May 3 2016

The Forest (2016)

theforestIf a tree falls in The Forest, well … that might wake this slumbering giant of a horror picture. Lord knows it could use it.

You know the rumor about how an identical twin can sense when something is wrong with the other, even if they’re on opposite sides of the globe? This whole movie hangs on that unproven ESP connection. Sara (Natalie Dormer, TV’s Game of Thrones) lives in America; her sister, Jess (also Dormer, but with dark hair), in Japan. When Jess enters the Aokigahara Forest — famed for being a suicide hotspot — and doesn’t come out, the authorities consider the young woman to be a goner. Sara, however, believes otherwise, because she doesn’t “feel” anything undue. Insisting Jess is still alive, she nonetheless hops a flight to find her.

Once in Japan, everyone Sara meets tells her that she would be crazy to enter the forest, and that bad things will happen if she does. So, with the aid of a travel-mag writer (Taylor Kinney, TV’s Chicago Fire) she just met in a bar, she does exactly that, and bad things happen. Because the place is haunted by the souls of the damned, those bad things are primarily cheap jump scares.

theforest1Unlike our heroine, viewers aren’t likely to get lost in The Forest, because first-time feature director Jason Zada (co-writer of The Houses October Built) follows the template established by nearly every PG-13 horror film funded by a major studio; everything you expect to happen, does. At best, The Forest is subpar supernatural, beginning with legitimate ambience (as did another American-girl-in-Japan tale, The Grudge), squandering that once Sara enters the titular site, and cribbing its lone good bit directly from Insidious.

Nothing about The Forest is original, but no one expects it to be. They do expect horror not to be a chore to watch, no matter how well-photographed. Taking their minor characters’ advice to heart, Zada and company are so careful not to stray from the well-trodden path followed by countless others before them, they fail to see The Forest for the trees. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

May 2 2016

Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre (2016)

sharkansasA shark movie with no tension or thrills is like a Jim Wynorski flick with no nudity. Unfortunately, Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre is both. Yet another Sharknado-style exercise in trying tedium, Sharkansas offers nothing of value beyond the title, which is admittedly amusing while also pushing it. Mind you, I’m open to Wynorski’s work; the problem is his heyday of The Lost Empire, The Return of the Swamp Thing and Transylvania Twist are long, long gone.

Because of fracking, underwater walls have burst open, loosing prehistoric sharks into the Natural State’s lakes and swamps. Being cooped up for presumably millions or thousands of years (pick whichever better adheres to your religious worldview), the spiky and finned creatures are starved, and humans do the body good. Investigating the resulting beheadings and such is a detective played by Traci Lords (whose role in 1988’s Not of This Earth remake for Wynorski and producer Roger Corman began her transition from porn to the mainstream). She mostly shouts.

sharkansas1Meanwhile, a few bouncing, busty, pneumatic lady prisoners are unlocked from their cells for a day of hard labor outdoors and near water. Essaying the parts of this belly-chain gang’s members are Instagram model Skye McDonald, Dinocroc vs. Supergator’s Amy Rasimas Holt, Piranhaconda’s Cindy Lucas and, as the subject of many an Asian slur doubling as derisive nickname, Bikini Frankenstein’s Christine Nguyen. The front-and-center star is the poor man’s Lolita, Dominique Swain, as the vinegar-dispositioned Honey. At one point, the girls find time to hot-tub (a Wynorski staple) and one of them makes a batch of peaches and chili beans for their dinner. Apparently, that ungodly culinary mix is a real thing, which appalls me far more than the movie could dream of engaging me. As these things go, the CGI sharks look more realistic than Lucas’ breasts.

Sharkansas is not funny, although it thinks that it is; a guy asks one of the women, “What do you do when you’re not fleeing prehistoric ass?,” and she answers, “Five to 10.” All that’s missing from that punch line is the squeezing of a rubber bulb horn for waka-waka-hey emphasis. Speaking of punctuation, the last line uttered in Sharkansas is also its most uttered: “Crap on a cracker!” (Cracker not included.) —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

May 1 2016

Reading Material: Short Ends 5/1/2016

marvelcomicsintofilmYou kids have no idea how good you have it! Avengers fighting Avengers in an all-out superhero melee in Captain America: Civil War? The comics-obsessed, grade-schooler me would’ve cut a bitch to see that! Alas, ’twas the ’70s, when we had to make do with Reb Brown on a star-spangled motorcyclemade for TV, no less! And yet, memories of those “golden years” are what makes McFarland & Company’s Marvel Comics into Film: Essays on Adaptations Since the 1940s such a blast to read. Edited by Matthew J. McEniry, Robert Moses Peaslee and Robert G. Weiner, the collection could just focus on the current Marvel Studios product and have plenty to write about, but luckily casts its net wider, to a point that may put off this generation’s fanboys weaned purely on the Phase One / Phase Two marketing initiatives alone — their loss! Being that kid who had to dream of a world of superhero movies, the standout pieces for me were those by Arnold T. Blumberg, David Ray Carter and Jef Burnham on, respectively, “the First Marvel Television Universe,” the aforementioned early Cap movies (including Cannon’s ill-fated 1990 version) and the “Small Screen Avengers.” That’s not to say other chapters didn’t tickle my four-color fancy, either, whether digging into the Conan the Barbarian franchise, Ghost Rider’s connection to Goethe’s Faust, Japan’s live-action Spider-Man series, George Lucas’ infamously character-misjudging Howard the Duck feature or David Hasselhoff’s turn as Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Look, any textbook that unironically compares the Punisher performances of Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson clearly is one kick-ass textbook. ’Nuff said.

deathbyumbrellaMachetes, finger blades, butcher knives? So passé. Menorahs, breasts and bongs are really where it’s at. And by “it,” I mean the means used to kill guys and gals in terror-tinged cinema. Co-authors Christopher Lombardo and Jeff Kirschner are like an overly morbid Casey Kasem, counting ’em down in Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons, released by BearManor Media in the indie publisher’s usual dual hardcover and paperback editions. Separated by category (kitchen utensils, sports equipment, etc.), each tool of execution earns its own description of the gory details, but in setting up each kill, the co-authors actually are providing a full-fledged review of the movie in question, thus making the book more than a mere list. Lovingly written with verve for the viscera, Death by Umbrella is fun and funny as it covers scenes both iconic (Happy Birthday to Me’s shish kebab, which doubled as its poster art) and arcane (Discopath’s slabs of vinyl). Only a few times do the guys pull from outside the genre (Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-anointed There Will Be Blood being the most egregious non-slasher), but we’ll forgive. After all, they can sate your curiosity surrounding DTV trash like Super Hybrid in order to save you from sitting through it.

encycweirdwestPaul Green’s Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns: Supernatural and Science Fiction Elements in Novels, Pulps, Comics, Films, Television and Games — Second Edition obviously aims for a niche-of-a-niche readership, and luckily for it, this reviewer happily counts himself among that group and, therefore, welcomes such a project that others may dismiss as “why bother?” waste. First published in 2009, this McFarland trade paperback moseys into your TBR pile with 47 additional pages so now we can read about more recent items, like the Jonah Hex movie. Green is not a critic — at least not within the confines of this book, which is a true encyclopedia as the title claims. Arranged from A to Z, entries are strictly factual in nature, ranging from one sentence to half a page. Success of these highly specialized reference texts is measured twofold: 1) that it includes every test you throw its way (the indie Western Tales of Terror comic book is here, as is NBC’s 1979 anthology show Cliffhangers), and 2) that it introduces you to obscurities so esoteric, they sound invented (Action Comics #311, the issue concerning “The Day Super-Horse Became Human”). Richly illustrated, most pleasingly with comic-book panels and pages, Weird Westerns errs only in the occasional questionable inclusion: Avatar, Mr. Green? —Rod Lott

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Apr 28 2016

They Came from Beyond Space (1967)

theycamefrombeyondspaceA stalwart of Hammer Films with the likes of The Evil of Frankenstein, Freddie Francis also directed many a genre pic for the rival Amicus, including They Came from Beyond Space, a cheap but enjoyable sci-fi flick based upon a Joseph Millard novel titled The Gods Hate Kansas, a title they clearly should have kept.

After a formation of meteors falls on a farm on Earth, people find their minds controlled by the glowing rock, accompanied by an entirely inappropriate crime-jazz score. Luckily, our hero (Robert Hutton, The Slime People) has a steel plate in his head, so he is immune to the aliens’ ways, although a spaghetti colander apparently does the trick, too.

theycamefrombeyondspace1And while “they” may have come from “beyond space,” they have taken up residence on the moon, where they’re lorded over by the Master of the Moon, played by Michael Gough, aka Alfred from Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s four combined Batman movies. Villain or no, it’s hard to hate such a nice old man. —Rod Lott

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Apr 27 2016

The Bermuda Triangle (1978)

bermudatriangleIn The Bermuda Triangle, Mexploitation royalty Réne Cardona Jr. (Guyana: Crime of the Century) is able to do what so many documentaries, works of fiction and real-life scientists have not: Pinpoint the reason for all the ships and aircraft that have vanished inexplicably from the Atlantic Ocean region roughly half-million square miles. The answer is so damned Purloined Letter-level obvious, I’m amazed no one thought of it earlier: a creepy, possessed doll. Of course!

The waterlogged plaything is plucked from the salty Caribbean by a crew member of the Black Whale III, aboard which is a vacationing family headed by salty ol’ Edward (legendary director John Huston in one of his many baffling late-career paycheck acting gigs à la Tentacles and The Visitor). Edward gives it to his youngest moppet, Diana (Gretha, a unimonikered newcomer who evidently succumbed to the Triangle herself after this), thus setting off a swath of unusual happenings that irk the fam and ship’s captain (frequent Cardona star Hugo Stiglitz, The Night of a Thousand Cats) far more than fog and storms.

bermudatriangle1Up first? Diana’s request to the chef (Jorge Zamora, Romancing the Stone) that her doll craves a bite of raw meat. Later brings an attack by green birds, waves a-sizzlin’ with Alka-Seltzer tablets, SOS signals from a ghost ship, reverse-footage nightmares and, while hunting and harpooning sharks for sport, a seaquake that knocks over the only stone pillars on the ocean floor, trapping Edward’s older, of-age daughter (Italian sex symbol Gloria Guida, How to Seduce Your Teacher) and claiming her lovely gams to the point of amputation being needed.

To make matters worse, Diana also starts yammering about how everyone is going to die, and in what order. She confidently “predicts” Simon will be first to meet his maker — no stretch since he is the film’s lone black character — and asks, “What color will Simon be when he dies: purple or white?”

As if you needed telling, The Bermuda Triangle is two hours of primo pepper jack cheese: dubbed voices, slapdash editing, a story that fails (forgets?) to follow threads to their ends. The movie just kinda sorta ends, with an onscreen crawl of the Triangle’s supposed transportation victims, culminating with the ominous warning: “WHO WILL BE THE NEXT?” Well, no one, Mr. Cardona, considering planes and boats are a “what,” not a “who.” Highly recommended, the schizophrenic flick is best enjoyed the way Edward’s alcoholic brother-in-law does throughout: with J&B on endless loop. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.