WItchboard 3: The Possession (1995)

After a brief detour for a movie we enjoyed, we’re back down in the cinematic dreck, the place we feel most at home, here at the ISCFC. For reasons genuinely unknown, but probably contractual, they made a third Witchboard instalment, with the only credit for previous writer/director Kevin Tenney being a co-writing one. It manages to be boring and annoying in equal measure, and if you’d like a few hundred words of a vague recap and some insults, read on.

Brian (David Nerman) – who looks like a buff Crispin Glover – is unemployed, and Wikipedia claims he’s a stockbroker, although I thought I heard him reference he’s a cultural anthropologist at the beginning. It really doesn’t matter. His wife Julie (Elizabeth Lambert) is very supportive, even with the stress of moving into a new apartment; then one day he meets the landlord, a middle-aged fellow called Francis (Cedric Smith, who was the voice of Professor Xavier on the mid-90s X-Men animated show), who invites him up for a drink. Francis reveals he has help with stock tips from an unnamed source, and in between some heavy flirting – seriously, it’s the only possible way to read the interaction between the two – pulls out his ouija board and demonstrates that his “friend” wants him to buy California orange stocks.

It’s not long before Francis gives Brian his special demon ring and, for no real reason that I can tell, commits suicide by jumping off a balcony. Brian tries the board a few times, and the series is once again hampered by the fact that watching a flechette move over a piece of wood is not the most visually interesting thing ever; then, he tries to borrow some money off an investment loan shark, which introduces maybe the crudest metaphor ever. The banker dude has a butterfly collection, pinning them all to cardboard – just like Brian is trapped by the ouija board, you guys!

In a seemingly unrelated incident, Brian then slips into electrified water and “dies”, which means his soul flies through the flechette into a mirror, and whatever spirit has been in possession of Francis decides to trade in for the new model. The movie then grinds to a halt for about 45 minutes.

I’d love to tell you something exciting, but it’s Brian being a completely different person and Julie being the wettest blanket ever. Seriously, she’s so dull my eyes struggled to stay near the screen when she was on – when Brian is just a rich dude with a renewed interest in sex, she’s fine, but it takes her a heck of a long time to figure out anything is wrong, and the spirit-Brian does absolutely nothing. Oh, there’s a scene where he drives home despite being incredibly drunk and it’s treated as perfectly normal. Thanks, the 90s!

Perhaps the only thing of any interest at all is a sex scene where I’m pretty sure you see both Brian’s testicles – both for the testicle fans in the world, and for the fact it’s pretty weird to see that and I’ve seen so much of this garbage anything new is welcome, even if it’s not strictly my cup of tea.

It’s just so boring, with a main character (the demon) whose motivation is never ever made clear. He possibly wants a kid, but as he seems able to possess whoever he wants, and he never mentions why a child is so important to him, we’re just left wondering. The wife is among the most useless characters ever committed to celluloid and the normal version of Brian isn’t much better. I remain puzzled as to why anyone bothered with this, over a decade removed from the first one which wasn’t any good either. At least this appears to have killed the series off, although I’m sure there’ll be some new Witchboard movie made for $10 along in a year or two to thoroughly bore a new generation of trash-watchers.

Rating: thumbs down

PS- there is, at least, a curious ISCFC coincidence for those of you who like that sort of thing. Director Peter Svatek also made “Sci-Fighters” a few years previously, which we reviewed last week. Okay, not much of a coincidence, but what do you want from me? This is “Witchboard 3” I’m trying to summon up the energy to be interesting about, here.


Witchtrap (1989)

“Witchtrap” achieved its brief notoriety by being from the same writer-director as the first two “Witchboard” instalments, and being forced to include a disclaimer at the beginning saying “this is not a sequel to Witchboard” – perhaps due to some, er, “creative” marketing by its producers? But anyway, they really shouldn’t have bothered as it’s a surprise that the same guy made all three movies – it’s vastly superior to either, with a solid plot, some great acting, a nice thread of humour running throughout and plenty of inventive camerawork and effects. What makes all this more surprising is it was written in six days and filmed in just seventeen – the hallmarks of a hastily assembled mess, most of the time. But no!

The first thing we see is a picture of the villain, one Avery Lauder (J. P. Leubsen, whose entire acting career consists of this and “Witchboard”) hanging over the mantel. My first thought was “imagine thinking that’s the best picture of yourself, and imagine hanging it in your own house” but it’s a slight hint that everyone involved is dialling things up to 11 deliberately. Anyway, an unseen presence makes stage magician The Amazing Azimov so frightened he jumps out of a window to his death, and that’s how we get keyed into the plot, one which (to be fair) isn’t that original.

The new owner of the house, Lauder’s nephew Devon Lauder (writer-director Kevin Tenney, who stepped in when the original actor pulled out because he knew the lines) has hired a bunch of psychics to clean the house of his Uncle’s spirit, as he wants to turn into a B&B – “haunted” B&Bs being popular, just not actually haunted ones where the ghost living there is a super-powerful former warlock who wants to kill you.

He’s also hired a security team to look out for the psychics, although it’s a curious company, with a middle-aged paunchy boss and a wisecracking pair of…security operatives? No idea. They’re also the most obviously comic part of the movie, with dialogue like this.

Leon Jackson: I love it when Murray talks like a detective novel.

Tony Vincenti: Yeah, Sam Spade lives.

Leon Jackson: Never say “spade” to a brother.

Tony Vincenti: Sorry, all that ghost talk has me “spooked”.

Leon Jackson: Ha, very funny.

They can’t all be winners. Vincenti, the white half of the central duo, is James Quinn, who’s a regular in director Tenney’s work and is still working today; Clyde Talley, the black half, is…er…not quite as good and a couple of Tenney movies represent his life’s work on the silver screen.

Anyway, the matter-of-fact way the psychics talk provides a lot of the humour, like the movie treats it as completely real but makes it so dumb-sounding you can’t do anything but laugh at it. One of them is Felix, a mental medium, allowing the dead to speak through him; the other is Whitney, a physical one, allowing the dead to take control of her body – although why that wouldn’t just include the vocal cords is a problem the movie never ponders, or even particularly respects. Agnes is the boss of the team, and Ginger is their video tech – Ginger is the name some B-movie fans will recognise, being “scream queen” Linnea Quigley – “Silent Night, Deadly Night”, “Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama”, “Return Of The Living Dead”, etc.

About halfway through, they get bored of letting themselves get away with talking about psi-phenomena as if it’s real, and allow Vincenti a speech where he completely destroys their arguments…and then just move on from it as if it never happened. I think you have to read between the lines to get the good stuff from “Witchtrap” (which a lot of its reviewers never bothered with, apparently).

The story, even though it’s not original, is interesting! The dead guy trying to complete the ritual that would have made him immortal, and the people trying to stop him, well, some of the people trying to stop him and some other people still treating it as a harmless psychic event (even after their friends have started dying in grotesque and inventive ways) – yes, the excellent Tenney death scenes are in full effect here. It’s the sort of thing that would be an episode of “Supernatural” today, but it has an intensity to it and a quirky sense of humour that I really like.

Add in an ending so bleak and hopeless that I had to check the DVD hadn’t broken and missed a final scene, and you’ve got a heck of a decent movie. Great effects, love for the genre, a handful of decent performances (among some really bad ones, to be fair) – this is by far the strongest of Tenney’s movies we’ve covered so far.

Rating: thumbs up

Witchboard 2: The Devil’s Doorway (1993)

This is a curious movie. It’s a bit like renting a VHS tape called “Sexy Zombies” and expecting, you know, sexy zombies; instead, you get a totally well made, interesting historical drama. “Witchboard 2” has a ouija board in it, but it’s merely the MacGuffin that gets the plot rolling, a plot about guilt and being prepared to pay a price to follow your dreams.

Well, maybe I’m giving it too much credit, but let’s see. Kevin Tenney is back as writer-director, seven years after part 1 (I can only assume the producers had a spare million dollars lying around and threw darts at a board with all their available franchises pinned on it) and he’s got another interesting story to tell, which is also an early example of the “unquel” – a part 2 (or later) which has no links to the previous instalments in the series.

Paige (Ami “daughter of Micky” Dolenz) has moved to the city to become an artist; she’s welcomed into her new apartment by the extremely sleazy Jonas, and his wife, landlady and super-hippy Elaine (original SNL cast member Laraine Newman). The ouija board just falls out of her closet one day, and she sets it up on her mantel as if it’s a prized possession, and we get a bunch of shots from the board’s POV, a lovely touch.

Elaine also has a much younger brother, Russell, who comes across as a super nice guy, but is very obviously hiding something; she also has an ex-boyfriend, a cop by the name of Mitch, who appears to be half a step from being a rapist (so is then, by movie logic, bound to be a nice guy in the end). This love triangle burbles along for a bit, and Elaine starts using the ouija board, talking to a woman called Susan, who claims to be the previous resident of the apartment and a victim of murder.

There’s nothing terribly surprising on display, as Paige starts getting sucked in by the board’s power, ignoring her job and the men in her life (the job thing feels like a more meaty B-story that was cut significantly in post-production, as it goes absolutely nowhere). It’s a whodunnit punctuated with the ouija-based ghost taking revenge on both its enemies and those of Paige – my favourite kill is definitely the one where Susan possesses a wrecking ball and finishes off one of the characters in spectacular fashion. I don’t quite buy Paige’s transformation into a vamp from a “prude”, but it’s at least an arc of sorts.

Kudos must go to Tenney for his inventive camerawork – one gets the feeling he wasn’t all that interested in the material so decided to try and make it as visually exciting as possible. The kills are more fun, there’s all sorts of impressive non-CGI camera movement and a few great set-pieces – just goes to show what you can do with, relatively speaking, a decent amount of money and a bit of desire.

The reveal is sort of boring, which is a shame; and the acting is sort of bland too – well, either that or way OTT, and the two do not blend well at all. Because the rest of the stuff in the movie was so good, this came as an extra disappointment, but perhaps there are just no new spins on this sort of thing. I do appreciate these movies can both be read as about how difficult it is for women to just do what they want – Elaine supports a husband who clearly despises her and a brother who doesn’t appear to do anything; and Paige must put up with the mostly unwanted attentions of two men when all she wants to do is be left alone to try and become a “real” artist. Perhaps the “men being desperate the women don’t use it on their own” is just a metaphor?

So, not a lot else to say, really. Ouija boards are still stupid and not really a thing, being the same as a game of Monopoly, so a lot of the scares of this are completely lost on me. But…worth a watch, which I didn’t expect to be saying. There’s a 1989 movie called “Witchtrap”, also by Tenney, which was forced to put a disclaimer in its opening credits saying “this is not a sequel to Witchboard” and is apparently has quite a lot of parody in it – I hope to track that down and bring you a review of it soon. Plus, there’s a part 3 to this series, so yay I guess?

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Witchboard (1986)

I know you all know this. But, there’s the offchance that someone reading this might have some peculiar ideas that never got corrected, or might genuinely believe it, and for that I must say my piece. The Ouija board is a game owned by Hasbro, the same company that owns Transformers and My Little Pony; the version seen in every modern movie and TV show about the “phenomenon”, is a completely modern invention (there’s an old Victorian spiritualist parlour trick of “talking boards”, but, you know, I really hope you don’t believe there was any truth to anything they did). If you want anyone to blame for its continuing cultural relevance in 2017, then I guess the Christian groups who accused it of being a symbol of witchcraft are a good place to start.

So, we’re clear, it’s a load of rubbish. So this movie, which treats it as 100% real, has an extra barrier to clear to get anyone to care about it, and…well, obviously it doesn’t, otherwise I’d have found something a bit nicer to start the review off with. But let’s get on with it!

I wondered if it was funded by some fundamentalist Christian group, after the opening scene involved a fairly in-depth discussion about the existence of God. Two men, smartly dressed Brandon, and schlubby Jim, are arguing, and Jim’s girlfriend Linda (Tawny “If The 80s Were A Person” Kitaen) is really being way too friendly with her boyfriend’s enemy…but anyway. Brandon decides to get his ouija board out and contact his old friend, David, the spirit of a ten-year-old kid.

Right here is a moment which might have been played for laughs, but given the time, I’m just not sure. Everyone treats communing with a spirit as if it’s nothing, the sort of thing that everyone does at every party, all the time – like oujia is, in fact, a normal board game like Monopoly. That the director is Kevin Tenney, who also gave us the classic “Night Of The Demons”, might lend credence to that theory, but I’m more of the opinion he was a young director who leapt at the chance to direct *anything* and some producer decided ouija was the flavour of the month.

Unsurprisingly, things don’t go too well. Jim mocks the spirit, who decides the best response to that would be to systematically destroy his girlfriend’s life. When she decides to use the ouija on her own (a definite no-no in charlatan circles, apparently) she finds her life taken over more and more by a spirit who seems a lot more evil than your average 10-year-old. Heck, even Brandon and Jim have to team up, and Brandon goes as far as bringing in a spiritualist, Zarabeth (a hilarious turn from great “That Gal” actress Katherine Wilhoite), to exorcise the apartment. By the way, “I exorcise this apartment” is a hilarious line, I think. Mansion, yes. Home, yes. Church, definitely. But I don’t think the word apartment really fits the supernatural realm. Like “condo”.

There are some quite peculiar touches to “Witchboard”. Clearly, the writer had just seen “The Empire Strikes Back”, and does the “I love you” – “I know” exchange twice, despite, well, when it happens the second time it’s legitimately the stupidest possible thing the guy could have said. Oh, and “spaz” gets used as an insult, but that’s more a product of the time than anything else. These are the result of thought, but not all thought is good.

Perhaps my main issue with “Witchboard” is it’s a lot more of a drama than it is a horror / thriller movie. The pace is sort of leisurely, and the central conflict doesn’t come from the spirit, but from the way the three central characters interact. It’s not bad, particularly, just not terribly interesting to this B-movie enthusiast. When you have a central villain who remains entirely off-screen / invisible / unnamed, it’s kind of a diffcult sell. Also, there’s not a lot visually interesting in watching the “flechette” spell something out on a ouija board, and there’s rather a lot of that.

Kitaen, who I’d sort of dismissed as a joke before this, is totally fine in her role. She does a full-frontal nude scene, too, which gave the DVD distributor something to sell it with but is a reminder of a time which is less…enlightened? A weird word to use in our current climate of sexual abuse, but hopefully you see what I mean.

Add on an ending which is in the bottom 1% all time of movie endings, and you’ve got…well, I don’t know what you’ve got. Then the credits reveal a very strange fact – soundtrack largely provided by Greek avant-garde music legend Iannis Xenakis, which works really well but is so far out of left field I’m surprised it made it to the finished product.

Of course, there’s three of these, and now I’ve started I’d better not stop. There’s also a “Witchtrap” from 1989, but the box states “this isn’t a sequel to Witchboard” (was it that popular?) even though it has the same writer/director. He also did the sequel, but part 3, in “weird ISCFC coincidence” news, was directed by the guy who directed our previous review, “Sci-Fighters”.

I guess don’t bother, unless…nah, no qualifiers. It’s too slow and nothing really happens.

Rating: thumbs down

Sci-Fighters (1996)

I’m 100% sure the makers of “Sci-Fighters” came up with the title first and the plot second, without worrying about any of those pesky things like what it meant, if it made any sense, etc. Looking for a plot, they made an amalgam of “Blade Runner” and “Die Hard” (two movies with titles that also don’t make much sense); voila, another 1990s video shop classic is born.

It’s a fond return for one of the more long-lasting ISCFC genres, the “space prison” movie. So far, we’ve covered “Alien Space Avenger”, “Moonbase”, “Lockout”, “Assault on Dome 4”, “Starfire Mutiny”, “Total Reality”, “Critters”, “Fortress” 1 and 2, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten; I am prepared to go on the record to say I will watch pretty much anything set in a space prison. Although “Sci-Fighters” only uses it as a jumping off point, but makes sure to make it as confusing as possible, in case you had any crazy ideas about enjoying it or anything like that.

Billy Drago, one of the all-time great “That Guy” actors, is Adrian Dunn, in prison on the Moon, and because one of the other inmates steals a cigarette from him, he starts a circular saw fight (!) and ends up by beating the other guy to death. While trying to make it look like an accident after the fact, Dunn digs an alien parasite of some sort out of the dead guy and puts it in his arm, then “dies” from the exposure. He definitely does this deliberately, although why he does it and how he knows it will have any effect on him is a matter the movie chooses not to bother itself with.

Back on earth, our good friend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is Detective Cameron Grayson, who’s a special cop with a black badge, which means he can investigate whatever he likes, no matter what his super-stereotypical Captain has to say about it. Thanks to some very crude exposition, we discover the Earth has been under a layer of night (called Econight, caused by volcanic ash maybe?) for 79 days, and everyone’s getting a bit tired of it. They try and simulate daylight by turning on as many lights as possible during the “daytime”, but it’s not working. Oh, and it’s 2009! I love a good “future that’s already happened” movie. He was partners with Dunn but they had a very unpleasant (and, at least initially, unspecified) falling-out, many years ago.

Turns out Grayson and Dunn were partners on the police, way back, and had an (at least initially unspecified) serious falling out some time ago. Presumably, before the being locked up in space prison thing? Anyway, Dunn is brought back to Earth for burial, but he revives thanks to his body’s guest and goes back to his old killing ways, while gradually deteriorating, both physically and mentally. The spore thing he carries inside him spreads, sort of a bit like “The Hidden” but not really, and Grayson has to stop him. To this end, he ropes in scientist Dr Kirbie Younger (Jayne Heitmeyer, “Earth: Final Conflict”)…

Okay, there’s a rather large and entirely pointless coincidence here. Turns out that Grayson’s dead wife, who he “stole” from Dunn and who Dunn then killed, looks exactly the same as Dr Kirbie. There are no flashbacks, and aside from one moment where she tries to convince Dunn she’s still alive and he should stop murdering people, it’s a sub-plot they do nothing with. I presume there was something left on the cutting room floor?

Anyway, there are no real surprises in store if you choose to watch this, just lots of bits cribbed from other, both better and worse, sci-fi / action movies. Piper and Drago are both excellent, pitching their performances perfectly for the material, and once again Heitmeyer shows she was wasted on cheap genre stuff like this. The OTT captain is lots of fun too, there are plenty of fun minor characters…but it’s really really slow in the middle, and the weird way the three main characters are linked ends up being rather annoying.

There’s some fun world-building, though, and you might be forgiven for expecting a sequel. Director Peter Svatek dipped his toe in these genre waters before becoming a TV movie guy, but writer Mark Sevi has previous ISCFC form, having given the world “Scanner Cop 2” and “Terminal Rush” (and lots of movies we really ought to cover). There’s plenty of talent involved, is what I’m getting at in a rather roundabout way. I’m just not sure any of them could be bothered in this instance – maybe there’s a really interesting story about the production? It just feels like they thought up a cool future-world, some great characters but then abandoned the script after writing a beginning and an end.

Not one you’re going to remember much a few days after seeing it, but still good fun. Ish.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

The VRAs – Frozen Scream (1975)

This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

It’s been a while since we did a video nasty, and that’s because, if we’re being honest, they’re sort of samey. Slow-paced late 70s euro-thrillers with occasional nudity and a few scenes of ultra-violence, and with the passing of the years and the wide availability of movies so violent they make the video nasties look like family films, it makes the whole pursuit sort of pointless. But, I run a movie blog that only a handful of people read, a pursuit far more pointless than that, so let’s go nasty!

Although “Frozen Scream” is apparently American, its pitiful dubbing and weirdly bland locations mean it could easily have been another Italian “epic”. The Girards, Ann and Tom, are having a nice conversation on the phone, she visiting her parents, he sat in his office, but the happiness is to be short-lived as he’s chased through his house by a bunch of robe-clad dudes who are invulnerable to bullets and…okay, here’s where the first weird thing happens.

He dies, and she apparently witnesses it. But, minutes ago, she was out of town, right? Whatever. Because she’s a woman and this was the 1970s, people are way more interested in telling her to shut the hell up and get on with her life than they are in believing her, so she calls on her ex-boyfriend Kevin, who’s now a cop, to help her out. And here’s where the second weird thing happens.

For the first half of the movie, every now and again we’ll be treated to some of the cop’s voiceover, which appears to be inserted at random – it’ll just play over conversations that seem sort of important, start halfway through scenes, and so on. It’s a genuine bad-movie-classic sort of choice, and I love it (I actually paused the DVD to make sure the sound of the voiceover wasn’t coming from somewhere else).

The plot involves some drug which apparently makes you immortal, but which Dr Lil Stanhope (Renee Harmon, also the producer and co-writer) thinks can turn you into a low-temperature zombie. Sure, why not? Given her mover-and-shaker status, it sort of explains why her performance is wooden even by the standards of this sort of garbage, her extremely thick German accent not exactly helping matters. You know how I mentioned dubbing above? Well, her sidekick, the weird old doctor guy who’s doing the actual experiments, Dr Sven, was dubbed by a guy whose voice definitely does not look like it ought to be coming out of that body.

One of Kevin’s earliest voiceovers is saying how he and Ann were once a couple until she suddenly left him one day for Tom – a red herring so enormous that you may well boo when it’s left unresolved at the end. Anyway, even though her husband died mere days ago, he’s desperate to get her back, which must have looked a little creepy then and seems almost pathological now – but, he’s the hero of the piece. Hurrah for the 70s!

Then there’s the flashbacks, which aren’t announced, and with all the men sort of looking the same, you could be forgiven for not realising are even flashbacks. I think Ann and Tom were in a cult, based round the idea of eternal life? Which sort of explains why he was so unhappy to see his cult brothers at the beginning of the movie, and why they were invulnerable. But when you don’t even get a wobble-fade for your trip back in time, there’s understandably going to be some confusion.

One of the most fun things about these video nasties is trying to figure out why they were banned in the first place. Some of them (“Toolbox Murders”, for one) were just because of the similarity of the name to other, more famous slasher movies, I’m sure. One of them, “Contamination”, was even re-released, uncut, with a 15 certificate (sort of like an R, I guess?) several years later. There’s almost no nudity in “Frozen Scream” so it’s down to gore, and that’s pretty minimal too – an axe to the head, with the aftermath shown in lots of detail, and a shard of glass to the face. I feel bad for the gorehounds of the mid 70s, trying to get their thrills from such meagre fare.

It’s not a bad movie, particularly. It’s even interesting, in places, as the flashbacks and the bizarre voiceovers give it a vaguely surreal air; plus, the party scene where the band plays copyright-abusing versions of famous rock-n-roll hits is an all-time classic. Completely decent ending too.

But overall it’s not all that good, either, with a script that, hilarious mockery aside, is just rotten from top to bottom. Were it not for its status as a video nasty it would be legitimately completely forgotten, like…all those 70s horror movies that no-one gives a damn about.

Rating: thumbs down

Creature From Black Lake (1976)

“Like Boggy Creek without any of the documentary nonsense”. One would assume that’s how this 1976 drive-in monster movie was sold to its backers, as 1972’s “The Legend of Boggy Creek” had made a decent profit (and would go on to spawn many sequels, as previous reviews have shown); and there’s nothing producers fear more than originality.

They even reference the southern Arkansas setting of the more famous forebear, as a couple of Chicago university get some funding from their Professor (who’s one of those “science was wrong once, so why can’t it be wrong again?” idiots that litter movies like this, and is played by the director) and drive down south to see if they can’t rustle themselves up a Bigfoot sighting in rural Louisiana – in “extremely odd coincidence” news, that place, Bossier City, is the same location a lot of Andy Sidaris’ movies were shot in…and “Olympus Has Fallen”, at least partly. Who’d have thought that little sleepy backwater we see here would become a hub of movie activity?

Anyway, the plot. Two fish-out-of-water guys, and a town who wants nothing to do with city folk disturbing their miserable status quo. Hey, that was quicker than I expected! I guess there’s one local who believes them, and that is Jack Elam, who you’ll recognise from his all-time great performance as the Doctor Nickolas Van Helsing from the “Cannonball Run” movies. There’s a couple of local ladies who are a surprisingly modern-feeling love interest, a Sheriff who’s a decent guy really, and a few other bits of the local colour that are so beloved of things set in the South. They go camping, and…

I don’t mind a bit of waiting for my monster to turn up, but this is about the Beast like “Waiting For Godot” is about Godot. It’s on screen for about 4 minutes, maybe, and it’s a shame because, terrible costume aside, it’s actually a pretty scary creature, with a good scream and a good line in tearing people and personal possessions up. We don’t really get a good look at it until…75 minutes? Something like that. Anyway.

This is definitely of its era, in terms of pacing too. I feel like maybe when movies are created for drive-ins, the directors know to have something exciting at the beginning and end, and never mind the middle, as that’s when drive-in patrons are busy having sex in the back seat. Or is this just me trying to fit the evidence to my very patchy knowledge? Lots of these movies have really really boring middle sections, and I have zero first-hand knowledge of what drive-ins were really like. But if you’ve seen stuff like “A Touch Of Satan”, or indeed the first Boggy Creek movie, or one of hundreds of slow, largely uneventful 70s horror / thrillers, you begin to wonder just why they’re all like that.

But it’s not all boring. For example, the two main characters have some nuance to them, and have some interesting conversations- for example, about one of them being a Vietnam vet and the other being a Canada-based conscientious objector. But they’re friends, have a totally believable friendship, and get through it, which is different and shows some ambition from writer Jim McCullough (who also wrote “Mountaintop Motel Massacre”, which will be a future ISCFC review). Director Joy N Houck Jr was a drive-in “auteur”, also making “Night Of Bloody Horror” and “Women And Bloody Terror”.

So, it’s kind of interesting, with its washed-out 16mm 1970s aesthetic, even if it’s sort of dull and nowhere near enough stuff happens. It’s on Youtube for nothing, though, so if you’re drunk and have run out of all your other blu-rays and DVDs, you could do a lot worse.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Ninja, The Violent Sorcerer (1982)

Welcome back to our series of Godfrey Ho reviews, dear reader, where we try and puzzle on just why the great man does what he does. His tactic is buying up a movie from elsewhere in the Far East that never got a widespread release, filming some new footage, usually with ninjas or martial artists in it, editing the two together seemingly at random, giving it a ludicrous title and releasing it to the world. If you’ve encountered some of his work, it’s usually in one of those DVDs that packaged 4 movies together and were bundled with cheap DVD players (and are now a mainstay of the bottom, dusty shelf of second-hand shops).

“Ninja, The Violent Sorcerer” is a great title, isn’t it? But it’s no more accurate than any of his others. While there’s a ninja and a violent sorcerer, in it, they aren’t the same person: in fact, the only way the title could work is if they added “Not The” to the beginning.

The plot, though, is classic Godfrey Ho gibberish, and it sort of centres round the world of gambling. Gambling in the Far East looks way more fun than the Western version, as it seems to be more sleight of hand and doing cool card and dice tricks than it does any, er, gambling. The bulk of “Ninja, The Violent Sorceror” is, er, repurposed from a 1982 Taiwanese effort called “The Stunning Gambling” and is about a guy who wants to be the ultimate gambler, and he kills the previous King Gambler, and the King’s brother or son or something gets revenge. Entirely forgettable, until Ho sprinkles in his incomprehensible extra plot, about two magic dice obtained from the mouths of two dead former gamblers who are now vampires; and how an as-yet unknown member of the dead gambler’s family is a ninja and seeks revenge.

Chinese vampires are a curious lot – also known as “hopping zombies”, or jiangshi, they seem pretty rubbish by Western standards. Pretty much anything can immobilise or kill them, most famously sticking a piece of paper with a spell written on it to their foreheads (although I do wish that would work in, say, the “Twilight” movies). Our friends at “Taliesin Meets The Vampires” (whose screenshots these are, by the way) think they’re tough, but your mileage may vary, I suppose?

So, you get a bit of the gambler king, and how the family of the dead former king gets help from a drunk gambling master, who cleans up his act to help them out. Or something. Honestly, it’s really difficult to focus on. And the ninjas fight the vampires, and I think they get some special new skill or power or spell or something in order to defeat them.

What I think I’m most annoyed by is how Godfrey Ho appears to have made an effort to blend the two movies together. A few dubbing dialogue changes and carefully spliced footage, and it does actually seem like maybe the gambling king is getting help from vampires? But the end of both stories are utterly unrelated, and all the work they’d made to this point (way more than any previous Ho epic that I can think of) just seems annoying. Just make it weird, Godfrey!

I also wanted to briefly talking of the ending, and how it’s similar to so many other cheap kung-fu movies of the era. I’d never really noticed it until now, but I saw it and my eyes were opened. So, you get the final fight, the killing blow is landed, and… “The End”. Hard cut, not even a “hey, we beat the baddie” final line sometimes. It’s like they all got together and decided no-one really cared after that point, so thought there was no point filming stuff to go beyond then.

I think if you’re going to line up a Godfrey Ho series, then this could fit in amongst the genuinely batshit entries like “Ninja Terminator”, “Ninja Squad” or “Death Code Ninja”. Heck, it’s free, so why not?

Rating: thumbs up