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.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hollywood Horror House (1970) [filmed in 1968]

... aka: Comeback, The
... aka: Savage Intruder

Directed by:
Donald Wolfe

Here's a deliriously entertaining mixture of SUNSET BOULEVARD and Herschell Gordon Lewis not to be missed. Writer / producer / director Donald Wolfe managed to unearth former Hollywood A-lister Miriam Hopkins (who was great in the 1931 version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, amongst other things) for this tasteless hack-em-up featuring blood-spattered mannequin body parts, trip out drug sequences, demented flashbacks and a cast full of Tinseltown has-beens. Starting with a flurry of swirling photographs, red carpet events and movie scenes from 1930s Hollywood, this then settles onto the famous Hollywood sign, which was in such bad shape when this was filmed that pieces are just falling off of it. And that's not all that's in a state of disrepair. The body of an old lady, or what's left of her at least, rests at the bottom. She's not the first victim of a psycho killer. Several other middle-aged women have also been chopped to bits, and their body parts were also scattered in the Hollywood Hills. A drunken lady is soon to become the next victim as she leaves a bar and is followed home to her apartment by someone tall, dark and clad in a fedora, sunglasses and bell bottoms. He carries with him a do-it-yourself dismemberment kit consisting of a huge cleaver, hacksaw, scalpel, forceps, syringe and other such goodies. After getting clubbed over the head with a metal pipe, the woman awakens just as the nut starts to saw off her hand with an electric carving knife. Her screams are quickly silenced with a cleaver to the head.

A Movieland Tours bus being driven by Joe Besser (from The Three Stooges) stops by the home of Katharine Packard (Hopkins), a retired former movie star who now - according to the guide - spends all of her time doing charity work. And that's not all she does. She also likes to drink. A lot. In fact, the booze makes her so delusional she dresses in a ball gown and envisions people giving a party in her honor when no one is actually there. One her way to greet her adoring "fans," she falls down the stairs and breaks her foot and tailbone. Now she'll be confined to a wheelchair for awhile. Thankfully, she still has a few people around to help her out, including her long-time friend Ira (Lester Matthews), her bitter, elderly maid Mildred (Florence Lake), her pretty Asian cook Greta (Virginia Wing) and her personal secretary Leslie. Leslie is played by Gale Sondergaard, a wonderful actress who almost snagged the Wicked Witch role in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) but was ultimately deemed too beautiful for the part. Aside from winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in ANTHONY ADVERSE, she also made her presence known in the genre with roles in THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939), THE BLACK CAT (1941) and others; perhaps being best known for playing a sultry villainess in both the Sherlock Holmes mystery THE SPIDER WOMAN (1944) and the unrelated spin-off THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK (1946). Sadly, Sondergaard became one of the victims of Hollywood blacklisting in the late 40s just at the height of her career. I guess when she returned to Hollywood, this was the best she was offered.

A hippie named Vic Vallance (John David Garfield) shows up at the home to interview for a job catering to Katharine, who needs to be pushed around in her chair. Leslie insists he get a haircut and new wardrobe first, and she forbids booze on the premises because of Katherine's alcoholism, but he ends up getting the position. Mildred isn't too happy about it. She detests most young people and refers to them as "callow and disgusting" and "self-centered animals." When Katharine first meets Vic in his new all-white uniform, she thinks he's the ice cream man. When he jokingly asks her what flavor she wants, she screams "Vodka!" Some time passes and Katharine and Vic start growing fond of one another, but then it's revealed that Vic is in possession of the same kit used in the murders. Yep, he's the killer and he has a bad habit of eventually turning violent on his older lovers or anyone else who threatens to expose him. Vic is not only a serial killer but he's also a drug addict and an arrogant, sociopathic social climber who will do whatever it takes to get money. He shoots himself up with hallucinogenic drugs and takes acid, which make him flip out over his traumatic childhood. His mother was a drunken whore who gave him up for adoption to run off with her pimp. Vic envisions himself as a child running down a corridor with colorful checkerboard patterns, stumbling upon an orgy and then hacking someone's hand off.

Vic starts sleeping with both Greta and Katharine. When Greta announces she's pregnant and threatens to tell Katharine what's been going on, she's promptly decapitated and her body is buried in the garden. Meanwhile, Katharine is basking in the glory of getting her knickers dusted by her new boy toy. Feeling rejuvenated, she wants to try to mount a comeback. Vic helps himself to her credit cards and tries to get his new sugar momma back to boozing again by taking her to a hippie party where a dwarf offers her coke, speed and acid. Now back to drinking, Katharine humiliates herself to the press at the Hollywood Christmas parade by riding in the Santa Claus float shitfaced. Having now had enough and, with help from Leslie coming to realization she's just being used, Katharine tells Vic to hit the road. But he's not having it and a violent backlash ensues. The concluding scenes are surprisingly grim and things don't end as one might expect them to.

Filmed at the Norma Talmadge Estate in Hollywood, this ended up being the last hurrah for Hopkins, who passed away in 1972 of a heart attack. Thankfully, she makes an impression in an immensely fun performance that almost makes Joan Crawford in STRAIT-JACKET look restrained by comparison! Hopkins gets to act wasted, cry, scream, sing, freak out and cackle manically about being "The Queeeeen of the Christmas Paraaaaade!" There are outrageous and hilarious scenes of her in a frilly pink nightgown shrieking, getting punched directly in the face, being forced to toast to "lonely, rich old bags" and having vodka injected directly into her bloodstream with a syringe! And if that isn't enough, the 65-year-old actress manages to even upstage Crawford in her ringmaster's outfit in BERSERK! (1967) by briefly flashing her breasts when her new man is giving her a back massage! Way to go out with a bang, Miriam. Sondergaard has a much less-flashy role but does very well with what she's given and has a lot of screen time here. Lake also does fine work in her smaller role.

Pretty fascinating stuff and a ton of fun for camp addicts, this should really be better known than it is. It was filmed as The Comeback, released theatrically two years later as Savage Intruder and then was issued on VHS by Unicorn as Hollywood Horror House. There is no legit DVD release.

Horror Heaven (1984)

... aka: J.B.'s Horror Heaven
... aka: Jörg Buttgereit's Horror Heaven

Directed by:
Jörg Buttgereit

German director Jörg Buttgereit would become pretty notorious in horror circles for such gritty, stomach-churning flicks as the necrophile shockers NEKROMANTIK (1987) and NEKROMANTIK 2 (1989), the poetic death documentary THE DEATH KING (1990) and SCHRAMM (1993), which was based on several real-life serial killers. Before any of those, he cut his teeth doing what many other directors do: making amateur shorts with his friends. This is a collection of some of those and all but one are light-hearted, goofy spoofs unlike the director's graphic and disturbing later feature films. It runs just 23 minutes and is dedicated to Boris Karloff. Buttgereit himself - sitting in a black room with candles, skulls and a black cat on his lap - opens things with an introduction, telling us "I have dug up a few major movie treats from my film archive." He also pops back in between all of the segments to introduce what we're about to see. First up is the very short black-and-white "Die Mumie" ("The Mummy"). A mummy awakens from a centuries-long slumber and is after the reincarnation of his lost love. He snatches up the girl, then gets into a fight with two guys wearing boxing gloves who call him a "stiff blockhead" and beat on him till he dies and dissolves into a skeleton. The end.

The next segment is "Frankenstein," also black-and-white, where Dr. Frankenstein and his hunchback servant Fritz get to work reviving their creature with electricity. It chases a woman, strangles Fritz, demands the doctor create him a mate and then blows up the castle because his bride is too ugly. Next up is "Die rache der Mumie" ("The Revenge of the Mummy"), which is basically just the mummy beating up a guy wearing boxing gloves. "Captain Berlin gegen Hyxar" ("Captain Berlin versus Hyxar") is a color super hero spoof with the hero going up against a bounty hunter alien wrapped in aluminum foil. He sprays whipped cream on it and then stuffs it in a box. The next short is a GODZILLA spoof "Gazorra die bestie aus dem erdinnern" ("Gazorra: The Beast from the Depths of the Earth"). At a nuclear power plant creating a toxic chemical called "hydroxynometaline," a toy giant lizard monster rises from the Earth and faces off against the military. After destroying some toy tanks and part of a toy town, the Commander (played by the director) sends out his top secret weapon, a giant toy "combat robot" to defeat the monster. When all else fails they just drop an atomic bomb.

"Cannibal Girl" concludes things and is more along the lines of what the director would later be doing. A punk sex-offender named Bruno drags a girl back to his apartment, shows her the stitches on his hairy ass (which makes her puke), puts on a leather mask and then whips out his dick (which is clearly just a hot dog) and tries to force her to give him a blow job. Instead, she bites it off and pukes again. The end.

Basically, Horror Heaven is just a collection of the director's home movies and it will be of interest only to his diehard fans; and even many of them might not even be interested in watching this. The GODZILLA spoof, which features some very crude stop-motion animation and some knowing winks at those movies, is easily the best of the lot. No slight on Buttgereit, though. He's very talented and his other movies are worth watching (granted you have a strong stomach).


Night of the Demons (2009)

Directed by:
Adam Gierasch

Kevin Tenney's original NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988) was a superb slice of 80s horror cheese that ended up becoming a surprise hit. It scored big on a limited theatrical release and did even better on home video, where it was released in both R and unrated (gorier) versions. Two sequels followed in 1994 and 1996. That by itself was enough to ensure Demons ended up on the short list of "Films That Need To Be Remade," which is also known as "Films That Are Reasonably Well-Known That We May Be Able To Make Some Money Off Of." So here we go again, folks. Equipped with a rather healthy 10 million dollar budget and several "names" in the cast that haven't been bankable in about in ten or so years, this remake ended up failing to secure a wide theatrical release and was quickly and quietly ushered out to DVD. After seeing it, it's easy to see why it didn't fair so well: it's just not that fun. In the pre-credits sequence (cleverly designed like a silent movie), a woman commits suicide by leaping off a banister with a noose around her neck (which ends up decapitating her) and her husband quickly flashes some demonic yellow eyes. 85 years later on Halloween night, Goth slut Angela Feld (Shannon Elizabeth) decides to make a little money by throwing a Halloween bash in the same long-abandoned house, The Broussard Mansion, and charging a ten dollar door fee for an all-you-can-drink all-night party.

We meet three gal pals; Maddie (Monica Keena), Lily (Diora Baird) and Suzanne (Bobbi Sue Luther) whose characters are defined in a sequence where they call each other whores and tramps, discuss pubic hair and one slathers a handful of Aloe Vera on her chafed pussy. Monica establishes herself as the non-conformist of the group because she goes au natural and dresses up as a murder victim instead of a slutty cat. Moving on... Jason (John F. Beach) and Dex (Michael Copon) smoke some weed. Jason hunts down a teenage bully and shoots him repeatedly with a paint gun while screaming "You mother fucker!" at him. Colin (Edward Furlong) is a drug-pusher. He goes to see his British supplier, who's pissed his cut isn't enough, but not so pissed that he has the chick blowing him stop and take a breather while he's talking to Colin. All of the above parties end up at the Broussard place. Lily has a thing for Dex. For some unexplanable reason, Maddie has a thing for Colin, who's not only a junkie but also incredibly dull and a whiny wet blanket. But boy knows how to fuck. I'll take her word for it. And Angela, well, she pretty much has a thing for anyone with a penis or vagina. Cops end up raiding the party and send everyone home because no one has permission to be there in the first place.

With the place cleared out, Angela's stuck there cleaning up, Colin's still there because he dropped his drug stash down into a vent and the rest of the gang come back to get Suzanne, who'd gotten so drunk she passed out for a bit. Somehow the gate becomes locked, so everyone's trapped there for the night. While down in the basement, Colin and Angela quickly find a secret, sealed-off room filled with the dead, decaying bodies of people killed by the voodoo-and-witchcraft-practicing former owner. OK, let me stop here for a second. So six people disappeared inside the home and the cops were unable to locate a room in the basement that Colin immediately sees his first time down there? Uh huh. So anyway, one of the skeletons bites Angela's finger and a series of demonic possessions are soon underway. Angela possesses Dex with a kiss during a game of spin the bottle. Dex possesses Lily during sex and, for whatever reason, some tentacles pop out of her breasts. Angela then seduces Suzanne and rips off her breast and face and so on. The deaths come rather quickly for awhile then pretty much stop cold as our three heroes try to endure multiple demon attacks.

This film is a prime example of what happens when a modern filmmaker has a clear affection for an older film yet doesn't quite understand what made it so enjoyable in the first place. As is often the case, the director decides to "improve" upon the source material by taking most of the key elements and going completely overboard with them, resulting in a loud, monotonous and one-note film. OK, so I know the original film had its fair share of loud, foul-mouthed, obnoxious characters, but did the people responsible for this one really have to make every single character so thoroughly unlikable? At least the 1988 Demons had something of a counterbalance with a handful of characters who were reasonably bearable. Again, there was plenty of profanity in the original, but nothing like in this movie.

Colin, Maddie and Jason re-enter the house after being outside. A demon suddenly pops out.


(Another demon pops out.)


What the fuck was that? Shit! Go! Go! Fuck!

(All three enter another room and duck behind a desk.)

Shit! Fuck!

Holy fucking crap.

What the fuck were they man? Ang and Suzanne?

That wasn't Suzanne. That wasn't Suzanne's fucking face!

What the fuck were they?

Fuck. I stabbed it with a poker all the way through and it didn't do anything!

What the fuck were they?

I stabbed it with a poker!

Would you shut the fuck up about the god damn poker?

We have to get the fuck out of her, now.

The fucking gate is locked!

(unintelligible mumble) fucking Angela (mumble) the door that leads out of here (mumble)

Where is it?

I don't fucking know. Where the fuck? Maybe we should try the fucking basement.

So yeah... Needless to say, Shakespeare it ain't. Unlike the original film, which has some very funny put-downs and one-liners, the dialogue here isn't the least bit clever or witty. Well, not unless your idea of high comedy is the 'f bomb.' If that's the case, you'll probably be sore from laughing by the time this one's over.

While the original was measured enough to actually build up to each of its shock scenes and even attempt for suspense and atmosphere, Demons '09 eventually deteriorates into a numbing barage of gore-splatter, CGI, heavy metal noise, split-second editing, non-stop profanity laden dialogue and seizure-cam. The horror scenes are bloody and loud, but they're never scary and they completely lack the spook show fun of the first movie. Part of the true joy of older horror films is in the wait and anticipation for the scare and few modern genre filmmakers seem to realize that. Shame.

I didn't like the changes made to the signature character Angela either. In the original film, Angela was a misunderstood, somewhat bitchy outsider. Here, she's a nasty slut and Shannon Elizabeth quite frankly sucks in this role. Her delivery on lines like "I want you dancing! I want you drinking! And I want you fucking!" while thrusting her crotch and 'seductively' slobbering all over a wine bottle are pretty embarrassing even for a chick whose main claim to fame was showing off her silicone-enhanced tits in a mediocre teen sex comedy ten years earlier. And speaking of silicone-enhanced tits: Good Lord, Bobbi Sue Luther! And Good Lord wardrobe people for having this girl dressed in a top about 3 sizes too small that make her boobs look like over-filled water balloons about to burst. Sexy or flat out uncomfortable to look at? You be the judge. I couldn't help but stare at her cleavage the entire time either way. Diora Baird also has, shall we say, generous endowments and they come in handy during a scene which leads one character to exclaim, "She stuck a lipstick in her boob and it fell out of her pussy, ok!" Of course if you're familiar with the original, you know the famous lipstick scene already. This one tries to one-up it but fails miserably thanks to an abrupt set-up and the fact it's difficult to actually see.

This also marks a the downward spiral in the career of poor Eddie Furlong. Once a star in great films like TERMINATOR 2 (1992), AMERICAN HEART (1993) and AMERICAN HISTORY X (1998), Furlong not only looks tired, but he also seems completely disinterested in even being in this film. Tiffany Shepis, who is much more of a traditional Scream Queen than any of the rest of these actresses, gets a minor role as a girl who runs off with all the party money. Shepis is actually a much more skilled and attractive actress than Elizabeth and would have made a far better Angela, but I suppose her name doesn't have quite the draw. Perhaps her cup size being smaller than a DD didn't help her secure a larger role either. Original Demons star, the always-delightful Linnea Quigley, has a cameo, which actually IS funny. Tony Brown, a very nice guy who runs the Slumber Party / Sorority House Massacre fan site "The Old Hockstatter Place" is one of the party guests.

All in all, this is gorier, flashier, more action-packed and more 'polished' than the first, but it completely lacks that film's simple campy / creepy charm. Bigger isn't always better, though the special effects and makeups showcased here are certainly excellent.

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