Curse Of The Wolf (2006)

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We here at the ISCFC love Len Kabasinski. He’s a former nationally-ranked martial artist who’s moved into filmmaking, and his very low budget films have, despite their flaws, become favourites with us. We’ve already reviewed “Swamp Zombies” and now it’s time for this, his second film.

Dakota is a werewolf with a problem – the problem being she doesn’t really want to be a werewolf any more. She tries to escape her pack, but they are oddly determined to keep her around – eventually, though, she makes her escape, and starts a new life for herself working at a vet’s office. There, she has friends and access to the heavy-duty animal tranquiliser which allows her to control her transformations, and all seems well for 6 months…until the act of protecting her friend from some goth rapists sets a chain of events in motion that brings her old pack back into her life.

So far, so good, but it’s at this moment things go a little odd. While trying to escape the pack she runs into a nightclub, where the owner of the place and his assistants / bouncers take a shine to her, and then get involved in the fight between her and the other werewolves. Their motivation is a little unclear, although I admit I’m a bit sleep-deprived and probably missed that part – I discover from reading that they’re drug dealers, and they’re annoyed with the werewolves for killing one of their couriers. That this doesn’t come through on the screen is hopefully reflected by the tone of this paragraph! Once again, Kabasinski’s love of pro wrestling shows in his casting choices, with not only Brian “Blue Meanie” Heffron returning as the comic relief werewolf, but Lanny Poffo playing the nightclub owner.

Lanny Poffo! Old school wrestling fans will remember him as The Genius, who read bad poetry from a scroll every week; and even older-school wrestling fans will remember him as Leapin’ Lanny Poffo. He’s the brother of the vastly more famous Randy Savage, and up to this film had never acted before (and only did it afterwards once, in another Kabasinski film).

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It appears the technical side of Len Kabasinski has regressed since “Swamp Zombies”, if anything. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume there were some severe problems during filming, with sound recording (some of the dialogue is absolutely impossible to understand), some terrible day-for-night scenes (time restraints?) and a really properly dreadful cast. Pretty much top-to-bottom, they’re wooden and completely unbelievable – honourable exceptions being Darian Caine (as Ivy) and Len himself. I appreciate good actors cost, but I just think he got really unlucky with the people who he was able to get for this one – every now and again, you’ll luck onto someone like Monica Picirillo (from “Swamp Zombies”) but most of the time you’ll get a whole bunch of people who look like they don’t want to be there. The occasionally ropey gore effects are hidden by the fact that most scenes only use natural light, meaning every indoor scene is murky as hell.

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as “Swamp Zombies”, that’s for sure. It’s confusing, the sound and picture are poor, and the acting is amateurish at best. But it’s not all bad – Kabasinski is a student of martial arts and action cinema and is able to shoot his fights clearly, so you can see everything that’s going on, and he choreographs them well too. His love for making films is clearly apparent too, and I’d still take one of his over one of Michael Bay’s, any day.

I’ll see you all for his next film, “Fist Of The Vampire”, okay?

Rating: thumbs down (sorry)

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Swamp Zombies! (2005)

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There are two main reasons that low-budget filmmakers tend to make their films short (typically, 90 minutes and below). Firstly, making films is expensive, and it’s not like you’re going to be able to charge more for your 2-hour film than you would for an 80-minute one. Secondly, if you’re fortunate enough to sell your film to a TV channel, it’s convenient for them to have it in a 2-hour block, which minus adverts is around 1:30. So when I saw that “Swamp Zombies!” was almost 2 hours, I was intrigued.

I loved this film. Absolutely loved it. It’s beyond cheap – filmed on camcorders, a cast of rank amateurs, weird stunt casting, non-existent lighting, sub-bargain-basement special effects – but it’s got something to it that I just warmed to immediately.

You don’t need a ton of recapping with a name like “Swamp Zombies”, but you’re going to get some. Evil doctor is experimenting with fresh corpses, but before he gets the chance to finish it off, the Government comes to do an inspection of his hospital, so he has to pay some criminals to dump the bodies in a lake next to a swamp. Also in the swampland – a group of students doing some biology fieldwork; a Sheriff and his amazing kickass deputy; some sunbathing ladies; and the corporate villains. They keep one of the test subjects at the hospital, and he turns into a zombie too and starts causing some havoc there.

The stunt casting is minor stars of wrestling – Brian “Blue Meanie” Heffron plays a guy living out in the swamp, mourning the death of his wife and son; his real-life wife at the time, former porn star Jasmine St Claire, is the evil doctor’s main investor, or boss, or something; and MMA legend and occasional dabbler in pro wrestling Dan “The Beast” Severn is a cop who shows up near the end. If the rest of the cast isn’t just Kabasinski’s friends, family and people from his martial arts school – the guy was a nationally ranked martial artist before turning his hand to filmmaking – I’ll be very surprised.

The extreme lack of a budget shows itself in a hundred small ways, but there’s little more boring than film reviewers going “haha look at that continuity error” or whatever, although if that’s your bag then you’ll have a good time. My favourite is when Jasmine goes for a shower (which includes a great deal of her lathering her boobs with spurts of creamy white shower gel) and when she leaves you can see urinals on the far wall. Not too many urinals in female bathrooms, I’m thinking.

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Favourite character is Deputy Anna, played by Monica Picirillo (her only credit, sadly). She’s clearly a martial arts friend of the director’s, and looks like the sort of character who’ll see a zombie, shriek and then get eaten. But no! She whups an absolute ton of ass and although she does a bit too much standing around trying to figure out where to go, she shows those dead scumbags who’s boss…until she gets overwhelmed, bitten and turns into perhaps the world’s first martial artist zombie. My notes just read “deputy = BADASS” and that is absolutely right.

Your opinion may vary radically from mine about this. It’s incredibly low budget and the performances are truly abominable, the sort of people who’ve seen a lot of genre movies but have never had an acting lesson (with a few honourable exceptions – I liked most of the group of teenagers, who seemed pretty natural). The doctor is extraordinary, almost a new level of acting badness – but you know what? I just think it all works, and for a film which cost an estimated $12,000, these people had to really want to make a movie. Compare that to the similarly low-budget “Agent Beetle” we reviewed recently, where the people all seemed to be on the Hollywood ladder (even if it’s right at the bottom) but the finished product was cynical, nasty and cheap – trying too bludge a few dollars from people drunkenly expecting a real Blue Beetle movie. This could not be called cynical at all – it’s a guy with a few credit cards, lots of friends and lots of chutzpah trying his best to make a fun zombie movie.

Time for my now obligatory railing against sexism in genre movies before we part, dear reader. There are a lot of boobs in this movie, most notably Ms St Claire’s, but far too many females in the cast show too much flesh, while the only thing for fans of the male form is a few seconds of the director (who is put together, I’ll admit) doing some shirtless katas on his deck. Take a look around, people. The world is changing and there are a lot of straight female and gay male genre movie fans, and you should either be catering for them or catering for no-one. I don’t think anyone’s sitting through two hours of a movie about swamp zombies just for the occasional shot of boobies, is what I’m saying.

So be prepared for wildly disagreeing with me, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, if you’re in a forgiving and friendly frame of mind, you’ll have a damn good time watching this.

Rating: thumbs up