Friday, October 17, 2014

31 Days of Fright Goes on a Slasher Friday Date with PROM NIGHT (1980)

Funny story... I ended up marrying the girl who turned me down for the prom. I ended up not going, which left me feeling unqualified when it came to evaluating the authenticity of the 1980 slasher PROM NIGHT. Truth be told, I've always found the flick to be a bit of a bore, but maybe I'm just prejudiced. Luckily, Chuck Francisco was up to the task of picking up PROM NIGHT and taking it out for a spin on another Slasher Friday.

Prom Night – that whimsical evening where meaty chemical beakers, filled to spillage with hormones, pour themselves into the most absurd fashionable predilections of the day, practically guaranteeing cringeworthy corsaged portraits, that will only be good for a laugh looking back through time's rear view mirror. This magical evening also serves as the perfect window of vengeance for somehow slighted madmen, hellbent on grisly comeuppance. It's also the name of the middle movie in Jamie Lee Curtis's main slasher repertoire, before she punched the eject button to avoid typecasting (and ignoring her stint as Hitch in the excellent Aussie flick, ROAD GAMES – not precisely a slasher, per se).

PROM NIGHT is an example of what happens when wicked kids are left to their own devious whims in an abandoned convent. When hide and seek becomes so boring that it needs to be beefed up to include pretend killer and victims, perhaps the time has come to purchase little Johnny that Atari 2600 he so desperately craves. Once poor little Robin Hammond is scared backward out of a broken window and onward toward a grisly landing, the fates are all but aligned for mysterious revenge once these killer girls become nubile audience fodder. And so, flashing forward six years to high school prom night, it should shock no one when the four accidental OJ Simpsons receive ominous phone calls foreshadowing their certain doom.

MacGuffins multiply faster than bunnies at a carrot cocktail bar, in what may be PROM NIGHT's strongest feature – the mystery. The secret Santa slasher isn't obvious; there are several contenders for the crown. Could it be the escaped mental patient rapist, who was wrongly accused of Robin's murder, and horribly burned in the crash that resulted from the police pursuit? Could it be the Danny Zucco-flavored high school tough who has been kicked out of school by Principal Leslie Nielsen? Could it be Jamie Lee Curtis' Kim Hammond, because wouldn't that be novel? The killer-go-round is an entertaining endeavor punctuated by perforated teen flesh and a disco dance number.

PROM NIGHT belongs in the standard slasher tool belt among the tricks of the trade. Releases of the film have been plagued with muddy visuals and picture quality little better than VHS presentation levels (which was fine for the VHS release, but unacceptable thereafter). Synapse Films has worked tremendously hard to bring horror junkies a brand new 2k high definition transfer from the original camera negative that does this sleazy slasher proud. The picture quality isn't one hundred pristine, but that's very likely a fault of the condition of the materials available. (And honestly, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA this ain't.) Audio options include both a 5.1 surround mix created specifically for this Blu-ray, and the original mono for PROM NIGHT purists (if such beasts exist).

A bevy of special features have been included to sate the formal wear appointed lust of PROM NIGHT devotees (Prom Nighters?). The audio commentary track is an informational limo ride with director Paul Lynch and screenwriter William Grey. On tap for the after party is featurette THE HORRORS OF HAMILTON HIGH: The Making of PROM NIGHT, and a collection of extra scenes that were added for the TV broadcast. Exclusive to Synapse's Blu-Ray release are a sequence of never before seen outtakes, the original radio spots, and a motion still gallery.

Unlike many jockey football player prom dates, this PROM NIGHT special edition Blu-ray is the real deal, backing up its bravado with bona fide depth and bloody sincerity. It's easy to fall in love with this prom date – any horror fan would be proud to show it off.

Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania.com, writing the Shock-O-Rama column. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. An avid beer brewer, rock climber, and video gamer, you can hear him drop nerd knowledge on the weekly podcast You've Got Geek, and follow him on twitter @CyanideRush. He recently wrote about Nazi Zombies, Spaghetti Westerns and American Hippies – just to name a few – in Exploitation Retrospect #52 (available from our website).

PROM NIGHT is available from Amazon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

31 Days of Fright Throwback Thursday Edition: GILA! (2012)

While Facebook may have popularized the "Throwback Thursday" concept, the idea has spread to other on-line outlets as well. So, why not this one?! Exploitation flicks certainly aren't immune to employing a throwback now and then, whether it's a remake or retro homage. Exploitation film legend Jim Wynorski's GILA! seems to fall into both categories as you'll see in Jay Kulpa's review of the surprisingly wholesome entry in the director's bodacious filmography.

The Fifties were a wonderful time for toxic waste. How could anyone hate something suspected by movie-makers everywhere to make everything bigger and super-powered? If it had that reputation today, we'd put it in a pill for “male enhancement.”

Now if there's one thing THE GIANT GILA MONSTER proved back in 1959, it's that while some things were fearsome when writ large, a small, lethargic lizard wasn't one of them. Jim Wynorski's playful and surprisingly wholesome remake doesn't try to alter that legacy. GILA! shows the monster in the first two minutes, but its heart is firmly on-sleeve before that, a romp faithful to the can-do spirit and containable menace of that era's monster movies.

Our plot features the nefarious and improper disposal of that aforementioned toxic waste, leading to a giant, cave-dwelling mutated Gila Monster that can only be brought down by a plucky band of hot-rodding, yet wholesome, heroes... but not before he makes short work of a barn, a train, and a couple townspeople in pursuit of what must be a two-million-calorie-a-day diet.

The setting is a dreary, chilly-looking rural America we can assume is the Fifties, or at least a “TWIN PEAKS-ish” approximation, invoked mostly by the wealth of vintage cars on display. You can practically picture the nervous owners chewing their nails off camera. Costumes vaguely evoke the period, with extras clearly given only the loosest wardrobe directives and nary a beehive in sight. Flat sunlight and soggy, bare trees (outside of train segment B-roll clearly from a different film) evoke a specific “Indiana Winter” flavor and an unintentional “ebbing optimism, but before crystal meth” coal country atmosphere. Yet this is directly contrasted by a sense of place and time established almost in spite of itself. People and events “feel” right, and the surprisingly large cast could win over the hardest of hearts. Rumpled Sheriff Terence Knox and lovely (though anachronistic) Deputy Kelli Maroney team up with hot-rodding Brian Gross and his pals to turn our meager monster into 10,000 future lizard skin belts, shoes, and purses. The plot is simple, characters behave somewhat rationally, and the pacing breathes without sagging.

Overall, GILA! feels fast and loose, though rarely sloppy. The time-period touches and competent cast win you over to lousy CGI, with a low budget belied by the amount of material that makes it on the screen. Wynorski reminds here that he's a pro through and through. This is a callback to his Eighties output more than the POPATOPOLIS era of single-location weekend shoots where the only special effects are a couple of rack-focused racks (such as HOUSE ON HOOTER HILL). Still, would one sorely needed can of hairspray have broken the budget?

With any Wynorski film, the actresses must be mentioned. From his BIG BAD MAMA II days, he brings back two actresses most welcome to any B-movie lover, the always charming Kelli Maroney and Julie McCullough. They certainly seem to be enjoying themselves, though their screen time is far too brief. Christina DeRosa makes the strongest impression of the remaining cast, packing delicious personality into every closeup. She's more than just the pretty face and magnificent chest so signature of Wynorski's work.

Who doesn't love a giant monster? Much less classic cars and pretty girls? Is GILA! great? No. Is it a pleasurable way of whiling away an afternoon when the weather outside equals that in the movie? Absolutely. You can even share this retro monster movie with the kids, and you might even crack a smile in the process.

(A note of the DVD: it has some of the worst menu screens in the history of DVDs. If you can read gray on gray, though, you should be fine. The box art seems to want one to mistake Brian Gross for Channing Tatum, and the copy gives the entire plot away.) – Jay Kulpa

Jay Kulpa is a longtime contributor to ER and the head honcho at BigLugLand.com. He recently wrote about BONG OF THE DEAD, DISCO EXORCIST and others in the pages of Exploitation Retrospect #52 (available from our website).

GILA! is available from Amazon

Kick Off Holiday Horrors with CHRISTMAS EVIL Coming from Vinegar Syndrome

With Halloween just over two weeks away it feels like the fall is already zipping by. Before you know it we'll be stuffing our faces with turkey and watching viral videos of enraged shoppers trampling one another for that last Singing Snow Glow Elsa.

Good times, good times.

And you know what that means – the Holiday Horrors spirit will be kicking into high gear and trash film fans everywhere will be pulling out their copies of the SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT flicks and basking in the glow of Mickey Rooney's greatest performance while they fill their Wish List with Blu-Rays, books and the latest issue of Exploitation Retrospect ('natch).

But Christmas comes a little early this year thanks to our friends at Vinegar Syndrome (quickly establishing itself as the premiere label for trashhounds and sleaze aficionados).

November 18th (just in time for Thanksgiving gatherings with family!) brings the Blu-Ray debut of Lewis Jackson's CHRISTMAS EVIL (aka YOU BETTER WATCH OUT), a film we called "a movie just as effed up as it sounds" in last year's Holiday Horrors review. The disc also includes a DVD version if Santa hasn't delivered your Blu-Ray player yet.

No less a trash film authority than the one and only John Waters has long been a champion of the flick (his beloved commentary track appears on this as well as other special editions), so you know you're in for a real treat.

Other features include:
  • New 4K restoration from 35mm elements 
  • Three commentary track options with director Lewis Jackson, actor Brandon Maggart (father of Fiona Apple!) and the aforementioned John Waters 
  • Archival video interviews with Jackson and Maggart 
  • Original theatrical trailer 
  • Deleted scenes
  • Actor screen tests 
  • Storyboards gallery
  • Vintage test screening comment cards
CHRISTMAS EVIL is available for pre-order from Amazon. If you're firmly entrenched on Santa's "Naughty" list, Vinegar Syndrome is releasing the double feature of CHAMPAGNE ORGY/FANTASTIC ORGY – featuring John Holmes and Annette Haven – the same day.

Friday, October 10, 2014

(Sorta) Slasher Fridays Returns to 31 Days of Fright with CURTAINS (1983)

80s slashers are receiving the "classic" treatment these days, with such titles as CURTAINS (1983), GRADUATION DAY (1981) and PROM NIGHT (1980) all getting restored and issued in lovingly-assembled packages. We'll be covering more of those titles in the weeks to come but today it's up to Damn You David Zuzelo to peek behind the CURTAINS, see what's what and decide is this slice of Canuxploitation lives up to its rep.

The box proclaims that CURTAINS "is an absolute must see for slasher completists" and I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Of course, as a completist myself, I have to say that you could apply this to ANY slasher film, since that is part of being a completist.  I mean, SAVAGE WATER is a must see if you're a "completist"...

CURTAINS has sold a few of the big bulk packs of horror films because it has been so damn hard to see over the years, and its reputation as a unique entry in the slasher genre made the interest in Synapse Films' restoration of this Canadian production run high to say the least. Right out of the gate I can say that the disc has saved the film from the indignity of poorly transferred appearances next to copies of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD captured from YouTube, and that is a good thing.  But can CURTAINS really live up to the hype? Well...

The film starts intriguingly enough as John Vernon plays Jonathon Stryker, a cocky (cue the Jeff Stryker jelly dong jokes) director who is looking to cast what must be his idea of the role of a lifetime in a piece entitle AUDRA. After we get the impression that veteran actress Samantha Sherman (Samantha Eggar) will be landing this obviously important role (because the trades say so), the leading lady is put into an institution. But it's a ruse! She simply wants to get methodologized into madness to get in touch with this mysterious character. But she gets more than she expected as her own sanity begins to slip and slide away in several eerie scenes that even involve random tickling. Hell, thy path is paved with tickling!

So, now Samantha is a real nut, and Stryker is going to cast his deranged dream lady by picking through some attractive ladies in a secluded cabin, running them through psychologically damaging paces such as touching each other's breasts for him and "Pirouetting into bed and skating on his face." I love this Stryker guy and it shows how you can forget how imposing John Vernon is physically - and he is just all asshole menace here.  But wait... Samantha has left the institution and wants the role. And then, in comes an evil harpy-mask-wearing killer. Skating! Slashing! Off Screen! Who will survive, who will be Audra and better yet, when will I ever see a harpy skating with a small sickle ever again?

CURTAINS has an interesting problem. It starts strong and then settles into a very average and kind of boring psycho drama that would be a complete failure if it wasn't being held up by excellent performances, a great score, swift editing and a really cool location. The most noted image with the skating slasher is about as good as I could have hoped as well, though the skates she is wearing are... well, kind of brown bearish. That ain't bad, it just stood out to me as odd. But you may ask this reviewer why the mask was so cool, and the skates seemed silly.  I guess it's part of being a slasher completist!

So, we have a big batch of excellent technical elements, but nowhere to go. Up until the 70-minute mark, when CURTAINS suddenly starts hitting its stride. Once the SUGAR COOKIES-styled drama fades and it becomes more interested in being an actual slasher film, it jumps into high gear! An extended chase scene from what we think might be a Final Girl is done to perfection. Using a maze of discarded theater props, we have multi-colored swatches of cloth (CURTAINS for you, FINAL GIRL!!) and hanging mannequins whose dingy skin tones are edited across from a hanging victim. Everything that was technically great about the boring parts carries over nicely and the payoff is solid when the killings and their motivations are finally revealed.

So, is CURTAINS essential? Nope, not by my account, but you will get to see a movie that is then revealed in the extras on the disc to have been troubled and no longer sits in the digital rubbish of obscure horror films. While I didn't find much of the dramatic action to be very effective, you are treated to John Vernon - who obviously took his job seriously - really giving it his all. Watch for him giving the "Oh yeah, I did that..." eyeball to Samantha Eggar! Priceless.

Extras include a nice bit of recollections on the making of CURTAINS that comes across as being very honest about the film's troubled production and just why it feels like you are watching two separate films; and it's all done with a no nonsense sense of candor. Even more interesting is the "Ciupka - A Film Maker In Transition" vintage piece that shows some shots from behind the scenes on CURTAINS with John Vernon that are a blast to see for any fan.  Two audio commentary tracks are available to enhance the amazing story behind the CURTAINS... one that in the end may be more interesting than the show itself.

But we'll always have a skating harpy! – David Zuzelo

David Zuzelo is the twisted brain behind the blog TOMB IT MAY CONCERN and the host of the new podcast CINESLUDGE. He is a frequent contributor to the ER blog and also wrote about Nikkatsu flicks for ER #52 (available from our website, CreateSpace and Amazon).

CURTAINS is available from Amazon.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

31 Days of Fright: THE SCAR CROW (2009)

As the air turns crisp and leaves begin to blanket the once green grass, certain autumnal images spring to mind... pumpkins, candy corn, trick or treaters, inept victims being chased by unstoppable killing machines... you get the picture. So you'd think that 2009's THE SCAR CROW would fill the bill for frightful viewing thanks to its bevy of busty babes and an iconic Halloween image – the scarecrow – taking a villainous turn. But, as longtime ER contributor and Divine Exploitation editor Douglas Waltz found out, sometimes boobs and gore just isn't enough.

In the year 1709 a woman is hanged as a witch, leaving behind three full grown daughters and a husband. The husband burns all of her belongings and has his way with the daughters. Well, two of them. He crosses the line when he attacks the youngest, Primrose, and is killed. They hide his body as a scarecrow, but he's not quite dead. He has time for a final curse upon them all. They shall never perish as long as he is the scarecrow. They attempt to bury his body, but every morning it hangs where they left it.

There is no escape from the curse.

Or is there?

Flash forward to 2009 where four buddies are on a team building exercise for their company when they stumble upon the farm where the sisters are still very much alive and looking for men to help them abolish the curse and free them forever.

Not looking too good for these fellas.

THE SCAR CROW reminds me of an old Hammer Horror film. The girls are all of ample bosom and not afraid to show them off. The blood runs red throughout the film from the first guy losing his penis to someone being gutted. The effects don't look too bad.

So, why is this thing so damned dull?

It just plods along to its inevitable, albeit bizarre, conclusion. I'm not even sure exactly what happened there.

The plot is overly simplistic so when they try to more with it you just nod and say, "Yeah, I get it." I said that a lot in this movie.

The DVD has a trailer that is pretty much the movie in short form. It gives away what plot there is along with all of the surprises as well. There is a behind-the-scenes featurette that I decided to skip as the movie did nothing to hold my interest.

And, finally, why THE SCAR CROW? I don't think it made much sense. It was a scarecrow in the flick, why not call it THE SCARECROW? I realize that there are a lot of scarecrow flicks out there. A quick glance at IMDB shows 16 of them. So what? Maybe it could have been GHOST OF THE SCARECROW or SCARECROW: RITUALS? Anything but THE SCAR CROW. It looks like they just forgot to put the 'e' in there.

In the end even the gore and boobs can't really make me recommend this movie – under any title. – Douglas Waltz

Douglas Waltz is the editor of Divine Exploitation and you can get the new issue by visiting the CreateSpace store. He is a longtime contributor to ER and recently wrote about REPLIGATOR, MOLD!, DROPPING EVIL and more in issue #52 (available at our website, CreateSpace and Amazon).

THE SCAR CROW is available from Amazon.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

31 Days of Fright: COUNTESS DRACULA (1971)

With Halloween right around the corner it's little surprise that the studios are trotting out their horror flicks for a movie audience looking to be scared silly. DRACULA UNTOLD – a new take on the Dracula legend that might end up dovetailing with Universal's rebooted monster universe – premieres this Friday, but we asked Chuck Francisco to take a trip back in time to the early 1970s for a look at the recent Synapse Films release of COUNTESS DRACULA.

By the 1970s Hammer Studios faced an increasingly difficult cinematic horror landscape, leaving them empty coffered. A red tide of bloodlust swept across the American movie market, breaking over with Romero's Night of the Living Dead in 1968, then growing steadily more splatter-centric as films competed to up the ante. Stuck between the dagger-equipped doors of shifting snuff sensibilities and the lethally spiked backing of the English censors, Hammer was quickly being engulfed in an iron maiden of irrelevance. Far from being an inert body to rest in piece, Hammer unnaturally extended their life by drastically increasing the one element they had unrestricted control over: the nudity quotient.

Branching out from the reliable stable of Dracula and Frankenstein (who no one wished to see in the buff), Hammer decided to water the seed of a much lesser known (at the time) monster, this one actually real. Despite the title, COUNTESS DRACULA details the exploits of Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who believed that bathing in the blood of virginal girls was the key to eternal youth. By most reckonings the true countess tortured and murdered at least 600 girls before meeting a horrific brand of justice that would make Edgar Allen Poe giddy (ok, maybe morose and misanthropic). The writers at Hammer keep the primary thrust intact, but come at it from a slightly different angle.

COUNTESS DRACULA sees the titular Elizabeth, a shriveled old woman (the lovely Ingrid Pitt hidden beneath heavy makeup), recently widowed. We open on her late husband's funeral and are quickly whisked ahead to the execution of his will. Of those gathered to receive the good stuff, only one is an outsider: the upstanding Lt. Imre Toth (Sandor Eles, who was also in personal favorite THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN). Toth is the son of the late count's army BFF, and is bequeathed all of his horses, the stables, and the adjacent cottage. This angers Captain Dobi the castle steward, who himself receives only a paltry amount. Played by leonine British actor Nigel Green (Hercules in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS!), he has been in amorous waiting for the lady Elizabeth to be single and open to his advances for twenty years. Green's performance is the deepest and most engaging of the film.

After an angry outburst against a servant slings a splash of blood on her face, the countess comes to realize that the blood of young girls will return her to youthful vitality. Now, with the help of her maidservant and Dobi, Elizabeth conspires to compulsively kill young girls to remain youthful, kindle a romance with Lt. Toth (whom she is enamored by), and arrange the kidnapping of her daughter in the countryside so that she can continue impersonating her. It's a complex spider web of deceit, and all of the moving pieces guarantee that the plot will come crashing down around the characters in spectacular fashion (which it absolutely does), but not before there's plenty of lovely nudity to titillate and tease.

While this isn't as maligned a title as something like CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER, it does nonetheless belong to that later Hammer era which is generally looked down upon in a poor light. This has always seemed odd to me, as the films themselves continue to come with far more lavish gothic trappings than their budgets would ever belie, and the style is always substantive. COUNTESS DRACULA has gotten more adoration recently in retrospect, and deservedly so. This is a solidly tense love triangle murder fest, with interesting and quirky characters, lavish sets and costumes, and all the nudity you could shake your stick at (just don't do so in public).

On the technical front, Synapse Films offers up a vividly color saturated transfer which retains the rich film grain texture that pings the nostalgia pleasure points of all true genre film lovers. A superb feature detailing the cinematic life of Ingrid Pitt (who only recently passed away in 2010) is the best of the special features offered. Also included are a commentary track featuring Pitt, director Peter Sasdy, screenwriter Jeremy Paul, and author Jonathan Sothcott, an archival audio interview with Pitt, reversible cover art, and more. This release is a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, so you can enjoy it in pretty much any setup at your house unless you're still rocking a solo VCR somewhere.

COUNTESS DRACULA has a very specific Hammer fan niche to which it appeals. Those folks should race to pick this up before it's bled dry out of print, as should anyone who enjoys the stylish vibrancy of Hammer horror or those who are still exploring all that the studio has to offer. If you're generally not a fan of Hammer then this is certainly a pass, though I earnestly suggest you give earlier films from their house another go.

Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania.com, writing Shock-O-Rama. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. An avid beer brewer, rock climber, and video gamer, you can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek, and follow him on twitter @CyanideRush. He recently wrote about Nazi Zombies, Spaghetti Westerns and American Hippies for Exploitation Retrospect #52 (available from our website).

COUNTESS DRACULA is available at Amazon.

Friday, October 03, 2014

It's Slasher Friday at 31 Days of Fright with SCREAM PARK (2012)

In honor of the FRIDAY THE 13TH flicks it's Slasher Friday at 31 Days of Fright and who better to take a trip to the SCREAM PARK featuring Ogre from Skinny Puppy than the diabolical David Z! But just keep telling yourself "don't read the DVD box... don't read the DVD box... don't read the DVD box...". Take it away, Z!

Cary Hill's SCREAM PARK takes the time honored (shopworn?) premise of the throwback slasher film for a spin with an entertaining 90 minutes that features masked maniacs, unleashed breasts and the occasional special effect to liven up the ride.  While it may not be the 5 Star Octopus Loop-Dee-Loop of modern slashers, it steers clear of ending up in the spinning tea cups section as well.

The elements of the plot are all there: a group of employees getting ready to shut down FRIGHT LAND as it rides off into the darkness of bankruptcy and fading consumer interest decides it would be fun to have one last night of drinking, hanging out and cussing together before the bitter end. But the end will come sooner for them! But... how? And, why? Well, I'm not going to spoil those questions - even though the geniuses at Wild Eye Releasing marketing sucked all the last second turns out of the film by spoiling it ON THE BACK OF THE DVD!  So, don't read that if you can avoid it. OK? OK.

We have the usual merry band of misfits here, the punk rock dude (who has some continuity stubble issues) who brings the booze! The smart girl that has FRIDAY THE 13th Vintage Hair who could wear a FINAL t-shirt and be more subtle about survival.  The slightly weird manager of the park that goes from creepy to nerdy to spooky over the running time.  The attractive ladies. The guys that either get them out of their clothes or WANT to get them out of their clothes.  And they are all doing just fine here as a likeable core of victims about to go for the last ride.  After a first half that is boosted by some good location shooting at an actual dilapidated amusement park and a sharp script with some great dialogue ("Nothing like a little peer pressure, especially from a cum dumpster and a future homemaker.  Smoke?") things pick up as a pair of masked maniacs arrive and start offing the crew.  Death on the Rollercoaster! Guts splatting like a toddler's dropped ice cream!  French Fried Face being served up at the concession stand... let's all go to the lobby!  And the beats go on...  

Once the main plot twist (again DON'T READ THE BOX!) is revealed I was struck by just how cool the entire thing is. Or better yet, could have been, because even with the entertainment value, which is really all I ask for,  SCREAM PARK never ratchets things up that extra little hump into a corkscrew and instead just rolls to it's inevitable conclusion.  Not a bad ride by any stretch, but not one you'll line up for again.

Plot aside, SCREAM PARK definitely wins the Kewpie doll in the rigged game of direct-to-video slasher mayhem in some ways. A nifty score is accentuated by the use of droning feedback in some sequences and adds an atmosphere that is often times overlooked in the beepityboop world of low-budget soundscapes. While the movie certainly doesn't look like a million bucks, some smart usages of the actual park and its locations featuring a rollercoaster that is really old and and rickety as hell is a key to success. Also, watch for a tribute to SUSPIRIA...

In the all important killer sweepstakes, the Appalachian Hellbilly duo are memorable. With a plague doctor and what looks like a giant version of the TRICK R' TREAT character, there are several really well done images of monstrously stalking maniacs. I did sort of chuckle how many times they get whacked around with tin pans though. Not the most worthy weapon of beating back a superbeast.

This brings me to an important piece of my interest in the film seeing as how Iggy (the unmasked talker of the pair) is played by Kevin OGRE Ogilvie of Skinny Puppy! I'm a huge fan of his to begin with and couldn't wait to watch him live the dream of all horror fans and get to be a killer in a low-budget film. I almost fell over watching him put on a mountain man accent (wait for him to scream at his buddy that he is a "dented can!") and you could tell that he was adding his own lines on occasion.  The commentary bears this out as he would pop in lines that he had to explain to the crew ("don't scream or the balloon will tighten") and if you know his stage performances at all you'll spot him right away.

There is a sequence that features a face frying as Iggy goes from power to weirdly sexual that was definitely all on Ogilvie.  And he gets to talk a few lines and wear bloody scalps in a job well done.  Also look for the fact that the other character is called Ogre instead of him and at one point a character is reading the book of letters that Ogilvie had kept and returned to sender after a few years, Go Ask Ogre.  Subtle!

Also on hand is Doug Bradley of Pinhead infamy. It's only for a single scene but it's a damn good one and DON'T READ THE BOX or it will all be spoiled.  It's so strange how Bradley can just talk and it's entertaining.  I wish he would do audio books of Good Night Moon!  THAT would be spooky!

So here. slasher fans? You'll like it.  Skinny Puppy fans? You'll be interested to see Ogre outside the box of the stage and into something different (seriously, Appalachian Mountain Maniac?) and I can assure fans of these films one other thing. The cardinal sin of tight budgeted film, the tight shirt with large breasts being shown but never revealed, does NOT HAPPEN IN THE SCREAM PARK. So, fans of pulchritudinous sweater puppies will definitely enjoy the ride. Because really, are we supposed to be wearing our mature cineaste beret when we fire this flick up? NOPE. I demand all the boxes be checked! I'd be happy to see Cary Hill tackle another project and bring along some more masked mayhem; this one may have brought only an occasional shriek, but I bet he has a screamfest in him.

The DVD contains an interesting commentary track, trailers for other features and a blooper reel of lots of goofing around with the killers performing Grapes Of Wrath. Heck, that alone was worth the admission to this SCREAM PARK! – David Zuzelo

David Zuzelo runs the Tomb It May Concern blog and is a card carrying member of The Cult of HELLINGER. You can read more of his twisted takes on Nikkatsu flicks and more in Exploitation Retrospect #52 (available now from our website).

SCREAM PARK is available from Amazon.


Thursday, October 02, 2014

31 Days of Fright: NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES (2013)

I did not love Dustin Mills' BATH SALT ZOMBIES (reviewed in ER #52), but I found the micro-budgeted paean to flicks like REEFER MADNESS to be just intriguing enough that I might give the director's other efforts like NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES a try. Alas, when push came to shove I ended up sending NIGHT off to one of our reviewers and it sounds like he came away similarly intrigued – and disappointed.

Dustin Mills' NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES is a little bit of a Faustian tale with a great deal of borrowing from such horror films as THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, BASKET CASE and BRAIN DAMAGE. The real problem is that it doesn't bring anything new to the table that these other films haven't done before – and far better. It's nowhere in a league with these films and lands more in the range of something like IDLE HANDS. Unfortunately, being compared to IDLE HANDS is more of a hindrance than a blessing for this little independent effort.

Dave (Brandon Salkil, also in BATH SALT ZOMBIES) – a graphic designer who lives in an apartment complex full of degenerates – spends his days drawing space semen and pining over his downstairs neighbor until he suffers a heart attack. Needing a new heart, he agrees to sign a contract with Satan for his soul but he didn't read it and gets more than he bargained for in return. Satan gives him a new heart but it is soon revealed that the heart must feast on human flesh to stay alive. He starts to feed his neighbors to his heart until the heart threatens the neighbor Dave has fallen in love with. Dave must then decide between life and the loss of his sweetheart or saving her and sacrificing himself for eternity.

If the plot sounds familiar it's because you've probably heard it a million times and it's not much of a spoiler to tell you it plays out just the way you would imagine. Even an attempt to splash a little humor here and there does not elevate the fact that this movie is a retread of a story told many times.

A needless narration by the main protagonist only further complicates matters because Dave's musings try to come off as clever but remain hollow and unnecessary to the overall plot. It feels like the plot is just going through the motions and decided to drag the viewer along – which makes for a very boring affair.

As far as low-budget horror goes the film certainly does a good job with the little they seem to be working with. Dustin Mils' writing lacks punch but he shows some real promise in the production of the rest of the film. The CGI is low-rent but serves it purpose and everything is shot well. The dialogue is stiff at times and the actors seem intent on exaggerating every facial expression, but NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES shows some real promise if not for its lack of originality.

NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES is a movie that you have seen before. It'll get you through the night if you have nothing else to do but you'll forget about it in the morning. However, Dustin Mills shows some potential that may impress if given a better story and a bigger budget. – Adam Knabe

Adam Knabe wrote about the zombie film GROUND ZERO in Exploitation Retrospect #52, available from our website.

NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES is available from Amazon.

Website Facelift Stage 1 Complete

With the latest issue published, available for sale and off my mind, it was time to turn my attention to a long-standing project: a facelift for our soon-to-be-20-year-old (!) website.
Unfairly neglected while I was spending most of my free time on the mag and blog, the website's homepage had become needlessly cluttered while the entire site didn't jibe with the brand we were driving home elsewhere.

That's marketing speak for "we were using different logos".
After a few hours spent tinkering over the last couple weeks the facelift was launched yesterday afternoon complete with a new Nikkatsu review – for FEMALE TEACHER: DIRTY AFTERNOON – courtesy of longtime contributor Crites. 
Readers of the mag and blog will recall that we lost Tom about a year ago, but I'll continue to showcase some of the work he contributed before his death. And Nikkatsu fans should take note that next month will be "Nikkatsu November" as we feature additional reviews of the series on the heels of David Zuzelo's article in the new issue.
As for the website, tweaking continues as the banner ads on most inside pages have disappeared (doh!), I had to delete the home page search function in order to get the page to load, and I have some review/article housecleaning to do.

But look for new content and continued improvements in the coming weeks and months.