Nudist Colony Of The Dead (1991)

In a sense, a title like this is critic-proof: you’ll see it and instantly decide whether you’ll want to watch it or not. So, this review isn’t really aimed at those people who’ve already stopped reading this and have headed to eBay (or to www.pirromount.com, where I’ll be spending some money in the upcoming weeks), it’s aimed at those who’d immediately dismiss such a weird title.

It has “nudist” in the title, but isn’t remotely titilating, and indeed features almost no nudity. It’s a musical comedy, for heavens’ sake! Made for a cost of around $35,000!

It starts off with an apology for the quality of the film stock used! Mr Pirro shot on super-8, but when he came to re-release it on DVD many years later, realised the picture quality of some shots was so poor that it was basically unusable – so he replaced some scenes with video-taped shots of the same scenes, made for a behind-the-scenes documentary, and tried his best to clean it up. While it’s safe to say it’s not DVD quality, it looks a lot better than some micro-budget super-8 movie has any right to look on a 2018 55” screen.

A group of nudists are in court, defending their right to be nude all the time in front of Judge Rhinehole (Forrest J Ackerman); on the other side are the sort of religious busybodies I hoped didn’t exist in real life when I lived in the UK, but have encountered several times since moving to the US. They’ve collected signatures and the Judge sides with them, ordering the nudists off their property.

That’s the last moment “Nudist Colony Of The Dead” could be called sensible, in any way. The remaining nudists, led by Mrs Druple (a young lady by the name of Rachel Latt in a genuinely hideous body-suit), decide to commit suicide en masse, rather than, I don’t know, buying some other land somewhere else, and before they drink the poison, say they’ll be back to wreak their revenge on the town scumbags.

ISCFC FAVOURITE THING: the custom written theme song! I love a song which talks about the plot of the movie it’s the theme to, and this one is a doozy. Favourite line? “Exposing gonads, with no shame”. Beautiful.

If further evidence of writer / producer / director Mark Pirro’s view on religion was needed, the main body of the movie is the setting up of a…I think religious re-education?…camp on the site of the old nudist colony, and the group of “kids” who are sent there. The one parent we see just endlessly packs crucifixes into her daughter’s case while ignoring her repeated requests to not go; and the two people in charge of the trip were the two main women from the case against the nudist colony, years ago (I think the movie says it was two years, IMDB says five). The gang of “kids” goes there, along with the two old ladies and a couple of hillbillies who are, I guess, camp counsellors, and pretty much immediately all the nudists rise from their graves and get to killing, in a variety of interesting ways.

Let’s do the good stuff first. The songs are often hilarious, and while it’s not quite at the level of a Rocky Horror, they’re a great deal better than you’d expect from a no-budget zombie-horror-comedy. “Inky-Dinky-Doo-Dah Morning” is fabulous, for example (and does the classic thing of introducing a couple of characters to bulk out the chorus who are never seen before or since – a black guy and a red-headed woman, primarily).

The effects are hand-made in the best possible way, too, so kudos to Pirro for making a budget stretch a long way. It feels a little like “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars” (mercifully, it looks like Pirro’s career went better than that one’s director). I particularly liked the set of legs still moving after their top half was sliced off.

And then the bad. The acting is a wash, because what do you expect from people prepared to work on a movie with zero budget? But the script is nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is, and so many of the jokes fall completely flat. Chief among these is Billy McRighteous, who has maybe 100 lines in the movie, and 95 of them are variations on this:

“The Bible says ‘he who turneth the other cheek, needeth more toilet paper’. Jeremiah Chapter 2, verse 5, Rocky 4.”

One of those, maybe, but after the tenth one you’re filled with a desire to sit the writer down and try to explain to him how jokes work. After the last one, you’re begging for some payoff – like, maybe the character isn’t reading the Bible at all, and is a lunatic who just wandered onto the bus before it set off for Camp Cutchaguzzout – but no.

I mean, it’s not all terrible. One exchange goes – “we’re Christians! We’re not supposed to think!” and the reply “or be rational!” and that’s nicely written and delivered. But it’s definitely the weak link, and I wish Pirro had gotten a little help with the script beforehand.

Also, it’s kinda racist? A few commenters have mentioned the black park ranger, but he not only saves the day, but his sweet 80s rap is a lot of fun too. He’s fine. It’s not the anti-religious stuff (my wife’s ears pricked up at a reference to Judaism, but neither of us really heard it) because I pretty much agree with it. It’s represented by the character Juan Too, who’s half Japanese, half Mexican. He’s a collection of wacky mispronunciations and, while he’s slightly better than the all-time most racist depiction of a person from that part of the world – Long Duk Dong from “Sixteen Candles” – the fact I can mention them both in the same sentence isn’t a good thing. I’m prepared to give Pirro the benefit of the doubt, like maybe it was a joke that just didn’t work, or fell flat in the edit, but it just looks bad today.

Anyway, should you watch it? Absolutely. It’s a lot of fun, and if you can forgive the occasional fallow patch, you’ll have a heck of a good time with it.

Rating: thumbs up

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Prom Night 3: The Last Kiss (1990)

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Many years ago, my friend Dan worked in a 24-hour garage, on the night shift. Usually, it was very quiet, so we’d pop over and keep him company (we were all students or unemployed at the time), and part of the fun was grabbing a VHS tape from the bargain bucket and playing it over the store’s TV. We saw / fell asleep ten minutes into many a terrible B-movie, but the one I remembered with most fondness was “Prom Night 3” (having never watched parts 1 or 2 at the time). But now I have!

Mary Lou Maloney is in hell, after the events of part 2. Her hell is a Prom, a sort of hideous mashup of her 50s past and the disco of part 1, with shuffling zombies her only companions; but she’s resourceful, so with nothing more than a nail-file and a can-do attitude, she’s off and back to Hamilton High school! A quick couple of murders later (the janitor and an old boyfriend) and she’s ready to get involved with the main story.

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Our human “hero” is Alex (Tim Conlon, making his debut), an average student in every way – height, weight, shoe size, grades, everything. He has a beautiful, smart girlfriend, though, Sarah (Cynthia Preston); but she wants him to go work on a farm with her , post-graduation and pre-college, whereas his best friend Shane (David Stratton) wants the two of them to get motorbikes and hit the open road. I mean, a summer on a farm does sound like sort of a crappy way to spend your last free time, but what do I know? In school late one night, Alex hits his head and while he’s lying completely dazed on the floor, wrapped in the American flag which fell off on top of him, Mary Lou, flying through the school’s corridors looking for fresh victims, sees him and falls in love.

Now, here’s where my carefully constructed feminist persona may crumble slightly. This is the first time in the movie we see the face of the new Mary Lou, Courtney Taylor (for whom this was her debut too). Now, we all have our favourite genders, sizes, shapes, and hair colours, but to say I developed a little crush on Ms Taylor is to understate things considerably. She was so beautiful that the film could have been a massive pile of crap and I’d still love it to this day – luckily, it’s great so I don’t have to pretend. Thank heavens the internet wasn’t a thing back then, I’d have made a horrible embarrassment out of myself – anyway, she’s also a lot of fun in the role too, playing someone who is so pleased to be out of Hell that she falls deeply in love with the first nice guy she sees.

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MONOCLE DROP

Unfortunately for those around her, Mary Lou’s way of showing love is somewhat influenced by her past. A science teacher with a sweet tooth is about to give Alex an F, so she tears his chest open and replaces his guts with chocolate and ice cream. The guidance counsellor thinks Alex is only good for menial labour, so Mary Lou melts her face off with battery acid. Then, because she may be an utter psychopath but she’s not stupid, she forces Alex to dispose of the bodies, which he chooses to bury in the middle of the “football” field for some reason, making sure he’s bribed well with sex. This bonds the two of them together quite well.

Alex turns into a cool kid sort of by accident, as the confidence he gets from Mary Lou (along with the murder of his enemies), and a bike / leather jacket from his parents (as a reward for acing a test that Mary Lou actually filled in for him), elevates him in the school’s eyes. He and Sarah have some serious problems, and Shane struggles with the new Alex too.

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As I always say, if you want a poorly worded recap you can just go to Wikipedia, so let’s talk character. Sarah is interestingly-played, as she’s pretty boring, wanting Alex to do a really dull thing with her, and having no obvious interests (that she’s not into sex, it would seem, is the icing on the cake for a teenage boy). She’s the archetype for many of that sort of character in teen comedy cinema, but rarely would they give her so few redeeming qualities. Mary Lou represents destroying small town tedium, and as well as being staggeringly beautiful, it’s very obvious to see how a guy obsessed with his own average-at-everything nature would fall hard for that. Alex is the everyman, and I’m pretty sure I identified with him quite a lot when I first saw it.

Then there’s the comedy element, as “Prom Night 3” is most definitely a comedy first and a horror second. The brutal murder of people around him is played with a sort of off-hand, casual indifference by Alex, but his nightmarish rise to the top of the school’s social pyramid is funny as well. It’s not jokes or wackiness, but laughs that come from the characters and the situations; okay, there are some great lines too, such as Alex’s “What am I talking about? I just stuffed my dead biology teacher into the cupboard. Things are not alright”, but then, that’s all in the delivery too. There are also some weird / brilliant visual touches, like the cactus shaped like a penis that keeps blocking the shot as Alex talks to the guidance counsellor; but, of course, some of it is terrible, like the PA announcer, whose lines feel like they were rejected from the worst, lamest “Airplane!” ripoff.

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The entire “Prom Night” series qualifies as “unquels” – sequels that bear no relation to what came before. The first one is a largely serious slasher movie; part 2 is a wicked black joke of a horror, which introduces a new central character; part 3 keeps the main character but completely alters everything about them; and part 4 isn’t even set at a prom! The curious-ish thing is that parts 2 and 3 were written by the same person, Ron Oliver, who now does kids’ TV and romance movies. He also got to direct part 3, which is perhaps why its odder comedic elements get dialled way up.

Is this movie any good? It’s almost impossible for me to separate my enjoyment of it from the time I originally saw it, but its dark, almost post-modern take on the wronged-girlfriend-slasher movie seems refreshing, even today. As comedy fans are unlikely to stumble upon it, most of its press has come from horror sites, who seem upset that something which looks like a horror movie actually isn’t- the same treatment that the (far superior) “April Fools Day” also got. Very few horror-comedies get reviewed well, because I don’t think fans of either genre understand much about the other, and while I’m not saying I hold any unique perspective, as a fan of both I can appreciate the movies that get it right. Whether that’s a comedy with a horror setting, or a gory horror with a few dark laughs in it, or something in the middle.

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Okay. It’s a long way from perfect, with an ending which smacks of “we ran out of money, will this do?” and a lack of normal human response to any crisis leaving things curiously hollow at times, but the the good outweighs the bad to a huge degree. Funny, a couple of great debut performances, a black heart at the centre of a light movie – it’s absolutely worth tracking down. Not for you if you like movies that take themselves seriously, but otherwise you’ll have a fine time.

Rating: thumbs up

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Killer Party (1986)

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Although I watched this as a teenager, I have no recollection of it whatsoever, so it was with some trepidation I dusted it off and played it. I shouldn’t have worried, though, as it’s a surprising forgotten gem, funny, scary, and female-dominated (although not behind the camera, sadly). I do love a good 80s horror-comedy!

“Killer Party” really tries its best to confuse you from the off, though. The opening five minutes are a film-within-a-film-within-a-film (the star, watching a movie where a woman is watching a movie). Top that off with the simple old film-within-a-film finishing with a song and dance number with zombies in it, and, well, it’s all a bit curious. I did wonder about accidental cremation being played for laughs, and honestly I’d have liked to see that one perhaps even more than the one we got.

Anyway, our stars are three women who all sort-of want to pledge to a seemingly unpleasant sorority – since I discovered you have to pay a lot of money to live in a sorority / fraternity house, I’ve got zero idea why anyone would want to do it – Jennifer, the obvious heroine / Final Girl; Vivia, the super-cute nerd; and Phoebe, the other one (I’m sorry, they don’t give her a ton of characterisation). They’re accepted, after some seriously gross-looking initiations, just in time for the annual April Fools’ party, co-hosted by the sorority and the Beta Tau fraternity, which is due to take place at the old abandoned frat house, which has lain empty for 20 years after a frat guy was decapitated there.

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Vivia is tasked with setting up some pranks inside the house, as her faux-decapitation during one of the hazing rituals impressed the head sorority sister. Jennifer seems to have some sort of psychic connection to the house as she freaks out every time she goes inside. And there’s plenty of decent supporting characters too – Blake, Jennifer’s love interest; Martin, the nebbish guy who Vivia likes, but he’s way more into Jennifer; Professor Zito (the great Paul Bartel), the head of the Greek letter council; the House Mother who has some mysterious connection to the dead frat guy; and lots of well-sketched out minor characters from the college. Everyone gives an excellent account of themselves.

The thing I liked most about “Killer Party” is how it ignored slasher conventions, set in stone even as early as 1987. You’re tricked into thinking it’s a zombie movie, then it switches gears to be a teen sex comedy, then when it gets round to remembering it’s supposed to be horror, the slasher element is quickly dealt with, the Final Girl is revealed to be anything but, and it ends up with some possession and being a “spam in a can” movie (a phrase I just learned, people trapped in one small location all getting butchered, and one I’ll be using a lot I think). It’s not like it was made this way by accident – the scriptwriter was also responsible for “Friday 13th: The Final Chapter” (one of the less rotten ones, and he gives this one some decent dialogue too), so they knew what they were doing. I think that’s a large part of the reason for its poor reception critically, because there’s a lot of people for whom watching a horror movie is to watch a set of clichés mechanically slotting into place, and any deviation from those norms is irritating. Now, some clichés are a thing because they work and make sense, but the rules of the slasher movie were made to be broken pretty much from the beginning.

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Now, all this seems pretty positive, but it’s certainly not perfect. The central section of proceedings, what could largely be called the teen sex comedy (despite most of the cast being in their mid-to-late 20s), is that it goes on too long, and the horror section is too short. As the survivors are walking through the party, and we see some fairly central cast members just lying off to the side dead, the thought does wander through your mind “I wish we’d had less of that asshole Martin” (who just drunkenly stumbles out of the movie with 20 minutes left and is never seen again). In their glee to ignore the tropes of slasher cinema, they throw a bit of the baby out with the bathwater, perhaps.

The now-obligatory gender discussion! While the lead actresses are all pretty strong (Sherry Willis-Burch, who played Vivia, was great, and it’s a damn shame she only appeared in two movies, this and 1981’s “Final Exam”), you need to have some space in your head between how they’re treated and what the subtext of the movie is telling you about the rightness of that treatment. Two guys, called “Bee Guy” 1 and 2 in the credits, exist to maul at women at the party, but they’re seen as almost subhuman (one of them is Jason Warren, who long-term ISCFC readers will remember from “Screwballs 2” as Marvin Eatmore). Vivia is getting with Martin but he’s obviously way into Jennifer as he constantly asks about her; she rolls her eyes and insists he carry on, which is low on the self-respect scale, but, goddamit, she has needs too! All the other ladies have a healthy attitude towards sex and there’s no coercion or trickery or anything – so good on the makers of the movie for absolutely ignoring the T&A aspect.

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Also, as it’s over 30 years old (released in 1987 but made in 1984), I think I can spoil the ending a little. It turns out Jennifer is possessed by the spirit of dead frat guy Allan, and her facial and physical acting as a demonic creature are pretty damned good. The rug-pulling aspect of the Final Girl actually being the killer (disguised with a full diving suit for most of the movie, lord knows where she got it) is handled really well, too.

So, its status as a largely ignored gem is perhaps understandable; but if you’re prepared for your horror to go off the beaten track a bit, I reckon you’ll love this one. The long time between filming and release I can’t explain, but I can help with the title – it was originally called “April Fools”, but the classic “April Fools’ Day” was released earlier in 1986 so a name change was sort of forced on them. Good alternate title too!

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Rating: thumbs up

Grave Misdemeanours (1989) (aka Night Life)

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The worst thing ever – yes, even worse than all the dictators and diseases that have ever existed – is comedy movies that aren’t funny. Horrors that aren’t scary or thrillers that aren’t thrilling at least have a plot to fall back on, but when the entire point of a scene is a gag that just doesn’t work, you’re left with nothing. So it was with deep sadness that, about 20 minutes into this, that I realised it wasn’t just a bit unfunny, but a sort of comedy black hole where the writer clearly thought “hey, people being really mean to each other is funny, right? I’ll just fill the movie with that!”

 

Take a look at the video cover, above. Looks like a wacky, knockabout zombie comedy, doesn’t it? Well, it sort of manages that for the last 20 minutes or so, but for the first 55 minutes, no zombies and precious little fun. It’s the tale of young Archie Melville (Scott Grimes, “ER”, “American Dad”), who works at his Uncle’s mortuary – that Uncle is played by John “Gomez Addams” Astin, seemingly annoyed at having to be there – and dreams of the hot cheerleader, who has a douchebag boyfriend (of course).

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The first two-thirds of the movie is Archie being insulted by his Uncle and mocked by the group of assholes (one of whom is a young Mark Pellegrino, who’d go on to much greater fame in “Supernatural” and “Lost”, among other things); tricked into almost having sex with the hot cheerleader; his only friend, Charly the mechanic (Cheryl Pollak, “Pump Up The Volume”, “I Was A Teenage Vampire”) gets a job working for a NASCAR team and leaves town immediately; then he gets sacked when the assholes steal a corpse and rig it so it falls on Archie when he enters the room. You know, a nice reasonable prank!  There’s a whisper of an idea that Pellegrino and the cheerleader are actual human beings with empathy, but that must have been stuff left over from a previous script draft as it’s entirely ignored for the rest of the movie. Anyway, the four douchebags die offscreen in a car accident, colliding with a chemical truck, then when they’re back at the morgue get hit by lightning and turned into zombies.

 

The last section is sort of okay, with Archie and a returning Charly (turns out the guy who hired her was an alcoholic pervert, not a race-car mechanic) fighting the zombies, trying to save the town, and so on. It perhaps only appears exciting in comparison to the funereal (no pun intended) pace of the first two-thirds, but still, it seems someone thought it’d be a good idea to have stuff happen.

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It’s really all over the place. When Archie realises the dead bodies are his enemies, he doesn’t seem upset, or secretly pleased, or anything, he just seems sort of indifferent, a curious character choice. The recently undead just want to torture him, like they did when they were alive, and the only real difference is they’re almost indestructible and don’t talk. Charly    doesn’t strike me as the sort of woman to take a job that starts in the middle of the night, with an obviously sleazy guy, at seemingly a few hours’ notice, but it’s small potatoes for a movie as dumb as this, I guess.

 

Director David Acomba had a largely undistinguished career in TV, but was an (uncredited) director on the “Star Wars” Holiday Special, one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in my life; aside from his first ever directorial credit, an independent Canadian movie called “Slipstream” from 1973, he never made another movie. Writer Keith Critchlow only has one other writing credit, the Tom Hanks / John Candy damp squib “Volunteers”, so the signs were there if only I chose to pay attention to them before watching it.

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But, like I said, it’s a comedy with no jokes in it. It’s a zombie movie where the zombies don’t show up til it’s almost over. It’s slow and boring, and is of interest nowadays for its weirdly strong cast of people you’ll definitely recognise from other, more fun movies of the time. And for the middle section, you can safely have a conversation about whatever you like (we chose to discuss “Star Trek” fan films) safe in the knowledge you’ll not miss anything important at all.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

Detention (2011)

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Our Monday night movie club has found its first modern classic. Every Monday night, a group of my friends and I congregate to watch a film and talk rubbish, and we’ve got a rota system for the film pick. My last pick was the thoroughly miserable “Witchery”, so all credit for this goes to my friend Hado – and the first question that was asked after the credits rolled was “why is this not better known?”

 

It seems director Joseph Kahn is doomed to make amazing movies that just don’t do terribly well. He’s also responsible for “Torque”, the “Fast and Furious” ripoff / parody which I absolutely loved, and the “Power/Rangers” bootleg film; but his day job is being a pop music video director. He won pretty much everything at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards and is presumably much happier being Taylor Swift’s go-to guy than he is trying to get absolutely bonkers genre parodies like this off the ground.

 

What “Detention” is, is the craziest bits from every high school movie you’ve ever seen, with ideas that could fill entire run times just casually dropped in for ten minutes or so. Taylor Fisher, head cheerleader, starts off with a monologue to camera, and she’s a delightful bitch – which, to her, stands for “beauty, intelligence, talent, charisma, Hoobastank.” But don’t get too attached, because a serial killer dressed as movie villain “CinderHella” offs her sharpish.

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The heroine, who just gives us a voiceover, is Riley (Shanley Caswell), and she’s a bit of a loser – waking up covered in fries and ketchup, broken ankle, and former best friends with Ione, another cheerleader who turned a bit self-absorbed a few months previously and pursued the boy Riley was into, Clapton (Josh Hutcherson, who got hired for “The Hunger Games” around the time this was being made, and is also one of the executive producers). Riley’s got the Duckie-style pining male friend, there’s Billy the psychotic jock, and Dane Cook as the Principal. Everyone’s basically waiting round to graduate – all the fun stuff of high school seems to be over barring the prom, and these kids want to be getting on with the next stage of their lives.

 

Trying to pin down the plot is a tricky one, because it gleefully picks up and discards so many ideas. It’s The Breakfast Club…for about five minutes. Real Genius. Heathers. Three O’Clock High. The Matrix. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The Fly. Freaky Friday. Can’t Hardly Wait. Back To The Future. Of course, there’s “Scream”, but they mock the idea that this is anything like “Scream” explicitly. There’s a ton of different visual styles, too, with onscreen text worked into the fabric of things and used by the characters on several different occasions. To say it moves fast is pretty much an understatement. They casually throw in a brilliant film-within-a-film-within-a-film-within-a-film segment too, and make it work in the context of what’s going on.

The third layer of the above joke

The third layer of the above joke

And then there’s the references. Why is Ione so obsessed with 1992? But it’s a fun riposte to the idea of the mid-80s being the ultimate touchstone for high school movies, because these characters would’ve all been born in the 90s, so 80s nostalgia would’ve made no sense. The actual detention (which doesn’t come til after the halfway point) introduces them to the guy who’s been on detention there for almost 20 years, the equation he’s been carving into his desk that entire time, and the time travel machine that one of the other students was building inside the giant grizzly bear that stands in the foyer of the school.

 

I know it’s an odd thing to say about a time travel / slasher / high school comedy which breaks the fourth wall all over the place, but the characters all feel real, and lived-in. Hutcherson is obviously great, but so is everyone else, from top to bottom (even the guy credited as “Hipster Thief”, with two or three lines, works some magic). Dane Cook, as dull and bro-y a standup comedian as you’ll ever see, is good as the resentful Principal – and he also appeared in “Torque”, so he and Kahn must get on. Perhaps the weakest link is Gord the Canadian, but then maybe I’m just bummed out he won a debate on vegetarianism by arguing for eating baby animals due to them not having had much life to enjoy.

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Why should you, as someone who perhaps isn’t as obsessed with old high school movies as I am, like this? Well, first is the feminist strand of the plot. Riley is complex in a way few female lead characters manage – funny, awkward, smart and beautiful (her realisation that she’s hot enough to be a slasher movie victim is a great bit of business). She and Ione dominate the plot, and the male sidekick is the reward for the success of her plan, in a clever reversal of how this normally plays out. When people lie about how 80s slasher Final Girls show that those dumb movies are feminist, this is what you should show them.

 

There’s also the way it strips the veneer from certain character archetypes, showing them more how they’d be in real life. The “Duckie from Pretty In Pink” type who pines for the lead is a weird, needy, psychopath-in-waiting; and the angry jock is shunned by almost everyone (okay, he’s also got fly DNA thanks to a meteor he touched as a kid, but that’s by the by).

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I think the thing I’m happiest about, and you will be too, is how tightly it works as a movie. Hiding the fact you’re laying pipe for the final act is one of the trickiest things you can do, and making it funny is even harder, yet “Detention” does it effortlessly, so much so that when the payoffs come you’re totally not expecting it. Bad movies with a time-travel element might as well have arrows pointing to the stuff which will come in handy later, yet Kahn is clever enough to avoid that, and he’s also given us a plot which absolutely rips along . It’s an extremely smart film with nary a dropped thread, and it masquerades as part dumb horror-comedy, part-parody of those same genres.

 

I loved “Torque”, but I felt it was slightly held back by the studio wanting an actual “The Fast And The Furious” clone and Kahn wanting to parody those genres; “Detention” was largely funded by Kahn himself, so it has none of the same problems. Full-on Joseph Kahn is a joy to behold, and I know he’s probably making decent money with music videos and adverts these days, but I’d love to see him given more opportunities to make movies like this. I think “Detention” compares extremely favourably to “Scott Pilgrim vs The World”, released the same year this was filmed: Edgar Wright’s direction is almost pedestrian compared to Kahn’s, and all Pilgrim’s wacky on-screen graphics and stylistic tics were just covering up a fairly standard plot. This is anything but standard.

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Rating: thumbs up

Dead And Breakfast (2004)

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I think “Dead And Breakfast” is a victim of over-expectation. The pull quotes used on the trailer are full of praise, even if one or two of them are weirdly indirect – “sure to become some sort of cult classic” is an odd one. There’s a level of expectation built up (the trailer also features two moderately big names, Portia De Rossi and David Carradine, when their level of participation in the movie is barely more than those few seconds, which is a bit of a dick move) and I feel if they’d toned it down a smidge, viewers would’ve been a lot happier with what they got.

 

But they really give it their all. Everything is thrown at the screen, every gore effect and comedy style you can think of, and…most of it is pulled off. In terms of what the finished product is most like, I’d say it’s more “Brain Dead” than “Shaun Of The Dead”. There are a couple of straight lifts from other horror-comedies, but by and large it finds its own niche.

 

How many horror movies have started with a group of teenagers / young adults in a camper van? Hundreds? I imagine fans of romance movies also do this mockery with stuff like…a woman rushing into an office with her clothes all dishevelled because she had to run for the bus and her heel broke? I don’t know, I don’t watch them. Anyway, this group are driving to their friend Kelly’s wedding (De Rossi), and in amusingly perfunctory fashion, get lost on the way and end up in the small town of Lovelock. Even though they’re driving in a massive camper van and could all sleep in there (presumably the reason they picked that particular mode of transportation) they stop off at a bed and breakfast, run by Mr Wise (Carradine) with an assist from exceptionally rude French chef Henri (Diedrich Bader). Because of reasons, there’s an ancient and powerful magic box just stored on a shelf at the B&B, and when it falls off and is opened, an ancient evil spirit is released and people start getting murdered sharpish; the person in charge of the box can put a small part of someone else’s body in there (blood, hair, a finger) and then that person becomes a mindless sort-of-undead slave.

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So, all hell breaks loose. Our heroes and a few friendly residents (the Sheriff, the lady in charge of the Hall Of Records) up against a horde of sort-of-zombies. A mysterious drifter, who knows all about the box, also helps out – there’s a group trapped in the B&B and a group who go to find Wise’s body so they can do some ritual to stop it all. It’s a bit tenuous, but it works. They’re forced to improvise weapons, and the blood! So much blood. Gallons of the stuff – one particular gruesome beheading drenches an entire room (bringing to mind that classic lawnmower scene in “Brain Dead”).

 

I’ve already mentioned some of the cast, but the rest of them are strong too. Jeremy Sisto is sort-of star Christian, the sensible-ish one; and Erik Palladino is hot-head David (Palladino and Sisto look enough alike to easily play brothers, but don’t). The female side of the camper van crew is Gina Phillips, Ever Carradine and Bianca Lawson, and all five are solid TV and movie hands. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, just pre-“Supernatural” and much bigger fame, is the Sheriff, and lovers of “Friends” will recognise Vincent Ventresca, aka Fun Bobby, as the town doctor. In a direct lift from “There’s Something About Mary”, there’s an onscreen musical narration from time to time, supplied by actor/musician Zach Selwyn – although Jonathan Richman never performed a rap song about how him and his zombie buddies are coming to eat you (the little zombie dance is another lift, though, from “C.H.U.D. 2: Bud The C.H.U.D.”)

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I’ve not even mentioned the comedy yet. It’s a mix of every comic style you could think of – there’s some nice wordplay in there, lots of juxtaposition (zombies shouldn’t behave in this wacky way!), lots of situations where the wildly OTT action just becomes funny; but most of all it’s farce. Farce is a tough one to pull off alongside everything else, but they manage it, with some lovely pratfalls and visual gags.

 

I appreciate I like movie trivia probably more than some of you do, but “Dead and Breakfast” has some interesting examples. Credited co-writer is Billy Burke, the actor known for “Revolution” and the “Twilight” series; turns out he and Jeffrey Dean Morgan have been friends since childhood. Burke was going to play the Drifter, but got a bigger gig; Burke asked if their other childhood friend, Brent David Fraser, could play the part instead. All three have been friends with director Matthew Leutwyler since their first days in Hollywood in the early 90s, and Leutwyler must be a good guy to work for as Palladino, Burke, Morgan and Sisto have all appeared for him multiple times.

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So, it’s a decent movie. Not as hilarious as it could have been, but handles the horror / comedy split better than most. Approach it with a friendly mind and you’ll have a fine time.

 

Rating: thumbs up

The Disco Exorcist (2011)

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Another Wild Eye Releasing release! Lord knows where they find this stuff from, but they’re distributing and selling some of the oddest low-budget and just plain forgotten horror movies out there. So far, we’ve loved “They Will Outlive Us All” and “President Wolfman”, and been a bit bored / annoyed by “Invasion Of The Scream Queens” – but their independent spirit deserves supporting, so go give them a look. What side will “Disco Exorcist” fall on?

 

If you’re going to have a movie absolutely chock-full of sex, then this is the way to do it. Everyone seems to be having such a great time in this movie! Lots of boobs, lots of mens’ asses and a surprisingly large amount of full frontal male nudity. There’s no women in peril having to run about screaming with their boobs out, no “shock the men, stalk the women” nonsense…just a lot of people enjoying sex, at great length. Pun not even intended.

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Rex Romanski (Michael Reed) is a happy-go-lucky swinging guy, the centre of attention at a disco (this entire movie is set in a dayglo parody of / homage to the 70s). He makes no bones about his lifestyle, and the women he’s been with seem fairly happy with the arrangement too, despite being a little upset they’re no longer riding the Rex Express. He’s waiting for the right woman, and one night meets Rita (Ruth Sullivan), who bewitches him immediately. One night of surprisingly graphic sex later, and Rex is smitten, telling his friend Jose as much the next morning, while enjoying a porno movie starring the delightful Amoreena Jones (Sarah Nicklin).

 

So, Rex and Rita go to the club again the next night, and all seems well. That is, until in walks Amoreena! Rex goes to talk to her, they hit it off and Rita is not thrilled. And from that, one of the funnest, rudest, horror comedies of recent years kicks off. Rita curses Amoreena, Rex is offered a gig on Amoreena’s latest porno movie and jumps at the chance, “big boobed extras” get possessed by the demonic spirit, and the horror is ramped up.

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My last note while watching the movie just says “mountains of blow and dongs”, and that could almost be the movie’s subtitle. It’s that fun, relaxed attitude to sex, where everybody gets what they want, which is surprisingly refreshing to see – especially after a film like “Savage Vengeance” which has absolutely nothing nice to say about humanity at all. Rex isn’t a stud, either – he’s a fairly slender guy who doesn’t appear to be packing anything spectacular downstairs, so the implication is he’s so popular because he looks after the women he’s with, too. Or maybe I’m over-thinking this? Who knows.

 

“Disco Exorcist” makes an effort to really look like a grindhouse movie, too, with digitally-added “dirt” on the print, 90% of the dialogue being dubbed in afterwards, the occasional scene shot on super-8, and so on. I’m not sure where the line is between having fun with the homage and just being annoying, but this stays on the right side of things. I mean, it’s a great deal more cheaply made than any of the movies it’s paying homage to, which adds another layer.

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The acting is surprisingly strong too, top to bottom. It appears director Richard Griffin has something of a stable of performers, as all three main stars and many of the others have made regular appearances for him. Normally, I’d be saying “well, X was good, but Y and Z sucked” but everyone’s great in this, knowing just how silly to pitch their performances. It’s great!

 

Now, bear in mind this movie has a lot in common with the plot-led pornos it’s cribbing from, and while nothing hardcore goes on, there’s lots and lots of sex in this movie. I mean, a lot. There are three sex scenes in the first ten minutes, and it doesn’t really ease off after then either. So bear that in mind while choosing when and where to watch it, and you should have a fine time. Griffin is a director I’m going to pay more attention to.

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Rating: thumbs up

Bloodbath At The House Of Death (1984)

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Kenny Everett is a perhaps rather forgotten English institution. Starting off on pirate radio in the 1960s, he was a friend of the Beatles; his love of comedy and performing characters on the air made him a national celebrity, and he was given his own long-running TV show (sketches, musical numbers) along with his constant radio work. Some of his radio stuff was amazing – his shows on the worst records of all time are worth digging out, and it was the perfect medium for him. He was also very good friends with Freddy Mercury, and enjoyed the gay nightlife of London with him (while remaining in the closet for most of his life). Like Mercury, he died of AIDS-related illness, in 1995.

But this thumbnail sketch of his life says nothing about how amazingly funny he could be. I loved his TV show when I was a kid, and his fiercely independent streak resulted in him making a few videos of jokes too rude for TV (this is long before such videos became de rigeur for any self-respecting comedian) as well as an independently financed horror comedy starring all his old friends. That he did all this while being a particularly rotten Tory – comparing Arthur Scargill to Hitler, without a hint of irony, for one – is even more surprising. In the 20 years since his death, characters like him have largely disappeared from TV – everyone who gets anywhere near the mainstream has to be as tediously safe as houses (except, maybe Russell Brand, from the opposite end of the political spectrum?) and our entertainment is worse off because of it.

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All this is, oddly, irrelevant to a discussion of this movie. While Everett no doubt had some input into the finished product, the lion’s share of the praise or blame must lie with writer/director Ray Cameron and writer / actor Barry Cryer. Cryer is another English treasure, performing standup for many decades, plus acting and appearing on radio comedy panel show “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” since the early 1970s. To say his jokes are old is to be polite – I think cavemen would groan at a few of the hoary old gags he trots out on a regular basis; and this movie has plenty of those. That’s not to say they’re bad, as classics are classics for a reason, but there’s a few you’ll be able to see coming from a mile off. Cameron and Cryer wrote most of Everett’s TV stuff, so when a guy with money to burn offered Everett a movie, they were the natural choices to write and direct.

The reason I’ve not said much about the film is there’s really not a lot to say. It exists solely to trot out an almost uninterrupted stream of terrible old gags, and the thin thin string that runs through it relates to a haunted house. Well, sort of. In 1975, 16 people are killed at Headstone Manor, and in the present day (1984) several groups of paranormal investigators go there to try and get to the bottom of what went on. Most of the cast were present on one of Everett’s TV shows, so you get good old names like Cleo Rocos, Gareth Hunt, John Fortune, and Don Warrington, as well as Pamela Stephenson as Everett’s lisping assistant, and amazingly, Vincent Price as “The Sinister Man”. Price was apparently a darling on the set, sharing old stories with anyone who asked and giving great value for money. Having seen him much nearer death in the terrible “Dead Heat” a few years later, it’s nice to see a film using his legendary status well.

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So, these people get killed off, there’s sort of a twist (which really feels like they ran out of time to shoot Price and had to think of some ending on the fly, although no, that’s how it was scripted), a very confusing bit of editing around Everett’s character near the end, and that’s your movie. Shot mostly on the producer’s farm estate, for very little money.

While a lot of the gags are brilliant (“Bats!”) it would be remiss of me not to mention a few things which sit very badly with the 2015 viewer. Everett was still in the closet at the time, and although there’s a gay couple in this movie, they’re mocked, more than given funny things to say or do. And then there’s a tattoo joke, where everyone in the village has the same creepy tattoo on the backs of their hands…until the camera happens upon the one black guy in the pub, who has the same tattoo, only in white. Probably laughed off at the time by everyone involved, but not in a million years would they do that gag now, and quite rightly.

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It feels like a cross between “Airplane!” and British TV comedy “A Touch Of Cloth”, only not quite as good as either. Too many misses, sadly – Everett’s weird German accent is a subplot that does nothing and goes nowhere; and the slightly confusing ending spoils things too. Still, it’s like a set of cheesy old jokes preserved in amber for eternity, and there’s gore and nudity and smutty stuff for all the family to enjoy. And how many other mainstream comedians would have picked this as their first movie?

Rating: thumbs in the middle