Thursday, November 19, 2009

Metamorphosis (1989)

...aka: DNA formula letale
...aka: Lizard
...aka: Reanimator 2
...aka: Regenerator

Directed by:
George Eastman

With his funding falling through and a promising research project about to be prematurely cancelled, Virginia University geneticist Dr. Peter Houseman (Gene Le Brock) decides to rush through his experiments before his superiors decide to pull the plug. He first tries out his serum (which is supposed to increase cell regeneration to the point where aging is halted) on a baboon, but it dies. Then for some reason that puts into question just how bright Dr. Houseman may actually be, he decides to play guinea pig by strapping himself to a chair and getting the serum shot via syringe directly into his brain through his eyeball (!) He emerges temporarily unscatched and has a brief chance to bask in an increased sex drive and higher energy levels before the obligatory bad stuff starts happening. A sexy blonde student tries to tempt him, but he's more interested in romance with single mom Sally (Catherine Baranov), an auditor sent to check up on how Peter has been spending his grant money.

Right after getting involved with Sally, Peter's nastier side starts to emerge. He starts frequently losing his temper, showing signs of super-human strength and suffering from blackouts and bouts of temporary amnesia. During a trip to the zoo, the animals seem to freak out at his mere presence. He's haunted by visions of going to a whorehouse and knocking around a prostitute (Laura Gemser), then realizes he actually did attack her. Peter disappears into the woods for an entire week, but reemerges a week later looking like hell and claiming he's dying. His assistant, Willy Carson (David Wicker), Catherine and some colleagues attempt to help, but it's too late. Peter keeps rapidly aging until he's a wrinkled, bald old man. And from there, instead of just withering away to a pile of bones, he slowly regresses into some prehistoric lifeform just in time for a mild holiday rampage about town.

Writer/director Eastman, best known as an actor (and for his starring role in the 1980 gore-fest THE GRIM REAPER), shot this one for the Italian production company Filmirage, who were also responsible other 80s/90s video favorites as MONSTER HUNTER (1981), GHOST HOUSE (1987), STAGE FRIGHT (1987), WITCHERY (1988) and the legendary TROLL 2 (1990). It was filmed in America with English-speaking actors (of varying degrees of talent), is poorly lit and amounts to little more than a lesser retread of Cronenberg's version of THE FLY (1986), but is still mildly watchable. The premise itself (far-fetched as it is) isn't bad, there's reasonable pacing (at least for the first hour) and some of the make-up effects are OK. However, it also has one of those drawn-out finales - of monster-doc pursuing Catherine and her thoroughly irritating son Tommy (Jason Arnold) through the lab - that never seems to end. And when this finally does present the fully-formed regressed state of Dr. Houseman, hopefully you don't have a mouth full of soda or you might spit it out all your TV screen when you burst out laughing.

Lead actor Le Brock and Stephen Brown (who plays a aged professor here), also starred in the Filmirage production LA CASA 5 / BEYOND THE DARKNESS (1990). Gemser gets a credit for costume design. Here in America, it was originally released to VHS by Imperial Entertainment in 1990 and is now a common fixture on those Mill Creek bargain sets (the copy I viewed is from "50 Chilling Classics"). In Spain it was released as a sequel to RE-ANIMATOR.


Chin nin lui yiu (1990)

...aka: Chase from Beyond
...aka: Demoness from Thousand Years
...aka: Qian nian nu yao
...aka: Thousand Year Ghost

Directed by:
Patrick Yeung

An elderly wizard (Hou Hsiao) does battle with an evil witch (Meg Lam) over what the subs call "the Bead of Hell," which is basically a glowing blue orb. The witch kills him with a fireball and the wizard's two acrobatic, flying female "fairy" students - Yun Yu Yi (Joey Chan) and Siu Yi (Gloria Yip) step in to defend the magical bead. The witch freezes Siu Yi, while Yun flees with the prized possession into some time warp, with the witch following hot on her heels. One thousand years later, arrogant Captain Mambo (Jacky Cheung) and the Royal HK Police Force have just successfully taken down a master criminal. While driving home later that evening, the captain stumbles upon Yun, who is still being pursued by the witch ten centuries later. Mambo takes Yun back to his apartment and allows her to stay there, little knowing what he's about to get himself into but finding himself falling in love with her all the same (and vice versa). Meanwhile, the police are investigating a series of (off-screen) decapitation murders in the area that are possibly related to the witch's emergence in the city. It's later unveiled that the only way to stop her from destoying mankind is to combine the Bead of Hell with another orange-colored one called "Heaven's Sun Bead," which still needs to be located.

The film would have been better if had stuck to the main plotline, but instead it throws in a load of side characters who are downright annoying; constantly mugging and making goofy facial expressions right at the camera. Aside from that, this has enough action and moments of endearing hokiness to keep it watchable. The blossoming romance between Mambo and Yun actually reminded me a lot of SPLASH (1984), with the man letting a strange but beautiful woman unfamiliar with the modern world stay in his apartment until her true identity is revealed. There's a love montage and a love theme song, too. But the film is at it's best when there's fighting going on and boasts some excellent stunt and wire work. A highlight is Yun and Siu's battle with the witch in a large cave at the beginning and end of the film, which incorporates lots of flips, flying, spinning, jumping and swordfighting. Eventually they even start hurtling stalactites at one another! There's also a bizarre subplot likely inspired by GHOSTBUSTERS which involves two paranormal investigators who have all kinds of gadgets they can use to sniff out ghosts. They can also call forth "The King of Hell," a goofy looking blue cartoon face with three eyeballs who says things like "Don't eat chewing gun!" and "Don't bullshit me!"

You can pretty much gouge whether you want to bother with this one by viewing the trailer...

There's no official U.S. release of this one. The bootleg version I saw (which seems derived from a VHS source) had burnt in English subtitles. The subs are white and frequently placed in front of white clothing and furniture; making it impossible to see all of the dialogue.


Witch Academy (1990)

...aka: Little Devils

Directed by:
Fred Olen Ray

What we have here is an S&M-themed horror farce filmed exclusively in one house and littered with familiar faces, hit-or-miss slapstick gags, rubbery monsters and a generous helping of female flesh. At a sorority house, cruel queen bee Wanda (Suzanne Ager) and her underlings, bitchy Tara (Michelle Bauer) and bimbo Darla (Ruth Collins), are at a loss when plans to attend a party fall through. Bored, they decide to invite ultra-geeky would-be pledge Leslie Perkins (Veronica Carothers) over and plan to completely humiliate her. They mock Leslie's clothes as soon as she arrives and chain her up in the basement. There, she's visited by none other than The Devil himself (Robert Vaughn), who transforms Leslie into a sexy vixen who pretends to be Leslie's sister "Becky" and plots to get her own revenge on the sadistic sorority girls who mistreated her. She also occasionally turns into a large lizard monster who sucks out blood with a long tube-like tongue. Priscilla Barnes shows up as the sorority's sexy house mother, as does Jay Richardson as a sleazeball professor, just in time to fall victim to the creature.

The film's raison d'être is clearly to showcase the charms of the actresses on hand, and the film is reasonably successful on that front. Four of the five actresses have their own nude scenes and spend the bulk of their screen time running around dressed in bras, panties, mini-skirts and see-through lingerie. Not only that, the five are also given a platform to engage in farcical comedy and do their very best with the material handed to them. Unfortunately, the material handed to them just isn't all that good. I could never figure out where the "witch" in the title really stems from. Aside from making a telephone blow up (off-screen) several times, the sorority girls are never seen using any kind of special powers at any point in the film, though they'd obviously come in handy after a certain point. There are also some issues with tone. At times it seems like your standard cheapie horror-comedy spoof of deliberately cheesy gags (including a scene directly referencing the blood test in Carpenter's THE THING) and at others it seems like it's trying to find light humor in sadomasochistic behavior, kidnapping and cruelty.

The copyright in the credits says 1990, but it wouldn't be released until years later. In 1993, a heavily-edited version (minus all of the nudity) made its way onto the USA Network's Up All Night program. I found a listing for a German VHS release (under the original title LITTLE DEVILS) on Amazon from the mid 90s but the first home video release I'm aware of in the U.S. is the 2002 DVD through Ray's own company Retromedia. It's worth a look for fans of the actors, but I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone else.

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