The Dark Side of the Moon (1990)

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In space, no one can hear you yawn.

Sadly, this cheezoid 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.

Maniac (2012)


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I distinctly remember seeing the original Maniac (1980) at the drive-in the year it came out.

It was an especially garish example of grindhouse sleazery directed by William Lustig (Maniac Cop, Vigilante), with splashy gore effects by the great Tom Savini, and starring Joe Spinell (The Godfather II, Taxi Driver) as Frank Zito, a lumpy schlub on a murderous rampage.

Whether he was obliterating necking teens with a shotgun, strangling hookers, or scalping his victims in order to dress up his mannequin collection, Zito proved a memorably demented protagonist.

For this slick, slightly less lurid remake, Lustig teamed with Franco fiends Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur (writers) and Franck Khalfoun (director) to recast Frodo Bag… er, Elijah Wood as the prolific psycho with the crippling Mommy issues.

Frank Zito (Wood) is a rodentish owner of a vintage mannequin store obsessed with Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a beautiful photographer, who happens by his shop to admire his magnificent collection of dress forms.

When Frank isn’t awkwardly wooing Anna, he’s out skewering, strangling, slicing, and scalping a string of unlucky ladies who remind him of his horribly skanky mother. Can the love of a good woman redeem a savage killer? No, of course not. What a ridiculous idea.

Director Khalfoun charts the action with a very aggressive POV camera (Wood is seen mostly in reflections), that straps us into the driver’s seat of considerable carnage—a feverish perspective that most viewers should find deeply unsettling.

Wood portrays Zito as a shaky mess of neuroses and unchecked rage, a rather alarming change from the mild-mannered hobbit that we followed through three epic movies on his sojourn to Mount Doom.

Here, Wood’s character is on a different kind of quest; trying to annihilate the memories of the woman responsible for making him the man(iac) he is today.

Needless to say, not for squeamish or sensitive souls.

The Task (2011)

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Filmed in Bulgaria masquerading as upstate New York, this faux reality-show-set-in-a-haunted-prison feature is severely lacking in just about every department.

From a generic, no-name cast to a predictable fake-out finale, The Task is a starvation diet of style and tension. And with precious little blood and guts—and no nudity—to distract our attention, the overall cheapness and absence of fresh ideas dooms the production from the get-go.

An assortment of reality show hopefuls are kidnapped and taken to an abandoned prison with a sinister reputation. Formerly under the rule of a sadistic warden who tortured and starved his inmates, the rambling edifice is rumored to be haunted, and the unlucky contestants must spend the night, completing a variety of unsavory tasks, in order to win $20,000.

Though the prison is wired with cameras, props, and spooky audio effects, the presence of a legit ghost throws a wrench into the works.

The Task is a total dud, no matter how you slice it. We’re never given a reason to care about any of the characters—and we don’t. If they were faced with an awesome battery of mind-bending horror and derangement, the blandness of the characters wouldn’t have made any difference.

As it stands, the stakes are never enough to draw anyone into the low-voltage action. As my former editor would say, when presented with uninspired copy, “it’s awfully so-whatty.”

Stag Night (2008)

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When using public transportation it’s generally a good idea to pay attention to the stops. This is especially true of the New York subway system since the labyrinthine underground is apparently teeming with cannibals.

Hmmm. Cannibals of New York—sounds strangely familiar.

A quartet of yuppie jerks gets 86ed from a strip club while celebrating Bro Mikey’s (Kip Pardue) bachelor party. On a whim they decide to catch a subway uptown for more partying, and meet up with a pair of strippers en route.

Mikey’s asshole brother Tony (Breckin Meyer) fails to impress exotic dancer Brita (Vinessa Shaw) with his drunken machismo so she judiciously maces the whole bunch, forcing them to evacuate the train—at an abandoned station.

All too soon the foreplay’s over and they’re on the run from a bunch of CHUDS (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, duh!) who look like off-duty extras from The Pirates of the Caribbean.

Stag Night successfully takes a moldy premise and breathes some life into it by not wasting our precious time with shit we don’t care about. The group is dropped into perilous circumstances with very little fanfare, and the ensuing action is breathless and brutal, with buckets of believable blood and guts (including a couple tasty decapitations).

The depiction of the subterranean squatter camps is rendered in vivid detail, revealing a savage society that has siphoned electricity and water from our own, while developing its own harsh code of survival.

Writer Peter A. Dowling relies a bit too much on the chaotic shaky cam, but he’s obviously right at home with this sort of fast-paced murderous mayhem.

Worthy and watchable.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

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Happened to catch this on SyFy today and felt compelled to wrangle a few words. Now, there have been some wretched, wretched entries in the Friday the 13th series—but this is the worst. Not only does Jason NOT take Manhattan, his reputation as a first-tier remorseless killing machine takes a serious knee to the groin.

Yet another crop of one-dimensional teens takes a slow boat from Crystal Lake to the Big Apple, and recently revived Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) decides to hitch a ride. (Probably wants to audition for Phantom.) See, it’s a senior class trip for good ol’ Crystal Lake High (?), and Sean (Scott Reeves), the son of the ship’s captain, is in love with Rennie (Jensen Daggett), who as a kid was nearly drowned by the child version of Jason (?) because her asshole Uncle Charles (Peter Mark Richman) dumped her in the middle of Crystal Lake to force her to learn to swim shortly after her parents were killed in a car crash— *has aneurism* Cue funeral march.

Just a few notes for writer-director Rob Hedden: Dude, I’ve read Shakespearian comedies with fewer subplots. All we really want is for Jason to strap on his hockey face and amass a respectable body count, preferably utilizing a battery of imaginative and colorful devices. Fail.

And how come when Jason (finally!) gets to Manhattan, he ignores the teeming masses of street gravy in order to pursue a handful of pipsqueaks from his hometown? Hell, they get mugged within 5 minutes of arriving! Couldn’t Jason go after the Mets or something? Why doesn’t he just merrily filet the entire city? The regulations that govern Jason’s behavior are awfully vague. What’s his deal anyway? I mean, I like the guy, but he needs a reboot. What’s Quentin working on at the moment?

And aside from a shot of Times Square and a few Statue of Liberty cameos, the New York location doesn’t figure into the story at all. Hell, they could have been going to Halifax. Consider this the nadir of Jason Voorhees.

Chupacabra Terror (2005)

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Witness the birth of a new description category, SPOS, which stands for Serviceable Piece of Shit.

The SyFy Channel can always be counted for a SPOS, and that’s what we have here. Though it played on SyFy as Chupacabra Dark Seas, it was originally, less evocatively, titled Chupacabra Terror.

In the interest of truth in advertising, there is a Chupacabra involved—and not much terror—though the GiaS (Guy in a Suit) factor is handled competently.

Sometimes that’s all the silver lining you get.

But not here. In addition to an adequate creature, you get a decent lead in Captain Randolph (John Rhys Davies) and an even better mad scientist with Dr. Peña (Giancarlo Esposito).

Along with the Captain’s curvy daughter (Chelan Simmons, a petulant blond with no acting talent), and some other guy (Dylan Neal), they spend the majority of the movie below deck of a luxury cruise ship searching for the titular critter.

Note on the mise-en-scene: It is apparent after about five seconds, that they are not, in fact, passengers on an immense ship, but rather four actors meandering around in an industrial location (Anonymous Industrial Walkabout, another long-needed category).

In order to reinforce the nautical illusion, director and co-writer John Shepphird wisely thought to tack life preservers on a majority of the walls, even deep in the bowels of the ship, which, if you think about it, doesn’t make a lick of sense.

As for the Chupacabra itself, actor (Stuntman? Intern?) Mark Viniello, resembles a squat, vaguely canine, wingless gargoyle, who tears out a few dozen throats and demonstrates the annoying ability to be everywhere at once when in attack mode, followed by long periods of dormancy in which the principals wander around the set saying not much of anything.

Esposito, who plays the amoral scientist, repeats the line “I captured him before, I can do it again,” at least five times.

There is some entertainment value to be savored in Chupacabra Terror, but it’s a mighty thin broth.

Shadow Puppets (2007)

Several folks (mostly attractive women) wake up in a mental institution, dressed in generic undies, with no memory of who they are or how they got there.

They spend the remainder of the film wandering around the facility while trying to steer clear of a dark, shadowy, spider-type thing with a face, that shows up once in a while to kill someone.

Despite the presence of genre-pedigreed actors James Marsters (Spike from Buffy and Angel, who hasn’t aged well); Tony Todd (the Candyman himself!); and Joleen Blalock (she was the Vulcan hottie from that lame Star Trek series with Scott Bakula), there really isn’t much to recommend Shadow Puppets.

This is another one of those annoying “walkabout” movies, with endless scenes of wary characters moving (very slowly) through a largely featureless industrial landscape.

It’s an approach that’s quite different from a movie like Cube, for example, where shocking and creepy details emerge from both the alien environment and the characters’ own heads.

We do discover the identities of the captives, but it doesn’t add up to anything worth writing down. We learn the origin of the smoky, spider thing, but it’s all argle bargle that’s forgotten two seconds after the explanation is delivered. (“It’s the distilled essence of the victims’ life forces,” or some such drivel.)

Note to writer-director Michael Winnick: If we don’t care about the monster or the characters, then you’re going to need lots more gore and gals to maintain a passable level of interest from the average horror fan.

And a brawny dude in a rubber suit would have been a major improvement in the monster department.

Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011)

It’s a lesser effort than the first Quarantine, but I consider it a worthy sequel nonetheless, because most of the time, sequels suck ass.

Why would I be interested in an inferior distillation of an original formula? (Go back to Halloween II and work your way toward the present; the exceptions being Romero’s Dead films.)

However, I must wag a stern finger at writer/director John Pogue, for blowing an opportunity to make his movie substantially better.

I was sold on the premise right away. The same virus that caused the apartment dwellers to go berserk with a case of the man munchies in the original movie, breaks out again. Only this time on a plane. That’s right: Zombies on a Plane.

And not the slow, shuffling kind, either. These guys are strong, agile, and ready to rock and roll at 20,000 feet. My point is, if Pogue had contained the action to the cabin of a plane, he could have ratcheted up the tension tenfold.

In addition to zombies, you add the possibility of the plane plummeting to the ground—not to mention claustrophobia.

Instead, Pogue chooses to let his harried cast land the plane, and then hide in the basement of an airport, where, for the rest of the movie, they walk around a featureless industrial landscape in the dark.

The place is surrounded by soldiers who shoot anyone who emerges, but that’s not nearly as frightening as the prospect of a plummeting plane.

Pogue even had a formidable lead zombie in Ralph (George Back), an overweight, drunken golfer who proves extremely difficult to bring down once he’s succumbed to the virus. Big boy can wreak some serious havoc!

Despite some wasted potential, Quarantine 2 is a very watchable feature, with gallons of gore, that moves along at a brisk clip—until everyone gets lost at the airport.

Deadwater (2008)

Deadwater is not a very good film, but the presence of grizzled vet Lance Henricksen helps a bit.

Kudos to director Roel Reiné, who took the time and energy to dress it up as a contemporary naval action thriller (not that there are abundant thrills to be had in this yawner) and include scenes of “advanced interrogation techniques.”

Abu Ghraib is mentioned a few times. That’s about as timely as it gets, though.

Somewhere at sea near Iran or Iraq (forgot which), a U.S. crew operating a recommissioned WW II vessel is slaughtered under mysterious circumstances, due mainly to the poor lighting and spastic camera work.

Old salt Col. John Willets (Henricksen) and his crack team of nobodies are sent to investigate. Lo and behold, one of the few survivors of the haunted holocaust is the colonel’s son, Colin Willets (played by Australian side-of-beef Gary Stretch, whose acting chops and resemblance to Henricksen are equally nonexistent).

So what the hell happened?

There are approximately 863,111 movies in which a team of well-armed investigators boards a derelict ship or facility to find out what became of the previous occupants. This isn’t nearly as good as say, Ghost Ship, one of the better efforts in that genre.

The threat remains mostly unseen (malevolent energy or something. Zzzzzzz.) and 95 percent of the movie consists of Henricksen and company moving stealthily through corridors and making ludicrous military hand gestures at each other.

Save this one for Low Expectations Sunday. BTW, if you’re looking for it in Netflix, you’ll find it under the title Black Ops. My advice? Don’t look too hard.