Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Island of Blood (1982)

... aka: Scared Alive
... aka: Whodunit
... aka: Whodunit?

Directed by:
William T. Naud

There's a lot of interest in a certain small, uninhabited and valuable island where a historic old school sits. It is currently owned by a wealthy old widow. At the end of the summer, she plans on donating it to her church for a tax break but until then she's renting it out. A film crew decides to bite. A few days before the entire crew is to arrive to begin shooting, pretentious director / writer Franklin Phlem (Ron Gardner) and sleazy producer Steve Faith (Terence Goodman) decide to have some of the inexperienced cast out for a few days rehearsal. Instead of the expected low-budget horror flick, the director wants to make an uplifting, positive rock musical about a band putting on a charity show to raise money for a school's music program. After all, he's sick of all the slasher-gore junk of the early 80s and wants to remind audiences that "not everyone is an exploiter or a sex maniac or a murderer." Much of the budget was put up by the completely untalented Betty Jean (Bari Suber), or BJ for short, who's just inherited a million bucks from her deceased sugar daddy and has secured the lead role simply because she's chipping in part of the money.

Amongst the group are trained dancer Donna (Marie-Alise Recasner), injured actress Lyn (Jeanine Marie), who hobbles around on crutches, womanizing "hunk" Rick (Richard Helm), who manages to get several of the ladies into the sack, and the geeky John (Jim Piper), who likes to lurk in the basement wearing a mask and scaring people with a cardboard machete. There are also three members of a rock band who got the gig because one of them - Phil (Steven Tash) - is "sponging off the no talent broad." The other two are Taylor (Gary Phillips), a stoned junkie who keeps going on about the end of the world and the bomb, and Jim (Rick Dean), a jittery, depressed drunk who'd had a nervous breakdown earlier. And since every slasher flick needs a creepy, grouchy old guy, this one gives up cook and island caretaker Bert ("Red" / Jared McVay), who's always lurking around clutching a butcher knife and hates the younger generation because they're "food-picky drug freaks." The characters are all pretty miserable and unlikable and the movie refuses to really give us a hero or heroine worth rooting on or caring about. I suppose it's one thing to have no clue who's going to survive the night but it's probably an even worse thing not even caring who does.

Phil heads out to the pool to go for a swim and discovers it's full of boiling water. Someone sneaks up on him, pushes him in and he's boiled alive. The incident is blamed on a broken thermostat. Uh huh. There's no phone on the island to contact the authorities, nobody demands to leave and Franklin just writes him out of the script, noting "we'll save a bundle of money!" For dinner, Bert serves everyone boiled lobster to bring to mind their fallen friend. Later that evening, Taylor gets a spear through his neck. The killer carries around a walkman that plays a rock song describes each of the murders. The song is called "Face to Face" and the lyrics keep changing: "Boil Me, Boil Me, Boil Me, Face to Face," "Spear Me, Spear Me, Spear Me, Face to Face," etc. No one really seems to pay Taylor's disappearance much mind. The caretaker and the producer finally decide to head back to the mainland to report the one death but the boat (their only way off the island) blows up and kills both of them.

Donna has had it with the "fish-faced honky director man" and starts packing her bags but she unwisely decides to clean up first and gets melted when someone pumps battery acid into the shower. This is enough to finally convince who's left that there is a killer amongst them. Everyone starts questioning everyone else. People start fighting. The power generator goes out. People act like complete dumb asses, refuse to stay together and start wandering off by themselves to get killed. Despite there being a psycho on the loose, one couple decide to have sex, which ends prematurely when he's stabbed up through the bed with a machete. Hands are sliced off, there's a chainsaw to the crotch and (off-screen) death by nail gun but unfortunately the lighting is so horribly dark you can barely make any of this out. We basically get people wandering around in the dark holding candles, seeing the killer and screaming as a murder weapon is raised and then some blur of their dead body falls into frame. It's downright boring. My mind just started to wander off. I began peeling the sticker off my lighter and rubbing off the sticky residue.. and then started reading my Mt. Dew label... and then I learned that the Mt. Dew I was drinking had brominated vegetable oil in it.... and then I wondered how brominated vegetable oil differed from regular vegetable oil... and why my spell check marked brominated as a nonexistent word. When I glanced back up at the screen, some guy was talking about making snuff movies and a chick shot him. The end.

A pretty dreadful and understandably forgotten slasher flick, this is slow as hell, dull as hell, completely unoriginal, poorly and amateurishly written, acted and directed. The Make-Up Effects Lab (who also created many of the "real" gore scenes in the Faces of Death movies) did some of the fx, but most are too difficult to see because of the poor lighting. Rick Dean is really the only notable name in the cast. Mr. Dean wouldn't make another movie until almost ten years after this one but then reemerged in the 90s playing essentially the same role he plays in this one: a creepy weirdo. Jimmy Williams, best known by me as the guy Michelle Bauer sawed to pieces in HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS (1987), shows up at the very end as a police officer. The actress playing Lyn, who is billed as "Jeanine Marie" looked awfully familiar, too, but I couldn't quite place her.

It was filmed in 1982 under the title Whodunit and was also released as Scared Alive. It about bored me dead. A VHS was released by the short-lived Applause Video but there's no legitimate DVD release. No big loss.

WitchTrap (1989)

... aka: Presence, The

Directed by:
Kevin S. Tenney

Some people out there claim this was made with serious intentions and just failed horribly. Others claim that Mr. Tenney wrote it as an intentional camp spoof of his biggest hit, 1986's WITCHBOARD; i.e. it's supposed to be bad. After watching it several times, I actually can't figure out what the original intentions were but I guess that doesn't matter so much. This movie is freakin' hilarious! Things are centered around "Lauter House," a Gothic mansion affectionately known as "Slaughter House" in the area because of a series of mysterious deaths that have occurred there over the past few years. As our film opens, there's about to be yet another one as Las Vegas magician The Amazing Azimov takes a dive into some concrete from a second story window. Cue Cherry Kool-Aid pumping. Devin Lauter (played by the director) owns the big, secluded SoCal mansion, which rests on some prime real estate near some vineyards and a graveyard, and plans on converting it over to a bed and breakfast. The home and property value would be around 5 to 6 million dollars except for one little problem: the sadistic ghost of Devin's late uncle Avery (J.P. Luebsen, the creepy guy from Witchboard) keeps killing off everyone who enters. Avery was a famous psychic and illusionist, a Satanist, a warlock and was also rumored to be a serial killer known as "The Vineyard Slasher." Two years earlier he was found dead in the home with his heart missing.

Devin hires atheist paranormal researcher Dr. Agnes Goldberg (Judy Tatum) to put together a team of psychics and ghost hunters to photograph and exorcise the Lauter House ghost. She brings along her goofy "mental medium" husband Felix (Rob Zapple), reluctant, deeply religious "psychic medium" Whitney O'Shay (Kathleen Bailey) and sexy video technician Ginger Kowowski (Linnea Quigley) to do the job. Forced upon them for protection in case things get out of hand are three rent-a-cops; the greedy head honcho at Q-T Security, Lt. Frank Murphy (Jack W. Thompson), and two of his finest operatives; wisecracking atheist Tony Vicente (James W. Quinn), who'd been kicked off the L.A. police force for his smart mouth, and "walking hard-on with feet" Levi Jackson (Clyde Talley II). Naturally things don't quite go as expected for the seven once they get in the home. For starters, there's a fat peeping tom groundskeeper named Elwin (Hal Havins) lurking around. And then there's Whitney, who's not fully in control of her own abilities so Avery's ghost is able to inhabit her body and use it as a way to strike out at the others using his supernatural powers.

In between the kills there are conflicts between Agnes, who believe ghosts are nothing more than electromagnetic energy, and Whitney, who believes ghosts are the souls of people who has lived and died. And conflicts between Tony, who thinks all of the ghost / haunting stuff is bs, and all of the psychics. And conflicts between Agnes and Tony, who are not religious, and Whitney, who is and thinks everyone who isn't is doomed. And between Tony, who's sick of being treated like crap, and his opportunistic boss. And Elwin and pretty much everyone. Avery needs to complete "the immortality ritual," which involves combining his ashes (it was a stipulation of his will that he be cremated and placed in the home) with his heart (which is located behind a pentagram in the basement), to return to life. First up for slaughter is poor Ginger, who - during the film's most memorable murder sequence - gets stabbed through the neck by a shower head. Linnea adds both spirit and nudity to this picture like she usually does and killing her off near the beginning probably wasn't the wisest decision in the world.

An animated bullet blows a guy's brains out, someone's head gets run over with a car, there's death by axe, an exploding van, an exploding head, a whole sequences that's an optical illusion, a human meltdown, a possession and a "ghost vacuum" (I suppose the "witchtrap" of the title) that sucks up spirits. And there are tons - and I mean tons - of one-liners, usually spouted by Tony. Some of them are pretty amusing, but when they're not, boy are they bad! The sole black character has lines like "Never say spade to a brother." and threatens "I'll tap dance on your face like Bojangles Robinson!" Because of what a huge smart ass Tony is, Agnes asks his boss "Why do you put up with him? Is he married to your sister or do you merely have a soft spot for ill-mannered Troglodytes?" And then there's the all-time classic "I always knew you were a scumbag, but I never knew how scummy a bag you could be." Adding big laughs are some of the worst and most hilariously monotone amateur performances I've ever seen. Most of the cast is pretty awful, aside from Quinn (who shows some promise even though his character is extremely annoying) and Quigley. Quinn also had a small role in Witchboard and provided Angela's demon voice in NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988) and its two sequels.

I've always enjoyed the hell out of this movie and consider it a guilty pleasure of mine, but I certainly can't sit here and say that it's good. I also can't really recommend this to most people. Only a specific type of viewer is going to appreciate the strange joys this movie offers. The premise isn't particularly original (borrowing much from the classics THE HAUNTING and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE), but it is actually competent even if much of the acting and dialogue are not. That - combined with lots of laughs, some cheap gore fx and a dash of nudity - helps to keep this movie reasonably enjoyable.

Originally released on VHS by Magnum. All advertising materials, including posters and the video box had a disclaimer warning potential viewers that it is not a sequel to Witchboard. I'm not sure if they were threatened with a lawsuit or were just scared they would be. After spending years in limbo, this was finally given a DVD and Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome in 2017.

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