Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

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OK, this bad boy rocks. If you haven’t seen anything worth inviting into your Netflix queue lately, Frankenstein’s Army is a brilliant remedy; a disturbing Weird War tale with steampunk accoutrements fitted into a “found-footage” frame, brandishing an aesthetic that’s shockingly bold and nightmarishly distinctive.

In the waning days of World War II, Russian troops are streaming into Germany, wreaking havoc along the way. One such unit is accompanied by Captain Dimitri (Alexander Mercury), a cameraman making a documentary about these “heroic” soldiers. While holed up in a bombed-out village, the group discovers a church converted into a mad scientist’s lab and are soon set upon by the most outré pack of Nazi zombie-robot-monsters I’ve ever seen. Frankenstein’s Army is a Czech/US/Netherlands co-production filmed in the Czech Republic, which perhaps goes a long way toward explaining its unique appeal.

Director and story man Richard Raaphorst hits a horror home run his first time at bat. Sure, the lengths needed to preserve the found-footage premise become increasingly (and purposely, I think) absurd as a 70-year-old Soviet movie camera is able to capture pristine audio while getting tossed around like a Samsung at a frat party. But Raaphorst is a filmmaker with vision: his nimble mind invents extraordinary beings, and like Dr. Frankenstein (Karl Roden), he has the ability to bring them to life. He’s not just another fawning acolyte of Sam Raimi or Tim Burton—if anything, his work reminds me of England’s reigning madman, Ken Russell. Take it from me, Frankenstein’s Army is some very fresh hell, indeed. Highly recommended.

The Dark Side of the Moon (1990)

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In space, no one can hear you yawn.

Sadly, this cheesy mashup of Alien and The Thing features no Pink Floyd in the soundtrack. In fact, The Dark Side of the Moon has precious little going for it, although its depiction of a “futuristic” space ship from the Year 2022 is good for some snarky horse laughs. Really? Steam pipes? And the electronic consoles are constantly misfiring and shooting off sparks while the teensy monitors look like they would be more at home hosting a spirited game of Pong. Oh well, you get your perks where you can.

A small crew of mostly no-name talent (headlined by John Diehl, Cruiser from Stripes, and Joe Turkel, Tyrell from Blade Runner) finds itself adrift on the wrong side of the moon where it encounters a derelict space craft that has mysteriously appeared direct from the Bermuda Triangle (*eyes roll*). It’s lone occupant is a shape-shifting creature that turns out to be… THE DEVIL!

Yes, there are spoilers aplenty here, but trust me, you will not be watching The Dark Side of the Moon for its agile plot twists. It’s cheap, boring, ineptly written, and offers nothing whatsoever in the way of frights. Director D.J. Webster’s idea of cinematic finesse consists of extreme closeups of the cast, in case you were wondering how their pores are holding up in the vacuum of space. Listen carefully: Not every artifact from a bygone era is worth saving.

Camp Hell (2010)

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I think that if a movie is featured on Fearnet Channel it should, in fact, be a horror movie. While writer-director George Van Buskirk is able to cobble together a few ominous sequences, Camp Hell, for the most part, is a tepid coming-of-age film in which brooding protagonist Tommy Leary (Will Denton) decides that the fundamentalist sect of the Judeo-Christian faith that has enveloped his family and friends is not to his liking. On behalf of everyone who managed to sit through this sleepy spectacle, I would just like to add, “Congratulations.” And “Who gives a shit?”

Obviously Van Buskirk must be connected to “somebody” in the filmmaking community, because he managed to cajole Andrew McCarthy, Dana Delany, Bruce Davidson and Jesse Eisenberg into appearing in this painfully amateurish production, which looks like it was shot on Super 8 film. Throughout its 99 interminable minutes, Camp Hell (originally titled Camp Hope—Oooh! Scary!) attempts to dress-up an adolescent lad’s clumsily symbolic account of losing both his virginity and his religion, with occasional references to Satan, who seems to be lurking in the bushes at Camp Hope, a strict Christian camp run by authoritarian asshole Father Phineas (Davidson).

Sadly, there is no Satan, no demon, no monster, no murder, no nothing, no kidding. Even the scene where Tommy dry humps his girlfriend for the first time, and thus opens the doorway to all sorts of temptations and pleasures of the flesh—has all the drama and passion of a QuikBooks tutorial. The power of Christ and I compel you to avoid Camp Hell.

 

The Fields (2011)

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Cloris Leachman is so awesome. My heavens, what a hardworking professional! Maybe you remember her Academy Award-winning turn in The Last Picture Show. Or the time she won an Emmy for her portrayal of Mary Tyler Moore’s nosy neighbor, Phyllis. How about the two Emmys she took home as the weirdest granny of all time in Malcolm in the Middle?

At age 85, she is the best thing about The Fields, an eerie slow-burner co-directed by Tom Mattera and Dave Mazzoni. Based on an occurrence from writer Harrison Smith’s childhood, the movie is set in 1973, and follows Steven (Joshua Ormond)—an angelic kid with hair like Robert Plant—as he’s shipped off to live with his grandparents in the sticks, after he witnesses Dad (Faust Checho) point a rifle at Mom’s (Tara Reid in an awful wig) noggin.

Enter Grandma Gladys (Leachmen) and Grandpa Hiney (Bev Appleton), who welcome the lad to their decrepit farm, surrounded on three sides by enormous (and dead) cornfields. Gladys tells young Steven to avoid the fields (“We’ll never find ya in there, at least till you’re all black and swollen,” she warns.) but kids never listen. On the other side of the cornfields is an abandoned amusement park currently occupied by a Manson-like cult of evil hippie girls. On the other side is a milk farm where Eugene (Louis Morabito), a dead ringer for Manson, works as a hired hand. Slowly, and with the inevitability of a bad dream, Steven finds himself surrounded by sinister forces.

If The Fields had just a smidgen more action or frights, I would be shouting my praises from the rooftops. As it stands, it’s a very watchable feature with an assortment vividly haunting touches. Directors Mattera and Mazzoni deftly capture the dread of being a child in an unfamiliar environment and without parents to explain life’s little mysteries: For instance, why is there a dead girl in the cornfield, and how come my cousins are deformed lunatics?

And through it all, there’s Steven’s protector, Cloris Leachman, as a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking matriarch who likes to watch horror movies. The Fields is planted on a firm foundation of truth, which makes it all the creepier.

Stitches (2012)

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Come on, send in the clowns already! In this case, the horrific harlequin is none other than Richard “Stitches” Grindel (Ross Noble), a kid-hating misanthrope who lives in an old school bus on the outskirts of town. After a fatal encounter with a party of very naughty children, the vengeful jester rises from his clown grave to seek bloody revenge. My hat is off to Irish writer-director Conor McMahon, who has fashioned a frenetic visual funhouse of grotesquery that rivals Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive in both gorgeous gore and hysterical laughs.

Like most clowns, Stitches is down on his luck and needs to occasionally tap the lucrative birthday party circuit to keep his kinky girlfriend in hooker shoes. Sadly, the brats attending Tommy’s party are narcissistic sociopaths suffering from ADD, and instead of being treated to an inspiring afternoon of professional buffoonery, they torment the miserable merrymaker to death! Tying his clown shoes together results in a face-plant into the dishwasher where a carelessly placed carving knife awaits. Frankly, these kids deserve to die horribly in the rash of over-the-top impalings, gougings, and decapitations that follows in the wake of Stitches’ sinister resurrection ceremony conducted by his malevolent clown brethren.

If you only see one movie about a zombie clown this year, make it Stitches. You’ll be glad you did.

Mountain Monsters (2012)

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It’s not a movie, but if you’re lucky enough to have Channel 201, Destination America, you must watch this incredible show. Apparently the hills of West Virginia are teeming with all manner of cryptozoological fauna, including the Moth Man, the Grass Man, wolf men, dog men, devil dogs, wampus beasts, and every distant relative of Bigfoot known to mankind. So who you gonna call? John “Trapper” Tice and his AIMS (Appalachian Investigators of Mysterious Sightings) team, that’s who!

Trapper and his boys like nothing more than an excuse to go crashing through the woods at night in search of legendary beasts spotted by their hillbilly brethren. Besides Trapper, there’s Jeff, who’s in charge of research. In other words, he has a laptop and knows how to use it. Willy and Wild Bill build all sorts of outlandish traps, pits, and snares, in hopes of capturing a heretofore unknown specimen. They’ve never succeeded, but by god, it ain’t for lack of trying! Huckleberry (Woooot! Team Huckleberry!) is a hunter and tracker with a ready supply of guns, ammo, and thermal-imaging gear. (“Wait! There’s something there! *pause* Now it’s gone!”)

And then there’s Buck, the fat-guy comic relief, who once locked eyes with the Moth Man himself—and fell over hypnotized! On camera! At least once per episode, Buck will gaze in wonder at sketchy video evidence of their mythical quarry (usually a misshapen shadow or tree branch that moved) and exclaim, “That thing’s huge!”

Needless to say, AIMS has never brought home any appreciable evidence of wolf men, aliens, blue devils, or thunderbirds. But I sleep safely at night knowing that these fearless investigators… are really, really far away across the country and unlikely to mistake me for the Beast of Bray Road or the bloodsucking Devil Dog of Logan County and fill my hide with buckshot. Mountain Monsters is a hoot and it’s must-see TV. It’s also been renewed for a second season!

And whatever you do, don’t lump these beardos in with the Duck Dynasty dopes. Not all gun-toting hicks are bad people.

Blood Runs Cold (2011)

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Based on the description, I thought this might be some annoyingly clever musical crossover, since its rather featureless lead character Winona (Hanna Oldenburg) is supposedly a successful pop singer. To my relief, she doesn’t sing a note. She’s far too busy trying to elude the zombie-cannibal-miner-hillbilly freak that’s intent on having her over for a snack (if you know what I mean).

Blood Runs Cold is filmed somewhere near Stockholm, pretending to be North Carolina—which also accounts for the mercurial accents on display. Winona (not a Judd) must four-wheel her way through several miles of frozen tundra to a remote house near her hometown that has been rented by her manager. (Note: If this guy was my manager, and he stuck me way-the-hell-out in some snowbound hick town without my entourage, he’d soon be nut-punched).

Winona (not a Judd) finds her crummy dump of a house, settles in and drives to a nearby tavern where she stumbles over her high school sweetheart Richard (Patrick Saxe) and his friends Carl (Andrea Wylander) and Liz (Elin Hugoson). She invites them all back to her crummy dump (lots of time spent driving around in Arctic conditions just adds to its zero-budget, WTF charm) where they fall prey to a multifaceted maniac (David Liljeblad—who also serves as producer and co-writer) with a penchant for pickax perforation. He falls a bit short of frightening, but I would have appreciated two minutes of backstory on where this colorful killer came from.

With Blood Runs Cold, director Sonny Laguna gives us a fascinatingly unadorned minimalist study in the field of hack-and-stack. Not one dime of this film’s budget was spent on set dressing, wardrobe, or the cast; it’s all earmarked for blood, guts, and decapitation. And if you ask me, that’s money well spent.

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