Puppet On A Chain (1971)

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Our Amsterdam cinema season continues with the movie that partly inspired “Amsterdamned” (and a section of “Live And Let Die”), and a damn entertaining one it is too. There’s more of the filthy old city to enjoy, along with beautiful co-stars, exciting chases and a surprisingly clever plot.

 

Alistair MacLean was at the height of his fame when he wrote the book of “Puppet On A Chain”, and it was sold quickly and turned into a movie just two years later. His books remind me of boring trips to charity shops and car boot sales and the sort of thing Dads in the 1970s would read, but credit where credit’s due, the boy could write action. He wasn’t big on romance in his novels, feeling it distracted from the plot, and specialised in calm, cynical heroes up against crazy-insurmountable odds; while there’s a smidgeon of romance in this, US agent Paul Sherman is your classic MacLean-ian hero.

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Hippies! Three filthy hippies are gunned down at the beginning, due to them intercepting a shipment of heroin – better get used to marijuana being every bit as bad as heroin in this story. The authorities trace the shipment back to Amsterdam and send Sherman, who grew up in Holland (played by Sven-Bertil Taube, a Swede who also spent a lot of time in England and the USA), to get to the bottom of things. There’s a CIA agent, who’s also his ex-girlfriend, Maggie (the ridiculously beautiful Barbara Parkins, “Valley of the Dolls”, “Peyton Place”), the stuck-up Amsterdam chief of police (Alexander Knox), and local cop Inspector Van Gelder (British “That Guy” Patrick Allen, not even pretending to do the faintest hint of a Dutch accent). Van Gelder has a niece, 22 years old with a mental age of 5 or 6, who fell into a coma after using heroin, which is the reason he’s so determined to help Sherman bust the smugglers.

 

While it’s an entirely solid thriller, when the reveals come, you’ll be a bit “huh?” Rather than a sensible method of drug distribution, it’s some insanely complicated plan involving hollowed-out bibles, the toy dolls made by Morgenstern, a company that’s been there for 150 years (re: the title, they’re also used by the dealers. When they kill someone, they also hang one of the dolls next to the body, with the dead person’s face, which just seems like they’ve got too much time on their hands. Spend the time you were taking on the face and use it to sell more drugs, guys!

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It’s also a lot of fun seeing the streets of Amsterdam once again. The medieval centre of the city is beautiful, and I’m surprised more international movies don’t film there (although perhaps it’s too expensive these days, and why so many movies come from Vancouver or Eastern Europe). If you want local flavour, there’s even a truly nightmarish early disco dancing scene which will leave you perplexed. Tell you what, here’s a photo because I need to share it with you:

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And, of course, there’s the famous boat chase, which is even better than the one from “Amsterdamned” – partly because it’s shorter (the later one did drag a bit) but mostly because the stunt pilot they hired were amazing. Some of the turns and movements they do are just jaw-dropping, and the conclusion is both completely earned and quite shocking. The guy who directed the boat chase gets his own large credit at the beginning, which is about right.

 

You might quite reasonably think of James Bond when watching this movie, as Sherman is incredibly resourceful, smart, good at fighting (how he finishes off the assassin and makes sure he has a million alibis is a lovely bit) and even has time for some amorous fun with Maggie. But Sherman is a tougher character, less gregarious and certainly a bit happier to let someone plunge to their death. Perhaps a bit more of a 1970s Jason Bourne. One thing both Sherman and Bond share, though, are villains who have a predilection for placing them in weird torture/death devices then leaving the room, giving our heroes ample time to escape.

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So, it’s a trifle convoluted in places, with some clunky exposition, but overall splendid good fun. It’s the sort of thing that, with a few trims, could be a Sunday afternoon sleepy TV thriller, so if you see it you might not want to pass it up. And, okay, Taube isn’t the world’s most charismatic hero (his relative lack of other credits, being happier as a singer, is testament to this), so I understand why it’s not as well-remembered as the Bond movies of the era.

 

Before I bail, a quick word about Roger Ebert’s review of this. He gives it a miserable 1 ½ stars, and says that in the world of Alistair MacLean, there are no normal towns or people, only dens of intrigue and criminals. Er, isn’t that just because he’s a thriller writer? Would you expect a thriller writer to set his books in leafy suburbia and populate them with mild mannered accountants? It’s a bit like saying “funny how zombie movies always have zombies in them”, and is a weirdly weak bit of analysis from the great man (he clearly didn’t like the movie or the author, which is fine. Not too many people do, it would seem).

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Youtube Film Club: Amsterdamned (1988)

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Great title, eh? Welcome to a mini-season of reviews of movies based in Amsterdam, because I’m off on my holidays there in a few weeks and it’s not like any of our other review series are crying out to be completed. I’ll try and throw in a little bit of local information too, and if any movie features the houseboat I’ve stayed at a few times (even if it’s just briefly), then it’s getting a thumbs up and a ticket to the ISCFC Hall of Fame.

This might come as handy information if you were worried about watching a Dutch movie, but “Amsterdamned” is remarkably similar to its American counterparts of the time and genre. You’ve got a no-nonsense cop bringing up a daughter on his own; a beautiful woman who’s inexplicably linked to the murderer; plenty of red herrings; an amazing stunt sequence; and overall both a more violent and funny experience.

A sleazy taxi driver tries to rape the sex-worker he’s driving home, and when she fights him off (although she just brushes his first attack off, really wanting that lift), he kicks her out, where she’s immediately set upon and killed by a person unknown, wearing a wetsuit. Then, really escalating matters, he hangs her from a bridge, where she’s discovered the next morning by a tour group, her bloody body leaving a red trail along the glass top before falling in and traumatising some poor kids for life. This whole sequence really lets you know you’re getting it with both barrels, and that’s before we’ve been introduced to the star, cop Eric Visser (Dutch TV / movie mainstay Huub Stapel). He’s an amalgam of every plays-by-his-own-rules cop of the 80s, and has a charming twinkle in his eye throughout.

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You think, briefly, it’s going to be a buddy-cop movie with river-policeman John (Wim Zomer), but he gets sliced up by our aquatic psychopath fairly early on. It’s Eric and his girlfriend Laura (Monique van de Ven, another TV star and former wife of Jan De Bont), a group of pretty hapless cops and Laura’s psychiatrist Vermeer (Serge-Henri Valcke). He’s such a huge red herring, but there’s no-one else in the cast it could really be, so you’ll be wondering if he’s just going to be the killer and screw the obviousness of it, but…nah, I won’t tell you. It’s fun to find these things out! Even if the justification, when it comes, is plenty dumb. Oh, and there’s the bizarre subplot of Eric’s 12 year old daughter and her best friend from school, who’s psychic and correctly traces the killer’s location on multiple occasions (but no-one believes him), but I’ve got no bloody idea what they were trying for there.

As we mentioned before, no US movie would have is the mix of extreme violence and quite broad comedy that “Amsterdamned” has. As the killer hacks his way through Amsterdam, Eric has a cop buddy who does a couple of pratfalls and is pure comic relief, and even the big set pieces have moments of comedy oddly placed in them. It’s unique, I suppose.

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It’s most famous nowadays, though, for its amazing central chase scene, as Eric finally tracks down the killer to a boatyard, then they both get on speedboats and go on a wild pursuit through the city. The sheer access they were given to beautiful central Amsterdam is amazing, and even though it goes on a bit, it’s a brilliantly shot and performed scene (they apparently had to go to Utrecht for a bit of it, as Amsterdam doesn’t have any of the low jetties that some of the stunts required). The scene is apparently a homage to a similar scene, filmed in the same city, from 1971’s “Puppet On A Chain”, which we’ll be covering as soon as we find a copy. Even down to the colour of the boats, which is an impressive touch.

It’s by no means cheap, either. They sink a boat and shoot real diving footage in the wreck, for heaven’s sake! And there’s an impressive attention to detail which a lower-budget production wouldn’t bother with – a case in point. A boat with a brass band on it is featured during the chase, and the conductor of the band is actually director Bert Haanstra, whose 1958 movie “Fanfare” (a Dutch classic, apparently) also features a brass band on a boat.

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Unlike so many movies, it doesn’t shy away from showing you the other side of the city. Now, Amsterdam has cleaned a lot of its central city up now, as money has put a premium on every square foot of land, but back in the late 80s there were some seriously derelict areas, really dirty and ignored. We see the entire city, and even if you’re not a little bit in love with it like I am, it’s interesting as an unvarnished view of an earlier time, and to see how the city, while not changing too much (lots and lots of protected buildings) has evolved. Sadly, it’s not all that interesting for any other reason – it’s a completely by-the-numbers thriller, with people acting like dumbasses just to ensure the killer has plenty of cannon fodder.

Worth watching, just. And be sure to watch the Dutch version with subtitles above, and not the English language version. The main cast actually dubbed themselves in English, but their performances are all a little stilted, as would yours be if you were acting in a language not your own. But one final thing – “Amsterdamned” has an end-credits song that describes the movie that just happened! This is one of my favourite things, and I can’t hate any movie that does it.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Youtube Film Club: Night Screams (1987)

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Credit where credit’s due, dear reader: this movie managed the almost unimaginable, and in 1987, at the end of the first big run of slasher movies, did something original. Not in terms of acting, or direction, or character, or anything like that, but plot. It’s really rather impressive.

A couple of deranged escaped convicts find their way to a large house out in the wilds, where a group of teens have organised a party to celebrate winning a football game. At the same time, a mental patient who murdered their parents is released from hospital, and evidently has some sort of link to the gang.

 

Two different murderers, who don’t know about each other, taking on the same group of teens! It’s especially surprising, as that opening segment makes you think you’re going to get yet another “Halloween” ripoff; this isn’t to say the movie is good, of course. But it might be the best movie ever to be largely filmed and set in Wichita, Kansas.

 

After an opening theme of the cheesiest 80s disco, the sort of music I like to get me in the mood for teens being hacked to pieces, we kick off. This is yet another in perhaps the strongest of all the teen genres – “hold on, everyone in this movie is like thirty years old!” In fact, I feel like this one requires some proof, so check out the below screenshot of the guy walking in front of shot, who seriously looks old enough to have grandchildren. I appreciate there’s probably labour laws which make it tons easier to hire adults to play teen parts, but at least make an effort, guys!

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David (Joe Manno) is the star of the football team, and has just got a big scholarship to a famous University, but he’s got an unspecified issue which requires him to take medication every day, and it’s serious enough for it to be the only thing his parents are really bothered about when they go away for the night and let him have a party. He has a new-ish girlfriend, Joni (Megan Wyss), who’s sort of quiet and not like the cheerleaders who all basically assault him in front of their own boyfriends. One of the guys might as well have “future date rapist” hung on a sign round his neck, but it’s difficult to tell if the movie is supposed to think he’s a reasonable guy or not.

 

While these “teens” are going through their shenanigans, three convicts escape from the local jail and just go wild, stealing a car and murdering a shop full of people. I think the main guy’s name is Snake (this would be his only credit, an honour he shares with a lot of the cast), and he’s got a good line in insane monologues about sacrifice and so on; one of the other convicts questions all the killing so he gets thrown through a plate glass window and left behind for his trouble.

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So, the two remaining crims are hanging out in the cellar of the house (one of them says “it looks deserted” when he’s about half a mile away and couldn’t possibly tell), and the kids are upstairs. They kill one kid, but the majority of the murders are done by someone else…

 

Much like our recently reviewed “Delirium”, this is something that looks like a normal slasher movie, but was made far away from Hollywood and shares none of the mainstream smoothness or top-level cast (relatively speaking) of its more famous siblings. But that’s got its own interest to it, when you’ve seen one Hollywood slasher, you’ve seen ‘em all. As well as that slightly cheap grainy quality that comes from shooting on a very low budget in Kansas, you’ve also got some original kills. People get choked in bags and have stuff shoved through the tops of their heads and get fried on some weird American griddle which is right in the middle of the counter, and much more besides. Our killer is a person who doesn’t like to repeat themselves.

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This odd non-mainstream thing is perhaps most fully realised, though, in the appearance of the Sweetheart Dancers. They’re credited as “the nationally famous Sweetheart Dancers” and we get an entire routine of theirs, as they dance in front of perhaps the worst band ever to be recorded on film. That band? The Dogs, and amazingly according to Facebook, were active as recently as 2011, but I bet didn’t have two keytars (two!) then, like they did whenever this was filmed – it’s got a 1987 release date, but the band had split up the year before. Anyway, the dancers! They have very conservative sparkly tops on, and do a really poor little dance routine, the sort of thing that would get you laughed out of any regional talent show in the country nowadays (plus, they’re performing under their own name, as it were, so I bet someone paid for them to be in this movie).

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A word about nudity. Because the good Midwestern girls who made up the cast of this movie were clearly not paid enough to go topless, the movie gets round it in a slightly ingenious / sleazy way. They borrow a clip from early slasher “Graduation Day” which has a naked Linnea Quigley in it, and later on just some straight-up porn starring legend John Holmes. This footage is watched by the cast regularly, and often in complete full-screen so it’s difficult to tell if it’s supposed to be part of the movie or not (okay, it’s unlikely that John Holmes is going to pop up in “Night Screams”).

 

This was director Allen Plone’s (great name) first movie, and he went on to do lots of Earth, Wind And Fire videos and pretty much nothing else. Writer Mitch Brian created the character of Renee Montoya for the Batman animated show in the 90s, so depending on how his royalties work out he’s probably doing okay. They try! While it’s terribly acted and the twist is obvious and the ending is sub-sub Twilight Zone bad, it’s got some spirit to it, and you can watch it for free if you’d like.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Interview: Len Kabasinski

We are unashamed Len Kabasinski fans here at the ISCFC. With small budgets and whatever time he can grab, he’s made a series of extremely entertaining genre movies, from “Swamp Zombies” (which we loved) to “Fist Of The Vampire” to “Apocalypse Female Warriors” (brilliant), among many more. “Angel of Reckoning” is out now – not in the UK, sadly – and he’s currently shooting “Hellcat’s Revenge”, a sleazy-looking 70s-style biker-exploitation film.  His work ethic makes me feel even lazier than I am, and he’s agreed to answer a few of my questions.

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Hi Len! We’ve got an obligatory boring movie reviewer question first, but could you tell us a bit about what sort of films you grew up watching?

Hey Mark! thanks for having me. I grew up with martial arts in my life so it was only natural for me to gravate towards those types of films, back in the early to mid 80s the “straight to VHS/home video” boom hadn’t really happened yet. So, for alot of films I really loved early on i went to a friends house who had HBO and watched films like REVENGE OF THE NINJA, ENTER THE NINJA, SILENT RAGE, etc etc. I LOVED the tv show KUNG FU and was and is a huge David Carradine fan. i would race home from school as KUNG FU played on a local TV channel at that time. Once we got into the period from about 1987 to around 1994 this was my absolute favorite time period, especially for martial arts/action films….horror had a lot of good ones too but horror films have a rich history going waaaaaaay back in film whereas martial arts really didn’t. amoungst my favorite actors growing up were David Carradine, Michael Dudikoff, Loren Avedon, Don “the dragon” Wilson, Jeff Wincott, and more….so lots of movies from these actors, plus directors like Kurt Anderson, Sam Firstenberg, Ciro H Santiago, and of course a shit-ton of stuff coming out of Roger Corman’s companies, etc

Your most recent release is “Angel of Reckoning”. The IMDB description sounds awesome, and it’s already out in the US. Was it fun to make?

ANGEL OF RECKONING really marks as a big turn in my filmmaking, as it really had absolutely no horror elements to it at all and was more a straight action picture. As a whole the production went smooth, except for a few hiccups as we delt with soft boxes, gels, time consuming stuff….overall it’s a film I’m happy with but I really don’t watch my own works. But I learned alot during this film in many more ways than one. My Mother was dying as I was writing/developing the film and I decided (and I got to tell her these things before she passed) that I was going to make a vigilante style picture/revenge style picture ala films like DEATH WISH and she was happy I went for something like this. She would always tell me when I was bummed out about how one thing went or another…”Len you have nothing to prove anymore”….she is missed. but not only will I always feel I have something to prove, I’m about to put the gas pedal down on a film called BLOOD PRISM that I think people will be surprised with the direction. Just when people think they know the answer to my filmmaking? I change the question (wrestling reference, extra credit to who gets it).

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From your casting choices, it seems we share a love of pro wrestling. How did you go about getting “The Genius”, Lanny Poffo, to act for you, after so long out of the public eye? And are there any other pro wrestlers you’d like to work with?

Oh sure, there’s a ton. Lanny Poffo I worked with twice and hope to again. Super nice guy and great sense of humor. I really want to work with him again, as now I’m making better and better things, and have advanced my skills in alot of areas (imo). I’m not sure i have anyone in particular I’d like to work with….it would have been Roddy Piper (as I’m a big THEY LIVE fan), so that sucks he passed but yea….I dont know. I’d have to really think about it….it’d probably have to be someone I feel I could create a very unique character for, I could see CM Punk being successful in some kind of horror picture or maybe someone like Shawn Michaels in an action/martial arts picture….but hell….I’d work with anyone that comes in, treats my cast & crew well, isnt an asshole to people, and believes in what we’re trying to accomplish.

I loved the re-edited “Apocalypse Female Warriors”. Would this re-editing and recording commentary be something you’d like to do for any of your other movies?

Of course. I’d love to do new commentaries to some of my older films, especially CURSE OF THE WOLF which has a decent sized fan base. APOCALYPSE FEMALE WARRIORS special edition and new cut was done by Chris Young, who also served as my editor (amoung other duties like Lighting Coordinator) on ANGEL OF RECKONING. Super talented, incredibly film knowledgeable, and a really meticulous hard worker. He also understands to a T what I’m trying to accomplish with a given film and can speak the same “on-set language” that I do. Camera angles, lighting, editing cuts, etc…we’re on the same page an extremely high percentage of the time. He’s editing HELLCATS REVENGE and BLOOD PRISM and is really developing into a co-partner for me at KillerWolf Films….but that’s a development for another time. I highly recommend him to anyone trying to make better pictures, a better website, overall better production values, and more….he can do it all and at a high level. There is NO ONE I have met so far in 10 or 11 movies I’ve done that is more intelligent than him. www.cyoungmedia.com for more….you won’t regret it.

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Are there any films from other directors you’d like to remake? I can just see you as “Omega Cop”.

Oh shit, youve won my over for life with a Ron Marchini reference. WOW! I love KARATE COP and OMEGA COP specifically but love FORGOTTEN WARRIOR and JUNGLE WOLF as well. KARATE COP wold be high on my list as well as KING OF THE KICKBOXERS. if I had to pick a horror (ish) film I’d pick 1988’s DEAD HEAT with Joe Piscopo and Treat Williams (and an incredible all star cast…Key Luke, Vincent Price, etc etc). I of course would have to add AMERICAN NINJA and ENTER THE NINJA to that list along with a film I highly recomend starring the ALWAYS-awesome Cameron Mitchell called RAW FORCE. RAW FORCE would have HUGE potential in my opinion as a re-make. ( I hate remakes but I went along with your question here, 🙂 )

(ISCFC aside: seriously, “Raw Force” is amazing. Go and watch it immediately)

I think you’re a decent actor, and probably ought to headline one of your own movies. Any plans to do that in future? Or are you interested in acting for anyone else?

I would act for another project if I felt it was organized and worth my time (not trying to sound arrogant there at all). So sure, my door is always open to treat everything as a learning experience and grow in all phases of art and creativity. those who enjoy my acting for whatever reason will probably like the upcoming HELLCATS REVENGE, where I play the co-lead role of “Snake”, the leader of a criminal biker gang. So acting-wise, I’m in that film a lot. However, BLOOD PRISM, will be a lot like ANGEL OF RECKONING where I plan to stay behind the camera more and really try to show people improvements in my directorial skills, scripting improvements (I’m co-writing BLOOD PRISM and have taken the reins on producing the film as well). I didnt expect to film so soon after HELLCATS REVENGE but opportunities presented themselves and off we go. I was really fortunate for the people who kicked in on our gofundme campaign for HELLCATS REVENGE as it helped us aquire Lisa Neeld (great person and performer) amoungst othe production elements. Plus, I was very fortunate I had backing outside of Gofundme from a west coast producer who paid for my entire post-production (I’ve been working a long time to get to that point! It feels good!)

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Would you have any advice for someone who wants to do what you did and make independent cinema? Maybe a few pieces of advice you wish you’d been given when you started.

First off, never get discouraged by what other people may say about your work.  Do what your creative mind wants you to do or tells you to do. You dont need much of a budget to “get out there” (hell, I know this too well!). All my early films have been at Walmarts, Kmarts, Family Videos, Netflix, FYE, GoHastings….shit tons of places. but now? No-one cares if youre on a store shelf, its all about making money and doing your next picture. everything is VOD now. So, basically I look to push my films to VOD places as much as I can and don’t get caught up with pushing to video stores or retail chains anymore….because no one cares, lol. So be smart about things. Develop YOUR thing, YOUR plan, and go for it…truly. Story, lighting, acting will go further than any production aspect like shooting on a RED camera, or other super expensive equipment….fuck, use your phone if you have to lol. And lastly, and this goes back to how I started the answer to this question…fuck what other people say or think about you…be yourself no matter what and you know what? You can’t do anything wrong when you be yourself because people will love you for you.

I won’t be Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Kubrick etc…but you know what? They won’t be me either and I know more about MARTIAL OUTLAW, RETURN FIRE: JUNGLE WOLF II, ELVES, and FUTURE FORCE then they ever will….and I’d never want my life to be without films like these.

(ISCFC aside: I love this answer so much. If you’re not a fan of Len’s by the end of this interview, then me and you would never be friends)

Please let us know about “Hellcat’s Revenge”. How has filming gone so far?

HELLCATS REVENGE was being developed and script done, when I did a re-write just a few days before principal photography. The shoot was very smooth, if not my smoothest so far. It’s female bikers vs male bikers after a prominent member of the “Hellcats” is murdered….motorcycles, hot babes, strip clubs, fight scenes, so I hope it can keep people’s attention! But yeah, during production we had lot’s of break time for people in between huge scenes, lots of rest, finishing on time or early everyday but one, etc etc….alot of great things.  but yeah, in case you didnt know…HELLCATS REVENGE is done with filming and already in post-production now. Hopefully it can hit DVD in Summer 2017. Lots of action in it, and a lot of great chemistry between the characters imo. hopefully people will check it out when it’s time….til then check out www.facebook.com/hellcatsrevenge , www.facebook.com/len.kabasinski or www.cyoungmedia.com and of course the brand new www.killerwolffilms.com

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Thanks again, Len, and good luck with all your future projects!

Thanks for having me Mark! I hope everyone can check out ANGEL OF RECKONING which is out on VOD right now…Amazon Instant Video, itunes, Gravitas VOD, and more. the DVD for ANGEL OF RECKONING comes out 11/22 and is LOADED with cool special features if you’re into those things, some I have never seen before on other DVDs!

Youtube Film Club: Summer Camp Nightmare (1987)

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This appears to be the week of misleading teen horror titles. After “Hell High” and it’s not really hell, not really high school shenanigans, we’re now on “Summer Camp Nightmare”, and…well, look at that picture. If you’d looked at that and thought “cloth-eared Lord Of The Flies ripoff” then you’re a much smarter person than I.

Two very interesting names pop up in the opening credits, much more interesting than the movie itself. First is a co-writing credit for Penelope Spheeris, much much better known as the director of “Wayne’s World” and the “Decline And Fall Of Western Civilization” series. She rarely wrote, with this being one of only two non-TV, non-documentary credits for her, so honestly I was unsure what to expect.

 

Second is star Chuck Connors. His acting career is not all that interesting, having worked in all manner of styles, both TV and film (he got his big break as star of “The Rifleman”, a long-running TV show in the late 50s); but he was a fascinating guy. He’s one of only 12 people to play both professional basketball and professional baseball (Boston Celtics for basketball, and Brooklyn Dodgers / Chicago Cubs for baseball). He was also, amazingly, drafted by the American football team the Chicago Bears, but never took the field for them. Universally beloved by his co-stars, if only he hadn’t been a Reagan-supporting Republican!

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Having a religious nut who allows no fun run your summer camp seems like a poor business model. After hiring a bunch of fun-loving teenagers to work as counsellors, the owners then hired Mr Warren (Connors) to run the place. He loves butterfly collecting and the Bible, sets the TV up so it only picks up religious programming, etc. If I came back from that summer camp, I’d be sure to tell everyone I knew how much it sucked, and with all that bad word of mouth, it’d close pretty quickly, I’d have thought.

 

Anyway, the first hint things are wrong is when Franklin (Charlie Stratton), one of the counsellors, is seen reading “Civil Disobedience” by Thoreau, and rallying the other kids against the tyrannical Warren. He’s not a monster from the beginning, being kind to the younger kids; in fact it’s when one of those kids reports to him that Warren tried to sexually abuse him, that things really move into action. Eventually, he steals Warren’s gun and locks all the adult staff up in the “meditation centre”, does the same thing to the girls’ camp next door, and the Revolution is on! There’s a Supreme Revolutionary Committee, people being ostracised, Warren is stabbed by “Runk The Punk”, a rape occurs, and while some kids seem pretty happy with the new order (and some seem indifferent, like it’s a very weird game), a small minority tries to fight back and get word to the outside world.

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So, obviously, it’s an exceptionally heavy-handed political allegory. The book it’s based on, “The Butterfly Revolution”, appears much more interesting, and there are lots of things in the movie that seem crowbarred in from the book, that perhaps should have been given more time or cut out altogether. The book has a philosophical debate (the sensitive young boy reads Marx, which helps him understand the revolution is totalitarian and wrong, and the book is about how reading is important to arm yourself against bad ideas), but the movie, perhaps because it was made by Hollywood liberals with conservative money, doesn’t want to fall on either side of the fence. We’re left with a central character, Franklin, who doesn’t seem remotely charismatic enough to win an argument, much less lead a revolution, and people who go from normal teenagers to thugs in the blink of an eye.

 

Factor in a much-too-long act 1 (you could trim 15 minutes from the first 45 and not miss a thing) and a much-too-short act 2, and it’s honestly a tough watch. Still, if you’ve ever wanted to see two kids mime to FEAR’s song “Beef Bologna” and grab their crotches, this is definitely the movie for you.

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Rating: thumbs down

Witchville (2010)

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Because we couldn’t stay away for long, here’s another SyFy review for you. Spoiler alert – it’s dull as hell, so if you’re a busy person who can spare 90 minutes for a movie but not three minutes to read a review, don’t bother. If you’d like to join me in annoyance, read on.

 

Luke Goss is presumably quite happy Bros are reforming, and I bet he hopes they make enough money for him to retire from the movies.  He’s been in some interesting stuff, including the two “Death Race” sequels and “Blade 2”, and is much better known as an actor than he ever was as a singer, but…he’s not the best picker of material, let’s put it that way. He and Danny Trejo are go-to guys for low-budget action directors, it would seem (credited together 5 times), and chances are if you see a DVD that looks like a big-budget movie, only you’ve never heard of it, Goss will be in it.

 

Here, he’s Malachy, a medieval type enjoying a beer with his friend Jason (Ed Speleers). Their fun is spoiled when Jason’s brother Erik (Andrew Pleavin) comes in to round them up and get them back to “the kingdom”, where Malachy’s Dad, the King, is dying. Turns out witches have been cursing the place, or just using up the vitality of the Earth for their black magic, for some time, and the kingdom is in a right old state. A magician called, oddly, Heinrich Kramer (Simon Thorp), tells em about the witches – he has a book with all their secrets in it, and wants their help in hunting down and killing them all. He also appears to be doing a Jonathan Pryce impression, but that’s not crucial to the movie or this review.

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The Witch Queen is Sarah Douglas, by a comfortable distance the most famous actor in it (the first two “Superman” movies, a lifetime of TV and film roles, and a regular of the ISCFC, from “Meatballs 4”, “Puppet Master 3” and “Beastmaster 2”). She has an assistant, Jozefa (MyAnna Buring, “Ripper Street”), and a big supply of weird red smoke which possesses people.

 

There’s not really a lot to this movie. The gang goes after witches, the witches try and kill them, there’s a very obvious “this villain will eventually be on the good side” twist, and then there’s the role of China. As this was funded by Chinese money, Malachy meets a group of Chinese fighters who kill his cannon fodder troops, then when they realise who he is and what he’s fighting, join up with him and become sort of background for the rest of the movie – like that was all they needed to secure the funding, and they couldn’t be bothered to write characters for any of them.

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Simon Thorp’s performance is so terrible that I kept expecting him to be the main villain of the piece, undercover, but…no. And Buring is so terrible that I knew she’d be on the good guys’ side by the end. Everyone else is terrible thanks to an appalling script, which has them all talking like brain-dead characters from medieval fan-fiction; Goss is particularly poorly served by the lines he’s forced to read out, but no-one comes out of it well. There’s also a really bad non-following of Chekhov’s Gun – at the beginning, we see Heinrich with a powder that can briefly resurrect dead creatures, so you think, reasonably, that at some point that powder will be used on one of our heroes, to give them that little push over the top to finally defeat evil…of course, that might have been fun or interesting so they just never mention it again.

 

The main problem I have is how grossly mismatched the contest is. The Witch Queen wins constantly, with our heroes buffeted on all sides by forces they can’t possibly match; after seeing them beaten over and over again for over an hour, a couple of the characters suddenly get massive power-ups during the final battle. What’s quite surprising is seeing a movie about witchcraft in 2010 that doesn’t try and do anything interesting with the idea – like it’s an expression of feminism, or men wanting to control women and being upset when they wanted their own lives. But it’s just more evil women, crappy obvious plot twists, and a pair of twins (spoiler!) who in real life are 11 years apart in age. Clearly the distributors wanted you to think it had more of an Eastern flavour, either to sell it to China or set it apart from legions of similar releases, but if I’d bought it on that proviso, I’d have been very disappointed indeed.

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But if you’re a fan of “World Of Warcraft”, then there’s quite a lot to enjoy. All those shoulder-armour-things, ludicrously oversized and entirely unsuitable for combat, feel like lifts from the game, and there’s an apparently almost exact ripoff of a character from a WoW comic (never read it). Also, more than a few people have noticed the similarity to another computer game, “Witcher”, so perhaps they were hoping to get naming rights to one of those, failed but decided to keep the props they’d made.

 

Anyway, it’s only the morning after watching it, and mercifully the details are already fading from my mind. Let’s just all pretend it never happened, eh?

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Youtube Film Club: Hell High (1989)

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Misleading, even by the standards of the time

The surprising thing about being a film reviewer dedicated to finding the bottom of the cinematic barrel is you keep encountering new things. If there’s one genre I’d be happy saying I’m an expert on, it’s 80s / 90s teen raunch movies. I’ve seen hundreds of them, and once built a full-sized armchair out of VHS tapes of that ilk, but here I am, 40 years old and still discovering ones I’d never heard of.

“Hell High”, though, isn’t really an 80s teen raunch movie, it just uses that as a backdrop, or a selling point, or because the director wanted to see some boobs. What it really is, is a cross between a good old dirty 1970s revenge movie, and an EC Horror tale; featuring a surprising number of people who have it as their one and only credit (some of whom are quite good).

 

Creepy kid in a pink dress skipping happily down a deserted country road! She has a little shed in the middle of nowhere she goes to play with her dolls, and as she’s there one night she’s interrupted by a 1950s greaser couple, who’ve picked the shed (in a swamp, we later discover) as a good place to have sex. Because they tear her doll to pieces, she gets mad, waits til they’re driving off on a bike and then throws mud in the guy’s face, causing them to crash and die horribly.

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Eighteen years later, and that little girl is now biology teacher Brooke Storm, who has the great misfortune to have a group of complete psychopaths in her class. She’s withdrawn, clearly still traumatised by the events of her youth, but the gang are very definitely not withdrawn. There’s rapist-murderer in waiting Dickens (Christopher Stryker); sex enthusiast Queenie (Millie Prezioso); and chubby hanger-on Smiler (Jason Brill). Joining them is the former quarterback of the school’s football team, who quit due to some existential crisis based around losing his girlfriend – Jon-Jon (Christopher Cousins), who decides that having fun with the school outsiders is better than his old life.

 

Their first prank is to drive a car on the middle of the football field during the “big game” and Jon-Jon manages to catch a pass. He’s shown in slow-mo celebrating this, despite the fact that he presumably did it hundreds of times while an actual member of the team; perhaps it’s some sort of freedom thing? Anyway, despite this giving them a 100% chance of being both arrested and expelled, they merrily go on with their day, and decide to have some fun with Miss Storm. After spying on her in the shower, a switch flips in Dickens’ head, and he decides to pay her back for slapping him in the class earlier.

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So they go back, with the ultimate aim (for Dickens) of raping Miss Storm, although everyone merrily joins in with the initial prank stages. In between attacks, she takes a sedative and sleeps through them breaking in, leading to what is the most curious scene in the entire movie. Queenie and Dickens have been hostile to each other throughout, so when she walks in on him pawing at the unconscious half-naked body of their teacher, you think she’d freak out, right? Well, I bet you didn’t think she’d throw him off, only to show him how to really sexually assault someone, mounting her, stroking her body and giving the guy she hates (she and Jon-Jon seem to have a thing) a free show.

 

Anyway, Miss Storm eventually wakes up and, having snapped herself, gets some revenge on the kids. But I don’t just want to recap the movie for you, because I get bored reading those long-ass reviews on other sites and I’m sure you do too.

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What’s most curious about “Hell High” is the pacing. It’s all over the place! Most of the murders take place in a very small amount of time, and thinking about it, the killer isn’t really in the first half of the movie at all, being “created” by the actions of the kids. If they were going to spend so much time with the school, then some sort of resolution to that story might have been nice. And, of course, there’s expectation. Call a movie “Hell High”, have a trailer where people in awesome Halloween masks are doing bad things, and, well, people are going to expect a slasher movie. Okay, the original title, “What Are We Doing Tonight?”, isn’t amazing either, but it’s at least better than the one they ended up with. There’s an interminable subplot about trying to pin the murders on the star football player they all hate, too, which leads to a really quite messed up ending.

 

Actor ages is the other one. Now, I appreciate this happens in lots of movies, but here it’s really obvious. Of the four main scumbags, Jon-Jon and Dickens look closer to 30 than high school age, and then there’s the “18 years later” bit at the beginning. I guess it’s supposed to leave us wondering which of the women is the killer later on, but the problem is Queenie is nowhere near old enough and Miss Storm is way too old (she looks about 35 or so? But add the kid’s 5-7 years at the beginning with 18, and…ah, who cares).

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It’s interesting, certainly. And Prezioso (for whom this was her only role) is pretty decent, as is most of the cast. Christopher Stryker (Dickens) didn’t even get to see the movie released (filmed in 1985, released in 1989) as he died of AIDS in 1986; he could have had a long career of playing unhinged types. It’s shot well, and has plenty of fans – Joe Bob Briggs, who’s like a cross between a less funny MST3K and a less informative Roger Ebert, but is inexplicably popular in the US, does a commentary track for the DVD – but is ultimately a bit too poorly paced to be a success. It also joins a number of other ISCFC-covered movies in representing the entirety of someone’s directing career – this time it’s Douglas Grossman, who seemed absolutely fine, and presumably quit for his own reasons rather than not being able to get hired.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Shock Waves (1977)

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There’s a question that every cult movie enthusiast asks, that’s caused all manner of debate at conventions, on forums, fistfights in the street, and so on. That question, of course, is “what’s the best underwater Nazi zombie movie?”

 

We’ve already covered “Zombie Lake”, the not-exactly-thrilling tale of Nazis having babies and being the green-skinned romantic leads; but this time, dear reader, I’m ready to get my name on the cover of the Blu-ray. It’s time for the first ever ISCFC pull quote:

 

“The greatest underwater Nazi zombie movie of all time!”

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This particular bunch of zombies were a German platoon who were experimented on, which left them somewhere between the living and the dead. They’d be taken to warzones and just let loose – indestructible, they would tear through the Allies, but the problem was they couldn’t be trusted to not attack their own side too. So, the Germans removed them for tests, and then they disappeared from history.

 

This entire movie is a flashback, which is often a boring idea (because you know who’s going to survive) but here it works rather well. A father and son are out fishing and see a boat, drifting, with a horribly sunburnt unconscious woman on board. They rescue her and we then hear her voiceover, unable to comprehend someone’s trying to help her; then we get the story. It’s the story of the least likely group of boat tourists ever! You’ve got the unhappy middle-aged couple who don’t like the water very much! The guy who’s extremely claustrophobic but decided to sleep in a tiny cabin there was no escape from! The crew – a grumpy old captain who hates everyone (John Carradine, who’s been in some of the worst movies of all time)! The hipster navigator! And the cook, because apparently four guests need a full-time cook!  Our star is Rose (Brooke Adams), who’s…nah, I got nothing.

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The movie shows it’s got more ambition than the average early on, as the boat’s journey at night is especially creepy and well-filmed. A lone light, panning across the waves, sees the hulk of a completely dark ship, seemingly long-abandoned, bearing down on them – it’s a great shot; and a few minutes later, not believing they’d hit anything, the captain fires a flare into the air, capturing a ghostly image of a different, completely derelict, ship, off in the distance. That boat is real, and is a great backdrop to the story – the SS Sapona, that ran aground off the coast of Bimini in 1926 during a storm, and despite being used for target practice by the US Air Force during WW2, is still there today, and is a popular diving destination.

 

Normally, I’d moan that it takes the zombies ages to show up, but the atmosphere is superb. The damage from the mysterious crash forces them to dock at the nearest island, just as the captain disappears in the middle of the night and shows up (under the small boat’s glass bottom) dead the next morning, of causes unknown. It’s while arguing and generally having a miserable time that they come across a large, seemingly abandoned mansion (another great visual, and a lucky find for an obviously low-budget movie), which is actually the home of Peter Cushing, a man who has no name but is listed in the credits as “SS Commander”.

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Anyway, they’re his zombie troops and for some reason they all live in shallow water, emerging in rather camp fashion every now and again. They’re all wearing goggles, which seems to be their only weakness; and pretty much as soon as they encounter the fresh meat, it’s all over as none of the humans seem all that interested in defending themselves. Where would we be without cannon fodder in our movies, though?

 

This movie features two legends of cinema, and while Carradine was an old alcoholic who’d long since stopped caring (I remember him un-fondly in such gems as “Red Zone Cuba” and “Horror Of The Blood Monsters”), Cushing was still fantastic and gave his scenes far too much gravitas. This was the same year as “Star Wars”, think on, but while it’s fun watching him, everyone else is trying a bit too hard (with the exception of Adams, who’s fine).

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It’s a weird movie, really. It’s not particularly gory and the plot’s a bit daft; but it was filmed by someone with a really great eye (with some almost hallucinatory shots, that really ramp up the tension), and that combined with some great locations make it actually interesting to watch, which is an incredible rarity in horror cinema. It’s even more surprising when you learn the director is Ken Wiederhorn, now a three-time ISCFC review recipient along with “Meatballs 2” and the all-time, cast-iron classic “King Frat” (although “Shock Waves” was his first movie, he was probably really trying to make a name for himself).

 

Rating: thumbs up