Mar 7 2017

Attack of the Morningside Monster (2014)

From the start, we’re in agreement that Attack of the Morningside Monster sounds like a sci-fi cheapie of the Atomic Age, right? Something that Roger Corman would’ve outlined (if not scripted) during a bowel movement? The actual film’s title card drops all but those last two words — not much of an improvement, yet the movie is stronger than any moniker with which it’s saddled.

Morningside is a sleepy (and fictional) town in New Jersey shaken wide awake by a mysterious murder that soon escalates into a string of them — the work of a robed serial killer, keeping Sheriff Tom Faulk (Robert Pralgo, The Collection) and Deputy Klara Austin (B-movie queen Tiffany Shepis, who doesn’t even have to remove a stitch!) busy as those proverbial bees. Said slasher wears one of the silliest costumes this subgenre has ever seen: what looks like a papier-mâché Mardi Gras mask that’s been Bedazzled and sports an overbite so pronounced, any decent orthodontist would go ahead and put a downpayment on that yacht he’s been eyeing.

This thriller being director Chris Ethridge’s long-form debut, seams show — sometimes because a boom mike’s reflection can be seen, sometimes because his direction calls too much attention to itself. And honestly, the killings feel almost secondary, because he and screenwriter Jayson Palmer (Idiots Are Us) do a good job of setting up Sheriff Tom’s world. Dreary though it may be, the lawman’s daily routine with the townsfolk is interesting enough — and Pralgo and Shepis’ performances that damned great — that for several minutes, I genuinely forgot a cult-worshipping killer even was involved.

In other words, if Morningside Monster were just a low-key episode of Cops dealing with nothing more than the drunk and disorderly, I wouldn’t have minded. Heck, it might even be better that way, no matter how many circular handsaws may be missed. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

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

Feb 2 2017

MurderLust (1985)

Security guard Steve Belmont (Eli Rich, The Jigsaw Murders) possesses MurderLust in his heart. The Sunday school teacher has a hobby of hiring hookers, but he only gets his rocks off by strangling them. Then he dumps their dead bodies off a desert cliff, eventually earning him the TV-news nickname of “the Mojave Murderer” — once the cops discover the spot, nine corpses (and untold vultures and flies) later. Steve seems not too terribly anxious about this development; he has bigger worries in ditching his check-seeking landlord.

From the five-time team of director Donald M. Jones and writer/producer James C. Lane (Housewife from Hell), MurderLust meanders around with little aim, yet, like Steve himself, acts like it knows what it’s doing. Steve appears to make moves toward normalcy, as he accepts a janitorial job at the grocery store run by his uptight cousin (Dennis Gannon, Jones/Lane’s Evil Acts) and romances a super-cute blonde (Rochelle Taylor) from church … but only because he was thwarted in killing her first.

While they know not of Steve-o’s predilection for prostitutes, we sure do, and the joy of the film is in seeing him somehow pull off this charade while acting like a grade-A asshole to damn near everybody. Rich gives a real performance here, if not a terribly nuanced one — certainly stronger than the average VHS shocker ever asked for or deserved. Primarily (but not exclusively) for that reason, MurderLust is an above-average example of its kind: a lumbering, semi-lovable goof of a movie that keeps most of its carnage out of sight and its purpose to entertain on the cheap thoroughly in check. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jan 30 2017

Leaving Scars (1997)

Perhaps the title Leaving Scars refers to star Lisa Boyle’s boob job? The Plasticine, pneumatic Playboy model headlines this would-be thriller as Diane, a bitchy, cocaine-snorting actress who runs for her life after goons discover she’s in possession of a computer disk. The in-demand object was given to her by a friend at a party minutes before said pal was killed for it.

At least Diane doesn’t have to play the fugitive game alone; she’s accompanied by some average Joe named Michael (Robin Downs, whose only other credit is 2004’s Retreat). They meet cute at the party when they both have to vomit. At first, they mix like vinegar and water, but well before the 90 minutes are up, they share a blue-tinted, soft-music sex scene — a given with Boyle, aka Cassandra Leigh, direct-to-video veteran of such Skinemax programming as Caged Heat 3000, I Like to Play Games and Dreammaster: The Erotic Invader. We learn that Boyle’s phony breasts are so far apart, her plastic surgeon could have fit two more breasts between them.

Leaving Scars leaves plot holes. Viewers are left not knowing exactly who’s who and what’s what, partly because director Brad Jacques (whose 2001 follow-up, Pray for Power, also stars Boyle) does us no favors by casting three eerily similar-looking guys in the supporting roles. As our lead, Boyle is unappealing on so many levels that you wish the killers would succeed; Shannon Whirry, she is not.

If you happen to catch Leaving Scars on DVD, go about nine-point-five minutes into chapter six, when the director and producer’s commentary — yes, this cheapie demanded a commentary — is interrupted by the arrival of the pizza they ordered! They spend about a minute trying to find the required $10.60 to pay for it, then proceed to make disgusting smacking noises as they attempt to simultaneously chat and chew. During one of the lengthy sex scenes, one of the filmmakers even lets out a deep belch while the other is gabbing. The moment is surreal, yet better than any of the film itself. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jan 24 2017

The Night the Bridge Fell Down (1983)

Shot four years before it actually aired, The Night the Bridge Fell Down is easily the least entertaining of producer Irwin Allen’s disaster pics made expressly for the tube. That said, I believe it is the only film — theatrical or televised — in his illustrious career in which a character is shown picking a booger from her nose and then rolling it between her fingers as if in consideration, before discarding it. This act is hardly the work of some corner-of-the-screen extra caught by the camera, but takes place in the foreground. Great decision, director Georg Fenady!

That’s about the only thing the movie has going for itself, although the requisite introduction of many soon-to-be-imperilled characters promises at least mild decency. There’s clean-scrubbed newlywed Johnny (Dezi Arnaz Jr., House of the Long Shadows), who robs a bank while his clueless wife (Char Fontane, 1989’s The Punisher) sits in the car, leafing through travel brochures. There’s Paul (City on Fire’s Leslie Nielsen, whose name is unceremoniously misspelled in the opening credits), a corrupt businessman juggling a feverish infant, a mistress (Barbara Rush, Can’t Stop the Music) and Xeroxed stolen bonds. There’s Terry (Eve Plumb, aka Jan of TV’s The Brady Bunch), a hair-impaired young woman who gets thee to a nunnery and, while home-delivering a freshly adopted orphan girl, cannot choose between love of the cloth or love for a cop (Richard Gilliland, Star Kid). There’s a Mexican landscaper (Gregory Sierra, Allen’s The Towering Inferno) who fulfills the telepic’s slot of “token minority.”

And then there’s city engineer Cal Miller (James MacArthur, Hang ’Em High), who declares something wrong with the Madison Bridge’s expansion joints after a third fatal accident occurs on its asphalt. Post-inspection, his dire, or-else warnings that the bridge needs to be shut down immediately fall on the deaf ears of a government bureaucrat (Boogie Nights’ Philip Baker Hall) whose secretary provides the aforementioned scene of nostril-spelunking. (A note, while we’re on the topic: Fenady also directed Allen’s Cave-In!)

Indeed, as the title makes clear, something does go wrong, 45 minutes in: Tremors in the earth chop the bridge off at both ends, stranding the above characters in a life-threatening situation that Johnny only worsens with his hothead and handgun, while Cal attempts rescue efforts from ground level. Every now and then, more pieces tumble to the water below, depicted via obvious miniatures. This Night’s biggest problem isn’t unconvincing effects, but sheer length, clocking in at a little over three hours. While Fenady and Allen managed to make Hanging by a Thread work just fine within that bloated sum, the idea-bereft Bridge shows wear. The last half could be titled The Night Viewers Learned Real-Time Lessons in Girder Climbing and Knot Tying, while the wire-strung climax comes straight from The Towering Inferno. On this smaller scale, the stakes simply aren’t high enough to justify it. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Dec 26 2016

The Beasts Are on the Streets (1978)

Just as Final Destination 2 would 25 years later, the Hanna-Barbera production The Beasts Are on the Streets begins on the highway, introducing us to various passengers in a handful of vehicles in such a way that you know a very bad wreck is about to be in effect. Sure enough, in a fit of road rage, two rednecks in a truck cause a tanker driver off the asphalt and into the fence of a safari park, immediately flooding Highway 417 with zebras, ostriches, bison, camels, bears, panthers and elephants, as if they were all waiting patiently by one particular section of gate to be taken down.

The deadlier animals try to get into cars to retrieve the human snacks inside. One dumb guy, ignoring all advice to the contrary, leaves the safety of his automobile, only to practically be raped by a tiger for doing so. But what about the zoo’s star attraction, the king of the jungle? As a particularly awful TV news personality reports live from the scene, “There’s no word on that famous lover lion, Renaldo.” Suspense!

For this disaster-minded take on the Ivan Tors family comedy Zebra in the Kitchen, one-time 007 director Peter Hunt (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) follows the efforts of park employees — played notably by disaster-pic staple Carol Lynley (Flood), fresh from pulling a baby camel from its mother’s vagina, and a pre-Miami Vice Philip Michael Thomas — to round up God’s creatures great and small from all over town, and return them unharmed to caged living. Running amok as nature intended, the poor things just wanted to get turnt — instead, they get tranq’d.

Pre-PETA, Beasts’ wild and wooly treatment of its four-legged cast members only adds to its watchability (a dune buggy careening downhill comesthisclose to mowing down a rhino). Don’t think the two-legged actors got off easy, either; the movie seems to radiate the kind of questionable crowd safety (in particular, watch for the toddler who is yanked up by his arm in a throng of panicked picnickers) filmmakers couldn’t get away with today — not that the networks make this kind of ready-for-prime-time schlock anymore. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.