Friday, January 31, 2014

Wheels of Terror (1990)

... aka: Metal Monster
... aka: Terror in Copper Valley

Directed by:
Christopher Cain

Currently, this Duel-inspired thriller (which debuted on cable TV) sits over on IMDb with a lousy 3.9 rating, which gives one the impression that it's not only below average but bordering on awful. Oh Wheels of Terror... I guess nobody loves you... Nobody but little ole me. Now allow me to be master of the obvious for just one second. There's not a single movie on this planet that someone out there doesn't enjoy. As a matter of fact, sometimes I'm actually quite shocked to find out what other people enjoy. How some can find redeeming qualities to films like MONSTER A GO-GO (1965), PSYCHED BY THE 4D WITCH (1972) or even CRAZY FAT ETHEL II (1988); all movies I've panned on here, has me at a real loss. As far as Wheels of Terror is concerned, you will not be hearing many good things about it on most other blogs or websites and, for the life of me, I'm not sure why it's so roundly disliked. Sure, it's certainly not a flawless piece of cinematic art; there are some clear issues here and it's sometimes downright corny. However, I remain firm in my stance that this is not only not awful, but it's actually pretty good and I hope to make a case for that right here.

Wheels stars Joanna Cassidy, one of those under-appreciated actresses who's just so effortlessly appealing and relatable that she improves every single film she appears in no matter how bad the film may otherwise be. Her character here - Laura McKenzie - is the type of role Cassidy really excels at: a down-to-Earth, normal, well-intentioned single mother who's usually running around in baggy sweat clothes and with her hair a mess. Laura has just recently moved from L.A. to the small, dusty desert town of Copper Valley in hopes of not only providing a safer (she thinks!) environment for her 12-year-old daughter Stephanie (Marcie Leeds) to grow up in, but also a better life. Laura is dead set on Stephanie getting a good education because, as she bluntly puts it, she doesn't want her to end up just like her driving school buses for a living. But Laura's about to learn that it doesn't really matter where you live. Evil lurks everywhere... and the town of Copper Valley is about to be rocked by a child predator on the loose.

Young girls from the area start falling victim to a child molester who drives a dirty black sports car. The first few girls are abducted for a short period of time, violated and then (otherwise) safely dropped off intact, but the creep's initial victims are so traumatized by the event that they prove to be little help in identifying who did this to them. Laura, whose job as a bus driver requires her to be especially careful and observant about the children entrusted in her care, notices the car lurking around the school. She then comes to the realization that whoever's in the car seems to be stalking both her and her daughter; even going so far as to show up at their home late at night threateningly revving his engine. The crimes escalate further when Stephanie's best friend Kimberly (Kimberly Duncan) is not only raped but murdered. Laura goes to Detective Drummond (Arlen Dean Snyder), but he and the rest of the police force prove to be of little help. Sure enough, the car manages to eventually snatch up Stephanie right in front of Laura. Thankfully, the school bus she's been given to temporarily drive has been supped-up with a race car engine by her mechanic Luis (Carlos Cervantes).

After adeptly setting up the premise and characters, Wheels then begins the chase portion, which takes up nearly the entire second half. These scenes are very well-directed, well-edited, action-packed and quite suspenseful, with excellent stunt work, stunt driving and good use of slow-motion. The camerawork is consistently impressive and surprisingly sophisticated at times; including a crane shot rising up from the highway to look down upon a moving vehicle. We never actually get to see the driver, but we don't need to do. It's clear that the car itself was meant to be a faceless representation of all child molesters. 

There are a few obvious problems here, including two extremely annoying kids who are still on the bus when Laura begins her chase. After about a hundred whiny demands of "Stop!" "Don't!" and "Pull over!" you want Laura to scream "STFU already!" Thankfully, they're dropped off after about 10 minutes, but still their lives are put in some risk. It seems a bit out of character for Laura, though it's somewhat understandable considering if she loses the car, she loses her daughter. And if any parent places themselves in her shoes, they'd likely do the same exact thing. The very end unfortunately gets a bit silly as well, especially in regard to how the daughter escapes the car and a last-minute attempt at a shock. But those are really just small gripes in an otherwise solidly-crafted thriller.

Wheels first showed up on the USA Network before being issued to VHS (and laserdisc) by Paramount. There is currently no DVD release.


Nekromantik 2 (1991)

... aka: Nekromantik 2: Die Rückkehr der liebenden Toten
... aka: Nekromantik 2: The Return of the Loving Dead

Directed by:
Jörg Buttgereit

Whether or not you actually enjoyed Nekromantik (1987), you've got to hand it to German director Buttgereit for making quite a lasting first impression. Working with a microscopic budget and utilizing grainy Super 8 black-and-white film stock, he managed to turn his feature debut into a successful cult hit by daring to be incredibly disgusting. The tale of necro sex (which was banned in certain countries and quite controversy upon release) has gone down in the history books as a must-see for shock cinema devotees. In other words, a sequel was in order. The major differences this time out is that there's a female lead, it's in color and it doesn't quite go the same gross-out route. It takes the proceedings pretty seriously and there's a somewhat arty approach to the material, pacing and camerawork. Things open with the memorably nasty suicide of the first film's protagonist Rob (Daktari Lorenz), which begins in black-and-white and then turns to color. Now he's about to get a taste of his own postmortem medicine when his rotting corpse becomes the sexual centerpiece of a disturbed female necrophile's dark desires.

Nurse Monika (Monika M.) shows up at a cemetery dressed in high heels, stockings, a polka dot blouse and a miniskirt and armed with a shovel and pick-axe. She digs up Rob's body, takes it home, strips it naked and indulges in a little bump n grind with the slimy, blue body (which ends up making her sick). She cleans the body up, tries to camouflage its bad odor with flowers, dresses it, poses for pictures with it and snuggles with it on the couch. But Rob isn't the only man in her life. She's also just started dating Mark (Mark Reeder), who works as a porn movie dub-over artist. After going on several dates, she starts to like him and begins fancying a normal relationship. And that means Rob has got to go. She puts the corpse in a bathtub and dismembers it with a hacksaw in loving detail while she sobs. Not able to completely part with it, she saves the head (which she keeps in a casket in her living room) and the penis (on a plate in her fridge) and takes the rest back to the graveyard.

Pretty soon, Monika and Mark start getting a little more serious, but he becomes perplexed by her odd behavior. She never wants him to move during sex and likes taking bizarre photos of him (like hanging upside down naked). He also discovers her little penis plate in the fridge, but doesn't say anything. Monika has a few of her girlfriends over (sort of a necro support group) to watch a video of a seal autopsy (?!) and Mark begins to think that something is seriously wrong with his new girlfriend. The gruesome finale proves he is correct in his assumption.

Not nearly as graphic or disturbing as the first movie (though it has its moments), this steers away from the grotesque gore for a more serious, though leisurely, look at necrophilia. Buttgereit takes his sweet time telling this simple story and many of the scenes seem to go on far longer than they needed to. Some of the camerawork is truly excellent, though, and the music score is consistently interesting. There's even a great fantasy musical number sequence in here. As far as the gore is concerned, it's mostly relegated to three scenes but Sammy Balkas' makeups (especially a very bloody decapitation) are very effective. Beatrice Manowski (star of the original Nekro) has an in-joke appearance and Florian Koerner von Gustorf (who starred in the director's follow-up Schramm [1993] along with Monika M.) has a small role as a drunk guy at a bar.

Nekromantik 2 began production in 1989 and has a copyright date of 1990. In 1991, shortly after its release, Munich police officers seized the film because they said it "glorified violence." It remained in their custody until someone made a successful case for it being art. Buttgereit (who can be seen here in a cameo viewing a ridiculous black-and-white art house film in a theater scene) also makes time to plug his obscure film Hot Love (1985).


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Horror Recs Challenge 2014: Weeks 3 & 4 (Jan. 15-28)

Had a slow last few weeks (at least by my standards!), so I'm combining two weeks together for this update. I managed to watch eight more films for the challenge during this time, bumping my grand total up to 24. Not a bad first month at all as January comes to a close... but there's still 168 more left to go.

Big Ass Spider! (2013; Mike Mendez) [Viewed Jan.27]
A SyFy Channel-style big mutant spider flick with slightly better acting, writing and special effects than usual. For a full review CLICK HERE. [USA] [rec'd by sdaveak47★★1/2

The Children (2008; Tom Shankland) [Viewed Jan. 25]
*PICK OF THE WEEK* Two married yuppie couples and their children (a rebellious teenage daughter who doesn't really want to be there and four little ones) get together to spend a pleasant Christmas holiday in the country. Well, that's what they were initially hoping for at least! One of the kids is sick, and quickly spreads whatever he has to the other three children. Unfortunately for the adults, it's not a case of the sniffles but some kind of highly-contagious virus that turns all of the children into evil, emotionless, calculating and homicidal psychos but doesn't appear to have any effect on them. Films about evil children have been a mainstay of the horror genre ever since The Bad Seed (1956) and Village of the Damned (1960), but this type of film has really taken off here in the past few years. Though poorly edited is spots and lacking much in the way of plot and substance, The Children still does the theme about as well as anything else I've recently seen. It's well-made, strongly directed and photographed, utilizes the wintery outdoor settings quite nicely and boasts solid performances from the entire cast. There's plenty of tension and suspense, some genuinely shocking, bloody and / or nasty moments and the filmmakers make the astute decision to leave the origin of the strange disease completely ambiguous because, quite frankly, it seldom really even matters in these things, anyway. [UK] [rec'd by Nan00k★★★

Flexing with Monty (1994-2010; John Albo) [Viewed Jan. 28]
The late Trevor Goddard (who died of a drug overdose in 2003) stars as Monty; an obnoxious, narcissistic bodybuilder / PE teacher who spends all of his time working out, farting, fucking a blow-up doll, going on homophobic religious rants, thrusting his ass and crotch into the camera and flashing back to a better time in his youth when his loving granny used to massage his ass and give him hand jobs. His whiny younger brother Bertin (Rudi Davis) is a sensitive teenager who keeps some deformed and presumably retarded banana-eating, constantly-masturbating monkey-man with Spock ears in a cage in his bedroom and has been more or less kept isolated by his brother... who turns out to actually be his father. A nun (Sally Kirkland) finally shows up to wax poetic about the legend of the biblical Lilith and perform an exorcism on Monty's cock. After a production history of nearly a decade and a long period lying in limbo, Unearthed Films finally decided to unleash this monstrosity onto DVD. They really should have left it buried for good. Flexing with Monty is one of the most idiotic, self-indulgent, nonsensical, monotonous and annoying films I've ever had the misfortune to sit through. When the director isn't busy worshiping every inch of Goddard's sweaty bod (pretty much the sole redeeming factor of this production), he's busy forcing his cast to recite monologues filled with some of the most embarrassingly awful and irritatingly pretentious dialogue ever captured on film. Hideously awful. [USA] [rec'd by emertens

Murder Party (2005; Jeremy Saulnier) [Viewed Jan. 20]
While walking down the street on Halloween night, geeky loser Christopher (Chris Sharp) finds an invitation to something called a "murder party" on the ground. Having no plans for the evening, he fashions a last minute knight costume made out of cardboard and decides to attend... only to find himself tied down to a chair with a handful of raving eccentric artists planning on murdering him and filming the act. Why? For the sake of art, I suppose. I think the intention here was to make a satire of the pretentious New York City art scene, but this film isn't particularly funny, nor is it scary or disturbing or compelling or really much of anything. There are a couple of laughs and a last-minute splattering of gory murders, but once the premise is established it really has no place to go and quickly becomes tedious, especially dragging in the mid-section. Nearly the entire film takes place in a dimly-lit warehouse, the acting ranges from OK to God awful and the characters come off as either obnoxiously one-note or completely unlikable (not even the lead character merits much sympathy as there's no real effort put out to humanize him). I'm giving this an extra point because for an extremely low-budget production it's fairly well-photographed and edited. Note: Some people seemed to enjoy this more than I did, so I'd still recommend giving it a look if you're curious. [USA] [rec'd by DaveHedgehog★★

Plaga zombie: zona mutante (2001; Pablo Parés, Hernán Sáez) [Viewed Jan. 24]
Three young men (including a washed-up former professional wrestler) are dropped off in the middle of a street in an abandoned small town overrun by zombies. There, they fight the zombies... and then run away. Fight some more zombies... and then run to somewhere else. Then fight some more zombies... and go to a house for a breather (and a random musical number). And then fight some more zombies... and fight with each other.... and finally discover the spacey secret of the living dead they've been fighting all along. Plaga zombie is an intentionally silly shot-on-video comedy / action / splatter flick made with all the enthusiasm and good spirits in the world by a completely amateur cast and crew. It's filled to the brim with amusing homemade gore and zombie makeups and the makers clearly worship at the feet of people like George Romero, Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. There are constant nods to films like Bad Taste, The Evil Dead and Romero's famous "Dead Trilogy" sprinkled throughout that many fans of this stuff are gonna enjoy. Even though it more than wears out its welcome with an overlong run-time of nearly 100 minutes and becomes tiresome and repetitive as a result, enough genuine no-budget charm seeps its way through all of the blood and guts and dismembered limbs and crazy camerawork and rapid fire editing to make this adequately entertaining for fans. [Argentina] [rec'd by ninjas-r-cool★★1/2

Sleepstalker: The Sandman's Last Rites (1995; Turi Meyer) [Viewed Jan. 15]
Thanks to some good ole black magic, an executed serial killer is able to return to life to continue his crimes and possibly gain immortality in the process. Typically gimmicky 90s horror. For the full blow-by-blow and screenies, consult the full review RIGHT HERE. [USA] [rec'd by SomebodyWicked★★

Strangler of the Swamp (1946; Frank Wisbar) [Viewed Jan. 22]
While WWII was underway, German director Frank Wisbar emigrated to the United States and ended up stuck working in the bottom-rung poverty row PRC Studio in Hollywood for his duration of his stay in the states (he'd return to Germany in 1959 where he made more films and lived out the remainder of his days). One of his crowning achievements while in America was this one, a remake of his earlier film Fährmann Maria (1936). Rosemary La Planche (who had been crowned Miss America in 1941) stars as Maria Hart, a young working class girl who travels to a small swamp-bound village to take over her late uncle's job operating a hand-pulled ferry. She soon realizes that the marshes are haunted by the ghost of a man who was wrongfully executed years earlier and avenges himself not only on his killers (her uncle included) but also their descendants. This utilizes typical 'doomed love' sub-plotting in which Maria may have to ultimately sacrifice herself in order to both break the curse and spare the life of the man she's fallen in love with. Standard writing and plotting, dated and melodramatic performances, rushed, ineffective old-fashioned romantic aspects and a spoonful of religious mumbo jumbo customary of its time bog this down some, but it's also wonderfully foggy and atmospheric. The sets are quite good, the female lead is a bit stronger, braver and more independent than what was commonplace at the time and Wisbar shows a fine eye for visuals and establishing mood. I'd imagine he'd have come up with something truly great given a good script to work with. [USA] [rec'd by Zombie_CPA★★1/2

Strippers vs. Werewolves (2012; Jonathan Glendenning) [Viewed Jan. 26]
This joins the ranks of Zombie Strippers (1998) starring porn queen Jenna Jameson, Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! - Strippers vs. Zombies (1998) and Zombies vs. Strippers (2012) (yes those are all three different films) in this new "stripper" horror subgenre. What should one expect from these titles? Well firstly, obviously some T&A and sexy dancing. After all, these are strippers we are talking about here. Second, monsters doing battle with said strippers. And finally, a sense of humor. Strippers vs. Werewolves provides all three components, but sadly doesn't do well enough in any of the three areas to leave viewers feeling fully satisfied. There's some rather brief nudity in just a few isolated scenes and none of it is contributed by the leading ladies. Even worse, there's hardly any dancing OR stripping (boo!). The promised showdown between the vixens and the undead happens at the very end, is over before it even has a chance to get good and is horribly edited and directed to boot. As for the comedy, there are a few chuckles here and there, but it misses the mark more often that not. Everything is presented in a comic book-style fashion sometimes utilizing different panels showing simultaneous action, but it's photographed in such a dowdy and murky way that it doesn't come off as intended. In addition, the werewolf make-up designs are absolutely terrible. Sarah Douglas (playing the brassy strip club owner), Billy Murray (leader of the werewolf pack) and others do what they can to spruce this thing up. Robert Englund and Martin Kemp both also turn up in a useless cameos. [UK] [rec'd by alchemie666★★

JAN. 15-28 STATS:
FTV (First Time Views): 8
Repeat Views: 0
Total: 24 / 192
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