Phantasm: Ravager (2016)

Even if “Phantasm” were nowhere near as good a series as it is, you’d have to give it some credit for its continuity. Going since 1979, no reboots or anything like that, with the same guy in charge (writer/director Don Coscarelli just co-wrote and produced this most recent instalment) and the same four actors starring in this one as starred in the first one 37 years before. Also, they bring back one of the actors from part 3 in 1994, who basically quit acting back then but looks like she hasn’t aged a day. It has, admittedly, been 18 years since the last instalment, but they’re still keeping on.

 

One of the things that was most unusual about part 1, the dream-like logic that came with filming on off-days and weekends over a two year period with no money, is right back at the centre of things here, for a similar reason. Director David Hartman (best known for the Transformers animated series) and Coscarelli were making a series of “Phantasm” shorts and realised they had enough footage to turn it into a movie. The leaps between realities are handled pretty well, though.

 

Anyway, we first see Reggie (Reggie Bannister), still in his ice-cream man outfit, trudging down a desert road, lamenting the loss of the car he hid out in the desert 18 years ago. But luckily, the thief drives up to him and Reggie’s able to get it back. He’s chased by silver balls, and then gives us a line which he’s used at least once before – “like all good stories, it starts with a girl”. This is Dawn (Dawn Cody), and Reggie helps her before doing a bit of mild flirting, but she rebukes him and he immediately accepts it – a pleasant change from the old days. But then the silver balls come again and he’s on the run.

Or is he in a mental hospital, after having been found wandering the desert, being looked after by his old friend Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), apparently suffering from dementia? Or is he in a nightmarish future of an Earth completely taken over by the Tall Man and his silver balls, having been asleep for a decade? These are the main strands of story which are weaved through over the course of the movie.

 

I sort of assume you know the rough story of the Phantasm franchise, if you’re reading a review of part 5, but perhaps not. The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) is first seen as an undertaker, stealing bodies in his hearse and taking them to (SPOILERS) an alternate dimension where they’re turned into midget minions and…not really sure what his end-game was, honestly. Universal domination? What happens with a person when they actually achieve their plans, I wonder? What would you do if you owned literally everything? He merrily goes on with this plan over the course of the series while Reggie tries to stop him. The two brothers who were the stars of part 1 (Reggie being the comic relief, sort-of) pop up to help out too.

 

Anyway, Reggie is reunited with Mike and even Mike’s older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury, whose last non-Phantasm acting role was in 1984), and it’s really cool, seeing the three of them together again after little more than cameos in the previous couple of movies. Which strand of reality is the “real” one? Will the Tall Man finally be defeated, this being the last movie and all?

Here’s where I’d like to get on my soap-box a little. Those of you who remember the last episode of “Quantum Leap”, where they knew without a doubt it was the end, may sympathise with me. At the very end, they just throw their hands up and say “yeah, he never made it home, just carried on leaping for the rest of eternity”. Is this satisfying?

 

I think it’s fair to want an ending to a piece of entertainment, for the foe to be defeated and for the sacrifices made by the main characters to mean something. This doesn’t apply to everything, of course, but it feels like a slight cheat to know you’re not making any more movies (your lead villain being terminally ill during shooting) but still to just leave it open-ended. There are other analyses of the ending of “Phantasm: Ravager”, but it’s still us imposing our wishes, desires, or whatever, on an unfinished piece of entertainment. Imagine if “Moby Dick” had ended with Ahab still chasing the whale?

All that aside, it’s not bad! The main actors and Coscarelli clearly have a deep friendship that’s lasted down the decades, and it was nice to see Gloria Lynn Henry as Rocky again, although it was weird that, during the mid-credits sequence where she and Reggie meet up again, he’s not more pleased to see the last woman he had sex with (in fact, he makes a reference to her companion, who he briefly met earlier in the movie, and not her, as if she was added in at the last moment after they’d already filmed Bannister’s scenes). It was a little sad to see Angus Scrimm so frail, though, although they hid it well by having one scene be filmed in bed, and lots of middle-distance shots where you can CGI his head onto someone else’s body.

 

I didn’t love the almost non-story, the cheap special effects or the disjointed-for-its-own-sake narrative, though. I’m surprised there was so little money available for a “Phantasm” sequel in 2016, given the generations of fans it had, but I wish they’d sat down and written a proper movie, or kept it as the web-series it was originally intended as, because this halfway house is unlikely to really please anyone. Amazingly, the budget of “Ravager” was the same as the budget of the first movie from 1979! ($300,000)

 

One last thing is the interesting ambience that parts of 3 and 4 had. The Tall Man took over whole cities, after starting with small towns, not to invade but to use humans as slaves to do whatever it was he was doing elsewhere in the universe. Villages were empty, and at the end of part 4 LA is completely taken over. This is an interesting idea, but although they have the same setting for this one – empty roads, desolate areas – they have none of the same atmosphere. There’s always the idea that humanity is carrying on as before, just off camera, and the Tall Man is just after the three of them.

I’m sorry to see the end of “Phantasm”, but perhaps it was for the best. RIP Angus Scrimm, and the franchise you made so memorable.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

 

 

 

 

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Witchcraft 16: Hollywood Coven (2016)

She doesn’t appear in this movie, nor does anything remotely as cool as her

The Witchcraft series, thought dead in 2002 then again in 2008, is over once more. I know there’s been an instalment where chief warlock Will Spanner turned to the dark side and killed everyone (part 13) but this seems even more final than that – although if these managed to turn a profit for low-budget producer extraordinaire David Sterling, who knows?

The final scene of the previous movie was the couple who were so dull I didn’t even bother learning their names having sex in a hotel room (his thing being he couldn’t, er, “perform” if there were other people in the house with them), and her getting possessed by Sharon (Noel VanBrocklin) and killing the guy, because…er…

Anyway, we get that scene again, because scumbags think we’re still here for the partial female nudity, and…cut! We’re on the set of the final scene of “Crystal Force 15”! What?

I was as thoroughly confused as anyone about the changes made to the three main characters (Will Spanner, Detectives Lutz and Garner) over the course of the first twelve movies. Then part 13 (unrelated to David Sterling, so a casual search reveals) tied most of them up, give or take. Parts 14 and 15 then made it nice and weird again, giving us what amounted to two different takes on the same basic story, and now this? There’s no film-within-a-film after this first scene but everything else operates to confuse us, including the names.

The names of the actors are the same as the parts they’ve played in the previous two movies, so there’s a Lutz and Garner, and a Will Sparrow; but their character names in Crystal Force are only referenced in one scene where they’re gathered for a table read of part 16, and never mentioned again. Although, the clip they show us of part 15 has nude lady call herself Sharon, which is the name of the character in “Witchcraft 16”, but Sharon refers to her character in the “Crystal Force” movies as Linda, meaning nude lady should have called herself Linda when she was being possessed by her spirit. I think?

Also, it’s weird when you hear Lutz and Garner refer to each other by those names, as you know they’re playing different characters, even though they never take their holsters or badges off no matter where they are or what they’re doing, as if they filmed scenes for all three movies at the same time and they definitely didn’t have money to pay a continuity person to tell them what props they needed.

Mmm… yes, I definitely am attracted to you

I’ve tried a bunch of different ways to write the above paragraphs, but I think leaving them that confusing will give you, dear reader, a flavour of just what we viewers of these movies went through. This isn’t even bringing parts 1-13 into the equation (more on them later).

There’s an interesting and even funny idea here. As the characters are sat around the table read, they discuss how all the actors from previous instalments have disappeared from the business, which can be read as they were murdered to further the witchy ambitions of the producers of the “Crystal Force” franchise, but is obviously a joke at their own expense at the quality of the actors they tend to use in these movies. It would have made a heck of a lot more sense if they’d not invented a fake franchise and had just had this take place on the set of a “Witchcraft” movie, and thrown in a few jokes about the number of different people who’d played Will, Lutz and Garner, but so be it.

To prepare them for part 16, they’re given DVDs of the previous movies in the series and told to watch them. Despite them already appearing in two movies, you mean? Anyway, the villain of the piece (or so we think) is director Jamal (Ernest Pierce), who played the reanimated corpse in part 15; he’s using viewings of the old “Crystal Force” movies to either kill cast members or activate their witchy powers, depending. This leads to yet more confusion, as the clips they watch (mostly from 11 and 12, the only two Sterling has rights to) have characters with the names Lutz, Garner and Will in them. Seriously, movie, why not have the actors use their real names and have them be on the set of a Witchcraft movie? Why go out of your way to make the whole thing worse?

The thing that makes this annoying is, like I said, there’s part of an actually quite good movie in here. The writer can write a joke – example, as they’re watching a clip from part 11, Sharon says to Samuel, “how come the guys never get naked?” (a reference to every man keeping his underwear on and in shot in these damn things), and he responds with a casual “they have better agents” – and at least a few of the actors are totally fine – special kudos to Molly Dougherty, who seems comfortable in front of a camera and could go on to better things. It’s a series that’s ripe for mockery, but they just sort of give up two-thirds of the way through and have the last section be a boring witch battle followed by an equally boring conversation, the end.

My favourite bit is when they introduce a new actor to play the part of the guy who was zapped into non-existence in the previous scene. He walks in, gets the name of the movie wrong (he calls it “Witch School 16”, for absolutely no reason, and is not corrected) but then both Lutz and Garner both are overwhelmed with lust for the man. I mean, he’s a completely normal-looking man, a little doughy perhaps, which is fine (I mean, look at me) but would he have every character go ga-ga for him? I feel like maybe he helped fund the movie or something, like if you could write yourself into a movie you’d make it so you were super-hot and mysterious and everyone wanted to bang you.

My favourite actor, Zamra Dollskin as the eternally perky Tara, was barely in it, and Will Spanner the witch (not Will Spanner the low-budget actor) didn’t make an appearance, making it the second Witchcraft movie to not feature him or refer to him at all – he gets a namecheck or two in part 10.

I think the main problem was there was no real central character. The only person who made the slightest effort to drive the plot along was Garner, but he’s not really on screen enough to be the star. The two people who you might pin the movie to (Rose or Will) are definitely supporting players in this one, leaving no-one to really get behind. Maybe Jamal?

So, an entertaining if completely confusing end to what is definitely the worst of the long-running horror franchises, as it cements its place as the longest-running of the lot. If you have a very high tolerance for movies which operate at the lowest end of the budget spectrum, then give it a go. You could do worse!

Rating: thumbs up

Witchcraft 15: Blood Rose (2016)

I was surprisingly okay with “Witchcraft 14”, despite its puzzling acting choices, non-existent budget and monster-sized plot holes. It had a sense of fun to it and didn’t overstay its welcome, but the same cannot be said of part 15 – surprising, as they had the same director, cast and crew, used the same sets, and so on. The only difference was in the choice of writer, but it’s not like the guy who wrote 14 is any particular genius (he also wrote some of director David Palmieri’s previous lowlights, for example).

I wanted to briefly touch on one of the ways that they found to save money on this production; it’s right at the beginning and it’s a doozie. Firstly, the company’s logo is sourced from what looks like a mid-90s VHS tape, like they had it made, lost the original and had to take the logo from one of their own old commercial tapes. The other is the long-running joke of the title graphic of the movie. The “Witchcraft” logo has been used, unchanged, since part 1, and what every single movie has done is just superimpose the number of that particular instalment in roman numerals in the corner of the pentagram. Part 13 even used a new logo! But by now, they can’t even be bothered to do basic photoshop, so we just get a scrolling graphic of the name and subtitle over the top of the logo from part 1, also taken from a VHS master. Never change, low-budget people!

One thing that definitely didn’t change between parts 14 and 15 is the weird continuity. The beginning of this movie is a re-edited version of the last few minutes of the last movie, but with extra scenes edited in? So now, the weird “why is Sharon walking into the yoga place with a different shirt to the one she was wearing ten minutes ago?” question is answered with “doing an extremely unconvincing lesbian scene with Tara in order to harness sex magic, duh”.

The first ten minutes of the movie goes out of its way to try and convince us that Sharon (Noel VanBrocklin) is actually on the side of good – alleged series hero Will doesn’t notice anything when he gives her a handshake, she’s making all the right noises about being a goodie, even when there’s no-one around to watch her, and even the protagonist of this new trilogy, Rose (Molly Dougherty) is beginning to trust her after the events of part 14, where she helped kidnap her Mum then tricked her into the final meeting with Samuel, lest we forget. So it’s even more confusing when it turns out that all this was a big trick – on us, for some reason. But more on that later.

Our favourite character, Tara (Zamra Dollskin) is now managing the yoga studio, and seems to have a real affinity for the admin and cleaning side of things. Her character has such hidden depths! Tara is still living with Rose, and they’ve got a new housemate (forced on them by Sharon), a woman whose subplot is so dull I shall cease to mention her or her even more tedious boyfriend. Lutz and Garner are back to busting prostitutes, Will is nowhere to be seen – at the beginning, anyway – and all is peaceful in the world of Witchcraft. Oh, Tara does have my favourite line, when they’re discussing murder – “to be fair, you have done it before”, directed at Rose, but said as if they’re discussing boys they like, or something.

Along comes one of my favourite tropes in low-budget cinema – the “guy keeping his underwear on during sex” scene. A fellow by the name of Jamal (Ernest Pierce) is having sex, and it’s filmed like he’s actually penetrating the lady he’s with, but his underwear remains on throughout, and clearly visible in the shot. If you’re going to have your actors keep their underwear on, which is a totally acceptable choice, don’t film that part of their bodies!

Anyway, Jamal dies, because Rose is tricked by Sharon into being a conduit for the use of the same murderous power she displayed in the previous movie; and now, Sharon can transport herself into other bodies pretty much at will. Sure, why not? So there’s the same group of good guys as part 1 – Lutz, Garner and Will, with an assist from Tara, against…well, pretty much just Sharon and the new housemate, along with the corpse I mentioned previously, which they’re hoping to fill with the demonic spirit of Samuel from the last movie. I’m not sure why they didn’t just help harder when he was still alive, as it would appear they fought against him for absolutely no reason (if the footage from the first five minutes is anything to go by).

This is definitely lesser than part 14, which I never thought I’d have to say about a movie. Like, I’m surprised two movies filmed back to back, with (if we’re being honest) largely the same plot, the same cast, the same crew, can vary so wildly in terms of quality. There’s that question that lurks in the back of your mind – is this incompetence or the microscopic budget biting them in the ass? Then I remember it’s David Palmieri and I veer strongly towards the former.

There’s the merely lazy stuff, like the yoga studio pervert being allowed back, like they were hoping we ‘d have forgotten who he was. Then there’s the spectacularly lazy stuff, which relates to a major-ish plot point, which I will try and spoil as little as possible. Turns out that Rose is the daughter of three powerful witches (I was a bit confused by that biological explanation too) and that she’s got special power, or something.

“What, you mean just like Will in the first few movies?” I hear you say. Firstly, kudos for paying attention through 15 of these reviews, and yes, you’re right! One might have wondered if they’d spend a few minutes of their non-nudity-showing time to pop in a bit of plot about Rose taking on the role of series protagonist from Will, having him tell her how tough it is to be the son of a powerful demon, but no. Not even anything close to that, in fact. That Will is still around and still playing a part in the denouement of these things is just extra confusing.

But back to things that actually happened in this movie, they show scenes of people having sex to illustrate that yes, Rose’s parents did indeed have sex at one point. Only, in typical ultra-low-budget cost-cutting fashion, the footage is just borrowed from previous instalments, meaning some of it features previous versions of Will himself having sex with randos, including at least one person who died long before they could have children, and one ISCFC favourite, Janet Keijser. Are they just hoping that none of us would remember those old movies? Actually, that’s almost certainly it. I barely remember them, and I did a review series on the damn things.

There’s a few interesting ideas, and a great line from Garner – “we have to stop the yoga witchcraft murder spree” – but it’s just bad, full of massive holes in logic that wouldn’t even have cost any money to fix. Just someone willing to spend a few minutes thinking, but I guess thinking time cuts into profits.

Rating: thumbs down

Witchcraft 14: Angel of Death (2016)

Long-time readers may remember my increasing exasperation at the “Witchcraft” series, which started off bad and got much worse over the course of 13 miserable instalments. It incorporated one movie bought and renamed with nothing to do with the other 12 (part 8), two directed by one of our more hated figures, Michael Paul Girard (parts 7 and 9, confusingly), one set in the UK (part 10), and barely raised itself above the level of a Cinemax-style softcore porno at its very best.

Part 13 came along in 2008, and I thought we were free! Maybe everyone had been collectively hit by common sense, and they’d all agreed that any more Witchcraft movies were sort of a bad idea. But a man by the name of David Sterling (who also produced parts 11 and 12, but not 13) realised there was a little more blood to squeeze out of this particular stone, and here we are.

Sterling has an interesting side business, and one which, were I a wealthy man, I’d have probably indulged in at one point. If you have an idea and at least $10,000, he will make you a movie – he’ll sort out a cast and crew, turn your idea into a script, find locations, all that good stuff. Heck, if anyone wants to give me $10,000, I’ll do it right now! But as well as turning your half-assed idea into a reality, he also does it for himself, and thus we come to Witchcraft. Sterling produced parts 14, 15 and 16 back to back, which is a guaranteed sign of quality, and as soon as my broke self can rustle up the money I’ll be treating you to reviews of the rest of the “trilogy”.

I’m something of a continuity nerd, and “Witchcraft” actually made half an effort to wrap up all the loose ends generated over the last 20+ years by the end of part 13, which makes it almost unique among horror franchises. Will, I think, fully embraced his dark side and became the Son of Satan, Lutz and Garner – or one of them, I’m struggling to remember – died, and all was finished. Then, for absolutely no reason whatsoever other than “dumbass websites like the ISCFC will review it”, the name was resurrected, again (there’s also a six year gap between parts 12 and 13) and all that work was completely undone. Yes, I know that expecting a micro-budget piece of garbage soft-porn horror movie to give a damn about its own history is a fool’s errand, but they’d already made the effort before!

There’s an alarm bell before we even get going, too, and that’s the name of the director that Mr Sterling has chosen to helm these three no-doubt classics. David Palmieri has directed two of the all-time least favourite movies we’ve ever reviewed – “Captain Battle: Legacy War” and “Disaster Wars: Earthquake vs Tsunami” – and I even suggested that if any serial killers or pyromaniacs read the ISCFC, they might want to pay Mr Palmieri a visit; this might be the least murderous-rage-inducing of his movies to date, which is about the strongest compliment I can pay the man.

Lutz and Garner are both alive, and still cops, although the only office looks like a small section of someone’s basement with very fake walls and no decoration whatsoever. They’re both moderately capable actors with a nice bit of banter, too, but I need to start at the beginning, and that is with a delightful young lady by the name of Rose.

Well, it’s not Rose, but a doughy and unimpressive couple, who we see in a hotel room about to have sex. They’d very clearly not met before that scene, but they’re supposed to feel a burning desire for each other – doughy guy is Rose’s ex-boyfriend, who she was apparently still in love with, and doughy gal hates Rose so much she sends her an email telling her to leave her alone, that his hands will be all over her tonight, etc. Rose gets angry and kills the gal with her mind, then kills the guy later as he’s stumbling through the streets, wishing death on his crazy ex.

The evil in this movie comes from…a yoga coven. Sure, why not? Silver Lake Yoga is a real place, and if anyone other than me gave a damn about this movie I imagine they’d have been upset about having their storefront used without any sort of permission. It’s run by Samuel, who gives it his all but plays his part as if he’s the camp best friend from a sitcom and not a direct conduit to some demon who enjoys having sex with women a lot. He also has the world’s cheapest prop knife, which isn’t really important but is so bad it made even a jaded bad movie fan such as I laugh.

I’m 800 words in and I’ve barely scratched the surface of this cinematic gem. This is going to be a long one, and I’m only writing it confident in the knowledge that none of you will ever watch it. So, Rose’s mother. She’s also a witch and knows what Rose can do (which, bear in mind, is kill people who piss her off) but chooses to laugh it off until the bodies really start piling up – then she gets kidnapped so who cares about her. But Rose, who’s genuinely troubled by her ability to kill people with her mind, gets involved with the coven, thinking they’re a nice group of white-magic witches, and…I need to go deeper! There’s so much craziness in this movie! Samuel and his assistant Sharon – who is a model in real life, but appears for no reason to be trying to look as teenage-boy-ish as possible here, discuss at the beginning how the coven is for white magic. There’s a scene near the end where Rose appears blameless. But there are several other scenes where major characters witness her doing evil stuff! Did they film two versions of the plot and just run out of time and slapped whatever they had together? Or is David Palmieri a talentless hack? whycan’titbeboth.gif

Onto my favourite character in the movie, the magnificent Tara, played by alt-fetish model Zamra Dollskin. I’m not even sure if she’s acting or not, but she plays the part perfectly, like she’s a friendly but slightly naive cheerleader trapped in the body of a….well, an alt-fetish model. Her energy and enthusiasm for every scene she’s in is a wonder to behold, and I’m genuinely delighted she appears to be in all three of the new ones. Two enthusiastic thumbs up for Ms Dollskin, who gets involved after ending up in LA being chased by witch-hunters (a sub-plot which goes absolutely nowhere) and decides to hide out at Rose’s house – you know, the house the police are watching and where Rose’s mother was kidnapped from. Safety!

I guess we ought to talk about Will, who’s been repeatedly mentioned as the most powerful witch on earth in the previous 13 movies. Here, for some reason, I guess, he looks like the oldest member of an early 00s emo band who still rocks the deep v-necks and mascara but has a sensible middle-aged sort of haircut; also, his powers are weak as hell and he needs Rose’s help to get out of the final battle. It’s safe to say Ryan Cleary (Will) isn’t much of an actor, but he tries and he’s so curious that I kinda grew to like him.

There’s an evil plan about summoning a demon or whatever, but the movie ignores it almost completely so I will too. From what I read, none of this (including that the lead character murders a bunch of people and doesn’t seem all that sorry about it) carries on to the 15th or 16th instalments, which have different scriptwriters as well. Let’s hope they’re as beyond-bargain-basement cheap as this one, too!

I feel bad for the women persuaded to disrobe for payment in what I presume is hundreds, as opposed to thousands, of dollars. I feel like that aspect of “Witchcraft”, the soft-porn for people who wanted to pretend they were watching a real movie, is a relic of the Blockbuster era and really really doesn’t need to still be going on in 2016. Although, some of the earlier entries, such as part 7, had truly ludicrous amounts of sex and nudity in them, so at least they’ve toned it down a little since then? I don’t know, the sleaze is so mild here, if I watched it for purposes of titilation I’d be demanding my money back. As opposed to demanding my money back because it sucked massive amounts of ass.

So. It’s not the worst of the lot (that prize must go to part 10, which is barely better than an average home movie). Heck, I’m not even sure it’s in the bottom half in terms of quality. I enjoyed it in places!

Rating: thumbs in the middle

PS. The great website Phelous has reviewed the new movies, and I discovered when watching their review that we’d made a few of the same observations. I like to think it’s because we’re both smart, or it’s sort of obvious, but all the nonsense I spout is from my own brain (feel free to watch their videos, though, because they’re excellent).

Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go To College (1991)

The moment when Charles Band sold the rights to “Ghoulies” to Vestron Video, a company formed by an asset-stripping former HBO executive, was probably the best thing that ever happened to the franchise – not a terribly high bar to clear, admittedly. Although Vestron were no more committed to quality than Band, it turns out that just having someone else do it was it all it needed to turn the little rubber puppets into comedy stars.

This is given further credence by the choice of director being one of the Full Moon “stable”. John Carl Buechler was a special effects guy, who did a lot of the Full Moon movies (“Dungeonmaster”, “Trancers”, the “Ghoulies” themselves, “Terrorvision”, etc. etc.) and even real normal mainstream efforts (later sequels in the “Nightmare On Elm Street”, “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” series, making him perhaps the answer to an obscure trivia question). He’d previously directed a few things, including the original, not-famous-for-being-terrible “Troll” and “Friday the 13th Part VII”, too.

ASIDE: I’d be interested to know who the script was actually by – it’s credited to Brent Olson, and given it’s their only IMDB credit of any kind, I’m guessing it’s a pseudonym for a writer who was under contract to another studio, or who was either in or not in the union (depending on what sort of production this was).

So, we’re off to college! This time, the Ghoulies are literally born out of a toilet, completing the journey of that one particular prop from being on the poster but not in the movie in part 1, to being the scene of a death in part 2, to being their home in part 3. A drunk frat boy finds a comic hidden inside the wall of his toilet, starts to read the dialogue of it, the special carved toilet starts to bubble and shake, a green light emerges…then he’s called away and the ghoulies go back (this gag is repeated).

It’s a classic college raunch comedy, as we have a frat who’s on probation for doing too many pranks. Led by Skip, with support from Mookey and Kyle, they’re in competition for the Prank Week crown with the evil frat, led by Jeremy Heilman (a sort of Nazi joke, I guess). There’s the humanities teacher who’s obsessed with the occult, Professor Ragnar, the woman who wants Skip to be normal, Erin, the insanely slutty Veronica, Barcus the security guard, and so on.

The ghoulies are eventually summoned by Ragnar, although neither he or anyone else realise they’re there for a while. He demands they kill Skip, they sort of half think about doing that while killing a few other people and getting involved in the Prank Week spirit themselves. The body count is very low (four people, I think?), and while there’s the occasional bit of goo and rubbery special effects as body parts are pulled beyond normal length, there’s not a drop of blood.

There’s not a ton more to say, plot wise. I will say that the Ghoulies now talk, and are a constant Three-Stooges-esque wisecracking presence in their own scenes – this is absolutely a good thing, as their puns keep a few scenes from going flat. It’s really a comedy that uses the trappings of horror, without ever being all that gross or scary.

It’s the acting where “Ghoulies 3” really excels, though. Chief among them is movie legend Kevin McCarthy as Ragnar – he was in the late period of his career, where he was just having fun being a goofy over-actor, and he dials it up to 10 (even by his own standards) here. Evan McKenzie is a bit of a non-entity as Skip, looking like every hero of every 80s comedy combined; but the rest of the cast! Patrick Labyorteaux, soon to be a TV mainstay on a decade-plus of “JAG”, is Mookey, and Jason Scott Lee, recently seen by us in “Timecop 2”, plays completely against type as the nerd-ish Kyle. Griffin O’Neal, shortly before giving up on the movie business altogether, is excellent as one of the evil frat guys; and weirdly pleasing to the ISCFC, having a great time as Veronica is Hope Marie Carlton, who you may remember as “Taryn”, star of the early Andy Sidaris series (“Hard Ticket To Hawaii” and so on).

Much like part 2 had a famous screen debut – Mariska Hargitay – so does part 3, with a first-ever performance from Matthew Lillard, two years before his next role (he signed on as an extra, right out of high school, but someone must have liked him I guess).

I guess my main problem with “Ghoulies 3” is how the entire cast, minus the dead ones and Ragnar, doesn’t realise anything weird is going on until 74 minutes of the 93 minute running time. Not so much as “drunk guy who no-one believes” – so it goes comedy, comedy, comedy, comedy, wow there are dead people and the Professor summoned Ghoulies, end. I don’t think it works all that well, structurally. But, it is genuinely funny, the set dressing is superb and the effects (from Buechler himself) are great, it’s not boring, and is by a million miles the best Ghoulies movie so far. Well, I say so far, part 4 is directed by Jim Wynorski and all the Ghoulies are just midgets in rubber outfits, so I’m going to call it now and say part 3 is the best of the franchise.

Rating: thumbs up

Night Of The Demons 3 (1997)

Night Of The Demons draws to a close with a puzzling entry, a movie whose sole likeable or relatable character is one of the all-time great cliches – a cop with a couple of hours to go before retirement. Everyone else is utterly repellent and you’re delighted when Angela gets going and starts killing them all off; not delighted enough to make it an enjoyable experience, but you take what you can get.

Much like part 2, this has a cold open where someone unrelated to the main plot is murdered by Angela, just in case there was any doubt about whether she was alive or not. At least they don’t pretend the “death” from the previous instalment is anything more than a mild inconvenience.

The fodder for this cannon is a group of people off to a Halloween party. Now, I presume you’ve been to a few parties in your time, dear reader, and have even shared a van with a group of merry-makers – but if you’re so hostile to your “friends” that you choke one, and then inspire one of the others to hold a knife to your throat, I’d think about getting a different group of friends. It’s been a couple of days and I’m struggling to remember any of them – there’s Hostile Curtainhead; Dopey Curtainhead (referring to their ultra-90s haircuts); Woman; Black Guy; and Jason Patric lookalike. Seriously, that’s about as much characterisation as any of them deserve, and their banter in these scenes is absolutely pitiful – blame part 1’s director Kevin Tenney, returning here as writer / editor / “creative consultant”.

After picking up a couple of girls whose car broke down, things go to hell really quickly when they’re in a 7-11 and Hostile Curtainhead annoys the shopkeeper so much he pulls a gun on him – HC then grabs the shotgun and starts blasting fools, including a cop who just happened to be at the scene. Caught in the crossfire is Black Guy, who I can’t keep calling that so I’ll find out his character name…Reggie. Reggie is shot, so the gang run from the scene and rather than helping out their friend, accepting punishment or anything sensible, find a place to hole up and wait for things to cool down. Guess which remote building, looking entirely unlike it did in parts 1 and 2, they choose?

There are a number of curious choices, and because I’ve had too many long paragraphs so far, time for a couple of bullet points:

  1. The cop in the 7-11 is wearing a flak jacket, so he doesn’t die, so there’s a chance of redemption for the main characters that’s nothing more than a red herring. Why on earth would a cop going to buy snacks be wearing a flak jacket?
  2. We see the same bit of footage from parts 1 and 2, an Evil Dead style shot of an unseen thing emerging from the crematorium furnace and moving into the building. But we’ve already seen Angela, and know she’s got her full complement of supernatural powers. What does this scene achieve?

The stuff in the house is just the same old, same old. The “kids” get gradually turned into demons, to hassle the two remaining people (Jason Patric lookalike and one of the women they picked up), and the cop – who’s surprisingly smart – closes in on them. You know how it goes, if you’ve ever seen a horror movie before, and nothing remotely interesting or unusual happens. Which is an extra shame because Kevin Tenney showed real promise for a while there, but after this it was stuff like “Endangered Species” and not much else – director Jimmy Kaufman is a TV guy through and through, and it shows.

Actually, the one interesting thing is the return of Amelia Kinkade, now better known as a choreographer and pet psychic (presumably not at the same time). She appears to have largely quit acting in 1990, only returning to play this role in the two sequels, so she must have liked the part I guess? Who knows.

The thing that annoys me about this trilogy is there’s no reason for any of it. Nothing drives the plot – no reason for the demon’s presence, no reason for Angela being the face it chooses to maintain, no point to trying to defeat it, nothing. It’s a hollow experience, and part 3 doesn’t even bother explaining who Angela is or why she’s there, as if we should all be on board or have done our homework beforehand.

Among the more pointless of the horror franchises, it was still remade in the great remaking frenzy of 2006-2010 (but more on that in a few days), because nature abhors a vacuum and Hollywood abhors an original idea. If you’re really really desperate for another series, I guess give it a go? There’s much worse out there.

Rating: thumbs down

Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015)

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So, we come to the end of another surprisingly durable franchise (first movie was from 1990, so it’s done pretty well to avoid a reboot). Michael Gross makes it through all five, but nothing else does, not even the “classic” Graboids. After a classic part 1, it’s been a bit sad to sit through the largely dull parts 2-4, with part 3 being the absolute pits, but can part 5 turn it round? It’s a welcome return to the ISCFC for Don Michael Paul, aka “The Director With Three First Names”, who we covered on “Lake Placid: The Final Chapter”, and who also acted in “Robot Wars”.

 

Burt Gummer is now a reality TV star, where he hunts Graboids and whatever else wanders across his path, teaching his viewers how to make a clay oven and cook rattlesnake out in the wild. While he never struck me as a particularly hands-on sort of guy to this point (he had lots of Army rations in his bunker in part 1, implying he wasn’t that bothered about fending for himself), it’s a decent bit of character development. His cameraman gets a better job and quits, but not before finding him a replacement…Jamie Kennedy, whose introduction is doing some “extreme” biking, like was popular 20 years ago.

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Jamie Kennedy is one of those people I dislike for no particular reason. Since he was given the cool speech in “Scream”, he’s been given an almost endless series of chances – numerous starring vehicle TV shows, stand up TV specials, award hosting gigs, and “the funny guy” in tons of movies. He’s never once shown any appreciable charisma or talent, yet here he is, in 2015, still top billed in movies. Okay, not very good movies. But, if you don’t believe me, and think I’m being harsh on poor Mr Kennedy…an early starring role, “Son Of The Mask”, got him a Razzie nomination for worst actor. He hosted Activision’s E3 event in 2007 and was mocked for performing drunk and having no knowledge of Activision’s stuff. He lied about going back to the “Scream” franchise. His New Year’s Eve 2012 show is still mocked now as maybe the worst TV show ever made. There are plenty of others. Yet he’s famous and I’m an office drone who writes these for my own amusement.

 

So, a South African guy from their Ministry of the Environment, or whatever it is, finds Burt and asks for his help in putting down an outbreak of Ass-Blasters, who’ve popped up there; Burt’s payment will be the South Africans paying for the production of his TV show for the next three years. At the same time, a pair of local archaeologists discover a creature which is a bit like a Graboid, only longer, leaner and more intelligent (I guess).

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The first thing to notice is the acting is better and the script is stronger than anything since…well, I think it’s probably the best of the sequels, but I know a lot of people like them. The South African muscle, played by Brandon Auret, is a lot of fun, as is Gross’s brother from another mother, Ian Roberts as the lunatic helicopter pilot Den. Best of all, though, is local vet Nandi, the mother of a young kid that Jamie Kennedy befriends. She’s played by Pearl Thusi, and without wanting to be too sleazy, she’s a very beautiful woman, but more importantly she’s a decent actress. Those of you (us) wanting more can see her on season 2 of “Quantico” or the South African version of “Lip Sync Battle”.

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So, it’s pretty much a remake of part 2, but done better. One of the original Perfection crew goes to another country to help them sort things out, and takes a wacky friend along for the ride. Pondering why no-one bothered to learn how to fight the Graboids in the intervening 25 years, or why so few people in South Africa are aware of what must be the biggest news of the century, or why they forgot they’d already captured one at the end of part 3, are questions sadly unanswered. The Graboids, Shriekers and Ass-Blasters are a different evolutionary chain to the ones Burt’s used to, which basically means they’re taking advantage of the far superior CGI to make something which looks decent and terrifying – the difference from the terrible use of computers in part 3 is like night and day. It’s really cool to see it filmed in South Africa too, giving it a different and interesting look to what we got in the first four.

 

ISCFC FAVOURITE THING – the wooden guard tower! And you know it gets destroyed by a super-Graboid!

 

There’s a moderately interesting story behind this – the original writers, directors and producers kept trying to get their Australia-based Tremors script made with Universal, but it was stuck in development hell for a decade, until finally an exec came along who liked it, but didn’t want the original creative team to have much input at all. Perhaps they’d seen parts 2-4? So, that whole group of people walked away, and we ended up with…well, an actually decent film for once. I imagine they were a bit upset when they saw it and were like “oh, I can see why they kicked us off it now”.

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If you can put up with Jamie Kennedy, who’s the least annoying he’s ever been here, then there’s a heck of a lot to like. Rips along, lots of good characters, good effects, funny occasionally, and I sort o hope they carry on with the series.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

 

 

Leprechaun: Origins (2014)

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So, we come to the end of yet another horror franchise. I can say with some degree of certainty that this will be the last “Leprechaun” movie – current rights holders WWE Films recently fired their only midget wrestler, and the star of this movie (apparently), Dylan Postl, Warwick Davis hopefully has enough Ricky Gervais money to not need to demean himself again, and this movie was a poorly received failure so that ought to discourage any fools in future.

 

Continuing the tradition of part 6, this is now a straight-up slasher movie, with all the classic building blocks.

  • A pre-credits kill for our (offscreen) baddie (this one featuring Emilie Ullerup, of “Arctic Air” and “Sanctuary”, a much better actor than anyone in the main body of the movie).
  • A “Meet the Meat” section
  • Four stereotypes – the obvious Final Girl, the jock boyfriend, the party girl, and the goofy guy
  • Mysterious locals!
  • A goddamn cabin in the woods
  • Running and screaming while they get picked off

Four American college students, backpacking round Ireland. Oh, sorry, “Oireland”, because this is some sorry-looking excuse for a country. The village they’re visiting, which is in a guidebook, has no roads going to it and no form of transportation better than being dropped off in the back of a truck a few miles outside. But what are those mysterious monoliths the driver won’t go past?

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A local in the pub tells them about a cave, full of amazing stone sculptures (their visit is sort of to look at Celtic artifacts) and offers to give them a ride out there the next morning. In the meantime, this apparent tourist destination has no hotels of any kind, but he has a cabin out in the woods they can stay in? What a generous fellow! Both couples have a nice argument (Final Girl and Jock, because he wants to move to the other side of the country for college; party girl and goof because he gets too drunk to have sex) and then a creature starts attacking them.

 

Up to about the hour mark, I was convinced that the thing we were seeing wasn’t the Leprechaun at all, but some minion who was killing and taking any gold they might have back to its master. But no, bearing as little resemblance to ancient legend as Warwick Davis’ version, is a burned-looking creature with a monstrous skull and a wolf-like throaty growl. Now, I don’t think there’s any need to have a wrestling-famous person under those many layers of make-up (he has zero lines of dialogue) unless you’re Andy Serkis, and Dylan “Hornswoggle” Postl is no Andy Serkis. I presumed the movie was at least partly to promote one of their wrestlers, but if you weren’t paying attention through the credits, you could be forgiven for not realising this had anything to do with WWE at all. Also, we barely ever see Lep and one of the other characters in the same shot, so his shortness or otherwise is entirely irrelevant – yes, the air of “why bother?” hangs heavy over proceedings.

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But I’ve not even finished recapping yet! Well, it’s going to be more “here’s a dumb thing this movie does”, but the effect will be the same. It turns out the locals have been feeding tourists to it for years – what might be the next door cabin or the same cabin filmed very confusingly has piles of glasses, shoes and clothes in it. They seem at least a little conflicted about doing this, but…tourists have families, and in 2014 people tend to broadcast their lives a lot – did no police officers visit this town? Did the hundreds of deaths not become news? If they just wanted rid of the creature, why not set up cameras, get a shot of it and send the photo to one of those “Bigfoot Hunters” shows? A few TV people die and you’ve got yourself an international story, and a greater likelihood of properly trained people coming and taking care of the problem for you (unlike previous movies, this Lep doesn’t seem supernaturally powerful). They say, several times, that they’re providing food for Lep, but he kills several people and just leaves their bodies lying around, and how much food can a leprechaun need anyway?

 

What is, perhaps, best of all though, is the title. If I was going to make a movie called “Leprechaun: Origins”, I might, just might, put something about the origin of the leprechaun in it. But WWE Films are not ordinary filmmakers! Final Girl reads from a handily abandoned book of Celtic legend in the cabin and discusses, briefly, ‘Tuatha Dé Danann’ and says they’re what we call leprechauns. No! They’re the ancient magical kings and queens of Ireland…the thing with the word is, it actually comes from Gaelic so would be, roughly, the same. I’m dumb as hell and I knew that! Also, the love of gold thing is crowbarred in there, with an exceptionally flimsy “our mining for gold disturbed him” story, even though it’s completely meaningless to the plot and the Lep in this movie doesn’t look like he’s got any use for the stuff.

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The acting is extremely bland, with the mostly Canadian supporting cast handling Irish accents okay but the four stars…well, it’s the next morning and I couldn’t pick any of them out of a lineup. Given no-one is going to see this garbage anyway, why doesn’t one company take a few casting risks and not just hire the first four skinny vaguely attractive people to walk through the door? And a word about WWE casting. They have (or at least had, when this was made) a real Irish wrestler on the roster, who could have been used in a few scenes – instead they use a guy who’s completely hidden under makeup and has no lines. Okay, I guess?

 

Leaving the pre-credits kills out, no-one dies til almost an hour in, and even then it’s the least important of the supporting characters – we also don’t see a full-on shot of Lep til then too. The last 20 minutes is chock full of death, but by that time I’d sort of mentally checked out because the first two-thirds is so unbearably dull. How much setup did this damned story need anyway? Oh, and fans of odd credits will have something to enjoy, because despite the crew of this movie being fairly small, the credits go on for 12 minutes! When the drivers names are on screen for a solid minute, you know someone was desperately trying to pad things out to get it to feature length.

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Honestly, this made me miss Warwick Davis and his quips. In a series as rotten as this one’s been, I’m impressed it manages to find new depths to plumb. If you have to, absolutely have to, pick one of them to watch, go for part 3 and then run away.

 

Rating: thumbs down