Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I won't be posting any reviews for a little while since I'm busy at work on another little project (... horror movie related, naturally!), but I just wanted to stop in and wish all of my blog buddies and any other visitor a very Merry Christmas! Take care, best wishes to all and I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Child, The (1977)

... aka: Kill and Go Hide
... aka: La casa degli zombi
... aka: Zombie Child

Directed by:
Robert Voskanian

Alicianne Del Mar (Laurel Barnett) decides to travel back to the small country town she grew up in to take a live-in nanny position at the Nordon home. On her way there, she runs her car off the road to avoid a barrel, decides to walk the rest of the way and crosses paths with elderly, gossipy widow Mrs. Whitfield (Ruth Ballen), who invites her inside for tea and promptly informs her that her new charge Rosalie (Rosalie Cole) is a strange, trouble-making little girl whose now deceased mother had spent much of her time in mental institutions. Mrs. Whitfield also insists Alicianne stay on the path and not wander into the woods since she's been hearing strange noises there and small animals have recently been discovered dead. Since the opening credits sequence shows Rosalie feeding a kitten to some kind of cemetery ghoul, we already known poor Alicianne's gonna have her hands full. Still, since she lost both of her parents at a young age and Rosalie has recently lost her mother, Alicianne figures they'll relate on some level.

Upon arriving at the Nordon home, Alicianne meets patriarch Joshua (Frank Janson), a cranky old prick who warns "I hope you're not a nervous woman," as well as Joshua's grown son Len (Richard Hanners) and, of course, young Rosalie (who actually looks like a teenager; not the little girl I was expecting). There's also an Chinese gardener (Slosson Bing Jong) who works there but his few scenes seem removed from the rest of the film and he's not once seen in the same shot with anyone else from the cast, possibly because his scenes were added later on. Alicianne discovers that Rosalie is a pouty, obnoxious little brat who hates other kids ("Aw, they're all dumb!"), grapefruit ("I hate grapefruit!") and donuts ("Donuts!?"), gets pissed at Alicianne for going horseback riding with her older brother and giggles at a story her father tells her about a bunch of boy scouts who got poisoned by oleander sap and died. Rosalie also enjoys drawing morbid pictures and makes frequent midnight trips to the cemetery to visit her "friends." Her "friends" turn out to be a bunch of zombies that she's summoned forth and controls to do her bidding. And her bidding is basically to kill anyone who rubs her the wrong way.

Why Rosalie even wants everyone dead is one of many muddled story points you'll encounter in this film. I've seen this advertised as a revenge picture, but I could never quite figure out just who exactly the little psycho was going after, or why she was going after them. We never learn for sure if the mother had actually been murdered or just died of natural causes. However, I'm willing to accept that Rosalie could just be mad about her mother's death and doesn't know how to cope. Or she's simply just evil. She basically just comes off like a whiny little beotch who uses her zombie pals to punish people who don't let her get her way. And her powers (vague and unexplained as they may be) extend beyond just the zombies, as she's also able to make inanimate objects move, including a scarecrow that she brings to life to kill when the zombies are too busy eating kittens.

What I can't accept is the horrendous acting and dialogue. It's difficult to blame the actors so much because it appears that their dialogue was all dubbed in later. Still, you'd be hard pressed to find more stilted, awkward and unnatural- sounding dialogue readings than you'll find in this film. Nothing that comes out of anyone's mouth is delivered with the least bit of believability or conviction. And I mean nothing. The editing is done with the same level of ineptitude, and it has a habit of switching from night to day back to night again in the same scene. The film has a early America period setting for some reason, which seems to be the 1920s, though not all of the clothing and home decor really bespeak that era.

It's not all bad news, though. The film does have some nice atmospheric, foggy moments here and there, and a couple of the dialogue-free sequences (such as when our heroine has a nightmare where she's dancing with Len and he turns into the scarecrow) are effective. There's enough gore to please (faces ripped off, an eyeball gouging, a head getting chopped with an axe, etc.), the zombie designs by Jay Owens (mostly saved for the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-inspired finale) are pretty good and I quite liked the bizarre polymoog synthesizer soundtrack. It's pretty slow-going until near the end, when Alicianne and Len are besieged by a horde of zombies and try to barricade themselves inside a shed. Even these scenes are partially spoiled because our "heroine" proves to be utterly useless and just stands around shrieking the entire time, refusing to be of much help to poor Len as he tries to fight off the ghouls.

Released theatrically by Boxoffice International (and executive produced by Harry Novak), this title has been well-serviced on both VHS (Paragon, Best and Monterey were but a few of the distributors) and DVD (by Something Weird). The Canadian release title was Zombie Child.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

El monje loco (1984)

... aka: Crazy Monk, The
... aka: Mad Monk, The

Directed by:
Julio Aldama 

Organist, singer and church music director Martín Liceaga (Júlio "Augurio" / Aldama, son of the director) and one of his "flock;" the lovely Carmen (Luz María Rico), start collaborating on music together. The two badly lipsync to an operatic version of Ave Maria (for four minutes!) and then Martín finds himself so caught up in the moment that he must resist the urge to get more, uh, physical with the young beauty. He instead goes to pray for strength, but can only see visions of Carmen's face over top those of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. The guy just can't get her out of his head, so he confesses his feelings of lust to the elderly Padre Superior (Paco Pharrez), who gives him a pep talk and an ornate crucifix... and reminds him his faith is most important of all. Carmen ends up meeting a potential suitor, which enrages Martín. He has a dream of her passionately begging him to kiss her, but she turns into a skull-faced topless demoness instead. One day during confessional, Carmen discusses some sordid details about her new relationship, which is enough to send Brother Martín over the edge. He chases her, starts trying to rape her and accidentally knocks her off the roof. He sneaks her body off to a cemetery, but is haunted by visions of Carmen and the gets his comeuppance from God himself. A one-eyed monk laughs maniacally. The end. Well... the end of this segment.

The film then jumps ahead to a second story: "El talismán maldito" (the first story is never named). Hard-working, depressed farmer José Martinez (director Aldama) and his wife Susana (Queta Lavat) are having financial problems and might lose their ranch. To make matters worse, their son Alejandro (Jorge Aldama) is injured working on his truck and the jack falls out from underneath of it. Jose tries to hawk his prized crucifix (the same one seen in the first story) but the pawn broker isn't interested in it. Desperate, José makes a deal with a shady guy, who gives him a three-pronged wooden fork which is supposed to grant his wishes (with each wish granted a prong disappears until they're all gone). Feeling he's exhausted his options, José raises the fork up to the sky and prays to try to get his family out of debt. It ends up working... but not without an unexpected cost to the family: his son's life. But he still has two more wishes to grant...

El monje loco
("The Crazy Monk" or "The Mad Monk") begins and ends with a cloaked Grim Reaper-ish figure walking through an empty field. Who it is isn't made clear at first since he's not seen at all during the first story. However, the character (who has something that looks like a ping pong ball over one of his eyes) pops up a lot in the second segment to provide running commentary and cackle maniacally as the events unfold. Obviously these scenes were added to bulk up the run time. The first story runs 40 minutes, while the second runs 30 and would probably only run 20 without the monk scenes (the rushed finale is also indicative of some production problems). As is, the whole package runs 77 minutes.

A remake of 1940's El monje loco, this was shot-on-video and has production values comparable to public access TV 'productions.' The videography is a little shaky at times, with the camera jerking from left to right for no reason, images sometimes blurred and lots of cheap overlapping effects. The sound is also occasionally a little muffled, with dialogue difficult to hear at times.

Heavy on talk and religious moralizing, low on production values, originality and artistry, this is not going to appeal to many people out there. You might have more fun counting the amount of times flies swarm in front of the camera and land on the actors than actually watching the movie. Still, if you can ignore the cheap, stagy feel, the amateurism and don't mind simple, straight-forward storytelling, you could probably sit through this. At the very least, it's sincere and the actors aren't bad.

It was written by Rafael Portillo (possibly best known for directing the AZTEC MUMMY films) and Roberto G. Rivera (who - like director Aldama - is best known as an actor). It was released on VHS only in Spanish-speaking countries.

Night Ripper! (1986)

... aka: Night Ripper

Directed by:
Jeff Hathcock

I can see where they were trying to go with this one, but they didn't quite have the budget (or talent) to pull it all off in the end. The film really lacks guts. And when I say it lacks guts, I mean it literally lacks guts. I'm only mentioning this because the plot involves a hooded nut going around murdering young ladies and then disemboweling their corpses, so this would have really benefited from showing a butchered corpse or gory murder every now and again. Instead, all of the nastier stuff is kept off-screen. In place of what should have been there are a few awkwardly-staged and horribly edited stabbings and throat slashings that are repetitive and dull. Subtlety doesn't bode too well for a shot-on-video slasher with amateur acting, silly dialogue, blink-and-you'll-miss-it partial nudity and a completely routine plot. This thing simply needed to be sleazier to overcome all of its other limitations, especially considering that the market is already flooded with hundreds of similar films with better production values than this one. Why not just watch one of those instead?

Darlene returns from "modeling class" only to encounter a bespeckled perv named Mitch (Larry Thomas) lurking around outside her apartment. The two briefly discuss "The Ripper," a local nutbag given the name by the press for similarities to the Jack the Ripper slashings (including showcasing knowledge of human anatomy and surgical precision in dismembering the bodies), then she heads inside to get ready for bed. Later on that evening the doorbell rings and, knowing full well that a serial killer who's been butchering random women is out there and that a weirdo is basically stalking her, Darlene decides to casually open the door without bothering to ask who's there. A gloved-hand reaches her a rose and all she manages to get out is a monotone "What the...?" before she's stabbed in the chest.

Mitch co-owns "Beauty Photography" with his business partner; photographer David (James Hansen). David is engaged to be married to Karen (Suzanne Tegmann), but becomes infatuated with Euro-accented legal secretary named Jill (Danielle Louis), who shows up at his shop looking to take bathing suit "glamour shots" for her boyfriend. But that's OK. Karen's fucking her boss, anyway. When David catches wind of her affair he starts to pursue Jill and, while the two start getting mushy, the psycho continues butchering women. Another woman is killed after informing her married lover that "This isn't love! This is two sweaty bodies fucking under flood lamps. And I'm sick of flood lamps!" Since many of the victims were models that could be directly linked back to Mitch and David's studio, police lieutenant Bernie (Simon De Soto) and his partner Dan (Lawrence Scott) start snooping around. They become especially interested in "Beauty Photography" after Karen is murdered.

Several suspects immediately emerge from the pack. One is, of course, Mitch. Not only was he already seen at the crime scene harassing a woman just minutes before she was murdered, but he also worked as a (gasp!) butcher for five years before deciding to become a sleazebag photographer. It's also revealed that he had been burned by a model girlfriend, who chose her career over him, years earlier. The second suspect is a flannel-shirt-clad lesbian mail lady named Janet (April Audia as "April Anne"), who tries to come on to Jill but is rejected and has a screaming fit because she wants "Angela" out of her head. While those two may be red herrings, the reveal is poorly telegraphed well in advance by poor acting and clumsy, obvious clues scattered throughout. The conclusion takes place at the "Vogue International" mannequin factory, where the psycho goes on a rant about women being bitches and models being users and bitches and how all models deserve to have their insides ripped out because they don't give a shit about anyone else's insides.

Along the way, there's some slight time padding, including as a minor subplot of the police pursuing a burglar and a three-minute long scene of someone driving through the city that's just an excuse to play an entire song. Despite being neither original (though the plot is no worse than what you'll find in the majority of other slasher and giallo films) nor good, I have to admit that I didn't have a problem sitting through this. I was mildly entertained. Mildly. I was even prepared to give this a slight pass... until the incompetent ending reared its ugly head to knock it down a notch. Oh well.

The only recognizable cast member is Courtney Lercara, who has just one scene here as a victim, but went on to appear in the fun low-budget backwoods slasher SLAUGHTERHOUSE (1987) and in Tim Ritter's KILLING SPREE (1987). Director / writer Hathcock also made VICTIMS! (1985), STREETS OF DEATH (1987) and MARK OF THE BEAST (1990; aka Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell). VHS by Magnum. No DVD.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Extraña regresión (1985)

... aka: Strange Regression

Directed by:
Jairo Pinilla Téllez

When you think of vintage South American horror, you might conjure up visions of masked Mexican wrestlers battling Aztec mummies, Brazil's Coffin Joe torturing his underlings (which basically includes everyone aside from himself) or even possibly the wacky monster sexploiters from Argentina's Emilio "Curious Dr. Humpp" Vieyra. Colombia doesn't even really factor into the equasion, aside from being a great place to film an Italian cannibal movie. But as it turns out, even they had a genre filmmaker to call their own: Jairo Pinilla Téllez. Téllez began making documentaries before branching out to do other genres and had a real leaning toward fantasy-driven horror, regardless of the fact there was no real market for horror in his home country at the time he was making these things. After already having such films as FUNERAL SINIESTRO (1977) and 27 HOURS WITH THE DEAD (1981) in the can, Téllez discovered that typically low-budget Spanish-language films were flopping in his home country, but American films were bringing in the big bucks. Because of this, he decided to film his next few movies in Spanish, but then have them English-dubbed. He then added Spanish subtitles to try to trick audiences into thinking they were actually American. Apparently a stickler for detail, Tellez also made sure to drop other hints into his films that might indicate they were American, such as using American currency. Well, trying to make a wad of one dollar bills look like a substantial sum of money!

After the tragic loss of her father, medical student Laura Mendoza is driven to music for comfort. That worries her mother Bertha, who wants her to concentrate more on her class work than her piano playing. Regardless, Bertha (who owns a lucrative jewelry store) has set aside some money and expensive jewelry for her daughter's upcoming graduation, which she keeps in a safe. Jealous, Laura's sociopathic cousin Rodolfo and his sister decide to break into the home and steal it. When their aunt returns home prematurely, Rodolfo beats her to death with a log. He and his sister flee and the crime goes cold. When his sister tries to blackmail him for a bigger portion of the money, Rodolfo decides to kill her too, and stages it to look like a car accident. Even worse, since Laura is now orphaned, Rodolfo and his father Gonzalo will soon be moving into Laura's home. Could things get any worse for poor Laura? Well yeah, actually they can. And do.

During a class, the professor and students discuss spirits, cryogenics, miracles and Jesus' resurrection, "Do you mean that a corpse in good condition can be revived by pumping the blood through the body with a machine?" asks one. The wheels start turning. One of the students thinks they should try invoking the spirit of Laura's mother to tell them who murdered her. Unfortunately, a visit to a psychic proves unfruitful. Laura, in conjunction with a handful of her peers and her reluctant boyfriend Ray, then decides to conduct a controlled experiment of their own. They'll kill Laura so that her spirit can speak to her mother's spirit and find out who killed her and then revive her in three days. It's just one more reason why religion has absolutely no place in the classroom! Late one evening, Laura, Ray and a handful of their other friends sneak into the school morgue, suffocate Laura with carbon monoxide and stick her in the freezer, hoping to thaw her out in a few days with knowledge that will put her mother's killer behind bars. Unfortunately, Rodolfo learns of their plan, cuts the power supply to the school (so the body will rot) and then rats them out to the police (so they'll be arrested). Because of this, they never have a chance to revive Laura. All involved in the experiment are later acquitted, however, when authorities learn that Laura wasn't exactly murdered, but a willing participant. Rodolfo on the other hand, is never caught or charged with anything.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to mention that upon the hour Laura's spirit was supposed to return to her body, a family friend gave birth to a baby girl. The baby - named Karol - proves to be super-intelligent even as a toddler, stabs a piece of raw meat with a syringe and shows an aptitude for piano playing without having had any lessons. She also has the psychic gift of premonition and accurately predicts that her parents are going to die in a horrible plane crash. So why is she so strange and other-worldly? Well, because "Karol" is just a host body for Laura, and she's been put back on Earth in human form to right a few wrongs. As an adult now in college, "Karol" bumps into Laura's now middle-aged former boyfriend Ray (who is played by the director himself) and instantly falls for him. The pieces all fall into place as to who she really is... and when she finds out that Rodolfo is still living in the area, she's able to finally exact her revenge.

Being plot-heavy and packed with incident doesn't save this talky, unfocused New Age-y tale of reincarnation and revenge from being dull. The acting is bad enough as is, but the horrendous dubbing, hokey dialogue and brainless character actions only makes matters worse. Religion is a prevalent theme throughout, but what's shown here doesn't really adhere to any one particular religion; it's almost as if the director has decided to invent his own or doesn't want to commit to the belief system of just one. Very strange, but it's an interesting point of view and Téllez does end things with a great, haunting final shot that's almost worth slogging through the rest of the movie to get to. Almost.

Despite being English-dubbed, this was never released in America in any form. Actually, it was never released theatrically in Colombia either. The backers decided to send it straight to video.

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