The Las Vegas Serial Killer (1986)

In 2019, the ISCFC is going to finish some of the things it started, as we’ve got a few filmographies with review holes, movies we couldn’t get hold of years ago, new releases to long-running series, that sort of thing. So there’ll be more Donald Farmer, Len Kabasinski, Phantasm, and Puppet Master reviews coming your way soon; but we’re starting with Ray Dennis Steckler.

Steckler is bad movie royalty, having been featured in the Medved brothers book “The Golden Turkey Awards” (the grandaddy of every bad movie blog on the internet); “Mystery Science Theater 3000”; and British TV’s “The Incredibly Strange Film Show” – the latter interviews him in the late 80s and finds him a funny, interesting, smart, self-deprecating man. This fame was mostly for his 60s movies, but he carried on, after a fashion.

Between 1971’s “Blood Shack” and 1986’s “Las Vegas Serial Killer”, he made dozens of movies, but only one of them is what you could call “legitimate”, and that’s 1979’s extremely sleazy “The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skid Row Slasher”. He got into the “jizz biz” in a big way, making such entertainments as “Sex Rink”, “Debbie Does Las Vegas” and “Weekend Cowgirls”. After uncredited directorial work on legend Ted V Mikels’ “Angel of Vengeance” in 1987, he seems to have retired (“The Incredibly Strange Film Show” was around 1988, and whatever he was shown filming at the time of that documentary remains unreleased). We’ve already covered his last movie, 2009’s “One More Time”, which is little more than a home movie made for his friends and family, but we’re here to talk about his last “real” directorial work.

“Las Vegas Serial Killer” is a sequel to “The Hollywood Strangler…”, featuring Pierre Agostino returning as Johnathan Klick, who loves killing prostitutes (helpfully illustrated by liberal use of old footage). Even though he died at the end of that movie, he was apparently revived and admitted to the murders, spending 6 years in a Las Vegas jail before…this is pretty stupid to write out, but they never found most of his other victims, apparently, and the helpful radio guy who acts as a narrator for proceedings informs us was probably just lying in order to be famous. The one victim they can pin to him only results in a 2nd degree murder charge, so he’s back out on the streets and ready for more fun.

There’s another plot, running entirely separately (apart from a very brief coming together at the end), which involves two unappealing-looking fellows, sat in a hotel room listening to the radio guy give us the details of Klick’s crimes. This piece of audio is repeated, as are several others, which indicates Steckler ran out of anything approaching a script and hoped we wouldn’t notice. Anyway, they hear about the newly released serial killer and decide that a trip to Vegas is a good idea. Are they people who kill killers? Assassins paid by the families of his victims? Or are the two events entirely unrelated? Those of you who guessed unrelated, give yourselves a pat on the back. There’s even a scene early on where both Klick and the two guys are sat at adjoining tables in a strip club and don’t look at each other, in case you were confused.

When you’ve got over the trauma of the fakest of the fake 80s boobs at the strip club, there’s a scene which was probably just intended to be a party backdrop for Klick’s next murder, but is inadvertently perhaps the sleaziest scene in the entire movie. It’s sad looking topless women and old men in speedos leching on the women, presumably some sort of fake industry party where the women were enticed with the prospect of meeting producers but actually just met ugly old men. That Klick is able to abduct a woman from this party and kill her in full view of everyone (although the voiceover in the next scene tells us he took her to a nearby field, as if he realised how confusing the editing of the scene was) passes as completely normal in this world.

ASIDE: the one good thing about that scene is that it was a birthday for Hollywood superstar Cash Flagg, aka Ray Dennis Steckler himself (it’s his acting pseudonym). I mean, it’s not worth sitting through the scene for, but it’s there.

Steckler realised at some point in the mid 70s that filming sound along with his pictures was unnecessarily expensive, so he just stopped, and got round this by trying as much as possible to not have someone’s mouth in shot when they were speaking. Obviously, it’s weird, but you sort of get used to it after a while.

Things drift along, for a while. Klick keeps murdering women with shocking ease, firstly as a pizza delivery guy, in one case sneaking into a house where a photo shoot is taking place, killing a woman who’d gone to get a soda, then stealing a camera in the confusion – the garden where the shoot is taking place is gross and ugly, but I guess they weren’t expecting people to check the amount of grass on the ground.

Okay, not fun

Seeing the camera gives him an idea, so at about 58 minutes of this 75 minute film, Klick goes back to his old plan from the first movie, calling “photo models” (aka prostitutes) and then killing them, having been unable at any point to just buy a camera. Heck, why do you even need a camera? You’re only going to kill them! He also loves whispering “die, garbage, die” as he’s doing his thing, but I’m not sure I’m buying his plan to just be cleaning up the streets. I think he might be deranged, you guys. The two guys, who keep running into Klick but paying no attention to him, just keep robbing people and hanging round street corners; and the radio news voice keeps repeating the same set of information for both sets of people. It’s odd. The two guys, by the way, wear the same clothes at all times, despite the movie taking place over, at least, a week.

There’s a couple of wider points about this grubby movie that I wanted to share. Firstly, is that none of it is titilating in the slightest. For a man who’d spent the best part of 20 years shooting porn, you’d think he’d have an idea of what turned people on, but this parade of hollow-eyed misery with an occasional bare breast isn’t anyone’s idea of pleasant, surely?

My favourite, though, is the way this serial killer is all over the media, presumably with photos everywhere, as the radio guy mentions both he and the robber pair are suspects in this spate of strangling murders that started as soon as he got out of prison. But, he’s able to walk the streets, get a job in a pizza place, and stand around photographing people without anyone recognising him. He’s pretty distinctive looking!

The last thing, though, is how this movie seems out of time, as by 1986 (the date of this movie’s release) serial killer movies had moved on quite a lot. When you’ve got multiplexes drenched in gore, it seems like a curious choice to make a movie this way, like Steckler wasn’t really paying attention to the wider world. Perhaps some of it was shot in the late 70s and he had to match to the footage he had available?

Klick never seems happy with his work, the murders bringing him no pleasure, or sexual gratification, or anything like that. It’s just something he has to do, like an itch he has to scratch every few days. Nor do they bring we viewers any pleasure, I suppose.

The ending is genuinely pathetic, like he remembered he had two plot threads and brought them together in the clumsiest, most half-assed way possible. Then the credits list a “psychiatric consultant”, and I’d be interested to know what they did on set.

Steckler seemed like a decent guy. He enjoyed meeting his fans, he enjoyed his work and the interview with him shows him to have a good sense of humour about his place in the world (and that his ex-wife continued to work with him after the divorce and has nothing but good to say about him in the more recent interview footage speaks well of him). But he got worse as a filmmaker! I understand budgets were tight, but that doesn’t excuse the layout of this movie, which repeats the same few beats over and over again to avoid coming in at a running time of about 45 minutes (which is all this story needed, honestly). It doesn’t excuse the dialogue or the fact he couldn’t be bothered to record live sound (which even micro-budget filmmakers like Donald Farmer managed, with largely similar equipment). It doesn’t excuse that back in the 60s, he could make a roughly coherent movie with a beginning, middle and end, and now that’s beyond him.

Its main redeeming feature is showing a side of Las Vegas we don’t get to. Not the flashy casinos and high rollers, but the grime and dirt and people living on the fringes and the exploiters and exploited. You may feel like you’ll need a bath after it, and I’m not sure it’s worth the time investment, but there’s something there. There’s an extra layer of sleaze in knowing that all the people he films on the streets of Vegas 100% did not give permission.

Expect more (non-porno) Steckler reviews, although, honestly, I assume most of them are going to be pretty much like this.

Rating: thumbs down

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2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983)

Welcome to our newest feature here at the ISCFC – “movies with the current year in the title”. There are two gems, both starring a fellow by the name of George Eastman, for the current year, and we’ll be covering them both.

 

If anyone’s interested, we could also review movies set in 2019? That covers stuff like the Ethan Hawke vampire movie “Daybreakers” (even released in a few places as “2019 – Year of Extinction”); all-time classics “The Running Man” and “Blade Runner”; ISCFC favourite “Steel Frontier”; ISCFC non-favourite “Heatseeker”; and Ewan MacGregor movie “The Island”, among others.

 

Today’s choice, though, is one of the huge number of post-apocalyptic movies made in Italy – check out THIS LIST which isn’t even all of them. It might fairly be said, when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, and when it comes to this movie it might fairly be said that you’ve seen it multiple times.

It’s most similar to “Escape From New York”, but there’s elements of “Mad Max”, “Death Race 2000” and even a little “Buck Rogers” to go with dozens of scenes that look lifted from sci-fi classics of the time. The situation is, there’s been a nuclear war between the Euraks (Europe / Africa / Asia) and the Pan-American Alliance (North and South America, basically) and the Euraks won. The nuclear war has left all the women sterile – this being a movie made by masculine men, no mention is made of the state of their reproductive parts. Somewhere inside New York is the one remaining fertile woman, and the Alliance wants her.

 

They send definitely-not-Snake-Plissken Parsifal (Michael Sopkiw), by bribing him with…a place on a space-ship to Alpha Centauri, where there’s a livable planet, apparently. We’re first introduced to Parsifal when he wins a sort of Death-Race-style race, and is awarded a bunch of tokens which allow him to freely murder up to 5 people, and a woman. I’m not sure the sexual politics in this are going to be the strongest, dear reader.

He gets a couple of sidekicks for the mission – the strongest man in the Alliance, who just looks like a fairly solidly-built middle-aged guy, and a chap with a metal arm who was abused by the Euraks, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city of New York. Remember that. Encyclopaedic knowledge. So off these three guys pop into the heavily guarded city of New York to retrieve the last fertile woman.

 

Literally thirty seconds into the city, Mr Knows The City is panicking and asking Parsifal which way to go, and no-one comments on it or asks “why the hell are you here?” so, I guess just enjoy him tearing a few throats out with his metal arm. They run around, encounter a few gangs, then I guess the boss of the Euraks becomes aware of them. The Eurak boss has what I assume is meant to be the original “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso in his office, and seems aware of what it means, so perhaps there’s meant to be more nuance in the original script? Who knows.

 

If you really like people running around disused warehouses and so on, then there’s a lot to enjoy about the second half of this movie – otherwise, not so much. Parsifal finds a girlfriend, who he thinks is the fertile lady but isn’t, there’s an occasional double-cross or two, and a curiously bleak atmosphere overlaying proceedings. I like the sexily evil female second-in-command of the Euraks (Anna Kanakis), who does a lot with her screentime.

Is it any good, though? I mean, some movies are sort of derivative of genre classics, and others are just straight-up ripoffs; it wouldn’t surprise me if this wasn’t released somewhere in the world as an unofficial sequel to “Escape From New York”. I’ve seen more than my fair share of Italian-made post-apocalyptic movies, and I keep hoping one of them will try and do something different, use the building blocks in a more interesting way, but none of them do. They’re all Trumpian in their sexual politics, they all have that same washed-out colour palette, they all have the same sort of anti-hero…I guess if you only watch one of them every two years or so, it ceases to be a problem, or think of it as, say, a retelling of the same story, and it might not be too bad.

 

I’m sorry I can’t be any more decisive about this one. It’s…tolerable?

 

HOW WELL DOES IT PREDICT THE PRESENT? Well, if it had been set in certain areas of St Louis, I’d have called it not bleak enough (satire?) but it does appear like we dodged a nuclear annihilarion bullet, preferring the slow annihilation of environmental collapse and fascism.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

2019: Barbarians of the Future (1983)

I try not to be over-dramatic when writing these reviews. But this…wow, this film is bad.

You may have discovered this film under one of its alternate titles – “Warriors of the Wasteland” is its proper English language title, but that doesn’t fit in with our current review series. Later-in-the-movie dialogue reveals to us 2019 is 10 years after a nuclear holocaust which finished off most life on Earth. Small groups of people survive, and we’re greeted by one of those groups of people, shortly before they’re attacked by the Templars.

The Templars are all dressed in white, and seem to favour the beach-buggy as a mode of transport. This isn’t the first post-apocalyptic film to heavily feature buggies, so I was wondering if these films are all made by the same company, the head of which has a brother who owns a buggy hire firm? Perhaps we’re supposed to believe that in the 10 years since the apocalypse, tastes have shifted dramatically from cars that protect you, and have space to store things in, and have drifted towards flimsy death traps.

As well as the Templars, we meet Scorpion, played by an Italian guy who’s been given an English name on the credits, because an American leading man is important to the people who’d be likely to stump up cash for this baffling film. He slaughters a different group of scavengers, mercy kills the last person left over from the Templar’s massacre, and then heads off to mess with the Templars themselves.

Oh, there’s a sideplot with a cute kid, who fixes Scorpion’s car and helps him out at the end, but we can safely ignore him. He doesn’t die, can’t act and serves no purpose other than presumably to be a relative of one of the financial backers of this film. But Scorpion’s car is worth mentioning, the sweetest ride in the film, full of unnecessary features and a giant plastic dome on top that makes it look like some hot-rod version of the Popemobile.

One of the occupants of the van who get rescued by Scorpion in a dull fight scene is Alma, who’s…the love interest? Sort of? Played by Anna Kanakis, who judging by her photos on IMDB is still a strikingly beautiful woman and has aged a great deal better than this film has, she’s…well, I’m trying to think of a way to describe her, but I give up. She doesn’t drive the plot, or do much of anything else (but more on that later). Scorpion does sort-of pressure her into having sex with him inside a see-through luminous green tent, though.

There’s trouble in the Templar camp, as the boss (named One) and his lieutenant argue over the best way to dispatch Scorpion. There’s something a bit fishy about these fellas, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the moment. Was it the fancy matching uniforms, all pristine in the middle of a no-more-washing-powder apocalypse? Or something else? Well, it’s something else, but you’ve got a paragraph more of my garbage before we get to that.

Scorpion needs a hand with a band of baddies, and luckily gets it from Fred Williamson, who plays another mercenary just wandering the wasteland. Fred Williamson is a badass. He’s almost more than 100% man, just a force of nature who dominates this film (despite not being, let’s face it, the world’s greatest actor). To prove my point, here’s a photo of him from the 70s in a sweet suit. Have you ever been a tenth as awesome as this man? Of course not.

I doff my cap to his magnificence

I doff my cap to his magnificence

Scorpion, Williamson and Alma disover a whole other group of wanderers, who’ve found a signal which indicates civilisation is alive, well, and only ten miles away. Ten miles? They’re waiting for their vehicles to get fixed before making the last drive, rather than, I don’t know, sending one guy on a bike to make the 20 minute journey and get help. While they’re walking into the camp, we get another gem of dialogue explaining why this group are being nice to them – “they believe in something called God”. Now, it’s been ten years since the bombs dropped, and in that ten years we’re supposed to believe that adults have completely forgotten about religion to the point where “something called God” is a thing that a person might say. Dear me.

In the camp Williamson has shockingly easy sex (luckily this is one of those free love Christian groups) with the only other black person in the film, and Scorpion heads off, leaving everyone else behind. He’s captured almost immediately, and…I really can’t quite believe this. The Templars are a gay doomsday cult, who are trying to kill everyone off so humanity is no more, hate religion, and initiate Scorpion by raping him. Yes, that happened.

There’s a lot of violence in this film. There’s no real need for it, and judging by the poor quality mannequins they couldn’t really afford it – several heads explode, one or two people get thrown under cars, people fall of cliffs, that sort of thing. But the greatest death of all is saved for One, who is on the run after having all his henchmen killed off in increasingly brutal fashion by our male heroes. How does One get his, I hear you ask? Well, Scorpio has a drill attached to the front of his car, which he uses to anally penetrate and kill One. Hurrah!

It’s hard to say who ought to be more offended by this film. Women are seen as barely objects, and despite both our brave heroes having sexual partners who’d presumably like to see them remain in one piece, they do nothing – the kid with a slingshot does more than them. But really, it’s gay people who should be hating on this film. They’re referred to as “queers”, they all hate God, rape honest straight men and are trying to kill humanity. It’s not even subtext, it’s just right out there, front and centre. Whoever made this film was either the world’s dumbest person or a misogynist homophobe (or more likely both).

It’s certainly never boring, and provided you can laugh at its appalling gender / sexual politics, you’ll have a decent time. And it’ll cost you nothing other than bringing you 86 minutes closer to your own death, so enjoy!

Warriors of the Wasteland on IMDB

 

Rating: thumbs down?

Youtube Film Club – The Helix…Loaded (2005)

The era of the parody movie seems to be behind us, thank heavens. The last Friedberg / Seltzer movie with any sort of money behind it was 2010’s “Vampires Suck!” (which I sort of half-liked), and while they made a Fast and Furious parody as recently as 2015 – “Superfast” – it was straight-to-Netflix and barely anyone watched it. Their “Taken” parody, “Who The F*** Took My Daughter?” has been abandoned, so it would seem, and while they have a Star Wars parody in the works, there’s a decent chance that never makes it either.

Even though they’re justifiably mocked as terrible and not funny, they’re far from the worst operating in this particular cesspool. That honour must go to David Murphy, writer / director of “Not Another Not Another Movie”, which paid Burt Reynolds, Chevy Chase and Vinnie Jones to wander through the set for half an hour with a camera on them, and is among the more miserable experiences of my life. Honourable mentions go to such people as Marlon Wayans, who continues to churn out parody movies, such as “A Haunted House” and “Fifty Shades Of Black”; Josh Stolberg gave us “The Hungover Games”, not to be confused with Friedberg and Seltzer’s own “The Starving Games”; and a monster by the name of Craig Moss has made “The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It”, “Breaking Wind Part 1”, and “30 Nights Of Paranormal Activity With The Devil Inside The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”.

I’m a believer in us getting the sort of entertainment we deserve, and this catalogue of misery was foisted on us because we kept giving them money. Luckily, we all woke up from this national nightmare, and aside from the occasional accident, like a budget that was decided ten years ago and no-one had the heart to cancel, we are free.

All this is sort of irrelevant when talking about a movie from 2005, though, even one that I was completely unaware of until earlier this morning. What’s perhaps surprising is that, in this torrent of parody movies, “The Matrix” survived relatively un-mocked (the billion comedy sketches about its two or three most famous scenes notwithstanding, of course). Then, this fine new year’s morning, as I sat shivering on the sofa, trying to beat the cold I picked up a few days ago, I discover this, and find it’s available in its entirety on Youtube!

There’s even a plot. A group of party-goers are looking for a mysterious substance called “The Helix”, which is like the ultimate high or something, but Orpheum and his sidekick Infiniti know that it’s got some mystical enlightenment powers and they need “The Other One” (“The One” having died in a boating accident) to combat some super-powered agents and the mega-corporation that employs Nuvo and his friends.

Anyway, that’s all you’re getting of that. Aside from the majority Matrix stylings, there’s a bit of “Fight Club” mixed in there, as they were really aiming hard for that late 90s audience…in 2005. The jokes are unbearably lame, as like so many others, it seems to think that having a character dressed like someone from a famous movie, or say a line from one, is enough for the joke.

But there’s a section roughly in the middle that feels like it was written by a funnier person. There’s a joke about Sha-Na-Na in there, which would have flown over the heads of 99% of the people watching it, Sha-Na-Na having ceased to be a thing 30 years before the movie came out. Then there’s a segment which gently parodies “Koyaanisqatsi”, the Godfrey Reggio experimental documentary (with the legendary Philip Glass soundtrack), which made me smile but must have been done purely for the filmmakers’ own amusement.

The final battle is just terrible, though, as the movie grinds to a halt when it should be going full-tilt for the end. It felt like every actor demanded their own mini-scene when they didn’t need it – the lack of anything approaching a central character was a bit of a bummer throughout (the Keanu Reeves avatar, who was more interesting in doing a “Bill And Ted” impression anyway, kept disappearing from the movie for entire scenes, like he was busy doing something else during filming).

When your big acting name is Vanilla Ice, and it’s 2005, there are some serious questions you need to ask yourself. Well, one, and that is “should I be releasing this damn thing? Is this not just a vanity project to show my friends anyway?” Poor ol’ Vanilla doesn’t even get all that much screen time! The one acting name I had heard of – Jennifer Sky, star of the Robert Tapert / Sam Raimi produced series “Cleopatra 2525” – is in one scene, for about 5 seconds; and the weird thing is, she’d have been totally decent in the one central role that cast an actor who looked a lot like her, much better than the woman who ended up being cast, and I can’t imagine she was too busy or charged too much then either.

It’s cheap-looking, certainly, and is filmed in a variety of ugly interiors, but some of the special effects are good – the ones that most directly parody similar scenes from its more famous parent are pretty well done, and honestly not that much worse than the original. Kudos to the special effect guys!

Movies like this are almost enough to convince me the Matrix is real – think you’ve got it figured out and they’ll just tweak reality on you. How did this movie make it all the way to 2019 without me ever having heard of it? Plus, it’s got Vanilla Ice in it! I’m pretty sure it never existed until this morning, and I fully expect this review to disappear, along with my memory of it, Youtube and IMDB links, and so on, when the Matrix’s programmers figure out the mistake.

Rating: thumbs down

Witchcraft 16: Hollywood Coven (2016)

She doesn’t appear in this movie, nor does anything remotely as cool as her

The Witchcraft series, thought dead in 2002 then again in 2008, is over once more. I know there’s been an instalment where chief warlock Will Spanner turned to the dark side and killed everyone (part 13) but this seems even more final than that – although if these managed to turn a profit for low-budget producer extraordinaire David Sterling, who knows?

The final scene of the previous movie was the couple who were so dull I didn’t even bother learning their names having sex in a hotel room (his thing being he couldn’t, er, “perform” if there were other people in the house with them), and her getting possessed by Sharon (Noel VanBrocklin) and killing the guy, because…er…

Anyway, we get that scene again, because scumbags think we’re still here for the partial female nudity, and…cut! We’re on the set of the final scene of “Crystal Force 15”! What?

I was as thoroughly confused as anyone about the changes made to the three main characters (Will Spanner, Detectives Lutz and Garner) over the course of the first twelve movies. Then part 13 (unrelated to David Sterling, so a casual search reveals) tied most of them up, give or take. Parts 14 and 15 then made it nice and weird again, giving us what amounted to two different takes on the same basic story, and now this? There’s no film-within-a-film after this first scene but everything else operates to confuse us, including the names.

The names of the actors are the same as the parts they’ve played in the previous two movies, so there’s a Lutz and Garner, and a Will Sparrow; but their character names in Crystal Force are only referenced in one scene where they’re gathered for a table read of part 16, and never mentioned again. Although, the clip they show us of part 15 has nude lady call herself Sharon, which is the name of the character in “Witchcraft 16”, but Sharon refers to her character in the “Crystal Force” movies as Linda, meaning nude lady should have called herself Linda when she was being possessed by her spirit. I think?

Also, it’s weird when you hear Lutz and Garner refer to each other by those names, as you know they’re playing different characters, even though they never take their holsters or badges off no matter where they are or what they’re doing, as if they filmed scenes for all three movies at the same time and they definitely didn’t have money to pay a continuity person to tell them what props they needed.

Mmm… yes, I definitely am attracted to you

I’ve tried a bunch of different ways to write the above paragraphs, but I think leaving them that confusing will give you, dear reader, a flavour of just what we viewers of these movies went through. This isn’t even bringing parts 1-13 into the equation (more on them later).

There’s an interesting and even funny idea here. As the characters are sat around the table read, they discuss how all the actors from previous instalments have disappeared from the business, which can be read as they were murdered to further the witchy ambitions of the producers of the “Crystal Force” franchise, but is obviously a joke at their own expense at the quality of the actors they tend to use in these movies. It would have made a heck of a lot more sense if they’d not invented a fake franchise and had just had this take place on the set of a “Witchcraft” movie, and thrown in a few jokes about the number of different people who’d played Will, Lutz and Garner, but so be it.

To prepare them for part 16, they’re given DVDs of the previous movies in the series and told to watch them. Despite them already appearing in two movies, you mean? Anyway, the villain of the piece (or so we think) is director Jamal (Ernest Pierce), who played the reanimated corpse in part 15; he’s using viewings of the old “Crystal Force” movies to either kill cast members or activate their witchy powers, depending. This leads to yet more confusion, as the clips they watch (mostly from 11 and 12, the only two Sterling has rights to) have characters with the names Lutz, Garner and Will in them. Seriously, movie, why not have the actors use their real names and have them be on the set of a Witchcraft movie? Why go out of your way to make the whole thing worse?

The thing that makes this annoying is, like I said, there’s part of an actually quite good movie in here. The writer can write a joke – example, as they’re watching a clip from part 11, Sharon says to Samuel, “how come the guys never get naked?” (a reference to every man keeping his underwear on and in shot in these damn things), and he responds with a casual “they have better agents” – and at least a few of the actors are totally fine – special kudos to Molly Dougherty, who seems comfortable in front of a camera and could go on to better things. It’s a series that’s ripe for mockery, but they just sort of give up two-thirds of the way through and have the last section be a boring witch battle followed by an equally boring conversation, the end.

My favourite bit is when they introduce a new actor to play the part of the guy who was zapped into non-existence in the previous scene. He walks in, gets the name of the movie wrong (he calls it “Witch School 16”, for absolutely no reason, and is not corrected) but then both Lutz and Garner both are overwhelmed with lust for the man. I mean, he’s a completely normal-looking man, a little doughy perhaps, which is fine (I mean, look at me) but would he have every character go ga-ga for him? I feel like maybe he helped fund the movie or something, like if you could write yourself into a movie you’d make it so you were super-hot and mysterious and everyone wanted to bang you.

My favourite actor, Zamra Dollskin as the eternally perky Tara, was barely in it, and Will Spanner the witch (not Will Spanner the low-budget actor) didn’t make an appearance, making it the second Witchcraft movie to not feature him or refer to him at all – he gets a namecheck or two in part 10.

I think the main problem was there was no real central character. The only person who made the slightest effort to drive the plot along was Garner, but he’s not really on screen enough to be the star. The two people who you might pin the movie to (Rose or Will) are definitely supporting players in this one, leaving no-one to really get behind. Maybe Jamal?

So, an entertaining if completely confusing end to what is definitely the worst of the long-running horror franchises, as it cements its place as the longest-running of the lot. If you have a very high tolerance for movies which operate at the lowest end of the budget spectrum, then give it a go. You could do worse!

Rating: thumbs up

Witchcraft 15: Blood Rose (2016)

I was surprisingly okay with “Witchcraft 14”, despite its puzzling acting choices, non-existent budget and monster-sized plot holes. It had a sense of fun to it and didn’t overstay its welcome, but the same cannot be said of part 15 – surprising, as they had the same director, cast and crew, used the same sets, and so on. The only difference was in the choice of writer, but it’s not like the guy who wrote 14 is any particular genius (he also wrote some of director David Palmieri’s previous lowlights, for example).

I wanted to briefly touch on one of the ways that they found to save money on this production; it’s right at the beginning and it’s a doozie. Firstly, the company’s logo is sourced from what looks like a mid-90s VHS tape, like they had it made, lost the original and had to take the logo from one of their own old commercial tapes. The other is the long-running joke of the title graphic of the movie. The “Witchcraft” logo has been used, unchanged, since part 1, and what every single movie has done is just superimpose the number of that particular instalment in roman numerals in the corner of the pentagram. Part 13 even used a new logo! But by now, they can’t even be bothered to do basic photoshop, so we just get a scrolling graphic of the name and subtitle over the top of the logo from part 1, also taken from a VHS master. Never change, low-budget people!

One thing that definitely didn’t change between parts 14 and 15 is the weird continuity. The beginning of this movie is a re-edited version of the last few minutes of the last movie, but with extra scenes edited in? So now, the weird “why is Sharon walking into the yoga place with a different shirt to the one she was wearing ten minutes ago?” question is answered with “doing an extremely unconvincing lesbian scene with Tara in order to harness sex magic, duh”.

The first ten minutes of the movie goes out of its way to try and convince us that Sharon (Noel VanBrocklin) is actually on the side of good – alleged series hero Will doesn’t notice anything when he gives her a handshake, she’s making all the right noises about being a goodie, even when there’s no-one around to watch her, and even the protagonist of this new trilogy, Rose (Molly Dougherty) is beginning to trust her after the events of part 14, where she helped kidnap her Mum then tricked her into the final meeting with Samuel, lest we forget. So it’s even more confusing when it turns out that all this was a big trick – on us, for some reason. But more on that later.

Our favourite character, Tara (Zamra Dollskin) is now managing the yoga studio, and seems to have a real affinity for the admin and cleaning side of things. Her character has such hidden depths! Tara is still living with Rose, and they’ve got a new housemate (forced on them by Sharon), a woman whose subplot is so dull I shall cease to mention her or her even more tedious boyfriend. Lutz and Garner are back to busting prostitutes, Will is nowhere to be seen – at the beginning, anyway – and all is peaceful in the world of Witchcraft. Oh, Tara does have my favourite line, when they’re discussing murder – “to be fair, you have done it before”, directed at Rose, but said as if they’re discussing boys they like, or something.

Along comes one of my favourite tropes in low-budget cinema – the “guy keeping his underwear on during sex” scene. A fellow by the name of Jamal (Ernest Pierce) is having sex, and it’s filmed like he’s actually penetrating the lady he’s with, but his underwear remains on throughout, and clearly visible in the shot. If you’re going to have your actors keep their underwear on, which is a totally acceptable choice, don’t film that part of their bodies!

Anyway, Jamal dies, because Rose is tricked by Sharon into being a conduit for the use of the same murderous power she displayed in the previous movie; and now, Sharon can transport herself into other bodies pretty much at will. Sure, why not? So there’s the same group of good guys as part 1 – Lutz, Garner and Will, with an assist from Tara, against…well, pretty much just Sharon and the new housemate, along with the corpse I mentioned previously, which they’re hoping to fill with the demonic spirit of Samuel from the last movie. I’m not sure why they didn’t just help harder when he was still alive, as it would appear they fought against him for absolutely no reason (if the footage from the first five minutes is anything to go by).

This is definitely lesser than part 14, which I never thought I’d have to say about a movie. Like, I’m surprised two movies filmed back to back, with (if we’re being honest) largely the same plot, the same cast, the same crew, can vary so wildly in terms of quality. There’s that question that lurks in the back of your mind – is this incompetence or the microscopic budget biting them in the ass? Then I remember it’s David Palmieri and I veer strongly towards the former.

There’s the merely lazy stuff, like the yoga studio pervert being allowed back, like they were hoping we ‘d have forgotten who he was. Then there’s the spectacularly lazy stuff, which relates to a major-ish plot point, which I will try and spoil as little as possible. Turns out that Rose is the daughter of three powerful witches (I was a bit confused by that biological explanation too) and that she’s got special power, or something.

“What, you mean just like Will in the first few movies?” I hear you say. Firstly, kudos for paying attention through 15 of these reviews, and yes, you’re right! One might have wondered if they’d spend a few minutes of their non-nudity-showing time to pop in a bit of plot about Rose taking on the role of series protagonist from Will, having him tell her how tough it is to be the son of a powerful demon, but no. Not even anything close to that, in fact. That Will is still around and still playing a part in the denouement of these things is just extra confusing.

But back to things that actually happened in this movie, they show scenes of people having sex to illustrate that yes, Rose’s parents did indeed have sex at one point. Only, in typical ultra-low-budget cost-cutting fashion, the footage is just borrowed from previous instalments, meaning some of it features previous versions of Will himself having sex with randos, including at least one person who died long before they could have children, and one ISCFC favourite, Janet Keijser. Are they just hoping that none of us would remember those old movies? Actually, that’s almost certainly it. I barely remember them, and I did a review series on the damn things.

There’s a few interesting ideas, and a great line from Garner – “we have to stop the yoga witchcraft murder spree” – but it’s just bad, full of massive holes in logic that wouldn’t even have cost any money to fix. Just someone willing to spend a few minutes thinking, but I guess thinking time cuts into profits.

Rating: thumbs down

Witchcraft 14: Angel of Death (2016)

Long-time readers may remember my increasing exasperation at the “Witchcraft” series, which started off bad and got much worse over the course of 13 miserable instalments. It incorporated one movie bought and renamed with nothing to do with the other 12 (part 8), two directed by one of our more hated figures, Michael Paul Girard (parts 7 and 9, confusingly), one set in the UK (part 10), and barely raised itself above the level of a Cinemax-style softcore porno at its very best.

Part 13 came along in 2008, and I thought we were free! Maybe everyone had been collectively hit by common sense, and they’d all agreed that any more Witchcraft movies were sort of a bad idea. But a man by the name of David Sterling (who also produced parts 11 and 12, but not 13) realised there was a little more blood to squeeze out of this particular stone, and here we are.

Sterling has an interesting side business, and one which, were I a wealthy man, I’d have probably indulged in at one point. If you have an idea and at least $10,000, he will make you a movie – he’ll sort out a cast and crew, turn your idea into a script, find locations, all that good stuff. Heck, if anyone wants to give me $10,000, I’ll do it right now! But as well as turning your half-assed idea into a reality, he also does it for himself, and thus we come to Witchcraft. Sterling produced parts 14, 15 and 16 back to back, which is a guaranteed sign of quality, and as soon as my broke self can rustle up the money I’ll be treating you to reviews of the rest of the “trilogy”.

I’m something of a continuity nerd, and “Witchcraft” actually made half an effort to wrap up all the loose ends generated over the last 20+ years by the end of part 13, which makes it almost unique among horror franchises. Will, I think, fully embraced his dark side and became the Son of Satan, Lutz and Garner – or one of them, I’m struggling to remember – died, and all was finished. Then, for absolutely no reason whatsoever other than “dumbass websites like the ISCFC will review it”, the name was resurrected, again (there’s also a six year gap between parts 12 and 13) and all that work was completely undone. Yes, I know that expecting a micro-budget piece of garbage soft-porn horror movie to give a damn about its own history is a fool’s errand, but they’d already made the effort before!

There’s an alarm bell before we even get going, too, and that’s the name of the director that Mr Sterling has chosen to helm these three no-doubt classics. David Palmieri has directed two of the all-time least favourite movies we’ve ever reviewed – “Captain Battle: Legacy War” and “Disaster Wars: Earthquake vs Tsunami” – and I even suggested that if any serial killers or pyromaniacs read the ISCFC, they might want to pay Mr Palmieri a visit; this might be the least murderous-rage-inducing of his movies to date, which is about the strongest compliment I can pay the man.

Lutz and Garner are both alive, and still cops, although the only office looks like a small section of someone’s basement with very fake walls and no decoration whatsoever. They’re both moderately capable actors with a nice bit of banter, too, but I need to start at the beginning, and that is with a delightful young lady by the name of Rose.

Well, it’s not Rose, but a doughy and unimpressive couple, who we see in a hotel room about to have sex. They’d very clearly not met before that scene, but they’re supposed to feel a burning desire for each other – doughy guy is Rose’s ex-boyfriend, who she was apparently still in love with, and doughy gal hates Rose so much she sends her an email telling her to leave her alone, that his hands will be all over her tonight, etc. Rose gets angry and kills the gal with her mind, then kills the guy later as he’s stumbling through the streets, wishing death on his crazy ex.

The evil in this movie comes from…a yoga coven. Sure, why not? Silver Lake Yoga is a real place, and if anyone other than me gave a damn about this movie I imagine they’d have been upset about having their storefront used without any sort of permission. It’s run by Samuel, who gives it his all but plays his part as if he’s the camp best friend from a sitcom and not a direct conduit to some demon who enjoys having sex with women a lot. He also has the world’s cheapest prop knife, which isn’t really important but is so bad it made even a jaded bad movie fan such as I laugh.

I’m 800 words in and I’ve barely scratched the surface of this cinematic gem. This is going to be a long one, and I’m only writing it confident in the knowledge that none of you will ever watch it. So, Rose’s mother. She’s also a witch and knows what Rose can do (which, bear in mind, is kill people who piss her off) but chooses to laugh it off until the bodies really start piling up – then she gets kidnapped so who cares about her. But Rose, who’s genuinely troubled by her ability to kill people with her mind, gets involved with the coven, thinking they’re a nice group of white-magic witches, and…I need to go deeper! There’s so much craziness in this movie! Samuel and his assistant Sharon – who is a model in real life, but appears for no reason to be trying to look as teenage-boy-ish as possible here, discuss at the beginning how the coven is for white magic. There’s a scene near the end where Rose appears blameless. But there are several other scenes where major characters witness her doing evil stuff! Did they film two versions of the plot and just run out of time and slapped whatever they had together? Or is David Palmieri a talentless hack? whycan’titbeboth.gif

Onto my favourite character in the movie, the magnificent Tara, played by alt-fetish model Zamra Dollskin. I’m not even sure if she’s acting or not, but she plays the part perfectly, like she’s a friendly but slightly naive cheerleader trapped in the body of a….well, an alt-fetish model. Her energy and enthusiasm for every scene she’s in is a wonder to behold, and I’m genuinely delighted she appears to be in all three of the new ones. Two enthusiastic thumbs up for Ms Dollskin, who gets involved after ending up in LA being chased by witch-hunters (a sub-plot which goes absolutely nowhere) and decides to hide out at Rose’s house – you know, the house the police are watching and where Rose’s mother was kidnapped from. Safety!

I guess we ought to talk about Will, who’s been repeatedly mentioned as the most powerful witch on earth in the previous 13 movies. Here, for some reason, I guess, he looks like the oldest member of an early 00s emo band who still rocks the deep v-necks and mascara but has a sensible middle-aged sort of haircut; also, his powers are weak as hell and he needs Rose’s help to get out of the final battle. It’s safe to say Ryan Cleary (Will) isn’t much of an actor, but he tries and he’s so curious that I kinda grew to like him.

There’s an evil plan about summoning a demon or whatever, but the movie ignores it almost completely so I will too. From what I read, none of this (including that the lead character murders a bunch of people and doesn’t seem all that sorry about it) carries on to the 15th or 16th instalments, which have different scriptwriters as well. Let’s hope they’re as beyond-bargain-basement cheap as this one, too!

I feel bad for the women persuaded to disrobe for payment in what I presume is hundreds, as opposed to thousands, of dollars. I feel like that aspect of “Witchcraft”, the soft-porn for people who wanted to pretend they were watching a real movie, is a relic of the Blockbuster era and really really doesn’t need to still be going on in 2016. Although, some of the earlier entries, such as part 7, had truly ludicrous amounts of sex and nudity in them, so at least they’ve toned it down a little since then? I don’t know, the sleaze is so mild here, if I watched it for purposes of titilation I’d be demanding my money back. As opposed to demanding my money back because it sucked massive amounts of ass.

So. It’s not the worst of the lot (that prize must go to part 10, which is barely better than an average home movie). Heck, I’m not even sure it’s in the bottom half in terms of quality. I enjoyed it in places!

Rating: thumbs in the middle

PS. The great website Phelous has reviewed the new movies, and I discovered when watching their review that we’d made a few of the same observations. I like to think it’s because we’re both smart, or it’s sort of obvious, but all the nonsense I spout is from my own brain (feel free to watch their videos, though, because they’re excellent).

Blood Mercury (2014)

We’ve brought to you, dear reader, information about many movies whose titles start with the word “blood”, but all good things must come to an end. As must these reviews! Anyway, we Patreon backers of low-budget genre superstar Len Kabasinski were given an unexpected treat a few weeks ago, as he’d got enough funding to complete his 2014 movie “Blood Mercury”.

From the little information that was available about it, “Blood Mercury” sounded fascinating, a complete departure for Kabasinski, who to that point had made creature features and genre movies – zombies (“Swamp Zombies”); werewolves (“Curse Of The Wolf”); vampires (“Fist of the Vampire”); wendigos (“Wendigo: Bound By Blood”); post-apocalypse (“Apocalypse Female Warriors”); a Most Dangerous Game homage (“Skull Forest”); and his first ninja movie (“Ninja: Prophecy of Death”). This is a spy thriller with a whisper of a super-soldier-style serum in it, and far as I can gather, was shelved due to some funding not coming through. He moved onto other things, but thanks to his new funding model, with plenty of online distributors looking for content and a steady stream of Patreon money, he was able to wrap it up and release it to the world.

After seeing a woman in a lab (Lisa Neeld, Kabasinski regular) freak out and start throwing people around and displaying classic “whoops this serum worked too well” behaviour, we cut to some time in the future, when a group of secret government operatives are tasked with transporting a briefcase from place X to place Y. That goes south very quickly, of course, as there’s double-crosses and the last surviving decent person, Agent Wilkins (former Len regular Brian South, making his final appearance), escapes on foot with the case.

The government decides to send a bunch of black ops guys to kill Wilkins, led by Agent Kennedy (Len Kabasinski), who remains really good and I’m glad he trusts himself with bigger parts in his own movies these days. Wilkins has a friend on the outside, a biochemist he’s hoping will help him manufacture an antidote for this serum; but then there’s Cassandra Tobeck (Jessica Kabasinski, Len’s former wife which must have been weird when it came to editing) and her rather curious choice of bathwater…

The story rips along. Wilkins finds himself in a cabin out in the snowy wastes, occupied by a father and son who start off not trusting the strange injured man with a briefcase who wanders up to their front door – by the way, I didn’t catch the father’s name but imagine an aggressively heterosexual Andy Dick impersonator and you’ll be fairly close to what the actor looks like. There’s fighting and double-crosses and considering its troubled origin, it makes a surprising amount of sense. I like the army guy who’s super-determined to get the drug back, his increasing derangement is fun to watch.

So, a good solid thriller, and one which adds to Len’s reputation as someone who deserves more money from some producer somewhere. But, there are a few problems. His use of dutch angles borders on a weird fetish; plus, there’s a heck of a lot of extreme close-ups and handheld work which saved money but become a little difficult to watch at times. Also, I’m pretty sure one of the actors who was beaten to death at the beginning of the movie shows up later – but I may have gotten two similar guys confused, or it might have been a flashback. Nowhere near as egregious as the all-time classic, “Space Mutiny”, where a guy who’d just been shot shows up in the background of the next scene; but still.

But, dear reader, Len Kabasinski operates at budgets that would barely pay for craft services for a single day of most major pictures. He works on lunch breaks and weekends and does it for almost no money, yet manages to produce decent, entertaining movies every year or so. This might be my favourite of his up to now, and I think it makes sense for us to look past the technical shortcomings and look to the development of the storytelling.

If you aren’t a Patreon supporter, blu-rays of “Blood Mercury” go on sale in a few days, direct from Len himself (he’s selling them on eBay, and I think you can get them direct from him too). Support indie filmmaking.

Rating: thumbs up