May 9 2017

Rest Stop (2006)

With an electrical socket as its logo, Raw Feed jolted to life, kinda, in 2006 as a direct-to-DVD subsidiary of Warner Home Video and intended home for envelope-pushing horror free from MPAA meddling. Instead, Raw Feed issued product that felt overly derivative and devoid of imagination; six flicks later, the outlet ran out of juice. Its final offering was 2008’s fittingly titled Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back, a sequel to the line’s debut. That first film, plain ol’ Rest Stop, is so rote, I couldn’t submit myself to a part 2. I feel like I’ve seen it anyway.

Young Midwestern lovers Nicole (Jaimie Alexander, Thor: The Dark World) and Jess (Joey Mendicino, whose only other movie role to date is the sequel) run away from home and hit the open road toward California. (In other words, like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, if the Joads headed west not for work, but the freedom to copulate.) After stopping for an open-air quickie, Nicole’s girl bladder ruins everything when she has to tinkle. Begrudgingly, Jess pulls over to — cue ominous music — a rest stop in the middle of the woods. It’s a place no right-minded city planner would allow one to be built, lest he’s seeking to serve the body-waste needs of storybook creatures.

Surprise! The facilities are a dump! (Last Shithouse on the Left, anyone?) While Nic is squatting atop the scum-layered stool to make water, Jess mysteriously makes like a tree and leaves. You won’t pry it outta me, but his vamoose act might have something to do with the shit-kickin’ redneck in the yeller truck.

If not for the pre-existing Joy Ride and Wrong Turn franchises revving up around that time, Rest Stop might be fresher meat … except that still leaves dozens of other crazy-dude-in-a-vehicle films to contend with, notably the ’80s VHS fave The Hitcher and the granddaddy of them all, Steven Spielberg’s Duel.

Better known as a writer of nearly two dozen X-Files episodes and creator of its short-lived The Lone Gunmen spin-off, John Shiban made his feature directing debut with Rest Stop, and has yet to follow it up. He also wrote it, yet given the pedigree of the landmark X-Files series, the only thing shocking about his script is how color-by-numbers predictable it is, which allows boredom to set in faster than quick-dry cement. More about spilling blood than turning twists, it owes its brightest spots not to leading lady Alexander, who spends the back half shirtless, but to the performance by former child star Joey Lawrence (Urban Legends: Final Cut) as a cop. Whoa! —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

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 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.

Mar 23 2017

Night Trap (1992)

Before toy giant Hasbro got into the blockbuster biz with the Transformers, G.I. Joe and Ouija franchises, it dipped its toes into the movie game with, well, a movie you could play as a game. Initially released for the Sega console, the CD-ROM Night Trap presented itself as a “U-Direct Film,” a rather toothless quasi-slasher that nonetheless generated enough controversy to become the subject of Senate hearings, get yanked from store shelves and result in the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Viewing the footage today, one wonders why Congress got its collective panties in such a bunch.

In the prologue, Lt. Simms (William Jones, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn), the skunk-haired leader of the Special Control Attack Team — yep, S.C.A.T.! — directly addresses the player with the setup. At the home of Victor and Sheila Martin (Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s Jon Rashad Kamal and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’s Molly Starr, reminding one of the Taster’s Choice coffee couple from the ad campaign of that era), five teen girls have disappeared while staying there as guests. Now, five more are staying the night, but this time, one of them, Kelly (Dana Plato, TV’s Diff’rent Strokes), is actually an undercover S.C.A.T. agent. Because the Martins’ suburban house is wired with hidden cameras and elaborate traps, Simms instructs players to control those things in order to save the young ladies’ lives, not to mention find out who — or what — is responsible. No worries — Kelly is always breaking the fourth wall to all but hit the button for you.

The girls immediately get down to some innocent partying — you know, a little crushing cookies into bowls of ice cream here, a little tennis-racket guitar antics there. (The latter is scored to Sunny BlueSkyes’ butt-rock theme song containing lines like “You’ll be caught in the night / Night trap!”) Almost as immediately, the threat appears, and it’s not the red-herring neighbor, Weird Eddie (William Bertrand, Attack of the Baby Doll). Instead, it comes in the form of “the Augers,” which are vampires dressed in what looks like scuba gear; their weapon of choice resembles a pool skimmer retrofitted to encircle a victim’s neck to drain it of blood. There’s also a little boy present, wielding a homemade laser gun, which makes as much sense as why there’s a trapdoor at the bottom of the stairs, not to mention a bed that flings its sleepers backward and out a second-story window.

Directed by James W. Riley and Randy Field, Night Trap contains no sex, no nudity and no violence that is not cartoonish. If anything were to offend the public, it should have been not that women were preyed upon by draculian frogmen, but that they were portrayed as helpless, shrieking shrews — and moreover, the kind who spend their free time pretending to shred on a Dunlop like they’re Stevie Ray Vaughn. Hell, let’s also throw in the injustice of the one black guy (Arthur Burghardt, Network’s Great Ahmed Kahn) being forced to don a painter’s cap with upturned bill, a Hawaiian shirt and a Jamaican accent — and all while being 14th-billed to Dana Plato. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Mar 21 2017

Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead (2013)

Trafficking in tastelessness, encompassing a comedic streak and in no danger of awards chatter, the indie-horror effort Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead is directed and co-written by Pretty Dead Things’ prolific Richard Griffin. His jacking-around movie works better than its clumsy title suggests. The plot is no great shakes, either, as some stuck-up high school students face a life-changing choice: two hours of detention or a trip to a wax museum? (Spoiler: They pick the latter.)

The site in question is where the eyepatch-sporting Charles Frank — aka Dr. Frankenstein (Griffin regular Michael Thurber, The Sins Of Dracula) — crafts his wax creations using body parts acquired from unwitting bodies, like those belonging to the unwitting teens. They’re easy to catch when they’re participating in such shenanigans as having sex in a coffin and when they’re just plain dumb: “Hey, you’re that boring museum tour guide! Well, fuck you, boring museum tour guide!” (And so it is with “fuck”: all in the delivery.)

Hungry Dead’s advantage? Spirit. I’ve always been a sucker for movies set in wax museums, and if Griffin isn’t, he’s sure done a good job of designing the ruse. This pic both parodies and praises such old-school scares, not to mention your above-average episode of the original-recipe Scooby-Doo. Griffin works so often and so quickly that viewers never know whether the result will be worth a watch (The Disco Exorcist) or not (Murder University); Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead steps into the plus column. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Read the original review in Exploitation Retrospect: The Journal of Junk Culture & Fringe Media #53