Angus Scrimm (1926-2016)

It is with profound sadness that Anythinghorror must report the passing of the great Angus Scrimm, best known around these parts for his recurring iconic role as The Tall Man in the PHANTASM series.

“Angus Scrimm passed away peacefully tonight surrounded by his friends and loved ones,” PHANTASM director Don Coscarelli wrote on his Facebook page. “He was 89 years old. His performance as the Tall Man is a towering achievement in horror film history. He was the last in a long line of classic horror movie stars. Angus was a terrific actor and an even better friend. He will be missed.”

AS3Angus was born in Kansas City, Kansas in August 19, 1926, with the more ordinary moniker of Lawrence Rory Guy. He was originally a journalist and has written and edited for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Cinema Magazine and TV Guide, to name but a few. He has also had a successful career writing liner notes for thousands of LPs and CDs over the decades (hey, did you think those things wrote themselves?) for artists including Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Judy Garland, Dean Martin and Itzhak Perlman (he even won a Grammy in 1974 for the notes he wrote on the album Korngold: The Classic Erich Wolfgang Korngold, making him probably the only Grammy winner to be featured on Anythinghorror.

However, he majored in Drama at the University of Southern California under William C. DeMille, who was Cecil B. DeMille’s brother, and was a schoolmate of future director Sam Peckinpah. he used to do theatre off-campus, but DeMille didn’t like his students doing that, so he adopted a stage name: Angus Scrimm (Angus after a relative of his, and ‘scrim’ from a type of theatre curtain), a stage name he’d revive decades later…

AS6Scrimm loved performing on stage, but he had a greater love for the movies, going back to his days as a teenage usher, learning by heart all of the dialogue of the movie playing there, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943). And though he would remain a lifelong fan of classic horror films like this, he also admired the works of William Powell and Cary Grant, and his dream acting role would have been in a comic one.

After finishing his studies at USC, his first professional acting job was portraying another tall man, Abraham Lincoln in a series of short biographical films for the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1951, although his real big screen debut would be at the age of 46, appearing in SWEET KILL (1972), produced by Roger Corman.He went on to do SCREAM BLOODY MURDER and JIM THE WORLD’S GREATEST, the latter for Don Coscarelli (who was 18 years old at the time!), who would subsequently hire him for this unusual low-budget horror flick he was working on, for which Lawrence would resurrect his stage name. And enter immortality…

AS5At his peak, Scrimm stood around 6 foot 4 inches, though in recent years age had reduced this to around 6 foot 1; to make himself appear even taller when playing the Tall Man, he wore suits that were several sizes too small and platform shoes. but even without such help, Scrimm’s voice and leer would have been enough to make him an iconic villain. At a time when horror villains were all solo bedraggled mute slashers of horny campers, the Tall Man had class, articulation, purpose, an arsenal of flying Swiss Army knives, an army of hooded dwarves – and a good suit!

PHANTASM helped give him a steady acting career in film, theater and television. In addition to the four PHANTASM films released to date, he could be seen in such movies as THE LOST EMPIRE (1984), DEADFALL (1993), even did a gleeful parody of himself as a hulking henchman in the comedy TRANSYLVANIA TWIST (1989).

AS12I was especially impressed by his dual role in MINDWARP (1992), a movie produced by Fangoria (for whom he played the Tall Man in a rare TV commercial for their magazine, which you can view here) that also starred Bruce Campbell and featured themes that would be later explored in movies like THE MATRIX Trilogy. Even cameos and voiceovers like JOHN DIES AT THE END, SATAN HATES YOU and WISHMASTER were guaranteed to raise the quality of your production.

(In the mid-90s the British Encyclopedia of Horror printed a book with a little thumbnail sketch in which Angus was alluded to as a minor American horror icon. He subsequently wrote them a letter saying the following: “I’m so grateful to be listed at all, and I realize at my age I’m not apt to attain the record of a Boris Karloff or a Bela Lugosi, but if I manage before my end to make another two or three significant horror films do you think I might be up to a middling horror icon?”)

AS2But it was the PHANTASM movies that he would be best remembered for. After the fourth movie, he was asked about reprising the role. “I’d jump at it. I’m a little protective of the Tall Man. I’d be reluctant to make a PHANTASM that wasn’t up to the other four. I think it’s a very good quartet of motion pictures. If we did another picture it would need to be just as original and just as sparkling in its ideas and freshness as the first and as the subsequent ones. That would be the deterrent and then of course getting it financed in today’s film industry would be a challenge.”

True enough: PHANTASM V: RAVAGER has been kicking around since 2005. Scott reported here that production was underway, and in fact at this point has been completed, and is only waiting a distributor for sometime late in 2016. I hope that Coscarelli makes sure it’s dedicated to Scrimm – and that it doesn’t get remade. A PHANTASM movie without Scrimm would be like a Michael Bey movie without at least one mindless explosion.

AS11My buddy Scott had the supreme privilege of seeing Scrimm in person at the Texas Frightmare Weekend in 2011, and by all accounts found him to be a charming, affable individual with many anecdotes and positive and interesting things to say about horror and his own career (read his full review here, where you can also see and hear Scrimm sing and do Shakespeare soliloquies!).

Rest in Peace, Angus. Thanks for the chills…

Wes Craven (1939-2015)

WC6Anythinghorror is sad to report another loss to the horror genre this year: Wes Craven has died over the weekend at the age of 76, after a long battle with brain cancer.

There are many in the industry who could be described as One Hit Wonders: somehow coming up with a brilliant, innovative, well-made movie, but then failing to further demonstrate the gifts they ostensibly possess (still, at least they’ll be remembered for something, as opposed to all those that try and get forgotten).

However, Wes Craven would not be one of those OHWs. In a career spanning five decades, he managed to produce a number of unforgettable, iconic films, and a handful more of flawed but interesting works, while stretching out into multiple media such as TV, the Internet and comic books, while remaining relevant to the end.

He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, raised in a strict Baptist family (by all accounts it wasn’t a particularly happy childhood), went on to study English and Psychology, eventually earning a Master’s degree in Philosophy and Writing from John Hopkins University, and briefly teaching English and Humanities at various schools. He married, then divorced. By most accounts, that might be the end of an ordinary story.

But it was from here, as they say, that things got interesting for him.

After some taxi work, he got into Porn. As you do.

DEEP THROAT. Never saw it. I think it was about a woman with tonsillitis.
DEEP THROAT. Never saw it. I think it was about a woman with tonsillitis.

Craven found porn a more lucrative profession than teaching, and a way to learn more about the work he really wanted to do: film making. Among other efforts he worked on the infamous DEEP THROAT, though his exact roles were unrevealed, they presumably involved writing and/or editing (as opposed to being a stand-in for the actors). It was this preliminary work which led him to his first directorial feature, 1972’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

Yes, but is it only a movie?
Yes, but is it only a movie?

A rough remake of Bergman’s THE VIRGIN SPRING, only with more hippies and scenes of teenage girls being forced to piss themselves before being raped and murdered, LAST HOUSE was banned in the UK for decades, before being officially released in May 2003 (naturally we all had bootleg copies long before then). It was also his first collaboration with producer Sean S Cunningham of FRIDAY THE 13TH fame (whose own horror creation, Jason Vorhees, would later fight a certain horror creation of Craven’s – but, I’m jumping ahead of myself). LAST HOUSE was a rough, grungy movie, pure Grindhouse, more notorious than worthy of notoriety.

A face only a mother could love. Maybe.
A face only a mother could love. Maybe.

Fortunately, Craven got better at his work, next creating 1977’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES. He originally titled his tale of a cannibalistic mutant family BLOOD RELATIONS, but changed it at the insistence of his producer Peter Locke. Craven said he initially disliked the title but stuck with it because it tested well with audiences. He was right; the movie still holds up well nearly forty years later (as does the poster with Michael Berryman on the front). His official 1985 sequel holds up less well, though it remains a guilty favourite of mine, but only because I had a crush on the lead actress, Tamara Stafford.

Craven kept busy after this, directing a number of movies (and TV movies): STRANGER IN OUR HOUSE, DEADLY BLESSING, KENT STATE, SWAMP THING, INVITATION TO HELL.

And then… NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.

Do I really need to caption this?
Do I really need to caption this?

Craven’s idea of Freddy Krueger came from a childhood memory of looking out of his apartment window to see a drunk man dressed similarly to Freddy looking back up at him for several minutes (the name itself came from the name of a boy who used to bully him in high school). Craven had written the script but none of the major studios would take him up on it until New Line accepted – on the condition that Craven signed over all the rights to the character. As a result, despite the phenomenal success of Freddy through the Eighties, Craven never made a penny on him until much later, when New Line finally recognised his part in filling their bank accounts, and cut him in on the profits, including back earnings.

The NIGHTMARE OF ELM STREET was a smash hit, bringing in $25 million domestically and establishing its production company, New Line Cinema (subsequently nicknamed “the house that Freddy built”) as a Hollywood force and introducing Robert Englund as someone who could do more than play nice-guy aliens on V. There would be nine NIGHTMARE films in total, along with a TV series, comic book series, an NES game. And, sigh, yes, rap songs too. I had them on singles cassettes when I was young and tasteless.

He's been marked for SPACEBALLS 2
He’s been marked for SPACEBALLS 2…

But NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET doesn’t really need elucidation here; that’s like going to the Kardashians and asking, “Do we need to talk about being famous and rich for no damn good reason?”. The following ten or so years seemed a little rough for Craven, in that his subsequent work would be compared with NIGHTMARE, rightly or wrongly: DEADLY FRIEND, SHOCKER, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN.

And suddenly, there was SCREAM.

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The best horror movie ever inspired by a 19th century Norwegian painter since Olaf Isaachsen’s THE SYRINBUSK FJORD MASSACRE

Some of his works tend to share a common exploration of the nature of reality and unreality, including obviously the NIGHTMARE movies, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. When he returned to Freddy to direct WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE in 1994, he tapped into Meta levels, with a script that had himself, Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp playing themselves dealing with the making the movie that we’re seeing.

With SCREAM, he went Full Meta, with characters aware of and playing with all the conventions of horror movies that the rest of us were doing all along. It also had a high dose of humour, a risk that doesn’t usually pay off in horror, but did in this case.

They still wrote it off as a suicide...
They still wrote it off as a suicide…

As if learning his lessons from the NIGHTMARE franchise, Craven decided to stick around his second hit horror franchise for a while, directing SCREAM 2 (1997), SCREAM 3 (2000) and SCREAM 4 (2011). I’m very glad that he made SCREAM 4, even though I haven’t seen it, because now it’s his last film, as opposed to 2010’s MY SOUL TO TAKE. If that had been his last movie, that would have been a shit swan song.

Craven also produced many remakes of his own work in recent years, including HILLS HAVE EYES, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. He had a considerable production output over the decades, includes personal favourites, WISHMASTER (1997) and DRACULA 2000.
Say what you want about him, he wasn’t lazy.

Nor without a sense of humour, when he cameoed in JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKES BACK (2001) when he portrayed himself, more interested in counting the money he was making for the (then-fictitious) SCREAM 4 (where the killer turns out to be a monkey, chosen because of test audience reaction). And by all accounts, he was a nice, thoughtful man, always ready to converse with fans.

And for a guy his age, he embraced new things, including social media, and had a healthy online profile. One of his last Tweets summed up a philosophy that can be applied to any field of endeavour:
WC8

Zombie Resurrection (2014)

ZR8Full disclosure here: I’m writing this on the cusp of having just lost my job. I worked in a customer service capacity, was really enjoying it, but I made one or two too many mistakes during my probationary period, so they decided to let me go. So, maybe the review you’re about to read might be more reflective of my disappointment and anxiety than the movie I saw.

Or maybe it is as bad as I describe it. I’m gonna trust my instincts. I’ve seen enough bad movies in my lifetime.

Especially zombie movies, normally my favourite horror sub-genre, going back to the first zombie movie I saw, CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, on late night television. Looking back at it now, I can’t avoid noting its many faults, while at the same time appreciating the power of the resurrection scenes. Some movies are like that, flawed but still worth the watching.

ZOMBIE RESURRECTION, brought to us by British writer/directors Jake Hawkins and Andy Phelps, is like that. Except for the part about being worth the watching. I’m sorry, guys, but as much as you enjoyed making your low-budget zombie movie, you clearly enjoyed making it more than I enjoyed watching it.

A good cast is... nowhere to be found here.
A good cast is… nowhere to be found here.

It opens in bilious Night Vision Green, as someone in a Jeep drives through the forest, before we cut to some POV shot from the barrel of an assault rifle, and I’m wondering if I’m accidentally watching some Army recruitment commercial, or maybe I’m playing some sort of computer game (is that what you kids call them these days?). The one holding the rifle goes in and kills some people, before being killed themselves when some woman they find tied up gets freed and she kills them. I think that’s what happens, anyway, it’s so dark and murky it’s like they filmed inside Courtney Love’s underpants.

Then we get an animated title sequence that, admittedly, looks pretty cool, even if the title of the movie is so generic it’s like an ape flipped through a book of movie titles and selected the words. The title sequence also informs us that it was soldiers returning home from some conflict that brought the disease back with them. Bet they’re sorry it wasn’t just herpes, huh?

Now we get to the movie proper, which informs us that it’s Infection Day 458, which means that we leave behind the Night Vision bullshit for some daytime bullshit(what the opening sequence has in connection with the subsequent scenes is unclear, but once you get into the movie proper, you’ll feel like you’ve just removed the gaudy wrapping on a loaf of mouldy bread).

Funny enough, I'd started screaming at this point too.
Funny enough, I’d started screaming at this point too.

We’re still in some woods, with our Dramatis Personnae being introduced: orange-suited prisoner Sykes (Eric Colvin), a well-spoken former doctor; bloodthirsty Scottish sergeant Mac (Jim Sweeney), who likes to punch into zombies’ guts to pull out their spinal cords; his technical superior officer, Major Gibson (Joe Rainbow); nobody guy whose name/nickname Gandhi (Simon Burbage) is the most interesting thing about him; golf club-swinging suburban father Beaumont (Danny Brown), protective of his dimwit daughter Becca (Rachel Nottingham) while still taking time to shag loud-mouthed chav Harden (Jade Colucci), and what she’s getting out of this arrangement I have no idea; and annoying, Bible-spouting West African stereotype Esther (Shamiso Mushambi), who’s carrying the most fake pregnant belly since I stuffed a pillow under my T-shirt to get out of Sixth Grade Gym.

It's terrible to be condemned, condemned to suffer a horrible fate. Still, no one forced him to appear in this movie.
It’s terrible to be condemned, condemned to suffer a horrible fate. Still, no one forced him to appear in this movie.

Very ineptly we pick up on the fact that they’re all making their way towards a safe haven called Imperium, and that their prisoner is being taken to be executed, as he was apparently one of the ones responsible for creating the virus (meant to be a vaccination but which went wrong – obviously – and with a 6 month incubation period, which explains why no one noticed it until the soldiers had all returned home). Now, you may wonder a) Why they would drag Sykes halfway across the country just to be executed, and b) why they would execute him at all, as it sounds like he’s the only one left qualified who might help find a cure, regardless of his culpability with its creation. And if you have, well Mazel Tov, because you just gave it more thought than the writers.

Anyone looking for a non-chemical aid towards impotency can ask for a full shot of what these two are doing...
Anyone looking for a non-chemical aid to induce impotency can ask for a full shot of what these two are doing…

We also learn that this is meant to be a comedy, and bloody hell if SHAUN OF THE DEAD doesn’t have a lot to answer for. I mean, I loved it, but it was so perfect it made so many others believe it was easy. And as actor Edmund Gwenn was purported to say for his final words, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard. Which rates better than David Carradine’s final words, “Don’t worry, I know how to tie a hangman’s knot.”

I’m not sure what’s worse, the jokes themselves (the script offers them like the screenwriters respect the right of other people to believe in humour but chooses not to believe in it themselves) or the performers, who flail about with all the grace of a drunk conducting his own vasectomy. I might also note the background music and special effects sounding off at opportune moments (like the squelching sound added during the scene when Beaumont withdraws from the chav’s honey pot, and it was like the filmmakers had been dared to offend every possible sense at once).

Honestly, this is so far from a horror-comedy that I can’t even begin to fully explain to the filmmakers why it doesn’t work. I’d have a better shot at explaining to a foetus that the dizziness and pain it’s experiencing is the result of Bill Cosby feeding its mother roofied Jello Pudding Pops before sexually assaulting her.

Grin and bear it...
Grin and bear it…

Anyway, Major Gibson gets his foot caught in a mantrap, and then he’s bitten by a zombie, though Sykes thinks he’s managed to amputate the foot in time to prevent infection (wait, I thought there was a 6 month incubation period? Oh, never mind). Although Gibson is a complete asshole, apparently he’s the only one in the group who knows the exact location of the safe haven (nice planning there), so they decide to rest and recuperate in a local abandoned school. It’s here that we’re offered a moment of pathos and sobriety as the group gaze upon a long wall filled with pictures and descriptions of missing folk. One single effective moment, even if it’s a rip-off of the scene from 28 DAYS LATER.

Once inside, they encounter a survivor, and more zombies – along with one who appears to have the power to “cure” other zombies with a touch, though he himself appears to remain as incoherent as Phil Spector. There are the usual escalating tensions, people going off by themselves, yadda yadda yadda.

One of the cast, next to some copies of the script
One of the cast, next to some copies of the script

At its core, ZOMBIE RESURRECTION had an interesting notion, but like my dog when she steals the remote control, has no idea what to do with it, and the plot unravels more quickly than Charlie Sheen’s sobriety. The acting, with the exception of Eric Colvin as Sykes, is mostly appalling (if horror movie acting was an event in the Special Olympics, most of these a-holes would be left at the starting line still picking their noses). The practical effects are serviceable, if scant, and there are CGI blood spurts, because someone obviously thought that the movie wasn’t crap enough.

Brains... this movie needed brains...
Brains… this movie needed brains…

Yeah, I’ve seen bad movies, but this one was so bad it went past entertaining, and now I’m feeling like I’m watching a homeless man eating a dog turd for a dollar.

ZOMBIE RESURRECTION is available in various formats in the UK and elsewhere, and if you spend money on it, you deserve to have your Uncle Arthur touch you in your swimsuit areas.

The trailer is below (and a big hand to the editors for polishing this turd and making it look almost presentable).

Deggsy’s Summary:

Director: Jake Hawkins and Andy Phelps (also co-writers)

Plot: 1 out of 5 stars

Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 4 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Deggsy. Dead but not down.

 

Shock Value (2014)

SV2Some time ago, I reviewed the movie SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (here), which while a vampire movie (duh!) had a novel premise: that the director of the original silent classic NOSFERATU got hold of a real live (unalive?) vampire to star in the movie, for authenticity’s sake, but that this bloodsucker grew too powerful and dangerous for him to control.

I was reminded of this while watching Douglas Rath’s latest movie, SHOCK VALUE. In it, we are introduced to veteran B-movie (or maybe Z-movie, judging from the output we do see later) filmmaker Miles Fowler (Zak Hudson, ID), who is receiving an award from some generic festival for Best Horror Film of the Year.

His new dildo design wasn't well received...
His new dildo design wasn’t well received…

Not that he’s particularly pleased about it; as he tells his actress-collaborator Ashley (Janelle Odair), with whom he has long held a major crush, “It’s bullshit; I basically bought this.” Miles is in despair; after 15 or so movies, he hasn’t made it big yet (but again, based on the clips we see through the movie, and the making of his next movie, THE WHOREHOUSE THAT SCREAMED, I think Scott and I would be ripping this guy a new one in our reviews). He needs something to inspire him.

He gets it while sitting in his car up in the Hollywood Hills, whacking off to some couple who had come up there to screw. Suddenly the couple is attacked and slaughtered by an unknown figure, demonstrating a lethal version of coitus interruptus. Miles follows the figure back to his home, and then collects his friend and production assistant Justine (Michelle Campbell). Together they wait until the killer leaves, and then Miles breaks in and steals his weapons and other evidence, inviting the killer, Nick (Anthony Bravo) for lunch.

"You want me to kill for you... and you still want to split the check?"
“You’re blackmailing me… and you still want to split the check?”

Miles blackmails Nick into becoming the murderous star of WHOREHOUSE OF THE DEAD, realising it would be a noteworthy novelty (“Imagine if there was a bootleg movie from 1968 of Charlie Manson playing as killer! Wouldn’t you watch it?”) that would put his latest movie on the map. The incredulous, predatory Nick doesn’t trust him – and with good reason, as Miles assures Justine that, after the shoot, he’ll turn Nick into the police. However, Nick reluctantly agrees, promising to kill them both the first chance he gets…

This movie goes to weird places....
This movie goes to weird places….

SHOCK VALUE is the second feature film for both director Douglas Rath and writer Anthony Bravo, who also stars as Nick, but it’s a polished affair for them both. And they make the most of both the concept and the inherent problems and craptitude of Z-Movie filmmaking and the giallo subgenre: the illegal shoots in public places without a permit, the tired serial killer tropes like cross-dressing murderers versus the more mundane realities, the actresses who take their roles far too seriously for people who are paid to get nude, the storylines involving cross-dressing slashers and clairvoyant twins.

"I can't be mad! I'm British!"
“I can’t be mad! I’m British!”

And the characters evolve in interesting if not entirely unpredictable ways: Miles grows more ruthless and (dare I say it?) bloodthirsty to get his movie made, and Nick learns to socialise and connect more with people while learning his thespian craft. There’s also a cameo by Malcolm McDowell (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) as a mad actor who tries to convince Miles that a found-footage movie about Dracula done on cell phones could work (hint: no, it f**king couldn’t). Typically such cameos are there only to boost the recognition factor of a movie, but in this case it does serve a purpose to the plot.

There *is* nudity, but it's all in the best possible taste...
There *is* nudity, but it’s all in the best possible taste…

Although I was guessing how the story would play (and was, for the most part, correct), the movie kept me from switching off or fast forwarding, which is always a plus. The cast were all fine, in particular Hudson as the sleazy and unkempt Miles, and Michelle Campbell as Justine, an initially passive character who gradually grows stronger and more assertive as her loyalties shift from Miles to Nick.

GET TO DA CHOPPER!
GET TO DA CHOPPER!

As for Bravo, I was initially put off by his portrayal of Nick, thinking that he was too plain and, well, not sleazy enough to portray a serial killer, but his deadpan demeanour grew on me, and it worked well playing off some of the dry humour on display in his script. Speaking of the script, it’s chock full of satire on modern horror tropes and the moviemaking business.

SHOCK VALUE is available on VOD (though it’s worthy of a DVD release), and the trailer is below.

Deggsy’s Summary:

Director: Douglas Rath

Plot: 5 out of 5 stars

Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Deggsy. Who’ll never eat lunch in this town again.

 

Deliver Us From Evil (2014)

DUFE0Anyone who knows me, personally or through my guest reviews here, will be aware of my long-term affection for KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, the short-lived but highly influential horror series (if you know nothing about it, go reread my retrospective on it here). It, and the TV movies which inspired the series, successfully combined the gritty urban film nourish police procedural with horror, and its older, professional protagonists were a fresh and welcome change from the usual idiot teens and twenty-somethings that usually populate horror movies.

This was a vibe I definitely picked up while I was watching DELIVER US FROM EVIL, a new film written and directed by Scott Derrickson (SINISTER). The movie is based on a 2001 non-fiction book, Beware the Night, written by Ralph Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool. Sarchie was a veteran NYPD cop who apparently witnessed numerous cases of demonic possession while on duty, later retiring and becoming a full-time demonologist, and his book details these.

Men's Room on the left, Ladies' Room on the right. Demons... piss on the floor as usual...
Men’s Room on the left, Ladies’ Room on the right. Demons… piss on the floor as usual…

Scott Derrickson and co-writer Paul Harris Boardman chose not to adapt any of the accounts in the books, instead re-imagining the “origin story” of Sarchie in a completely original plot. The critics gave it mixed and negative reviews, but were they deserved?

DELIVER US FROM EVIL opens in Iraq, with a group of soldiers on some night mission, moving through the desert and approaching a cave, one where the spiders and snakes are fleeing from – never a good sign when the spiders and snakes leave the neighbourhood. They enter, their night vision goggles and cameras recording some writing on a wall, before all Hell breaks loose (sorry, couldn’t resist)…

"No, that was Mark Ruffalo! I was the first Hulk! NO, I'M NOT BILL BIXBY!"
“No, that was Mark Ruffalo! I was the *first* Hulk! NO, I’M NOT BILL BIXBY!”

We then cut to New York city, with cops Sarchie (Eric Bana, HULK) and snarky, wisecracking partner and future corpse (oh come on, you know how cop partners die in movies!) Butler (Joel McHale, from TV’s COMMUNITY) investigating a number of seemingly unrelated cases: wife beaters, suicides by paint thinner (yuck), and an apparently drugged-up woman (Colombian actress Valentina Rendón) who threw her kid into the lion pit of a zoo. But Sarchie has a “radar” about such things. You can almost call it a… Sixth Sense. Of course, you don’t need a Sixth Sense to guess that it might all have something to do with the fucked-up looking guy Sarchie sees walking in and out of the lion pit, unnoticed and unchallenged by the pack.

Someone's gonna be on the next Vatican's calendar for 2015...
Someone’s gonna be on the next Vatican’s calendar for 2015…

Anyway, Sarchie comes in contact with Mendoza, an impossibly handsome Jesuit priest played by Édgar Ramírez (ZERO DARK THIRTY). Seriously, the guy is way too handsome and buff to be leaving his Blessed Weapon in his pants. Look, I’m straight – well, mostly straight – but this guy is WOW! Sign me up for some of that Hot Priest Action!

Ahem. Anyway, he is seemingly in charge of the now-institutionalised woman who threw her kid into the lion pit, and asks to see security footage from the zoo. Pressed for a reason why, Mendoza admits that he believes the woman is possessed, something Archie scoffs at.

And yet, he can’t deny that the weird cases he has been encountering are all connected to the members of that three-man unit who changed after seeing the inscriptions on that cave in Iraq and returning home to the Big Apple. And their leader, Santino (Sean Harris, PROMETHEUS and TV’s THE BORGIAS) is still out there, and targeting Sarchie’s wife and child…

Spot the Possessed One...
Spot the Possessed One…

As stated before, the critics were not kind, calling DELIVER US FROM EVIL, among other things, bland and unoriginal. And they have a point, at least about the unoriginality. Very little of this hasn’t been taken from other movies, from all genres: the hard-nosed, cynical ex-Catholic cop with a dark secret that the demons might use against him, the priest who asks questions like, “Do you believe in True Evil?”, the bland wife (Olivia Munn) and child there simply to be bait, the smart-ass partner who will get killed even if he’s not two days from retirement. Even the title, changed at the last minute from the original BEWARE THE NIGHT, smacks of Generic…

She's just looking for a lost contact... AND YOUR SOUL! (Okay, maybe just the contact)
She’s just looking for a lost contact… AND YOUR SOUL! (Okay, maybe just the contact)

And yet, I was still impressed by the movie. Maybe it was because I was watching it at night, with my wife and daughter and so unable to fast forward or turn it off. Maybe it was because of the actors, who gave it their all and gave it well.

And maybe it was Derrickson’s talent for creating an atmosphere of escalating tension and terror, something he demonstrated in the only other horror movie of his I’ve seen, SINISTER (which I reviewed here). He’s a talented director, able to generate atmosphere even with ordinary scenes, as well as the extraordinary ones, such as the aforementioned zoo, and the shots with the possessed, incarcerated woman (anyone who Googles Valentina Rendón and sees the gorgeous smiling actress will not recognise the feral beast you see here). The movie culminates in the obligatory exorcism scene, but despite having seen so many of these, I was impressed by this, too; set in a police interrogation room, it had a potency and vibrancy that raised it up (and did avoid some of the hoarier clichés associated with such scenes).

The writing's on the wall (Okay, okay, I'm going...)
The writing’s on the wall (Okay, okay, I’m going…)

Derrickson is next directing Marvel Comics’ DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) with Benedict Cumberbatch, and anyone who knows the character’s origins could see DELIVER US FROM EVIL as a sort of first draft of what movie might turn out like (worldly hero is introduced to the otherworldly dangers around us). Which is good, because judging from this movie, Derrickson can deliver the kind of scares and atmosphere a movie about the Master of the Mystic Arts requires.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL is available on DVD and VOD, and the trailer is below.

Deggsy’s Summary:

Director: Scott Derrickson (also co-wrote)

Plot: 4 out of 5 stars

Gore: 7 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Deggsy. Got the Devil in him…

 

Oculus (2014)

Oculus09Anyone who’s hung around Anythinghorror long enough knows that Scott and I are staunch supporters of independent horror filmmakers. Low in budget, they often compensate with original, inventive ideas, stories, atmosphere and direction, and the best of them can stand head and shoulders above many of the generic studio offerings out there. Back in 2011, Scott reviewed ABSENTIA, from writer/director Mike Flanagan (the review is here), and enjoyed the idea, the acting, and the execution (though it faltered in not explaining more about the nature behind the supernatural elements at play), and that “Mike Flanagan is definitely a man to keep your eye on.”

Well, it took a while, but Flanagan has given us something new to keep our eye on: OCULUS. And I’ll say right off the bat that it will certainly be in my Top Five Horror Movies of the Year.

The movie opens with young Kaylie (Annalise Basso) and her brother Tim (Garrett Ryan, INSIDIOUS 2) hiding out in terror from a man with a gun in their house. The man is their father Alan (Rory Cochrane, ARGO) and after killing their mother Marie (Katie Sackhoff, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), he’s coming after them. And it all has to do with that terrible mirror they purchased weeks before.

Avoid mirrors in horror films. Really.
Avoid mirrors in horror films. Really.

Or is it? It certainly felt that way at the time, but the now adult Tim (Brenton Thwaites, MALEFICENT) knows better. He has been locked up in an asylum since that terrible night years ago, but his therapist Dr Graham (Miguel Sandoval, from the TV show MEDIUM) has helped him see what really happened: that their father had gone insane and killed their mother, and that Tim had been forced to kill him. Now, reaching age 21, he can leave and start a normal life with the help of his sister Kaylie.

But Kaylie (Karen Gillan, from TV’s DOCTOR WHO and the upcoming GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) has other plans. In the years since her brother has been incarcerated for the death of their father, she has been preparing. The mirror had been sold off along with her parents’ other possessions when she’d been put into foster care, but now she’s in a position to have the mirror back, albeit temporarily.

She's not got the hang of selfies yet...
She’s not got the hang of selfies yet…

And as she collects her newly-released brother, she takes him back to the old house (which returned to her when the state couldn’t sell it off). She has the mirror set up, along with cameras on multiple independent power sources, heat sensors, a series of alarms to remind them to eat and drink, and to reset a kill switch – an anchor built into the ceiling, designed to swing down and smash the mirror.

Why all the precautions? Kaylie provides an info dump on the long history of the mirror: for centuries, anyone who’s owned it has inevitably succumbed to its insidious mind control and hallucinations: fat men have starved to death, women have died of dehydration while sitting in baths for several days… and those who don’t, end up murdering their loved ones and themselves. And Kaylie is obsessed with finding proof that a supernatural force exists within the mirror – and should the mirror overcome them, the kill switch will take care of it.

Mom's gone feral again...
Mom’s gone feral again…

Tim tries to convince her that there was a more rational explanation behind it all. And it’s here that we start to get flashbacks to when they were kids, and their parents began to first succumb to the mirror’s influence: Marie imagines her C-section scar opening up, and gradually becomes withdrawn, and then feral, suspecting her husband is seeing someone on the side, neglecting the children and herself.

Meanwhile Alan keeps thinking the children are messing around in his office, despite his locking the door. Later he tries to peel off a Band-Aid on his finger, only to discover it was his own fingernail… and he gets a gun, which of course will not end well, because guns don’t kill people, demons who possess people kill people… The house plants begin dying off, and when the listless family dog gets locked in the office, he vanishes…

This won't end well...
This won’t end well…

In the present, Tim continues to try and rationalize it all (their father did have a woman, Marisol (Kate Siegel) as a lover, their parents’ marriage was disintegrating, their mother losing weight from stress and depression, the dog had a disease that affected the plants, and he was taken away to be put down).

But when they return to the room, they find the cameras are all turned to face each other. And Marisol, the entity in the mirror, increases its influence over them…

OCULUS is one of the more successful horror movies I’ve seen in a long time. There is a palpable sense of dread in every frame, a sense of danger or imminent danger, and that Kaylie’s elaborate plans, as admirable as they are, will not be enough to save them from an entity that has existed for centuries. The action is confined almost entirely in the family house, both past and present, and the  cast of characters are few, thus supporting the sense of claustrophobia.

The younger versions of Kaylie and Tim, who gave decent performances in their own right.
The younger versions of Kaylie and Tim, who gave decent performances in their own right.

A common theme in many horror movies is the blending of reality and illusion, but few succeed as seamlessly as OCULUS does (and trusting in the intelligence of the audience to follow along). The past and present scenes appear without any visual clues, and as the mirror’s control over the adult Kaylie and Tim increases, the past and present mingle: the adult siblings see their younger selves, and vice versa (some viewers seem to think that there was some sort of time travel going on, but I never saw that). In one notorious scene, Kaylie seems to get a lightbulb mixed up with an apple…

Ouch.
Ouch.

There’s an elaborate and believable mythology built up around the mirror as well, though as in ABSENTIA, not everything is spelled out. But it remains terrifying in its implications, able to keep you from smashing it or even calling for help (well, you might think you’ve done those things, but you’re probably just standing there staring at the mirror) And watching the tragic events unfolding, you can’t help but see the metaphors for family disintegration and domestic abuse, especially through the eyes of the children.

Seriously guys... GET AWAY FROM THE MIRROR!
Seriously guys… GET AWAY FROM THE MIRROR!

The acting is excellent throughout (Scottish actress Karen Gillan had a very convincing American accent), with Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff giving performances that could have gone over the top Jack Nicholson style, but still remain menacing and sympathetic (Another aspect that I like was the inversion of tropes, where here the male character of the adult Tim was the skeptical, rational one, and the female character of the adult Kaylie the believer). But it’s only one successful component of the ensemble, with the editing, the cinematography, the music, all contributing towards telling a superior story.

Yeah, come see me. If you dare...
Yeah, come see me. If you dare…

OCULUS has done well in the US, both commercially and critically, and I’m glad to hear it. It’s now on cinema release in the UK, and I urge everyone to avoid all the crappy sequels and reboots and see it. I might even go back to the theater and see it again, and I hate going to the movies now. The trailer is below.

Deggsy’s Summary:

Director: Mike Flanagan

Plot: 5 out of 5 stars

Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

 

Popcorn (1991)

P8True Believers, I realise I might be older than Methuselah or even Madonna compared to some of you, but I’m not *that* old. I may have been old enough to have seen STAR WARS when it first came out, but I’m not old enough to have been around for the gimmicky horror and science fiction movies of the Fifties and Sixties. In those days, men like William Castle, Roger Corman and Herschell Gordon Lewis knew you had to do a little something more to generate publicity for your cheapo films that just draw a lurid poster that had nothing to do with the actual content of your movie. You had to have 3-D. You had to have gimmicky glasses and prop axes, plastic skeletons flying over people’s heads, Smell-O-Vision, electric buzzers under the seats, and fake legal agreements absolving the theater of any blame if you died of a horror attack after watching their tepid cinematic offering. It was showmanship. It was razzle dazzle. It was bollocks.

It also sounds like a hell of a fun era to have grown up in.

I worked in my local cinema, and had to prepare the sign. I really had to mind my Ps and Qs there.
Come on, you’d risk death to go to this show, wouldn’t you?

Joe Dante’s all-but-forgotten MATINEE (1993), featuring John Goodman as a William Castle-like entrepreneur, was a loving homage to this era. But one more suited for viewing on Anythinghorror’s roster is POPCORN (1991), a movie whose listed director is actor Mark Herrier, but with help from Alan Ormsby, late of personal favorite CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (he also wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym Tod Hackett). All but forgotten now, POPCORN deserves a relook.

It opens with someone making latex masks of different people using a strange machine, before we cut to Maggie (Jill Schoelen, who starred with Robert Englund in 1989’s equally-underrated PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), a film student having a nightmare about a longhaired hippie chasing a girl named Sarah around with an axe. Maggie is delighted by it; she writes down all the details in a notebook, thinking it might make a good screenplay someday (Bad news, Maggie: I think it’s been done). Her mother Suzanne (Dee Wallace-Stone, ET, THE HOWLING) seems more disturbed by the dream. Or maybe it’s the weird calls she’s been getting lately?

How can you lose with a movie called THE STENCH?
How can you lose with a movie called THE STENCH?

But Maggie is more concerned that her acting class’ funding is getting cut again. But her teacher Mr Davis (Tony Roberts, AMITYVILLE 3-D and numerous early Woody Allen movies when he was still funny) and her best friend and fellow film student Toby (Tom Villard, one of the few actors in Hollywood in the early 90s to come out both about his homosexuality and with having AIDS, and who sadly died in 1994) have come up with a fund-raising idea: an all-night marathon of old movies, using the original gimmicks.

The featured films (made up for the movie) are: MOSQUITO, which will feature a giant prop bug flying overhead, THE AMAZING ELECTRIFIED MAN, where random seats wired up will shock patrons at key moments, and THE STENCH, where the audience will get whiffed out by the smell of dead dogs and cigars and such.

Well, he's got his sense of humor to fall back on anyway...
Well, he’s got his sense of humor to fall back on anyway…

The props are supplied by old entrepreneur Dr Mnesyne (a cameo from veteran actor Ray Walston, better known to younger viewers for a recurring role as Boothby in Star Trek: The Next Generation), but among the props is an old 8mm reel. Curious, Mr Davis and the others play it, discovering it’s an avante-garde short called THE POSSESSOR, helmed by Lanyard Gates, a Sixties Manson-like cultist who ended up killing his family onstage – all except for his young daughter Sarah, the only survivor who escaped with her aunt, leaving Lanyard and his followers to die when the theater caught fire and everyone seemingly died.

Always take the gum out of your mouth before kissing, kids. Honestly...
Always take the gum out of your mouth before kissing, kids. Honestly…

Of course, all this has everything to do with Maggie’s dreams, and with the phone calls to her mother. As the students fix up the old Dreamland Theatre for their show, her mother is drawn to the same theater the night before the film marathon, where something ominous happens to her…

The marathon starts off successfully (it looks like a hell of a fun time, and I wish I’d been to something like that in real life), though Maggie gradually becomes convinced that somehow Lanyard Gates has come back from the dead, and for some reason is after her. Her forgettable boyfriend Mark (Derek Rydell, PHANTOM OF THE MALL) remains skeptical.

Health and Safety's gonna be pissed...
Health and Safety’s gonna be pissed…

But we see the mayhem unfolding: Mr Davis is impaled on the prop mosquito, another student is electrocuted (by the way, did you know that the word ‘electrocution’ is a portmanteau of the words ‘electricity’ and ‘execution’? So Now You Know), another is killed with cyanide. So who is this masked murderer? Is it Lanyard’s ghost? Is it a copycat killer? Is it Dr Mnesyne? Is it THE POSSESSOR? Is it Old Man Peterson, who’d have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids?

Art Imitates Life. Or is Life Imitating Art? Who's Art, anyway?
Art Imitates Life. Or is Life Imitating Art? Who’s Art, anyway?

POPCORN is both a homage to the history of horror, and a precursor to the self-aware, meta-fictional movies like SCREAM, WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, and the aforementioned MATINEE. It can be watched both straight and with a nod and a wink to the audience (at one point, the movie marathon has a short break, and a hitherto-unannounced reggae band comes on so people can dance in the aisles. Did I mention that the movie was filmed in Jamaica?). The clips of the old movies we see (sequences directed by Ormsby) captured the look and feel of those, er, ‘classics’ well, and there is overall a genuine air of mystery about the nature of the killer.

Popcorn ednaUnfortunately, POPCORN did not get the kudoes it deserved at the time, having unfortunately slipped down between the slasher boom of the Eighties and the slick, self-aware resurgence of the Nineties. The movie has yet to see a proper DVD release (at least, the copy I got was bereft of high definition or features), but is available in various formats, and the trailer is below.

Deggsy’s Review:
Director: Mark Herrier (and Alan Ormsby)
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Edna’s Rating: 4 out of 5 sausages
Reviewed by Deggsy. And Edna. 

 

The Car (1977)

Car 10Okay, another blast from the past. And what a blast! I saw this in 1977 when I was eleven, and went to a drive-in. No, Uncle Deggsy wasn’t a pre-teen Fonzie, taking chicks on dates on his Big Wheel. No, the parents took my sister and I there, where we played in the playground for a while, got queasy from eating hot dogs and popcorn, and then were expected to camp out in the back of the station wagon while Mum and Dad sat in the front and watched.

Or at least, that was the plan. Me, I knew that we were going to see THE CAR, had seen the posters and commercials on TV, and I was intrigued. Who wouldn’t be? THE CAR is… it’s ridiculous. Seriously ridiculous. Made more so by the fact that everyone plays it seriously.

You know what? I don’t care. In case you haven’t guessed by my previous reviews, I write like I dance: as if no one’s watching.

The movie opens with a quote from former Church of Satan leader Anton LaVey (who had been given a technical advisor credit on THE CAR, as well as previously on the 1975 cult classic THE DEVIL’S RAIN): “Oh great brothers of the night who rideth upon the hot winds of hell, who dwelleth in the Devil’s Lair; move and appear”. This came from the Invocation of Destruction in The Satanic Bible (it was also used during my Confirmation, which explains so very, very much). We then watch a distant vehicle moving alone across the Utah landscape.

Lance Armstrong's about to lose his remaining nut...
Lance Armstrong’s about to lose his remaining nut…

We then focus on two teenage cyclists, majoring in Victimology at college, as they bike along a deserted road, in and out of tunnels and along empty bridges. Oh, did I say empty? A vehicle, barely glimpsed by us but its sinister, truck-like horn is certainly heard, laughing as it kills first the girl and then the guy, after tormenting him by tailgating him and forcing him to pedal literally for his life before forcing him over the side of an impossibly-high bridge. Ouch.

Keep watching the lights....
Keep watching the lights….

We then get to meet our hero: local town Deputy Wade Parent (Jame Brolin, WESTWORLD) and his secret lover, teacher Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd, HILL STREET BLUES). Well, not so secret: his young daughters Lynn and Debbie (Kim and Kyle Richards, who got notoriously shot through her ice cream cone in the original ASSAULT ON PRECEINCT 13) listen in at the bedroom door. Oh, kids…

Back to the carnage, as the Car claims another victim, a young hitchhiker who flips it off, and for his troubles gets himself run over, back and forth. Four times. Road rage, indeed. This time, however, there is a witness: local drunk and wife beater Amos Clemens (RG Armstrong, later to play the general in PREDATOR). Town Sheriff Everett Peck (John Marley, who played the guy who woke up with a horse’s head in his bed in THE GODFATHER) hates him, but takes the details on The Car and orders a police cordon. But later that night, The Car seemingly goes after Amos – but at the last second kills Everett.

Had an accident? Not your fault? Want to sue? Then call us on 1-800-EAT-SHIT...
Had an accident? Not your fault? Want to sue? Then call us on 1-800-EAT-SHIT…

Now the Sheriff, Wade tells his deputy Luke Johnson (Ronny Cox, from ROBOCOP and TOTAL RECALL, both the original, good ones) to cancel the upcoming school parade rehearsal for the town festival. But Luke is an alcoholic, and after having one too many in the garage forgets to do this. And of course, The Car appears, killing cowboys and band members, and chasing after the children, including Wade’s daughters. Lauren leads the children into a nearby cemetery, seemingly offering no protection – but still, it won’t follow them inside. It remains out there, watching, until Lauren, trying to goad it into leaving, taunts and insults it, all but whipping it out and pissing on its hood. The Car is clearly pissed, and goes off to take it out on someone else. Actually, a few other someone elses.

Bet OJ Simpson's inside.
Bet OJ Simpson’s inside.

After cutting through the rest of Wade’s men like me at a buffet table, The Car finds Wade himself, slowing down, stopping, and letting Wade try to shoot at him. The bullets bounce off (and, in one of the tinted POV shots from inside The Car, the bullets are barely heard, and that’s certainly a future I would push when I sell a demonic car). Confused, Wade only then notes that the windows are tinted, there’s no licence plates or door handles. But the driver’s door opens, just a little. He draws in closer, trying to peer inside… and gets knocked tens of feet away, left alive… this time…

The Devil has all the best tunes. Coolest cars too, apparently.
The Devil has all the best tunes. Coolest cars too, apparently.

THE CAR owes a lot to movies like JAWS (the threat barely glimpsed until halfway through the movie, the small town cop, the music setting the mood) and more directly from films like Steven Spielberg’s DUEL, and is the forerunner of similar films like CHRISTINE and MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE. No explanation is given for why The Car appears or even if it’s self-driven or just a muscle car that got away from its Satanic Mechanic. No “expert” appears to exposit what’s happening, but there are clues (the local Native Americans are heading for the mountains, and good luck, White Man, and a hot wind rises just before it appears – sometimes).

"I'm James Brolin. You stay classy!"
“I’m James Brolin. You stay classy!”

The movie, directed by Eliot Silverstein, is sold on a number of fronts. For one thing, we have a solid cast. Brolin, despite his thick 70s porn moustache, seems like a decent guy in over his head with all the supernatural shenanigans, and Kathleen Lloyd is a perky romantic lead (she also adds layers to her performance, for instance when confronting The Car, she shows she’s clearly frightened to death, but still willing to try and drive it off).

Come to Utah for the annual Running of the Cars
Come to Utah for the annual Running of the Cars

There’s also the script, which allows characters to be three-dimensional. In a later, lesser film, Amos the bigot and abuser would have been killed off, given no sympathy and would have been shown to be completely incompetent. Here, however, following the Sheriff’s death, he too becomes outraged, and is called upon for his expertise in demolition when Wade plans an explosive trap for The Car worthy of Wile E. Coyote. Also, Luke’s alcoholism and forgetfulness, which results in the deaths of several townspeople, doesn’t have Movie Karma kill him off, but give him a chance to redeem himself.

Yes, it's a hybrid car: gas and blood!
Yes, it’s a hybrid car: gas and blood!

But the real highlight of the movie is the titular character, a customised 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III worked on by famed automotive designer George Barris, who had built many special vehicles for the film and TV industry, most famously the Batmobile from the Adam West series, and the Munsters’ various cars. The Car was painted in steel, pearl and charcoal, the windows laminated in two different shades, smoked on the inside and amber on the outside so one could see out but no one could see in. Barris also made the roof three inches lower than usual and altered its side fenders to make it look more sinister. Four versions of The Car were made, three of them destroyed during the course of the movie, with many hidden safety harness and other devices installed inside for the drivers.

It's Gene Simmons, doing his impression of Richard Pryor!
It’s Gene Simmons, doing his impression of Richard Pryor!

And the movie makes the most of The Car, killing people in various creative ways both noisy and subtle (my favourite being when it does a barrel roll over two police cars playing Chicken with it, killing those inside before righting itself and moving on). And there’s one death halfway through that I refuse to spoil. But it all leads to a tense, fiery, satisfying climax (unfortunately, it’s short on blood and gore, but watch the flames at the end to see something… sinister…).

The Car EdnaBut yes, the premise remains ridiculous. I don’t care. The Car, both the vehicle and the movie, remains cool! Watch the below…

(And I promise to find something more new to review next time…)

Deggsy’s Summary:
Director: Eliot Silverstein
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Edna’s Rating: 5 out of 5 sausages
Reviewed by Deggsy. And Edna. Woof.

Trailer for Leprechaun: Origins Drops. And, Um…

Well…

What can I say? I’ve watched it, rewatched it, and it, um…

By the way, "Hornswaggle" is not the Irish version of a Dirty Sanchez. Just so you know.
By the way, “Hornswaggle” is not the Irish version of a Dirty Sanchez. Just so you know.

Some background first, perhaps. Anyway, LEPRECHAUN: ORIGINS will be the seventh in the franchise, and an apparent reboot which usually means taking a character back to its roots, hence the title. Warwick Davis managed quite well in the first six movies, but has since been dropped in favor of WWE wrestler Dylan Postl, aka Hornswaggle, I’m assuming because Dylan’s wrestling persona was leprechaun-based, and because this is part of a two-picture deal between Lionsgate and WWE Studios (who’ve recently done OCULUS, which I’m soon to see and review here).

Um… do you think there’s gonna be leprechauns in this movie? Because what I saw in that trailer- well, I didn’t see anything, really. The mannequins walking around in it said it was Ireland, but having lived there, that didn’t look like Ireland to me. Looked like Vancouver, British Columbia to me (Spoilers: It is).

And there’s a line in there about an ancient site being a “seven hour hike away”. Hmph; nothing in Ireland is seven hour’s away. The country’s the size of one of Cher’s moles. It slipped down the back of Europe’s couch once and stayed there for nine years before anyone noticed it was missing. It’s the dot above the I in the word ‘shit’.

As for deserted places, well, you can’t walk a hundred yards without running into a poteen-swilling farmer or a sheep walking bowlegged after a session with the aforementioned farmer. Every square inch has been parceled off and farmed to buggery centuries ago, which is why 90 percent of the communities live off European grants and dumb fuck American tourists coming over to find their ancestors and get all nostalgic for the days of high infant mortality rate and Catholic hegemony.

So the leprechaun fodder in this movie end up in a… cabin in the woods. Wow, that’s original. There’s talk of changing the origin of leprechauns into being some prehistoric, goblin-like threats. I should applaud Lionsgate for wanting to make a dark, scary horror movie, but I’m not. The people in this film could be menaced by ghosts, slashers, demons, aliens or Jehovah’s Witnesses, and you wouldn’t have to change a damn thing in the movie. What’s the point?

And let’s call a spade a spade: leprechauns aren’t scary. I really, really shouldn’t have to edify this in print. They’re wee. They wear funny green hats and huge belt buckles and sometimes pointy shoes, because screw you, why not?

I mean, look at this guy:

My leprechaun was deaf, which was how I ended up with a 12-inch pianist...
My leprechaun was deaf, which was how I ended up with a 12-inch pianist in my pants…

You think he’s scary? Okay, all that facial hair’s a bit scary. And maybe leprechauns carry some supernatural diseases or-

No. There’s nothing intimidating about tiny creatures, unless you’re talking pubic lice or One Direction fans. Leprechauns are all about their wishes and pots of gold and rainbows and shit. So you might as well have fun with the character, like Warwick Davis and the makers of the previous movies did; you don’t send your lead into space and The Hood (twice!) if you’re not up for a bit of a laugh.

I do not know Mr Postl or his work as Hornswaggle (my last viewing of a wrestling match had Sergeant Slaughter participating), but I’m fairly certain that a LEPRECHAUN movie without Warwick Davis is like a HELLRAISER movie without Doug Bradley, or a PHANTASM movie without Angus Scrimm. You could do it, but why bother?

Watch the trailer below and tell us what you think. LEPRECHAUN: ORIGINS is on general release August 26 2014. Begorrah!

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

SatEotT22Full disclosure from the start: this is, for the most part, not a good film – at least, not if you’re over the age of eleven. I was that age when the movie came out, several weeks after a little number called STAR WARS appeared. I desperately wanted to see STAR WARS, without knowing anything more than what I had seen in the brief commercials at the time (ahh, the days before the Interwebs) but my father, during one of his times when he wanted to prove he was a real Dad, preferred to see a Sinbad movie, so we went to this one. By the time I got to see STAR WARS, the lines were already beginning to go around the block…

However, for all its flaws, I’m discussing it here, partly because when you reach my age, nostalgia grips you like that inexplicable neck ache, partly because I’m sitting here trying not to think about my gout, and partly because I’m still waiting for some decent horror to be reviewed (I’m looking to get Hammer Films’ latest offering, THE QUIET ONES, so that will probably be my next review).

Yeah, he's Persian, like I'm Rastafarian...
Yeah, he’s Persian, like I’m Rastafarian…

Sinbad was perhaps the first nautical hero, a legendary Seventh Century sailor whose adventures in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the Far East eventually reached Western audiences via translations of Arabic texts from the Nineteenth Century explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, via his translation of 1001 Arabian Nights, where Sinbad appeared in some of the stories (Burton also translated the Kama Sutra. And I’m sure he spent many a long night alone in his bedroom giving that a good hard translation). Sinbad has appeared extensively in movies since then – and as far as I can tell, has always been portrayed on screen by a white guy. Well, we wouldn’t want kids to admire someone who wasn’t, would we?

Behold, an unequalled genius: Ray Harryhausen.
Behold, an unequalled genius: Ray Harryhausen.

SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (whose title must surely have inspired the band Survivor a decade later) was the third and final Sinbad movie that Columbia Pictures made in collaboration with the late, great Ray Harryhausen, another good reason why this movie isn’t totally irredeemable. The movie was directed by Sam Wanamaker, an American actor/director whose membership in the American Communist Party blacklisted him in the Fifties and forced him to move to England, where he carved out a career in film and television (and was responsible for helping to restore Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, putting much of his time and money into it from 1970, though sadly he died before it was finally completed and opened to the public in 1997).

I’m glad he has this as his legacy, because to judge from his SINBAD movie, he wasn’t a great director. Not terrible – he knew how to point a camera at the people talking, and gave you a sense of what was going on – but given a movie set in a distant land and time full of magic and wonder, he filmed it like it was a documentary on Chilean collective farms.

Never marry a woman who can do this with her eyes.
Never marry a woman who can do this with her eyes.

SINBAD opens with some fireworks over an Arabian city (okay, stock footage of fireworks, which at one point illuminate a telephone wire), and through the garish credits we witness a Royal Coronation for Prince Kassim (Damien Thomas), though we don’t get to learn his name until later. Within the assembly, a veiled, black-cloaked woman with weird eyes and I’m sure no evil intentions whatsoever makes the fires magically flare up, something happens, and another woman screams! Oh, those wacky Royals!

Friendly looking place...
Friendly looking place…

Later, Sinbad (Patrick Wayne, son of John Wayne, who made a number of films with his father, and has a bland charm to him, though his attempt to portray a Persian adventurer works as well as his father’s attempt to portray Genghis Khan in THE CONQUEROR) and his men arrive at the city on a booty call, finding the gates locked for a curfew (you should have emailed ahead and said you were coming). They are given some exposition by a local, who offers to take them in for the night, generously offering food, belly dancing women, and poisoned wine – well, two out of three ain’t bad…

Party Crashers...
Party Crashers…

When this attempt to kill them fails, the same veiled woman we saw at the Coronation appears, and her eyes turn feline as she summons from the depths of Hell three weapon-wielding insect-like demons to attack them! Sinbad and his men escape, rowing or swimming back to his ship along with his one true love Princess Farah (future Dr Quinn Jane Seymour, looking like a proto-Bo Derek with her cornrows), who had snuck out of the city to meet him. She tells him that her brother Prince Kassim has fallen victim to some foul spell, rendered by Zenobia (Margaret Whiting), their evil stepmother (Evil stepmother? Who knew?), and if he’s not made Caliph in seven moons, the crown will go to Zenobia’s son, the supremely bland Rafi (Kurt Christian). Oh, bureaucracy…

"It took me 80 years, but I've finally worked out a character chart for GAME OF THRONES!"
“It took me 80 years, but I’ve finally worked out a character chart for GAME OF THRONES!”

Sinbad, wanting to tap that Princess, agrees to help, but knows of only one man who might be able to cure Kassim: the legendary Greek alchemist and brainy guy Melanthius. He plans to set sail immediately and find him. But when Zenobia appears at the ship and taunts them, Farah lets slip their plans to her (girl, you may be good on the eyes, but you don’t know when to shut up). Thus, it becomes a race, and Zenobia builds herself the Minoton, an animated giant gold statue that will do all the rowing, heavy lifting and such, since her son is a lazy bastard who’ll probably spend his days boning the chambermaids and leave Zenobia to handle the union disputes.

Don't tell Princess Farah, but Kassim flings his crap when he loses...
Don’t tell Princess Farah, but Kassim flings his crap when he loses…

Meanwhile, a caged baboon is brought onboard, one that can play chess (Sinbad states that the ape has beaten him twice already, which might be more a reflection on him than the baboon). This turns out to be Kassim (though for some reason the movie attempts to generate some mystery as to what has happened to the prince, though at least he’s a handsome primate), and understandably he seems more than a little miffed at what’s happened to him (why didn’t Zenobia simply kill him? There’s talk of no one being able to spill Royal blood without being cursed, but you’d think a witch like Zenobia could handle something like that).

The Minoton: Batteries not Included
The Minoton: Batteries not Included

Sinbad and company reach an island (filmed at the treasury house of El Khasne in Petra, Jordan, the same place where Indiana Jones found the Holy Grail in LAST CRUSADE) and find a beautiful woman, Dione (Taryn Power, daughter of screen legend Tyrone Power), and her father, the great Melanthius (former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton, also famous as the priest who got impaled by the church spire in the original THE OMEN). After some initial scepticism, Melanthius agrees to help, but knows of only place where he might do it: the distant ice-covered land of Hyperborea (the plot plays out like a Dungeons and Dragons quest: find a wizard, then a power object, fight some goblins, etc). But they must hurry: the longer Kassim stays a baboon, the more the animal nature takes over. And Zenobia, accompanied by her son and the ever-reliable Minoton, remains ever in pursuit…

Melanthius spent his days  torrenting Thracian porn scrolls...
Melanthius spent his days torrenting Thracian porn scrolls…

Even by the standards of the day, SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER was not a great film. The acting, with the exception of more experienced hams like Troughton and Whiting, was bland. The plot (written by Beverley Cross, who had penned JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and the later CLASH OF THE TITANS) relied on the stupidity of certain characters to drive it along (In addition to the aforementioned bit with Farah and Zenobia, there’s another point later when Zenobia turns into a seagull to fly over to Sinbad’s ship and learn where they’re going, and when she’s captured, the wise man Melanthius gives away their own plans to her to make her talk, before she escapes).

Coming soon on SyFy: SABRETOOTH VS TROGLODYTE
Coming soon on SyFy: SABRETOOTH VS TROGLODYTE

This also leads to a sequence where she finds she’s run out of sufficient potion to return to full human form, and is left with a giant seagull’s foot, leaving her to moan, “Not enough! Not enough!” And leaving my partner and I to mock her mercilessly. Oh come on, Zenobia! It’s still a cool-looking foot, you could slice people’s throats open with its talons, and I bet you can still whip up something when you get home – or at least get yourself a custom-made boot to cover it. The pace is slow for much of the movie, and the rear projections used at times is laughable.

My 11yo self couldn't properly appreciate this scene at the time...
My 11 year old self couldn’t properly appreciate this scene at the time…

But, one doesn’t see this as a Sam Wanamaker film, or as a Patrick Wayne film. This is a Ray Harryhausen film. So, how are his creations? Well, while not up to the level of the ones in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, we at least get some variety: the aforementioned baboon and the Minoton, as well a giant wasp, a giant walrus, a resurrected sabre-toothed tiger, and best of all, a horned troglodyte in a Flintstones loincloth who first appears when he spies the women bathing nude (thus demonstrating how lax the G Rating was for movies in those days).

SatEotT EdnaIt took Ray one and a half years to complete the animation from his home studio – alone! – and had extra work when the original plans to have the troglodyte played by a man in a suit fell through, but this won’t be the movie that embodies his best work-

You know what? Screw this criticism. There’s no point in judging this with the eyes of an adult. It was meant for my eleven-year-old self. And I was amazed. And when my daughter saw this at that age, she was amazed, too. For all its flaws, it will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s available in various formats, and the trailer is below. 


Deggsy’s Summary:
Director: Sam Wanamaker
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 1 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. And Edna.