Bloodsuckers From Outer Space (1984)

Welcome, dear reader, to another mini review series here at ISCFC, “movies I own that start with the word Blood”. There’ll be all sorts of genres, all sorts of budgets, even one animated movie (I think) but at the end of it you’ll have a pile more opinions to inform your movie viewing experience.

“Bloodsuckers From Outer Space” is the first movie from Glen Coburn, who’d go on to make a few beloved-ish indies, “Tabloid” and “Hollywood Deadbeat”. But this movie is firmly in the tradition of the mid-80s straight-to-video horror explosion, and could be (MST3K joke alert!) compared to such classics as “Return of the Living Dead”. Well, the comparison would be “Return of the Living Dead was really good. This movie sucked”.

Rural Texas is the location for all the fun and games, and we start in gentle fashion with a farmer, doing farming things. Then there’s a wind, although it’s more a noise than actual wind (the trees in the background are entirely immobile, for example), and said farmer starts retching before collapsing, blood spewing from his mouth. A few seconds later and he’s up! But with a grey face, hideous distended black veins and a mean look in his eyes.

Now, we could have gone either way at this point. It’s cheap but cheerful, and as the opening credits play there’s one of my all-time favourite things, the custom-written theme song (“They’re Out For Blood”). I have a lot of love in my heart for micro-budget regional horror-comedy, but things go off the rails quite quickly. I’m going to avoid just recapping everything, because who cares? There’s two brothers, one of whom works at “Research City”, an army-related science place, and the other of whom, Jeff, is a photographer for a local paper. Jeff is our hero, sort of, although he’s such a whiny little git that when his car breaks down at the side of the road he smashes it with a crowbar and just abandons it. He’s really difficult to get behind.

Luckily, into his life comes a woman, Julie (Laura Ellis, in her only movie appearance) who just picks him up from the side of the road. He expresses a desire for a joint, she has a tank of nitrous in the back seat, and they both happily huff that while getting to know each other. It’s the magic sort of nitrous that has absolutely zero effect, but they’re happy I guess. Anyway, they go and have sex, and the movie becomes them versus a rapidly multiplying horde of the undead.

What you’re most likely to find out about this movie is that it really tries to be funny. There are endless glances to camera from the main pair, and stuff like Julie saying “oh no, not another kung fu scene” and just walking out of shot. I wish they’d really steered into it, “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” side, and had the cast jaw-jacking with the crew and messing around like that, but they limit it to a few limp gags. I did laugh a few times, definitely, such as the discussion of careers that goes on and the polite wave their zombie aunt gives them as they drive off, so I’d call it a mixed bag maybe? The final gag is a pretty good one too.

As our heroes go through the most bleak-looking bit of rural Texas I’ve ever seen (I googled one of the small towns they filmed in, in 1984, and that same block of stores is there today, even more run-down and miserable), we eventually sort of find out why random people have been turned into blood-sucking monsters by a gust of evil wind. They’re aliens who drifted in, in dust form, and are trying to take over our planet. Probably. They seem really interested in Jeff, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, so you can ponder that if you like. And there’s a subplot with a trigger happy General wanting to use a nuke to clear the entire area, but it’s best not thought about as it’s just terrible.

It’s definitely a mixed bag. I mean, for a movie made for pretty much no money by an amateur cast, on weekends and whenever time could be snatched, it’s pretty damn good, but it’s still probably not good enough to be enjoyed. Even though the rest of the crew didn’t like her due to her reluctance to go topless (having been hired, allegedly, due to her being okay with nudity), Laura Ellis is a surprisingly good equal partner in the mayhem and it’s a shame she appears to have been turned off by the whole movie business. It’s incredibly cheap and moderately cheerful.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Wendigo: Bound By Blood (2010)

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Because I often mock low-budget filmmakers and actors for not caring, I want to tell a story about people who do care. The ancient Native American spirit of the Wendigo has possessed a woman, played by Deanna Visalle. She films a scene where, entirely naked, she runs through snowy woodland. Now, standard B-movie fare, in one sense; but Visalle is also the producer of this movie, and the director, Len Kabasinski, shot the scene on a 30 minute lunch break from his day job. Can you imagine any other director and producer making a movie in such circumstances? My hat is doffed to both of them.

 

As we’re close to the release of ISCFC favourite Len Kabasinski’s new movie “Angel of Reckoning”, we thought we’d catch up with the rest of his oeuvre and encourage you, dear reader, to drop a few dollars on it when it comes out (or buy the newly re-edited and remastered “Apocalypse Female Warriors”, which is great). Len’s a nationally-ranked martial artist and makes movies in whatever time he can find, but is differentiated from the mass of other low-budget filmmakers by a couple of things. First, he has a sense of humour; second, he seems absolutely willing to learn from his mistakes and constantly improve; and third, he obviously loves this stuff, and isn’t following trends.

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It’s nice that he’s willing to learn from his mistakes, because sad to say “Wendigo: Bound By Blood” has a fair few of them. It’s worth watching, but be prepared to lean your head to the side a bit, as the use of dutch angles is so prevalent I was beginning to wonder if the entire world was skewed and I was seeing it wrong. And, one of the main actresses appears to blow a line in the monologue which is repeated at the beginning and end of the movie – that what we saw was the best take indicates some tough decisions must have been made.

 

But never mind that for now. After the monologue explaining to us what the wendigo is, we meet a couple who are hiking through the woods, completely lost. The guy says at one point that they’ve been walking for two days, but they appear to have a tent and are able to make fire, so…did they just lose their food? The people from “Alive” went a lot longer before they started seeing their companions as giant floating burgers and legs of chicken. So, he’s about to carve his girlfriend up for dinner but the Wendigo possesses her and just straight up eats him. I think – my DVD had a pretty bad stutter in the first half of the movie and I feel like I missed a few things.

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The Wendigo doesn’t really play much of a part in the rest of proceedings – unless it possessed one of the main cast during a DVD stutter, which is entirely possible. The story we get, though, is an interesting one. A man and a woman are witnesses to some mob crime and have been brought to the snowy wastes by a couple of Feds to keep them safe; however, he’s secretly in the employ of the Mob and is leading a group of assassins, led by the Len himself (under the screen name Leon South)  to where they are. At the same time, the local Sheriff (Brian Anthony, a Kabasinski regular) is investigating one of the Wendigo’s kills, and falls into a partnership with a native Doctor, Angeni Stonechild (Cheyenne King). These three stories circle each other until they come together in a pretty badass final shootout in and around a cabin.

 

Firstly, it’s an interesting change of style for Kabasinski. He’s out in the snowy woods, and it’s a more deliberately paced style he’s gone for, usually being one of the few low-budget directors who fills his movies with incident. It looks great, apart from the dutch angles (which smarter film critics than me have already told him about, so I won’t bang on about it too much), and I like that he’s trying new things.

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The acting is really ropey in places, though. Anthony is fine, King tries her best (blown line notwithstanding) and, once again, “Leon South” is the strongest actor in one of his own movies. He reminded me of David Caruso from “CSI: Miami”, but as a psychotic assassin, and I enjoyed every bit of his performance. Everyone else, on the other hand…they’re about as good as you’d expect for a movie made on a shoestring budget by people snatching time wherever they could. I did like that the two witnesses hated each other, and there’s a few nice touches that make it through the acting haze. There’s some good martial arts too – Len is clearly a pro, and he tries his best to make his opponents look like a million bucks even when they’re, to put it mildly, not natural screen fighters.

 

Bear in mind this criticism is coming from someone deep in the hole of low-budget genre cinema, so you may see this and go “what the hell is he talking about?” If you can ignore the occasionally less-than-stellar special effects and non-acting, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The scene where we find the first body is really nicely shot, and the use of music has vastly improved over such work as “Curse Of The Wolf”. Plus, the writing is strong, even if I’m still not entirely sure what happened to the Wendigo.

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I appreciate times are hard for us all, but if you have some spare entertainment money, there are many worse ways to spend it than on some KillerWolf movies. Maybe don’t start here, give “Swamp Zombies” and “Apocalypse Female Warriors” a go first, and if you like them maybe move on to this.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Thor At The Bus Stop (2009)

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Before I start, go and buy this movie. Seriously. You won’t regret it, and independent filmmakers will make a few quid. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

 

The Thompsons, Jerry and Mike, are hard workers. “Thor At The Bus Stop“ features them as writers, directors, stars, editors, and cameramen (their relative G Scott Thompson also has a number of jobs on the movie). With something this clever and good, I wish I could point to their career in indie cinema, but there’s really nothing – a couple of short films, then this. I also wish I could point to a much bigger career after this movie, as it deserved to be an indie hit – but it looks like a few more short films, then 2014’s “Popovich and the Voice of the Fabled American West”. Seriously, people with money! Invest in these guys!

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As I watched this, my initial impression changed. I thought it was a fairly broad comedy, masquerading as a “Slacker” style indie drama; but the more I saw of it, the more I realised it was actually a very clever, moderately profound movie masquerading as a fairly broad comedy masquerading as a “Slacker” style indie drama. There’s a lot to love and a lot to take in, which is incredibly surprising for a movie which looks like it was filmed almost entirely in a deserted suburb one bright summer’s day, and where most of the budget went on the cameo by Teller (of “Penn and“ fame).

 

A couple of guys apparently suffering from some sort of anhedonia are driving round one day, wondering why nothing interesting ever happens. While wondering whether to just follow someone round to really get into their story, they pass Thor, stood at a bus stop. Yes, the Thor! A little kid walks up and starts giving him grief so he walks off to find another bus stop, then the movie, in a way which seems random at first, introduces new character after new character. I was about to make the second reference to “Slacker” but that movie never introduced characters like this:

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So, there’s a fake news crew; a couple of cops who arrested Teller; a guy with a roadsign through his chest; Passenger Seat Pete, the guy who’s too laid back, and his girlfriend Trish who wants him to act like an asshole more often; the great Ultra Stan, pizza delivering philosopher; One-Way Walter, car-jacker and wannabe murderer; White Trash Chuck, who’s got a heart of gold underneath those tattoos; among many others. The majority of the movie is these people seemingly aimlessly driving or wandering the streets, but as they meet, they bounce off each other in fascinating and hilarious ways, progressing their own little stories and that of the overall movie. The development, the chain reaction of the stories, consists of some seriously clever filmmaking.

 

The central melancholy comes from Thor himself. It’s the Twilight of the Gods, and he’s off to fight the world-snake Jörmungandr (an ouroboros, a snake so large it is pictured devouring its own tail). He knows how it’ll go – he’ll win, but with its dying movement the snake will cover him in venom, killing Thor too; and as no-one even remembers he exists any more, he’s feeling pretty bad about having to die to protect them. Also, he’s sort of a dick, which is a touch I liked. That feeling settles over the rest of the proceedings, even the more knockabout comedy moments, and it’s to the movie’s credit.

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The Thompsons play Thor and White Trash Chuck, and they both do a fine job (although Thor, and one or two others, skate that fine line between being deadpan and just not being very good actors). By and large, though, the cast, made up largely of friends of the directors, is much better than they have any right to be. Ultra Stan, Trish and One Way Walter are all superb.

 

“Thor At The Bus Stop” even has a great ending, a rare example of an indie movie that absolutely nails it. It looks good too, with the beautiful blue sky and the flat outskirts of Las Vegas standing in for Anytown. Go and buy this!

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Over-Sexed Rugsuckers From Mars (1989)

OverSexedRugsuckersFromMarsThis movie is, like few others, inextricably linked with my youth. I found a VHS of this on a market one day, was entranced by the title (obviously) and watched it over and over with my group of friends, forced it on unsuspecting visitors to my house, and so on. But that was 15 years ago, so how does it hold up?

For a film which apparently cost $1,100, beginning to end, it’s an absolutely amazing achievement, a demented gonzo comedy which seems even stranger today. If you’re at all interested in low-budget filmmaking, and don’t mind a weird hobo performing a sex act on a tiny plasticine alien, you’ll have a great time with this.

But that would be a very short review, so let’s talk “Over-Sexed Rugsuckers From Mars”. First things first – it’s an expanded version of a short film called “Vac-U-Sapien” (which you can see on the DVD), and the budgetary restraints are visible immediately. The credits must have been taken from that earlier version, except the new title is just slapped on, with a different font and a spelling mistake (“rugsucker” singular). But it’s charming rather than lazy – these people had basically no money and if they got it wrong the first time, there was no second time.

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Plasticine aliens with grotesquely large genitalia created the human race millions of years ago, and have decided to pop back and see how their experiment is getting on. Their ship is, of course, an upturned “Simon Says” game with some foil on top, and unfortunately they land next to Vernon, a hobo sleeping next to an old-fashioned hoover, which gives them a skewed view of humanity. One alien pisses in an empty bottle; the other crawls inside the hoover and, because he’s drunk, messes up the programming – it was supposed to clean up humanity, but Dusty the hoover just becomes  violent and horny. But that alien pee! When the hobo drinks it, it gives him a boost to the ol’ libido, and he has sex with the hoover, seemingly consensually. It’s a love story for the ages!

The other half of the story is the extremely unhappy marriage of Tom and Beverly. Now, I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say these people were not acting using their real names, as Tom, who certainly sounds English, is “Billybob Rhoads” (I 100% guarantee you there’s never been an Englishman called Billybob) and Beverly is “Lynne Guini”. Tom spends his time hassled by his wife to buy expensive appliances for their tiny hovel of an apartment, despite them drowning in debt; and his only “relief” is spying on their beautiful neighbour Rena who helpfully shaves her legs in the nude right by the window. They get together later on, so it’s not creepy. I guess.

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The stories intersect when Tom, dispatched to Neiman Marcus (which I’m helpfully informed would be like going to Harrod’s for a hoover), buys a hoover off a street hustler, who steals it from Vernon. Poor old Vernon is caught up by the Department Of Indigence who try to clean him up and turn him into a productive member of society; Dusty the hoover is left outside. Dusty has a mission from his alien overlords to clean the planet up, but in terms of a movie with a $1,100 budget, this means killing Beverly, raping Tom and Rena, and saving Vernon when the police finally realise what’s going on and pursue the two lovers. Part of this police plot is a magnificent gem of a scene, a police line-up with hoovers in it. Well played, sirs!

Director Michael Paul Girard and his crew squeeze every drop from that budget, though. They filmed without permits on the streets, and made their non-effects work for them – just check out stuff like the obviously hand-made box of “Weeping Wanger” tea in the cupboard, Oh, and the way the only outfits they could get for their cops was the stereotypical 40s detective gear, so they just had their head detective do a Humphrey Bogart impression – although I don’t think Bogie was ever in a relationship with a sheep in any of his movies. Then you’ve got freeze frames trying to pass themselves off as actual footage (this happens more than once), a car chase but instead of cars they use shopping trolleys, and a SWAT van with lovely curtains in the back windows. Oh, and there’s the baby that comes from Dusty’s rape of Rena, a prop for the ages.

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A quick word about the music, which is both almost perfect and ear-shreddingly terrible, often at the same time. Girard did pretty much all of it himself, and when it’s just a weird tuneless accompaniment to the action (to the point of just describing what’s going on on the screen) it’s amazing. But then there’s a band called Ray Zone Day, of which he was the keyboardist / chief songwriter, and they’re a terrible cheesy rock band. But one shouldn’t grumble too much.

Low-budget movies these days seem to be “less”. We get lots of walking through the woods, tedious dialogue scenes which are only there to fill up space, and simple dull plots. But there was a time when insanely inventive movies like this could find their way from some weirdo in LA to worldwide VHS distribution (well, the USA and the UK, at least). Okay, the acting’s ropey as hell, and it wears its tiny budget as a badge of pride, but I can guarantee you you’ll never see another movie like this.

Rating: thumbs up