Jun 30 2016

Mortuary (1983)

mortuaryOnce there was a time when hanging out at the roller rink wasn’t just a thing, but the thing. That time was the time of Mortuary, one of the more interesting slashers, to be honest, despite said skating. Mind you, “interesting” does not necessarily equal “better.” I’d say the forgotten film deserves a second look, if only it had been fortunate enough to earn a initial one.

High school good(-ish) girl Christie (Mary Beth McDonough, then freed from a decade of servitude as one of a kajillion siblings on TV’s The Waltons) is still mourning the death of her father, although she does not know his poolside passing was flat-out murder. We do, because we see it happen in the prologue — in slow-mo, no less! Girl’s got her hunches, but she’s too busy skating and seeking solace in the warm embrace of her admirably patient (but understandably blue-balled) boyfriend, Greg (David Wallace, Humongous).

mortuary1Greg undergoes a tragedy of his own when his best bud, Josh (Denis Mandel, 1990’s Brush with Death), disappears after the two boys witness a cult ritual at the local mortuary: black-robed babes, burning candles, Pieces’ Christopher George — all the makings of a satanic panic! Perhaps those events have something to do with the mysterious cloaked figure stalking Christine, hmmmm?

If one were to judge Mortuary by ending alone, the argument for “another movie” could be made in concrete. It defies not just the film’s own rules, but those of the natural world, like Avedis and co-writer/wife Marlene Schmidt (They’re Playing with Fire) suddenly decided to shift planes of existence and told no one. Whereas this head-scratcher of an axis spin would kill lesser horror entries — hell, even greater ones — it actually sticks a pin on the pro side.

By then, if not well before, viewers will have forgotten about the plot, about the murder, about Josh’s vanishing act, about Lynda Day George’s bosoms struggling against the silky fabric of her nightgown, and yes, even about Christie, our ostensible Final Girl. Not even her sex scene (in which McDonough was body-doubled) stood a chance against the power of the Pax and the preposterous. The two constitute a formidable team. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jun 29 2016

Monsterland (2016)

monsterlandAn unofficial companion to 2015’s Zombieworld, the Dread Central website’s presentation of Monsterland is another horror anthology assembled from pre-existing shorts that fit a broad theme and are held together with the loosest of strings. In this case, a sure-to-expire survivor (Josh LaCasse) takes temporary refuge from an apocalyptic outbreak raging outdoors by ducking into a movie theater and plopping down in a seat. We see what he sees — simple, huh?

With a title that doubles as a summary, “Don’t Go into the Lake” (from The Invoking 2 contributor Corey Norman) offers nudity, blood and gore … and yet neither point nor true conclusion. The best bit of Monsterland immediately follows with Luke and Peter McCoubrey’s “The Grey Matter,” in which an office romance between co-workers (Come Out and Play’s Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Shame’s Lucy Walters) is comically doomed. Although it ODs on cannibal jokes, the piece is superbly acted and edited. Another standout is the wordless “Curiosity Kills,” Sander Maran’s inventive splat-stick comedy that merges the sensibilities of early Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi with Dennis the Menace and Looney Tunes.

monsterland1The Mangler Reborn’s Erik Gardner examines nocturnal dangers in “Hag,” notable for giving The Exorcist’s Eileen Dietz the title role. Fully animated, but crudely so, “Monster Man” is nice to have in the lineup for the sake of variety, but the work of Frank Sudol (Dead Fury) is mercifully brief and its punch line seems to come courtesy of those joke books you ordered from the Troll Book Club back in grade school. Again, variety, but just because Jack Fields’ “Happy Memories” is the only segment to star puppets doesn’t mean it’s any good. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, no matter how enticing I’m about to make it sound: It’s as if David Cronenberg staged Punch and Judy at your local head shop. Drugs are a helluva drug.

Meanwhile, Graham Denman’s “House Call” holds promise as a lonely dentist (Ruben Pla, Big Ass Spider!) is ordered by gunpoint to remove the bicuspids of a man who thinks he’s becoming a vampire, but the short moves at half the speed it should and, in doing so, gives us more than enough time to anticipate its “twist” ending. Wrong Turn 2’s Matthew Currie Holmes stars as “Stay at Home Dad,” a delightfully twisted look at why men have nipples. As with the wraparound, it is co-directed by Andrew Kasch and John Skipp, who also gifted Tales of Halloween with one of its highlights. Finally, there’s just-like-it-sounds “Hellyfish,” Patrick Longstreth and Robert McLean’s apparent 20-minute bid to land the next Sharknado sequel, the difference being these guys knew when to quit. —Rod Lott

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Jun 28 2016

The Nightmare (2015)

nightmaredocSkepticism prevented me from seeing how Room 237 director Rodney Ascher could make a compelling feature documentary on the subject of sleep paralysis. The Nightmare is not only a mind-grabber, but a sphincter-clencher. Even those viewers who do not struggle with sleep paralysis — read: about 93 percent of us — should find it unsettling all the same. After all, bad dreams are bad dreams: relatable, no matter what might scare you.

Yet sleep paralysis is more than mere bad dream. It’s a condition in which the sleeper hallucinates a terrifying scenario, yet feel physically unable to move a muscle in reaction. In interviewing eight people spread about all jagged corners of our nation, Ascher finds startling commonalities in their stories, which Nightmare re-enacts with disturbing precision and visuals simultaneously simple and creepy as hell: shadows, static, glowing red eyes. (Hello, darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk to you again, about why on earth you’re doing this to me!)

nightmaredoc1I should have known better; the guy made an eerie, hair-raising short about the Screen Gems logo that, after three viewings, still gives me the shivers. The Nightmare scares while serving the interest of science, and raises an intriguing theory about the correlation of events reported by sleep paralysis sufferers and by people claiming to be alien abductee; in other words, the latter may “just” be the former and don’t know it.

Anyway, good night! Sleep tight! Don’t let your anus be probed! —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jun 27 2016

Five Golden Dragons (1967)

5goldendragonsFor one of his myriad adaptations of Edgar Wallace works, brand-name producer Harry Alan Towers takes us to Hong Kong to meet Five Golden Dragons.

Our inadvertent tour guide is Bob Cummings (Beach Party) as American bachelor Bob Mitchell, whose sole purpose for hanging at the Hilton seems to be to charm the bikinis off the lovely women he meets. Through a roundabout way — one that the iconic Hitchcockian characters played by Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart knew all too well (and, in the latter case, too much) — Bob finds himself inexplicably implicated in the death of a man, soon followed by several more for heightened intrigue. He’s innocent, of course, but the local police inspector assigned to investigate (Roy Chiao, Bloodsport) isn’t easy to convince.

Who’s to blame? The members of the titular international syndicate that controls the illicit gold market. This society of “the most evil men the world has ever known” is so secretive, even its quintet of members don’t know one another. When they do meet, they lumber around in ill-fitting, parade-ready dragon heads that look utterly ridiculous instead of threatening.

5goldendragons1The film’s marketing raised much ballyhoo over who was underneath those disguises, each “a great international star”: Christopher Lee (1959’s The Hound of the Baskervilles), Brian Donlevy (The Curse of the Fly), Dan Duryea (The Burglar) and George Raft (that year’s Casino Royale). Unhidden is the film’s most terrifying villain: Klaus Kinski (Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu) as Gert, chain-smoking his way through daily duties of assassination and intimidation.

A bumbling everyman, the affable Cummings was a big TV sitcom star at the time, and plays his lead role less like an action hero with global smarts and more like Bob Hope with a bubble gum habit. He cracks wise at every opportunity, even though said cracks elicit no laughs and the movie by Towers’ four-time collaborator Jeremy Summers (The Vengeance of Fu Manchu) is assuredly not a comedy, despite evidence to the contrary in one life-or-death chase sequence scored with slide whistles and bass drums.

I have no clue if Wallace’s source material was set in Hong Kong, but I do know Towers sure got his money’s worth shooting there, as the picture doubles as a big, bright travelogue that captures the flavor of the Chinese city’s exotic locales, indoors and out. Illuminating the foreground are three criminally beautiful women in Margaret Lee (Jess Franco’s Venus in Furs) and, playing sisters, the drop-dead gorgeous Maria Perschy (1972’s Murders in the Rue Morgue) and Towers’ wife, Maria Rohm (1974’s Ten Little Indians). Each had me mentally booking a one-way ticket. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jun 23 2016

The Gorilla Gang (1968)

gorillagangAlthough today’s audiences know him for co-scripting 1933’s classic King Kong (if they know him at all), the prolific Edgar Wallace once held name recognition so powerhouse-high, he was his own brand, with hundreds of his novels and short stories adapted for the screen. Some of them, The Gorilla Gang included, even begin with an audio welcome from the man as his blood-spattered logo appears over the action.

So what if he had been dead for more than 30 years? The Wallace moniker made bank, baby! It’s easy to see why. His mysteries are simple, often deceptively so, as is the case of this Gang, alternately known as The Gorilla of Soho.

gorillagang1Represented by Inspector Perkins (Horst Tappert, in a role he reprised for the following year’s The Man with the Glass Eye) and his investigation partner, Sgt. Pepper (Uwe Friedrichsen, No Survivors, Please), Scotland Yard is baffled by a string of slayings in which the victims — all males traveling from other countries, yet with no UK relatives — are killed only on misty nights and retrieved from the Thames. Our heroes also possess knowledge of a syndicate whose members work solely under the shroud of fog and dressed in gorilla costumes, but Perkins and Pepper fail to consider potential linkage, despite it being as obvious as a connect-the-dots page torn from a preschooler’s coloring book.

It takes the translation skills of former nurse and current African language specialist Susan McPherson (Uschi Glas of Wallace’s The College-Girl Murders, also directed by Alfred Vohrer) to realize that 1+2=homicide, after she is brought in to decipher semilegible hieroglyphics scrawled on a plastic baby doll discovered on the waterlogged corpse of a millionaire wool merchant from Canada. Bringing Ms. McPherson along for assistance, romantic possibilities (for Pepper) and eye candy (for you, dear viewer), the law enforcers track leads that take them to a Salvation Army-esque nonprofit, a nudie bar, a nunnery and — none too soon — the lair of the acrobatic “apes.”

Aided tremendously by a swingin’ Peter Thomas score as big and brassy as some of the ladies for hire in the aforementioned club, The Gorilla Gang is colorful with its criminals, both in characterization and eye-popping appeal. Going down smooth, just a tad naughty and (in case you weren’t paying attention the first time) involves murderers disguised as goddamn gorillas, this is one Bacardi-and-dice-game of a killer krimi. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.