Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Oasis of the Zombies (1983)




Written by: Jesus Franco, Ramon Llido
Directed by: Jesus Franco
Starring:
Manuel Gelin as Robert Blabert
France Lomay as Erika
Antonio Mayans as Sheik Mohamed Al-Kafir
Javier Maiza as Captain Robert Blabert

This Valentine's Day, my long-time (as in, love you, G.I.) reviewing compadre Anubis and I decided to celebrate our studly man love (is that solarmanite in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?) by playing the relationship game, with a one-in-six chance of happiness and nearly overwhelming odds of just making each other miserable and bitter instead. We each put together a Whitman's Sampler of movies, containing one flick we deemed a real sweet pecan turtle of a show, with the rest being those ones full of tomato paste and drain clog hair that only old ladies seem to like. I'm going out on a limb here and saying that tonight's movie was meant to be one of the latter, but knit me a doily and call me Florence because I like this flick.

Our story opens with a couple of tourist girls in shorts that would make Gamera blush driving into the middle of goddamn nowhere in the desert because Brunette has heard stories about the oasis there and wants to check it out. Blondie, sensibly, wants nothing more than to go back to the hotel and drink margaritas by the pool, but her objections fall on deaf ears. If you can't figure out what happens next, Chrissie Watkins would like to go for an early morning swim with you.

Now that we've been assured beyond a doubt that there will, in fact, be an oasis full of zombies in Oasis of the Zombies, we are introduced to Kurt Maitzell and his wife, who are going to visit an old acquaintance of Kurt's. Did I say acquaintance? Sorry, I meant deadly enemy. The man in question is Captain Robert Blabert, formerly of the British army. Kurt was a colonel under Rommel's command in the Afrika Korps, and some of his men had been charged with transporting $6,000,000 worth of gold across the desert. Blabert's forces intercepted and ambushed them before they reached their destination, but the battle was so evenly matched that Blabert was the only one who made it out alive, and even he wouldn't have survived had he not been rescued by sympathetic nomads and taken to Sheik Mohamed Al-Kafir.

As far as anyone knows, the gold was never recovered because its location was known only to Captain Blabert. Kurt has come to him with a proposition that they put aside their differences in the name of Baal and go claim the loot for themselves. You'd think after spending his entire military career fighting the bastards that Blabert would have learned one very important lesson: never trust a Nazi. Then again, a dishearteningly large number of Americans who fought the same war helped to vote one into the White House a few months ago, so what the fuck do I know? The minute Kurt sees the map with the location of the gold marked on it, he kills Blabert and hightails it into the desert with his wife and a couple of goons to get rich.

When Captain Blabert's son, Robert, receives news of his father's death, he begins preparations to travel to Tripoli where the old man was killed. While going through some of the estate materials, he finds dad's diary, which t-bones the movie so hard with a flashback that it's gonna be a good long time before the narrative tow truck can drag the plot back onto the road, and even then it may never be drivable again. We see the battle between the allied commandos and the German caravan, plundered from some other movie that had the budget to show such a thing. We also see the convalescence of Captain Blabert in the camp of Sheik Al-Kafir, and find out that he repaid the sheik's kindness by knocking up his daughter, Ayesha. Yep, turns out Robert is half Arab royalty!

Robert tells his friends Ronald, Sylvia, and Ahmed about the diary and the gold, and decides settling dad's estate can wait if there's six million Nazi smackeroos out there in the desert just begging to be dug up and spent. Never mind that they'll have to set up their own smelting operation to turn the gold into something that doesn't have swastikas stamped all over it, but I'm sure they'll figure that out after they've lugged almost half a ton of gold (at 1983 prices, $6,000,000 worth of gold would weigh a little over 800 pounds) all the way back to London (an interesting conversation with the bag check people, right there). Of course, considering they make the trip to the oasis in one little jeep that can barely fit the four of them, the odds of these morons getting out the desert alive even without being attacked by zombies seem pretty fucking slim to me.

Kurt and his crew arrive at the oasis and the second the bosses turn in for the night, their two local hired hands (whose dubbed voices make Kobayashi's Barney Rubble voice in Gigantis, the Fire Monster sound positively dignified) immediately start planning to ditch them. While they're arguing over whether to take the gold or just get the hell out of the haunted oasis before they join its restless spirits, the German zombies take the choice out of their hands and rise up to lay waste to the camp. All this is, of course, timed perfectly for Robert and his crew to arrive in Tripoli and have their efforts to chat up the expedition of an anthropologist named Denikan and his two assistants interrupted by Kurt stumbling back into town covered in bite marks and dying right in front of them. Surely, you must be thinking, this would be enough to deter anyone from going anywhere near where this guy just came from, right? To that, I say three words. One. Fucking. Jeep. Maybe that's why they wanted to get chummy with Denikan's group. They realized they were in way over their heads and wanted to hang out with someone capable of actually making a plan before heading into a life-threateningly hostile environment.

Even after Sheik Grandpa shows up on the scene and warns his grandson about the dangers awaiting them if they continue on to the oasis, the morons persist in walking right into the jaws of Kurt's erstwhile troops. One. Fucking. Jeep.

For reasons known only to the gods, Franco pulled a Universal Dracula with this script and shot two essentially identical versions of this movie; one in French and one in Spanish (you'll notice the poster image I used is for the Spanish version, because it's cooler than any of the French versions). Not what you'd expect from a filmmaker whose attention span was so short that he was notorious for getting bored in the middle of a shoot and wandering off to start another movie before the last one was finished! Even most of the cast was the same. As far as I know, the only drastic difference is that in the Spanish version, Kurt's wife is played by Lina Romay. It's too bad, then, that when it came time for American distributors to grab this flick to feed the ravenous VHS beast, they picked the French version. If you have a choice, always go with Lina Romay. Maybe some day Arrow Video or Severin or someone will get a print of the Spanish version and throw some subtitles on there for an ultimate edition Blu-ray so the six people who are actually interested can do a side-by-side comparison of the two movies. I know I'm curious.

Like I said up top, I rather enjoy this movie. Yes, the dubbing is awful even by the low standards this type of movie is generally judged by; and yes, it bogs down something fierce at the midpoint; and yes, the zombies take for fucking ever to show up. When they finally do appear, they're pretty cool and inventive on a shoestring budget. Many of them have wrinkly, desiccated skin to show they've been dried out and preserved by the desert climate. My favorite one is actually a largely inanimate puppet that looks a bit like Dr. Tongue from Day of the Dead, but the way Franco shoots him makes him creepy and effective rather than laughable and cheap.

What really works for me in this movie, though, is the story. I'm not talking about the plot holes you could drive a camel through, like the fact that Robert is a good twenty years too young for the circumstances of his birth to be what they are, or that Captain Blabert doesn't age between the 40-years-ago flashback and present day. The idea of an oasis haunted by the restless undead corpses of Afrika Korps troops guarding a cursed treasure is fucking awesome. It's more or less the same basic plot used in the far superior Zombies of Mora Tau, except that this time the zombies are Nazis, and I have come to the conclusion that no matter how sick I get of zombies, I will never, ever get tired of Nazis, zombie or otherwise, as the bad guy in stories. I'm not even trying to make a political statement now, just stating that I think Nazis will always be a fascinating choice of villains in fiction. They just intrinsically fit. Maybe it's because they were worse in real life than they could ever be in a movie or book, so no matter how horrific you make them, they inevitably come across as a de-fanged version of the real thing, and yet that connection to history makes them more believable than any villain created from whole cloth. I dunno. I'll leave the psychological analysis to the pros and just say that Nazis are great. In movies and comics. In real life, they're only good for punching. Fuck real Nazis. What the hell was I talking about?

Ah, right. Oasis of the Zombies. Most people think it sucks, and most people are probably right. I dig it, though, and you should give it a chance. I think there's a genuinely awesome movie hidden in there if you look in the right places, and when I watch it I feel like I'm watching a far better movie than I know I really am. This thing is just begging for a remake from someone who knows how to tease out those elements of greatness. I'll help write it. Give me a call. Let's make a movie!

Now head on over to the Tomb of Anubis and see if he's recovered from the exploding semen confetti card I sent him along with The Greasy Strangler.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Jaws 3-D (1983)




Written by: Carl Gottlieb, Richard Matheson (sort of)
Directed by: Joe Alves
Starring:
Dennis Quaid as Mike Brody
Bess Armstrong as Dr. Kay Morgan
Simon MacCorkindale as Philip Fitzroyce
Louis Gossett, Jr. as Calvin Bouchard

I come here to praise Jaws 3-D, not to bury it.

I've recounted elsewhere in these pages how my parents renting Jaws movies for me when I was very young and then my dad watching them with me and sitting behind me and scaring the shit out of me whenever the shark attacked or a dead body popped out was instrumental in jump-starting my love of horror. It was the original and this one that I watched over and over and over again. Jaws 2 was never at any of the video stores in town for some reason, so I didn't see that one until years later when we got satellite TV. Between Jaws, Jaws 3, and Godzilla 1985, it's amazing I ever found the time to watch anything else. I rented these movies so much that for the longest time the two Jaws movies blended together in my mind to the point that they were just one big jumble of scenes. Although you might scoff at the idea now, at that age no one is a great judge of quality. I also suspect that watching true classics along with low grade cinematic trash and enjoying them both equally at that point in my cognitive development is why, while I am now able to recognize the difference in quality, I can still get the same enjoyment from both today. I am fully aware that Jaws 3 isn't a good movie. I just don't care, and I love it.

Mike Brody is all grown up now and working at Sea World as a maintenance engineer and engaged to Dr. Kay Morgan, a marine biologist and dolphin trainer. His little brother, Sean, who has never recovered from the paralyzing hydrophobia (no, he's not rabid, put down the shotgun) brought on by the childhood shark trauma back on Amity, is coming to visit just as the park is about to open its newest and most elaborate attraction yet, a massive aquatic entertainment complex called the Undersea Kingdom.

There must be something about having a critical mass of Brody DNA in one place that attracts monster fish like Juggaloes to Faygo pop though, because no sooner has Sean dropped off his suitcases at Mike's house and hooked up with a cute water skier from one of the park's shows than people start disappearing and a 10-foot great white shark is caught swimming around inside the park's lagoon. As efforts are made to keep the shark alive and add the world's first captive great white to the media blitz surrounding the opening of the Undersea Kingdom, it becomes clear that Kay's new pet isn't the only piscine party crasher about the place.

In fact, the 10-footer that just went belly up in the kiddy pool was only a baby. A baby that was born inside the park to a prehistorically huge 35-foot-long monster that has taken up residence in one of the aeration ducts meant to pump oxygenated water into the new Undersea Kingdom exhibits (Among the many story elements that were changed or dropped as the script was fed repeatedly through a wood chipper, this shark was supposed to be the same one from Jaws 2. Can you imagine how much cooler this movie would be if the shark had a horrifically burned and scarred face with bits of skull exposed?). And don't you start asking questions about how long this behemoth has been hanging out completely motionless inside the duct while its pup grew to an angsty 10-foot shark teenager and started trying to take bites out of the tourists, or why there's only one of the damn things when great whites can give birth to up to a dozen pups at a time. Especially with such a gigantic specimen, there would be a whole flotilla of the little bastards swimming around.

Of course, having an obstruction that big in the pipe for that long can't be good for the machinery, and sure enough the pump motors burn out. When the duct gets shut down for maintenance, cutting off the steady supply of forced oxygen that kept the giant shark happy and still, mama decides it's time to come on out and belly up to the all-you-can-eat people buffet. Good thing Philip FitzRoyce, big game hunter and sport fisherman, is attending the Undersea Kingdom grand opening, and that he thought it prudent to bring a suitcase full of grenades with him. Look, I didn't write it.

Apparently neither did Richard Matheson, despite what the credits say. After Spielberg pitched a fit and threatened to leave Universal Studios when he found out they were planning to send up his masterpiece with a Joe Dante-directed National Lampoon spoof (co-written by John Hughes of all people!), the suits backpedaled and decided to make a serious sequel instead. They approached Matheson to write a treatment, which they then gave to Carl Gottlieb, who wrote a script, which they then gave to a bunch of script doctors, who must have called in some favors to the Mafia to have their connection with this movie erased from human knowledge for all time. Except for some dude called Michael Kane, who apparently wasn't made enough to keep his “additional dialogue” credit from jumping out of the screen as though it was COMING RIGHT AT YOU!

Yes, this was a member of the infamous part 3 in 3D gang, with first-and-only-time director Joe Alves thinking that jumping on the latest gimmick craze would give his freshman effort a better chance at box office success. Which turned out to be a solid gamble, as it made almost thirteen-and-a-half million dollars the first weekend and remained the strongest opening 3D movie for 20 years until one of the Spy Kids flicks dethroned it.

It was the first movie shot using the new Arriflex ArriVision single camera 3D system. Previously, 3D movies were shot in stereo at great expense and difficulty because you had to pay for two cameras, and two cameras' worth of film stock, plus they were a pain in the ass to keep aligned and if they weren't perfect the images tended to make people's eyes freak out and cause severe headaches (all but the best 3D even with today's technology does that to me, but I'll take their word for it). The ArriVision camera wasn't ready for use immediately, so filming began with an older StereoVision setup which they still used for a lot of second unit shooting. The superiority of the ArriVision system is glaringly apparent, as the bulk of the footage looks reasonably crisp but when you hit one of those scenes shot in the first week or just about anything by the second unit crew it's eye-searingly blurry even in 2D.

The experimental nature of the production becomes even more apparent in many of the effects shots. In another first, the movie's effects were composited with video gear rather than an old-fashioned optical printer because the process was faster. Of course, it also wasn't as good, especially when trying to match the video footage with the higher resolution film, and in an 11th hour decision the producers threw out almost all of the effects finished on video and redid as many as they could using an optical printer anyway. Of course, this meant that not only did they have to cut out a bunch of planned effects scenes, but they gave themselves nowhere near enough time to properly finish even the ones they kept, and the results speak for themselves. Even the notoriously over-ambitious Doctor Who serial “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” the most tragic victim of Barry Letts's obsession with CSO effects, looks significantly less shitty than any of the composite shots in Jaws 3-D, a major studio movie made ten years after that serial, which probably had a budget roughly equivalent to what the Jaws 3-D people spent on toilet paper.

And yet, in spite of all these shortcomings, I absolutely adore this movie. I've seen it literally dozens of times. I'll probably see it dozens more. When I was 6 I didn't care that the effects looked like shit. Hell, I didn't even realize they looked like shit. If they were in a movie, they were clearly done that way on purpose because the people making the movie wanted it to look like that, right? Grownups know what they're doing. You don't realize until you're a grownup yourself that kids are far smarter and grownups don't actually have a fucking clue about anything important. All we're good for is buying groceries and doing taxes.

When I watch this movie, it makes me feel like a kid again. I don't care about the weird blurry footage (ok, I care a little because my eyes suck and it makes them hurt), I don't care about the silly effects, I don't care that the movie doesn't make a lick of goddamn sense. It sucks me right in every time. The underwater footage is eerie and still feels menacing to me. The sound design, which I know like the sound of my own breathing, makes me feel like I'm right there in that tunnel with the park guests, trapped by a monster shark. When FitzRoyce is getting chomped by the shark and we see and hear it from his viewpoint inside the shark's mouth, I can feel my chest compressing and my bones cracking because that scene, more than any other, fascinated and terrified me as a kid.

Jaws 3-D is a terrible sequel. It feels like an Italian Jaws ripoff that accidentally had the wrong title card put on it at the film lab. Jaws 3-D is a great sequel. It overcame one of the weirdest developments in film history to become a tremendously entertaining movie in spite of itself. Give it another look and see if it doesn't make you smile.

See what my fellow fishermen of filmic fiascos have to say about the rest of this Platonic ideal of diminishing returns:

Seeker of Schlock -- Jaws 

Checkpoint Telstar -- Jaws 2 

Micro-Brewed Reviews -- Jaws: The Revenge 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Upsidedown Cross (2014)


Written by: William Hellfire, Mike Hunchback
Directed by William Hellfire
Starring:
Erin Russ as Nadine
David Yow as Preacher
Colleen Cohan as Delilah

Facebook. Almost all of us have it. Many of us are not sure how happy we are about that some days. If you're anything like me, you kinda wish your phone had a breathalyzer attached that wouldn't allow you internet access after blowing a certain percentage. There are plenty of days where I'll wake up to 20 to 30 notifications, knowing that they're either going to be in response to cute puppy videos or angry political shit, and hoping against hope that today is a puppy video day.

Let's set aside for a moment the negative macro-cosmic effects like turning ridiculous tabloid headlines into high-speed clouds of idiot shrapnel that, once embedded in enough dim-witted racist redneck brains, contributed significantly to turning what most intelligent people thought for sure was just a sick joke into the honest-to-Putin election of a six-foot ambulatory glob of past-the-sell-by-date tapioca pudding covered in Cheeto dust that brags about sexually assaulting women and is also likely a child rapist.

From the standpoint of the personal microcosm, it is a brilliant way to interact with the creators of your favorite art and entertainment like never before. I remember the first celebrity I followed was my favorite painter, Bob Eggleton. I assumed it was going to be some sort of professionally managed page and I was just interested in updates seeing new paintings and the like. Imagine my surprise to find it was Bob's personal page, and to be speaking with him. Here I was talking to a guy whose artwork had captured my imagination since I was a kid, who was the first artist whose style I learned recognize on sight, and he's a really fucking cool dude to boot!

It's also a good way to find out about a lot of cool things that otherwise might have passed you by. I've seen a whole bunch of concerts I probably otherwise would have missed out on because of band posts popping up in my feed. Likewise for movies. It's how I found out about tonight's feature. I don't remember how I wound up becoming friends with William Hellfire, but for quite a long time I couldn't log on without seeing stuff about Upsidedown Cross, and even though I was interested from the very first time I heard of it, it took an embarrassingly long time for me to finally get around to watching it. I'm damn glad I did though, because it's excellent.

We first meet Nadine as she is offered an invigorating cup of morning coffee in a filthy used disposable cup and an invigorating dose of morning heroin in a needle probably not much cleaner than the cup, by her pimp, Victor. He's something of a modern-day Irving Klaw, but skeezier. He keeps a stable of girls in a scummy apartment building and charges men to come in and take Polaroids of the girls undressing. Of course, if a client wants more than a few blurry photographs to remember the encounter by, all things are negotiable.

This is Nadine's lucky day, sort of. A couple of the morning's clients turn out to be under cover vice officers, and the one who busts her takes pity and gives her an opportunity to slip out the back and hopefully into a better life before his partners arrive with the cuffs. I say sort of, because that better life turns out to be just a different sort of awful.

Usually I don't spoil the ends of movies for readers, even if they're decades old. Just because I've seen it, doesn't mean you have, after all. In this case, though, I am going to divulge the end of the movie because that's where some of the most important stuff in the movie lies. So at this point, if you haven't already seen Upsidedown Cross (and you really should), skip down past the rest of the review and hit the Amazon link to get yourself a copy. I'm not going anywhere.

So, what'd you think? Pretty damn good, right? Ok, where was I? Ah, right.

With nowhere else to go in the city, and the prospect of living in a box behind Arby's less appealing than Victor's coffee, Nadine decides it's time to return home to patch things up with mom. Or at least pretend to do so in order to mooch. The mother/daughter reunion is awkward at best, and this is probably the weakest part of the movie. The women sit at the kitchen table and have an argument that goes on a little too long, with Delilah asking Nadine to contribute to the household if she's going to be living there, and Nadine saying she's going to be sick for a while and just needs a place to crash until she's better. Nadine loses some of the sympathy I had for her here when she starts ragging on Delilah for her financial situation putting the house at risk of repossession. It seems awfully presumptuous that she expected to be able to go off and do whatever she wanted with no contact whatsoever, but Delilah was still beholden to have a great inheritance waiting for her if the heroin didn't kill her first.

For someone who has come crawling home for help, Nadine behaves like a mouthy spoiled brat, although that could also be down to the beginnings of withdrawal. This section of the movie could have used a bit more elaboration on Nadine and Delilah's relationship and motivations to give the third act some extra emotional depth, but there's still enough of that to go around, as we'll see.

Of course, it's not long before we learn why Nadine took off in the first place. Delilah is an insufferable religious fruitcake of the nuttiest variety, and it would seem that the reason she's on the verge of bankruptcy is that she spends all day watching televangelists and giving money to their Satanic panic hotlines. She is firmly convinced that Nadine's DT's are the devil's work, and calls in a sizable donation to the “Reverend Sleazy P. Martini Needs A New Boat Dock For His Private Pedophile Sex Island” telethon in return for them sending her a traveling exorcist played by David Yow of the Jesus Lizard (they suck, but they kick ass).

Up to this point, the performances have been decent, but not extraordinary, but when Yow enters the picture, things really take off. Russ has a very laid-back delivery style, but when she has a pro like Yow to play off of, it's like some kind of chemical reaction occurs. When the bad stuff starts to happen, they really feed off each other and use that energy to go to some deep, dark places. And the bad stuff is indeed about to happen.

The nameless priest proceeds to spend the next several days torturing Nadine in the name of God while her mother wrings her hands in the next room, praying that the screams are the product of the arduous process of ridding her daughter of Satanic influence and not that she's just invited a madman into her home to torment her child. Things escalate from ice baths to beatings until Nadine is eventually raped, at which point the priest decides discretion is the better part of being a perverted monster and gets the hell out of Dodge. As he leaves the house, Delilah enters Nadine's room and sees her daughter face down on the bed, crying and terrified. “Has the demon left you?” she asks tentatively. Nadine nods through the tears and the credits roll.

The first reading of this scene that came to me is that when Nadine says the demon left her she's referring to the priest finally departing, and of course Delilah taking it to mean that the exorcism worked because she's a gullible tool whose ignorance and misplaced well-meaning caused her daughter far more trauma than her previous life on the streets had. The most unpleasant part about this reading is that it means in Delilah's head, her plan worked. Hiring a mentally unstable predator to come into her home and physically and emotionally abuse her daughter was what God wanted her to do, and it paid off and saved the girl's soul.

The more I thought about it, though, a second interpretation came to me. Something more grounded in reality and requiring no examination of double meanings. Perhaps Nadine's affirmation that the demon is out of her is a self-preservation thing, and she's just agreeing with Delilah because for now, at least, it's the safe thing to do. She's afraid continuing the argument that she's not really possessed and her mom is crazy could result in something even worse the next time.

I'm not sure which one of these ideas is nastier, and maybe something came to you while watching it that's horrible in a completely different way. However you look at it, though, the ending of this flick packs a punch that I was not expecting. From the promotional materials that I saw, I was under the impression that this was going to be a low-budget Exorcist type thing. I figured there'd be a lot of swearing and vomiting and blasphemy played for shock and laughs. This is, after all, coming from the guy who released Duck! The Carbine High Massacre just months after the Columbine shootings. What I got instead was a personal, intimate vision of horror that's much worse than any pea soup-barfing demon, because it's real. This kind of stuff happens all the time. You might even know someone who has been put through this kind of abuse.

I corresponded briefly with William after I finished the movie to tell him how much I liked it, and he told me that he felt his catalog is uneven because there aren't that many true passion projects he's done. This one, though, is the one that's nearest and dearest to him, and it shows. This is one to be proud of.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Baby Blood (1990)

Written by: Serge Cukier, Alain Robak
Directed by: Alain Robak
Starring:
Emmanuelle Escourrou as Yanka
Christian Sinniger as Lohman
Gary Oldman as the Creature

In the fall of 2001, I started my higher learning career (get a writing degree, kids, it'll open up a whole new world of writing shit for free on the internet) at Wartburg College. In need of a little extra scratch, I took on a part time job at the local video rental shop, the now defunct Movies America. DVD was still new enough that the store was primarily VHS, and watching a movie online was pretty much out of the question unless you had a spare week or so to kill waiting for it to download.

It was just a shitty little chain store, not a cool mom 'n' pop, but they had a decent selection of horror and exploitation (although in the days of VHS it was almost impossible not to) and overall I had a pretty good time working there. Of course, as I'm sure many of you fellow movie nerds know from experience, the biggest perk of working at a video shop wasn't the paycheck, but the free rentals. Just about every night I'd take something new back to my dorm to check out. Eventually I took to just whipping a bouncy ball down the aisle that had horror down one side and action at the end, ignoring any “special interest” titles that may have gotten knocked down from the opposite side (that term often denotes softcore Skinemax porn in movie shops, but in this case was largely represented by workout videos, which I guess if you're sad and lonely enough could equate to the same thing), and taking whatever fell to the floor.

One night, before the bouncy ball method had been implemented, I took home a movie which I now know was called The Evil Within. It was a weird flick, clearly originally in a foreign language of some flavor, most likely French given the names of cast and crew. It told the story of a girl who worked at a carnival, who got impregnated by some kind of octopus-like creature that made her kill people. And that's about all I remembered of it. I left the video store for a more lucrative record store gig the next year, and never gave it much more thought until years later when I decided I'd like to see it again. By that time I'd joined the Bad Movie Message Board, populated primarily by my friends from B-Fest, so I figured someone there would know it. Snake eyes. Of course, the internet is a great sea of information, but without at least one or two specifics like a title or an actor's name, finding even a movie seemingly unique as this one based solely on a vague description is a fool's errand. You may as well go to the actual sea and cast your line looking for one particular fish without knowing which bait to use. Also, as you might imagine, the Google results for “octopus sex monster horror movie” are both unhelpful and possibly illegal depending on which state you're from.

Fast forward several more years, and talk of a foreign art/horror movie featuring a tentacled sex monster begins to gather momentum. An unreasonably expensive special edition Blu-ray is released, and it begins to get coverage in places like the Projection Booth podcast. Hang on a minute, though. I don't remember Sam Neill being in my mystery flick, and I'd definitely remember that. Also, there's nothing about a circus, and what's all this malarkey about a little kid? Still, this is clearly a real movie, and one that is becoming more and more well known in cult movie circles. Hell, maybe this is what I saw, and I'm just conflating it with something else from the days when I had enough free time to watch at least one movie pretty much every single day. After all, I know I've seen Charles Band's The Alchemist, but I don't remember a goddamn thing about that. Maybe the titular magical metallurgist worked at a sideshow.

It became a one-man mental game of telephone, with the increasingly cloudy memories of this movie echoing around the lower catacombs of my brain, now and again increasing just enough in volume to make me think I should take another poke around, finding even more information about Possession and not a single mention of any other movie even remotely similar. I even sounded the idea off El Santo of 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting a couple of times, figuring that if any of my friends would know what I was talking about, it would be him. Nada. Eventually I legitimately began to think some part of my subconscious, perhaps stirring up the remnants of a long forgotten dream or conversation, had caused me to gaslight myself; perhaps I really had made the whole thing up after all.

Then, just a couple of months ago, I saw one of those clickbait “10 Horror Movies You've Never Seen!” articles on Facebook and the Fickle Finger of Fate went ahead on and clicked. By the boiling bong of Yog-Sothoth, the very first thing I saw was a screen grab I immediately recognized as belonging to the movie that I had, by this point, given up on as a corrupted file and dragged to the trash folder of my mental desktop. Holy shit, it was real! And it was called...Baby Blood? You'd think I'd have remembered a title like that. Probably I would have, except the version I saw was the cut down English version called The Evil Within, which I think I can be forgiven for not remembering, since I can think of at least three other movies with almost identical titles off the top of my head.

We open on some men in darkest Africa, wrestling some snarling creature into a cage. We don't know what it is, because we're seeing the scene through its eyes, but eventually the beast is locked in and carted away to France. As the delivery vehicle nears the end of its journey, the animals at Lohman's Circus all become extremely agitated, pacing around their cages and sending up a racket of displeased sounds. The captured animal is finally revealed to be a new leopard for the big cat trainer to play with. The weaselly animal broker goes poking around for the boss and instead catches an eyeful of his voluptuous girlfriend Yanka getting out of the shower. Lohman catches the peeper in the act, but seems to place as much blame for the incident on Yanka as on the other man. You see, Lohman is an abusive shitbird, so when some tentacled thing tears its way out of the leopard, slithers up Yanka's vagina, and takes up residence in her womb, it doesn't have to work too hard to convince her to run away from the circus and make for the big city.

Lohman, to his credit, does show some genuine concern and compassion when his efforts to find Yanka lead him to a ruined apartment building so squalid that the opening of a crack den next door would actually improve the property value. We never get to find out if his concern for her was going to be enough for him to mend his ways, though, because her reaction to his pleas for her to return to the circus with him is to murder the bejeezus out of him and drink from his spurting arteries in a nearly orgasmic rush of pleasure. I know that pregnant women are supposed to get some weird cravings sometimes, but damn! Most of them are perfectly happy with a little Ben and Jerry's!

Once she's had a taste of blood and realizes how good it makes her and her passenger feel, it's off to the races, and by races I mean killing spree. She begins to develop an odd relationship with the creature inside her, sometimes maternal, sometimes a little bit like lovers, sometimes just friends shooting the shit. Things all seem to be going so well until her “pregnancy” has progressed to the point where the creature is ready to come out and return to its natural habitat of the sea, which requires Yanka to find transportation to the beach. This proves rather difficult considering she can't stop killing and eating everyone she meets. Finally, in desperation, she hitches a ride on a bus full of horny football players (that's soccer to you, uncouth American pigdog), which turns out to be a really bad idea.

It's not often that the weak point of a monster movie is the monster, and in this case I'm not talking about the creature effects. You only see the little squidbilly for about ten seconds at the very end, and while not exactly the most mobile and well-constructed of creatures, the design is fine and it does what it needs to do. Bela Lugosi could have made fine work of wrestling with it in a pond.

You see, the first few minutes of the movie are the creature explaining to us, over stock footage of volcanic eruptions, that at the dawn of time, single celled organisms begat sea creatures which begat land-dwelling creatures and the whole world was an explosion of life evolving, except for one thing; our thing. It simply sat in the water and waited until the time was right for it to find a womb to grow in. Which is fucking ridiculous, because it implies that this creature, unlike all other life on earth, popped into existence as a fully formed one-of-a-kind squid fetus with no way to propagate its species, went dormant for eons until life evolved to the point of actually having wombs, then spent the next several hundred million years crawling from one animal's womb to the next hoping this time it would be the right one. Of course, a human womb proved to be just the ticket because I'm sure Cukier and Robak thought that meant something French and artsy, except THIS FUCKING THING HAS CLEARLY HAD ALL KINDS OF CONTACT WITH HUMANS ALREADY AND HAD ROUGHLY 100,000 YEARS IN THE CRADLE OF HUMANITY ITSELF TO PICK ONE!

Then, to make matters even dumber, it explains to Yanka at the end that now it's finally had its nine months of gestation in her womb after roughly 3.8 billion years of waiting for just the right one, it needs to return to the sea so that it can evolve into its final form and prepare for conquest of the human race...IN FOUR OR FIVE MILLION MORE YEARS AFTER IT'S FIGURED OUT HOW TO GROW FUCKING LEGS! Once again, this creature has existed for almost four billion goddamn years without growing or changing so much as a single cell, and for some inexplicable reason it required gestating in the womb of another life form the existence of which it couldn't possibly have predicted, before spending another several million years willing itself to evolve into yet another form capable of taking over the planet. Uff da.

Now, you might assume on the basis of the last two paragraphs that I don't like this movie very much. I can understand how you'd get that impression, because the exposition we get about the monster is incredibly fucking stupid. However, the dialog which causes the problem can't take up more than two minutes of screen time, which makes it mercifully easy to ignore while you're enjoying the rest of the movie, and it is on the whole a highly enjoyable movie.

The performances are all pretty solid. Even the voice actors on the English dub. Especially Yanka and the creature, despite some of the idiotic shit it's given to say. In fact, I'd actually recommend watching the dub over the subtitled French version, since the Anchor Bay DVD replaces all the excised footage. In that, the voice of the creature is provided by the director (under the delightful pseudonym Roger Placenta), with some annoying digital effects added to make sure you know it's a monster talking. In the dub the voice is provided, effects-free, by none other than a pre-stardom Gary Oldman!

That excised footage I mentioned? I think a good deal of it was gore footage, because of all the things that stuck with me all those years, gore wasn't one of them. Having seen the uncut version now, I have to say this is one incredibly gory movie, and I've seen some stuff! We're talking Evil Dead levels of blood spray, easily. That's a doubly apt comparison here too, since a lot of the gore is used less to shock than to enhance the movie's pitch-black sense of humor. My favorite example is when Yanka hijacks a taxi cab, runs down a jogger with it, beats him to death with the car's onboard jack, winds up like she's aiming to kick the game-winning field goal, and punts his head clean off his shoulders, all while the cabbie is having a fit of the screaming ooperzootics in the back seat.

In short, give Baby Blood a look. If I can let the stupid monster back story go, then probably so can you, and what you'll find between those unfortunate couple of bookending minutes is a darkly funny, gore-soaked romp headed up by a sexy chick who spends a fair portion of the movie nekkid, and the rest of it chatting with Gary Oldman pretending to be a tentacled monster from the dawn of time.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things (1971)

Written by: Thomas Casey
Directed by: Thomas Casey
Starring:
Abe Zwick as Paul
Wayne Crawford as Stanley
Don Craig as Hubert
Robin Hughes as Vicki



We open on the least convincing man-dressed-as-a-woman I have ever seen returning home from a shopping trip and getting bothered by his nosy neighbor Mrs. Adams (played by the unbelievably named Yanka Mann) for Aunt Martha and her nephew to have dinner with her and her daughter. Saved by the bell, “Martha” runs in to answer the telephone and discover that it's her “nephew,” Stanley, who is out with a girl, much to his phony aunt's disapproval. Aunt Martha, you see, is actually a dude named Paul. He and Stanley are criminals on the lam, hiding out in a quaint little Floridian suburb posing as nephew and aunt.

Paul relieves some of his frustration with Stanley by throwing a dart at a poster on the wall of the kitchen. This poster is maybe the oddest non sequiter in the flick. It features a naked woman wearing a cowboy hat, facing away from the camera, with lines on her body marking out different cuts of meat like one of those pictures of a cow or pig you'd see in a butcher shop, and bearing the slogan, “Break the Dull Steak Habit,” but with no indication of what the hell product or idea the image is actually trying to sell.

Out back of the house is a shed where Paul has stashed some of their stolen loot in a jewelery chest identical to one my mom has, which was a jarring thing to see in a movie like this. Paul runs out to the shed to check on their stash, and brings the jewelery box into the house so he can keep a closer eye on it. Not a bad idea, considering that the succession of girls and fellow hippies Stanley hangs out with tend to use that shed as a little pot-smoking hideaway.

One night Stanley brings a homeless junkie named Hubert home from the local diner where he and his friends hang out. He took sympathy on the old man's sob story, which will eventually be his and Paul's undoing. Hubert may be hooked on dope, but he certainly isn't one. He twigs to what's going on in the house pretty quickly and blackmails the two hoodlums for a place to sleep and three squares a day. Not a totally unreasonable request, at the end of the day.

Things start to get out of control when Stanley brings home the daughter of the diner owner and two other friends to get high and make out in the shed. It's all going very well until she tries to get in his pants. We already know from a previous romantic interlude gone tits-up in entirely the wrong way how this is going to turn out. You see, Paul and Stanley's relationship is even weirder than it looks at first. Not only are they wanted criminals posing as aunt and nephew, not only is one of them a dreadfully unconvincing cross-dresser; they're also a closeted, self-loathing, emotionally abusive May/September gay couple who may or may not actually be physical lovers. Stanley certainly likes being around women, and has no problem smooching on them some, but when things start to go south he loses his shit, as if spiders suddenly started crawling all over his dick.

After Stanley flips out on her, she starts to suspect there's more going on around the house than meets the eye and starts snooping. Hubert discovers her first an warns her that she's putting herself in danger. Sure enough, Paul overhears the conversation and follows her out to the shed where he kills her with a shovel.

Hubert doesn't know exactly what happened to the girl, but he's starting to get the idea the longer he sticks around these to wackos the more danger he'll be in himself, so he decides one day while the boys are out of the house to grab that mysterious chest Paul looks after so carefully and get the hell out of there. Paul and Stanley arrive just in time to see Hubert trying to escape with their loot and catch him as he's halfway out the door, which unfortunately coincides with Mrs. Adams bringing Stanley a birthday cake as repayment for the kindness and friendship he'd been showing her daughter of late. Things escalate quickly to include murder, suicide, and a misguided amateur C-section. I'll leave it at that and let you see for yourself, and you really, really should. Where else are you going to see one of the world's first gay relationship dramas dressed up as a crime thriller masquerading as a psychotronic grindhouse horror movie?

When you've seen enough of them, you can start to tell Florida exploitation movies apart from the rest of them. Maybe it's the humidity or something else in the air down there causing a chemical reaction with the film unique to the area, but the look of the film and the weird tint to all the colors look different from movies coming out of any other region at the time. The original print of Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things is missing and presumed lost to the ages, so the Vinegar Syndrome DVD is cleaned up from a print, but it still looks astonishingly good for a movie of this type and vintage. The only problem with that is the exhibitor who had the print to begin with seems to have gotten squeamish and cut some stuff out. There's a really awkward edit during the C-section scene that suggests it almost certainly went all the way with the gore effect, and I have a feeling it would have been incredibly disturbing. Maybe some day the negative or a more complete print will turn up and we can see this one in all its icky glory.

The performances are solid all around, especially the two leads. This is the only screen credit for Abe Zwick, which is almost certainly a pseudonym, and that is a damn shame because he's great and could have been a huge exploitation star. He displays a perfectly controlled scenery-chewing lunacy that at first looks like he's completely out of control, but the more you watch it, there are moments of restraint that make it obvious he knows exactly what he's doing at all times and it's a level of talent that's always a pleasant surprise to see in a movie like this. He could have been the Jeffrey Combs of Floridian 70's sleaze. Don Craig as Hubert actually could have used a little less restraint. He's supposed to be a junkie whose habit is so bad it cost him his job, his home, his family, and yet he delivers his lines like he's used to doing Shakespeare in the park.

The flick also features Brad Grinter of Blood Freak fame and William Kerwin of a whole bunch of H.G. Lewis movies fame, in small roles. The Florida movie scene was similar to the Norwegian black metal scene, always swapping members from existing bands to create new ones. Someone may direct one movie, then go be a grip on another movie being made by a friend, and then they both go and do lighting work for another guy. William Grefe and just about everybody else from the Florida exploitation market also did second unit work on the James Bond movie Thunderball!

This type of movie definitely isn't for everyone, but if you're reading this page already, it probably is for you. If you like to dig around at the bottom of the cinematic barrel and see what slimy surprises you can find, give Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things a look. It stands out from the Florida drive-in pack through the quality of its performances, and is such a strange melange of themes and moods and set pieces and weirdo characters, it's one you really need to experience for yourself because there's nothing else quite like it.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Transformations (1988)

Written by: Mitch Brian
Directed by: Jay Kamen
Starring:
Lisa Langlois as Miranda
Rex Smith as Wolf Shadduck
Patrick Macnee as Father Cristopher
Christopher Neame as Calihan

On June 5, 1981, the CDC published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describing several cases of a rare lung infection called Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in otherwise healthy young gay men. The men also had other uncommon infections as well. The evidence led officials to believe something had caused the men's immune systems to shut down. It wasn't until September of 1982 that the disease, until then referred to as GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, became known as AIDS. By December of that year, an infant was found to have contracted the disease through a blood transfusion and it became clear that the problem was not isolated in the gay community.

By 1988, the global battle against this nightmare disease was in full swing. U.S. Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop launched the first coordinated HIV/AIDS education campaign by mailing more than a hundred million copies of a booklet called Understanding Aids to American households, while the FDA announced that it would allow the importation of small amounts of some unapproved drugs for people with HIV/AIDS. World AIDS Day was designated by the World Health Organization and supported by the UN.

Not one to shirk his duty as an advocate for major world issues and humanitarian crises (he was, after all, the leading [and only] activist brave enough to tackle the issue of people's toys coming to life and killing their owners), Charles Band joined the fight by commissioning a script for a cheap, shitty space AIDS movie to be shot in Italy for what would barely be enough money to buy a decent house in many parts of the country.

Wolf Shadduck is a space trucker, flying a hold full of cargo from Dafuqknows to Nunnayobiznis when...something happens. It's a little hard to figure out on first watch, because the movie was re-edited and completed by a third party releasing company many years after shooting had wrapped when the IRS seized Empire Pictures' assets for back taxes owed and the company went bankrupt. The company spliced in some space ship footage borrowed from Roger Corman, and extended many of the scenes to pad the movie out to 84 minutes. We see what appears to be another ship approaching, and then a shot inside the ship of a slime-covered creature in a tattered uniform walking somewhere with great purpose, implying that the second ship is heading for Wolf's ship, piloted by a monster, with the intention of boarding him. It then appears to him as a very 80's looking woman, who proceeds to boink him silly, turning briefly back into a monster while riding him but his eyes are closed so he doesn't notice.

What actually happened is that the company who finished the movie cared even less about it than the Empire Pictures producers did, and couldn't be bothered to make sure the spaceship footage matched. There is only ever one ship, and the shots of the stalking slime-glopola monster is duplicated from a scene at the end of the movie just so the audience gets a monster right off the bat, because otherwise there's no monster until the last five minutes. We will find out later that things are, in fact, a whole lot sillier than we previously suspected.

Wolf's autopilot brings him down on a prison planet where the prisoners serve their time working a colossal strip-mining operation, overseen by a minimal staff backed up by a force of genetically engineered synthetic soldiers who serve as guards. A large staff isn't required because the massive equipment used to essentially peel an entire planet like an onion gives off such an intense electromagnetic field that any ship entering the atmosphere while it's operating will short out and crash. Supply ships are scheduled to arrive during maintenance shutdowns so they can make planetfall safely. Notice I said his ship brought him down, not landed him gently.

The crash has left Wolf with some fairly serious injuries. He regains consciousness in the infirmary under the care of Miranda, the sole medical professional on the entire planet (and really, she's not even a professional – she was born to one of the prisoners despite them all being sterilized, so the colony's real doctor took her in and raised her and taught her all he knew before dying). Before long, he's wandering around outside the infirmary against strict orders and hate-fucking prostitutes to death at the behest of the space AIDS lurking inside his festering space scrotum, at the same time that a supply ship has entered orbit for a scheduled shutdown and a small band of prisoners are planning to escape by stealing Wolf's ship.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Father Christopher, the prison chaplain, has seen something like this spreading sickness before. He encountered it on a space station he worked on decades ago, and it nearly cost him his life and his faith. You see, Wolf wasn't infected by a creature boarding his ship, as the confusingly edited opening scenes suggest. It was no space creature at all. It was, in fact, a literal demon from literal hell; a succubus intent on destroying the souls of everyone on the planet by spreading its perversity and covering everyone in pus. Kidnapping Wolf and stranding yourself in space with him is starting to look like sort of a poor decision now, huh, wannabe escapees?

According to director Jay Kamen, who seems to consider the production of this movie the worst experience of his entire life, the version of the movie available on video today bears almost no resemblance to his final cut of the movie, which was presumably destroyed when the Charles Band's Empire ended as most empires do; with the tax collectors knocking on the door. Clocking in at an already lean 84 minutes, it's a good ten minutes longer than his version (which also included a fucking musical number!) because they extended the end of almost every scene by a few seconds just to pad the movie out further. It's something that I didn't really notice until the second watch with his amusingly bewildered commentary track, but once you know what to look for it's obvious where the sloppy edits were made. Despite the fact that neither Kamen or his moderator like horror or science fiction movies or know anything about them, that commentary is worth listening to for all the gems he has to tell about the production, like how Band somehow finagled to rent Dino de Laurentiis's studio for the shoot at such a low price that Dino became enraged at how little money he was getting and completely gutted the heating and air conditioning systems before turning the building over to Band.

The performances range from perfectly profession and competent in the face of the ridiculous material (Langlois, Macnee), to what-the-fuck-were-they-thinking (mostly the dubbing crew hired to complete the Italian actors' unfinished dialog), and the effects lifted from Corman are nifty. When we finally do get the monster payoff at the end (in one of the most egregious cases of, “That doesn't look like the poster!” in film history), it looks like the FX crew somehow got a mold of the creature mask from Blood Freak and covered it in KY jelly and scraps of lunch meat.

Despite the movie gods doing their very best to smite this flick from the hearts and minds of men, here it is almost thirty years later, looking quite smashing in high definition for all its impoverishments. It's cheap and sleazy and dumb, and there's a lot of fun to be had with it. Oh, and if you were wondering, the cure for being turned into a turkey monster sex demon from outer space is being shot in the face with a flamethrower. And true love. Look, just go watch the movie.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Death Machine (1994)


Written by: Stephen Norrington
Directed by: Stephen Norrington
Starring:
Brad Dourif as Jack Dante
Ely Pouget as Hayden Cale
John Sharian as Raimi
William Hootkins as Carpenter

Everyone wants to be a director. The actors, the producers, the writers, the grips and gaffers and doughnut runners from craft services; everyone thinks they can make a movie. Special effects artists are no different. Most of the directorial efforts by special effects artists tend to suggest that they're probably very good at designing special effects. Only a small handful of them have turned out to be really great: Pumpkinhead; Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead remake; To Catch A Yeti. Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get my point. It's a short list, and among those honorable few is tonight's movie.

Stephen Norrington worked on the creature effects for quite an astonishing array of great movies, including Aliens, Alien3, Hardware, Young Sherlock Holmes, and one of my personal favorite movies ever, Split Second. After tonight's feature, he went on to direct the first Blade, and, unfortunately, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which seems to have ended his directing career. Which is a damn shame, because he showed a tremendous amount of promise as a filmmaker.

The Chaank Corporation, which specializes in military hardware and defense contracting, has been having difficulties keeping their shareholders happy lately. Stock prices keep dropping, despite the rollout of an exciting new project called Hard Man. Hard Man is one of those super-soldier programs wherein war vets who have sustained catastrophic brain damage have their memories wiped and are placed into powered armor exo-skeletons. The project has, however, gone over about as well as New Coke because the test subjects keep breaking out of the lab, causing enormous amounts of property damage, and killing innocent civilians.

Along with the public outcry over the Hard Man disasters, Chaank has also been experiencing a great deal of tumult within the company. Hard Man has been headed up by Chaank's resident mad scientist, Jack Dante, and every time someone confronts him about the project's failure, they've wound up scattered all over Chaank HQ in little pieces. Rumor has it he's been working on another project deep within the lowest levels of the R&D department, where he also lives in his weird little cyberpunk lair. It's something called a “frontline morale destroyer”, and the top brass have a feeling he's been letting it loose in the building after hours. They've brought in a corporate investigator named Hayden Cale to look into both the Hard Man failures as well as the internal killings. They're all too afraid to address the problem themselves, so they figure someone from the outside might be able to get the job done and save all their skins for them.

Cale calls for full public disclosure and the immediate termination of Dante. She goes about trying to lock him out of all the company's systems at the same time a group of activists break into the building to steal all of Chaank's private files and expose them. The group, led by Sam Raimi (yes, this is one of those movies, but it's at least a little bit clever about it – more on that later), take everyone hostage at first. It's not long before Dante escapes into his lab and sets the Warbeast loose, and their only hope for survival may be the very thing the activists came to put an end to: the malfunctioning Hard Man armor.

As I said before, this is one of those movies where all the characters are named after cult horror icons who influenced or inspired the filmmakers. However, Norrington actually makes clever use of some of his nudge-winkery. There's a scene late in the movie when Raimi fires a missile at the Warbeast, and the camera follows along hot on the projectile's exhaust trail in a shot very reminiscent of the POV shots of the evil in Evil Dead. The script is generally quite clever and blackly funny. There's some solid corporate satire stuff that manages to stand on its own two feet and not just feel like a poor man's Robo-Cop, and in the extended version currently available on YouTube, Cale gets some extra back story that her husband left her because she was giving their baby a bath in the sink and accidentally ground its arm off in the garbage disposal. Horrifying, I know, but it almost feels like it's being played for appalled laughter rather than straight up shock.

The performances are excellent across the board. Hammy where appropriate, but in a controlled and intentional way that adds to the humor. When Raimi gets strapped into the Hard Man unit and it takes control of his brain, he begins screaming all of his dialog at the top of his lungs and it's an amusing touch that they took what should be the big badass hero of the movie and made him an over-the-top shouty doofus instead. It's not surprising, considering this flick has quite the roster of character actors. Raimi is played by John Sharian, who had small parts in lots of big movies like Fifth Element and Saving Private Ryan, but he's most recognizable to us Smeg Heads as alternate Lister in the Red Dwarf episode “Back to Reality.” John Carpenter is played by the delightfully named William Hootkins, who also appeared in lots of big movies like Batman and Raiders of the Lost Ark. It also features Richard Brake, who played the ambulance driver who says, “Fuck” about five hundred times before dying in Rob Zombie's Halloween 2, and is currently the Night King on Game of Thrones, as well as being the first feature film appearance of Rachel Weisz.

Of course, the real star of the show is Brad Dourif, who is in full-on cranked-up-to-11 crazy mode here and absolutely owns every frame he appears in. I'd rather meet him in a dark alley as Charles Lee Ray than Jack Dante, honestly. Dude is bonkers.

Death Machine was a UK/Japanese co-production, and even though the only connection seems to be monetary and there's nary a Japanese name in the crew, the miniature effects shots and indeed the whole aesthetic of the movie is a lot like a Japanese sci-fi movie from the late 80's/early 90's like Gunhed or Zeiram. The Warbeast itself is awesome. It's sort of a giant metal dinosaur with Cuisinarts for hands and a three-foot hydraulic powered bear trap for a head.

This one is definitely worth your time to check out. It's a great action/horror/sci-fi genre blender and comes highly recommended by yours gruesomely. Sadly it hasn't gotten the Blu ray special edition treatment yet (and I'll damn well be the first in the checkout line when it does), but the extended cut on YouTube isn't bad as VHS rips go and hey, it won't cost you anything.