Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mo (1983)

... aka: 魔
... aka: Boxer's Omen, The
... aka: Demon

Directed by:
Chih-Hung Kuei

If you want to see pure insanity captured on film, make sure to check this one out. A championship boxing match between a Hong Kong and a Thai boxer gets ugly when the losing Thai fighter, Ba Bo (Bolo Yeung), administers a post-match kick to the back of the winner's neck, fracturing his spine and paralyzing him for life. The injured boxer's brother Hung Chan (Philip Ko Fei) is almost killed by the evil fighter's gang of thugs that night but is saved by the ghost of a monk and later visited in his apartment by the same ghost and a floating upside-down "V" emblem. Upon a trip to the hospital to visit his injured sibling, Hung learns of his brother's wish: He wants to be avenged. Hung then travels to Thailand, challenges Ba Bo to a match that's to take place in three months time and then, on his way out, recognizes the golden "^" he'd seen floating in his apartment above a temple. There, he learns that there's another reason fate has brought him to Thailand other than to avenge his brother. Apparently he's living a parallel life to Abbot Qing Zhao, who was his twin in a past life... and has been dead for a year. The only reason Hung himself isn't also dead is because the monk was on the verge of achieving immortality and his body is still well preserved... at least for the time being.

Flashbacks reveal what happened to Abbot Zhao the year prior. He had gone to Hong Kong to battle an emissary of evil and managed to kill the guy (making him rapidly age to death) and captured a bat that climbed out of his mouth. The man he killed was just an underling for a more powerful, even more evil sorcerer and a battle of magic ensued. Said battle involved chanting, smoke, snakes and reanimated bat skeletons. The evil sorcerer milks three cobras, cracks open a worm-covered skull, mixes the venom in with the brain matter and then lets some rather plush-looking tarantulas suck up the mixture. Later that night, he snuck into the temple, scaled the walls and sent two of the spiders onto the sleeping Abbot. They bit him on the eyeballs and he eventually died. When Hung returns to his hotel room to let all of this soak in and contemplate it his next, he ends up getting sick and vomits up a live eel. Seeing as how he's on borrowed time as is, Hung decides to get more in touch with his spiritual side.

Hung shaves his head, changes him name to Kaidi Baluo and goes through monk training. He learns endurance by being forced to stand in a lake full of leeches and is put in a large clay pot where the words inscribes on the inside bleed over onto his body. To complete his indoctrination, he takes an oath to defeat all evil, follow the laws of Buddha and then must swear off gambling, killing, sex and money for the rest of his life. Almost immediately, the evil sorcerer who had killed Abbot Qing shows up to challenge Hung by cutting the head off a chicken, shaking the blood all over some crocodile skulls and then sending an army of bats after him. Through prayer, Hung is able to create a force field that protects him while the bats burst into flames. Hung is also able to ward off animated skulls. The evil sorcerer eats chicken intestines, pukes them up and then eats the puke, creates a green alien-looking monster and then detaches his own head. Hung is able to defeat and kill the sorcerer and thus release both Abbot Qing and himself from the curse.

Hung returns to Hong Kong and, having apparently decided not to stick to the same tenants of Buddhism he used to save his ass when he needed it, immediately gets down with his girlfriend in the shower. He then decides to go through with the match against Thai boxer Ba Bo and defeats him. Back in Thailand, the evil isn't extinguished quite yet as some other followers of the "Lord of the Dark" are busy at work. They kill a crocodile, gut it and place a female mummy inside. To resurrect her they chew up banana peels, decomposed bird and a chicken's tail (cut off a live chicken), then puke it up onto a plate and pass it to the next guy who then puts the regurgitated mixture into his mouth, chews and pukes it up again and finally feed it to the woman, bringing her to life. She uses her razor fingernails to poke the eyeballs out of a picture of Hung. After going temporarily blind and realizing evil is conspiring against him yet again, Hung (who has lost all of his powers for breaking the rules) learns he has just a few weeks left to live unless he can locate a Buddhist artifact (the Golden Ashes) in Nepal.

Hampered somewhat by inadequate characterizations and a frequently confusing storyline (which settles down fairly nicely by the finale), this is still one of the best of the Shaw Brothers horror productions I've seen. Visually, it's eye-filling, extremely colorful and quite astonishing, with outstanding art direction, great cinematography and kaleidoscopic lighting. It's also one of the most invigoratingly imaginative films out there, with a new surprise waiting for you around every corner. And did I mention it's extremely gory? There are many moments here that even *I* - with my iron-clad stomach - found pretty disgusting. The DVD - a nice and vibrant widescreen print with English subs - is from Celestial Pictures.

Director Chih-Hung Kuei made around 20 genre films for Shaw - including the entertaining nurses-in-prison flick BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS (1974), a supernatural spin on Les Diaboliques called HEX (1980), the necrophile shocker CORPSE MANIA (1981) and the serpent revenge flick THE KILLER SNAKES (1975), one of his only films that was dubbed and made it to American theaters. The Boxer's Omen was the last film he ever made and was a nice way to go out.


Dark Reel (2007)

Directed by:
Josh Eisenstadt

Sometime in the 1950s, struggling actress Scarlett May (Alexandra Holden) meets a talent scout from Spotlight National Films, who asks her if she'd like to do a screen test for their studio. She's lured to a warehouse and ends up starring in a snuff film instead, getting strangled and then dismembered before the cameras. 53 years later, Spotlight National is still an operating studio, churning out B-movie titles such as "Gnome Killer," "Nightmare Slasher" and "Snakes on a Crane." Horror fanboy Adam Waltz (Edward Furlong - looking a bit rough and pudgy here), who has just followed his bitchy débutante ex-girlfriend all the way from Virginia to Los Angeles, wins a one-line walk-on roll in the studio's latest effort "The Pirate Wench," where he quickly becomes affiliated with the (mostly self-absorbed) cast of crew. Soon after, a masked killer starts bumping people off who are in some way affiliated with the studio. Who is doing it? Why are they doing it? And how is this connected to the 1950s slaying?

This list of possible suspects and red herrings is about a mile long, but thankfully the majority of actors they cast do a pretty good job and are fun to watch. Lance Henriksen gives a typically strong showing as troubled studio head honcho Connor Pritchett, who equates the murder of a starlet with free publicity. Tiffany Shepis gives a very appealing performance as friendly horror movie queen Cassie Blue, and even somehow manages to have some decent romantic chemistry with her co-star. Tony Todd is fine as an intrusive detective (but unfortunately gets much of this film's worst dialogue), as are Emmanuel Xuereb as the studio's head of creative development and Jeffrey Vincent Parise as an arrogant and pretentious director. There's also veteran character actor Tracey Walter as an obnoxious tabloid journalist, Rena Riffel as Todd's partner, Whitby ("The Dream Child") Hertford, Mercedes McNab (from the TV shows "Angel" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and some other familiar faces. Unfortunately, attempts at making some of these side characters quirky and original come off as obvious and embarrassing much of the time, such as a secretary who annoyingly mimics everything her boss says, a foul-mouthed sound man who screams all of his dialogue and a lead actor who has bad breath because of his obsessive onion eating.

The flaws certainly don't stop there. Toward the end (huge spoiler here so skip to the next paragraph if you don't wanna hear this) the film becomes sloppy and the revelation of the killer's identity is basically a huge cheat. While the 1950s killer is pretty obvious early on, the current killer (predictably the son of Scarlett May) is played by an actor who looks like he's about 35, yet is playing a character who is 53 or 54 years old. The scenes parodying low-budget horror / exploitation film-making aren't clever or funny enough to really add anything of value to this film. Another aspect that I didn't think really worked is how the ghost of Scarlett returns to try to help Furlong's character uncover the killer. Her image superimposed over the Pirate film footage looked hokey and wasn't even really necessary.

So while this is a highly flawed film (particularly in regards to the screenplay and grating comedy elements), it still managed to keep my interest for the most part thanks to some nice directorial touches, a pretty good Badalamenti-inspired music score and a decent cast. Also good are the cinematography and the killer's mask/disguise. Though there is a little blood/gore (mainly at the end) and nudity, there probably won't be nearly enough of either to please exploitation movie fans. The opening sequence, stylishly shot in black-and-white, is the best scene in the entire movie, and there's generally enough good here to make me want to see what else director Josh Eisenstadt may have up his sleeve.


Decoys (2003)

Directed by:
Matthew Hastings

At St. John's College, in a small snowy Canadian town, all the male students are foaming at the mouth over a slew of spanking new blonde, buxom and beautiful party-hearty hotties over at the Phil Beta Omega sorority house. Unfortunately for them, the ladies actually turn out to be scaly alien creatures in disguise who thrive on cold temperatures and male DNA, which they extract with blood-sucking tentacles that come out of their chests. As victims begin popping up ("frozen from the inside out"), a freshman student (Corey Sevier) discovers their secret and must convince a disbelieving pair of detectives (Richard Burgi and Nicole Eggert), his pretty tomboy friend (Meghan Ory) and his virginal roommate (Elias Toufexis) what's really going on. Their weakness is fire, which leads to a finale with our distraught hero raiding the sorority house and going on a flame-thrower rampage.

Decoys has a pretty entertaining and amusing first two-thirds, but it severely slips up near the end when it becomes a little more serious than its silly premise can believably accommodate. And there's an irritating non-ending to contend with as well, but the special effects are passable, there are a few genuine laughs and the cast does a pretty good job. Best of all is Kim Poirier, whom you may remember as the girl who got that nasty chainsaw death in the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake (2004). That film wasn't much of a showcase for the actress, but here she gets the chance to shine playing one of the seductive aliens. Just watching her go from an ice cream cone-licking seductress to a more emotional being when she warms up to one of the guys, you can see she has enough range and sex appeal to go far in Hollywood given the right breaks come her way. And though Sevier overdoes it a bit near the end, he probably has a bright future ahead of himself, as well.

Apparently, this was a theatrical release in Canada and a very limited big screen release in the U.S. before heading to video and TV.


Chupacabra Terror (2005)

... aka: Chupacabra: Dark Sees

Directed by:
John Shepphird

Here's another by-the-numbers SyFy Channel "original" (mahaha!) movie. Dr. Pena (Giancarlo Esposito), a "crypto-zoologist" (fancy term for one of those self-deluded losers who likes to study extremely rare - read: nonexistent - animals) and his crew of hunters manage to trap a Chupacabra, a big, scaly, elusive fast-moving beast. To get it to the mainland, they smuggle it on a Grecian cruise ship and some idiots open up the crate containing it despite being told specifically not to. I guess the strange growling noises coming from inside weren't a good enough deterrent either. The monster then does the monster thang; running around biting chunks out of various passengers until the ship's captain (John Rhys-Davies), a square-jawed special agent pretending to be an insurance salesman for some reason (Dylan Neal), a squeaky-voiced blonde Tai Bo instructor (Chelan Simmons), a bunch of guys with machine guns and others try to stop it. The main victims (who I think are supposed to be the comic relief but it's hard to tell) are an old rich bitch (Paula Shaw) with a yippy terrier and a snobby effete gold-digger (David Millbern). Apparently the monster can be knocked out with a single tranquilizer dart, but can live through dozens of bullet hits. The Chupacabra design is acceptable though unoriginal, but the rest of the movie is devoid of suspense, surprise or interest.

I had originally written this review back in 2005 and had ended it with the following sentence: "The Sci-Fi Channel have made dozens of movies just like this with nearly interchangeable characters and plots, but with slight alterations on the creature. Enough already!" Apparently it wasn't even close to "enough already" for the channel as they've made at least 100 almost identical movies since then, and they've gotten even worse with the inclusion of self-aware humor about how stupid they are.


Bachelor Party in the Bungalow of the Damned (2008)

Directed by:
Brian Thomson

Chuck's (Joseph Riker) about to get married to Michelle (Trina Analee) in a few days. His cousin Sammy (Gregg Aaron Greenberg) is put in charge of throwing the bachelor party and gets in contact with a former high school acquaintance - the uptight Gordon (Joe Testa) - who allows them, along with their pals Paulie (Sean Parker) and Fish (Gelu Dan Rusu), to use his uncle's bungalow in the Hampton's as long as they don't trash the place. Three mysterious, leather-clad strippers (Zoe Hunter, Monique Dupree and Kaitlyn Gutkes) show up for the evening's entertainment, drag three of the men into bedrooms and soon reveal themselves to be some kind of vampire-demon-succubi creatures who feast on human flesh. Two of the five men are quickly killed, Chuck is transformed into an undead vampire and Sammy must try to straighten things out before Michelle shows up to share some important news with her future husband.

A low-budget effort, for sure, but debuting director Brian Thomson (who also wrote, produced and edited) actually does a fairly good job working within his budget range (10 thousand dollars) and giving anyone apt to even rent a title like this in the first place exactly what they want to see. The film is well-paced and, though a bit too dark at times, decently shot for the digital medium. The running time of 77 minutes is about right. There's comedy (some amusing, some not so much), the dialogue isn't nearly as bad as one might expect, characters are drawn fairly well, the cast is appealing for the most part (Greenberg in particular shows real promise) and there's plenty of nudity provided by B-movie Scream Queens Hunter and Dupree. The ending (which utilizes some flashbacks) is also well done. The lynch pin here are some awful, laughable CGI effects, which take it down a notch or two.

Overall, it's a pretty fun way to spend an hour or so of your time, but only if you enjoy these low-budget B-movies. As long as your not expecting deep, life altering cinema (and who would, based on that title?) and can accept this on its own terms, you should have a pretty good time.


Bloody Murder 2: Closing Camp (2002)

... aka: Bloody Murder 2
... aka: Halloween Camp
... aka: Halloween Camp: Trevor vs. Jason

Directed by:
Rob Spera

Well, it's an improvement, I guess. Then again, saying this movie is better than the first is like saying Son-In-Law is a better Pauly Shore movie than Jury Duty. It's still pretty awful. Whiny blonde virgin Tracy (Katy Woodruff) takes a job as a camp counselor at Camp Placid Pines, where her brother Jason (Tyler Sedustine) had disappeared five years earlier. Smart move there, sister! Aside from being plagued by bad dreams and having to fend off the annoying sexual advances of her impatient horn dog boyfriend Mike (Kelly Gunning), she and the others end up being stalked and killed off one by one by someone disguised as famous local masked murderer Trevor Moorehouse. They should have listened to Juanita the cook, who lives in such fear of the local urban legend that she waits three days before the camp closes to high tail it outta there.

First of all, Part II is better than the first film and three-fourths of the entertainment value is contributed by then-up-and-coming Scream Queen Tiffany Shepis, who easily gives the best acting performance and provides all of the film's nudity (in the shower, in a car, in the woods…). Unlike the original BLOODY MURDER (2000), this one actually delivers some gore. We get legs cut off, a head smashed with a rock, a chainsaw through a stomach, an arrow through a neck, a head split open with a machete and more. But Tiffany and the gore cannot make one overlook the awful acting and horrid script, which includes some stupid SCREAM-inspired dialog (the black character talking about how he'll get killed first) and tries to put blame on obvious sources (the camp owner, the horny boyfriend, etc.) before pulling the identity of the mystery killer out of thin air at the end. Ugh. Talk about a cheat.


Abducted II: The Reunion (1994)

... aka: Abducted 2

Directed by:
Boon Collins

Abducted II just happened to roll its way into my VCR at the right time. It has quite a few impossible-to-believe and/or silly sequences, but after sitting through too-numerous-to-mention lame 'erotic horror' efforts from the 1990s, this low-budget thriller ended up being surprisingly fun and entertaining; an all-around breath of fresh air. Basically, it was nice to see a contemporary 'B' picture that cuts out the tiresome ten-minute slow-mo sex scenes in favor of action, story, scenery and character. This one delivers pretty much what exploitation fans want to see (possibly more), and much in restraint to genre demands; meaning there's violence, but not too much; T&A, but not too much, etc. Nothing really crowds out or takes too much time away from the story, which is rare in one of these films. And the story is actually very workable, fast-paced, action packed and energetic. It's a follow-up to ABDUCTED, a pretty obscure and seldom-discussed 1986 film from the same director, which featured Lawrence King-Phillips as Vern; a grizzled, bearded backwoods madman in animal skins who kidnaps a jogger and plots to make his new captive his wife. At the end of that film, Vern was killed by his own estranged father (Dan Haggerty). Or so he thought.

This sequel (set many years after the first) finds three former college chums; busty, pouty Italian babe Maria (Raquel Bianca), reserved red-head divorcée Sharon (Debbie Rochon) and tough blonde Ingrid (Donna Jason), reuniting for a nature trip in a secluded Canadian national park. After a quick stop at a general store for a quick chat with the owner (Jan-Michael Vincent), the girls hike to a lake, camp out for the night, share stories and drink, but their fun (and a strong hint that Maria and Ingrid are really lesbian lovers, a side-plot that incidentally goes nowhere and is curiously dropped altogether) is short-lived and in come the horror film trappings. Vern (King-Phillips again) comes crawling out of the woods in a horned animal mask, kills a voyeuristic male camper staying nearby, assaults the ladies, ties them to a tree and then informs them he's still actively searching for a wife. After doing some animalistic mating dance and looking the three lovely ladies over, he can't quite decide and figures, what the hell, he'll just take all three of them fillies back to his cave home.

The girls are tied together in a chain and are yanked through the woods when Vern decides to stop so the ladies can strip and show him what they got. However, Vern doesn't know that Ingrid is a black-belt, so she turns the tables on him, karate kicks him, does some back flips and escapes. Vern just shrugs and continues on with the other two. Then we get a hilarious She-Rambo sequence where Ingrid (dressed in spandex pants and a sports bra) ties a wet bandanna around her head, camouflages herself with mud and tree limbs, carves a home-made spear out of a branch and then heads out to save her pals. She ends up catching up to them on a rope bridge and nails Vern with a spear. He and Maria tumble into the rapids and wash far down the shore. Wimpy Sharon (whom Vern deemed "damaged goods" for having been previously married) wants to go get help, but Ingrid insists they don't have the time and have to save Maria on their own. Vern and Maria end up making it back to the cave, where she tries to keep him from raping her by becoming his friend and assuring him women like it "tender and gentle." He makes her take off her "city clothes" and wear an animal rag. She relates an out-of-place, but brief, sex flashback. Ingrid and Sharon continue to trample through the woods. Meanwhile, Grizzly Adams himself, Dan Haggerty (as the same character from the first film), reluctantly guides brutish Vincent (whose pastime is big game hunting) around in a helicopter so he can hunt down a white ram for his trophy room. Everyone converges to lock horns at a finale where all the guys end up seriously injured or dead as the ladies resort to their primitive animal instincts to survive.

Filmed on picturesque Vancouver Island, Canada, this has the occasional badly-matched stock shot of a wild animal lurking about, but the cinematography is pretty good and the location work (around forests of mossy trees, waterfalls, rock cliff, etc.) is great. There's always something to look at it. A decapitated sheep head rolling down a hill is a pretty memorably odd sight, anyway. The acting isn't Oscar caliber (not that this film requires it), but it's surprisingly good nonetheless. No one walks through their role. King Phillips is effective as the ranting madman and makes a grand entrance, Jason (a real-life martial arts champ) is great, Haggerty and Bianca are both fine and hell, even Vincent (looking a little less haggard than usual for this time) is watchable. After you get over the initial shock of seeing Rochon as a weak-whiny character here, you'll see she can also be believable as a more conservative member of society... Conservative that is until she gets desperate for help and rips her top off to try to get the attention of a helicopter. And conservative until she gets fired-up at the very end and... Well, I won't ruin the end but to say Debbie gets the single best line in the film and it's well worth waiting for.

Despite some minor debits, the cast, director (who co-scripted with Lindsay Bourne with a fun feminist slant) and production people respect their audience and get higher marks for good will, meaning I'm cutting this some slack in the grading department. The DVD release - just a transfer from the video version - was from Front Row Entertainment.


Zankoku hanten (2008)

... aka: Cruel Restaurant

Directed by:
Kôji Kawano

Seemingly inspired by Fruit Chan's DUMPLINGS (most commonly seen in a shortened version in the anthology THREE... EXTREMES), this low-budget time waster basically takes the silly route, with mild gore scenes mixed with comedy that starts out goofy but becomes increasingly more tasteless as the film goes along. Young Ms. Lin (Mihiro), naive and oblivious to where head chef/butcher Mr. Chin (Sakae Yamazaki) is actually acquiring his cuts of meat, owns a very popular restaurant that specializes in unique tasting fried dumplings. Meanwhile, people from the same vicinity are disappearing without a trace. Put two and two together and it's pretty obvious what the secret ingredient is they're using in their prized dumplings. Many side characters seem to be onto the unorthodox practices of the establishment right from the beginning, including a female reporter (Miho Funatsu) who watches a fisherman reel in a severed hand, a food columnist whose sister had disappeared and was last seen at the restaurant and a couple of police detectives (Katsuya Naruse and Yûsuke Iwata). Also thrown into the mix are an unhinged wanna-be cook determined to become Chin's apprentice and a perverted dumpling "master" shown in flashbacks teaching Ms. Lin the way to make the best dumplings.

There's quite a bit of blood in this one with gory scenes of the chefs hacking up lumps of bloody meat, people getting chopped up with a meat cleaver, a decapitation, dismemberments, a chopstick stuck in an eyeball, a chicken beheading, a silly rubber frog getting chopped in two and more. There's also a strange rape scene where the rapist covers his victim in oil, eggs and ketchup before getting his head lopped off. I'm sure the multiple nude scenes from the beautiful lead actress will also be appreciated by many viewers. Unfortunately, this never seems to find the right note of lunacy and the uncertain fluctuation in tone throughout makes it less enjoyable than it could have been (nevermind the fact that the humor isn't always that effective to begin with). The "surprise" ending (a play on the old ping pong ball trick *wink*) doesn't really seem to fit in with the rest of the film, either.

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