The Fine Art & The Scare Game (1992?)

Thanks to the St Louis Video Society and their tireless efforts to unearth the finest independent cinema from our region, we have another couple of gems for you. Eric Stanze is, as far as I can tell, still living in the St Louis area and is still very much involved in the business – he edits documentaries for blu-rays, and also does 2nd unit directing for some fairly mainstream movies. But neither of those things are interesting to a site like the ISCFC, and it’s his 25 years of making low-budget horror that we’re delighted by.

He’s achieved some notoriety in his career for stuff like “Scrapbook” and “Ice From The Sun”, chock full of unusual imagery and ultra-violence, movies that even have the luxury of their own IMDB pages. But where we’re going we don’t need IMDB or, indeed, any other record of their existence (they’re not listed on Stanze’s own site anymore, not for sale anywhere), which is (are?) his earliest forays into long-form filmmaking, “The Fine Art” and “The Scare Game”. Both clock in at a little under an hour, are extremely low-budget and surprisingly good fun.

“The Fine Art” starts off as a romance movie, of sorts, as we meet Valerie, just a girl in an office-drone job looking for love. Her friend suggests Bill, who works as a camera-guy for a local TV show (maybe she works there too, because dialogue seems to indicate they’re in the same building at least, although I’m not sure and it’s not important). Anyway, they meet up and it’s love at first sight – as far as you can tell from the two performances, which are fine but a little on the amateur side from Lisa Morrison and Jeremy Wallace. But at the same time as their relationship is blossoming, the Cedar Hill Slayer is doing his thing and a discovery at Bill’s house leaves Valerie unsure of just what he might be, and what sort of person she is herself…

It’s got some odd twists down the road, for sure, but from the very beginning you can tell that Stanze isn’t just interested in telling a flat story or putting as much gore as possible on screen. While “visual flair” might be overstating it a little, he tries to do as much with his extremely limited resources as possible, and gives us some cool camera and sound work. I mean, yes, it does look like it was filmed on a cheap VHS camcorder, but it shows promise.

The version we saw was from a VHS, presumably from its initial local release, but it was remastered and re-released on DVD by Sub Rosa Films some years ago, although that release has disappeared as completely as “After Last Season”. If you’re reading this and have that disc at the back of a cupboard somewhere, please get in touch.

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Second on the tape was “The Scare Game”, which manages to be even cheaper-looking and more washed out than its predecessor (I’m guessing that the order indicates release date, but the information is extremely hard to come by). Now, this one has a tale to it. A few years later, the director would make “Ice From The Sun”, and in terms of plot it’s extremely similar to this – indeed, in an interview many years ago he said that was this’s sequel (best guess – Stanze decided to wipe as much evidence of the existence of these early works as he could when his budgets and ambition started increasing).

Sporting a mullet so unbelievably hideous I thought he’d tied some cotton candy to the back of his head, and braces (okay, everyone was young when they made this), DJ Vivona is “The Presence”, an imposing figure who just strolls into the house of a random guy one day, pops a black wooden box down in the middle of his coffee table, and walks off.

Rather than freaking the hell out, the two friends seem pretty cool with this development (perhaps I missed a line of dialogue that said “can’t wait for that mystery present I ordered to be delivered”), and read the incantation inside the box, which causes words to appear in the hitherto empty notebook that was also contained. Six people are needed for the game, and luckily the two men know four other people who are similarly cool with really strange things happening.

It’s a little “Nightmare On Elm Street” esque, although the reason for what happens when they’re inside the game is more reminiscent of “Manos: The Hands Of Fate”. Vivona, although he’s a little mannered in his movements, is really quite imposing and does a great job as the villain / games-master; and there are some other totally okay performances from the rest of the amateur cast (including Stanze himself, who has small parts in both).

What I was most impressed by is how Stanze, who was director, writer, producer, actor, editor and a few other jobs besides, played to his strengths and tried to minimise his weaknesses. Rather than just make an extremely cheap version of a mainstream horror movie, he used interesting editing techniques and camera angles to suggest some of the more gory effects than show them (although there’s still plenty of gore).

Without wanting to appear too over-the-top about a pair of super-cheap shot-on-video movies that have been apparently disowned by their director, they show an interest in doing more than just being traditional horror movies, and because they’re not terribly long, they miss that boring act 2 that B-movies often struggle with. I’m happy to say, if you ever happen to discover one of the rather rare releases of these two movies, then you could do a heck of a lot worse.

Rating: thumbs up

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Countdown (2016)

In a rather pleasant reversal of the usual “X’s girlfriend / wife” sexist reporting, WWE wrestler and star of this movie Dolph Ziggler is perhaps most famous for being the ex-boyfriend of comedy superstar Amy Schumer; he’s another wrestler whose career began after I stopped watching pro wrestling, so I have no background to give you on how well he “acts” in the squared circle. He did host a few online shows for WWE, and has both acted and done standup comedy, so even saying that I was certainly less nervous coming in to this than I have been for other WWE movies.

We’re introduced to undercover cop Ray Fitzpatrick (Ziggler) in a fun sting operation, where he has to shoot his partner, who’s wearing a vest, in order to maintain his cover. He plays by his own rules! In case you weren’t sure about what a loose cannon he is, his boss Lt Cronin (fellow wrestler Kane, who looks like a crude chainsaw sculpture of a human being) and Internal Affairs officer Julia Baker (Katharine Isabelle) point it out to us in an early scene. Turns out, shooting your partner, even if it was sort of necessary, is frowned upon and he’s suspended!

Ray is troubled because his kid died a few years ago…at a police picnic…due to a drunk cop crashing his car into him. He sued the department and lost, his marriage broke up but for some reason he kept working at the place that closed rank to protect the person who murdered his son? I’m sure it makes sense to someone. Anyway, he’s about to leave work for good when one of the many hate-mail packages he gets every day turns out to be the real thing – a link to a website where there’s a video of a child being held hostage, strapped to a bomb. He wants $2,000,135.50 and, even though he’s not un-suspended, Ray is right back in the thick of things trying to rescue the kid and solve the case.

In a scene I’m surprised they’ve never done before, they chase the kidnapper through a wrestling event, with a few very brief cameos from other pro wrestlers (I was sort of hoping he’d watch a Dolph Ziggler match and go “this guy sucks”, but no). But, dear reader, all I could think about was “how did he bring all that ransom money into an arena? They made me clear my pockets out the last time I went”, and “he left an unattended bag on the front row of a wrestling show? Come on!”

Then, it seemed Julia decided to help Ray out, even though he remained suspended til the end. Perhaps I missed a bit where they bonded, with my cat jumping on me and shaking me from my action-movie reverie. But, he’s got to track down the kid in a small number of hours, and he’s not got time to be nice, or to not torture and brutally beat everyone who gets in his way. You can be forgiven for tuning out on act 2 a little, because there’s a really weird bit where Ray is arrested thanks to a fake paper trail left by the villain of the piece, and has to escape from a police station where no-one apparently feels like shooting him despite them all having firearms. But the ending is fine and action-packed.

Kudos to the guy who choreographed the fights, as they’re really good, and Ziggler is great in them. The punches, kicks and throws look like they actually hurt, and everyone else does their part well. Kudos to the actors, too – Ziggler is excellent, and Kane, it turns out, could totally have a career in the movies. I don’t want to get too effusive, but he’s a monster who can do a decent blue-collar cop. Isabelle is the best, for me, as I’ve been a fan of hers since “Ginger Snaps” and while she never got the star-making role she deserved after that, she’s never less than entertaining.

Also, I actually believed they filmed in Seattle for a while – I know, it’s obviously Vancouver, because it’s always Vancouver, but they hired a guy to edit in shots of downtown Seattle with the shots they’d already filmed, and whoever that person is did it well.

Finally, even though the middle was a bit dull, WWE hired a real proper director to make this, and it shows. John Stockwell, former actor, has directed “In The Blood” (the Gina Carano vehicle we thoroughly enjoyed) and is in charge of the new “Kickboxer” movie, which is either going to be awesome or miserable. Please be awesome!

Anyway, it’s exactly what you expect when you think race against time movie, starring a wrestler. But probably better. I expect bigger and better things from Ziggler and Stockwell in future, so keep an eye out.

Rating: thumbs up

Dungeons and Dragons: Wrath Of The Dragon God (2005)

Five years later and a clause in a contract somewhere ensured it was slightly cheaper for a production company to make a sequel than it was to default; the one guy they could persuade to return, despite being dead, did so, they moved production to Lithuania and this is the result. And you know what? It’s still better than the first one.

The country, or town, of Ishmir is pretty peaceful, it seems. There’s a council of wizards who all seem decent, a ruler we never see, and all the people are happy. The star is Berek (Mark Dymond), a former captain of the Kingsguard turned councillor; his wife, Melora (Clemency Burton-Hill), is a wizard who’s trying to learn divine magic, as opposed to arcane magic, and is struggling a bit. There’s a strange and completely undeveloped sub-plot with the new captain of the Kingsguard, but we don’t have time to worry about that as Damidar is back!


Bruce Payne, clearly short of money that week, is back, and dying at the end of the previous movie is only a minor inconvenience for him. He’s found the Orb of Phallus, and he’s going to use it to come back from being a sort of zombie and take over the world! Okay, it’s not called the Orb of Phallus, but it sounds a bit like that and I’m for damn sure not researching how to spell the name of the MacGuffin from a decade-old Dungeons & Dragons sequel. He has it and wants to wake up the sleeping black dragon inside a nearby mountain and use its power to wipe out Ishmir (quite why he hates this one town so much is a mystery we never discover the answer to); the people of Ishmir also know about his plan and try to stop it. No “hey, guys, are you sure the dragon is real? Perhaps we ought to wait and see if it comes to eat us before worrying about it?”, which is pretty refreshing.

From here on out, it decides to become a proper Dungeons & Dragons adventure. The town hires a group of heroes to help them, and it looks exactly like the average group of adventurers from a game. There’s Lux, the hot barbarian (Ellie Chidzey); Dorian the cleric, with a big magic hammer (Steven Elder); Ormaline the even hotter elf wizard (Lucy Gaskell); Nim the middle-aged rogue (Tim Stern); and Berek himself, who despite getting on a bit and not being quite as fast or strong as he was, is the best Ishmir has (the new captain is away at war when most of this happens). They make reference to a few stories from the D&D universe, and it seems like they’re actually trying. The difference between having the money and not caring what happens next, and thinking “if this is good, it might help us in the future” is evidently quite wide. Given the sheer volume of words accumulated around D&D, it should be relatively simple to pick out a few good ones to make a movie about.

Although you might not recognise the names above, them and the rest of the supporting cast are a gang of British TV actors you’ll probably recognise, British being the default accent of the olden days. Although none of them look particularly fighter-y, they’re all at least taking the material seriously – there are light moments, just not Marlon Wayans acting like a modern comedian-style funny. And it’s quite impressive to see most of them with arcs, and not just “they all disappear at the end for absolutely no reason”.

The special effects aren’t great, but it’s to be expected – cheap CGI for the dragon, that sort of thing. I’ll give them less leeway on the other stuff, though, which can be roughly broken down into “sets” and “makeup”. The medieval castles they use have all been repaired with cheap ugly modern brick and it looks terrible; quite why no-one thought of using angles to cover this stuff up is beyond me (or, you know, actually covering it up). And the makeup! Ignoring that Ormaline remains perfectly quaffed and painted even when half her arm has disappeared into a concrete block, the biggest criminal is the lich (a sort of demon wizard / fighter) who teams up with Damidar. His face is full-on demon-face, like a good version of the creature from the Neil Breen classic “I Am Here….Now”, but the rest of his body is normal healthy human. Again, why not just put him in long sleeves and gloves if you’re not going to make him up? How did they look at the rushes and think “yes, this is definitely the best we can do”? Compared to that, the terrible half-zombie makeup at the end can be ignored.


After all that, though, the reason it’s better than the original (and it’s not even close) is the script. The story is interesting and fun, the characters are believable and don’t just argue to generate conflict (although they do argue), and I wanted to see where it all ended up. Everyone has a job to do, and they’re allowed to play to their strengths. I know this sounds like damning with faint praise, but if you’ve seen some of the trash I’ve seen, you’ll know that just something as simple as making sure B follows A is rarely ever simple.

All this is even more surprising when you see the names attached. Writer / director Gerry Lively is responsible for part 3 of the franchise, 7 years later, but other than that relatively little else (he was also the cinematographer on “Hellraiser 3”). This is his only writing credit, same for Robert Kimmel. I’m not saying it’s amazing or anything like that, but it’s significantly more competent than its big-budget forebear. Perhaps the Lithuanian crew were all waiting for an opportunity to show their skills.

Anyway, you could safely live the rest of your life without watching this movie, but parts 2 and 3 are perfectly competent adventure movies.

Rating: thumbs up

Andy Sidaris season! Do Or Die (1991)

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As much as I’ve enjoyed the movies of Andy Sidaris so far, there’s always a vague sense that things could go off the rails in terms of the sexual politics and rather strange plots. It’s with “Do Or Die” that this happens, which is both loads of fun and really quite annoying.

One for the “fun” column is this movie gets going immediately. There’s literally zero preamble, as no-one’s starting on the Sidaris train with his 8th movie  and you’re expected to know who super-sexy special agents Donna (Dona Speir) and Nicole (Roberta Vasquez) are. They’re approached by some beefy hombres and taken outside to meet villain Kane. Pat Morita! The genial star of “The Karate Kid” and a few seasons of “Happy Days” is in full-on villain mode here, and he really wants revenge on the ladies for the events of the previous movie. I think. He says of the two “your skills are legendary” which is being a little generous – I mean, they keep stumbling onto drug-running operations staffed by absolute incompetents and killing them, if that’s what you mean. Anyway, his plan is, he’s going to send 6 groups of assassins after them, make a bit of a game out of it.
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And that’s really all the plot. Donna and Nicole go to the hot tub first, because of course, then call the head of their still-unnamed federal agency, Bruce (Bruce Penhall), and he assembles the troops. Most of them are the same actors and characters from “Guns” – lounge / country singer Edy (Cynthia Brimhall), terrible shot Shane Abilene (Michael Shane), and that blond guy whose name I never write down and who’s difficult to spot from the IMDB page. Add in a woman who definitely wasn’t just hired because of her monstrous chest, Pandora Peaks as Atlanta Lee, and you’ve got a team.

The best thing in this movie, by a million miles, is the computer game that Kane has created to track the progress of his six assassin teams. It consists of a list of the assassin teams and a small box called the “Death Zone” where the names are moved to when they fail and die. Helpfully, Kane’s programmer added a little animation, like a mini-firework display, to show that people are dead. It’s used regularly, as well, because the vast majority of this film is – team moves around; local assassination team is dispatched; team beats them extremely easily; two team members have sex while they really should be on guard duty; sad Kane and his sad assistant look at another team name move into the Death Zone. Repeated six times.
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There’s also a classic low-budget movie trick on display, which Sidaris has used before, christened by the guys at Red Letter Media as “shoot the carnival”. Basically, if you want to make your budget look bigger, find some small town with a large public event and ask if you can film it. Have your cast wandering about in the background and it looks like you paid for all this stuff! This movie’s event is a quarter-sized remote control vehicle display event (to be fair, it does look quite good fun), and he even uses a device from it for his finale, showing a fine and inventive mind.

I guess I ought to get onto the sexism. I’ve been pretty kind to Sidaris up to now, as even in movies starring Playboy models with rampant female nudity, there’s been a sense that the women are in control and are having just as good a time as the men. Here, however, there’s none of that. The federal agency they work for keeps hiring more men, and Sidaris keeps giving them more of the plot, which culminates in a fairly appalling scene where good guy Erik Estrada (he played a bad guy in “Guns”) picks Donna off a bike and gets on it himself, because women! She replies with her list of kills and Presidential commendations, and all Erik does is make a condescending quip and drive off, while blond guy laughs at the idea of women being in any way equal to men. Of course, Erik ends up with Donna, because women just need putting in their place.
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Okay, the fight at the end features just Donna and Nicole fighting the last two assassins, but all they do is nearly beat them and then run off, a routine which is repeated three or four times, the final kill being left to the device that Erik made up. Although I will never get tired of people so delighted that they’ve just killed two people that they high-five.

Sidaris likes his broad, Dukes Of Hazzard style humour (the fake redneck assassins are a particular highlight), and there’s plenty of it on display here. It’s loose and fun, although there’s less of it than before, while there’s a lot more sex scenes, indicating our director was steering more towards the erotic thriller market than he was the redneck action comedies of before (okay, the differences are pretty slight, but noticeable the more you watch). I want to like his movies, they’re loose and easy on the eye and everyone looks like they’re having a good time, but not so much here, none of the women even look like they’re enjoying themselves. Less of the neanderthal sexual politics next time please, Andy.
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Rating: thumbs in the middle

Andy Sidaris season! Guns (1990)

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Once more into the breach with Andy Sidaris, and his “Girls, Guns and G-Strings” collection, which has provided me with much entertainment since buying it. And, I think, this might be the best Sidaris film so far – it’s got action, a plot that I could understand, lots of fun characters, the return of a gag I always liked, and more of the wonderful tricks of the low-budget filmmaker. And the nudity is perhaps even more crowbarred-in than ever before!

 

DANNY TREJO WATCH – he’s appeared in hundreds of movies, and he shows up here as the chief goon of bad guy Juan Degas / “Jack of Diamonds”, Erik Estrada. Erik Estrada! Off of “CHiPs”! Anyway, Trejo is, of course, brilliant, but you might be thinking “Mark, is this the earliest appearance of the great man in an ISCFC review?” Well, it’s close, but we have Trejo reviews going back as far as 1987, his third ever role, in “The Hidden”; and there’s also another one from before this, 1990’s “Maniac Cop 2”. Even at the beginning of his career, he picked good ones!

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But we’re not here to talk Trejo, we’re here to talk Andy Sidaris. I wanted to make sure that you understand what you’re getting when you watch a Sidaris movie, and it’s not the most original thing in the world. All his movies, so far at least, are set in and around Molokai, a small island in the Hawaiian peninsula, and feature variations on a theme – a central female partnership get involved, inadvertently or not, with a mission to stop some criminal from using Hawaii to do something bad. All the women are happy to disrobe at the drop of a hat, often in teams (there are regular hot tub scenes), and up to now there’s always been a big role for a male member of the Abilene family, although they’ve gone from the stars of the series to definitely secondary to the ladies. They’re all roughly the same, to be brutally honest, so if you’ve seen the classic “Hard Ticket To Hawaii” and aren’t driven like me to watch every film in a certain series or from a certain director, then you don’t really need to watch any others.

 

From this line on I can assume you’re all with me and want to know just what “Guns” is all about. Sadly, the gorgeous 80s sparkly bikini-clad singer is not the star, but she’s the first thing we see, and she certainly gets us ready for the sort of entertainment we have on offer. Degas is a guy who everyone thought had died in a boat explosion some time ago, but he’s out and about, not exactly living in secret, and hires a couple of assassins to get revenge for…someone who did actually die on that boat? I’m really not sure, and it’s not like it matters who he’s getting revenge for.

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The assassins are the dumbest guys, treating murder as a job they sort of like but still enjoy slacking off on. Their speciality is small bombs inside electrical things, completely undetectable, but Degas wants this particular murder to go down a certain way, and that way involves them dressing up as women and murdering their target in the middle of a crowded restaurant, then leaving a Jack of Diamonds playing card on the victim’s chest, with the name of the revenge-ee on it. The two guys don’t seem thrilled about becoming, as one character memorably describes them later on, as “shemales”, but for the entire rest of the movie are constantly found at transvestite bars dressed as women, or just dressed as women. Given Sidaris has featured transvestitism before (in “Malibu Express”), and it’s not mocked, one should perhaps give him the mildest of kudos. Even if it’d be nice to know if these were actually transvestite assassins or just assassins who’d taken the wrong disguise bag out to work with them.

 

Anyway, the assassins, due to a dress mixup, kill the wrong person. The person they were trying to kill is Nicole (Roberta Vasquez), who’s the new sidekick to Donna (Dona Speir), our statuesque blonde friend who’s a Sidaris regular. It would appear Taryn from the previous three films took the money she found at the end of “Savage Beach” and left this weird life forever – she was still in witness protection, I think, but was the equal of Federal agent Donna and shot just as many people as she did. Luckily, sparkly bikini lady Edy (Cynthia Brimhall), and a woman we’re introduced to taking part in the sleaziest oil wrestling I’ve ever seen captured on film, are both agents too, so we have a bit of a “getting the team together” segment. Joining them is the same Abilene brother from the previous movie, and a guy who’s in charge of the squad, although who he is, why he’s in charge and what the squad’s called are questions we never get the answers to.

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Seriously, I’m expecting some “L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies” and through five movies, neither hide nor hair of them. It’s like watching “Charlie’s Angels” if the Angels don’t form until halfway through season 2! I paid really close attention too, on the off chance I missed the name, but nothing.

 

Anyway, “Guns” is really entertaining. The action hops back and forth from Las Vegas to Molokai, Donna’s mother – the local Vegas DA – is kidnapped by Degas, and the two sides go tit for tat in elaborate ways of murdering their enemies. I’ll give you one very odd segment – one of the members of the team is Abe (veteran character actor Chuck McCann) and he goes to interview a couple of Degas’ men, who’ve been arrested. Rather than do anything normal, he straight up murders the pair of them and pretends they were armed so he had to do it! So, he walks away fine, but later on is blown up by a remote controlled boat (RC vehicles are something of a directorial fetish) sent by Degas’ girlfriend.

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I’ve spent quite a lot of time talking about a fairly typical Sidaris movie, but if you were going to pick one to watch first…actually, I’d still go with “Hard Ticket To Hawaii”, but this runs it a close second. Lots of fun, nothing too much to worry about, and provided you’re cool with tons of female nudity and zero of the male variety, you’ll have a good time.
Rating: thumbs up

Deadly Descent: The Abominable Snowman (2013)

Nothing this exciting actually happens

Nothing this exciting actually happens

You know that bit at the end of horror movies when the sole survivor will say “I wonder who the real monsters are?” During those moments, I occasionally joke “the thing with green skin and massive teeth was the monster, you idiot”, but after watching this, humans are the monsters. Specifically, the humans in this movie, who are thoughtless morons and deserve to die in the most horrible way possible.

 

This is the third of our SyFy Channel yeti / sasquatch / abominable snowman reviews (none of them exist, so I don’t care about lumping them all together), along with “Yeti: Curse Of The Snow Demon” and “Abominable”. This is by a million miles the worst of the three, and could well be the worst SyFy movie we’ve ever covered, despite looking decent and having reasonable special effects. Every second of it would be the dumbest second in any other movie, and I’ll try and relate to you just how bad it gets.

DUMBASS

DUMBASS

The first five minutes seems to be in a race to give you as much plot as possible, but to do it in a super-confusing way. Brian (Chuck Campbell, “Jason X”, but twenty times more irritating here) is off up a mountain trying to find his Dad, who was killed when he was a kid. Brian’s climbing partner is killed by a Yeti, a huge brown thing with crazy teeth, and despite the monster standing in front of Brian, shouting, Brian makes it back down the mountain just fine. This scene (like several others) is perhaps victim to an over-zealous special effects department, as it feels like they inserted a yeti in a location that makes no sense. Or perhaps it’s just good old fashioned idiocy?

 

Anyway, Brian waits a bit and then goes back up the mountain, driven by the desire to kill the yeti once and for all; he gets a lift from local rescue helicopter pilot Mark (Adrian Paul, “Highlander”, and even though I like him a lot, he’s pretty rotten in this). Finding the monster extremely quickly, he’s attacked and we think that’s the end for him.

 

So then a search operation is put on for Brian. This includes proper search & rescue teams, and when a couple of their skiers are eaten, they halt proceedings, and it’s up to Brian’s sister Nina (Lauren O’Neil), his old Army CO Rick (Nicholas Boulton), a newly married couple who are also his old army buddies, despite looking way too young, Stacey and Jon (Elizabeth Croft and Sam Cassidy) and a guy called Erlander whose introduction I missed (Sean Teale). The crucial information you need at this juncture is that Nina bills herself as an expert on mountaineering and the local area; and that everyone else has spent some time in the Army.

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When they get up there and immediately panic and mess up, causing Jon to break his leg and eventually get eaten, them to lose their only method of communicating with the outside world, and turning Erlander into a gibbering wreck, you might reasonably shout at the screen “this is what the Army trained you to do?” Their complete lack of preparation and ability in any field of endeavour would be funny, if this were supposed to be a comedy. As you’re supposed to be cheering them on, their failure and incompetence – before they ever meet the yeti or come close to rescuing Brian, lest we forget – is less than ideal.

 

Eventually, they happen upon an enormous ski lodge, five stories high or so, closed for the season, and in it they find Brian, who’s perfectly fine (escape from yeti no.2) and is just waiting for the creature to turn up so he can kill it. With a pistol. The monster that’s a good 12 feet tall and weighs a ton or so (despite being described by one of the characters as 8’, 6-700 lbs) is not going to be stopped by a pistol, and given Brian’s army training, you might reasonably expect him to know this, and have access to better firearms.

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A quick pause from discussing the futility of their endeavours. Brian is fine, at this moment, so just think about the number of people who die trying to rescue a person who’s not only capable of leaving the mountain under their own steam, but doesn’t want to be rescued…and all the money and people-hours that went into the search. Six people die because of him, but is he remotely remorseful? Not a bit. I’m not even sure the movie is aware he’s sort of a dick for doing all this. When they blow up the ski lodge to try and stop a yeti later, causing millions of dollars of damage (not a lot of insurance against “I thought I was killing a mythical creature”) and ensuring jail time for the survivors, it’s just passed over as if, well, this is the sort of thing you do in monster movies, so we’ve got to do them!

 

During a fight at the lodge, Erlander is seen looking close to death and bleeding from the mouth, but is perfectly fine in the next scene…Brian and Rick take a break from barricading to discuss their relationships with Nina, because “Scriptwriting For Sociopaths” says you need a quiet character moment to provide a counterpoint to the action, never mind if it makes the remotest bit of sense. And Mark falls off the wagon (we see him drinking milk at the beginning) and we’re treated to some of the most embarrassing drunk acting of all time from Adrian Paul. The bit later, where he positions the helicopter just right so Nina can ski off a cliff straight into the passenger seat is just the icing on the cake – I’ll accept that sort of nonsense in a Fast & Furious movie, where physics is just a mild annoyance, but not from this.

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Liberally sprinkle skiing footage, to the point where even an enthusiast would go “okay, I think we’ve seen enough skiing now” and you’ve got yourself one of the most annoying movies we’ve seen in some time. Rotten acting performances, a script of almost mind-bending stupidity (courtesy of Nathan Atkins, who also did the much better “Cold Fusion” with Adrian Paul in it) and lousy direction (can we use the excuse it was a very early English-language movie for Marko Mäkilaakso? No) produce something which is only of use to you if you enjoy shouting abuse at the screen every thirty seconds or so. Absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel. That it was shot in Bulgaria in 13 days doesn’t justify it, just makes me sad. Shame on everyone who thought this was good enough to release.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Bloody Homecoming (2012)

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Due to us enjoying “Varsity Blood”, we decided to track down writer Jake Helgren’s previous slasher effort. We love finding patterns and coincidences and relationships between movies, and this one gave us a few doozies.

First up is the enduring relationship between Helgren and his star for both these movies, Lexi Giovagnoli. Considering her relatively short career (she’s only 25 now) they’ve been credited together 13 times, but never in anything you might have heard of. They’ve done gore-drenched horror, light romances, psychological thrillers and “family movies” together, and I’m a bit puzzled by them. They don’t look particularly cheap, and occasionally have a slightly down-on-their-luck Hollywood name showing up, so I’m sort of fascinated as to where they get the money from. I presume making stuff to fill up the lower rungs of Netflix searches is a money-making business model these days? It reminds me of the police station entirely staffed by replicants from Philip K Dick’s “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”, in that it’s very similar to a normal police station, but everything’s a little off.

Next up is the poster. The imagery and title of the movie is certainly more likely to remind you of “My Bloody Valentine”, but the poster looked very familiar. It suddenly came to me – it felt like a rejected still for the apparently amazing (not seen it) “The Loved Ones”; so chances are the company that released this thought they could hitch themselves to a bandwagon. If you’d like the evidence for yourselves, here’s the original poster, next to the altered poster, next to “The Loved Ones” (I can take no credit for this, thanks to www.culturecrypt.com but I had the thought myself too, honest).

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But enough of my vague theories, let’s get on with the review. For those of you who’ve either seen or read my review of “Varsity Blood”, there’ll not be too many surprises for you here – in other words, it FEELS LIKE THE SAME DAMN MOVIE. Multi-ethnic group of high schoolers? Check. Dark secret in their recent past? Check. Someone wanting revenge in the worst possible way? Check. Based around a big school moment even though they should have probably got on with the murdering before then? Check. Red herring of a family member locked up in an asylum? Check. Like a million other red herrings? Definitely check.

The differences are, honestly, cosmetic. Rather than taking place at a party in a cabin, it’s at a Homecoming dance, and the “meat” are a pretty friendly bunch as opposed to the people who hated each other; other than that, you could be forgiven for wondering what the hell was going on.

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3 years after a Homecoming dance where a potential teen rapist was trapped in a closet and burned to death, the school has decided to start having Homecoming dances again. The kids involved in that death are now seniors, and include: sensible Loren (Giovagnoli); Cassie, the almost-victim of that previous rape (Taryn Cervarich); splendidly sex-positive couple Nora and Robbie (Elizabeth Bigger and Shaleen Cholera); and the very obviously gay Wade (Branden Lee Roth – sorry, he doesn’t really have any other character quirks). A quick aside: huge respect to the movie for making Wade’s sexuality a non-issue, and when he comes out near the end, his friends are absolutely delighted for him, with a few of them not even realising he hadn’t already done so.

Re: issues of an amorous nature, there’s a naked lady in the shower (shown for about three seconds) who doesn’t show up at any other point, and she looked a lot like Misty Mundae, which would’ve given this a Donald Farmer link. But it turns out to be Penny Pax, who’s perhaps better known for her regular appearances in proper hardcore pornography. Seems a bit of a cheat to hire porn actresses just so you can get some skin in your teen horror movie, but whatever.

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I mentioned the “My Bloody Valentine” similarities, which come from the outfit worn by the killer. Think about it for a minute – if you’re trying to track teens through a dark school (and this is the school that lighting forgot, without a doubt), then full head-covering with a thick mask would be a very bad choice. You couldn’t hear anything, and your vision would be incredibly limited, but luckily this killer was gifted with supernatural senses to go along with freakish strength.

Of course, to go along with the slasher clichés, we’ve got a nice amount of plot holes and terrible logic. There’s one scene where Cassie is running away from the killer, and rather than go back to the gym where all her friends are, she decides to go and hide in a classroom…then another classroom. How difficult is this school to navigate? Then, another couple try and escape the school, but seem unable to find an exit. There must be dozens of ways to get out, surely? Oh, and Robbie got laid near the beginning by doing an “Austin Powers” impression, which must be the first time that trick has worked this millennium.

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Credit due to the comedy. Helgren has a decent sense of humour, even if he could stand to be a little more original. It’s odd that the stuff I liked about “Varsity Blood” (the referential nature) is a little irritating here, but I think he definitely improved in the intervening years. Re: comedy, the most obviously comedic turn is from the janitor, played by British comedian Jim Tavare. He evidently emigrated some years ago to pursue an acting career – thank heavens, as he was a terrible standup – and he was presumably hired here due to his vague resemblance to horror legend Michael Berryman, as he doesn’t fit the movie at all.

Also, credit to the twist, which I didn’t see coming. It would’ve been nice if someone had suspected there was a killer before the final 20 minute slaughter-fest, but it’s fine. The acting could have been a lot stronger in places, but I guess if you can’t afford it, make do with the best you can, and there was no-one who was really terrible. I’m not sure we’ll be covering any of the other Giovagnoli / Helgren movies, mostly because people drunkenly flicking through the lists on streaming services don’t tend to check cult movie review sites before clicking “watch now”.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Strike Commando (1987)

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Plucked at random from a huge pile of old VHS tapes, I feel I may have re-discovered a classic, of sorts. If you have any room in your heart for movies with covers like this – where an angry man, often with a headband, fires a large gun, while there’s baddies, a large vehicle and jungle in the background – then you will 100% love this. Made in the Philippines during that country’s domination of the B-movie filming industry (memorably chronicled in the documentary “Machete Maidens Unleashed”), it stars a couple of ISCFC favourites and manages to pack in more stuff into its 106 minutes than most trilogies.

 

The Strike Commandos are a special unit of the US Army, doing all the super-dangerous missions during the Vietnam war. Well, we’re told this more than shown it, because during a particularly tricky mission to…blow up a Vietcong military base, probably?…they’re all captured or killed, with the exception of one man, Mike Ransom (Reb Brown, “Space Mutiny”, “Yor – The Hunter From The Future”), who jumps into the river and manages to escape. I cheered as soon as I saw one of those giant wooden towers so beloved of rural military bases – has there ever been one of those in a movie that didn’t have either get blown up, have someone take a dive off it after getting shot, or both? I was rather surprised they set the unit up as these badasses only to have almost all of them not survive the first five minutes, but there you go. They even mention forming a new Strike Commando unit about halfway through, but that idea’s dropped like a hot potato.

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Anyway, all this nonsense is obviously a trap organised by the US’s own Colonel Radek, as obvious a villain as I’ve ever seen, but the movie tries to sort of pretend it’s not him for a bit. Although, seriously, “Strike Commando” moves at such an insane pace that you’ve barely got time to ponder anyone’s allegiances before you’re already in another location, with a bunch more jungle-gunfire. There were legitimately three points in this movie where my friends and I checked the time, expecting it to be almost over, and the first time was before the halfway point! Ransom has some serious adventures, let me tell you. Actually, let me not tell you, because I kinda want you to track this down and watch it.

 

Okay, I’ll tell you about the first bit, because it’s loads of fun, and because it illustrates something of the oddity of this movie – made in the Far East by an Italian director with an American star. Ransom survives the first mission, and finds himself in a jungle village, which is full of local people who are also opposed to the Vietcong. They ask him to kill a soldier in cold blood, and he straight-up refuses, so they just do it – a smarter movie would have Ransom realise how war makes monsters of us all. But two minutes later he’s friends with everyone and agrees to lead them all to the American lines so they can be rescued! Luckily Ransom’s issue with killing in that particular instance isn’t encountered again in the rest of the movie, as he is a slaughtering machine! Oh, and the village also has one of my favourite “That Guy” actors, Luciano Pigozzi (billed in many movies as Alan Collins), as a friendly French fella. There’s a kid who wants to know about Disneyland, there’s a woman who falls in love with him, every single cliché is trotted out.

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So Ransom escapes the battlefield and goes back to the base a few times, but is sent back out by Radek, who conspires to have him killed out there. There’s some amazing set pieces (including a scene where Ransom is running across a paddy field to get to his helicopter, and the Vietcong keep firing rocket launchers and heavy artillery at him, but always 20 feet behind wherever he is, handily) and an absolute ton of cannon fodder. There’s also a plot of sorts, where Ransom is trying to prove Russian involvement in Vietnam, and Radek is…well, obviously a KGB agent and trying to hide that fact. The Russians are represented by two people – the gigantic Jakoda and the female Olga. I was trying to give Olga a personality, but she sadly doesn’t have one – Ransom kidnaps her to take her back to the US, and basically instantly she reverts from the presumably well-trained soldier to a pathetic simpering damsel in distress, unable to defend herself or hold a gun.

 

As “Strike Commando” rips through its plot, you might – if you were particularly uncharitable – notice one or two “homages” to more popular or well-known jungle-based action movies. It wanders through “Missing In Action”, “Rambo”, “Apocalypse Now” and no doubt dozens of others I’ve not been lucky enough to catch. Okay, it rips them off mercilessly, just in a weird and wonderful way.

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What none of those movies have, though, is a lunatic leading man who spends more time screaming in incoherent rage than he does talking. Reb Brown, memorably mocked by “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, is firing with both barrels here, giving a performance which is crazy even by his standards. Anything remotely bad happens? He screams. Mild disappointment? He screams. Luckily, he appears to be the only person in the entire sub-continent who can shoot straight, as he takes on absolute legions of baddies and mows them down without so much as a second thought; while there are numerous people who not only don’t respond when he starts firing at them, but even those who do, and have a gun, and are extremely close when they start firing (there are lots of these people throughout) are still unable to hit our brave hero.

 

There’s a real cockfight caught on camera, a whole bunch of possibly innocent people getting blown up because they happen to be in the same building as the villain, a Russian calling someone “Americanski!” on multiple occasions, telling a dying child that ice cream grows on trees at Disneyland, grenades being used for every problem, one of the weirdest, worst-shot, dumbest-looking final fights ever, and I’ve still barely scratched the surface of the magnificence that is “Strike Commando”. We have director Bruno Mattei to partially thank for this, previously seen by the ISCFC as director of the abysmal “Hell Of The Living Dead”; but we’ve got genuine bad movie royalty here, with writer Claudio Fragasso (who also wrote “Hell…”). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, “Strike Commando” was written by the same man who gave the world “Troll 2”.

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Now, as I hope you’ve picked up, under no circumstances do I want you to think this is a good film. What it is, though, is a very entertaining one, much like the wonderful “Troll 2”. It has enough plot for three movies, but there’s still filler, weird little segments where it’s just a dull conversation in a room, as if they needed to save money that day. It has a range of bonkers central performances. It never met a cliché it didn’t like.  I can’t praise it highly enough, but, full disclosure: the other two members of this week’s Awesome Movie Monday, both sensible fellows with a fine taste in movies, thought it was terrible.

 

Rating: thumbs up