The Dead Hate The Living! (2000)

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You’ve got to get excited about a film with an exclamation point in the title! It promises excitement, adventure, and really wild things! Additionally, this one promises the dead, hating the living!

I was completely fooled by the opening of this film – a stew of rubbish special effects, a doctor who appears to be a little too much into corpses, and a remarkably unpleasant sex scene where a reanimated corpse eats and then has sex with the doctor – because it’s a film within a film. Boo! Saying that, the genre of “horror films set on the set of horror films” is surprisingly large – off the top of my head, “Return To Horror High”, “Shadow Of The Vampire”, “Terror Firmer”, and “Mute Witness”, but there’s loads more.

The film this bears the most resemblance to, at least initially, is Troma’s modern classic “Terror Firmer”, released the year before. The crew is an independent, low-budget one, and damn proud of it, breaking into an abandoned hospital to make what appears to be soft-core zombie porn. It’s a family affair – a brother (the director) and two sisters (star of the first scene, and snooty older sister who is paying for everything); the special effects guy is the brother’s best friend from school. Their conversations throw  references to other horror films around casually, too, although none of them seem to have a clue about the zombies that end up attacking them.

This film hinges on a decision which is a long way beyond stupid, and I need to break it down. While filming, they discover the mad scientist’s lair we were shown in a video flashback at the beginning, a Rob Zombie crossed with Christoph Waltz lookalike who’s managed to create zombies…then stuck himself in a large, ornate, upright coffin. So, an unspecified time later, they find his corpse, and, after a bit of debate, decide to use it in the film. This, of course, activates the coffin, which not only brings Christoph Zombie back to life, but opens a portal to a zombie dimension.

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Let’s look at the possibilities. First up, you can phone the police, and then local TV. They turn up and you say “we’re independent filmmakers, but even we don’t want to disrespect a corpse. By the way, follow us on Twitter for information on when the film comes out”, then the local TV station will probably do a follow-up when the film comes out – you might even get some national publicity.

Or, do you use the corpse in your film? Even ignoring that the family of the dead person would sue you, I’m pretty sure messing with a corpse is illegal in some way, so your film would be evidence of a crime and would be impounded, rendering all the time and money you’d spent on it pointless. Or you can choose not to tell people about the corpse, which means he’s just a prop and your garbage zombie film gets ignored like all the other garbage zombie films.

That’s the biggest problem, I’d say, but there are others. The first 45 minutes of the film is unbearably slow, and you end up just watching people make a film. This seems to be a recurring problem with Full Moon (see reviews passim), and the sad thing is that being students of horror such as they are, they really ought to have a better idea how the great horrors are paced. The first 15 minutes of the film have you believing that the more timid of the two sisters is going to be the star, but she just sort of wanders off about halfway through, barely to be seen again, and the central relationship feels like it was written by a single teenager who thinks that’s how adult relationships go. Perhaps most annoyingly of all, when the main bad guy is directing his minions, he says “Kill them all…slowly”. Literally every single person who gets killed from that point is offed quickly. Your cool-sounding lines need to be backed up!

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As the best possible review line about this film has already been taken (“the living hate The Dead Hate The Living”, which I’ll never be able to top) I’d best think of something positive to say. The sad thing is, this film has a heck of a lot to like about it! The central friendship is believable and well done, and the actual zombies, when they turn up, look great. The last half hour of the film is full of excitement too, and there’s a lot of good Full Moon comedy, but it’s too little, too late.

Rating: thumbs down

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Robot Wars (1993)

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Sadly for this film, a few years after its release the British game show of the same name came along and ruined most internet searches for it. In fact, if you look at this film on IMDB the thumbnail picture is from that game show. Perhaps someone at IMDB doesn’t like Full Moon very much, which would explain several of their films having synopses which don’t match the finished product at all.

It’s also not a sequel to “Robot Jox”, despite the poster you can see above. Curiously, along with other non-sequel “Crash and Burn”, with the slightest tweaking it could have been made into one, but never mind that! We have a film to discuss. Don Michael Paul, the man with too many first names, is Drake, the pilot of what appears to be the last surviving mega-robot, which is related to the great toxic waste problem of the past in some way. It’s a scorpion-looking thing, and is now used to take tourists to and from Crystal Vista, a perfectly preserved town circa 1993. Drake is the super-cool one and his co-pilot Stumpy is the loveable but tough veteran.

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The reason they need a heavily armed mega-robot to ferry passengers around is the still continuing guerrilla war. Our good guys are part of “North Hemi”, but there’s also the “Centros” and “Eastern Alliance”. The Eastern Alliance is sort of friendly but the Centros are using the weapons they bought from the Easterns to attack North Hemi…

 
It cannot be said enough – Don Michael Paul is absolutely awful in this. He’s still acting now, and he also writes screenplays, but for whatever reason he seems to be taking part in a “who’s the biggest overactor?” contest here. His cockiness comes across as near-psychopathy, and he’s like the sleaziest pickup artist imaginable (bordering on flat-out harassment) when he meets investigative journalist Leda; when he’s talking with his boss about the terrorist attacks from the Centros, he’s ANGRY and DOESN’T HAVE TIME FOR YOUR GARBAGE. Watching him, you wonder what they were aiming for – well, it wasn’t “good”, that’s for sure.

You’ll recognise some of the other faces in this. The two main reps of the Eastern Alliance are Danny Kamekona and Yuji Okumoto, names you won’t recognise but faces you will. Basically, if you saw a film with Oriental baddies in it from between 1985 and 2000, chances are it was one of those guys. Leda is Barbara Crampton, a Full Moon repertory player; and Leda’s friend Annie is Lisa Rinna, now much better known as a soap actress and reality TV star. She’s a beautiful woman with a unique look in this, but if you see her now she appears to have been replaced by a skinny plastic mannequin of herself. It’s sad, but it seems US soaps are littered with women who have been told surgery is the only way to keep working, and they all start to look alike.

The film progresses merrily to its crescendo, which is a fight between the hijacked scorpion-robot and the missing-believed-scrapped ultimate mega-robot, and there’s some fun to be had. The miniature effects are great, as before; they managed to spell “hydraulic” right this time; there are a few fairly subtle poetry references dropped into the script, and the middle bit isn’t anywhere near as boring as most Full Moon films. The idea of them being tourists in a 1993 theme park is a refreshing way of avoiding having to decorate too many sets, too.

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Of course, that’s not all. The sexism is truly staggering – Drake’s pursuit of Leda (who’s charmingly described as having some “amazing sweater puppies”) would get him fired for sexual harassment from any job, and she’s treated as a prize to be awarded for job competence, not as a person with feelings of her own. The timescale of the film seems cock-eyed, as well, with Drake basically quitting his job, only to turn up at a high-level party for the Eastern diplomats in the next scene, without a care in the world. It feels some establishment of their relationship is missing too, as Leda is used as bait to get Drake back into the film…but the problem comes from him only having met her twice and her showing basically zero interest in him to that point. How much would you risk for a faint chance of sex with someone you’d met for the first time earlier that day? Given the film, minus credits, barely scrapes 70 minutes, they had plenty of time to add some stuff in there.

Here ends the curious case of the three giant robot movies from Full Moon. I think I’d give the nod to “Crash and Burn” as the best of the three, but there’s not a lot in it, and provided you’re in the right frame of mind with the right group of friends, you’ll find something to enjoy in all of them. With this one, you even get to enjoy the directorial stylings of the father of the Band brothers, Albert, making a rare foray into the director’s chair.

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club – Robot Jox (1989)

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Before I get to 40, I’m catching up on all the films I really ought to have watched when I was a teenager. After posting a review of “Arena”, this was suggested to me, and as it’s free to watch on Youtube, I felt it would be rude not to. Looks like we can’t stay away from director Stuart Gordon, either – the ISCFC has previously covered “Space Truckers” and “Fortress”.

A nuclear war has killed or poisoned great swathes of humanity, and we’ve all sort of decided to have no more nukes, no more armies, and no more wars. Any territorial disputes will now be handled by one-on-one giant robot combat, which is televised, has betting, etc. The pilots of these robots are superstars, the “robot jox” of the title, as the future is too cool to spell it “jocks”, evidently. The best of the “American” pilots is Achilles, who’s one win away from retirement; and the best “Russian” is Alexander, who is really quite evil.

During his last fight, Achilles accidentally kills hundreds of spectators watching from the bleachers, and this sends him into a downward spiral, at the same time as a group of genetically engineered “genjox” are being trained to pilot the robots. Chief among these is Athena, who is introduced when Achilles suggests that rather than give a sperm sample to help produce the next generation of genjox, he could leave a deposit right at the source (charming). Oh, and there’s a mole in the good guys’ side, but who could it be? Will Achilles eventually step up and save Alaska from falling into Russkie hands?

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The production of this film sounds like it had a few setbacks. The scriptwriter was Joe Haldeman, author of one of my favourite sci-fi novels, “The Forever War”, and his description of the finished product was “it’s as if I’d had a child who started out well and then sustained brain damage.” Because the robots are very obviously ripoffs of the Transformers toy line, there was a struggle between making a film for kids or adults, and it would appear the kids’ side, led by Gordon, won out.

There are interesting ideas which pop up all over the place, though, and there’s plenty to like. Pregnancy is very important in the nuclear-devastated world they live in, and there are posters all over the place encouraging women to do their bit. The idea of a world so disgusted by traditional war that they resort to an idea like this is worth exploring too, even if it’s a bit of a silly idea and impractical in a world where there are still competing and incompatible ideologies. The cast is strong, and the miniature special effect work still looks great now, which couldn’t be said for the CGI of the period. The plot, while rather silly, is decently paced, and giant robot fighting is a heck of a lot of fun. Athena is not your typical leading lady – skinny, black, short hair, remains fully clothed – but Achilles lusts after her anyway, which I quite liked.

The problems start if you think about it for more than ten seconds. The mole in the organisation is so obvious they might as well have a neon “baddie” sign floating over their heads, and Achilles’ “I quit – I spiral downwards – events force me to return” arc feels completely tossed off. And things get really, really shambolic towards the end, in the final robot fight, where things happen because it would make a cool visual, not because it would make any sense. Also, If you can figure out if the good guys’ “secret weapon” worked or not, you’re a better man than I. Lastly, it suffered from release delays – made in 1987, while the Cold War was still a thing, due to bankruptcies it didn’t get released until November 1990, by which time the USSR was crumbling and the idea of the world being destroyed by two big armies duking it out had started to look a little ridiculous.

All in all, it’s not a great film. If you have fond memories of it, I’d suggest it’s from you being a kid and not from this being any good. For fun, you can imagine this as a prequel to “Pacific Rim”, though, which it bears a fairly strong resemblance to. I’ll leave you with the film’s message of peace, the “crash and burn” symbol of the film, which looks for all the world like they’ve got ports to connect a TV to an old computer console on their hands:

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Rating: thumbs down (sorry, picture above)

Youtube Film Club – Arena (1989)

Cool poster, even if that 1000 years is actually 50, according to the film

Cool poster, even if that 1000 years is actually 50, according to the film

Have you ever wondered what some sort of “Rocky” / “Bloodsport” thing, set in the Mos Eisley cantina from “Star Wars”, would look like? Well, wonder no longer!

This film stars some TV sci-fi royalty. Armin Shimerman and Marc Alaimo from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” both have large roles, as does Claudia Christian from “Babylon 5”. Also, I was slightly surprised to discover, it’s from the Full Moon stable! Okay, it was Charles Band’s previous company, Empire, but I’m lumping it all under the one name. Did those guys make every sci-fi and horror film from the early 80s to the late 90s? Follow the tag at the end to read our huge array of Full Moon reviews.

It’s a space station, somewhere, and it’s 2000 years in the future, with inhabitants packed in like sardines. There are all manner of aliens there – mostly of the rubber mask variety, which I like. You’re not watching an old sci-fi film on VHS expecting mega-effects, but it’s all colourful and fun. The main reason for the station’s existence seems to be “The Arena”, where fights, broadcast round the galaxy, take place. Sadly, we don’t get to see a ton of different fights, but when we do they’re pretty good fun. The champion is a particularly mean-looking alien called Horn, who along with his manager Rogor, dominate life on the station.

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Into this story is dropped Steve Armstrong, a fast-food cook, and his boss Shorty, who has four arms. When he’s in a long shot, his arms are just under his cloak, but whenever he’s in close up there’s clearly someone stood behind him making all four arms work. This is a pretty funny visual, and they use it all the time, even in scenes which are supposed to be serious. Brilliant! Anyway, he’s a fighter but couldn’t get into the Arena, even though he’s obviously an amazing fighter, and it takes him injuring one of the Arena guys in a bar-room brawl for him to get noticed by one of the trainers.

So, we’ve got all sorts of different aliens, that lovely late 80s vision of what the future would look like, and a bunch of your standard boxing movie characters and tropes. My favourite bit is from the character listed only in the credits as “Space Comic”, like the cheesiest Vegas lounge act you’ve ever seen, cracking mother-in-law jokes. Oh, and how the music of the future is like atonal easy listening music. I’ve been known to groan when seeing Richard Band’s name as doing the music for a film, as he nearly always sounds the same, but with this one he really nailed it.

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I loved this film. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, the plot is solid if not too original, and it’s nice to see a woman playing the grizzled trainer role, and her gender not really being an issue. There’s not much of an arc to it, in that Steve doesn’t have to learn or progress in order to get from where he is at the beginning to where he is at the end, but it’s pretty small potatoes when it comes to this, another solidly entertaining movie from the golden era of Full Moon. And the title you win is pretty amazing, too – the victorious fighter at the end of the film (no spoilers) is described as the “New Undefeated Champion of the Universe”. No half measures, and I like that.

Rating: thumbs up

Jean Louise O’Sullivan interview

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Many thanks to Jean Louise O’Sullivan for agreeing to do an interview with us. The question I really wanted to ask – “so, I’ve watched Jester in 11 films and I don’t think he’s done a damn thing in any of them. What’s that about?” I decided to leave til I get an interview with Charles Band, Full Moon head honcho. She’s my favourite thing about “Puppet Master X: Axis Rising”, so I ask her a little about that, a little about her other work, and hopefully try and make her laugh so she doesn’t think I’m some lunatic obsessed with the minutiae of low-budget films. (our notes on the interview will follow in the comments)

· There’s quite a few actors and actresses who appear in multiple Full Moon films. Is it a good place to work, or do they just pay well?

Full Moon is a great place to work. When I work on a project with them I’m getting the opportunity to work with some my closest friends and favorite crew members in the entertainment industry. The reason I work with Full Moon time and time again is simply because I love making movies.

· Were you a fan of low-budget and genre films before starting work in them? If so, any favorites stick in your mind?

I have always been a huge fan of low-budget films. The B movie world has long been a place where like minded people can come together and experiment with making new kinds of movies. It’s very exciting for me to work on a project where the crew comes together to make something cool with limited resources. Some of my favorite low-budget films are; Little Shop of Horrors, Dolls, Evil Dead 2, The Masque of the Red Death, Toxic Avenger, Puppet Master, and Trancers.
· Now, this might only be of interest to film nerds like me, but were the historical problems ever mentioned on the Puppet Master X set – that the US didn’t join the war til 1941, and that kamikaze pilots weren’t a thing til 1944, while the film was set in 1939?

We shot Puppet Master X in 10 days… there was no time to worry about or discuss any of the historical problems. I think everyone was more focused on trying to get the new puppet ,Blitzkrieg, to work properly. That thing had a mind of it’s own!
· Is that last question a bit ridiculous given that it’s a film series about puppets that kill people?

Puppet homicide is definitely more the focus of this film than presenting a faithful rendition of World War II history.
· Have you got any news about a third film in the “Axis” sequence, or is a relaunch of the series more likely to be coming next?

I don’t know if there will be another Puppet Master film. I was thrilled to be a part of the tenth installment and I know Charlie Band was happy with how the film turned out. Ten is a nice round number for a popular franchise like Puppet Master. But if the Full Moon fans are looking to see more puppet murders, we can’t disappoint them.

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* I’ve been trying to think of names of sequels for the Ginderdead Man franchise, and I’ve come up with Gingerdead Man: The Serial Killer’s Guide To The Galaxy (set in space, naturally). Or “There Will Be Ginger”, set in the old days of mining. If you pitched them a potential sequel, what name do you think you’d go for?

LOL I would love to see those movies! I think if I was going to pitch a gingerdead man film it would be something like:
‘Gingerdead Man, the Golden Years; Salt and Paprika’ – it would be an independent art film where the the cookie is at the end of his life. He reflects on all the bad decisions he’s made and ponders the existence of heaven and hell. Ultimately he comes to terms with the chaos he’s inflicted during his incarnation as a cookie. Then Gary Busy devours the stale cookie. Fin. It will for sure get nominated for things.
* I notice you’ve worked on “Tim and Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job”. How odd was the experience compared to how odd their show is?

My experience working with Tim and Eric was Awesome! Seriously, those guys have the best time ever making that show. It was really fun working with them. The studio we filmed in was kind of dumpy. It almost felt like we were shooting in their parents garage or something. That dumpy atmosphere made the focus so much less about “Wow! I’m working in Television Production!” and so much more about “Ok, we have a bunch of costumes and props and stuff. We’re all here to make something crazy and weird. How crazy and weird can we get with this?” It was fun. The team they work with is super interesting and creative.
* You produced as well as starred in “The Bates Haunting”. Was the double duty interesting, and is it something you’d like to do again?

Double duty on ‘The Bates Haunting’ was challenging to say the least. Honestly, I have never worked so hard in my life. But despite the hard work I would love to produce another film, and my next project is not far off. I have been reading a lot of screenplays and working on a few scripts of my own. It’s all about finding a project I can make well.
* What’s coming up next for you (in other words, please plug your upcoming films)?

‘The Bates Haunting’ is currently available on DVD in Walmart and other major retailers.
You can catch me playing a nurse on season two of Jim Jefferies show ‘Legit’ on FXX. I play Melanie Parker in ‘AlphaHouse’ an upcoming Asylum film being released April 1st of this year. I’m also working on a new project with Full Moon… but that is all top secret for the time being.

Get yourself a copy of my latest release
http://www.amazon.com/The-Bates-Haunting-Jean-Louise-OSullivan/dp/B00DMOVIRK

Follow Jean Louise
https://twitter.com/OJeanLouiseO

Bad Channels (1992)

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No matter how many Full Moon films I see, it feels like there’ll always be more. After reading about “Demonic Toys” earlier, I realise this film is billed as the connecting tissue between it and “Dollman”, so before I review “Dollman vs. Demonic Toys”, being the completist that I am, I really ought to review this too.

A tiny AM radio polka station in the US discovers that it has a national licence to broadcast, thanks to there being no other stations operating in the 66 band frequency (superstition, apparently), and installs a super-powered transmitter to take advantage of this – as well as hiring Dangerous Dan O’Dare, a shock-jock who’s coming off a 6-month ban by the FCC. There’s a cable news station there to cover it, and we get the rest of the cast sketched in quickly – field reporter Lisa Cummings (played by MTV VJ Martha Quinn, in what must have been stunt casting 20 years ago); the station manager and the tech guy; plus groups of radio-listening fans at the local truck stop and hospital.

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Unfortunately, a couple of aliens decide to pop up and…their motivation is never made clear. They take over the radio station but let Dan carry on broadcasting as they transform the tiny building into a goo-covered mess – his calls for help, coming just after the end of his first on-air stunt, are seen as a joke by everyone listening.

There’s a decent sense of humour at work here, one of the common features in Full Moon’s early output. Peanut, the owner of the truck stop, made me laugh, and Dan’s antics are frequently laugh-with, rather than laugh-at-the-awfulness-of, funny. Lisa’s transformation into a one-woman band, as her cameraman is an early victim of the aliens, is a great visual too. They really go all-out, though, when the aliens start using the airwaves to capture and miniaturise women. My wife’s explanation was for repopulating their homeworld, but they really look very different and I’m not sure the parts would match (if you know what I mean).

Anyway, the aliens broadcast special signals to the women they want to capture, briefly turning their lives into a music video (apart from the real-life MTV VJ, who gets nothing, presumably a little joke on their part), while the people around them just see someone start to act crazy and then pop out of existence. The girl from the diner gets some truly hideous cock-rock, the high school band member gets a Nirvana clone (complete with a video so close to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” I’m surprised no-one got sued) and the Nurse gets some sort of Primus-alikes. And boy, do they get them – at minute 3 of the last music video, I was unable to shake the idea that this was a little padding from the Full Moon boys, expert cannibalisers of their own work.

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Yes, that’s a miniaturised hospital trolley

Dan and his engineer try to save the day, but the aliens smack them around…sometimes. Other times, they’re allowed to just wander around the studio, and they’re also allowed to say whatever they want on the air – including Dan’s increasingly hysterical request for everyone to turn their radios off. This is all a bit odd, to be honest.

Are relationships formed and will the aliens get away with their (presumably diabolical) plan? Was the link to “Dollman” planned beforehand or did someone go “hey, we have miniaturised people in this film, fancy a crossover?” All these questions I will leave to you to discover for yourselves. But, like so much of Full Moon’s output when they were still getting funding from Paramount, this is a decent little film. They can make a little go a long way, and my bad memories of those later Puppet Master films are already as a distant dream.

As an aside, Blue Oyster Cult did the soundtrack for this film, but not any of the songs performed by the bands inside the film (go figure). There’s a brilliant review of their soundtrack from Classic Rock magazine, a beauty of language I couldn’t hope to compare to, as they call it “a grotesque mistake”.

Rating: thumbs up

Demonic Toys (1991)

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This film gives you rich stuff to ponder right in the opening credits, and first is “based on an original idea by Charles Band”. The limit of the idea was a poster, apparently, and this sort of impresses me, that Band can get a poster turned into a film. Secondly is the screenwriting credit – David S Goyer! Goyer has written “Man Of Steel” and Christopher Nolan’s three Batman films, among many others, and this was his second script.

80s soap queen Tracy Scoggins is Judith, a cop, in this, and she and her partner are undercover, attempting to buy some guns from a couple of low-rent arms dealers. I don’t want to give the script too much credit, but the main characters are quickly and simply introduced – as well as this scene, we get a security guard at a toy warehouse and the guys at the fast-food chicken place he calls up, which boils down to Mark, the delivery guy who’s friends with the security guard. Oh, how I wish more films could do all that in as little time as this one does.

Judith’s partner (who’s also her boyfriend) gets shot just after he finds out he’s going to be a dad, and the film then moves entirely inside the toy warehouse. Her dreams of two kids playing a game of cards combines with the appearance of a very creepy kid, the personification of some demon or other who wants to hijack a pregnancy so he can be born and take over the world.

So far, so good and toy-free, right? Well, the demon is so weak all he can do is animate the toys found lying around the warehouse, and that’s when that good Full Moon flavour comes right on through. Charles Band must have had some very odd experience as a kid, and it’s burned itself right onto his brain and out through his films. He’s got Puppet Master, this series of films, something called “Blood Dolls” and a few others…without him, the world of films of tiny things attacking people would be greatly poorer. We’ve got Baby Oopsy Daisy, Grizzly Teddy, Jack Attack, and Mr. Static in this one, although Mr. Static sort of sucks.

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As a small aside, don’t try and understand the continuity of the Full Moon universe. We have this film, and then a couple of years later an unholy stew of the toys, Dollman and a character from “Bad Channels” called “Dollman v. Demonic Toys”; ten years after that comes “Puppet Master v. Demonic Toys”; then in 2010 “Demonic Toys 2”, which ignores the events of those two “versus” films. Oh, and a few of them pop up in the first “Evil Bong”. Ah, I give up.

Can Judith, Mark, the security guard, the woman they find in the air vents and the remaining arms dealer fight their way out of the warehouse before the demon can complete his ritual? Well, as we progress towards finding out, we also realise this is a surprisingly interesting film. The ebbs and flows are well laid out, the atmosphere is genuinely creepy at times, you understand where everyone is and why they’re doing what they’re doing and while it’s certainly not perfect (there are a lot of plotlines in this, and a few of them get dropped without a further mention; one of the baddies gets a quip off after being shot in the head; someone picks a handcuff lock with a knife, surely impossible) if you’re at all fond of the Full Moon-iverse, as I am, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

Rating: thumbs up