Angel Of Reckoning (2016)

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It’s a warm welcome back for Len Kabasinski, friend of the site and low budget filmmaker extraordinaire. He’s been entertaining us since “Swamp Zombies”, and we recently did a great interview with him. Full disclosure: I got this DVD by taking part in the crowdfunding campaign for Len’s latest movie, should you demand rigorous lack of bias from your low-budget reviewers.

 

After working in every genre under the sun, he’s turned to the grindhouse and the sleazy 70s revenge flick. Rachel (Jessica “Wife of Len” Kabasinski, making only her second significant appearance) is a soldier, coming home for a holiday. She meets a group of people who appear to be her family and friends, despite coming across a bit like they’re vague acquaintances; then goes home to her girlfriend Reagan (Lisa Neeld), although you could be forgiven for thinking they’re just roommates or sisters until she brings Rachel a glass of wine in the nude. Why didn’t you pick her up from the bus station? What sort of crappy girlfriend are you? There are hints that under Rachel’s calm exterior, dark things lurk, as she’s woken up in the middle of the night by uneasy dreams of her military past.

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The revenge element comes from Rachel’s niece Jamie (Khila Freeman). She has a boyfriend who looks nice and clean cut but is actually a cocaine fiend (check out the lines he snorts, they’re huge), and one evening he decides a good idea would be to film a sex tape. Jamie is sadly easily convinced, and when the boyfriend can’t afford his next fix, he gives the sex tape to his dealer James (Mark Kosebucki), who sells it to amateur pornographer Billy (Jawn Gross), who puts it up on a site I neglected to write down, but is something like “xxxtremeteen.com”.

 

Now, I was thinking about this. My neighbours could be porn stars, but I’d never know not only because I’m not into porn, but because there’s millions of sites out there with millions of videos. Is there enough of a market for sex tapes featuring completely ordinary people? Is this a thing that the jaded pornography consumer likes? Anyway, everyone immediately finds out that Jamie was in a porno, which causes her to kill herself.

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Rachel discovers this in a scene where she finds Jamie’s phone and the distraught messages on it. I felt for the poor girl’s pain, even if it was being projected on the screen in text-speak, and I bloody hate text speak. Anyway, it’s like a switch flips in Rachel’s head and she becomes the titular angel of reckoning, going undercover as a stripper, and working her way up the food chain, through low-level dealers to pornographers finally to Beverly (Donna Hamblin), the kingpin of the town. Lots of scenes where “Angel” (as she calls herself) is gyrating around in very little, as well as making friends with the much older Bobbi (Debbie Dutch), who shows her the stripping ropes.

 

The porn “studio” scene is a weird one, as underage girls are drugged and coerced into group sex with ugly guys – again, is there really a market for this stuff? It feels like a scene from the 70s, honestly, as today there seem to be no end of willing participants who don’t need to be lied to about the work they’re getting into. Although, it made me feel unclean, so grindhouse job done!

 

I’d like to lead off with a huge positive. Kabasinski is always willing to learn, and you can see that he has done. “Angel” is cleanly shot, lit well, the sound is fine and the effects are excellent. He’s a director who is, I think, ready for a decent budget and some proper actors – I’d love to see him with SyFy Channel money and stars. “Kabasinski keeps growing as a filmmaker”, if anyone would like a pull quote.

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The “er…” comes in the shape of the acting talent assembled, but I’m not going to criticise someone who had zero money for actors. Kabasinski herself is fine, as is Frederick Williams as Detective Trufont, who’s trying to track down the person killing all the town’s lowlifes (with an honourable mention to his partner, Dave Johnson as Detective Campbell, who does a lot with his little screen time). Jasmine St Claire, who appeared in a couple of Len’s movies way back when, is decent too in her few scenes, but everyone else is presumably a complete amateur and it shows. No biggie, if you’re reading reviews on this site you’ll have seen worse, and as long as you know what to expect it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. It makes it a bit difficult to figure out the motivation of some scenes, is all.

 

Now, I think there’s a negative, but I always thought the 70s grindhouse movies had the same negative, so it might just be Kabasinski aping that style. The editing is pretty bad, I think, with the first action scene taking way too long to come along, and some scenes just going on for ever. One example – at a wake, we see a woman pull up in her car, walk across the lawn, go into the house and put a bowl of food on a table, before wandering into the background. This entire thing could have been done in 1 second – we see a woman putting a bowl of food on a table at what’s obviously a wake – but instead goes on for 30.

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The running time is another one – the thing with grindhouse movies is they often came in at like 75 minutes, barely ever longer than 90. “Angel of Reckoning” is over 100 minutes, which I think is perhaps a bit too long – rather than have Rachel come back just to come back, it could have been for the funeral of her niece, cutting out that entire introductory section? But I’m not an armchair quarterback, so no-one cares about what I think the movie should have been, sorry.

 

This movie does have one of my favourite things in it, though – the scene where actors are watching one of the director’s older movies – in this case, “Skull Forest”. The cinema seems packed, too! So, kudos, and “Angel of Reckoning” wins an “ISCFC Self-Reference Award”!

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While Len gets the mood exactly right, and his technical abilities have come on in leaps and bounds, I can’t call this one a complete success. But, even a non-success from a guy like Len is better than 95% of the studio product currently out there, so I’d definitely recommend supporting independent filmmaking and giving this a try.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

PS – Len has the rights back to his older movies, and is offering them on his site at http://www.killerwolffilms.com/ for a low price. Read our old reviews and see if anything takes your fancy, but I’m sure you’ll find something decent among them.

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Mardi Gras Massacre (1978)

This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

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“Mardi Gras Massacre” is interesting as it’s one of the very few of the 72 banned movies to never re-submit itself for a BBFC classification. Now, this is probably down to the distributors going bankrupt or something, but “Mardi Gras Massacre” has never been seen legally by anyone in the UK. That is a damn shame, because with a bold display of rank incompetence, bizarre plot choices and gore so mild as to be almost charming, it’s shot right to the top of my B-list of video nasties (obviously, there’s an A-list, which is stuff like “Driller Killer”, “Tenebrae”, “The Evil Dead”, and “Possession”).

 

I hope you enjoy this review, anyway, even if you don’t track it down (although you definitely should). “John”, a sharp-dressed Englishman with a huge chin dimple walks into a sleazy New Orleans bar and asks around for the most evil prostitute in there. A helpful pair of ladies points him in the direction of someone the credits refer to as “Shirley Anderson the Evil Prostitute”, and he has one of the odder conversations I’ve ever witnessed. The line that seals the deal is Shirley saying “I could win first place in any evil contest”, so off they go to John’s place, a little apartment with a very unusual soundproofed bedroom.

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It’s about now when B-movie aficionados will notice the similarities to a great gore classic, 1963’s “Blood Feast”. Both movies are about the ritual murder of women for an ancient god, although “Blood Feast” is an Egyptian god and just random women; this one is a Latin American god and specifically prostitutes. Anyway, John gets to work, tying up the women and then slicing hands and feet before cutting open their chest and removing the heart, which is a decent effect for a low-budget late 70s movie, even if it’s barely enough to get it banned. Now, John kills three women during the course of things, and those three murders are pretty much identical – he goes, finds a prostitute, takes her to his bedroom, ties her up and cuts out her heart. They’re shot pretty much the same way too, so I might suggest director Jack Weis (who clearly thought he’d given the world his masterwork, as he never directed anything again) was more interested in showing gore than he was in making things visually appealing.

 

Time to talk about the cops. We’ve got personality and brains to discuss! Our main man is Sergeant Frank Herbert, a former vice cop who’s now working homicide. After talking to Sherry the friendly prostitute about the death of her friend, he decides to take her to dinner – I thought it was to do with getting more information, but no, Frank and Sherry start up a relationship, and we’re treated to a substantial montage of their week of bliss together. Hey, Frank, someone’s murdering prostitutes and you’re supposed to be investigating it! Their relationship is treated at least initially as perfectly normal, but surely it must be a bit weird for a cop to date a hooker? Even in late 70s New Orleans? Of course, when he’s bored of her, he calls her a whore and slaps her about a bit, only at the end for her to apologise to him! Wow! I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not, but I’m kind of on the side of the murderer, who at least has a moral code.

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The “brains” part of the above is the investigation itself. The murderer is a well-dressed Englishman with a distinctive facial feature (a huge chin-dimple) and goes into places with a weird request – to purchase the services of the most evil prostitute there. The first killing takes place weeks before Mardi Gras, so it’s not like New Orleans will be heaving with millions of tourists, and you’d have to think he’d stand out a bit. But he’s able to carry on killing, no-one bothers warning anyone to be on the lookout, no-one comments on anything other than a weird ring he wears, and the police don’t seem to do anything other than the most perfunctory investigation. And there’s one moment where Sherry sees the killer and doesn’t recognise him! Surely you’d at least notice the accent? What the hell? Although if we’re talking baffling choices, the bit when John picks up a woman who he thinks is evil because she’s wearing devil horns and red body paint is my favourite.

 

On top of the weird plotting, we get a real flavour of New Orleans in the late 70s. This movie was filmed in dirty back alleys and dive bars and is, I imagine, much more “authentic” than the traditional tourist-style videos we normally see. There’s also footage from Mardi Gras itself, which must have been miserable that year as everyone is in thick coats and hats…it’s surprisingly interesting visually, if not for the reasons that anyone intended at the time. It’s also heavy with disco fever, to the extent of (with the exception of 15 seconds near the end) the entire soundtrack being disco, even though New Orleans is the jazz capital of the world. Even seeing the real patrons of the bars (not a paid extra in sight) is a fascinating look at another time and place – there’s a fight on one dancefloor which is witnessed by a chap dressed as Frank N Furter, for example. The camera really captures the grime, and the cheap nature of the film used helps in that regard. It’s got a great grindhouse look to it.

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The ending is pretty strange, which fits with the rest of the movie. John tries to kill three hookers at once (including Sherry) but finally the police decide to do their damn jobs for a second and find out where he lives – although, they’re tipped off and decide to go to a bar, have a drink and wait for backup! Anyway, John escapes and at that point the actor just disappears from the movie – we’re treated to a car chase and some extreme long shots of someone dressed the same as John driving a car into the ocean and disappearing. Low-budget movies always find weird and wonderful new ways to do things!

 

While it’s often dull (those murders go on forever and are all the damn same) and treats women absolutely appallingly, it’s entertaining enough to give a go to. I wouldn’t even worry about the gore, it’s hardly worse than the opening of the average episode of “Bones”. The decision to ban it seems sort of stupid, giving it notoriety it never deserved, although it’s not like they’ve ever tried to capitalise on it by re-releasing it over here. It’s an anti-classic!

 

Rating: thumbs up

The Driller Killer (1979)

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   An artist slowly loses his mind as he and his two female friends scrape to pay the bills. The punk band downstairs increasingly agitates him, his art dealer is demanding that he complete his big canvas painting as promised, and he gets into fights with his girlfriends. When the dealer laughs at his canvas he snaps, and begins taking it out on the people responsible for his pain…

   The title is made to thrill. It evokes images of 60s B-movies and shocking headlines written to sell newspapers. The poster’s tagline is lurid and evocative – ‘The Blood Runs In Rivers… And The Drill Keeps Tearing through Flesh and Bone’. The thrill-seekers waiting to see the film are half eager for it to start, and half hoping it doesn’t. The film was banned in the UK until 1999 under the ‘Video Nasty’ Act, so it’s predicted to be a truly horrific peep show. As the projector flickers on, one or two of the girls in the audience shriek pre-emptively. Nervous, coquettish laughter is heard, but it quickly dies down when the dripping RED LETTERS – IT’S BLOOD – appear. ‘THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD’ flashes across the screen, followed by the title. And that’s where the peak of terror is reached, before the film actually starts.

   Driller Killer is one of those films that seemed to reach cult status not because it was well made (it wasn’t), but because it has a style and theme that makes it interesting to watch. The early Abel Ferrara work is more of a social commentary than a slasher gorn-fest, exploring the struggles and existential angst of young people in a place like New York City. It is, in essentials, a loosely punk film from the early days of punk rock. Abel is both director and leading man, playing Reno Miller; the aforementioned suffering artist. His current work is a large painting of a buffalo (drinking a large amount of wine before viewing makes the film endlessly more enjoyable and the mediocre art more exquisitely beautiful). He’s a sarcastic and snide individual, which is cool, and owes money to every capitalist business in the town, which is not cool – his buxom lady friends spend their time lending him money, spending his money and taking PG-15 erotic showers together. Presumably it’s a harsh necessity to save on water bills, because we all know they aren’t getting paid if Reno doesn’t sell that painting.

   Close-up flashes of whirring drills (we’re never explicitly sure why drills, but there was a whole film about a microwave as a weapon so go figure) and blood pools abound until Reno finally snaps and starts killing the homeless. It’s certainly violence, but not slick, realistic, nauseating gore like you’d expect. The effects are good, if dated, but the indiscriminate murder hobby just seems like a small part in Miller’s life rather than the central focus of the plot. Driller Killer is truly grim and as much shocking as the classic film it’s clearly inspired on (namely: Taxi Driver, definitely Taxi Driver) but it lacks a fitting tone and an appropriate background. The film opens with a very confusing (read: hackneyed) sequence in which the protagonist is standing at an altar while being approached by an elderly man. This footage is extra since the 1999 re-release and it looks like Ferrara wanted to supply his film with some kind of spiritual depth. It leads nowhere, though.

   In fact, Driller Killer could have so easily escaped the UK ‘Video Nasty’ list if the original video cover wasn’t so graphic. It featured a very bloody close-up of a drill boring into a man’s head while he grimaced and screwed his eyes up slightly in agony. The cover was featured in video catalogues and earned the complaints that lead to the film’s classification as obscene. A large amount of the film’s cult status does derive from just being on that list, so the ban was probably the best thing that ever happened to its sales. It’s now available free online and in various boxsets – chances are that it’s become public domain.

   Overall, is the film worth the two hour runtime? Strip away the minimal violence and the gratuitous lesbian showers and it’s just an urban study – an arguably boring one. It’s definitely better when held in context with Ferrara’s other work than compared to the other Video Nasties – it’s a surprisingly good film that has a lot more depth than expected. It’s still not that much, though. More arthouse than grindhouse, Driller Killer should be taken more as a character study with a slightly exploitative advertising campaign than a traditional horror offering.

Serving Suggestion: With a glass – with a large glass – with a bottle of wine before viewing. Personal recommendation is a low-end 2012 Shiraz.

Trailer Trash: Wolfcop

Tempt me in two and a half minutes. Get me to the cinema, to Netflix, to the bargain bin; make me watch your film. Trailer Trash looks at the hard sell. I watch the trailer and then ask myself – Do I want to watch this movie?

The opening few seconds of the trailer remind me of a the satanic premise of the 1971 outlaw biker movie ‘Werewolves on Wheels’, in that hooded druidy types kidnap an unwilling victim. They cast a spell and turn man into beast.

In ‘Wolfcop’, it appears our deadbeat hung-over cop protagonist wakes up, thinking it was all a nightmare. Officer Lou Garou is his name, flashing up in big bad bold white text. The change is given away all too easily for my liking, but since this is essentially a grindhouse spoof it doesn’t matter if we know the finer details of the plot. ‘Wolfcop’ looks like it is full of snappy one-liners, and “memorable” moments. Taking the ‘Snakes on a Plane’ now well-trodden marketing approach of turning a silly concept into a ninety minute leave your brains at the door kind of movie. It seems rather obvious that ‘Wolfcop’ will rely on word of mouth, a viral gush of “You’ve gotta see this” that propelled such cult classics like ‘Sharknado’ into the public consciousness.

On a side note, I really like the idea of the werewolf shedding his skin, leaving behind evidence of who he is.

– RJW

DO I WANT TO SEE IT?
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Someone’s Knocking At The Door (2009)

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A group of medical students, in varying stages of drug addiction, start rapidly falling apart when one of their number is found brutally raped and murdered by a serial killer thought to be long dead. Or do they?

I was tempted to leave the review at that, but we don’t get the big bucks (current ISCFC wages: £0) for writing two sentences. This film is billed as a throwback to the days of grindhouse, where blood was chucked about liberally, political correctness was an unknown concept and blah blah blah violence and sex. Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, this lineage of cinematic rubbish (seriously, try and watch some “real” grindhouse films and see how long you last before your brain just gives up) is now influencing a new generation of filmmakers, including the makers of this.

The one thing this film absolutely nails is the tedium of drug talk. Now, my friend (definitely not me) told me many stories of getting stoned as a University student, and the endless boring conversations that would break out in the room. People congregated because they liked drugs, not because they liked each other, and there was always that passive-aggressive asshole who everyone wanted to beat the crap out of. “Someone’s Knocking…” ramps it up a bit, but otherwise it’s distressingly well-observed and made me, er, my friend, flash back to those bad old days.

The students are experimenting with a drug called Taldon, and for reasons unknown this causes a long-dead psychopathic rapist-murdering married couple to come back to life and start killing people again. Or does it? There are arrests, strangeness and a pivotal moment where the cast decide to visit the disused records wing of an old psychiatric hospital to find the information about the killer and what they can do to stop him.

I’m still not quite sure what to make of this film. As with all films featuring mental breakdown and heavy drug use, you can be fairly sure there’s going to be a “whoops it was a dream” fakeout at some point; and the slightly unreal nature of even the most tedious of scenes leaves you with a sense of never being able to get a handle on things. The sound is absolutely magnificent and whoever did all that should be working on much bigger films immediately – auditory hallucinations abound, and it’s the most effective part of the characters descent into their own hells.

But as far as the film itself goes, I don’t think I can recommend it. It’s like a teenager trying to do handbrake turns during his first driving lesson, and although you can get a sense of what the filmmakers are trying to do, they’ve a love of gore over plot combined with a really trite ending to cope with. But I think they could really do something good. Director Chad Ferrin is used to working at the no-budget end of things, but give him a better script and a few $$$ and I think he could become a director worth watching.

 

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