Blood Diner (1987)

“Blood Diner” is a masterpiece. It was something I found on VHS when I was a kid and watched to death, made my friends watch, and so on. Then I sort of forgot about it for 20 years, until it was released on blu-ray a few years ago. And now I get to enjoy it all over again and tell you, dear reader, about it!

It’s one of those movies where a brief recap of the plot will be enough to put some people off immediately, so I’ll get to that and allow some of you to go about your day. The two nephews of psychopathic spree killer Anwar Namtut, shot by police after slaughtering a troop of cheerleaders in a sexual rage, grow up to follow in the same ancient religious tradition as he. As adults, they resurrect Uncle Anwar, who spends the rest of the movie as a brain in a jar, just one who can talk and has a couple of working eyes. He wants them to perform an ancient ritual to bring back the goddess Sheetar; this mainly involves murdering “immoral” women and using bits of them to stitch together a body for her, using other parts to make a “blood buffet” for a big banquet. They dispose of the rest of the corpses by serving them to people at their vegetarian diner.

And it’s a comedy! There are precious few movies where the leads, who we’re 100% supposed to be on the side of, are cannibals who gleefully murder anyone at the drop of a hat, but Michael and George Tutman (Rick Burks and Carl Crew) are two such leads. It’s clever, too, starting from a well-done twist at the beginning, as a radio tells us that the killer of some cheerleaders is on the loose, and two children cower behind their sofa as a cleaver-wielding lunatic hacks through their front door…only to discover it’s their charming Uncle Anwar, who gives the kids a pep-talk about reading the books he’s given them before walking outside to be mown down by the cops.

Because the main plot is so much fun, the sub-plots are either simply weird-feeling or irrelevant. There’s the rival vegetarian restaurant owner who decides to find out what’s going on – he has a sidekick who’s actually just a grotesque mannequin with a crudely animated mouth, but is treated as a normal human being by the rest of the cast. Then there’s the way George is obsessed with pro wrestling, watching a TV channel while cooking which shows nothing but it, to the point where he signs on to challenge wrestler Jimmy Hitler (who, yes, dresses like Adolf, just with a shock of blond hair). George wins, of course, by partially eating his opponent.

The two cops that make a half-hearted effort to track down the people who’ve murdered and hacked up dozens and dozens of people are perhaps the least interesting of the subplots; being hampered slightly by the fact that the female half of the duo, LaNette La France as tough cop Sheba Jackson, can’t act worth a damn (this appears to be her only movie appearance) and the male half, Roger Dauer as Mark Shepard, is such an unpleasant sleazebag that you want him to fail.

“Blood Diner” was intended as a sequel to the original gore classic, 1963’s “Blood Feast”, but because of lord knows why, it was changed just before production started to be a remake, of sorts. The blood sacrifice, the ancient deity, all that is the same, but it’s safe to say that this movie goes a little further than the original. Heck, it goes a little further than pretty much every horror movie ever made.

I think, if you decide to watch “Blood Diner”, and I wholeheartedly recommend you do, then you’ll be able to tell in the first ten minutes or so if it’s the sort of movie for you. Do you find Uncle Anwar’s gravestone (which reads “I’ll be back”) funny? Do you love movies which really go out of their way to gross you out? Are you not too bothered by the occasional technical shortcomings, such as terrible dubbing in certain scenes? Do you find someone getting their head battered, deep-fried and then knocked off with a broom funny?

It also manages to get grosser and weirder as it goes on, which is quite the feat. The final scene, which features the “Lemurian Feast”, and a band which looks like the guy from Dead Or Alive fronting five Adolf Hitlers, is so far over the top that you almost can’t help but laugh. Or how indifferent their restaurant rival is to his ultimate, blood-drenched, fate.

“Blood Diner” was directed by Jackie Kong, one of the tiniest of tiny handfuls of directing credits in the US for an Asian woman – she also does a commentary on this blu-ray which is pretty interesting. She made a few really odd-looking B-movies in the 80s (The Being, Night Patrol and The Underachievers) which we’ll probably cover soon. The writer Michael Sonye worked for enemy-of-ISCFC Fred Olen Ray in the 80s as well, and he seems to have a bent for comedy (“Star Slammer” looks like it has a few laughs in it).

A lot of the favourite films of my youth look poor with my old man’s eyes – either the jokes are weak, there’s strong racist or sexist threads I didn’t notice back then, or they’re just boring. But “Blood Diner” has definitely aged very well, as horror becomes more about the jump scare and less about throwing so much blood at the screen you start to feel ill. It’s hard to be offended by a movie which appears not to take itself seriously for a single second.

Rating: thumbs up

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Blood Rage (1987)

Although I’m far from the first person to have noticed this (most slasher movie review sites worth the name have talked about it) we may have happened upon a real underappreciated gem of the genre, with proper actors in it and an interesting plot! That it was directed by a guy who only made one other movie – 1977’s “Scalpel” – and written by a guy whose main credits are the two “Zapped!” movies, back when Scott Baio got his own starring vehicles, makes it even more unusual.

“Blood Rage” was released in 1983, heavily edited under the title “Nightmare At Shadow Woods” and not released uncut til a VHS tape in 1987. It stars Louise Lasser, former wife of Woody Allen and co-star of a bunch of his early movies, and she and director John Grissmer argued to such an extent that he quit halfway through and had to be tempted back by the producer – oh, and the producer plays the part of the psychiatrist because the actor they hired for the part never bothered showing up.

It’s also notable-ish for being the screen debut of Ted Raimi, brother of Sam and low-budget horror legend in his own right. He popped up very briefly in “The Evil Dead” but this is the first time you see his actual face, as a guy who sells condoms to another guy at a drive-in in 1974. For that is where the movie starts, with Louise Lasser, 44 years old at the time of filming, out on a date with her twin ten-year-old sons asleep in the back of the car. This is the first hint that we’re not just in typical low-budget slasher territory – why is Louise Lasser starring in this? Why did she think it’d be a good idea to save the few dollars on a babysitter while she tried to have sex with some young stud in the car at a drive-in? Is the father still around?

The kids, thought to be asleep, sneak out when the couple up front are in flagrante, and decide to explore the drive-in. Well, that’s not strictly true. Terry finds an axe and the first available car with a naked couple having sex in it, then brutally murders the guy (and boy oh boy, does this movie have a lot of gore in it). So far, so typical, but then he smears blood all over brother Todd’s face, forces the axe into his hand and pretends Todd did it.

From here things leap forward ten years, with Lasser, now looking close to the age she’s playing, visiting a psychiatrist. Todd, having been locked up this entire time, is finally emerging from his catatonic state, and is remembering he didn’t do it. Maddy (Lasser) freaks out at this information, treating her son as if he was still ten years old. Despite one thinking all this activity would increase surveillance on Todd, he’s able to escape with no problems soon after all this happens.

Terry, on the other hand, finds this out and the same switch that went off when he was ten (although not, apparently, at any point in the intervening decade) goes off again and he starts killing people – initially, it’s sort of vaguely about sex, then he really gets into it and slaughters pretty much everyone in his path. The psychiatrist, for example, is hacked in two while walking through the woods, trying to find Todd, which is such a strange visual that I have to assume it was done as a gag on the way slasher victims usually meet their fates. Also, for fun, look at the hairline on Todd and Terry (played by the same actor, Mark Soper, in an excellent pair of unhinged performances) and see if you think he’s 18 years old.

So, there’s a ton of murder in this movie, and it shows you one, with lots of gory detail, every few minutes. Suck it, previous movie in this review series! (Seriously, though, both this and “Blood Frenzy” feature psychiatrists who get way too involved with murderers, which is an odd coincidence).

But there’s not just murder, there’s some delightful and unusual touches to ponder on while the action rolls along. First up is Maddy’s boyfriend, a wealthy guy who seems to genuinely love her (perhaps it’s the guy from the car ten years previously, it’s never really mentioned). He goes home for the evening after the couple announce their engagement to Terry and is listening to a heavily religious biblical station, which offers to read out scripture for anyone who phones in. He’s murdered by Todd quite early on but not discovered til near the end, and every time we cut to him the radio station is sort of commentating on the action with an appropriate piece of the Bible. It’s weird and fun and I like it.

Next up is Louise Lasser. I’ve no idea how much freedom she had over her own characterisation, but I’m guessing it was a lot, as she’s full on odd. One scene, apropos of nothing, has her sat open-legged on the floor of her kitchen, stuffing food into her mouth with a vacant look in her eyes. She also constantly mistakes which son is which, but appears to have a sexual interest in them both (her final speech is one for the ages).

Which leads into the final thing, a treatment of sex that’s so odd my wife, who’d barely been paying attention, noticed it. Every man in this movie is a sex-phobic prude, while the women are the ones initiating sex and acting super-horny all the time. Again, it’s entirely likely this is deliberate, and the fact it’s never explicitly mentioned is a classy move by a male filmmaker and male writer (that the producer was female might be of interest here).

There’s a lot to entertain the slasher movie enthusiast here. While it could easily be read as just another low-budget gore movie, there’s enough happening on the edges to convince you that these people ought to have been given a few more chances to make movies and see what they came up with. A weird, unsettling, minor classic of the genre.

Rating: thumbs up

Blood Frenzy (1987)

Hal Needham was a prolific filmmaker. Although “Blood Frenzy” was his only horror movie, he made a ton of, er, more adult entertainment – all 25 volumes of the no-doubt edifying “Caught From Behind” series and a whole bunch with quite chaste titles like “Sweet Nothings”, “Layover”, and “Angels of Mercy”, for example. His stuff appears to have had plots and “jizz biz” veterans who could act a little, should that be your cup of tea.

One of our more beloved ISCFC review subjects, Ray Dennis Steckler, made several adult features but he also made tons of “normal” ones too – why Mr Needham decided to give it a try once and only once is a question it looks like we’ll never get answered (his writer, Ted Newsom, scripted a dozen or so pornos before moving on to the sort of trashy sci-fi fare we love to cover here).

This is a cheap-looking movie, whether shot-on-video or some nasty broken 16mm camera is tough to tell – doubly so, watching it on an old VHS tape. After a cold open featuring a kid murdering an abusive parent with a trowel to the neck, lifted from “Halloween”, we move on to a premise lifted straight from “The Hills Have Eyes”, where an RV full of people go for a nice relaxing weekend in the desert between LA and Vegas.

Well, it’s not really a holiday, it’s a group therapy session led by Doctor Barbara Shelley. Perhaps mental health was a more casual, less regulated business back then? Her clients include Rick, a traumatised Vietnam vet; Dory, a predatory lesbian; Dave, just a generally angry guy; Cassie, a nymphomaniac; Jean, a woman petrified of being touched; and Crawford, a cheerful alcoholic. Quite why some of these people got into the orbit of a psychiatrist, or certainly of the same psychiatrist, is one of those things the movie just expects you to take on faith. The “meet the meat” section has never felt more perfunctory.

Dory’s family apparently owns a spot of desert, containing a long-defunct silver mine, so she offers this to the group for their therapy. Tents are set up, Rick and Dave fight, Crawford carries on drinking (how much booze did he take for the weekend to stay as sozzled as he is every second he’s on camera? Who knows); but, astonishingly, it seems Dr Shelley is pretty good at her job and some actual breakthroughs are made. Well, one – Jean gets over her phobia quite quickly.

This whole preamble takes about half an hour, fairly standard in slasher movie standards, but this has the added problem of looking ugly and cheap. Then there’s a murder, then it immediately grinds to a halt for another half an hour. There’s a weird tonal problem which becomes apparent now – some of the characters appear to think they’re in a comedy movie, others don’t, and the rest are just desperately trying to act (you’ll be unsurprised to discover there’s a handful of actors for whom this is their only credit). Are we supposed to be taking the threat seriously? Worried for the characters? Or laughing along with them?

The one interesting bit of casting is Dory, one Lisa Loring. The name may not be familiar to you but her most iconic role probably is – Wednesday Addams from the 60s TV “Addams Family”. This represents one of a tiny handful of movies she made in the late 80s, after a tiny handful of TV appearances in the late 70s, after her childhood fame in the mid 60s.

This isn’t Wednesday Addams, by the way. I ordered the pictures wrong

The reveal / twist, when it comes, is faintly ludicrous. Imagine the number of things that needed to go perfectly well for the killer’s plan to work out, and how much easier it would have been to just kidnap the one person they definitely wanted to kill back in LA. All those group therapy sessions just to get to this point! Imagine if Dr Shelley’s boss had said “I’m absolutely not letting you do this, it’s a ridiculous idea”?

Ultimately, it’s absolutely no different to hundreds and hundreds of other slasher movies from the 80s. The gore is more gleeful and plentiful than the average, perhaps? If you like that sort of thing, you’ll probably have a tolerable time, but unlike a few of the curios we’ve unearthed here, deserves to remain in the obscurity which it currently languishes in.

Rating: thumbs down

Bloodsuckers From Outer Space (1984)

Welcome, dear reader, to another mini review series here at ISCFC, “movies I own that start with the word Blood”. There’ll be all sorts of genres, all sorts of budgets, even one animated movie (I think) but at the end of it you’ll have a pile more opinions to inform your movie viewing experience.

“Bloodsuckers From Outer Space” is the first movie from Glen Coburn, who’d go on to make a few beloved-ish indies, “Tabloid” and “Hollywood Deadbeat”. But this movie is firmly in the tradition of the mid-80s straight-to-video horror explosion, and could be (MST3K joke alert!) compared to such classics as “Return of the Living Dead”. Well, the comparison would be “Return of the Living Dead was really good. This movie sucked”.

Rural Texas is the location for all the fun and games, and we start in gentle fashion with a farmer, doing farming things. Then there’s a wind, although it’s more a noise than actual wind (the trees in the background are entirely immobile, for example), and said farmer starts retching before collapsing, blood spewing from his mouth. A few seconds later and he’s up! But with a grey face, hideous distended black veins and a mean look in his eyes.

Now, we could have gone either way at this point. It’s cheap but cheerful, and as the opening credits play there’s one of my all-time favourite things, the custom-written theme song (“They’re Out For Blood”). I have a lot of love in my heart for micro-budget regional horror-comedy, but things go off the rails quite quickly. I’m going to avoid just recapping everything, because who cares? There’s two brothers, one of whom works at “Research City”, an army-related science place, and the other of whom, Jeff, is a photographer for a local paper. Jeff is our hero, sort of, although he’s such a whiny little git that when his car breaks down at the side of the road he smashes it with a crowbar and just abandons it. He’s really difficult to get behind.

Luckily, into his life comes a woman, Julie (Laura Ellis, in her only movie appearance) who just picks him up from the side of the road. He expresses a desire for a joint, she has a tank of nitrous in the back seat, and they both happily huff that while getting to know each other. It’s the magic sort of nitrous that has absolutely zero effect, but they’re happy I guess. Anyway, they go and have sex, and the movie becomes them versus a rapidly multiplying horde of the undead.

What you’re most likely to find out about this movie is that it really tries to be funny. There are endless glances to camera from the main pair, and stuff like Julie saying “oh no, not another kung fu scene” and just walking out of shot. I wish they’d really steered into it, “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” side, and had the cast jaw-jacking with the crew and messing around like that, but they limit it to a few limp gags. I did laugh a few times, definitely, such as the discussion of careers that goes on and the polite wave their zombie aunt gives them as they drive off, so I’d call it a mixed bag maybe? The final gag is a pretty good one too.

As our heroes go through the most bleak-looking bit of rural Texas I’ve ever seen (I googled one of the small towns they filmed in, in 1984, and that same block of stores is there today, even more run-down and miserable), we eventually sort of find out why random people have been turned into blood-sucking monsters by a gust of evil wind. They’re aliens who drifted in, in dust form, and are trying to take over our planet. Probably. They seem really interested in Jeff, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, so you can ponder that if you like. And there’s a subplot with a trigger happy General wanting to use a nuke to clear the entire area, but it’s best not thought about as it’s just terrible.

It’s definitely a mixed bag. I mean, for a movie made for pretty much no money by an amateur cast, on weekends and whenever time could be snatched, it’s pretty damn good, but it’s still probably not good enough to be enjoyed. Even though the rest of the crew didn’t like her due to her reluctance to go topless (having been hired, allegedly, due to her being okay with nudity), Laura Ellis is a surprisingly good equal partner in the mayhem and it’s a shame she appears to have been turned off by the whole movie business. It’s incredibly cheap and moderately cheerful.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Night Of The Demons (1988)

Our Kevin Tenney (Witchboard 1 and 2, Witchtrap) season continues with a movie you probably think you’ve seen, but almost certainly haven’t. It’s because the title sounds like a dozen other horrors from around the same time, and the plot – teens visit haunted house – is so generic that I’m going to struggle to do much recapping in a few paragraphs time; even I was pretty sure I’d seen it.

There is a problem, though. While Tenney and writer Joe Augustyn (more on him later) had some cool set piece ideas, and a decent story, they couldn’t figure out how to start it. I’m wracking my brain and still don’t have any idea why…anyway, let’s just gloss over that bit (much as they did).

Angela (Mimi Kinkaid) decides to stage a Halloween party in Hull House, which is a former mortuary. Even though she’s seen as a little kooky by her classmates, a few of them turn up, expecting the goth girl to throw a good party. Perhaps she just wanted to throw a party and make some new friends? Who knows. Everyone seems happy enough to attend and there’s some fun archetypes too – horny slob Stooge, party girl Suzanne (Linnea Quigley, who looks a long way removed from high school – to be fair, she initially didn’t go to audition, believing she looked too old herself), prudish final girl Judy (Cathy Podewell), hoodlum Sal, a jock, a hot cheerleader-type, and Rodger (Alvin Alexis), who appears to be absolutely useless at the beginning, as Stooge’s sidekick, but comes into his own.

Hull House has all sorts of creepy history, so when the party starts flagging (the stereo breaks, the lights start going out), Angela decides to hold a séance, and this releases a demon – obviously – which manifests first as a grotesque disembodied head before possessing Suzanne. Also, the demonic spirit can be passed along through kissing, or murder, and passed along it is! You know how it goes.

Aside: the movie was originally going to be called “Halloween Party” before the more famous “Halloween” franchise threatened to sue them; but the introductory demon scene, as we get a POV shot of it emerging from the depths of the basement to possess some teens, and indeed the possession itself, is straight out of “The Evil Dead”. I guess Raimi couldn’t be bothered to sue.

What’s “interesting” about this is how leisurely it is about getting to the reason people would watch an 80s B-horror – death and mayhem. The first actual on-screen death doesn’t happen til 58 minutes, and the demon doesn’t even show up til the halfway point. So, do you really like people wandering around an extremely dark house and arguing? If so, there’s about two-thirds of this movie catering to you – everyone else might have a tougher time.

Tenney has been known to have some relatively weak actors in central roles, but that’s not the case here, and I enjoyed his ensemble. Hal Havins as Stooge is a fun character, William Gallo as Sal gives a potential one-dimensional character some real depth, and…okay, Judy and Rodger are pretty bland, but the rest of the cannon-fodder are excellent. They’re not always given the greatest dialogue, but they try.

We’ve also compliments Tenney’s death effects in the past, and they’re also in full effect here. Eyes get gouged out, people get burned alive, limbs get hacked off, and for the relatively low budget, there’s some superb work going on. The effect I liked the most, though, was relatively simple, and involved the characters switching from their demon-possessed form to their “normal” one, done off-camera – so they’ll turn and attack someone, but when they escape, turn to look after them running away as their old selves. It’s simple but very effective, for me.

It’s quite difficult to summon up much energy for such an incredibly hackneyed plot, though – I could have started this review site in 2012 and written the same number of reviews, just of “teens go to a haunted house” spam-in-a-can movies, and I’d still be going strong today (962 reviews and counting!) Tenney has some flair, and shows it here, but you’re still just waiting round for the deaths and the reveals and so on, and with a first half where so little happens, it’s difficult to recommend it too highly.

Still, we have a couple of sequels, one of which was directed by ISCFC veteran Brian Trenchard-Smith (Dead End Drive In, the Leprechaun sequels, Drive Hard), so I’m cautiously optimistic.

One final word, about writer Joe Augustyn. He was evidently a very good guy, and did not like the racism of Hollywood, so made a point of casting POC in lead roles in his movies. Good on you, Joe! If only you’d given Rodger a bit more personality!

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Cameron’s Closet (1988)

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This is another of our 80s video shop “classics”. Chances are, if you remember this movie at all, it’s probably on the horror shelves of your local video shop – and, if you’re like me, you looked at it, went “this sounds rubbish. Who cares about a closet?” and put it back in favour of something with zombies and gore in it. But, we’ve decided the best way to drive traffic to the site is to review stuff like this, almost impossible to get hold of and guaranteed remembered fondly by no-one; so here we all are. “Cameron’s Closet” was a “Monday Night Movie Club” selection, where a group of my friends gather at my place every week and we take it in turns to pick a movie to watch. I picked “Night Life” last week, so we’ve got a pretty poor recent batting average; this is fellow ISCFC reviewer @kilran’s, so if you want someone to blame, he’s your man.

 

Cameron is a kid, and he has a closet (to help non-American readers, they have extremely large closets as a matter of course). He has a monster of some sort living in it, all large, very ugly, glowing eyes; but his Dad seems not to believe in its existence. One day, trying to track down the noises he’s been hearing from Cameron’s room, he tries to go up into the attic while, for some reason, using a machete to open the attic hatch. Just give it a push mate! Anyway, he falls off the ladder and the conveniently placed machete slices his head clean off. The Dad, by the way, will be familiar to John Waters fans – it’s Tab Hunter, from “Polyester” (oh, and he was the biggest movie star in the world for a few years in the late 50s).

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Anyway, fast forward an unspecified amount of time, and Cameron’s got a stepdad – Gary Hudson, one of the great “That Guy” actors. He’s hostile in the classic evil stepdad way to Cameron, and – spoiler! – doesn’t last very long. The real battle is Sam the cop (Cotter Smith) and Nora the psychiatrist (Mel Harris, “Thirtysomething”) against the monster in the closet. They, naturally, don’t believe him at first, but luckily the beast isn’t too subtle.

 

With the best will in the world, it’s just not very interesting. We discover that Tab Hunter was a scientist, and his experiments on Cameron’s mind caused him to summon the creature forth – it feels like it was written first as either a straight horror or a psychological thriller, but was hastily rewritten into a sort of mish-mash of the two when the producers were all “hey, this movie was pretty successful at the box office last week” (I have a relatively low opinion of producers). And if the movies have taught us one thing, it’s that you don’t upset children with psychic powers.

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The cast is solid, all soap opera types (I spotted a few people from the “Dallas” / “Dynasty” stable). Smith and Harris, who were married in real life at the time, don’t have an ounce of on-screen chemistry, even though Harris is great. The one interesting name attached to this movie is Carlo Rambaldi, who created E.T. He’d clearly burned out on that, because by the time it came to create the closet-monster, he just decided on a mass of painted rubber with sharp teeth and glowing eyes.

 

Because we sort of know the mystery from the very beginning, we’re just twiddling our thumbs waiting for the denouement (a psychic lazer-fight between Cameron and the thing from the recesses of his psyche). If you’re still paying 100% attention by that point, you’re a better person than I.

 

There’s one scene where someone Cameron hates is thrown through a window, flies a good 100 feet through the air and crashes through the hood of a car, dead. Now, how are we supposed to read this scene? You’d really be stretching to call it the monster’s fault, but of course this being a studio movie, the kid is perfect and innocent. It just appears that no-one bothered to consider that some of this stuff might be Cameron’s doing. Ah, I don’t know, I feel like I’m giving this entire thing way too much thought.

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An interesting name attached to this movie is Carlo Rambaldi, who created E.T. He’d clearly burned out on that, because by the time it came to create the closet-monster, he just decided on a mass of painted rubber with sharp teeth and glowing eyes. Here’s a photo, because I don’t care about spoiling a near 30 year old horror movie that’s barely available and barely competent. The rest of the makeup is fine, I suppose, but it’s all very meh.

 

Pretty short review, eh? When I can write nearly 2000 words about the glory of Neil Breen’s “I Am Here….Now” but barely scrape 800 with this, it’s not that the robo-zombie-gorilla-space-Jesus movie is that much better, it’s just much more interesting. That was the insane mumblings of one man, this is a committee-created slice of barely passable entertainment that I’m positive not a single person would shed a tear for if its existence was forever deleted from the universe.

 

Rating: thumbs down