Rampage (1987)

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By request from Friends of the Blog, Jayne and Chris, I dug up this William Friedkin oddity and took it for a spin. Though it plays out like a Movie of the Week or an episode of a gritty police procedural/courtroom drama, Rampage is nonetheless darkly fascinating, and certainly qualifies as a “Horrific Flick.”

Meet smiling killer Charlie Reece (Alex McArthur, a poor man’s David Cassidy), the handsome, simmering maniac next door, who shares a dumpy house with his traumatized mom (Grace Zabriskie, from Twin Peaks and elsewhere). Charlie’s complicated madness springs from the notion that his blood has somehow been poisoned so he needs the blood and organs of other people to ensure his survival. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.

After the troubled lad racks up a decent body count, it’s up to blow-dried prosecutor Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn) to prove that Charlie was sufficiently in control of his faculties to premeditate his “rampage,” while defense attorney Albert Morse (Nicholas Campbell) angles for an insanity plea. Obviously, someone who would kill five people (plus a few cops during an escape attempt), drink their blood, and remove their spleens, must be a lunatic. Oh, and he’s a closet Nazi, to boot. Should he get life in prison, be exiled to a funny farm, or earn the death penalty?

The legal and ethical debate over Charlie’s mental health threatens to capsize the action, but writer-director Friedkin (The Exorcist, To Live and Die in L.A., and Sorcerer) keeps the kid in the picture, occasionally jumping us inside Charlie’s warped mind so we can revel in his ritualized bloodlust.

As it so happens, Rampage is based on a true story (surprise, surprise!) set in Stockton, California. Charlie Reece is the face of ordinary, homegrown evil; he doesn’t wear a mask or rise from the grave every 15 minutes. He’s just that weird kid from down the street. Gosh, I never thought he was capable of violence, officer.

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The Collector (2009)

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A good franchise is hard to find. When it comes to the contemporary horror film, how does one find the next Freddy or Jason or Leatherface? Is it Jigsaw that keeps ’em coming back or is it the cunning intricacy of his traps? Now that Rob Zombie has rebooted Michael Myers, do we have a deeper empathy for him because we’ve been privy to his bleak-ass childhood? Is Victor Crowley a ghost, a monster, or a waste of space? For that matter, what about The Collector?

Nutshell: Arkin (Josh Stewart) is an ex-con forced to ripoff a hot gem from the homeowner that’s employed him as a general contractor. See, he needs the money ASAP to square his wife’s debt with some gangsters. Not important, but it does reveal that the protagonist is basically a decent guy, despite his shady profession.

Coincidentally, the very house that Arkin is busting into has also been targeted by the title character, a mysterious (deformed?) masked man in black (Juan Fernandez). Instead of jewelry, the Collector prefers building clever booby traps, playing sadistic cat-and-mouse games with his captives, and then making off with a single survivor—presumably for more finely tuned abuse in his lair.

Director and co-writer Marcus Dunstan does create sufficient interest in his diabolical mastermind, who seems to be both a cool, calculating entomologist and a deranged, howling maniac. He walks with a curious gait, suggesting an injury or disability, but he’s also dexterous and deadly quick. There are quirks and inconsistencies to be found here, and they make me want to know who the Collector is and how he got to be this way.

I plan on watching the sequel (The Collection) soon, so we’ll see if we have a viable franchise on our hands or just a pair of movies with the same quirky killer.

Grizzly (1976)

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One of the dangers of being a middle-aged horror fan, is never being able to quite remember where you heard something about a certain movie. I knew at one time, but now… that bit of data is gone forever, swallowed up by a sinkhole full of quicksand in my head that’s growing larger every day. (I would estimate it to be roughly the size of Rhode Island, at the moment.)

Anyway, I’d like to have a word with whomever advised me that Grizzly was “Jaws with a bear,” and “a classic gore-fest.” Sure, there’s blood and a respectable body count, but nothing that compares with Ben Gardner’s head floating out of a hole in the hull of his boat. Plus, Jaws had Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Schieder, and Robert Shaw. Grizzly has to make do with director William Girdler and a cast of ham-and-eggers.

So there’s this grizzly bear running amok in a Georgia state park and it’s up to a chain-smoking park ranger (Christopher George), a goofy naturalist who dresses in animal furs (Richard Jaeckel), and a cynical ‘Nam vet helicopter pilot (Andrew Prine) to stop the beast. This arduous task takes up the entire running time of the movie, which is stone-cold boring except for periodic bear maulings, and frankly, they’re no great shakes in the blood and guts department.

Despite the fact that I found Grizzly on Hulu Plus under the designation “Classics”, I would hesitate to put it into any special category other than “Ho-Hum & Hokey.” A much better film of this type is John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy, about a pollution-spawned mutant grizzly on the rampage. Go find that one, instead.

See No Evil 2

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In which righteously indestructible maniac Jacob Goodnight (wrestler Glen “Kane” Jacobs) rises from the grave morgue to massacre another troop of teens late twenty somethings who can’t keep it in their pants. As you may recall from the first See No Evil, Goodnight continually feels the shame of his lustful adolescent urges, and painful memories of the puritanical punishment dished out by his psychotic mother have become his default setting. Hail the avenging prude!

As directed by the Twisted Twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska, who brilliantly helmed American Mary, See No Evil 2 is a perfectly acceptable hack and stack with an exemplary cast. The incomparable Katherine Isabelle (American Mary, Ginger Snaps) is certainly one of the most compelling actresses in the horror genre, and she brings oodles of panache to the part of Tamara, a charmingly depraved vixen victim of the rampaging Goodnight. Dependable Final Girl Danielle Harris (The Hatchet trilogy) also acquits herself nicely as morgue assistant Amy, the secret object of affection of fellow cadaver cutter Seth (Kaj-Erik Eriksen). Not that being somewhat virtuous will save anybody here from a seven foot tall, one-eyed gorilla armed with all sorts of nasty looking sharp things.

If I had to gripe about anything, it would have to be a shortage of stylistically memorable mayhem. After all, the Soska Twins are responsible for the dazzling American Mary, one of the most original and provocative horror movies of the last few years. See No Evil 2 seems a bit perfunctory in comparison, but given the nature of indie cinema these days, filmmakers with artistic inclinations are often tasked with conventional fare, in order to earn a payday that will result in something more profound and personal. I believe that to be the case here.

Shrooms (2007)

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If you can get past the movie’s ludicrous premise, Shrooms is actually a fairly tight little thriller about another camping trip gone to hell. But that premise is a real whopper. Allow me to vent for a moment.

WHY THE HELL WOULD A GROUP OF FRIENDS WANT TO TRAVEL ALL THE WAY TO IRELAND—where five out of the six have never been—TO PICK MUSHROOMS AND TRIP BALLS? EVEN BETTER, THEIR GUIDE TAKES THEM TO A BLIGHTED WILDERNESS THAT’S INHABITED BY TRAUMATIZED FORMER INHABITANTS OF A HOME FOR WAYWARD YOUTH THAT WAS RUN BY A CRACKPOT RELIGIOUS SECT THAT TORTURED AND ABUSED ITS INMATES? AND NOW, IT’S RUMORED TO BE HAUNTED BY THE GHOST OF A SADISTIC MONK AND THE LITTLE SACK-HEADED FERAL CHILD WHO TRIED TO KILL HIM. WHY, THAT’S PERFECT! THAT’S EXACTLY WHERE I WOULD WANT TO CHOW DOWN ON HALLUCINOGENS, ALONG WITH MY BEST BUDDIES THAT I DON’T REALLY LIKE AND WHO DON’T LIKE EACH OTHER. SHEESH! WASN’T THE HAUNTED ABATTOIR AVAILABLE? OR A REALLY VENGEFUL AMERICAN-INDIAN BURIAL GROUND?

To their credit, director Paddy Breathnach and writer Pearse Elliott deliver enough shocks and shivers to keep us on full alert. But this trip was doomed from the get-go and this little troop of backpackers never stood a chance.

 

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

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On the surface, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane looks like a fairly typical stalk and stab adventure. You know the drill: a passel of comely teens in a rural location begin to notice that attendance is dropping sharply. But director Jonathan Levine and writer Jacob Foreman make a number of astute moves that raise the quality level significantly.

Levine proves himself to be an able visual stylist; his lingering shots of young faces smiling in the sun give Mandy Lane an almost languid European sensibility—which enhances the impact of sudden violent interludes. Characters are a bit more evolved (and less annoying) than the usual doomed-camper stereotypes and the yearning desire that they feel for the dream girl in their midst is perfectly understandable. Finally, the absence of supernatural elements makes the ensuing murder spree grimly realistic and even more disturbing.

The titular maiden (Amber Heard) is a seemingly unattainable innocent beauty that stokes the collective fire of her lusty classmates. When the subject of Mandy Lane comes up various boys call “first dibs” as if that will help their cause. A clutch of her school chums finally prevail on Mandy to spend the weekend partying at a remote ranch owned by Red’s (Aaron Himelstein) family. The concept of summer fun is quickly quashed as a string of murders leads to a very ambiguous conclusion.

Some of the plot points are easy to figure out and some are not, but Levine uses the accelerator sparingly and lets the action play out in a naturalistic setting. True, some viewers may experience a taste of boredom here and there, but danger, in the form of a psycho in a hoodie, is never far away. Recommended.

 

 

Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (2013)

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Will you think the less of me if I heap modest praise on Axe Giant? Hell, I don’t care. I’m obviously going soft in the head, but this movie never promises more than it can deliver. I am aware that the CGI effects are one notch above cable access and the acting ranges from horrible to hilariously hammy. Even so, director/cowriter Gary Jones has devised what amounts to an intriguingly twisted tall tale that’s awash in guts and gore.

Nutshell: Five snotty adolescent offenders are transported to the Middle of Nowhere Mountains (filmed on location in Ohio, Michigan and California) under the supervision of Sgt. Hoke (Tom Downey), a militaristic asshole who probably has an autographed picture of R. Lee Ermey next to his bed.

Hoke’s mission, to kick their criminal asses toward responsibility, is interrupted by the arrival of the legendary Paul Bunyan, who has an axe to grind (see what I did there?) with whomever has desecrated the final resting place of his beloved buddy, Babe the Blue Ox. The cast is soon whittled down to a paltry few, including Meeks (Joe Estevez, from the famous Estevez/Sheen clan) a mad mountain man who has a soft spot in his heart for the rampaging giant. Given such a juicy part, Estevez hams it up like a butcher with a prize pig and a shiny new cleaver.

The giant’s origin is explained by way of an 1894 backstory that stars old Grizzly Adams himself, Dan Haggerty (who has not aged well). Here, Bunyan turns out to be a massive man-child with  a ridiculously long lifespan and a talent for felling trees, and bears a slight resemblance to a Tolkien troll. The sympathetic brute even inspires a catchy Seeger-esque (Pete, not Bob) ballad that accompanies the credits, sung by Hick’ry Hawkins! You’ve got to admit, an effort was made.

It’s 90 minutes of jolly crapola, but Axe Giant is at least adequately paced, as the titular lumberjack stays pretty busy making bloody cordwood out of the supporting cast. It’s got a few laughs and even a brief nude scene. Folks, you could do a lot worse.

I do feel I must point out one recurring motif that left me befuddled. The giant is apparently stealthy! Have you ever heard of such a thing? He’s constantly sneaking up on his victims and getting the jump on them. You’d think the approach of a 20-foot dude would ring a few alarm bells, but these soon-to-be kindling campers are self-absorbed to the point of oblivion. Perhaps since he spent his life in the woods, Bunyan has learned to tread lightly?

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