Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Escape from the Insane Asylum (1986)

...aka: Night of Horror

Directed by:
Felix Girard

Wealthy, sane Chris Nilsen (Renee Harmon) is being held in a loony bin against her will. Her unfaithful husband Alex (Henry Lewis) and his evil associate Dr. Seymour Harper (Frank Neuhaus), are basically keeping her prisoner there so they can use her money to fund their experiments, which involve unorthodox brain operations on the mentally retarded. Chris' attorney manages to get her out and she rents a country home owned by her former doctor. She's quickly befriended by Harper's wife Ellen (Lynn Whitmire) and it's revealed the home's previous occupant, Inez (Susette Andres), was the husband's former mistress, whom he murdered. It doesn't take long for Chris to start hearing and seeing things, some of which have been planted there by her husband and Harper specifically to drive her bonkers. But I doubt they'd have bothered wasting their time if they knew the place actually already was haunted. A rocking chair rocks by itself, footsteps, voices and sounds of someone cooking are heard, broken dishes disappear off the floor and eventually Chris sees transparent, ghostly visions of Inez, who's hanging out in limbo until she gets justice for her murder.

Just when you don't think it can get any more complicated, a nutter named Paul Peterson (Steven Neuhardt) slashes an orderlies neck, escapes from the asylum and is lurking around the house wearing a black hood. Paul's mother Celeste (Arline Specht) just so happens to be a powerful psychic who helps Chris find out what's going on with help from a ouija board and her friendly ancient spirit guide Julian (!?) If that's not enough for ya, Chris' teenage stepdaughter Becky (Lauren Brent) and her army of big-haired friends go to a party where a New Wave band performs, all try to squeeze into a small hot tub and plan to visit a reputably haunted old farmhouse. Despite some unintentional laughs here and there, especially the opening asylum scenes full of cliched nuttish behavior, it's mostly just dull, inept and confusing. The acting's pretty awful, the story's all over the place and it's mostly just talk and very, very tame. Even the skeleton prop dummy at the end doesn't help alleviate the boredom.

Released in Australia on the Palace Explosive Video label, this extremely obscure shot-on-video effort is noteworthy mainly for the campy presence of Renee Harmon, who speaks in a thick German accent and has some of the strangest and most stilted line delivery in history. Not only an actress, acting and screenwriting teacher and author of five movie-oriented books, Ms. Harmon (who passed away in 2006) also produced and/or wrote a handful of her own starring vehicles throughout the 70s and 80s, including FROZEN SCREAM (1975), LADY STREET FIGHTER (1978; released 1980), THE EXECUTIONER PART II (1984), HELL RIDERS (1984) and the still-unreleaed JUNGLE TRAP (1986). This is another one she both wrote and produced... None too well on any count.

NO STARS!

Escapes (1986)

Directed by:
David Steensland

Young Matthew (Todd Fulton) receives a mysterious videotape in the mail titled, you guessed it, ESCAPES. Hey, it stars Vincent Price, he figures, so how bad can it possibly be? As it turns out, pretty damn bad. A camera goes through a long corridor with plaster people protruding from the walls and ends up focusing on Mr. Price sitting at a table. He informs us we're about to see six tales of the supernatural and then we're off. "A Little Fishy" concerns a man who goes from fishing to being fished. Not. Clever. "Coffee Break" concerns an obnoxious delivery boy (Michael Patton-Hall) who gets lost on some back roads around a tiny town called Harmony; population 29. When he stops to ask an old man (John Mitchum) for directions, he's told to stop at a diner on his way out for a cup of coffee. The delivery guy refuses and notices that no matter which road he takes he always ends up back at the same place... "Who's There" is about a man (Ken Thorley) who encounters playful ape monsters while out jogging through the woods. Next up is "Jonah's Dream," which ironically gave me a little escape of my own last night when I fell asleep trying to watch it.

After some much-needed shut eye, I decided to go ahead and finish. Hey, maybe I was just too grumpy and tired last night to find something to appeciate here. Turns out I was wrong... There actually is nothing to appreciate here. "Jonah's Dream" - the tale of a widowed, financially-strapped gold prospector's wife (Shirley O'Key) who finds some spaceship in a abandoned mine - was just as dull as what had preceeded it. "Think Twice," which involves a big city bum (Gil Reade) finding a magical, red-glowing crystal that helps him get revenge on a mugger (Rocky Capella), is strictly ho-hum. Things wrap up with "Hall of Faces," which tells the fate of Matthew and "The Mailman" (Price). Here we finally, get an imaginative twist that doesn't come off like third rate imitation of a Twilight Zone episode, but it's too little, too late.

The five tales sandwiched in the middle (which were used as program filled on both HBO and the Sci-Fi Channel while they were still in their infancy) and the linking footage run just 69 minutes. For the record, I did not see the "director's cut" which apparently adds sixteen minutes of new footage. Supposedly Price was paid 10 thousand dollars for his participation in this, so hopefully he was able to put that to good use.

★1/2

La rebelión de las muertas (1972)

... aka: Rebellion of the Dead
... aka: Rebellion of the Dead Women
... aka: Revolt of the Dead Ones
... aka: Vengeance of the Zombies
... aka: Walk of the Dead

Directed by:
León Klimovsky

Oh, Paul Naschy. I like ya and everything, but sometimes you just bite off more than you can chew. Here we have the bones of a fine little voodoo / zombie exploitation movie, with a handful of well-directed and surprisingly potent shock scenes, some of the brightest, most amusingly gaudy colors this side of H.G. Lewis and just enough blood and nudity to please the target audience (Eurotrash enthusiasts). But it really could have been so much better and at the end of the day the debits mainly fall into Mr. Naschy's corner... and I'm not just talking about him being hilariously cast as an East Indian mystic wearing a bad wig under his turban, either. That I can actually live with. What I couldn't deal with is the unfocused and woefully convoluted screenplay provided to us by the star/writer. An irritatingly inappropriate score provided by Juan Carlos Calderón certainly doesn't help matters.

In London, a masked, caped serial killer is on the loose and his female victims don't seem to stay dead for very long. After her father is hung, another relative is axed in the face and zombified cousin Gloria (Norma Kastel) attacks her in her bedroom one night, Elvire Irving (Romy) comes to the conclusion it's probably best to hop a train and split town a.s.a.p. While a male acquaintance, Lawrence Redgrave ("Vic Winner"/ Víctor Alcázar), stays to assist Scotland Yard detectives Hawkins (Antonio Pica) and Basehart (Ramón Lillo), Elvire decides to go stay in a country home owned by Krisna (Naschy), a peaceful Hindu mystic whose teachings she's recently become infatuated with. Also living there are black chaffeur Ti Zachary (Pierre Besari), maids Elsie (Maria Kosty) and Susan (Elsa Zabala) and Krisna's assistant and lover Kala (Catherine Zeta Jones look-a-like Mirta Miller), who feels threatened by the new woman in the house.

It is eventually revealed that the psycho who's running around London killing people is Krisna's brother, Katanka (also played by Naschy). Katanka raped and murdered a woman in India, was hunted down by some visiting Brits and then was torched in his home. Now with a burned face, Katanka wants revenge against those who tried to kill him by turning the family's most beautiful daughters into zombies that help assist him in killing the others. He also utilizes wax voodoo dolls to control people or make them kill themselves. There are too many incidental characters and the film just plods along from one incoherent scene to the next until deciding to finally start making sense an hour plus into the movie.

But it's all very vividly photographed (by Francisco Sánchez) and there are some great scenes in here that make it worth watching. My favorite bit is a nightmare sequence where Elvire envisions herself as sacrifice during a black mass ritual complete with a chicken getting its head cut off, zombies rising from their coffins and a horned Satan (Naschy once again). There's also a great scene where a train station worker (Luis Ciges) is forced to cut his own throat and a memorable decaptitation. The zombie make-up is more in line with pale voodoo zombies instead of the rotting zombies we normally see today. Also in the cast are Aurora de Alba (the vampire woman from FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR) as a nude victim / future muerta and Montserrat Julió and Fernando Sánchez Polack as grave robbers.

Released in a cut version several times on VHS (through All Seasons Entertainment, Vogue Video, etc.), the uncensored DVD release from Deimos (a beautiful print of the film which comes with an intro from Naschy and other cool features) is pretty much the only way to go now.

★★
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