Screamers (1979)

You can tell Screamers is pure Italian schlock because the monsters are dripping with olive oil.

Originally titled Island Of The Fishmen, it’s a bit of an H.G. Wells mashup of Mysterious Island and The Island of Dr. Moreau, as Claude, a young naval doctor (Claudio Cassinelli) washes ashore in the Caribbean after the sinking of the prison ship to which he was assigned.

He and two surviving prisoners are taken to the wicker plantation home of wealthy misanthrope Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson) and his stunning lady friend Amanda Marvin (Barbara Bach, aka Mrs. Ringo Starr). Together they preside over a household of voodoo enthusiasts, led by high priestess Shakira (Beryl Cunningham).

A tired-looking Joseph Cotten shows up long enough to play Amanda’s mad (but seemingly decent) scientist pappy, who is determined to create a new race of oily gill men to populate the oceans of the world. His experiments are then employed by Rackham as cheap labor to loot the treasure vault of a nearby submerged temple.

Oh yeah, and it’s a volcanic island that’s gonna blow any second.

Directed by giallo veteran Sergio Martino (Slave Of The Cannibal God, Torso, Blade Of The Ripper), Screamers isn’t nearly good enough to be lost treasure, but it’s brisk, watchable trash with a decent budget, and Barbara Bach is radiant.

I already checked, you don’t have anything better to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Demon Wind (1990)

Sam Raimi and The Evil Dead = The Velvet Underground.

I accept that it’s not a perfect analogy, but you get where I’m coming from. It’s an undeniable influence.

Nearly 10 years after Raimi and Bruce Campbell caught lightning in a bottle, Charles Phillip Moore and his crew unveiled a delightfully unfettered homage, Demon Wind, about another bunch of old teenagers assailed by occult forces in a rural location.

Corey (Eric Larson) and his girlfriend Elaine (Francine Lapensée) meet up with a group of friends and stereotypes to solve the mystery of Corey’s grandparents, who perished under mysterious circumstances during the Great Depression.

Turns out the family farm (more of a tattered theater set, really) is on land originally claimed by a devil-loving preacher and his followers who were set ablaze by townsfolk with no taste for human sacrifice.

Once Corey and his comrades reach the farm, all hell breaks loose, and suddenly, we’re at a Dead show, with ghouls coming out of the woodwork.

I’m not recommending Demon Wind because it’s a brilliantly conceived film that was nurtured to life by the artistic vision of writer-director Charles Phillip Moore.

Rather, it’s the sort of slap-dash amateurism (it was filmed in seven days) that drove Ed Wood to create flying saucers out of paper plates and a cockpit from a shower curtain.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and the makeup and practical effects on Demon Wind, though plentiful, range from barely adequate to comically half-assed.

Moore employs a similarly scattergun approach to the narrative, seizing and abandoning ideas with random enthusiasm.

One of the doomed kids, Chuck (Stephen Quadros), is a magician with a black belt. His friend Stacy (Jack Forcinito) has a shotgun with unlimited ammunition.

Chuck still carries a torch for Terri (Lynn Clark) who now belongs to homophobic meathead Dell (Bobby Johnston).

Poor Bonnie (Sherrie Bendorf) gets turned into a doll, and no one seems to care.

Magic spells are cast. You can tell because that’s when the bloopy, hand-drawn animation appears.

The entire cast looks as though it just stepped out of a Huey Lewis video. Feel free to hit pause and ridicule the myriad lame looks available to pre-grunge adolescents.

And don’t worry about Corey’s friends dying. When the pack gets thin, Amazon thoughtfully sends more.

Stinky cheese makes the tastiest snack, no?

Pandemic (2016)

Nothing like a little light entertainment to help shake those quarantine blues.

Can we interest you in a first-person, point-and-shoot craptacular, with a side of zombie dressing?

Sporting a tagline of “You are humanity’s last stand,” Pandemic puts the viewer squarely behind rotating POV cameras in a breakneck race to save uninfected survivors in post-plague Los Angeles.

Nutshell: A virulent contagion has swept the nation, transforming average citizens into berserk cannibals. After the fall of New York, survivor Lauren (Rachel Nichols), heads to LA where doctors are in short supply.

Assigned to a four-person rescue team tasked with rounding up survivors and testing them for infection, Lauren, Gunner (Mekhi Phifer), Wheels (Alfie Allen), and Denise (Missi Pyle), cruise the streets in a retrofitted school bus, dodging and dispatching meat-seeking freaks and armed gangs of plunderers.

Although the team has been specifically ordered not to go in search of family members, this directive somehow gets lost in all the excitement, and personal agendas threaten to derail the mission.

My wife commented that Pandemic is more of a sketch than a movie, and there is truth to that. With only minimal time given to character exposition, it’s the seat-of-the-pants mayhem that’s designed to carry the story, and indeed, there’s no shortage of high-speed splatter.

Unfortunately, director John Suits doesn’t generate much actual adrenaline, and the action seldom rises above (old) video game quality. When the POV perspective shifts rapidly to different characters, it becomes disorienting trying to follow the identities amidst a barrage of choppy, spastic editing.

Instead of freely reveling in post-apocalyptic/undead shenanigans, it took Dustin Benson’s screenplay shifting its focus to Lauren’s private mission, to keep me involved on a basic level.

Rachel Nichols brings surprising depth to a role that could have been adequately filled by a CGI sock puppet, and her supporting cast, particularly Phifer and Pyle, more than pulls its own weight.

Pandemic does not break new ground or offer much in the way of spectacle, but time passes quickly, allowing us to put our own viral anxieties on the back burner.

That’s gotta be worth something, right?

 

 

Satanic Panic (2019)

In search of diversion, I stumbled upon Satanic Panic, a spirited romp about a pizza delivery driver named Sam (Hayley Griffith) who just wants a lousy tip from a bunch of hungry devil worshippers and their curvaceous cult leader, Danica Ross (Rebecca Romjin).

It’s her first day on the job and she needs money to put gas in her scooter. In addition to fast-paced mayhem, Satanic Panic is very much a movie about class struggle, as dirt-poor Sam must avoid becoming a sacrifice to Baphomet (what a lousy time to be a virgin!) while trying to collect a few measly bucks from weird rich people in a gated community.

Billed as a horror/comedy, Satanic Panic is a hugely entertaining bootstrap operation driven by the same delirious spirit of amateurism that inspired Sam Raimi and friends to set up shop in the woods. Who knew that there were so many monsters, demons, witches, perverts, and sacrificial summonings behind closed doors in such a good neighborhood?

Director Chelsea Stardust and writers Grady Hendrix and Ted Geoghagen (Mohawk), successfully walk a watchable line between wigged out Grand Guignol excess (reminiscent of the late Stuart Gordon), and the basic narrative about how Sam is a wage slave trapped in a bourgeois hell.

Will Sam find the fortitude to fight back and overthrow her oppressors? Hey, she’s a working-class hero delivering pizza for a living! Of course she does!

And what’s with this no tipping bullshit?

 

Giant From The Unknown (1958)

He’s husky, but I wouldn’t call him a giant.

It’s pretty obvious truth in advertising laws don’t apply to monster movies made in the 1950s. Former boxer Buddy Baer (uncle of Beverly Hillbillies‘ Jethro, Max Baer, Jr) stands about 6-7, and tips the scales at a solid 250, as the titular creature. Impressive measurements, but well short of beanstalk status.

Still, when he dons his conquistador clothes after waking up from a 500-year nap, the local citizens of a California mountain town wet their collective knickers.

Enter leading man geologist Wayne Brooks (Ed Kemmer), Professor Cleveland (Morris Ankrum), and Janet (Sally Fraser), the prof’s sassy daughter, who are soon on the case, at first searching for fossil evidence of a rogue band of Spanish soldiers that kicked around the vicinity centuries before, led by a large inarticulate fellow called Vargas.

After about 35 minutes of zero action—other than Wayne and Janet’s awkward flirting—the trio deduces that Vargas (Baer), has shaken off the effects of suspended animation after being struck by lightning, and has slaughtered a bunch of nearby livestock (woke up hungry, I guess), sending area rubes into a panic.

The movie is over in 80 minutes, leading to thoughts that the whole thing might have been a diet-inspired hallucination. Highlights include Vargas throwing small rocks at his pursuers, a midnight make-out sesh with Wayne and Janet, and doomed secondary characters named Charlie Brown and Injun Joe who fall victim to the massive Spaniard’s rampage.

Giant From The Unknown is an actual relic, a funny ol’ fly in amber from Tuesday afternoon matinees on Channel 12, when harried housewives had a moment to drain a fast pitcher of martinis before returning to domestic servitude.

Note to Joel: It’s also a prime candidate for Season 12 of Mystery Science Theater. Just sayin’.

 

 

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

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Where do I begin? Probably where most people do—the ending.

The finale of Sleepaway Camp is crazier than Andy Dick on bath salts, and accounts for about 90 percent of the mystique that surrounds this camp-killer relic. There is also much fun to be had watching an amazing time capsule of hideous ’80s hair and clothes. One kid wears an Asia (the band) T-shirt!

Though not a particularly gory movie, the kills are inventive, and writer-director Robert Hiltzig (a film student at the time) somehow sustains enough tension with his amateur freak-show cast to carry us through to the aforementioned ending.

Which, in case I didn’t make myself clear, is the stuff of afternoons whiled away on the psychiatrist’s couch.

Introverted Angela (Felissa Rose) and her boisterous cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) are shipped off to Camp Arawak, a substandard bucolic retreat for horny teens.

Much of the discomfort encountered in Sleepaway Camp comes from virtually all the campers behaving like hormonal nitwits, which wouldn’t be so bad, except that most of actors look like they’re 12, tops. Ewww.

Since she’s the quiet type, Angela naturally gets picked on by her bitchy bunkmates, but does successfully attract the attention of Paul (Christopher Collett), a nice boy, whom she soon finds in a compromising lip-lock with her chief tormentor, Judy (Karen Fields, who, in her own bored, flirty way, is the film’s real monster). A series of deadly “accidents” ensue, as one camper drowns and another gets stung to death by bees.

Let’s meet the staff!

Counselor Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo) is an Italian body builder who ambles about in horrifying shorty shorts; the cook (Owen Hughes) is a brazen sexual predator, and Mel, the cigar-smoking, hopelessly middle-aged camp director (Mike Kellin, who’s been in about a zillion movies since 1950) is a man increasingly worried about the camp’s financial bottom line, once the corpses start piling up.

However, he’s not so worried that he can’t find time to make indecent proposals to Meg (Katherine Kamhi), a counselor that apparently craves the attention of old homely men in knee socks.

My suspicion here is that Hiltzig, a novice filmmaker, caught some Ed Wood juju in a jar. Somehow, through a combination of luck, desperation, and naive audacity, he made a cheap, traumatic slasher flick that people still talk about. The ending, anyway.

Sleepaway Camp inspired a bunch of sequels, but I can’t speak to their quality.

Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (2013)

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Will you think the less of me if I offer modest praise for 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 below cable access and the acting ranges from incompetent 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 hard-ass who undoubtedly has a picture of R. Lee Ermey next to his bed.

Hoke’s mission, to kick their criminal butts toward responsibility, is interrupted by the arrival of the legendary Paul Bunyan, who has an ax to grind (see what I did there?) with whomever desecrated the final resting place of his best buddy, Babe the Blue Ox.

The cast gets whittled down to a paltry few, including Meeks (Joe Estevez, from the famous Estevez/Sheen clan) a mad mountain man with a soft spot in his heart for the rampaging giant. Given such a juicy part, Estevez chews the scenery like it’s his last meal.

The giant’s origin is explained by way of an 1894 backstory that stars ol’ Grizzly Adams himself, Dan Haggerty. I don’t mean to be unkind, but he has not aged well.

In this version of the tall tale, Bunyan turns out to be a massive man-child with a ridiculously long lifespan and a talent for felling trees. He also 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 swiftly paced pandemonium, as the titular lumberjack keeps 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 must point out one recurring trend that left me smh. The giant is apparently stealthy! Have you ever heard of such a thing? Bunyan constantly creeps up on his victims and somehow gets the jump on them.

You’d think the approach of a 20-foot dude might snap a few twigs, 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 learned to tread lightly. Just a theory.

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 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.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

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The real title of this Yuletide bloodbath should have been Billy Never Had a Chance. I mean, come on! Here’s a kid who’s already been spooked by his evil/senile grandpa into being afraid of Santa Claus, who then watches his parents get slaughtered by a stickup man dressed as St. Nick. Then he’s shipped off to an orphanage where a cruel Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) beats him for watching a couple engage in sexual congress (in an orphanage?) and then forces him to sit on Santa’s lap. He’s not even 10 years old yet! How the hell did they think he was going to turn out? Our cookie-cutter approach to mental illness is so lame.

Fast-forward 10 years and Billy the ticking time bomb (Robert Brian Wilson) is now a handsome, strapping young man—with a job in a toy store. Yeah, what with his mom and dad getting iced by Santa and all, he probably should have reviewed his career options a bit more thoughtfully, but I guess he needed the money for a new bike or something. Inevitably, Christmas rolls around and Billy’s nerves are a trifle frayed, as visions of the holly jolly fiend bombard his every waking moment. And for the piece de resistance, his drunken store manager (Brit Leach) makes poor Billy pull Santa Claus duty for the legions of snotty moppets that descend on the store like locusts on Christmas Eve. Like I said, he never had a chance. Hell, I’d have gone on a killing spree for having to entertain the brats, even without Billy’s tragic backstory.

Yes, it’s a ham-fisted and lurid psychodrama with plot developments you can see coming from miles away, but director Charles Sellier made sure that Silent Night, Deadly Night doesn’t scrimp on the spectacle essentials (i.e., blood and boobs). And in its painfully obvious effort to illustrate why this traumatized kid becomes an axe-wielding killer, we are forced to relive those horrible formative years right alongside Billy—which is far and away the most horrifying aspect of the movie. Suck it, Mother Superior!

Let’s face it: You really can’t miss with an evil, murderous Santa Claus. Maybe they should have called it Portrait of Santa as a Young Maniac.

Grim (1995)

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Since when does a movie made in the 90s look like a movie made in the 70s? When it’s made in England, pretending to be Virginia! It certainly helps explain the abundance of denim jackets in this thing, that’s for sure.

Nutshell: Rob (Emmanuel Xuereb—he’s good in anything!) is a mining expert inspecting a series of tunnels and caves under a housing in development in “Virginia” (actually, Coleford, Gloucestershire) where folks have been disappearing. He and a bunch of concerned homeowners go spelunking into the bowels of the earth and are set upon by a magic troll-like being who can walk through walls.

The creature (Peter Tregloan) is the best thing about this SPoS—a toothy brute who bites and kills some of his victims, while others are imprisoned, presumably to be scarfed at a future date. By the way, the monster is initially summoned by some bored New Age suburbanites playing with a homemade Ouija board.

Grim is an idiotic film, but it’s the right kind of idiotic, as writer-director Paul Matthews leaves plenty of lengthy silences in the script so viewers can hurl snarky comments with impunity (a perfect movie for MST3K-style riffing). The story also gets increasingly (and I would argue “winningly”) bizarre, contains a decent amount of bloodletting, and leads to a WTF finale, with a minor character helplessly snared in a completely FUBAR situation. Grim is an amusing time-waster with an OK monster—nothing more, nothing less.