Dec 4 2016

Late Night Double Feature (2015)

latenightdfAlthough now virtually extinct, the horror-movie host once was a staple of local TV up and down the UHF and VHF dials. Paying tribute to this nearly lost art — while mocking it — is Late Night Double Feature, a Canadian indie that shows us an episode of channel 13’s Dr. Nasty’s Cavalcade of Horror as it also takes us behind the scenes. As hosts, Dr. Nasty (Brian Scott Carleton, Bigfoot and the Burtons) and sexy sidekick Nurse Nasty (Jamie Elizabeth Sampson, Dead Rush) introduce two movies (actually short films, which we see in full): Dinner for Monsters and Slit.

Directed by Zombieworld contributor Zach Ramelan, Dinner follows a chef (Nick Smyth, 11 Blocks) to a private meal for six he’s been hired to prepare, only to discover his hosts’ choice of meat is a human corpse. Just when you think that the cannibalism “reveal” is the whole joke — and not a particularly novel one — Dinner leapfrogs genres in a burst of gonzo energy.

latenightdf1The inferior Slit, from Terror Telly helmer Torin Langen, also is an on-the-job tale, as Brad (Colin Price, Bed of the Dead makes a house call to a crazed client (Caleigh Le Grand, Save Yourself). See, Brad is a professional cutter … and a freelance asshole.

Even bumpered by a mortgage commercial (deftly parodying the awfulness of locally produced ads, which attempt creativity without having any) and two fake trailers (for the just-as-it-sounds Night Clown and the backwoods creature feature Encephalopithecus), Late Night still has a full third to go. Director Navin Ramaswaran (Pete Winning and the Pirates: The Motion Picture) fills this by expounding on the previous bits and hints of off-camera chaos among members of the cast and crew. In short, Dr. Nasty comes by his stage name naturally, being a narcotized misogynist who takes advantage of cute interns, and his co-star is damn sick of it. In fact, after being physically tortured for real by the doc during one show segment, she reaches her breaking point and then flies right past it.

Unfortunately, Double Feature’s tonal shift is jarring, going from light and funny to grim and cheerless, and the film as a whole suffers for it. Adding more phony ads and coming attractions would aid tremendously in restoring the balance, especially since the flick does not present a whole-hog facade along the lines of the WNUF Halloween Special. The best course, however, would have been to pick a mood and stick with it, because the movies within the movie feel more like Ramaswaran and friends sandwiched in the shorts they could get, rather than build the shorts to suit the concept, which itself is killer and could withstand another go-round. As is, Sampson earns MVP status with her strong performance. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Dec 1 2016

The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas (1996)

munstersxmasEddie Munster is homesick for Transylvania. It seems Christmas just doesn’t feel very, well, Christmas-y when you’re a transplant to sunny Los Angeles. In fact, says the boy, “Christmas bites,” which is funny — well, in theory — because he can turn into a werewolf during full moons.

In order to make Eddie (Bug Hall, aka Alfalfa of 1994’s The Little Rascals) have a happy holiday, each of his four family members goes all-out. His father, Herman (Sam McMurray, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), squeezes in side jobs to afford that Marquis de Sade dungeon action playset Eddie so badly wants, while his mom, Lily (Ann Magnuson, Making Mr. Right), helps him deck the exterior of their castle with such macabre decorations as a working snowman guillotine. His “ugly” cousin, Marilyn (Elaine Hendrix, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion), plans one monster party, and ol’ Grandpa (Sandy Baron, Leprechaun 2) uses his devil magick to teleport Santa Claus into the home and accidentally turns him into a giant fruitcake, complete with hat, belt and beard!

munstersxmas1That Santa (Mark Mitchell, Inspector Gadget 2) nearly is eaten by a nosy neighbor (Silent Night, Bloody Night’s Mary Woronov, reprising her role from the previous year’s Here Come the Munsters) and then almost drowned in eggnog best signifies this made-for-TV movie’s slight streak of anarchy. The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas could have been pedestrian claptrap that put forth no effort beyond riding on property recognition; instead, director Ian Emes, the man behind many a Pink Floyd music video, and his crew tried — really, really tried. Granted, while it runs a distant second to the brilliant subversion of Addams Family Values, viewers must admire that jokes about phone sex and a woman’s midget-bedding fantasy were able to survive through the final cut of a family-oriented movie — one celebrating the birth of the Christ child, no less!

Despite such early cringeworthy moments as Herman busting into James Brown dance moves for a group of carolers, performances are on-target — even the ones meant to be broad (barring Baron’s), perhaps to honor the sitcom spirit of TV’s original Munsters family. McMurray is the most vicarious, and he is funniest in a throwaway reaction as his Frankenstein’s-monster character passes a lit torch he doesn’t expect to see as he descends a basement stairwell. Hendrix is appropriately adorable as the oblivious Marilyn, per this bar exchange with Tom (Jeremy Callaghan, The Great Raid), part-time rocker and would-be suitor:

Tom: “What’s your poison?”
Marilyn: “Strychnine.”
Tom: “How about something nonlethal?”
Marilyn: “All right. A virgin Bloody Mary — light on the virgin’s blood, if you don’t mind.”

You really shouldn’t mind much, excepting a dated reference to SnackWell’s cookies and Emes denying us the pleasure of seeing Santa make good on his promise to deliver deer shit to Eddie’s bully. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Nov 30 2016

Mutant (1984)

mutantEn route toward some much-needed R&R, the oil-and-vinegar brothers Josh (Wings Hauser, Vice Squad) and Mike (Lee Montgomery, Burnt Offerings) run afoul of a truckful of rednecks on the open road. The encounter ends with the sibs’ car in a ditch, effectively stranding the boys in this tiny town of Confederate flags, Royal Crown Cola and one alcoholic sheriff (Bo Hopkins, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money).

Oh, and blue-faced ghouls whose bodies leak pus the color and consistency of baby diarrhea — can’t forgot those!

Thanks to a toxic waste facility on the edge of town, various residents turn into zombies of some sort: the kind imbued with the touch of death. Their hands can melt glass and contact with human skin causes burns — or at least a little sizzle o’ steam, like the kind you may see while ironing.

mutant1Personally, if I’m asked to choose a story of a small town under siege that also happens to be directed by John “Bud” Cardos, I’m picking Kingdom of the Spiders each and every time. No offense, Mutant, but you rate a not-even-close second. The troubled and final Film Ventures production, Mutant (aka Night Shadows, a redundant title similar to saying Wet Water) works as passable time-filler without becoming anything special, although Cardos does have the balls to pull a Marion Crane near the 20-minute mark. More notable about Mutant is that, like a certain brand of feminine hygiene products, it has Wings. And the intensity of his performance is matched only by that of his Afro. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Nov 29 2016

Flood (1976)

floodAudiences barely had dried after embarking on The Poseidon Adventure when producer Irwin Allen decided to let his disaster river run inside America’s living rooms, by way of the made-for-TV Flood.

In the small town of Brownsville (located in Anywhere, USA), the sport of fishing attracts quite the tourist population and, thus, pays the bills. Private helicopter pilot Steve Brannigan (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice’s Robert Culp at his most Redford-esque) even flies filthy-rich anglers (including Planet of the Apes resident Roddy McDowall to and fro sweet spots for $150 a day, so one would be forgiven for thinking he may place his financial interest above the well-being of his fellow citizens, but nope — he and his aviator shades are our hero!

flood1The same cannot be said for town council head John Cutler (Richard Baseheart, Allen’s City Beneath the Sea), because when the water level rises and the dam starts to burst leaks, he advocates against opening the spill gates to drain the lake, thereby scaring away the fish. He’s our bad guy, which we know before he voices placing profits above safety, because he has a mustache and smokes a pipe.

Guess what happens: Yes, the dam bursts and Brownsville floods, through the magic of miniatures and stock footage — some of it in black and white! Among the stars put in peril are Poseidon vet Carol Lynley as a pregnant woman overdue for a burst of her own, teen idol Leif Garrett as a kid spreading word of impending danger, Titanic’s Gloria Stuart as a grocery shopper unwilling to believe him, and Black Swan’s Barbara Hershey and The Doll Squad’s Francine York as nurses of the cozy, down-home hospital.

Viewers will be surprised at how entertaining Flood can be on a scale considerably lower than what Allen’s act-of-God blockbusters were used to, and shocked at how director Earl Bellamy (who followed this up with the following year’s Fire, also for Allen) allows karma and comeuppance to punish Cutler. Let’s just say it’s the kind of bold move upon which network prime time frowned. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Nov 28 2016

Night Feeder (1988)

nightfeederTroubles abound in the San Francisco nightlife scene, as a trail of bodies left by an unknown serial killer bears one peculiar calling card: The victims’ brain cavities have been sucked dry, emptied through the eye sockets. While the police are left in quite the pickle, the murders are like gold to magazine journalist Jean (Kate Alexander, From a Whisper to a Scream), who’s writing an article on “the atmosphere of fear” when she’s not enjoying the FWB setup with her roomie, Bryan (Caleb Dreneaux). The snot-nosed punk rocker — a member of the local phenom Disease — appears to be young enough to have exited his lover’s womb.

Because Bryan once was involved in a fatal incident of ODing groupies, the long arm of the law extends his way. Police detective Alonzo (Deadly Desire’s Jonathan Zeichner, heavily perspiring a mix of ’80s tough guys Nick Mancuso, Steven Bauer and Joe Piscopo) is crazy-suspicious of Bryan (“Saying Disease is just a band is like saying Hitler was just an overzealous politician!”) and clearly will end up soiling the sheets with Jean, even though he repeatedly and dismissively calls her “Reporter Lady” to her face. (When the inevitable sex scene arrives, ’tis a real Sophie’s Choice to determine which is grosser: that he keeps his necklace on or that his arms are so hairy, viewers might think he’s still wearing a shirt.)

nightfeeder1Despite Alonzo’s public investigation, literally brainless bodies keep turning up. Perhaps the neighborhood’s facially disfigured hobo everyone refers to as The Creeper (Robert Duncanson, looking like Manos’ Torgo swallowed a whale) has something to do with it? Whatever, man, cuz danger ain’t gonna Disease (collectively billed as The Nuns) from spreading its aural infections, e.g., “Slit your wrists / Fuckin’ bitch / My suicide child / My suicide child!” Other than Disease’s sporadic performances (one at a house party where a guy walks around with a python draped around his neck, no big whoop), music in Night Feeder amounts to producer James Gillerman’s tin-eared score of seemingly random buttons pushed on a Little Virtuoso teaching keyboard.

For all of the movie’s ridiculous wrongs, its most glaring misstep among VHS-shot oddities is most unexpected: having ambition. Yes, freshman (and still that today) feature director Jim Whiteaker remains constrained by underfunding, yet proceeds with Linnea Due and Shelley Singer’s whodunit-procedural script as if it were slated for airing on PBS’ Mystery! They try hard, even aiming for scientific accuracy in a gory autopsy sequence depicted so meticulously that it feels real-time. Many members of the cast actually can act; while leads Alexander and Zeichner are unable to elevate the material, maybe it doesn’t need elevating. After all, the movie never reaches monotony.

Special commendation goes to Cintra Wilson (So I Married an Axe Murderer) for scene-stealing through general spaciness. Everything out of her mouth emerges with an “Oh, wow” quality, no matter what is being said. That I cannot ascertain how much of this is performance only adds to Night Feeder’s appeal. Don’t let anyone spoil the ending! Even if they do, there’s still plenty of 1980s video-horror fun to be had by soaking in all the aerobics, overly teased hair, cordless phones with antennas and so so so much leather. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.