Blood Frenzy (1987)

Hal Needham was a prolific filmmaker. Although “Blood Frenzy” was his only horror movie, he made a ton of, er, more adult entertainment – all 25 volumes of the no-doubt edifying “Caught From Behind” series and a whole bunch with quite chaste titles like “Sweet Nothings”, “Layover”, and “Angels of Mercy”, for example. His stuff appears to have had plots and “jizz biz” veterans who could act a little, should that be your cup of tea.

One of our more beloved ISCFC review subjects, Ray Dennis Steckler, made several adult features but he also made tons of “normal” ones too – why Mr Needham decided to give it a try once and only once is a question it looks like we’ll never get answered (his writer, Ted Newsom, scripted a dozen or so pornos before moving on to the sort of trashy sci-fi fare we love to cover here).

This is a cheap-looking movie, whether shot-on-video or some nasty broken 16mm camera is tough to tell – doubly so, watching it on an old VHS tape. After a cold open featuring a kid murdering an abusive parent with a trowel to the neck, lifted from “Halloween”, we move on to a premise lifted straight from “The Hills Have Eyes”, where an RV full of people go for a nice relaxing weekend in the desert between LA and Vegas.

Well, it’s not really a holiday, it’s a group therapy session led by Doctor Barbara Shelley. Perhaps mental health was a more casual, less regulated business back then? Her clients include Rick, a traumatised Vietnam vet; Dory, a predatory lesbian; Dave, just a generally angry guy; Cassie, a nymphomaniac; Jean, a woman petrified of being touched; and Crawford, a cheerful alcoholic. Quite why some of these people got into the orbit of a psychiatrist, or certainly of the same psychiatrist, is one of those things the movie just expects you to take on faith. The “meet the meat” section has never felt more perfunctory.

Dory’s family apparently owns a spot of desert, containing a long-defunct silver mine, so she offers this to the group for their therapy. Tents are set up, Rick and Dave fight, Crawford carries on drinking (how much booze did he take for the weekend to stay as sozzled as he is every second he’s on camera? Who knows); but, astonishingly, it seems Dr Shelley is pretty good at her job and some actual breakthroughs are made. Well, one – Jean gets over her phobia quite quickly.

This whole preamble takes about half an hour, fairly standard in slasher movie standards, but this has the added problem of looking ugly and cheap. Then there’s a murder, then it immediately grinds to a halt for another half an hour. There’s a weird tonal problem which becomes apparent now – some of the characters appear to think they’re in a comedy movie, others don’t, and the rest are just desperately trying to act (you’ll be unsurprised to discover there’s a handful of actors for whom this is their only credit). Are we supposed to be taking the threat seriously? Worried for the characters? Or laughing along with them?

The one interesting bit of casting is Dory, one Lisa Loring. The name may not be familiar to you but her most iconic role probably is – Wednesday Addams from the 60s TV “Addams Family”. This represents one of a tiny handful of movies she made in the late 80s, after a tiny handful of TV appearances in the late 70s, after her childhood fame in the mid 60s.

This isn’t Wednesday Addams, by the way. I ordered the pictures wrong

The reveal / twist, when it comes, is faintly ludicrous. Imagine the number of things that needed to go perfectly well for the killer’s plan to work out, and how much easier it would have been to just kidnap the one person they definitely wanted to kill back in LA. All those group therapy sessions just to get to this point! Imagine if Dr Shelley’s boss had said “I’m absolutely not letting you do this, it’s a ridiculous idea”?

Ultimately, it’s absolutely no different to hundreds and hundreds of other slasher movies from the 80s. The gore is more gleeful and plentiful than the average, perhaps? If you like that sort of thing, you’ll probably have a tolerable time, but unlike a few of the curios we’ve unearthed here, deserves to remain in the obscurity which it currently languishes in.

Rating: thumbs down

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Killing Spree (1987)

Not in the movie

Not in the movie

I’d like to think that you and I learn things together, dear reader. Just a month ago I had no idea of the existence of the “I Will Dance On Your Grave” non-series, featuring two movies from the great Donald Farmer, “Death Blow: A Cry For Justice” (an apparently terrible movie about women fighting back against a rape epidemic), and “Killing Spree”. Now we all know about it, and we can try and figure out what the link between the four movies was. Half of them are very definitely about rape, but the other half aren’t – they’ve all got a lot of sex in them, but that’s par for the course in exploitation movies. Three of them could be loosely called “revenge” movies, but “Cannibal Hookers” doesn’t fall under that banner at all…it’s a conundrum, for sure.

 

But let’s talk about “Killing Spree”. It’s another shot-on-video, as the ISCFC likes to be 25 years late to every party, but the gulf in technical quality between this and, say, “Cannibal Hookers”, is gigantic. Every scene is lit properly (although it probably helps filming it almost entirely in daylight), all the actors are in focus, the effects – while cheap – are cleverly done and practical, and you can hear everything that goes on. And it features one of the most amazing central performances you’ll ever see!

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Asbestos Felt plays Tom Russo. Let’s get it out of the way now, because every other review of this movie ever has done it – it’s the greatest name of all time. I’ve got no idea why he picked it, but I’m very glad he did. Anyway, Tom is a pretty terrible husband to Leeza, demanding that she stay at home (due solely to his jealousy); even though she doesn’t seem to mind too much, and defends her husband when it’s brought up. She’s loving and understanding, so it’s not just their appearances that make such an odd match – she looks like a perfectly normal suburban woman, and he looks like a skinny crazed hobo.

 

Slightly similarly to “Driller Killer”, this is a movie about a man who loses his mind and then starts killing people – of course, “Driller Killer” has the slight edge on this in terms of budget, acting, plot, and effects, but you get the point. Tom is disturbed at the beginning of the movie, because his first wife cheated on him, so when he discovers a “diary” where his wife appears to be describing erotic encounters with the men she comes into contact with (starting off with his best friend, then the TV repair guy, mailman, lawnmower guy, and so on), he falls off the deep end. Oh, and there’s a super-annoying neighbour too, but she’s just there to get her jaw ripped off by a claw hammer.

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Director Tim Ritter really tries to make this film visually interesting. Unlike so many other shot on video movies, he tries little tricks, weird angles, cuts, and so on – not all of it works, but he’s trying, with the upshot of it all being that this movie feels shorter than some of the 60 minute-long garbage I’ve seen. Now, even though he tries with that, there are some visuals that are too odd, in a way. Tom’s best friend / best man at his wedding is Ben (Raymond Carbone), but he’s a good 20 years older than Tom; plus, he brags about his 18 year old punk girlfriend, whose weirdly horrible insults to Tom, a man she’s just met, are the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

 

There’s also the house where most of the action takes place to comment on. Apart from one picture in the lounge, the walls are entirely blank, and the entire house looks like one of those show homes that new housing developments have. In fact, the neighbourhood looks like that (when we see outside) so it’s entirely possible that Ritter was offered a house by a friend who was in construction, or something, provided he didn’t get blood anywhere, but had zero money to dress his set. This blankness actually makes things eerier, so kudos to them if it was a real choice.

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The budget can only go so far, though, and the biggest issue by far is the acting. Asbestos Felt is amazing, almost the personification of rage, and while he’s not got a lot of levels (he does tired, wired, and insane) he’s a truly great central character. Everyone else, on the other hand…Courtney Lercara as Leeza tries her best, but all the movie’s other cast pitches things at an insane level, like they were told they were filming a knockabout comedy or something. The TV repair guy who brags about his karate skills is the best, but they’re all OTT in the way only completely amateur actors can be. I think Ritter was going for some sort of split in their acting between what actually happens and Tom’s fantasies, but they aren’t good enough for that! It seems a decent portion of the cast has this and Ritter’s previous movie “Truth or Dare” as their only credits, and that’s to be expected.

 

The twist, such as it is, is so obvious you start to hope that when they reveal it, they’ll do something really weird, like Tom apologising for all the murder and them just going on with their happy married life. They don’t do that, obviously, although what they do end up doing is even better, as Tom’s past comes back to not quite haunt him, but definitely get involved in his life again. Some of the little touches (which I can’t reveal for fear of spoilers) show a filmmaker with who wants to do more than just hurl gore at the screen, and has a decent sense of humour (as well as the little visuals, my favourite line is “you screwed my wife, so I’ll screwdriver your head!” while, unsurprisingly, dropping a screwdriver which goes straight through the top of a chap’s skull).

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Okay, it’s really cheap, the acting is ropey as hell, the plot isn’t original and the twist is horribly obvious. But it’s a gore-drenched good time, with a sense of humour and a surprisingly clever use of the cheapest shooting medium there is. Plus, it’s got maybe the best thing I’ve ever heard in a movie. If you ever thought “you know, I wish there was a bit in the end credits of movies where the psychotic killer did a light-hearted rap about the people he’d killed”, then this is the movie for you. It’s absolutely amazing, and is worth keeping it on til the bitter end for.

 

I think we’ll be covering more of Ritter’s movies, perhaps after our Donald Farmer season is over.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Savage Vengeance (1993)

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Also known as “I Spit On Your Grave 2”.

I was a bit conflicted about even reviewing this. I love Donald Farmer and his wonderfully odd shot-on-video work, but there’s really not a lot to like here, although it’s got such a weird story to it that I had to cover it. Camille Keaton had the fortune / misfortune to star in the original “I Spit On Your Grave”, a grindhouse piece of filth from 1978 with absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever. She barely worked after, the odd appearance at the bottom of credit lists notwithstanding, until 2010, when she got hired by a new generation of filmmakers who wanted some of that old-school sleaze kudos.

 

This movie represents her one and only starring role for over 30 years, and by all accounts she didn’t enjoy it, walking off the set before the end of filming (resulting in a rather oddly edited denouement). Meir Zarchi, the director of the original “I Spit On Your Grave”, sued, causing it to sit on a shelf between 1988 and 1993 and forcing several changes to be made. The main character’s surname was altered, resulting in some rather clumsy dubbing, Keaton herself had her name taken off it, and some re-editing had to be done (presumably to remove footage from the original movie). This scrabble for extra footage, though, does give us the rather wonderful opportunity to see a scene lifted directly from “Scream Dream”, Rikk-O-Shay (with Melissa Moore on vocals) performing “Ball Buster”. But more on that later.

 

As if to add an extra layer of weirdness to proceedings (and to give evidence to the idea this went unreleased for a long time), this has the pre-title title “I Will Dance On Your Grave vol. 1”. “Cannibal Hookers”, released 4 years before this, was vol. 3! I do sort of admire that level of laziness, and will report back when I find out what vol. 2 was, or why entirely unrelated movies were made part of this non-series.

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Jennifer (SURNAME REDACTED) decides, one day, to drive into the middle of nowhere, take her magazine on a walk into the wilderness, then sit and read it. For reasons which never become apparent, a car full of four guys (see their album cover pose above), one of whom looks a little familiar, also drive to the same spot, track Jennifer down and rape her. But this rape isn’t the average traumatising, violent screen depiction of rape – everyone keeps their clothes on (although Jennifer does get her top ripped open at one point); so you get the curious image of a guy with his jeans on rubbing against the upper thigh of a woman with her jeans on, which is clearly supposed to be a full-on penetrative rape. One of the men, all of whom are unarmed, even forces Jennifer to give him oral sex, which seems a risky proposition given you’ve just brutalised the poor woman. She’s left lying on the ground, sobbing, then…

 

Five years later! Jennifer is now a student at law school, despite being 41 at the time of filming (although she aged remarkably well). The professor in one of the classes talks about her crime as an example of vengeance being an admissible defence in court these days, and makes a few “hilarious” jokes about rape and revenge murder, which naturally upsets our heroine. She decides to take her friend Sam (Linda Lyer) off for a trip to some other wilderness somewhere, to get away from it all, and after she agrees to buy the beer, Sam agrees.

 

At the same time, a woman rejects a man’s advances in a bar (Tommy, played by Farmer himself), so he waits for her to leave and then brutally butchers her in the car park outside. His performance is, to put it mildly, over the top, and here’s a screenshot:

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The band in the bar is Rikk-O-Shay…hold on! Their curly haired backing singer, the “star” of “Scream Dream”, was one of the rapists at the beginning of the movie! To see him bouncing about in the background, five years after he had his penis chopped off, is an odd moment, and these two performances represent the entirety of Nikki Riggins’ career in the movies. I can’t get bogged down in the details, though, we’ve got plenty more movie to get through.

 

Unlike the rural idyll it’s portrayed as in many movies, the wilderness here is just overgrown and ugly, and much more believable as a result. Stopping off at a gas station for supplies, they run into Tommy, who makes an inappropriate advance on Sam, only to be stopped by the guy who works there, Dwayne. Dwayne acts like a gentleman, but it turns out he’s the good cop to Tommy’s bad cop and they’re a rape gang! Now, I don’t know a lot about the world, but to completely accidentally fall foul of two different rape gangs in the space of five years seems the worst luck perhaps ever, or just incredibly lazy writing.

 

Later, Sam decides to go for a walk in the woods, gets lost, and happens upon Dwayne’s house. Bad move, Sam. She is raped, killed by Tommy in a fit of rage, then the two men have their way with her corpse before eating her. All this happens with clothes staying on, in case you were wondering. Jennifer waits til the next day before trying to track down her friend, but luckily Dwayne is at the store again and offers to take her to where Sam is. I appreciate I’m a bit of a cynic, but if I’d been the victim of a crime as horrific as Jennifer’s, I’d be much slower to trust a couple of sleazy scumbags who I knew nothing about. But we’ve only got 64 minutes, so those sort of niceties are right out of the window.

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So there’s yet more rape, and another long chase through the woods, culminating in what looks like Jennifer’s death…although it turns out when our two villains go back to the store to gloat over what they’d done, that she was fine, and didn’t have a scratch on her. It’s at this point that they clearly didn’t have Keaton for filming, as someone else has to tell Dwayne that she’s been buying chainsaws and guns and wants to meet them tomorrow. All this, given that the police would almost certainly believe her (they appear to be looking for an excuse to arrest the gruesome twosome), really makes no sense. Tommy’s degenerated into a full-blown necrophile by this point, although the impression is ruined somewhat by one of the corpses blinking several times while the camera focuses on her.

 

This is a horrible movie. Given how short it is, a really large portion of its running time is women either running away from rapists or being raped, and there’s nothing to distract from the grim spectacle of that. It’s poorly shot (on video, naturally), poorly lit, the acting is shocking, and there’s barely a script; plus the music, never a strong suit in Farmer’s stuff, is unbearable, tuneless noodling from beginning to end. I really don’t understand what Farmer was aiming for here – there’s nothing particularly graphic, with everyone being fully clothed at all times, and apart from one fantastic effect when Dwayne gets his head split open with a chainsaw there’s not any gore either. There’s no sense of humour and precious little sense of humanity.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Scream Dream (1989)

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Our Donald Farmer season continues! Thanks to the wonder that is “Vampire Cop”, we’re big fans of Farmer’s work here at the ISCFC. Lord knows why, though – the chap is, for one, unable to tell the difference between vampires, cannibals, witches and demons; if you’re killed before the halfway point of one of his movies, you’re dead for good, but after then and chances are you’re coming back to life to start attacking other people; and his shot-on-video (SOV) is cheap-looking, even among other SOV horror of the time. But he’s got something weirdly compelling about his movies that gets us watching and reviewing them, and hopefully get you watching them too.

 

You want an opening scene with nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the movie? We got it! You want a song performed in its entirety right after that, a song which is almost brain-buggering in its badness? We got that too! “Scream Dream”, the song, is performed by a band which is never identified by name at any point (although the credits call them Rikk-O-Shay, which might be their real name or their movie name, not sure) and their lead singer is a magnificent creature called Michelle Shock.

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Confusion piles on top of confusion, dear reader. Those of you with large record collections, or former readers of Rolling Stone, will remember Michelle Shocked, the alternative-folkie turned oddball pop star turned born-again Christian; she was enjoying her first flush of success in the mid / late 80s, so it seems pretty unlikely that at the very least, someone working on this movie wouldn’t have heard of her. Why the almost identical name, then? Sadly, we may never know – although I am going to try and get an interview with Donald Farmer when I’ve finished reviewing his old films, as he’s got a couple of new ones in the pipeline I hope he wants to promote.

 

After a 30 second pause, the song is repeated! Rick, a scumbag, decides to spend his girlfriend Suzy’s car payment money on a trip to a (UNNAMED BAND) gig, and she comes along even though she quite reasonably thinks they suck. Backstage afterwards, and she still doesn’t leave him when he describes her as his sister to Michelle, only walking out finally when Michelle invites him to hang around and have some sex. Rick gets eaten, of course, but only after doing the second least convincing “I’m getting a blow job” face ever (behind only “The Room”, of course).

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(UNNAMED BAND) get some really bad publicity, with the local TV news calling them devil worshippers and so on. As the lead singer is a witch (just the sort of witch who transforms into something that looks like a demon, complete with horns), this is pretty much fair enough, but their record label boss fires “the most controversial singer of all time” despite her being the only reason anyone would possibly be interested in this lot.

 

The thing I love about Farmer’s movies is the layers of weirdness you have to dig through in order to get to the core of what he’s doing. The male lead of the movie is one of (UNNAMED BAND)’s backup singers, called Derrick, and he goes round to Michelle’s house to console her, only to get attacked. As he’s the only person in the movie who even thinks of defending themselves, he kills her and runs off…and the villain of the movie is dead before the halfway point and stays that way. What? But luckily, we get the replacement lead singer going over to her house to take some of her outfits, finding the body, and then deciding to eat her? Honestly, that bit confused the hell out of me. So after having a little nibble on her predecessor’s corpse, she gets possessed by the spirit of the witch, or something, and pretty much takes over where Michelle left off.

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That replacement is Melissa Moore, star of many a terrible B-movie (including “Samurai Cop” and “Vampire Cop”), and she’s mostly in this so she can do about half her scenes in the nude. Her character’s name is Jamie Summers, one letter different from the Bionic Woman (Jamie Sommers), so perhaps the Michelle Shock thing was a joke too? Nude is, I suppose, better than being a complete doormat, which is the fate of most of the women in the movie. There’s the other backup singer, described as the drummer’s girlfriend, who leaps into bed with Derrick at the first opportunity, even after he’s horribly insulted her; the TV reporter, who’s offhandedly told by some guy working on her show to “get me a coke”, which she immediately complies with; poor Suzy at the beginning; and a few others with even less screentime and / or self-esteem. Perhaps Farmer was going through a bad relationship at the time?

 

There’s a worm-monster thing in Michelle’s house, but I’m really not sure what it’s doing there. As the movie is 69 minutes long, I’d have been happy with another minute telling us about the worm, but it’s just there, hanging out, leaning round corners as if it’s the most obvious glove puppet in movie history (which it is).

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I’m not 100% sure I can tell you what “Scream Dream” is about, to be honest. The IMDB description says she possesses Jamie to get her revenge on the band, and I’m not sure that’s the case, although she does kill a few people who wronged her while she was alive, though, so I’ll give her that. Oh, and she (as Jamie) has a very un-erotic love scene with Derrick, in the house where her corpse is still lying downstairs. We get to hear the classic song “Angel Fire” from Farmer’s previous movie “Demon Queen” too, so there’s that. Continuity fans will enjoy the scene with the female backing singer accompanying the band, hours after her death, too.

 

I’ve really barely scratched the surface. Farmer appears to be devolving as a filmmaker – the sound is worse, the lighting is worse, the music is worse, the acting couldn’t get worse but stays at the same level…next up on our chronological Farmer odyssey is “Invasion of the Scream Queens”, a documentary about female horror actresses, and that is, apparently, quite good. What?

 

If you can find the DVD of this, and it’s really really cheap, pick it up and have a laugh.

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Rating: negative thumbs up

 

 

Cannibal Hookers (1987)

Killing Spree 2? What?

Killing Spree 2? What?

Welcome back to our series on Donald Farmer, the shot-on-video mastermind of the late 80s and 90s, who made some of the ugliest, weirdest movies of the time. We’ve already seen and thoroughly enjoyed “Vampire Cop” and “Demon Queen”, and we move onto his second movie, 1987’s brain-hurting “Cannibal Hookers”.

 

Right at the very beginning, we’re given confusing information. Before the title comes up, we have a screen reading “I Will Dance On Your Grave vol. 3”. Volume 3? This is only Farmer’s second movie! Why do you baffle me so? As best as I can gather from my limited research, “I Will Dance” is the subtitle of at least three equally ugly, violent, cheap movies  – “Death Blow: A Cry For Justice” (memorably described as “Rape Movie” by one of its IMDB reviewers), directed by Rafael Nussbaum; “Killing Spree”, directed by Tim Ritter, and this, all from 1987; and another Farmer epic from 1993, “Savage Vengeance”. I would love to know what made those fellows band together!

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After some poorly shot home movie footage of downtown LA, we’re right into the action. A chap called Lobo (every single inbred redneck stereotype you’ve ever seen, rolled into one person) is eating a person in his cellar, and a surprisingly authentic-looking prostitute strolls in to complain about him. She’s authentic-looking due to having awful makeup, ugly 80s “glamour” underwear and being a few years north of your traditional movie hookers, but we don’t have time to get used to her before we’re introduced to more equally unappealing-looking men and women, making up the cast of this here classic. Nor do we get any justification for why Lobo is in this movie, sadly – not what he does for the hookers, or anything like that.

 

I won’t bother with names, mostly because I don’t remember any of them (apart from Lobo) but partly because even IMDB doesn’t know who half of them are. Seriously, do any of you read reviews and go “I’m not paying attention to this because he didn’t write the character names down”? If you’re detail-oriented like that, I suggest pondering on this being a review of a near-30-year-old movie called “Cannibal Hookers”, shot for about the same amount of money as you have in your pockets right now. Anyway, the movie! A couple of women want to pledge at a sorority, but the head sister (who looks comfortably old enough to have a daughter in college) decides their initiation is to dress up like a prostitute, pick some guy up, take them to a specific address and have sex with them for money. The 80s!

Behind the scenes - look! Lighting!

Behind the scenes – look! Lighting!

Luckily, in this gigantic city, as our two heroines are stood on a street corner, Girl 1’s boyfriend and two of his friends happen to be strolling by, so they all go to the mysterious address, which appears to be a real genuine whorehouse! So, people get trapped and eaten, escapes, rescues, etc. Also, almost entirely unrelated (until the last five minutes) is a subplot about two cops tracking down the cannibals. They’re kind of the comic relief, as one of the cops is so stupid it’s a surprise he’s able to tie his shoelaces every morning. The other one is generic tough cop guy, but he’s pretty stupid too.

 

Farmer appears to have improved by leaps and bounds since the previous year’s “Demon Queen”. Okay, the sound is still terrible, and the majority of the acting is on the amateur side (in other words, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d hired a bunch of hookers and homeless guys to be his actors) but the effects work much better and you can see what’s going on most of the time. So kudos to him, but obviously all the stuff that’s still hilariously bad is way more fun to talk about.

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Our girls are buying their hooker outfits from what appears to be a clothes rail inside a comic shop. Is that a thing? Main cannibal lady is rubbing some gore on herself, and you can see the “please yell cut soon, because this is disgusting” in her eyes. One hooker disrobes and her underwear is actually less revealing than her dress. There’s a padding scene of someone driving round…in the last five minutes of the movie. And then there’s the two biggies. First up, being a cannibal is apparently a communicable disease now! Much like “Demon Queen” was about a vampire, so is this, but they just altered the name to give themselves a bit of variety – this at least explains why this group of cannibals leaves dead bodies for the police to find that are barely touched.

 

And the other biggie is the ending, which I’m not going to spoil. But if you watch it yourself, and I’d highly recommend it because the world of Donald Farmer is one you ought to visit as often as possible, just have a think about it for a minute. It’s an even odder ending than “Demon Queen”. Add that experience to the wonderfully dreadful music which drowns so many scenes, and you’ve got yourself another gem.

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Now, don’t mistake my happiness at describing this movie for saying it’s “good”. Good and bad are sticky concepts when you’re down at the bottom of the cinematic heap, as we are here. What it is, is a bloke with no money and a bit of a sense of humour just making something happen. These movies (and many more to come) are cheap, ugly, filled with insane performances and often ropey special effects, but they’ve got energy and they get a story told. I see Farmer as a precursor to people like friend of ISCFC and filmmaker extraordinaire Len Kabasinski – a guy who just goes out there and gets it done, screw the budget (although Kabasinski hires good actors from time to time and has brilliant fight scenes).

 

Rating: thumbs up

Demon Queen (1987)

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I don’t think we’ve ever really discussed shot-on-video (SOV) before, dear reader. We’ve certainly covered a few – the wonderful “Things”, “Redneck Zombies”, and “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars”, among others – but as far as the genre goes, we’ve only hinted. So, as drive-in theatres were slowly dying off, home video and VHS rental places took over, and there was a massive explosion in demand for content to fill those shelves. At the higher budget end of things we get Cannon, who were so prolific they once made 54 movies in a year, but the very lowest end was helped by the decreasing cost of reasonably decent camcorders. One SOV movie even got a proper cinema release (“Boardinghouse”) but most of them were exceptionally bad, only turning a profit because they were so extremely cheap to make, and lured video shop renters in with their lurid covers.

 

Which brings us to “Demon Queen”, the first movie from Donald Farmer, who we recently encountered as director of the so-bad-it’s-good masterpiece “Vampire Cop”. It attempts to answer a question that no-one asked – “what is the most amateurish a movie can look and still be called a movie?” It’s quite extraordinary – 54 minutes long, with 8 of those minutes being credits, and that remaining 46 has plenty of padding in the form of extended driving sequences, too!

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The story sort of centres around Jesse (Dennis Stewart), a sleazy low-level drug dealer. We’re introduced to him as he gets his ass kicked by Izzie, the rather diminutive fellow who’s a step further up the drug chain, and Izzie’s assistant Bone. He owes them money, and his miserable unhappy girlfriend Wendy is snorting all his profits away. We’ve already seen the Demon Queen herself, Lucinda (Mary Fanaro), performing an activity which may have been tearing someone’s heart out, but because of the confusing camerawork, could well have been anything. Anyway, she saves Jesse for absolutely no reason, then asks him if she can stay with him a few days, to which he immediately agrees.

 

Lucinda, it turns out, is in love with Jesse, although one would think she’d have slightly better taste in men than average-looking, not terribly nice drug dealers. Maybe she’s got self-esteem issues? Anyway, she kills a bunch of people, including Wendy, but the course of true love sadly does not run smooth. Oh, and then after a while some of the people Lucinda kill come back as zombies who can turn other people into zombies, but I’m not sure why any of that happens.

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All this in 46 minutes! I know, it’s hard to believe, right? Some of Donald Farmer’s trademarks are there from the beginning, such as his indifference to showing the beginning and end of a scene; and there’s the baffling amount of driving footage too. The end credits are among the strangest you’ll ever see – each character’s name is on screen for upwards of 30 seconds, and to illustrate the character they’ll show several random clips from the movie featuring them. So far so good, you’d think, but some of the scenes have three people in, making it difficult to figure out which actor is being credited; and then there’s one bit, where a good half of one of the credits is a shot of the chap’s heart being pulled out, a shot which doesn’t show the actor’s face at all. It’s so confusing!

 

Not every SOV film is an incompetent mess (although with the vastly lower bar to clear, the likelihood of them sucking is certainly higher) but this is the incompetent mess by which all others should be judged. The quality of the footage ranges from almost tolerable to a blurry, indistinct splodge, with more of the latter than the former, and the music! Best guess, Mr Farmer just noodled around on an old Casio keyboard for a few hours and sliced up that improvising into several chunks, which he inserted at random throughout the movie. The music never once matches, or comes close to matching, the “action” happening on screen.

 

Even when something good happens, Farmer seems unable to take advantage of it. About halfway through, he gets a neck wound effect right, and it looks fantastic…but he’s so proud of it he holds on it for almost ten seconds, with the killer’s hands paused awkwardly just in the shot. To say it ruins the flow of the movie is a joke, but it certainly spoils the moment somewhat. Then, he’s filming a street scene one day and (I guess by accident) captures part of a real anti-pornography rally. A more enterprising director would have used this, written a scene where Lucinda walks past and says “there’s more dangerous things than pornography” or something, but he just awkwardly pauses on it for a few seconds before moving on.

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I haven’t even mentioned the video store subplot…mostly because it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie, and was presumably inserted as it was the video store Farmer worked at, or the guys there paid to be in the movie, or something. Or how the only bedroom he had access to only had a single bed in it, so whenever Jesse entertains one of the movie’s ladies, it looks like a bit of a squeeze. Or the out-of-sync screams.

 

From tiny acorns, do horrible diseased oaks grow, and Donald Farmer took this (which cost $2,000 and was presumably shot in a few spare afternoons) and turned it into a directing career which is still going today. He’s got “Shark Exorcist” and “Cannibal Cop” ready to come out this year, and those names just scream quality. I think we’ll have to do a series of reviews of Farmer’s decent-looking movies (he also did a few kids films and work for hire, all of which sound boring), so get ready for some terrible reviews. Er, sorry, movies, I hope the reviews are at least okay.

 

Rating: thumbs down