Saturday, May 25, 2019

Shreck (1993) [copyright 1990]

Directed by:
Don Adams (on VHS box; closing credits)
"Carl Denham" (opening credits)
Harry James Picardi (on VHS box; closing credits)
Anthony Van Deuren (closing credits)

Sometime after World War II, a Nazi madman made his way to America, took on the new name of Max Shreck and settled in the small rural town of Harvest, Wisconsin. Soon after, townsfolk started disappearing. In the spring of 1958, police received a phone call from a whispering voice uttering just three words, "death," "Shreck" and "house." Upon paying a visit to Shreck's home, police shot him in the head after discovering the body of a high school majorette killed with a nail-lined helmet. Further investigation of the house uncovered a "torture dungeon" in the cellar complete with various torture devises and an oven Shreck used to burn up his victims' bodies. The remains of at least eleven victims were found. Somehow, this house of horrors was left standing and is currently inhabited by teenager Roger Drake ("William Lantry"), who's a huge horror movie fan and Nazi fetishist who couldn't be happier to live there. He's so into the story that he's even made his own amateur documentary on Shreck.

With his mother out of town and left all alone for a spell, Roger decides to take things a step further. Not content with hanging a swastika made of Christmas lights, listening to Hitler speeches on TV, making his own life-sized Max Shreck doll complete with gas mask and camouflage attire and baking a Nazi pizza with a pepperoni swastika (!!) Roger comes up with the brilliant idea to hold a séance to resurrect Max's spirit. Along with his "Dogs of Gore" horror-loving buddies Neil (Van Deuren) and Mike ("T.K. Malone"), the trio recite some generic Satanic chant and fake offer up blood as a joke but instead end up actually unleashing Shreck's spirit, who promptly inhabits the doll.

Shreck (Big Joe Mueller) goes outside and flattens all of the tires on the car, trapping them there, then digs up corpses of previous undiscovered victims in the front yard and resurrects them as sheet-covered helper ghosts. An attempt to call the police fails as only Nazi speeches come through the receiver and bullets from a rifle and a knife to the back don't slow down the undead Nazi. Even worse, the guys seem to have also managed to transport themselves back in time to 1958, more specifically to the exact night of Shreck's human death. Everything inside the home disappears, while Nazi curtains, Shreck's special dagger, a May 1958 calendar, older furniture, a movie projector (with a reel of Nosferatu) and even the former last victim, Karen (Sharon Wozniak), all reappear.

Like nearly every zero budget homegrown camcorder production, there's a whole lotta downright awful here. The acting's terrible, much of the dialogue is bad, the videography is consistently poor (especially the blue-tinted night scenes) and there's choppy editing, laughable public access fx, poorly choreographed attack scenes and a glacial pacing during most of the first half. If you make it past the first ten minutes where the star walks around on train tracks, makes Shreck t-shirts, listens to music and does absolutely nothing of interest you at least deserve a participation ribbon. Throwing in actual Nazi and concentration camp footage at points is tasteless, too, and not in any good way. But, dammit, I still somehow ended up enjoying this!

Surprisingly, there are some imaginative and really interesting ideas in here. I especially liked the traveling-back-in-time aspect coupled with the séance / resurrection spell. There are also some other amusing little touches, like the killer extracting a gold tooth from a victim and a couple of silly torture devises, including one that features a seesaw sending someone higher and higher up until they're decapitated by a swastika ceiling fan. We also get a pitchfork to the face, a hand cut off and fed to a tarantula (?!) and some kind of jagged metal weapon the killer slides over both feet and attempts to stomp someone to death with as he heads towards them on crutches!

The VHS release came in 1993 courtesy of Video Outlaw, a subdivision of Akron, Ohio-based Tempe Video. That label seemed to release exclusively shot-on-video junk (probably stuff that Tempe was embarrassed to issue on their main label) like The Zombie Army (1991), Snuff Perversions (1998), Necro Maniac (2000), Slave Girls on Auction Block 1313 (2001) and a bunch of Todd Sheets films. I don't think anyone has even bothered resurrecting Shreck since the initial VHS release. Even a later obscenely popular DreamWorks animated film series starring an ogre with an extremely similar name didn't help this film's plight any.

The opening credits list "Carl Denham" as director, though the end credits say this is "A movie by" Don Adams, Harry James Picardi (the two credited writers) and co-star Van Deuren. However, the video box lists just Adams and Picardi as the directors. Two of the stars, "William Lantry" and "T.K. Malone" are, in fact, also Adams and Picardi. I'm just not sure which is whom. Due to a pseudonymous "Arch Stanton" being billed as videographer, Jim Wynorski (who sometimes also used the same alias) has been assigned the credit, though he had nothing at all to do with this production.

Adams and Picardi went on to make a few other films, including Vengeance of the Dead (2001) and Jigsaw (2002) for Charles Band's Full Moon, as well as Dozers, which was filmed back in 2008 but has yet to be released over a decade later.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Slayer, The (1982)

... aka: El asesino de la isla (The Killer of the Island)
... aka: El maleficio satánico (The Satanic Curse)
... aka: Nattens bøddel (Hangman of the Night)
... aka: Nightmare Island
... aka: Pelon orjat (Slaves of Fear)

Directed by:
J.S. Cardone

Mentally unstable surrealist painter Kay Church (Sarah Kendall) has a recurring nightmare where some "thing" keeps trying to kill her. The dreams are so frightening she's forced to see a psychiatrist who puts her on medication and recommends she go away somewhere for a relaxing vacation. Kay's doctor husband David (Alan McRae) has found the perfect place: a secluded, unpopulated island that he sells to his wife as "the next best thing to paradise." Also coming along on the trip are Kay's commercial director brother Eric (Frederick Flynn), who hopes to get some fishing in, and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook), who's resentful that she and her husband never get to spend any alone time together and isn't looking forward to spending an entire week with Eric's troubled sister. They charter a small plane from pilot Mr. Marsh (Michael Holmes), who keeps warning them about various things on the island, which then drops them off there. No noise, no distractions, no pollution, no phone and, being off season, no tourists and no other people...

Immediately upon arriving, Kay has a strange feeling she's been there before. She not only recognizes the island itself, but also an old, abandoned theater and other things. In fact, she's painted each of them based on visions she's had in her nightmares. After a mile walk from the beach, the four finally find their fancy vacation home, which is stocked with food, drink and even has an elevator. Kay's depressive behavior, and recent slide into creating darker art (which has her on the outs with critics who once praised her), has everyone worried. David mysteriously vanishes late one night and the others get picked off one by one in various gruesome ways. Just who - or what - is responsible?

Despite receiving mild recent praise by some genre critics, The Slayer remains a very standard 80s horror / slasher flick in most regards, only with a smaller body count and slower pace than usual and more emphasis put on atmosphere, place and psychology than on stalking, body count and gratuitous POV shots. The isolated island setting (it was filmed on Tybee Island, Georgia) is very nice and there are lots of lovely shots of the beach and sky throughout. Night photography is also well done. It actually looks like it's night here yet you can still tell what's going on thanks to good use of simple light sources (lanterns, flashlights, flares) and frequent lightning flashes (much of the action takes place during a storm). But perhaps the biggest selling point are some sparse but above average gore fx from Robert Short (who went on to win an Oscar in 1988 for his work on Beetlejuice), which include a decapitation, a head bashed in with an oar and a great pitchfork murder. He also contributes a good "Slayer" creature to the film, though it's underutilized and only briefly seen at the very end.

The plot structure opens up several different possibilities as to what's really going on. First, Kay may just be crazy (she was blamed for putting a kitten in the freezer as a child and was then institutionalized until age 16) and either be envisioning / hallucinating / dreaming the events or actually doing the killings herself. Second, the events may be a premonition that Kay is having as she's supposedly been having the same dream about the same creature at the same place since early childhood. Finally, though not likely what was intended by the filmmakers due to the evidence on hand, the "Slayer" may be some kind of real nightmare creature that's somehow activated by Kay's dreams. While this dream-killer element does deserve credit for predating A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) it does little to punch up either the entertainment value or the interest level in this competently-made but routine effort.

Director / co-writer Cardone went on to make Shadowzone (1990), A Climate for Killing (1991), the vampire film The Forsaken (2001), The Scare Hole (2004) and 8MM 2 (2005), all of which featured Flynn in the cast and were produced by Kottenbrook (Cardone's wife). Eric Weston (who directed EVILSPEAK) was the executive in charge of production and Peter Manoogian (who went on to make many films for Charles Band's Empire Picture and Full Moon Productions) was first assistant director and unit production manager.

Produced on a 750,000 budget, which is actually quite high for an independent, regional genre film of this type from this era, The Slayer had a limited U.S. theatrical run in 1982 and then turned up on home video in 1985 courtesy of Continental Video, who shortened its running time so they could cram it on the same tape with Fred Olen Ray's SCALPS (1983). In 2017, Arrow Video out of the UK finally offered it uncut and in good condition as a Blu-ray / DVD combo. The film had been on the original list of banned video nasties in the UK even thought it's far less gory and trashy than most of the other films on the list.

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