Apr 13 2017

The Dungeon of Harrow (1962)

Before a lengthy career drawing many a Charlton Comics title, Pat Boyette tried his hand at filmmaking. Although he technically succeeded, in that he directed three movies in two years, he failed spectacularly. His best-known film, The Dungeon of Harrow, is harrowing only in trying to sit through it.

Looking not unlike Nicolas Cage dipped in Clairol Natural Instincts for Men, the weaker-than-milquetoast Russ Harvey overwhelmingly underwhelms in his starring role as Aaron Fallon, a trust-fund wimp who is one of only two shipwreck survivors stranded on the island of Count Lorente de Sade (William McNulty), our obvious madman whose requisite Gothic castle predictably includes an array of guest accommodations (read: torture chambers).

When I tell you that the shipwreck is rendered via toy boat, or crashes of lightning achieved through the flickering of light, I do so not to encourage viewing, but to testify against it. The extra spaces inserted randomly in the opening titles should be considered a bellwether — one warning of “incomprehensible dreck ahead.”

As director, co-writer, editor, composer and supporting player, Boyette was aiming for something in the snazzy style of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. The result is The Terror, but on Medicaid assistance. Shot in San Antonio, The Dungeon of Harrow proves that precious few Texas-lensed terrors can be a Chain Saw Massacre. This is one of those public-domain titles that even the public domain took a gander, turned up its nose, made a shooing gesture and said, “Nah, I’m good.” —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Apr 10 2017

Eliminators (1986)

Eliminators presents itself like the pilot episode for a series the network suits decided against ordering, so they burned it off as a TV movie of the week. It even concludes with the we-don’t-have-an-ending freeze frame of our heroes smiling and laughing — in that beyond-clichéd way Ron Burgundy and his Channel 4 news team parodied in Anchorman: “We are laughing and we are very good friends. Good buddies sharing a special moment … laughing and enjoying our friendship.”

Of course, Eliminators was not a television show; it’s a feature from Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, directed by Peter Manoogian (Seedpeople), but the real creative force at work is the screenwriting duo of Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson. One can see the fun-loving seeds of their later superhero projects take sprout, including The Rocketeer and the 1990 TV series of The Flash.

Based not on any pre-existing property, Eliminators assembles a ragtag group of five disparate do-gooders:
• Mandroid (Patrick Reynolds, Battle Force), who’s half-man, half-android;
• the bra-less and brilliant scientist Nora Hunter (Denise Crosby, Pet Sematary);
• her pet robot, R2-D2 Spot;
• pirate captain Harry Fontana (Andrew Prine, Terror Circus), whose powers amount to being surly and steering a boat;
• and Kuji (Conan Lee, Gymkata), a martial-arts master on hand to lend diversity just before the movie ends.

Together, they seek to end the evil bidding of Mandroid creator Dr. Reeves (Roy Dotrice, 1972’s Tales from the Crypt) and his time machine. There is little more to it than that, and Manoogian ably gets the crew from point A to point B. Crosby has never been more forthright or adorable, and Prine, ever the pro, gives a performance as spirited as if he had landed a million-dollar payday. His angry monologue midway through this trifle serves as its ideal description and review: “What is this, anyway, some kind of goddamn comic book? We got robots; we got cavemen; we got kung fu! … This is some kind of weird-ass science-fiction thing, right?”

Correct! As rousing as this adventure is, it’s a shame Eliminators never got a second chapter. But the Mandroid sure as hell did, as concept-recycler Band resurrected the machine man for a pair of inferior Full Moon films: 1993’s Mandroid and its immediate sequel, Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Apr 6 2017

Aftermath (2017)

As far as I have surmised, Arnold Schwarzenegger does three things really well:
1. Be an unstoppable killing machine (either human or cyborg).
2. Poke fun at himself.
3. Secretly impregnate the help.

Unfortunately, only two of those relate to onscreen activity, and neither is required of him by the demands of Aftermath. Instead, the dramatic thriller finds the one-time box-office champ in Maggie mode: dour, dreary and even depressing.

In Aftermath, the near-septuagenarian Schwarzenegger portrays Roman, a blue-collar family man anxiously awaiting the return of his wife and daughter on an overseas flight. When he arrives at the airport to pick them up, he is greeted not with the joy of a reunion, but the tragic news that an accident has occurred: the midair collision of two descending planes, one of which carried his loved ones. Blame is placed on white-collar family man Jake (Scoot McNairy, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), illogically the only air traffic controller on duty at the time, although technically, faulty equipment is the real culprit.

But every tragedy needs a villain’s face, and Roman is intent on hunting Jake down to confront him and demand the apology he has received from no one. Meanwhile, the weight of reality bears heavily on Jake’s shoulders, threatening to tear his family asunder as well. (Perennial Taken victim Maggie Grace hits some nice, understated notes as his wife.)

Having successfully directed one Expendable through a more serious ringer before (Jason Statham in Blitz), Elliott Lester faces an uphill battle with Arnold in Aftermath. Schwarzenegger simply hasn’t the acting chops to pull off this kind of high-stakes drama, and his discomfort with trying appears more evident the thinner the material gets. McNairy is reliable as ever, but underserved by a script (from Javier Gullón, 2013’s unconventional Enemy) that keeps its thrills as separate as bookends and fills in all the minutes between with the maudlin processes of a grief-recovery workbook.

When our two leads finally meet toward the film’s conclusion, you may wish Schwarzenegger needn’t have bothered with knocking on the door, when the simple blast of a bazooka would have done just fine 30 years ago. That is the loss I feel. —Rod Lott

Apr 5 2017

Minutes Past Midnight (2016)

It came from Canada! Minutes Past Midnight, that is — an indie horror anthology fashioned from nine pre-existing shorts, with no effort made toward a wraparound. Produced and presented in part by Rue Morgue magazine, the film is wildly uneven in both tone and satisfaction — as one would expect from a project with so many creative visions at work (including a killer bunny, a ghost train and a bloodthirsty floor that always wants more), yet boasts enough standouts to tip the scales toward “win.”

But you wouldn’t know it from the start, with portraits of families cannibalistic and psychotic doing more to infuriate than entertain. After these initial stumbles, Minutes finds its footing with “Crazy for You,” a rom-com parody of sorts from Severance scribe James Moran. Its lovelorn narrator (Arthur Darvill, TV’s Legends of Tomorrow) sets up the premise thusly: “It’s difficult to find love … when you’re a serial killer,” particularly one whose base impulse is triggered by polka dots. Thus, it is inevitable he falls for a cute, chipper blonde (Hannah Tointon, The Lost Future) whose home is decorated in … oh, c’mon, you knew that was coming.

Hollywood effects wizard Kevin McTurk (Galaxy Quest) delivers a spellbinding animated segment in “The Mill at Calder’s End.” Not only does this stop-motion sensation nail the trappings of the Gothic genre, but taps its undisputed queen for voice work: Black Sunday’s Barbara Steele. Next, Ryan Lightbourn (All the Devils Are Here) goes lower than lowbrow for “Roid Rage,” a satisfyingly sick-minded short about a homicidal hemorrhoid; although not everybody’s cup of crap, “Roid Rage” does in less than 15 minutes what a combined 15 Troma movies cannot.

To jump ahead to the end, ABCs of Death 2 contributor Robert Boocheck channels vintage Sam Raimi to a hilarious and “Horrific” degree. You’ll howl with delight as a Texas redneck (Mike C. Nelson, Dust Up) destroys his trailer-trash home as he does battle with a chupacabra. Giving Minutes Past Midnight its golden hour (give or take 53 minutes), this Boocheck guy needs a feature. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Apr 1 2017

Guest List: Bryan Senn’s Top 7 Unsung Were-Gems

Bryan Senn’s latest book, The Werewolf Filmography: 300+ Films, covers every lycan-centric movie you can think of, and scads more you otherwise never would have heard of. But maybe you should — at least the ones that are good. In this Guest List for Flick Attack, Senn tracks down seven little-known were-flicks well worth your attention.

When horror buffs turn their attention to werewolves (and who among us hasn’t done that on occasion?), a number of tried-and-true titles invariably spring to mind: The Wolf Man, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Curse of the Werewolf, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, etc. But alongside these well-known classics lurk a pack-ful of impressive beasts prowling mostly unseen through the darkness of obscurity. So I thought it’d be (ahem) illuminating to shine a full-moon light on a few lesser-known and underappreciated specimens of lycancinema. Folkore dictates that the seventh son of a seventh son is destined to become a werewolf, so here are seven werewolf movies (in chronological order) you didn’t know you needed to see, but you do …

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