The Strike (2001)

Our friend Donald Farmer made movies in an interesting array of styles, after his early, low-budget horror. There’s sexy thrillers (“Compelling Evidence”), sexy horror (“An Erotic Vampire In Paris”), historical (“Blood and Honor”), child-friendly (“Space Kid”), comedy (“Bollywood and Vine”, which I think remains unreleased) and revenge thriller (“Body Shop”), among more horror.

Also, in 2002, he made a martial arts movie! Well, I imagine his friend Andre Buckner, who’d appeared in several Farmer movies to this point, came to him with the script and asked him to direct (Buckner would go on to direct a couple of his own movies in the years to come), so add another string to the bow of one of the more individual genre directors of the last forty years.

I’ve seen a lot of martial arts movies, and you can get a fairly good sense of where things are going quite quickly, but “The Strike” mocks such easy attempts at categorisation! The Typical Martial Arts Movie Plot, which this is definitely set up to follow, goes as follows: the star’s big brother is killed in a different country, taking part in a tournament or because he won a tournament. The star must go to the country and take revenge for his brother, either by winning the tournament or killing his brother’s killers, or both. It’s typical that he gets some ancient wisdom or learns a new technique along the way (and, surprisingly often, shacks up with his brother’s girlfriend).

There are two brothers, one of whom is a champion pro kickboxer, the other a hotheaded amateur who wants to compete in the big leagues. But at every point where you expect it to get going with some action, it just doesn’t – not that all fighting movies should fit this template, but they should at least offer us a decent reason to keep watching.

Right from the beginning, it feels curious, as we see a scene of older brother Damon (Buckner) training a class of kids. Compare this to, say, “Kickboxer 5: Redemption”, where an identical scene at an identical point lasts 15 seconds. Here, it goes on for two minutes, which doesn’t seem like a lot but when it’s kids who have zero to do with the rest of the movie, really begins to drag. Anyway, he’s a good guy ex-cop who helps kids, and his younger brother Joe (Tony Luke) is…also a pretty good guy, honestly, even though Damon tells anyone who’ll listen what a dog Joe is with the ladies.

Joe’s girlfriend Rachel (Stephanie Sinclair) has some character quirks, like wearing a Juliana Hatfield t-shirt and lecturing him about the wonders of female indie singer-songwriters; also, she has a large, square free-standing poster of Andy Garcia in the corner of her bedroom. I’m genuinely fascinated about the sort of person who would spend money on such an item, and would have that and only that next to their bed!

Damon and his girlfriend talk about Joe a lot, like, way too much, while they’re in the apartment and while they’re on a random walk round the city. About 20 minutes in, they’re strolling round when Damon sees a couple of guys attempt to abduct / rape a woman in an alleyway. I need to break this scene down, a little. One of the two guys is holding the woman from behind with a pipe across her throat, but I’m going to take a wild guess and say he’d only had the concept of acting explained to him thirty seconds before Farmer called “action”, as he starts off by looking right at the camera, and throughout his too-brief time in the spotlight looks nervous and away from the action, as if he’s looking to someone behind the camera for advice. It’s amazing and is almost worth the cost of admission on its own.

Joe wants to get involved in the real fight league, but because he’s dumb as a box of rocks and his friend is a sleazy asshole, he goes to see Mr Ramsey (Farmer regular Danny Fendley). Apparently, if he fights for Ramsey, there’ll be all sorts of influential people there who can help him move up the ladder. Unfortunately, the actual fight is in a large warehouse, where there are maybe 5 people there to watch. Did he at no point smell a rat? Also, the fights are to the death, and as I’ve said before, running a fighting organisation where all the losers are killed just seems like a very poor business model.

There’s a brief appearance by B-movie legend George Stover (who has his name spelled wrong in the credits) as the producer of “American Expose”, the tabloid TV show that links a number of Farmer movies together and has given me the idea for the script I’m writing set in the Farmer-verse; their film crew films one of the fights and then disappears from the movie. What? Also, there are two very similar-looking redheads (Jenny Wallace, as Ramsey’s secretary; and the host of the TV report on the fight league) which lends an air of confusion to a movie which doesn’t need any more confusion.

I’m getting way too bogged down in the minutiae of “The Strike”, but I feel that’s because it seems determined to confuse and disappoint. The camera cuts just as sex scenes are starting, on several occasions (we still see a few naked women though), which is, sources close to the production tell me, were filmed but removed on the insistence of an actor’s wife. But I need to break down one more scene!

To keep him fighting for them, Momota, one of the other criminals involved in the fight league (who may or may not be in league with Ramsey, it’s almost impossible to tell) kidnaps Rachel. But, he’s also got a bunch of other attractive white women enslaved in another corner of what I presume is the same warehouse, and wants this young lady drugged up and turned into a prostitute. The four women aren’t on beds, they’re just on what look like long painting tables, two to a plank, and aren’t in a room, just a corner of a massive warehouse. Who does this? Could no-one have sprung for just one extra room to film in?

The best way to describe this is “unsatisfying”. The plot is poor, the acting poor, and the stakes are rather low. The direction is fine, but I’m going to guess (again) that Farmer didn’t have a lot to work with, either in terms of budget or available talent. It starts off nowhere and goes nowhere, unable to decide which of the two brothers is supposed to be the star. It ends nowhere too, with there being no real crescendo to the action, and although both brothers appear able to fight, the fight scenes are slow and sort of boring.

Because its structure is so odd, I’m going to take a wild guess and say it was quite personal for Buckner. Maybe he has a brother who helped him out at a tough time in his life, or he read a story when he was younger that really affected him. Or maybe it was just written by a guy who’d never done a script before and had no real idea how to structure them? Who knows?

An intriguing curio from one of our favourite directors, but perhaps not worth spending too much money tracking down.

Rating: thumbs down

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Space Kid (1999)

Donald Farmer has long been a favourite here at the ISCFC, as we’ve been covering his movies pretty much since we started. There were a few, though, that seem to have avoided our piercing critical gaze, either because we couldn’t find them or because they’d never been officially released on home video. Well, a future review – “The Strike” – will be coming because I figured out I’d been searching for it under the wrong name (it had a DVD release), and Farmer himself paid for a very limited DVD release of “Space Kid” last year.

 

So now, dear reader, you get to learn about yet another oddball entry into the Farmer-verse. And, I think there’s actually a Farmer-verse! This movie gave me the key, and I think numerous movies exist in the same world. A central part of “Space Kid” is the tabloid TV show “American Expose”, and the same show appears in “The Strike”. There’s also a very similar show in “Vampire Cop”, and Dana Plato plays an investigative reporter in “Compelling Evidence”. Can you imagine that erotic thriller and “Vampire Cop” existing in the same world? I might try writing a script and see if Mr Farmer would like to direct it.

 

But that’s for another day. We’re here to talk about “Space Kid”, which starts in a quarry – er, an alien planet – as Queen Nebula (listed in the credits as “Space Mom”), pursued by rebels, leads her son to safety, while being pursued by agents. At one point, she appears to use her own child as a human shield, but I have to assume they were aiming for something else with that scene. She gets shot while scrambling up a hill, but the kid (who will come to be known as Charlie) manages to beam himself aboard an intergalactic space-ship, ending up on Earth. I feel that bit was glossed over, but it’s also entirely possible I was distracted.

So, he ends up on Earth and then it becomes the sort of thing you may have seen a few times before – Charlie befriends a lonely kid roughly his own age, helps her with bullies, an evil babysitter, doing the dishes, and other problems, but she’s quite honest about the fact he’s an alien. Some people believe her, some don’t, and then there’s scientists and government agents teaming up to track him down (including two Men In Black, played by long-time Farmer regulars Andre Buckner and Maria Ortiz). It’s got a little bit of a lot of kids’ science-fiction TV and movies of the time, but is no worse for it.

 

It’s quite short (55 minutes, with substantial closing credits) but that’s not always a bad thing when it comes to the lower budget end. There’s some decent acting on display – Ortiz is excellent in her brief role, Melanie the TV reporter pitches her performance very well, and Donald Farmer is a decent actor as the producer of “American Expose”.

 

If you’re not already a fan of Mr Farmer, then I’d suggest not starting here, but if you’re already in deep, like me, then come on in and experience another string to his bow – kids’ movies, to go along with civil war, vampire, zombie, cannibal, and demon movies.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

The Battle For Glory (2000)

The ISCFC is finishing up some long-dormant review series in 2019, because we know what you want! “Mark,”, I hear you ask, “what about some reviews of movies so obscure we’d have to pay a small fortune or break the law in order to watch them?” I’ve got you, dear reader, so let’s spend some more time with Donald Farmer.

Farmer is a legend, one of the reasons I started doing these reviews and a genuinely nice chap. He’s still making movies, and I’m even a producer on one of them! (this involved Gofundme $$$, not me getting on the set and demanding big changes be made) We reviewed almost all his movies in 2015-2016, but a few of them slipped through the net – mostly, it’s that they were either unfinished or never got a home video / DVD release (Charlie and Sadie, Fighting Chance, Bollywood and Vine); in the case of today’s review, it’s that the DVD was obscure and expensive and I wasn’t even aware of its existence until Mr Farmer helpfully pointed me in the direction of an Amazon listing.

We’ve already covered part 1 of this movie, “Blood and Honor”, and it might be a good idea to go back and read that. I had to, it being over 2 years since I saw it, to refresh my memory of characters and so on. But…it’s sort of confusing, if you intend to watch “The Battle For Glory”. Why is that?

David Heavener, an enduring name in low-budget cinema, is the producer of these movies. The original version Farmer handed in was a “Gone With The Wind”-esque 3 hours, designed to be split into two nights as a TV special / mini-series, and was based on a vanity-published novel by Maurice J Fagan (a dentist with a number of inventions to his name). In a two-and-a-half-hour format, this did indeed get at least one run on TV, on the long-forgotten B-Movie Channel. Then, Heavener decided the best way to go for home release was to edit this into two separate movies (this edit had no Farmer involvement), but not really to have them as part 1 and part 2 – in fact, they use a lot of the same footage, just occasionally edited to give it a slightly different perspective. I admit that I did check my notes several times to make sure I wasn’t just watching the same movie again.

There’s even, according to “sources close to the production”, a fair amount of stuff that never made it to either version, including most of Michelle Bauer’s scenes. Her character is massively underdeveloped, and it’s a shame – given how she’s one of the more famous actors in it, it seems especially strange.

This shares a “trick” from the previous movie of having a voiceover play over footage that clearly has dialogue in it, leaving us wondering what those characters were saying (possibly, “stuff about plots we cut”). This voiceover was specially requested by Heavener, who called Maria Ortiz into a recording studio to do it – it at least provides a different flavour to part 1. There’s also some edited highlights at the end, some of which weren’t actually in the movie – I feel like this was done deliberately to be confusing, or as a joke by someone involved in the editing, but who knows.

I don’t think it’s really all that worthwhile to write a whole fresh review. The main differences are that Henry is a slightly better character, not forcing himself on any women; and Caroline the maid (Ortiz) is more central to proceedings, and gets a rather bonkers monologue at the end which seems to imply that she’s the Devil, or an angel of death, or something like that. There’s also less Miles O’Keefe in this movie, which is a shame as I rather liked him.

My overall thoughts are exactly the same as they were for “Blood And Honor”. It’s entirely competently made Civil War story, and Farmer gets some excellent performances out his cast, most notably Maria Ortiz, who really deserved a bigger career than she got (she died, sadly, at age 27, in 2000). The problems are nothing to do with Farmer, and that’s the pedestrian source material, which I’d suggest was dictated by the author (who served as a producer, and has a co-writing credit); and also the editing, which trimmed lord knows what from the final two cuts.

I forgave “Blood and Honor” quite a lot, because I assumed we’d get the ending to the story in “The Battle For Glory”. But we didn’t, and the ending is barely an ending. It would have been nice to have a scene at an actual battle (as opposed to randomly spliced in footage of some Civil War reenactors), or to have the end of the Civil War featured, or indeed anything than a retelling of the same few events (unhappy marriages, scheming maid, Union soldiers staying in a southern home).

Thanks to that source for my production info (although I made sure to keep some baseless supposition in there, because I know that’s what my readers love), and honestly? You could do a lot worse. Watch them back to back with a few friends and some stiff drinks and enjoy!

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Blu-ray review: Vampire Cop (1990)

There’s something of a story behind this site’s relationship with this movie, so feel free to skip a few paragraphs if you don’t like that sort of thing. If you’re happy with my nonsense, read on!

In my teens, my friends and I would go to Blockbuster, find the weirdest-looking VHS tape we could find, then watch the trailers and find the movie with the worst trailer, and repeat the process until we got to theoretically the worst movie ever. Sadly, our mission was stopped at four movies, when I was unable to track down a gem called “Vampire Cop”. Fast forward many years, I’m writing for this fine site right here, and I decided to track it down.

However, I made a slight mistake, and that mistake introduced me to the world of Donald Farmer, who’d made a different movie with the same title. I watched that, and the ISCFC’s world has never been the same again. Without “Vampire Cop”, I’d have never seen any of his great (and often bizarre) movies, and I’d have never met (electronically) the man himself. He’s one of the most generous filmmakers out there, happy to answer questions from his fans all day and share behind the scenes photos from his movies on social media. Full disclosure: thanks to one of those online funding platforms, I’m now a producer on his latest movie! He’s such a decent chap he’s happy to talk to someone (me) who’s been more than unkind to a few of his old movies; but anyway.

SRS Cinema are amazing, the sort of site I’d make if I had money, time, patience, any ability as a filmmaker, etc. Headed by the great Ron Bonk, they release some weird and wonderful stuff, and the trailers on this blu-ray were a fine example of that – “House Shark”; “She Kills”; “Night Of Something Strange”, and the first two volumes of Donald Farmer’s old 8mm horror shorts. Now, one might say that as two of these movies are about vaginas with tentacles coming out of them, someone at SRS Cinema has issues…or maybe one is a sequel to the other and I’m just an idiot. But I’d heartily recommend dropping some $$$ on their output, you’ll have a good time.

And their latest release is this. If you’d like to read our thoughts on the original release cut of “Vampire Cop”, click HERE, as it’s included on the disc too. But the real treasure for us Farmer-philes is a director’s cut, along with a commentary track from the man himself! So, I’ll mention a few things I forgot in the first review, discuss the quality of the special features and enjoy a rewatch of a classic.

CUT INFO: It’s 6 minutes shorter than the official release, and there’s a lot to recommend about it. Less sex, less focusing on the backlit vampire, none of that ridiculous dream sequence at the beginning; all things being equal, I’d pick this over the release cut. But…

There are two technical things you need to be aware of before you buy this (which I very much recommend). One is that the picture quality appears to have not been changed at all – in other words, this feels the same as watching the VHS tape back in the 90s. I guess, being shot on 16mm, there’s not a lot you can do to it quality-wise, but if you were buying this expecting Melissa Moore’s boobs in glorious HD, move along. The other thing is a little more off-putting, and that’s the lack of incidental music. All the dialogue is there, but some of the sound effects aren’t, and none of the music is. This reaches its apotheosis during the sex scene, which is three minutes of complete silence. Quite curious.

Turns out the lack of sound is due to this being an unusual sort of director’s cut. Donald Farmer submitted this version to a distributor, but they were all “if you shoot some new scenes, it’ll make the movie better, and we’ll pay for it”. This meant they were the primary shareholders (the original cut being made for an amazing $15,000) and held the rights to it for many years; none of the scenes they added made any difference, with the exception of a small one where the TV station’s producer, played by Farmer himself, discusses upcoming segments with such titles as “Transsexual House Pets” and “Men Who Name Their Testicles”. I’d have been happy to have that in the director’s cut too, but I appreciate I’m not in the majority of movie fans. They were less than honest with Farmer, and if you make a movie yourself you’d do well to avail yourself of all these horror stories and avoid them.

The movie itself is largely the same. A drug dealer tries to buy off the city with large charitable donations, but the cops still want to chase him down. One of those cops is Lucas, played by Ed Cannon, who’s also a vampire, but he’s sort of a dumb vampire who doesn’t pay attention to who he’s biting and therefore turning into vampires too. He hooks up with investigative journalist Melissa Moore and they take down this kingpin. He has the worst poker face ever, when the subject of vampirism is brought up, he does this weird face and if I was in the room with him, I’d be asking if he’d just had a stroke.

The commentary from Farmer is fantastic, full of really interesting facts about the world of low-budget movie-making, info about his actors, shooting details, and so on. It’s loose and informal and is like having the director sat next to you on the sofa, drinking a few beers and telling you anecdotes for 80 minutes.

I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong, and a vast number of the criticisms I had of the original cut were of stuff that Farmer had no control over – the distributor’s cut of the movie, the incredibly tiny budget, the excessive nudity, and so on. The dream sequence at the beginning wasn’t his idea, and the chap with the moustache in the bathtub, who after watching the movie three times, I’ve still got no bloody idea who he was or why he was in it, was put in because he was staying at the house they were filming at and the other people there begged Farmer. Okay, no-one’s going to be mistaking this for Oscar fare, but the director’s cut makes a lot more sense.

Farmer shows his self-deprecating side when he repeats something that Roger Corman once said, as it applies to his movies too – “I hope all my actors will have careers where they don’t have to work with me again”. By the way, there’s a legit Oscar winner in his cast – RJ McKay, who plays gangster’s sidekick Raymond (and is by miles the best actor in it) was actually Ray McKinnon, working under an assumed name as “Vampire Cop” was a non-union movie. McKinnon has gone on to work on “Deadwood” and “Sons Of Anarchy”, and produced “Rectify” for the Sundance Channel. His Oscar was for a short movie, but he’s clearly had a great career, and he gave his all for $75 a day.

It’s my ambition to get my name on a DVD cover with a pull quote, so let’s try one of those. “SRS Cinema’s relationship with Donald Farmer means we get a new version of his 1990 classic!” I sort of like that. As I say, over and over again, if you have some spare entertainment money, people like SRS will be able to use it to keep producing the sort of bonkers nonsense you’re not going to get anywhere else, more so than another ticket for some multiplex tedium.

Rating: thumbs up

Blood And Honor (2000)

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I discovered the films of Donald Farmer a few years ago and life’s never been the same. He’s been directing since the mid 80s (and SRS Cinema are now putting out his super-8 stuff from even earlier), and has made some of my favourite bonkers horror – “Vampire Cop”, “Scream Dream” and “Red Lips”, to name but three, but pick any of them (okay, maybe not “Red Lips: Eat The Living” or “Dorm Of The Dead”, they’re pretty tough to sit through) and you’ll have a good, if occasionally baffled, time.

He’s also one of the nicest guys on social media, and it was thanks to him pointing me in the right direction that I was able to watch this film at all (perhaps it never got a UK release due to the movie sharing its name with a group of Nazi music enthusiasts – ps. go fuck yourselves, Nazis). Anyway, I need to pick a spot to start because this story could get long. Dentistry!

Dr Maurice J Fagan Jr was a dental pioneer, holding a number of patents, writing dozens of articles, helping out the Pope’s dentist, and so on. But as if this wasn’t quite enough for him, he also wrote a novel as a favour to a friend (who left him an outline) called “The Isle Of Hope”. This was printed by one of those self-publishing places in 1992, and here’s where I could just ask Donald Farmer what happened but I much prefer baseless speculation. I think Fagan, or someone close to him, wanted to be in the movies, wanted to create their own “Gone With The Wind”, and had a bunch of cash, so a friend of a friend said “hey, I know this director”.

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So the money is rounded up, Civil War enthusiasts are contacted to be extras, an old plantation house is borrowed, the movie is shot…and IMDB lists it as 4 hours 33 minutes! This is what gave me the “Gone With The Wind” thoughts, as that’s only a whisker under 4 hours itself. Anyway, this beast of a movie, completely unlike anything its director has done before, is sold to a distributor, and they go “nope” and cut it into two separate movies, of which this is the first (“Battle For Glory”, the second part, is at my friend’s house in the USA, so a review for that will have to wait a while).

That distributor is one David Heavener. His name looms large over the sort of bargain-basement cinema we like to cover here, and he’s been writing, directing and starring in films that have flown completely under my radar for over 30 years. He also produces and distributes movies, and this is one of his – he left a ton of material on the cutting room floor, as that one 4+ hour movie is now two of around 80 minutes each. For evidence of this, the end credits (which play over “highlights” from the movie) feature people we never see, characters having conversations despite them never having met, and so on.

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I suppose I ought to discuss the movie! After some footage of Civil War re-enactors (cheaper than staging a battle yourself, I guess), during which cars are clearly visible in the background, we get a voiceover, which certainly helps the rather chopped up narrative. This is supplied by Farmer collaborator Philip Newman (the writer / producer / star of “Body Shop”, who also shows up in this as the head of one of the families), who has a great voice for it. It centres around two couples deep in Confederate country during the Civil War – the first is Craig and Olivia. She fakes a pregnancy to get him to marry her, then turns into the least competent gold-digger of all time, and all this time anyway he’s been sleeping with the maid Caroline. On top of this, he’s also in love with Olivia’s sister Angela, but she’s married to Henry. Henry has a sister, Maude, who’s not thrilled by his wife.

Andy Hamrick, in his only role, plays Henry, and it’s a really tricky part to pull off – he never really convinced that he was too conflicted or worth caring about, flitting from sex with one woman to another to almost forcing himself on Angela at one point. Ortiz is fantastic as the Cajun (although her accent was rotten) Caroline, with a performance full of seduction and lies, and it’s her that drives most of the plot – murdering Olivia’s father when he threatens to reveal the affair to his daughter, then…well, no sense giving any further spoilers. I mean, with the amount of sass she gives her employers, I’d have kicked her out on the street months ago, but perhaps good help was hard to come by at the time. The rest of the plot is driven by the coming to town of a group of Union soldiers, led by Colonel Evans (Miles O’Keefe, the early 80s “Tarzan”). He’s a decent guy but his soldiers are absolute rapist monsters; they hole up in the house of Olivia and Angela’s family and then sort of do nothing – they don’t appear to be fighting, or on a mission, they’re just hanging out at the house.

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First up – this is in the running for the most coherent of Farmer’s movies. I understood who everyone was and roughly why they were doing what they were doing. It looks completely decent, being shot on actual film (I think), and the sets were excellent, being real old houses and proper beautiful Southern forests where the moss hangs from the trees. The haircuts were a little 1990s, perhaps, and I’d be surprised if the women of the time were quite as feisty as they were here, but Farmer is a steady hand, he’s easily able to control all the threads and directs it well.

It’s honestly a surprise that none of my criticisms of a Donald Farmer movie are to do with the direction – he’ll normally do something so completely out of left field that you’re left scratching your head at the end, despite them almost always being enjoyable. Not here, mind you – it just makes me wish he’d been given this level of money for all his other movies. Okay, he does stuff like show the same battle scene twice, and the blood effects are rough, but that’s so minor for the same filmography that gave us “An Erotic Vampire In Paris” that it barely needs mentioning.

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Every problem with this movie is the story, although…it’s not terrible, I guess? It’s just completely unremarkable, and feels like exactly what it is – a vanity project from a Civil War enthusiast who knew how to get the beats of story down and in the right order, but not how to make it interesting. In case you were about to say “didn’t Farmer write it?” – well, yes, but given Fagan actually appears in a small part in the movie, I’m guessing he was firmly in control of the script too. The issue of slavery is completely ignored, as it’s fairly clear the author’s sympathies were not on the Union side (or if they were, he had a terrible way of showing it). There are only two black actors in the entire movie, and they’re only in it to have the first murder that Caroline commits pinned on them; I’ll admit to not knowing if families kept their slaves during the war itself, but it does seem odd that the only domestic servant isn’t black.

I should also mention how it just sort of ends in the middle of a scene, but that’s nothing to do with the making of it, it’s the weird edits that were forced on it by the distributors. Perhaps 4 and a half hours of an amateurish Civil War movie would’ve been too much, but how many other low-budget horror directors do you know of who’d have taken on something so massive?

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This is another review which isn’t exactly going to drive traffic to our site – it’s out of print, and I’m willing to bet there’s some legal stuff which’ll keep it from ever being re-released. But if you see it in one of those “4 movies for £1” box sets, which is apparently where it has been known to dwell, chances are it’ll be the best movie in that set. Please look out for our review of part 2 when I have a copy, and in the meantime go to SRS Cinema and drop a few £££ on Farmer’s stuff. Without all our support, all we’ll be left with is the worst blandest mainstream product, and I don’t want to live in that world.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

PS – if you get the “David Heavener Presents” version of this DVD, then you’ll also have a memorable special feature, a 6-minute (!) trailer for his movie “Massacre” (aka his first movie, “The Border Of Tong”). Marvel at how you understand less at the end than you do at the beginning! The un-subtitled dialogue! The way the people sort of look like funhouse mirror versions of actors! That might have to be our next review.

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Shark Exorcist (2015)

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My experience of the movies of Donald Farmer has been discovering them years after the fact, so it was with bated breath I awaited the release of a brand new movie on DVD, with a great-looking trailer, that I would be watching at the same time as everyone else. We have Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment to thank for bringing this one to us, and should you be a particularly uncritical Christian you’ll be happy to know they’ve also put out “God’s Not Dead 2”, with Melissa Joan Hart and Jesse Metcalfe in it, doing a pose on the cover like they’re in a slightly saucy romantic comedy and not a miserable piece of fundamentalist anti-intellectual propaganda. But they’ve also got some really amazing-looking films on their site, so check them out.

 

Anyway, Donald Farmer! He’s a lovely chap, with a great social media presence where he shares photos of cool old cinemas, behind the scenes stuff from his old movies and his extremely eclectic DVD, blu-ray and soundtrack collection. He’s also happy to discuss his oeuvre with people online too, so an enthusiastic thumbs up to him (he’s certainly nicer than the director of “Things”, who sent me an abusive email the other day).

 

So it’s with heavy heart that I must report “Shark Exorcist” is…well, seemingly unfinished. The closing credits kick in at 59 minutes (admittedly, not all that unusual for Farmer) with a mid-credits scene which bears no relation to anything that’s gone before; then a post-credits scene which only seems to be there because someone remembered they’d left a storyline completely unresolved. The plot which is described on the back cover of the DVD would have been fun…if they’d actually done it. The cover even makes reference to “villagers”, like whoever wrote the blurb thought it was set in the olden days.

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I feel genuinely bad criticising a new Farmer movie, but I have to assume it had a very tough time making it to release. “Shark Exorcist” was originally listed on IMDB in 2012, but is now 2015, and what that information and seeing the film screams to me is that maybe half of the action we see (the main plot, probably) was filmed back then, but money ran out or some other disaster befell the shoot. It perhaps sat on a shelf for a few years before someone dug it out, filmed a bunch of new scenes with new actors to get it to the absolute barest minimum length to release as a feature film? There’s an odd-sounding credit – “filmed and edited by Jamie Nichols” – which might mean he had a larger hand in that extra stuff? Or I might be completely wrong and just speculating blindly. I know what you come to these reviews for!

 

Let’s talk plot! I’m not sure I’ll be able to manage it, but here goes. A nun who’s committed some unspecified evil act is confronted by a woman at the side of a lake. The nun stabs her, throws her into the water and summons Satan, and he sends a demon shark to help her out. Or maybe it’s Satan himself? Anyway, ONE YEAR LATER, and we’ve got three young women heading off to the lake-side for a relaxing day out. Channing Dodson as the most sensible of the three, Emily, is a decent actor, the other two are…well, not so much bad as just not actors at all. One of them gets bitten by the shark, a bite which recovers remarkably quickly, and which leaves her with a sudden interest in water. Possession!

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There’s also the crew of the show “Ghost Whackers”, consisting of a very enthusiastic redhead and her cameraman (oddly enough, I identified him in the credits much more easily than her, as he’s just billed as “cameraman” and I missed her name the only time she said it). At one point, she’s talking to the camera, but her guy is in shot, meaning she’s talking to the movie’s camera, not her own; that this only happens once makes things extra confusing. Anyway, she wants to be possessed by the shark-demon, and after writhing round by the side of the lake a few times, gets her wish about halfway through the movie, suddenly appearing outside a coliseum-style building and eating the woman from the rival show “Ghost Fakers”.

 

Bobby Kerecz pops up as a sleazy dude, gives his real-life wife (the possessed lady from earlier) a lift to the beach and frolics with her before getting eaten; then he shows up as the priest the back cover of the movie promised us, only this arc, as the titular character, is barely more impressive than his original one. Characters drop in and out seemingly at random, there’s a scene where a few people walk round a super-depressing looking funfair, and it doesn’t so much come to a conclusion as it does just find a semi-convenient place and stop. Trying to be as diplomatic as possible, the way the main plot is wrapped up is frankly pathetic.

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For a movie which, once again, has its closing credits at 59 minutes, it’s got a ton of padding. We see every second of a guy jogging round the quay; and the scene where an unidentified man pervs on a rather beautiful young woman sleeping while sunbathing is absolutely 100% pointless and absolutely 100% shown at great length – plus, when said woman is inevitably attacked by one of the movie’s several shark-women, the visual is bizarre because the victim is athletic and has clearly lifted some weights, and the aggressor is a 95lb woman who’s…well, not. The camera focuses on reactions to gore rather than actual gore itself, a money-saving trick (perhaps he was going to film the special effects later and never got round to it) and, if you’re not counting a swimming CGI shark or a bit of blood on a woman’s leg, the first thing you could call an “effect” doesn’t happen til almost three-quarters of the way through!

 

There are a few lovely lines in it, though, examples of the sense of humour Farmer has displayed throughout his career. If I had to guess, I’d say the entire thing was built around the line “we’re gonna need a bigger cross”, which is hilarious, and the “Ghost Whackers” lady is clearly having a good time chewing every bit of scenery she can find.

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It gives me no great pleasure to criticise this – Wild Eye Releasing, a brilliant company, have had a hand in its release, Kaleidoscope have some fun stuff in their catalogue, and of course Donald Farmer is a great chap – but it’s just really really bad. Heck, even the actual physical product – the pre-order price was £12.99 but it ended up being £8; for a movie which barely lasted an hour with absolutely no special features on it whatsoever, it still feels like a bit of a cheat (it’s apparently a fiver in Morrisons, should you be interested). Even if the movie had been good, I’d have still felt a bit aggrieved. If these companies aren’t prepared to put any work into their DVDs, why should we put the money into buying them? Okay, “Sharknado” is still a big thing, and a wacky-looking DVD will no doubt make a few £££ for everyone involved, but it’s such a rotten trick to pull on people. And everyone who gets tricked by this will definitely think twice before spending money on low-budget horror in future, making it ultimately a bad thing for us all.

 

But it’s the movie itself that really ought to be our focus, with the real upset coming from thinking that someone looked at this and went “yes, this is in a reasonable state to release and expect people to pay for”. There’s the odd moment where you can sense Farmer going for a European 70s horror vibe, a couple of well-composed shots (although more Dutch angles than any movie really needs), some fun performances and a nice sense of humour; but, while I fear an unfriending in my near future, I can’t with good conscience recommend anyone spends their hard-earned money on this. I have to, just have to, assume serious problems somewhere in the production of “Shark Exorcist”, because there’s no way this was the desired finished product.

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It’s absolutely worth getting yourself some Farmer DVDs, though. “Red Lips” and “Scream Dream” are both singular experiences, and you can witness Melissa Moore, Debbie Rochon and Ghetty Chasun at their best, all excellent actors who deserved more from the industry than they got. If “Vampire Cop” gets re-released next year, definitely pick that up. “Compelling Evidence” is a bizarre delight. The more recent “Chainsaw Cheerleaders” is loads of fun. If you’re going to go for this, at least try one of Farmer’s better movies first.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Body Shop (aka Deadly Memories) (2002)

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As you may have read a few days ago, I’m pretty excited about the release of “Shark Exorcist” in June from the wonderful people at Wild Eye Releasing. I am a little frightened for those people who’ve never seen any Donald Farmer movies, though, getting caught up in some post-Sharknado hype and picking it up, only to discover it’s…well, a Donald Farmer movie, with all the wonderful highs and insane lows that name brings to mind. His movies aren’t for the faint of heart!

 

This is the last commercially available Farmer movie we could find, though, until “Shark Exorcist” comes out, so we’ll take what we can get. But…it throws you off from the very beginning, by billing itself in big letters as “a Phillip Newman film”. What? Well, Mr. Newman is the star, but on top of that is the co-writer and producer; I’m going to take a wild guess and say that he either funded or secured the funding for it himself, perhaps alongside co-star and co-producer LP Brown III – their less-than-stellar careers give credence to this theory. If Newman produced, co-wrote and starred in it, then I’m sure he saw it as “his” movie. One quite extraordinary thing, for Farmer-holics at least, is 35mm! Yes, it’s shot on real film, and everything is lit appropriately – almost unheard of. It’s strange how much easier it is to watch something when it’s not fuzzy and washed-out looking. Perhaps it’s something we ought to thank Newman for?

 

Much like almost every Donald Farmer movie, though, the plot is a rich stew of oddity and will hopefully be as entertaining to read about as it was frustrating to watch. Art (Newman) runs a body shop, and one day is a little late to drive his wife and daughter to church. At the same time as he’s getting ready to go, a group of three ne’er do wells (one of whom is Tina Krause, last seen by us in Farmer’s “An Erotic Vampire In Paris” and actually appears able to act here) beat the crap out of a store owner (B-movie legend Robert Z’Dar, “Samurai Cop”, the “Maniac Cop” series) before driving off at speed.

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Well, they cause Art’s car to have to swerve to avoid them, and what looks to the viewer like a minor incident on a mild incline becomes a huge catastrophe (referred to as driving off a cliff later in the movie). The car blows up, the wife is killed, and the daughter is left in a coma; Art, severely injured, sees the villains as they stop to see the carnage they’ve caused, before running away.

 

It’s about now that the main issue with the movie becomes horribly apparent. Farmer’s movies usually clock in around 70 minutes, and pack enough lunacy into those minutes to fill two normal movies. This, on the other hand, is 108 minutes long and feels like 208 – it’s not so much that nothing happens, just nothing particularly interesting. Anyway, flash to two years later, and Art is still running the shop, and thanks to his Christian faith has remained a decent, caring man – this stretches to him giving a job to an old friend, Billy Ray (Brown III) who has a job lined up at a glass plant, but it doesn’t start for a few months.

 

I was convinced with the number of pipe shots to the head he took, Z’Dar was dead, but it appears not, and we get re-introduced to him as he drives past a familiar-looking woman by the side of the road. He remembers what happens and goes to tell Art (who he’s never met before, but knows about) just where one of his wife’s killers is. You get revenge or I will, is the message. Art picks her up and offers her a place for the night, as he can’t fix her car til the morning; then, after a really long and completely gratuitous shower scene – you don’t hire Tina Krause for one of your movies and ask her to keep her clothes on, it would seem – she’s killed by a chap wearing a welder’s mask. But not just killed – she’s tied down and spray-painted to death! That is a first, I must admit.

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Can you tolerate the subplot with the woman from Human Services who wants to take his daughter into a proper medical environment? What about the loud and obnoxious customer who comes in and has a conversation that goes on for ever, purely to set up his violent murder about an hour of screen time later? What about Billy Ray and his utterly implausible relationship with the much younger, beautiful Amy (Rachael Robbins)? The thing about good subplots is they give you a greater sense of character depth…guess where I’m going with this…but these do nothing. You could take all of them out of the movie and the end result would be positive. Hell, turn the Human Services lady into a potential love interest for Art, she can serve the same role as Amy does at the end, and you’ve just saved yourself 10 minutes. If I had to guess, I’d say Amy was in the movie because Brown III wanted to have a sex scene with her, and for no other reason.

 

The killer wears a mask, so you know right away he’s not the most obvious candidate (Art). But, Newman clearly heard about red herrings before starting the writing process, so he drops them all over the place, just not skilfully enough to fool anyone. Is it William Smith, the local sheriff who wants to capture the people who committed that horrible crime in his town? Is it Z’Dar? Could it be a double-bluff and really be Art? All this does is just waste more time. What would have been nice is if they’d shown us people getting murdered! You might remember the instruction the producer of “Friday The 13th: A New Beginning” gave to the director, that he should ensure there was a shock, scare, or kill every 7 or 8 minutes – somewhat prescriptive, but it’s good to have something to aim for. This 108 minute movie has a body count of six (including the wife at the beginning and the killer at the end), and no shocks or scares whatsoever; and they have the temerity to do a “what happened next” thing after the end, where they tell you “this guy retired, and this other guy became sheriff”. Huh?

 

Trust good ol’ Donald Farmer to find yet another new way to baffle his viewing public. It’s slow, thoroughly confusing, incompetently acted (even if I came to a grudging admiration for Newman by the end) and features a few scenes which feel so specifically odd that they must have been fever dreams – take, for instance, the death of the other two car-killers. They’re in the middle of an otherwise empty canyon, the guy watching the girl on a trampoline, before our killer takes them out with a bazooka! It’s handy he’s got plenty of ammo for it, as he’s a lousy shot. Not one thing about the scene makes a lick of sense, and I love it.

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It’s just too long, though. It could have been easily wrapped up in 75 minutes, maybe 80, so when all three of the killers are dead, and you see there’s still nearly half an hour to go, the only possible response is “why?” Still, I do love a good redneck revenge movie, and it’s nice to see Farmer trying his hand at something completely different, this late in his career.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

PS – I tried, rather carefully I think, to avoid spoiling the big reveal of who the villain is, but watching the trailer in order to get some screenshots, they not only give the twist away completely, but show the last scene of the movie! Should you wish to have the ending ruined for you too, here it is:

 

Chainsaw Cheerleaders (2008)

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It’s fairly safe to say my expectations were low for this one. After the shockingly bad – yes, even by our normal standards – “Dorm Of The Dead”, I was not expecting to have a good time ever again with a Donald Farmer movie. But this one is different. I know, I’m a bit surprised too.

 

It’s also, very sadly, the last commercially available Donald Farmer movie. If anyone reading this bought any of his outtake VHS tapes (or managed to get hold of a copy of “Blood and Honor”, “Fighting Chance”, “Charlie and Sadie”, or “Bollywood and Vine”), then please get in touch. We’ve got one more of his movies to review – 2002’s “Body Shop”, which should be arriving soon – and then a blu-ray from the amazing SRS Cinema of a couple of his earliest movies, neither of which have IMDB pages or any other information available – SRS Cinema is putting out some pretty fantastic movies, so they’re a highly recommended destination for your entertainment dollar. Farmer has made a few movies since this, including the amazing-sounding “Shark Exorcist”, but to the best of my knowledge, unless you happen upon one at a convention, you’re not seeing them.

 

Right from the off, we’ve got two new things going on. Our writer / director goes by “Don Farmer” now, and he’s using real honest-to-goodness CGI! There’s also two people who can definitely act in this – ISCFC favourite Debbie Rochon, who was in “Red Lips 2”, and Tiffany Shepis, who was one of the very few rays of light in “Dorm Of The Dead”. It also, unlike many of his earlier VHS tapes, fills my entire widescreen TV, which is a welcome sight.

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Anyway, the movie. Rather than some action and then “48 hours earlier”, we get some action and then “500 years earlier”, and the story of Lucinda the witch (Shepis), who was imprisoned in some weird alternate dimension after being too evil and witchy. Back in the present day, our star is Dawn (Michele Grey), a goth girl with a crappy boyfriend, Dax. He cheats, she beats him up, and then the school psychologist Dr Lacey (Rochon) says that she needs to take part in a new activity and change her ways, or…they don’t really say what the punishment for what she did might be, or why she chooses to go through with it, but there’d be no movie otherwise I guess.

 

Anyway, the activity chosen for her is cheerleading. The only three cheerleaders we meet (Bambi, Chastity and Jessica) don’t dance, their cheers mainly involve promises to have sex with the entire football team, and they’re all obviously in their late 20s. Anyway, Dawn makes a go of integrating with them, but at the same time a witch is trying to open a portal to bring Lucinda back. Well, she succeeds, and then it’s on, with murders and mayhem and all manner of fun things.

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The extremely low budget shows itself in a variety of fun ways that are like a spoonful of sugar to we bad movie fans. The cheerleaders take Dawn to sell magazines door to door, but when shooting the scene no-one thought of getting any magazines, or subscription documents, or clipboards, or anything, for them to carry – plus, I must have misheard “cheerleader camp”, as it’s just a corner of a public park, with families walking past and a nearby road. My favourite is the way Farmer got round only being able to afford Rochon and Shepis for a few days – Shepis starts off as the witch, then almost immediately hops into someone else’s body; Rochon just gets murdered after a few seconds of her here and there is dropped into various points of the movie. There’s a scene later on of a gig, and the band has women in cages dancing. This must be a really good gig, right? Well, as the budget didn’t exist, it’s actually in an almost empty bar, and I’d lay good odds on the band paying for the privilege of being in it.

 

The title is accurate, for once, and the chainsaws are a lot of fun – even if the budget means they were never actually turned on, despite being in shot, visibly not moving, with the roaring sound of a working chainsaw dominating the scene. Dawn needs some protection as, sort of by accident, Lucinda has decided to make her life hell, killing all Dawn’s enemies and making it look like she did it.

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You may have noticed I’ve not used any words like “sexist”, “garbage”, “murky”, “incomprehensible” and “miserable” so far. I really don’t know what to say, readers, but it seems like Don Farmer was making a play for the mainstream here! There’s no endless sex scenes (and only brief nudity, during a weird sex game featuring Rochon), the dreadful actors appear to know they’re dreadful, and play it for laughs, everything’s lit reasonably well, and I understood at every point why characters were behaving the way they were and what the plot was. This is unprecedented, basically – from “Demon Queen” through “Vampire Cop” all the way to the second “Red Lips” movie, Farmer has entertained in many ways, but having plotlines a rational human being could follow was never high on his list of priorities (or, indeed, on his list at all).

 

What’s annoying is the realisation that after this, which is both funny on purpose and comprehensible, Farmer stopped directing for five years, and then only broke silence to do a short film for the “Hi-8” anthology. It’s like he’d finally figured it out, and then knowing he’d figured it out, gave up!

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Bear in mind, readers, that me enjoying this is based on having seen fifteen other Donald Farmer movies, and the myriad insane ways those movies failed. You, who watch normal movies all the time, would probably struggle with this. But if you’re a Farmer fan, like I am, and want to know if this is worth picking up, 100% yes. Buy it, enjoy it, and hope some distributor picks up “Shark Exorcist” and his upcoming “Cannibal Cop”.

 

Rating: thumbs up