a single woman, yet there’s still dozens of guys alive to be captured at the end. You never see more than…ten men with Lynch, but at least 50 of them get offed in that battle. Genesse, as we fans of trash know, has legit martial arts skills, but fights like an idiot until the very last scene, when suddenly he busts out a bunch of sweet roundhouse kicks. What?

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It’s very short for a “proper” B movie, so I wonder if they ran out of money. That explains the extreme length of the gunfight, as they used every bit of footage they had, and the way the last scene feels a bit tacked on. Or perhaps it’s just why director Dan Golden is now better known as a stills photographer (didn’t realise there was a career in that, in the movies); or we could look at how this is the sole credit for two of its three writers. Ah, I don’t know. Brolin is fun if a little too over the top with the wisecracks, Genesse is fine, it’s sort of a cool idea, just executed pretty poorly.

 

Rating: thumbs down