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.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Breeders (1986)

... aka: Killer Alien

Directed by:
Tim Kincaid


New York City virgins (yes, New York City virgins) are being beaten and sexually assulted. The victims are rushed off to "Manhattan General Hospital" where Dr. Gamble Pace (Teresa Farley) notices they're behaving strangely and healing rather quickly. Then the ladies - in a trance-like state - start wandering off. Gamble, along with investigating detective Dale Andriotti (Lance Lewman) decide to get to the bottom of things. The two discover that an alien life form capable of inhabiting human hosts is out to knock up Earth women. Why? Uhh, I'm pretty sure they mentioned it at some point, and pretty sure it involved producing alien spawn to prep for a planet takeover, but the only thing I'm absolutely sure about is that I watched this thing just two days ago and hell if I can remember. Things do culminate in a memorably tasteless sequence where all of the ravaged females take an otherworldly spunk-bath in an alien nest (located in an abandoned subway tunnel) before getting group electrocuted.


BREEDERS is far from a good movie. Actually, it's pretty awful. There's almost no plot to speak of, the dialogue is often howling bad and most of the acting is wooden (some of the actors even trip over their lines). There are, however, plenty of highly variable make-up effects courtesy of Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated effects artist Ed French, including a very gory scene where a man's chest puffs, bubbles and bleeds, several different alien looks (a one-eyed mutant alien offspring and a bug-like alien with large silver eyes) and other fun / cheap fx stuff. There's also good-looking cast and loads of T&A provided by five different actresses. It also doesn't drag on as it clocks in at just 77 minutes. Many fans of 80's trash are likely to get some enjoyment out of this mess.


Director Kincaid had, as "Joe Gage," already made a name for himself in the late 70s / early 80s adult industry with his acclaimed "Working Man" trilogy; films which were novel for both dealing seriously with same-sex relationships and for the casting of masculine men. Apparently, after Charles Band [the uncredited executive producer] saw Kincaid's previous film, the women-in-prison exploiter BAD GIRLS DORMITORY (1984), he decided to finance further projects from the director, which lead to this, ROBOT HOLOCAUST (1986) and MUTANT HUNT (1987). All were released on the Empire label and were Wizard VHS release. After these and a few more releases, Kincaid returned to gay porn and continues in that arena to this day.


The film has many familiar faces if you've seen your fair share of 80s exploitation. Several of the virgins I'd seen in other films; usually ones shot in or near the NYC area. Frances Raines, who plays coke-snorting model Karinsa and treats viewers to a completely gratuitous nude aerobics prior to getting attacked (drug use and exhibitionism... hallmarks of an unsullied maiden!), had previously been in the slasher flicks THE MUTILATOR (1982) and DISCONNECTED (1983). Amy Brentano, who plays fashion photographer Gail, was the female lead in the haunted whorehouse flick BLOOD SISTERS (1986). LeeAnne Baker, a cute, short-haired blonde who portrays nurse Kathleen and is probably the most promising actual actress in this crop of babes, had a funny one-scene bit in PSYCHOS IN LOVE (1986) and got to headline her own genre film (playing a 300-year-old, six-breasted witch in 1987's NECROPOLIS) before throwing in the towel on film acting in the late 80s. Matt Mitler, who appeared with Raines in the aforementioned Mutilator and also had roles in DEAD TIME STORIES (1985), BASKET CASE 2 (1990) and others, is in just one scene.


As far as lead actress Farley is concerned, it's nice seeing a black actress in a lead role in an 80s horror film and she's absolutely gorgeous to look at despite sporting some helmet-like 80s hair, but her habit of blankly staring off-screen (presumably to cue cards containing dialogue such as "It's a case like this that make me want to kill every man ever born!") gets on one's nerves. Make-up man French also has a decent-sized supporting role here as a doctor, though it's made pretty clear that his true talents lie elsewhere.


The film has been released multiple times on video and on DVD (MGM distributing the latter), so it's not difficult at all to find... just don't confuse it with the other BREEDERS (1995), a British film boasting a nearly identical premise.

★1/2

Monday, July 18, 2011

Serpiente de mar (1984)

... aka: Hydra
... aka: Hydra - Monster of the Deep
... aka: Monster of the Deep
... aka: Sea Serpent, The

Directed by:
Amando de Ossorio


I would say that this seems to have time warped in from the 1950s, but I don't want to insult the far superior giant monster films from the 1950s in the process. An American military plane is having issues with their bomb mechanism. To try to prevent those pesky Russkies from getting their mitts on the top secret weapon, they're instructed to simply drop the bomb into the ocean and go on their merry way. After doing so, the atomic blast awakens a vicious sea beast that appears to be taking a nap on the ocean floor before it's revived. Soon after, local fisherman in a nearby Spanish fishing village have been reporting that most of the fish in the area seem to either be dead or have a strange, radioactive glow.

One of the boat owners gets desperate enough to hire Captain Pedro Fontán (Timothy Bottoms) - a recovering alcoholic with a not-so-great reputation - to take a crew out to sea to try their luck. On their trip, the boat is attacked by the monster. It sinks the boat and several men get gobbled up. Pedro, along with his first mate Lemaris (Jared Martin) and a few others make it back to safety in a lifeboat. Unfortunately for Pedro, Lemaris harbors a long-standing grudge against him because he blames him for his brother's death during a shipwreck. Lemaris denies the presense of the sea monster and gets the others to follow suit. During a trial, Pedro loses his captain's license and is set to go to court facing criminal negligence charges. Things aren't much better for Margaret Roberts (Taryn Power), who witnesses her drunken friend Jill (Carole James) get eaten alive by the beast. No one believes her either and she's locked up in a Portuguese nuthouse.

Some time passes and Pedro (now on the run from the authorities) somehow learns of Margaret's ordeal and goes to Lisbon to help her escape from the asylum. The two hide out in the area while plotting to prove the existence of the beast. They meet up with cranky but helpful marine biologist Timothy Wallace (Ray Milland), who believes their story and wants to help. Learning of another suvivor of a similar attack, the trio rush to a hospital, but they're too late. The man has already been smothered to death by a pillow by his irate boss (Jack Taylor)! Lemaris also shows up in the area hoping to hunt down Pedro and get revenge. Instead, he bears witness to a night watchman (Víctor Israel) getting set on fire and then eaten by the monster, which prompts a change of heart. Strangely, Lemaris acts like he didn't see the monster earlier in the movie as it attacked and killer several of his buddies, but oh well. Things lead up to an exciting (not!) finale where our heroes toss molotov cocktails at the monster from the sidelines and then... simply let it swim off to safety, without even informing the authorities OR proving its existence to anyone else. Uhhh...

Director Amando de Ossorio (credited as "Gregory Greens" in the anglacized credits) has a decent reputation in horror circles because of his sometimes-admired (but in my opinion, overrated) Blind Dead series. He had also made FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) with Anita Ekberg, THE LORELEY'S GRASP (1973; which also involved a sea beast, but this time a sexy one played by Helga Line), NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS (1973), DEMON WITCH CHILD (1974) and others. This is by far the crappiest thing I've seen from him. Don't get me wrong, some of the other films listed above are also duds, but they're not outright incompetent. SERPIENTE DEL MAR is, and it skims by almost entirely on unintentional laughs.

One of the big problems is that the film is horribly paced. The film just torpedoes ahead, totally skipping over what one would assume should be key plot elements. None of the dialogue is interesting or humorous, the cliche-ridden plotline is utterly void of anything new or fresh, the acting by most is horrid or horridly wooden (though this is likely because of the atrocious - and goofy! - English-language dubbing), the musical score is an annoying, by-the-numbers cloning of John Williams' famous JAWS theme and by the time the film is over, one gets the impression they ran out of time or money or both to come up with a satisfactory conclusion. There's nothing worse than a film leading up to something, only to have that something be nothing.

The special effects are the sole saving grace of the film. Don't get me wrong, they too are awful, but they're also kind of cute and oddly entertaining to watch, anyway. The sea monster, designed to look like a giant snake, is laughably visualized with giant ping pong ball eyes and what appears to be wings. It has also been aptly described as looking like a giant sock puppet by many viewers. The fx team created both miniature models (used when the monster destroys large structures or transports) and a scale model (used for close-ups of the the cast thrashing inside to simulate being eaten). Over the course of the movie, the monster destroys several boats, a lighthouse, a helicopter (it headbutts it, making it flip over and explode) and a bridge. It even almost blows itself up at the very end when a train's last car (marked "ARAL"... and why no caboose?) comes loose, falls into the water and blows up. And yet our "overgrown worm" lives to see another day, anyway.

Showing up briefly in the film are Gérard Tichy (from Bava's HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON and many others), Charly Bravo, José Canalejas, Pilar Alcón and Bernabe Barta Barri. Director León Klimovsky (who had made some very enjoyable Euro-horrors back in the 1970s and really has a much better track record than de Ossorio, though he's not as well-known) also appears briefly as a doctor.

It has been released several times on VHS in the U.S. (the first issuing was from Lightning Video), but there's no DVD release as of yet. The original release title of this Spanish / U.S. co-production was SERPIENTE DEL MAR, which basically means "The Evil Snake." In America, we get the uber-generic title THE SEA SERPENT. It was also released as HYDRA: MONSTER OF THE DEEP and under other titles. By any name, it's pretty bad but enjoyable for a generous smattering of unintended laughs.

1/2 SBIG

Hua pi (1966)

... aka: Painted Skin, The

Directed by:
Fong Pao


In this slow and somewhat typical, though worthwhile Japanese ghost tale, you'll find solid storytelling, good acting, several good horror sequences and a strong moral to the story. Actually several morals to this particularl story. During a pleasant framing sequence that bookends the actual tale, modest writer and "collector of weird tales" Mr. Pu (Sek Lui) has just finished his latest manuscript "The Tales from Liao Chai;" which is a huge success with those in the village. His doctor friend shows up at his home with the good news that he's become famous and the two men, along with a servant boy, sit down for some wine. The doctor then tells him a ghost story he's just heard; one that he hopes his friend will consider writing, which is then visualized for us.

The story deals with Chun-wen Wong (Kao Yuen), a well-off man who lives in a nice home with his mother (Tung Ngai), brother (Maan Saan), wife (Chen Juan-Juan), young son and some servants. The family is well-off, but Chun-wen, a scholar and budding writer, has still been failing his exams and can gain no legitimate title despite having all the enthusiasm in the world. His problem? He depends far too much (and spends way too much) on fortune-telling and horoscope readings than he does actually studying. In other words, he wants wealth and success without actually having to work hard for it. His brother, a successful militaryman with political aspirations, is about to go away on duty, but warns his brother before he leaves that he can only rely on himself, not faith or Gods or spirits. A traveling fortune teller informs Chun-wen to go to the northwest of the village to the crumbling Kuei Hsing Ko Temple of Literature. There, he prays to a goblin-looking idol and promises that he'll rebuild the crumbling temple if he's granted the good fortune of passing his exams.

Immediately afterward, Chun-wen encounters Mei-hiang Chang (Zhu Hong), a beautiful, weeping woman dressed in white hiding out in the rubble. She runs off, but later shows up at Chun-wen's home. She claims she's from an area over a thousand miles away and ran away on her wedding night after her evil stepmother set her up in an arranged marriage with an ugly merchant. She also claims she's trying to locate her father, who's the Provincial Education Officer in charge of the rural examinations... the same one Chun-wen is having an impossible time passing. Chun-wen, who locks himself in a gated garden house away from his family for his one-month period of study, allows Mei-hiang to stay there for a month in agreeance that she'll pull strings to help him pass. It isn't long before Mei-hiang successfully seduces Chun-wen. He begins to ignore his family, becomes pale, weak and sickly, and rapidly loses weight. That's because the mysterious lady is actually some kind of ghostly, seductive succbus bent on getting her hands on her new lover's heart.

Mei-hiang claims to be oblivious to the fact that Chun-wen is married and has his own family. When she "finds out" he is, she threatens suicide, claims he "ruined" her (i.e. took her virginity), then tries to force him to chose between his wife and her. A weakened Chun-wun is almost coerced at one point into poisoning his wife's tea with arsenic, but Chun-wen slaps the cup out of her hand at the last minute. After her plans there fail, Mei-hiang uses her supernatural powers to lure a male servant into the wife's bed; arranging for Chun-wen to see them sleeping together. Though the wife and servant both proclaim their innocence, Chun-wen throws her out and plans to marry Mie-hiang. The wife attempts to hang herself out in the woods, but her brother-in-law stumbles onto the scene just in time to save her. He goes home and does a hilariously out-of-nowhere effortless leap over a ten-foot wall and then attempts to stop Mie-hiang before she is able to destroy the entire family.

Like many other vintage Japanese ghost tales, the one's about 75 percent melodrama and 25 percent horror, and it isn't really going to appeal to certain viewers out there. However, if you don't mind a slow build-up, this film does repay us for our patience by coming up with some great off-the-wall moments at the finale. There's a great sequence where the witchy Mei-hiang lures the sleepwalking servant into the wife's bed, as doors and curtains open and close by themselves along the way. When Chun-wen and his brother see Mie-hiang's true self they see a hideous, wrinkly, blue-faced, fanged old woman, who uses a painting to create her beauty. After she is sliced in the face, she simply covers up the wound on the painting and returns to "normal." During another standout sequence, Mie-hiang (in ugly form) sprays a stream of blood out of her mouth to knock a sword off of the wall, then rips out a human heart with her claws. Good use is also made of shadow throughout the film.

While I did see a haggard print of this rare film (which at least had English subs), it doesn't seem like it would be quite as visually opulent as some others in its category even in restored form, though I could be wrong. The story is also quite set bound, with the majority taking place in just one home. What is recommendable and commendable here is the nicely-turned script and fine acting. The actress playing Mie-hiang seems to be having a great time playing her deliciously evil role. The framing sequences are also nicely done, with writer Mr. Pu finding the relevance and philosophy in the ghost tale: "We have never seen a ghost, but there are people around us who behave like 'ghosts.' They fool people with their good looks. Careless ones will be devoured by them. Keep alert to keep away from them."

I'm not aware of an official VHS or R1 DVD release for this one.

★★★

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hackers, The (1988)

Directed by:
John Duncan


This no-budget, homemade, shot-on-video effort from the backwoods of Michigan (the Croswell and Lexington areas to be exact) is one of the rarest of the 80s VHS releases I've seen thus far. When trying to determine just how rare one of these things actually are, I typically look at three factors. The first is the amount of reviews and votes over on IMDb. If a film has fewer than 50 votes and just one or two reviews, it's typically pretty hard to come by. This one currently has no reviews and fewer than five votes. Well actually, the database doesn't bother registering fewer than 5, so it's hard to tell if thing has received even a single vote. Secondly, I look at the distributor. This film was apparently self-distributed by its own production company; Camelot Studios, who claim to have moved just 3,000 copies of the film during the VHS era. Finally, I do a google image search looking for posters or VHS / DVD covers. This film brought up just a few tiny images of the original VHS box cover, all of which are far too small to use here.

All of above begs the question: Is this film even worth looking for? The only answer I have for that is: It depends entirely on what you're looking for. If you're looking for an undeservedly obscure gem, then look elsewhere. However, if you happen to be a fan of 80s camcorder regional productions and love these things warts and all (or perhaps partially because of the warts), then you'll find a decent amount of home grown goodness to enjoy here. The film is clearly inspired by the first two Texas Chainsaw Massacre films and falls into the ever-popular "hillbilly horror" subgenre, which was popular in the 80s and has resurfaced again in recent years thanks to the popularity of the TCM remake, WRONG TURN and others. So basically, this is an attempt at black comic horror with a killer redneck / white trash family as our lovably scuzzy bad guys.


Elderly, bib-overall-wearin' drifter Eldon (or just "Pa" if you're kin) Hacker (Howard Coburn) heads up this particular clan of whack-jobs, which includes two mentally retarded grown sons. The first is Arnie (Dale Caughel). He's short, wears glasses and a bandana and has shaggy hair. He never grew up quite right cause (as Pa states) "...he didn't eat potatos when he was small." Eldon Junior (Steve Prichard) is the other son. He has a beard and rotten teeth, shakes when he's nervous and wears a silver mask over half his face because he accidentally mangled himself with a chainsaw. He's also mute because as a child he bit off his own tongue. Naturally, all three of these cats are pretty direct copies of the Cook, the Hitchhiker and Leatherface from TCM, but the actors are authentic and well cast in their respective roles. Hell, they're far more believable backwoods psychos types than what you'll find in any of Rob Zombie's films.


The Hackers stars Howard Coburn as Eldon "Pa" Hacker.


Dale Caughel as Arnie Hacker...


Steve Prichard as Eldon Hacker, Junior...


And introducing Michelle Rank as our helmet-haired object o' hick lust Marcie.


The unkempt trio basically drive around in a camouflage truck, taking up odd jobs for the locals here and there, and kill fairly indiscriminately. During the opening sequence, they even slice off a hitchhiker's thumb as they drive by him! Immediately after, they pick up an obnoxious girl (Laura Forbis) wearing headphones and cut her throat. When a couple refuses to pay them for a lousy roofing job they did, they hack them up with a machete. Eldon Junior eats worms during a fishing trip (before they decapitate a fisherman) and they impale a gardener (Bruce Phillips) on a light post and then jams a corn cob in his mouth. By the way, much - but not all - of the gory stuff takes place off-screen. In between killing, Pa takes his boys to a playground where they swing, play on monkey bars, go down the slide and then harass a woman trying to go across a rope bridge.


Our heroine is a writer named Marcie (Michelle Rank), who gets a housesitting gig at her bosses country home for a few weeks. Her sister Angelia (Denise Ferris) doesn't think it's a good idea to go to "redneck country" all by herself and gives her a gun to take along just in case. Apparently her boss had already hired Eldon and sons to fix the roof while they're away and poor Marcie gets stuck dealing with them. She gets annoyed with them for coming inside without knocking and gets even angrier after she catches the sons peeping on her after she gets out of the shower. Pa calls her a "sassy bitch" and blames her for distracted his sons, even going so far as saying she "put a hex" on them. During one scene, the sons are so busy staring that one slices off the other's fingers with a circular saw! The finale (which features use of guns, a machete and a hook), is fairly lively, though it's capped off with one of those annoying 'here we go again' style twists. There are a couple of 'police investigation' scenes of Lt. Badger (James Larsen) and Det. Hall (Dave Hall) trying to apprehend "The Lakeshore Murderer," but thankfully those bits are brief.


Compared to other SOV efforts from this time, this has decent acting from the leads (some of the "victims" on the other hand... whew!), a minimum of flubbed lines, a high enough body count and enough cheap bloody moments to please fans of this stuff. Despite being shot with a camcorder (and featuring some horribly bright exterior long shots), some attention is paid to the camerawork and there are tracking shots, panning shots and point-of-view shots. There's even a silly theme song ("Just slash 'em, bash 'em, trash 'em! Throw another corpse in the pile!"). A few of the scenes are half-baked and seem unfinished. During one of them, one of the sons approaches a woman sunbathing, reaches out and touches her hair and then disappears (?!) Oh well, it's just 71 minutes long, has some regional charm and passes the time easy enough so I'll cut it some slack.


Though the original VHS editions of the film are nearly impossible to find these days, Camelot Studios offer the film on DVD, along with another of their films called BLACK RIVER MONSTER (1986), which I don't think was ever really released. They also sell a limited edition Hackers poster. You can go RIGHT HERE for more information.

★★

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gorgasm (1990)

... aka: Main Force

Directed by:
Hugh Gallagher


Heading off this evening's shot-on-video double feature (to be be concluded with a viewing of the even-more-obscure THE HACKERS) is Draculina magazine publisher Hugh Gallagher's GORGASM. Things begin with a man sitting behind a desk giving a to-camera confessional... "He created us in his own image. Kind of scary, don't you think? I mean, everyone I know is an asshole. I think the world is being governed by a giant asshole." That bright analysis on life is offered up to us by Chase Nicholas (Rik Bullock - who looks sort-of like Clancy Brown), a frustrated, chain-smoking detective who has spent the past two years sitting behind a desk. While some of the more established officers are away on vacation, Chase's hard-nosed female boss (known only as "Sarge" and played with cue-card-reading emotative ability by Paula Hendricks) finally gives him the chance to get out there and "poke around" at an actual crime scene where a man has been tied up and murdered. Someone is obviously targeting guys who are into S&M, as evidenced by the porn tapes "Whip Me, Beat Me, Love Me" and "Sadist's Slave Stable" found at the crime scene. A sex trade ad is also found there, including one for "Gorgasm: The Ultimate Climax." Chase wonders "What kind of people could be into this shit?"


The 'killer' turns out to be a sexy, large-breasted woman named Tara Gross (played by one-hit-wonder Gabriela), who is first seen dancing around topless to a song called "I'm Your Sex Toy" before slashing a guy's throat and licking the bloody knife. Tara is using the Gorgasm ad to lure victims into her clutches, then kills them and empties their bank accounts. She's also deranged enough to sit at home and berate a mannequin. Soon falling into her scheme are Nicole (Paula Gallagher, the director's wife) and Byron (Kevin Patterson), a couple having relationship issues. He wants her to beat him. She confides in her co-worker Connie (Debbie Patterson) that "He's the only guy I know who can get a hard-on watching Friday the 13th movies!" But her friend tells her she should fulfill her man's wishes and kink it up a little bit because her boyfriend likes to wear women's clothes and it isn't that big of a deal. Nicole decides to get a dominatrix outfit, but doesn't get much of a chance to whip Byron into shape because Tara gets to him first. She chops up Byron's face with a weed whacker (?) and then strangles Connie with a cord.


Following clues leads Chase to a classy adult bookstore that charges a 50 cent "browsing fee" (!) and then to an obnoxious smut peddler and publisher (Flint Mitchell), who hands over the mail that's come in from the Gorgasm ad after Chase flashes his badge. He discovers that another schmuck named Bill (Dave Johnson) has answered it, but before Chase can question him, Tara decapitates him with his garage door opener (?!) Hey, at least they tried to be original! Eventually, Sarge hands Chase's case over to one of his co-workers, but Chase (now obsessed with the case) refuses to hand over the information he has acquired and decides to continue investigating on his own. He puts an ad in the trade claiming to want "The Ultimate Climax." After seducing a drunk guy, bashing a wine bottle over his head and have implied necro sex with him, Tara finally answers it...


As a cheapie, videotaped exploitation film, this one pretty much delivers on what is expected of it. There's blood and nudity aplenty, as well as numerous technical guffaws typical of the budget range. Aside from the lead actor (who had previously appeared in the fun zombie flick FLESHEATER [1988], moved up to a small role in Romero's THE DARK HALF [1993] and has more recently had small roles in the genre pics NEW TERMINAL HOTEL [2009] and DEAD ABOVE GROUND [2011]), the acting is awful. However, unlike most other comparable films, the plotline itself isn't too bad and interesting enough to keep you watching. Unfortunately, the actual finale - and horrendous fight choreography contained therein - is laughable. I'm not sure who our lead actress Gabriela is (one source I read claimed she modeled for biker and men's magazines), but whoever she is, she can't act a lick but looks great naked. Proving this to you means I'll probably get flagged for adult content, but I can't always expect you to take my word on these things, can I?


The trip to the adult video store is kind of interesting, too. There we get to see lots of close-ups of posters and VHS boxes for films like FLASH! and THE DRESDEN DIARY (future Scream Queen Michelle Bauer can even be seen on the latter's cover). There's also some beyond-R-rated graphic nudity here, including a full-frontal transsexual on a poster and some grainy home video paddling footage which shows all the gynecological goods. Said footage probably kept this title out of many video stores. Instead, this one was a male order only title upon release. In addition, there's plenty of original rock music. A couple of the songs are OK, but the theme song (by Pearl E. Touch) is ear splittingly annoying.


The director had previously made an ultra-obscure film called DEAD SILENCE (1989), which I can find almost no information on, and followed this one up with two unrelated pseudo-sequels; GOROTICA (1991) and GORE WHORE (1993). He also directed something called EXPLODING ANGEL (1994) starring Gunnar "Leatherface" Hansen and the Debbie Rochon-hosted 'zine DRACULINA VIDEO MAGAZINE (1996), before producing some of Jess Franco's later films for One Shot Productions.

★★

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fatal Pulse (1987)

... aka: Killer's Run

Directed by:
Anthony J. Christopher


Here's a sleazy lil' slasher for ya. Just how sleazy is it? It's so sleazy that if the all-female victims don't happen to be showering or changing clothing seconds before being murdered, the killer does us a favor by ripping off, or simply lifting up, their tops for us. Thanks pal! And it happens no less than six times here so it almost becomes a running joke after awhile. The entire film runs on what some refer to as 'slasher logic.' In other words, if people behave in a preposterous, nonsensical way, then we the viewer are supposed to overlook that. You know, because slasher movies (like their forefather, the Italian giallo) aren't about sense and logic; they're about creative bloodshed, trash, flash, style, body count and/or absurd, out-of-left-field twist revelations about the killer. And while FATAL PULSE does actually deliver on some of the above (primarily the 'trash' aspect), it's still not any good.

Immediately after getting into a fight with her amazingly monotone boyfriend Jeff (Ken Roberts) cause he won't put out, buxom Stephanie (played by Kitty... just Kitty) is strangled to death with her silk stockings by a black-gloved psycho. Jeff becomes prime suspect in this murder, and in the string of murders that will follow. Thankfully, Jeff's ex-girlfriend Lisa (the gorgeous Michelle McCormick), who also happens to live in the same sorority house where Stephanie bit it, is up to the task of helping him prove his innocence and eventually attempts to trap the killer. While those two try to find out what's going on, more women are killed in a rapid succession. Strangely, the murders aren't enough to actually drive a single one of the ladies out of the home. And neither does voyeuristic 'Nam vet Ernie, who spends his time twitching, crying, hiding in the shadows and peeping in windows. How many sorority houses do you know of where the creepy male owner actually lives in the home with the girls? As a side note, Ernie is played by "Joe Phelan," who eventually stopped caring about soiling the family name and began using his birth name Joe Estevez for future cheap-o horror flicks.

Ernie and Jeff aren't the only suspects. There's also the strange-acting, deep-voiced Professor Caldwell (Alex Courtney), who mostly just plays chess, as well as mullet-head Brad (Steven Henry), who becomes insanely jealous when Jeff starts rekindling things with Lisa. Of yeah, and Mark (Blair Karsch), a stoner freak whose alternate persona "Captain Marvelous" (?!) is accompanied with a "Boin-n-g!!!" sound effect. I kid you not. As far as the females go, they're all blonde and there's only a slight attempt to characterize them, so I had to pay special attention to provide you the following useless information. Cassie (Cindra Hodgdon) is a sweet, shy girl who doesn't understand why anyone would want to kill Stephanie and vents her anguish through a hilarious Flashdance-inspired interpretative dance sequence. Carol (Skylar Nicholas) wants a music career, Karen (Christie Mucciante) is a rich bitch, Sheila (Maureen O'Hanlon) is the compassionate one and Ann (Roxanne Kernohan), uh, likes to jog. Every single one of them is topless during her death scene aside from the one who has her throat cut with a record album. However, the actress had already gone topless earlier in the movie, so I guess one can't really consider that a wasted opportunity.

There's also death by drowning in a bathtub and being flung out the attic window, as well as two prolonged death scenes that are more misogynistic. One features the victim being tied up, having her top removed and then being electrocuted to death. The second involves the victim being tied down, having her top removed and getting wet cement rubbed all over her body before she gets her face covered with it. Police detectives (led by pudgy porn actor Herschel Savage as "Harvey Cowen") show up two different times, but refuse to do anything helpful in apprehending the killer. You know, such as posting a patrol car outside, or having a few officers set up shop in the home, or have a policewoman go undercover as a sorority girl, etc. etc. They simply pop in, say a few lines and then leave, simply allowing the murders continue.

Surprisingly, some of the cast members did actually go on to other things. Estevez went on to become one of the most prolific genre actors on the 90s and 2000s. Lead actor Roberts, despite showing the animation of a piece of charcoal here, would go on to appear regularly on TV and in film. Courtney appeared in the same director's not-released-in-the-US crime/thriller THE PLATINUM TRIANGLE (1989; which also stars Estevez) and ZOMBIE DEATH HOUSE (1987), amongst other things. Nicholas was also in the dreadful CANNIBAL HOOKERS (1987) and some soft-core erotica and Kernohan would have a memorable role in CRITTERS 2 (1988) and appeared as herself in the very fun B-movie valentine SCREAM QUEEN HOT TUB PARTY (1991) before passing away in a 1993 auto accident at the age of just 32. Surprisingly McCormick, the best-looking and most talented of the ladies seen here, only did three other movies.

To my knowledge, FATAL PULSE has never been released on DVD. The VHS release was handled through Celebrity Home Video.

★1/2

Fatal Games (1984)

... aka: Killing Touch, The
... aka: Olympic Nightmare

Directed by:
Michael Elliot

At the Falcon Academy for Athletics, seven student athletes excelling at swimming, track and field or gymnastics seem to be off to promising careers and possible Olympic dreams. That is, until someone starts spearing them with a javelin. As the madman or madwoman or mad-a-little-bit-of-both stalks the darkened hallways of the school, the surviving students try to stay alive, while surveying the possible suspects. For starters, there's Dr. Jardine (played by the director), who's been shooting up his star athletes with a special "medicine" (*cough* steroids *cough*) that may have worse side effects than just stomach cramps. Then there's compassionate nurse Diane Paine (Sally Kirkland), who seems to get a little too touchy-feely giving therapeutic massages to the females. And Coach Jack Webber (Christopher Mankiewicz, also the co-writer and producer), who's a little crazy and overdemanding. And let us not forget Coach Drew (Marcelyn Ann Williams, or as she is more commonly known, Spice Williams). The blurb on the back of VHS box claims she's a suspect but doesn't elaborate why beyond telling us she's a lesbian. You know, cause being a lesbian in an 80's slasher automatically lands you on a list of serial murderer suspects.

To supplement the repetitive and tame killings, the director decides to take this down an After School Special route about midway through, so there are scenes asking us to care about the relationship between our bland female gymnast heroine Annie (Lynn Banashek) and her equally dull track star boyfriend Phil (Sean Masterson). The acting is pretty abysmal, even by slasher movie standards. One gets the feeling most were cast for their physical prowess than for their thespian skills. In fact, several of the ones playing gymnasts, are clearly trained in the area, as we get to see them demonstrating their skills a time or two. Others on the roster of potential victims include future soap opera star Michael O'Leary, Teal Roberts (from the popular 80's teen sex comedy Hardbodies), Angela Bennett (a black actress who is seen running through the hallways buck naked trying to avoid the killer) and Nicholas Love (co-star of The Boogeyman, brother of Suzanna Love and former brother-in-law of Ulli Lommel) as a hot-headed javelin thrower. The best of the lot is probably Melissa Prophet, who'd later nab roles in Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995), but she's the very first one killed off.

None of this is to shame top-billed Kirkland though. She's an excellent actress when given good material. This just isn't good material. A few years after this was made, she'd receive a well-deserved Oscar nomination for playing a former Czech movie star struggling to find work in New York City in Anna (1987). Two other familiar actresses are also to be found in tiny roles. Linnea Quigley (who'd appeared in a more substantial role in the similar 1981 slasher Graduation Day) was the body double for Banashek during her massage scene, though she's billed as an "athlete" in the end credits. By sheer coincidence, Kirkland and Quigley were guests on the same episode of Chuck Woolery's short-lived talk show in 1991 and briefly discussed this film. Brinke Stevens - who isn't billed at all - can be seen in the background several times taking a shower.

So in short, another dud from the slasher era. OK-ish production values, plentiful nudity, next to no blood, zero suspense, terrible acting, choppy editing and continuity, a lame killer reveal (we really know nothing about the person until a newspaper clipping supposedly sheds light on it) and a terrible script. The former was co-written by Rafael Buñuel... the son of Luis Buñuel! Oh yeah, and there's an amusingly cheesy theme song called "Take It All the Way" performed by Shuki Levy and former Miss USA Deborah Shelton that we get to hear several times along the way.

★1/2
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