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).

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