Apocalypse Female Warriors (2009)

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If you’ve read many of our reviews here, you’ll know we’re big fans of Len Kabasinski, the micro-budget director who’s brought us many fun genre movies. We’ve even reviewed this before, under its original title, “Warriors of the Apocalypse”, so please read our initial review here.

 

Why are we reviewing it again? Well, Kabasinski decided the initial release wasn’t up to scratch (it does seem like the original post-production was quite troubled), so decided to re-edit and improve some of the special effects. If I’m reading the IMDB page right, it’s also a bit shorter than the original, clocking in at a splendidly trim 74 minutes.

 

No sense recapping what we’ve already written (as nothing significant or plot-dependent has been changed), so let’s talk technical stuff. Everything works a lot better! The fights snap along, and the editing is top-notch; while I haven’t done a strict comparison between the two, it feels like hundreds of changes were made. The special effects, although still definitely at the cheap end of things, look sharper, the blood looks more realistic and the explosions (which I liked before) also look a little improved.

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I want to give Len Kabasinski some praise. There aren’t a ton of filmmakers who’d be happy with someone coming in and re-editing their movie and tweaking the special effects, but that’s what he did with Chris Young (who joins Len on one of the DVD’s new commentary tracks). From the – admittedly little – I know about him, he seems a remarkably ego-free guy, who’s happy to learn from anyone and everyone.

 

Additional praise goes to inviting the Red Letter Media guys to do the other commentary track. Even though Mike, Rich and Jay are clearly fans, they’re also totally honest about all the technical shortcomings, and honest commentaries are a rare thing. Being a fan of Red Letter Media too, it was cool to hear them talk about it, and they gave plenty of insights into the making of micro-budget movies, as well as wandering down many conversational paths (how they’d probably fail to survive an apocalypse was a highlight). They’re funny guys and their commentary is well worth listening to (as is Len’s).

The RLM fellows

The RLM fellows

One of the things about grindhouse and 80s / 90s shot-on-video stuff is that they were often pretty short. Donald Farmer’s early movies clocked in at under an hour, and the history of low-budget cinema is littered with 70-75 minute gems. Okay, it’s not all of them, or even most, but it’s not necessarily bad to have your movie come in at that length. I think a few low-budget moviemakers, perhaps worried about selling to TV and their 2 hour (with commercials) slots, have forgotten this, and we have been subjected to many “hey, the lead’s sister is trying to get to this place for some reason” subplots which go nowhere and add nothing. What I’m getting at in a roundabout way is that there are thousands of movies which could benefit from what Kabasinski has done with “Apocalypse Female Warriors”, and that’s trim all the fat. Exciting 75 minute movies are better than sort-of-okay 90 minute ones (although I liked the original version just fine, this is much improved).

 

It’s available where all good movies are sold, and I highly recommend it. Support low-budget filmmaking, because if you don’t then we’ll have nothing left to review.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Blu-ray review: Samurai Cop (1991)

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“Samurai Cop” has been a bad movie cause celebre for a few years now – one particularly brilliant scene became a hit in the early days of Youtube, and Red Letter Media, among other places, have done retrospectives about it. Watching its initial VHS-quality release was truly amazing, and it became one of my favourites too; but we all read that star Matt Hannon had been dead for some years and were sad we’d never get a hilarious tell-all interview.

Then, a couple of years ago, Hannon, who’d been living a quiet life as an events organiser, his co-workers completely unaware of his former “fame”, resurfaced with a video online, and things really began to move. The cast members renewed contact with each other, and although director Amir Shervan was dead, most of the people involved with the movie were still around, and began attending conventions and midnight showings. The cult grew, until the current rights holder decided the time was right to get the gang back together and make a sequel.

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Partly thanks to Kickstarter, which I contributed to, this is all happening. Samurai Cop 2 looks amazing, full of insane casting choices (Bai Ling and Tommy Wiseau, to name but two) and a ridiculous number of original cast members returning, either for cameos or full involvement. “Adult actress” Kayden Kross looks like, from the behind the scenes videos, this could be a breakout role for her too – what I’m saying is, I’m looking forward to it more than just about anything. One of the Kickstarter gifts was a blu-ray of the first movie, remastered with a ton of special features, so that’s what I’m going to review.

The film itself doesn’t need a ton of recapping from me – check out Red Letter Media’s “Half In The Bag” episode about it below:

http://redlettermedia.com/half-in-the-bag/your-highness-and-samurai-cop/

Joe (Hannon), known as “Samurai Cop” due to his training in the east, is brought in from San Diego to combat a “Yakuza” gang; along with his partner Frank, they kick ass, and Joe romances the ladies, including fellow cop Peggy and, for most of the movie, restaurant owner Jennifer. The bad guys’ main enforcer is Yamashita (B-movie legend Robert Z’Dar), and he attempts to kill Samurai Cop and protect his boss’s interests, sort of.

Anyway, enough of that. The film is famous for its staggering level of technical incompetence and bizarre script, and the blu-ray really allows you to revel in it. Hannon had his hair cut after principal photography was done, but Shervan needed to still shoot something like half the film and hadn’t really told anyone – so his answer was to buy Hannon a wig that sort of looked a bit his real hair. It didn’t, and it also kept falling off during fight sequences, one example of which is left in the final film. Lots of pickup shots were filmed in Shervan’s office, so you’ll have Joe delivering monologues or Frank looking surprised against a white wall, while the people they’re talking to are in a wood-panelled restaurant. Locations are used almost at random throughout.

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The blu ray looks really “good”, weirdly. Everything is crisp, but for a film which presumably didn’t have a makeup person through most of its filming, it’s perhaps a bad idea. Every uncovered skin blemish is there in glorious HD, accidental pubic hair which was once lost to nice fuzzy VHS is restored, every bit of filth on the set (and there’s a lot) is there for all to see. But it’s so good to have a favourite film in this quality, that all those things just add to the wonder of it. It’s no exaggeration that I smiled through every moment of this disc.

Of course, it’s packed with special features. There’s a great interview with Matt Hannon and Mark Frazer (Frank) where they reminisce about their time on the set, and then an extended interview with Mike and Jay from Red Letter Media which is just lovely – two hardcore fans nerding out with a clearly delighted Hannon. Also, we get three different commentaries, which is an absolute treat. Frazer isn’t much of a raconteur, and I’m sure he’d be the first person to agree, but his is fine, as is the one from the superfans at 80s Picture House.

 

It’s the commentary with Matt Hannon which is perhaps the most problematic. He’s dabbled in standup down the years, so is a confident talker, and clearly has a million stories to tell but for some reason the production people have saddled him with an interviewer whose job is presumably to keep things moving and ask the right questions. Only problem is, he’ll interrupt Hannon to ask a question about, for example, the sort of lenses the cameraman used. What? Hannon gives no indication of wanting or needing an interviewer and the interjections, or asking a question which was just answered because he had it written down, really spoil the flow.

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One tiny flaw in what is a magnificent blu-ray. One of the weirdest, most thoroughly incompetent films ever made, with every choice being a wrong one, now brought into 2014 for us to enjoy forever.

Rating: thumbs up

Halloween (1978)

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Books have been written about this film – serious, scholarly works that go in depth into John Carpenter, every shot, the film’s view of society, all that sort of thing. The geniuses at Red Letter Media have just released a commentary for this, too (the thing that inspired me to rewatch it) which is full of trivia, comedy, and analysis. Chances are you’ve already seen it. So why should you read this?

I don’t know. It’s not like I’m the first – or the hundredth, or the thousandth – low-rent film blogger to have a go at this either. Unless you’re one of the three friends of mine who reads this site regularly, these words will disappear into the ether. But, you might be about to watch this film for the first time and your Google search is broken for the first ten pages. Who knows? Also, I’m going to be reviewing the entire series, and I don’t think there are too many sites who’ve made it as far as part 6, with Paul Rudd, or that one with Busta Rhymes in it, where the house was covered in webcams (part 8, a quick search tells me).

The first thing you’ll notice is how this doesn’t look anything like the legion of films which followed in its footsteps (not just the sequels, but the other slasher franchises). It’s full of long, slow shots, panning across empty suburbia. The music and the colours (which make it look like a cold Midwest Halloween, but was actually filmed in California, the autumn leaves being a prop) set up a feeling of dread better than “generic metal soundtrack X” and a few jumpcuts could ever hope to do. The main house used in the film wasn’t a prop, but a real dilapidated home they found and were able to film in.

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The plot is simple. Young Michael Myers kills his elder sister on Halloween and is sent to an insane asylum. 15 years later he escapes, heads back to his old town and decides to kill babysitters, focusing on Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). There’s no explanation, no more backstory than is absolutely necessary, and no understanding. He’s just a force. Chasing him down is Dr Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance)…and that’s it.

Does anyone really care about backstory? Was Hannibal Lecter more frightening when we knew nothing about him, or after “Hannibal Rising” when we’d got his entire life story in boring, excruciating detail? Is Michael Myers more scary or less after we’ve been told all about his life both in the sequels and the 2007 “remake”? Prequels, backstory…it’s all bunk, to squeeze money out of characters that we like because we know nothing about them. “Halloween” works partly because of what it doesn’t tell us.

It’s difficult to have a personal reaction to such a famous film. Even if you’ve not seen it before, you’ll recognise plenty of the scenes from being lifted for other, lesser horror films or from the many parodies. But it provides moments that still can give you the chills. Seeing Michael across the street, just in the middle of a normal suburban day, no loud music or jump-scares, is still a great moment. It doesn’t follow “the rules”, either, for instance Michael is unmasked at one point, and it’s not a big deal – an absolute no-no in the prop fetishisation world of 80s and 90s horror. There’s barely any death, and what there is is incredibly tame. A few frames of nudity. There’s just atmosphere.

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Really, you don’t need me to tell you about this film. It’s a classic, forever enshrined in the pantheon of great horror cinema. It’s not perfect (s-l-o-w pace, even when it doesn’t need to be, Dr Loomis spends half the film stood next to a bush) but the way it works, while the sequels get progressively stupider, is testament to its quality. We’ll be reviewing the series, and as I recall I quite enjoyed a few of the later ones.

Rating: thumbs up (obviously)

Feeding Frenzy (2010)

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If you’ve been on the internet recently, and are visiting a site like this, chances are you’ll have heard of Red Letter Media. Based in Wisconsin, headed by Mike Stoklasa with help from Jay Baumann and a crew of their friends, they make a lot of really good stuff. Short films, long film reviews of Star Wars and Star Trek from “Mr. Plinkett”, and two hilarious film review shows “Half In The Bag” and “Best of the Worst”. “Feeding Frenzy” is their third film, but is it any good?

This “rubber puppet monster movie” is about Jesse (Ron Lipski), a real sadsack who works in a hardware store with Carl (Mike Stoklasa, who also wrote and co-directed) and shares a house with Martin (Jay Bauman, the other co-director). Jesse is in love with Christine, but her boyfriend is athletic, attractive and genuinely a good guy, so he’s out of luck.

Jesse isn’t one of those people who has hidden talents waiting to be discovered – he’s absolutely useless, and is reminded of this at regular intervals, usually by the spectacularly foul-mouthed Carl. This realisation is the first of many that while Stoklasa and Bauman love these old movies, they’re also having fun subverting our expectations of them.

Jesse and Carl’s boss is Mr. Plinkett (Rich Evans), who may be familiar to viewers of Red Letter Media’s other work. In the past couple of years, they’ve turned Plinkett into almost a cuddly character, or at least a neutered one, so to see him here as an unrepentant murderer is a little odd, in the beginning anyway.

We also get some magnificently gratuitous scenes with the faintest relation to the main plot – three women have a pillow fight in their underwear, and we get a dancing prostitute too. It’s so over the top that…well, it fits perfectly with everything else.

This film was made for presumably no money. The making-of special feature shows them with special effects drying in a corner of their apartment, and it was filmed either late at night on deserted streets or in a variety of basements. One or two of the performances aren’t all they could be, but so what? Jesse and Christine are both excellent, and the film has a few cameos from low-budget horror royalty.

In the grand tradition of these films, Plinkett has a reason for doing his murders, and it involves what I presume is a little joke at the expense of “The Phantom Menace”. This involves a lot of lovely rubber puppet monsters and lots, and lots, of blood.

First things first – this film is funny. Bauman, Stoklasa and Evans (the three people credited with the story) clearly understand how these films are made from the ground up, have a real passion for both this sort of film and film in general, and it shows. The beats of 80s horror are all there, in the right order, and at every opportunity they’ll try and mess with you while still keeping the film barreling along. Acting as both a rubber puppet monster movie and a parody of them is tough, but they pull it off.

If you care to go back and read some of the reviews of Asylum films I’ve done on here, you’ll see disappointment after disappointment, badly made films that don’t seem to have the faintest clue of what a bad film is. Red Letter Media have got, in their Wisconsin basements and micro-budgets, more talent and dedication than is present in any ten Asylum films. Watch it, buy the DVD and support decent low-budget filmmaking.

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Feeding Frenzy on IMDB