Invasion Of The Scream Queens (1992)

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Firstly – much love for Wild Eye Releasing. Those folks are doing some sterling work bringing ultra-low budget and completely forgotten works of horror cinema to a wider audience, and if you have any spare money I heartily recommend buying some of their stuff and having a good time. Well, a good time is not guaranteed, but you know. Get this film from here.

 

This also continues our Donald Farmer season. The great Farmer, after dropping the insane classic “Vampire Cop” on the world, decided to do a documentary featuring the women of the new world of low-budget and shot-on-video (SOV) horror. Well, “decided” might be too strong a word – it looks like he was offered interviews with a bunch of women in their homes, or waiting in the reception room of some movie company, and saw a buck to be made.

 

There’s absolutely nothing interesting visually about this documentary at all, unless you count the sound drops and weird tracking problems that came from Farmer’s original VHS tape and Wild Eye’s transfer of said VHS. So I’d normally try and say something about the movie itself, but in this case I’m stumped. Pro wrestling fans will recognise a lot of the “shoot interview” trend in this, where a wrestler was filmed telling stories in a hotel room on the road somewhere for a couple of hours. No-one has ever said “this shoot interview was really well filmed”.

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A substantial number of women are interviewed, and what’s interesting I think is the mix of extreme honesty and typical Hollywood back-covering from them. Sadly, a lot of them had to rely on, for want of a better word, bottom-feeding scum like Jim Wynorski and Fred Olen Ray for work, and those guys were far more interested in whether a woman would take her clothes off on camera than telling an interesting story (with one or two minor exceptions for both guys). So you get young women like Melissa Moore, Michelle Bauer and Brinke Stevens, and veterans like Mary Woronov and Martine Beswick, all trying to be as polite as possible about men who I’m sure they’d have crossed the street to avoid had they been in any other line of work. Stevens even manages, from the vantage of 2015, to be a little heartbreaking, as she talks about writing movies and getting into A-pictures…when we can see her IMDB page and the last 20 years is full of cheap horror garbage I’d never even heard of.

 

I think the politeness spoils it, slightly. For instance, making a movie in four days must have been a bizarre experience, and it’s brushed over as “well, I was new, and I’d do anything”. Tell us more! Give us dirt!

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There are no new ideas in the world, and so it is with this movie. Farmer must have seen “Scream Queen Hot Tub Party”, released the previous year, which was a Fred Olen Ray / Jim Wynorski joint effort and basically an hour of mostly naked women talking about the shitty movies they’d been in…although Farmer changes it up and also interviews people like David DeCoteau, who artfully skates round why he doesn’t use certain actresses any more (real answer: they had the temerity to join a Union, and his cheap garbage is most definitely non-Union).  DeCoteau, “interestingly” enough, is still trading on the “Scream Queen” name, casting Linnea Quigley, Bauer and Stevens together in 2014’s “3 Scream Queens”.

 

It’s an fascinating artefact from a fascinating time, and thanks to Wild Eye for putting it out there. But, all told, I’m glad Farmer went back to doing what he did best – making spectacularly cheap horror movies. While I have my soapbox, though, I’ll add a little bit about Wynorski and Olen Ray, as their shadows loom large over this sort of cinema. A lot of sites and magazines will call them “legends”, or make reference to their “gleefully un-PC” cinema, or will even pretend to like their movies. This is 100% bullshit, though. Not only did they make cheap crap with very few redeeming features, they exploited women, and if you think “well, the women could have refused to work for them” then I’m sorry that you don’t understand how the world and power relationships work. Anyway, after the era covered by this movie, Wynorski went on to basically make soft-core pornography (including “Witches of Breastwick” and “Cleavagefield”, and those movies are not as much fun as the titles suggest) and Olen Ray, along with also making soft-core horror, just with less entertaining titles, made super-cheap family movies (“Abner The Invisible Dog” is one), because his entire business model relies on fooling old people and children in video shops and Netflix queues.

Look at this asshole

Look at this asshole

B-movies, cheap SOV horror or whatever you want to call it, can be sleazy fun without being so exploitative, but if you only had their work to go on, you’d never realise that. I’m far from a prude, but if being called a prude means I don’t have to pretend to like the person who made “Girl With The Sex-Ray Eyes” then I accept the title. Hell, I’ll be an equal opportunities prude, just look at the front cover of any David DeCoteau movie made in the last decade and tell me you don’t feel a little bad for the guys on the posters.

 

I realise I’ve spent over half this review talking about people who aren’t in it. Sorry ISCFC readers, but “Invasion Of The Scream Queens” comes recommended – just don’t expect much of the documentarian’s art.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Asteroid vs. Earth (2014)

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Now, I know I said this about the last Asylum film I watched, but I’ve definitely seen this one before, right? Perhaps it’s “Collision Earth” or an old episode of “Sliders” or perhaps, like the Matrix, I’ve begun to see behind the scenes to see the weird machine that churns out the plots for these movies. Or perhaps it’s…

THE SET! Making its fourth appearance in an Asylum movie – after “The 3 Musketeers”, “Super Cyclone” and “Airplane v. Volcano” (and probably a few others), is the circular room with wooden shutters, filled with computers and, usually, busy soldiers, scientists, whatever. The Kondelik Brothers, directors of “Airplane v. Volcano” were kind enough to tell me that it’s the San Pedro Water Treatment plant, so if you’re planning a tour of the venues of Asylum for your next holiday, be sure to add that to the list.

So, there’s an asteroid headed for Earth. Really, I hear you ask? It’s not just a weird title for a mature relationship drama, then? Even though it’s far too far away to have any sort of impact on the planet, the weather starts going screwy, which gives the Asylum the opportunity to use their stock footage again. Fair play to em, they’re getting pretty good at making it look like part of the movie. This weather turns Robert Davi’s house from perfectly normal to bombed-out-looking in about 30 seconds, but he just leaves his wife there (who’s young enough to be his granddaughter) when he gets called up to save the world (he’s an Army General, or something high up). He’s fairly unique in low-budget disaster movie Army guys because when the oddball genius spots the IMPENDING DISASTER, he believes him immediately and signs him up as a special adviser.

The other side of this film is an interesting threesome. First up is Tia Carrere as Marissa Knox, some sort of deep-sea scientist, and then there’s a couple of Marines- Lt Cmdr Chase Seward (Jason Brooks, the main guy from “Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys”) and Lt. Rudy (Wade F Wilson). Rudy acts as matchmmaker for Seward and Knox, and they go from being complete strangers to ready for lovin’ with the simple addition of several hours of drinking. On their way for some sex, they’re stopped by the Army, bundled in a car and taken to save the world – lucky coincidence, eh?

I’m getting bogged down in detail! Rudy is another interesting character, as he’s gay, stopping regularly to phone up his boyfriend (and his Mum). When he tells one of his fellow Marines that he’s gay, the response is “we know” and then everyone gets on with their jobs. Well done, this movie! The director is Christopher Ray, Asylum mainstay and son of cheap-o “master” Fred Olen Ray, so he ought to be commended for showing how gays in the military would be dealt with in an ideal world (no-one would care, either way).

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What he shouldn’t be commended for is what might politely be called a lack of polish in some scenes. Rudy and a few other Marines survive a meteor fragment hitting their base, and are tasked with taking a few nuclear warheads to a volcano – but it’s never really established where they are, how they’re getting to the volcano, and there’s a lot of scenes in their sub-plot that feel like they were filmed with very careful camera angles to hide the normal business going on all around them. Also, they don’t start on this mission til about 15 minutes before the end, so it all feels tacked on, like they realised they’d not filmed enough. Apart from this mission, the rest of the film doesn’t have tons of drama in it – smart and capable people behaving in smart and capable ways does not an exciting thriller make.

It’s not all bad, though. The acting is pretty solid, and the front cover has a pretty funny joke on it. Under the title is “The classic sci-fi thriller returns” – what? Is this a sequel to a film I was previously unaware of? Or are they just referring very specifically to other sci-fi thrillers, and how they’ve not had any classics in a while? A very confusing sentence if it’s not a joke from someone at the Asylum. Also, and I almost didn’t mention it because it shouldn’t be worth mentioning, but people of colour make up a majority of this film’s cast. It’s a good sign, I think, and it’s a shame we have to go to the lower-end of the budget / talent scale to find films where this is a thing and it’s not commented on (inside the film itself).

I don’t like nit-picking, but there are a couple of beautiful moments in this film. It features the greatest mobile phone in the history of mobile phones. Rudy is stood at the edge of a very active volcano, next to two nuclear warheads, on a deserted Japanese island. And he makes a call! Whatever provider he’s with, sign me up, because my reception cuts out if I go into a lift. Also, General Robert Davi liaises with his counterparts from Russia and China. Russia seems okay, but the location of the Chinese high-level military personnel? A lovely suburban living room, complete with swords on the wall and a pot of flowers in the background. WHAT?

Ultimately, the problem this film has isn’t its rather odd moments, but in the main narrative thrust. It’s just not particularly exciting, and they try and cram in too many sub-plots (not a problem I thought I’d ever have with an Asylum movie). Chase and Marissa actually get locked in a room for a decent portion of the film just so the film can concentrate on other people for a bit, but it’d have benefited from trimming their part even more and concentrating on Rudy, who’s clearly the film’s hero. If you’re really desperate for an Asylum fix, you could do worse, I suppose.

Rating: thumbs down

Super Shark (2011)

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The producers of “Super Shark” clearly didn’t think the title alone would be enough to hold you past the opening credits, so this film stars nine-tenths of the way in, then cuts to “1 week earlier”. If only it started with a shark jumping around the beach and a tank on legs, then went on from there!

If you’ve seen one of the shark films that we’ve reviewed, then you’ll know how they work, the beats they tend to cover, and luckily, this one is no different. A deep sea oil drilling platform uses some chemical to dissolve some super-hard stone (I have no idea) and this releases a shark of truly staggering size – although its size see-saws at times, early in the film it’s big enough to tear down an entire oil rig.

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After a funk theme song and formerly famous US TV actor / standup Jimmy “JJ” Walker giving us his catchphrase “Dyn-O-Mite” and telling us about a Queen Of The Beach bikini contest coming up later that day, we meet our stars. First up is John Scheider (Dukes of Hazzard, Smallville), head of the drilling company and seemingly nice guy; then we get Sarah Lieving (lots of really bad movies) as a federal agent. If I had to join any fed group, it would definitely be the Oceanic Investigation Bureau (OIB).

If news of a bikini contest wasn’t enough to set alarms off, then the next scene will tell you just what director Fred Olen Ray thinks his audience wants. Lieving hires a boat to go and see the site where the oil rig was, and she hires lovable sea captain Tim Abell (another man who appears to have written his own IMDB bio). So, she’s wearing a very flattering trouser-suit, he’s in palm-tree shirt and baggy shorts. Then, for absolutely no reason, she take off her top to reveal the bikini underneath. Hot day, maybe? Guess how many layers of clothing the boat captain removes?

I’ve not even mentioned the B story! Two beautiful young women go to the beach to become lifeguards for the season, and there’s a bit of a love triangle with a male lifeguard. Tension abounds, but if you guessed the resolution to this story would come in form of them all being eaten by the shark about halfway into the movie, then hats off to you! it’s like they’d already filmed a bit of that, then decided it wasn’t going to work so goodbye. Well, they needed to get rid of one story to give the bikini plot developments room to breathe, inclusing a seemingly endless competition in the bar, then the two winners going to shoot a calendar on the beach the next day.

Regular readers may remember my “rules of shark movies”, and this film fulfils all four!

Rule 1: ‘there must be a shot where the heroes are on a speedboat looking ahead with determination’
Rule 2: ‘ there must be a large seafront entertainment event that can’t be cancelled, for some reason’
Rule 3: ‘at least one character must behave in a brain-buggeringly stupid way, to drive the plot along’
Rule 4: ‘sharks be super-powered’

Rule 3 is my favourite. The shark is, for some reason, attracted to radio waves, so Lieving demands the captain turn off the boat’s radio…even though it’s only a receiving one. She does know that your average living-room radio doesn’t actually broadcast a signal, right?

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I enjoyed this. By now, low-budget shark movies are like slipping on a pair of comfortable slippers, with their plots that all follow the same path, the same relationships forming, the same hail-mary pass at the end which saves the day. So really all we viewers should be looking for is that they do them right. There were times when watching this that I was convinced I’d seen it before, but as we’re not here for originality that’s okay.

You’ll struggle to remember a thing about it the day after you saw it, but you’ll enjoy it while it’s on. Just that puts it in the upper half of the films we’ve reviewed here.

Rating: thumbs in the middle