Category: Not So Thrillers

The Madmen of Mandoras (1963)

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Gorehouse Greats #6

Is it really possible for a film to be influential and famous even though very few people have actually seen it?  Well, I think Madmen of Mandoras (Or MoM, as I like to call it) is proof that it certainly can happen. You probably know of this thing by its much better alternate title: They Saved Hitler’s Brain. If you’re a fan of The Simpsons or Futurama, it will probably bring up images of heads in jars, specifically Hitler’s. Why they didn’t call it “They Saved Hitler’s Head” I don’t know but I guess it doesn’t have the same ring to it. The version with this alternate title is actually quite a bit different. See, when David Bradley’s dirt cheap little war thriller was sold to TV in the 1970’s, a bunch of extra footage was produced and cut in which mostly consisted of a bunch of idiot detectives stumbling around pretending to be connected to the events of the actual film, which worked about as well as you’d think. This extra footage somehow managed to be even crappier than the original movie, which is quite a feat, let me tell you….

So this would normally be where I, your handsome and ever so clever writer, would recap the plot of the film.  See, these things usually follow a formula. I hooked you in with that brilliant and oh so witty opening paragraph so now I get to bore you with explanatory filler. But, um. Okay. Plot. There’s this dude and his wife, whose dad happens to be scientist. Happens to be a scientist that’s developing some kind off improbable death gas that could easily destroy the entire world in two twitches of Hitler’s tiny mustache. Why the Hell you’d make something like this I have no idea but thankfully they’ve also developed an antidote! And dude’s wife’s father is the only scientist that knows how to make this antidote, or something. So this secret Nazi faction kidnaps both the gas and this science dude (and his other irritating “teenage” daughter, who looks about 35 years old and talks in made up youth slang) and takes them to the shitty tropical island of Mandoras (not a real place). It’s up to dude and his wife to save science dude and the world! Oh, and the Nazis take orders straight from Hitler himself, who is just a head in a jar.  Bet you did Nazi that coming! Ha ha ha! Sigh.

It’s actually much more complicated (and stupid) than my paltry attempt to explain things but that’s the gist as far as I could wrap my head around it. But really, none of that “plot” shit even really matters because there is Hitler’s severed head in a jar.  Without that, this movie would be practically worthless. Maybe not as painful as say Red Zone Cuba, but just boring and cheap and forgettable. In fact, I watched both versions of this thing on a different box set a few years back and even after sitting through it twice that’s all I could remember about it.  But man are those perfectly wacky moments worth the confusing chain of events, stupid double crosses, worthless characters that add nothing to anything, and horribly weak ending.
It’s really the guy that plays Hitler that makes it so awesome. When we first meet him he’s shouting at his superiors and gesturing like he’s got some kind of nerve problem.  Then when he’s just a head he does almost nothing but make shifty eyes and twitch his facial muscles like…he has some kind of nerve problem. Maybe the actor really did? I can’t think of another way to explain his performance but it’s brilliantly cracked.
And then there’s the part where they pick him by attaching little freaking handles to his jar and then put him in the middle backseat of an automobile like he’s some kind of small child.  It’s in my top ten funniest things I’ve ever seen, along with that time in high school that my friend Laura ate a live June Bug and that part in Shakes the Clown where Shakes tells that snotty little kid off.

Yeah, I can’t really figure this movie out. It’s like it seriously wants to be Casablanca or some other WWII spy thriller but that doesn’t work when your script and plot ideas sound like they were spit out by your friend’s creepy uncle that sits alone all day in his basement and self publishes novels that nobody in their right mind would read…and then your snarky cousin stole one of his books and wrote a in part about Hitler’s head in a jar.  Who was this movie intended for? How did it get made? So many unanswered questions. Oh, and I’ve got another one: “why did I sit through this for the third time?”
Of course I know the answer to that one: because I am a sucker for punishment.  I did it all for a head in a jar.

Ratings: Actual movie: D-
The part where Hitler’s head shouts “Schnell, schnell!”: A++

Lessons this movie taught me

  • It is possible to be sitting next to a person when they get shot and have no idea it just happened. (Silencers do not work that way!)
  • The proper way to dispose of a body is to shove it in a phone booth.
  • It’s okay to have sex with a dude you just met like two days ago as long as you’re married first.
  • The right way to deal with getting caught up in convoluted schemes to destroy the world that involve people getting shot, your friends turning out to be Nazis, and dictators in Tupperware containers is with a cheerful smile and a can-do attitude.
  • A woman can only take so much death and contrived plot twists before she snaps and starts randomly screaming. The proper way to deal with this is to slap her across the face and take her back to the car.
  • And lastly, the most important lesson of all: Hitler’s head is made of wax and looks damn cool when it is on fire. Mein Fuhrer! I can melt!

Terrified (1963)

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Gorehouse Greats Collection #3

So this is a Lew Landers film. In fact, it was his last film before he died of a heart attack in 1962. I’m not sure what the 1963 date on this means, if he died before he could finish it or what but there you go. For those not in the know, and I’d assume it would be most of you, Landers (real name Louis Friedlander) started out acting in film pioneer D.W. Griffith’s films in 1914 and started actually making films in the 1930’s.  By the time he passed away he had over 170 film and TV productions under his belt, most of them made quickly and cheaply. Despite the chintzy nature of most of his productions, there’s some real gems in his filmography, most notably The Raven (1935) starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff and Hot Rod Gang (1958) which features an appearance by rockabilly star Gene Vincent.
So for those of you that are interested in obscure b-movie lore (lord knows I can never get enough) Terrified at least has that going for it.  I’m kind of on the fence on if it has anything else…

We open with a great scene of a guy getting buried alive in cement in the middle of a spooky graveyard. The is actually pretty intense and kind of graphic for the time. The one who is doing the burying is a man wearing a suit and a black sock over his face. He proceeds to laugh and torment the poor guy until he appears to die of shock!
After a very cheap opening credits sequence we get to spend time with a befuddled old couple that are traveling…somewhere in the middle of the night and almost get run off the road by a lunatic going the wrong way. After that shock (although they don’t seem all that rattled)  they stop off at a roadside diner to scam free drinks off of the manager with their sob story. This is where we meet the actual stars of our picture. Other than a pointless scene later on where they report the incident to the police, we never see the old couple again.  Our first main character is Ken, the brother of the dude that we saw getting offed (maybe) in the opening.  Ken is played with a seemingly misplaced conviction by Rod Lauren. Lauren is an interesting bit of b-movie lore himself. He’s probably most famous for starring in the notably crappy The Crawling Hand (1963) which also featured Alan Hale Jr. of Gilligan’s Island fame.  He was also a one hit wonder in 1960 with If I Had a Girl that he actually got to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 2001 he was charged with the murder of his Filipino wife and fled back to The States to successfully avoid conviction. He committed suicide in 2007 by jumping from a second story balcony.  He seems to be taking this whole cheap little film way too seriously but it makes for interesting viewing.
Our two other heroes are Marge and David, played by Tracy Olson and Steve Drexel, both stalwart b-movie regulars. Marge is dating both Ken and David but this doesn’t really matter. It’s there to make us care about the characters but…yeah. No. It mostly leads to a lot of pointless dialogue. Urg.
In what’s probably the thinnest excuse for a plot jump-start that I’ve ever seen, all three of them decide to head out to where Ken’s brother was murdered to ask “Crazy Bill” if he knows anything about what happened.  “Crazy Bill” is the local town bum that lives in the middle of nowhere in a decaying ghost town. He seems to be a bit of a celebrity as well, just about everyone in the film knows who he is. I can kind of understand this. Where I grew up there was this dude that was a bit soft in the head that used to hitchhike around town all day and he got to be pretty infamous (One time he got mad at a local restaurant for something and attempted to pay for his coffee with a bill that he had wiped his ass with).  I’m guessing “Crazy Bill” is something like that. It doesn’t matter anyways because when they head out to the old western set…I mean ghost town, the find him impaled on a bunch of spikes! Pretty gory for the time, I’d say.
Now they know something is up but instead of running away, they decide to poke around the dust and cobwebs. Marge and David take off for a bit but they leave poor Ken behind. Not their fault, he wanted to stay. It has something to do with a paper he’s doing on fear for a college project or something. I don’t know. Whatever.  This leads to a loooong sequence where the killer plays mind games with him, knocking him senseless, torturing him by putting him in near death situations, and letting him think he’s getting the drop on him when the killer is in control the whole time. Hey, this feels like a proto-slasher film! Yes, I think it is. It’s a long way off from Jason hacking up campers in the woods but the way the killer just pops up randomly all the place feels really familiar.
And that’s pretty much the entire rest of the movie. You can probably figure out who the killer is right when he first appears onscreen but that’s pretty much a given. It was old man Jenkins! He wanted the land for real estate development! Yoinks, Scoob!

I really wish this movie was better. The sets are all pretty cool looking, most of the acting is better than you’d expect, and the direction is solid (Landers was a decent enough director). There’s even some rather creepy scenes that are aided rather than hindered by the film’s obviously low-budget. But the whole thing is dragged down by scenes that go on for way to long with nothing happening, a lot of long pointless shitty dialogue scenes, and some massive plot holes (If the killer murders people with fear, why did he impale “Crazy Bill” on a bunch of spikes? Is Marge’s brother dead or in an insane asylum? Where are all the teenagers having beer parties in this cool ghost town?)
From what I’ve read online, there’s a lot of people who really dig this movie. Most of them seem to have been scared senseless by it when they were kids, which kind of explains a lot. *cough* nostalgia goggles *cough*
Me? I think that if it was either a lot better or a lot worse, it would be a cult classic instead of the trivial bit of time-wasting drive-in filler that is. That’s a damn shame. I want to like you, movie! Why won’t you let me like you?!!!

Rating: D-

Random Things

  • I really do like the sets for this movie. The empty old town by itself is quite spooky and it looks properly decayed. Too bad they couldn’t have made a better film using it.
  • There’s a scene where David is running along one of those old timey wooden sidewalks they always had in old westerns, his foot goes through a board, and he lands flat on his face. Judging by Nancy Olsen’s reaction, I don’t think this was scripted.
  • The guy I was talking about that used to hitchhike around my hometown got a moped one time but got it taken away by the state because he drove it on the sidewalk and almost ran a few people over.  He also got bored another time and started hucking rocks at the sides of passing semi trucks. Somebody should make a movie about that guy.
  • If you want to see a film that really prefigures the type of horror movies that would get made in the 1970’s, check out The Sadist (1963) starring Arch Hall Jr and Marilyn Manning (who were both also in Eegah in 1962, which is a hilariously terrible film that you should also check out).

Blood Mania (1970)

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You’ve got to hand it to the crazy crackpots at Crown International.  I doubt many other production companies could call a film “Blood Mania” and then get away with including almost no blood and even less mania. So what are we left with then?  A lot of very 1970’s sleaze and a soap opera plot that shoehorn’s in it’s horror elements to sort of half-assedly give the viewer what it wants.  I can’t really feel ripped off because all of those things are right up my alley as well…

After a rather trippy title sequence that, of course, has nothing to do with the rest of the film we’re quickly introduced to most of our main characters:
Ridgeley Waterman (what a name): A wealthy doctor now living out his last days in bed, cranking at everybody, when he’s not flirting with his nurse.
Dr. Craig Cooper: Dr. Waterman’s doctor. A troubled young man who ends up getting blackmailed by a total scumbag for 50,000 dollars  because he performed an illegal abortion several years ago. He also has a girlfriend but she’s not important and vanishes partway through the film. He’s played by writer Peter Carpenter, who I’m pretty sure wrote himself into this part just so he could have sex scenes with all three (!) of the film’s young female actresses.
Victoria Waterman: Dr. Waterman’s rather unhinged daughter who sleeps with everybody and shows her boobs a lot. Played with manic glee by Maria De Aragorn.
And finally the nurse, a rather plain looking woman that keeps complaining about not getting laid. Still, she so damn chipper that she becomes slightly annoying. One of only two female characters that keeps their clothes on.

Later on we’re introduced to Dr. Waterman’s other daughter Gail, who’s been living in New York. Gail is…not that bright. She can’t tell when she’s being used for her money, when her sister has lost the plot, or when she should probably take her inheritance and scoot back to the big apple. Of course she dies. It is a long time coming though.
Everything in this movie takes a long time. Not just the plot but everything.  Characters take forever to walk across a room, dialogue scenes go on and on and on, and sometimes the camera just sits there when there should be a cut. It’s bizarre and gives everything this strange fever dream quality.  Well, for most of the running time anyways.
Right smack dab in the middle of the film are two sequences of Dr. Cooper taking Gail out on dates so he can steal her inheritance. First they go to a 1970’s ren fair and then they go to the beach. These scenes feel completely different than the rest of the film. There’s no nudity, no sleaze, no rich snobs plotting against each other.  They almost feel like a mix between someone’s home movies and a 1980’s soft rock music video.  And they go on forever.  Uck, padding. My worst enemy.
Thankfully most of the film has enough sleazy soap opera shenanigans, random female nudity, and whacked out late 60’s psychedelia to keep this dude entertained.  Dig that Wurlitzer organ and fuzz guitar, man! Also dig that hideous furniture, which one character references as being “lovely.” Jesus tap dancing Christ.
I don’t have much else to say about this one. It just is what it is:  a scuzzy time waster with wooden acting and tons of nudity. They should have called it “Boob Mania.” I’m so clever…

Rating: C+

Random Things

  • Gotta love films that just kind of end. Like the script writer just threw up his hands and went “Well, I guess that’s enough of that.”
  • It probably says a lot about what I’m attracted to that I found the homely nurse character to be kind of cute.  I was sort of glad that she didn’t die, even though I also found her slightly irritating.
  • This film’s drug of choice is poppers. It leads to several trippy scenes and is even used as a murder weapon! Can’t say that isn’t unique.
  • For a DVD set called “Gorehouse Greats” there’s been very little gore so far (basically none).  The two films I’ve watched from it also both have “blood” in the title and include precious little blood. What the feck?  Oh, well.

83 Hours ‘Til Dawn (1990)

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If there’s two phrases that strike fear into the heart of this b-movie fan, those two phrases are “based on a true story” and “teleplay by.” When either of those pops up after putting a cheap movie into the DVD player on a cold watch (one where I know jack shit about what I’m going to see), anyone in the vicinity will hear me groan very loudly. When both show up in conjunction with each other, you pretty much know you’ve been duped into watching a TV movie of the week. And everybody knows TV movies of the week are usually either A.) Dull as dishwater or B.) Really fucking poor in quality. 83 Hours isn’t as miserable an experience as one would think, but it doesn’t really rise above the usual problems these things have either. That’s kind of sad because the real story the movie is based on is actually pretty interesting…

On December 17, 1968 20 year old heiress Barbara Jane Mackle, who was sick with the flu at the time, was staying with her mother at a hotel in Decatur, Georgia when there was an unexpected knock on the door. Answering what she thought was a police officer who claimed her husband was in a traffic accident, Barbara’s mother was chloroformed, bound and gagged, while Barbara was taken at gunpoint to a remote stand of trees in the middle of the woods and forced into a fiberglass box buried in a shallow trench. The box had an air pump and a light, both operated by a battery, water and food. Two pipes provided Mackle with additional outside air.
This  was all, of course, part of an elaborate kidnapping plot orchestrated by career criminal Gary Steven Krist  and his Honduran girlfriend Ruth Eisemann-Schier. What’s really surprising about this case is that essentially, Krist and Schier were actually able to pull the whole stupid thing off and got away with a whole bunch of ransom money…for a little while. Krist was arrested off the coast of Florida in a speedboat and Sheir was caught a few months later.
When Mackle was dug out, she had spent three whole days underground.

There’s a good movie to be made using this story as a base, but this one sure as shit ain’t it.  For one thing, you know right away that Krist is going to get caught. And I’m not talking about how it’s a famous true story so you know it ends, I mean that the movie flat-out tells you he gets caught right at the very start as we open with our antagonist talking to a prison psychiatrist.  Whoops, there goes all of your mystery right out the window.  So you know the bad guys are going to get caught and since this is a MWG (Missing White Girl) movie, you know Samantha Mathis isn’t going to die inside that box. Not that you’d care much either way since she hardly gets any screen time. Instead of exploiting the very genuine fear of being buried alive, suffocating, being stuck for days inside pitch black darkness, the movie spends most of its time with her dumbass father and the idiot FBI agents trying to solve her case.  Whee. It’s probably a good thing that we also get to spend a lot of time with our villains,  Peter Strauss and the rather fetching Elizabeth Gracen,  since they’re the only characters that have any substance.  Strauss is especially effective as a heartless psycho who isn’t quite as clever as he thinks he is.  He gets that goddamn creepy look in his eyes down so well that it’s kind of unsettling and he probably deserved to be in a better production.

Let me go off on a bit of a tangent here and explain something I find interesting about movies like this, movies that use “the others” as villains.  The heroes of 83 Hours ‘Til Dawn are all bland looking rich white people. They live in a nice bland house, they have a nice bland family and a dad who got to where he is because he worked hard. Basically, the American dream. When their daughter is kidnapped the dad gets angry and takes things into his own hands, improbably going over the heads of the FBI to get himself involved in the case and the mother just kind of lays in bed worrying about things that nobody will tell her. The man does what society thinks men are supposed to do and the woman just stays out of the way, which is what society thinks women are supposed to do.
It is also made very clear that the bad guys are both poor and come from un-ideal home situations. Strauss had parents that were away for weeks working on a fishing boat and Gracen had a super religious mother that used to beat her up and force her to recite Bible verses. Essentially, the American dream gone sour, except that Gracen’s character is Honduran, which probably plays on middle America’s fear of immigrants and inter-racial relations.
Let’s also look at this: The dad as played by Robert Ulrich is a big burly man who uses the force of his personality as well as his position in society to get his way, no matter what. Strauss’s character is a weaselly type that expects to get where Ulrich is through manipulation and con artistry. Basically, the underlying message is that real men toe the line and get what the want by using their strength and force of will. When Strauss tries to use his own ingenuity to succeed, he fails miserably. He only really finds the ransom money where it was thrown after his vague directions fucked everything up by pure dumb luck. And then he ends up getting caught and thrown in jail despite his best efforts.
Gracen’s character is also an interesting study of the woman’s place in American society circa the early 90’s. She’s foreign, as I’ve already mentioned, with short boyish hair.  Her manly style of  dress as well as her sexual promiscuity stands in stark contrast to the mother and daughter characters, who are proper American females who dress in female type clothes and get out of the way until they’re needed. Hell, Mathis doesn’t even try to get out of the damn box because Strauss told her bugs would eat her! When Gracen tries to walk away from the abusive relationship she has with Strauss, she is eventually rewarded with jail time.
So in the end, the whole movie is about trying uphold those wonderful imaginary American ideals.  But don’t let your guard down too much, the “others” will get you! “Others” that like to have premarital sex and probably don’t even like football! Gasp! Their women even have short hair! Dammit Martha, I’m glad they’re in jail! Now where’s the remote, Wheel of Fortune is almost on…

Sigh. This movie is boring and because it’s a TV movie, there’s no nudity, despite a bunch of implied sex. Also, despite being based on a true story, it gets several of the details wrong and invents others much to its detriment. It’s also poorly paced and wastes R. Lee Ermey in a thankless role as an FBI head that doesn’t even get to yell at anybody. Pfft. It’s a film that makes you root for the villains even if that was not the producers intent but after a while you kind of stop caring about anything and just want it to end.
If I have one good thing to say about it besides Strauss’s performance it’s that, as a dude that has a thing for androgynous girls with short hair, I found Gracen’s character to be rather fetching. So there you go, if you’re a dude that’s into androgynous looking girls with short hair, check out 83 Hours ‘Til Dawn. Or just, you know, dig around on the Internet a bit for stuff that’s probably a lot more interesting.

On a final note, the real Gary Steven Krist only served 10 years of his life sentence and went on to practice medicine in Indiana for a bit until a newspaper let his past slip out. He was last in the news in 2006  when he was caught coming back from South America with four illegal aliens and about a million dollars worth of cocaine.  He served a five-year sentence and was released in 2010.  Don’t that beat all?

Rating: C-

Random Things

  • Samantha Mathis is an okay actor who you’ve probably either seen as Princess Toadstool in The Super Mario Bros. Movie or as one of the hookers in American Psycho. I like to think they’re the same character…
  • That scene with Gracen coming out of the shower wearing nothing but a towel almost made the rest of the movie worth sitting through….and then they cut away. Boo!
  • This is actually the second made for TV version of this story. The first was an ABC Movie of the Week called The Longest Night that aired once in 1972 and was never shown again due to litigation over who owned the story rights.
  • I’m pretty sure that part with Strauss staring into the mirror was stolen from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but it’s still a pretty intense scene. If the rest of the movie was that good, we might have something here.

Fugitive Mind (1999)

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This 10 horror movie set has lied to me once again. While most of the films it contains that I’ve watched so far are kind of a stretch to fit into the genre, Fugitive Mind contains absolutely no horror elements at all, turning out to be a sort of sci-fi action thing. Oh well.  It’s cheap enough to fit this blog’s purposes.

If you haven’t experienced the work of Fred Olen Ray, you’d be hard pressed to call yourself a b-movie fan.  It’s not that his films are usually any good, its just that he’s released so damn many of them. Almost 130 to be exact, starting in the late 70’s and continuing to the present day.  If he’s anything, he’s persistent. He’s also a professional wrestler and his wife helps produce his films, making him the one person whose life I’d switch mine with. To it’s credit Fugitive Mind is the most competent Olen Ray film I’ve seen so far.  Competent doesn’t always mean entertaining though…

In a set up that’s suspiciously similar to Total Recall, Robert Dean (Michael Dudikoff) is a happily married man working as a handyman for a shadowy science lab. Of course nothing is what it seems and it turns out his wife works for the lab and that he’s actually a corporate created super soldier! But why are they experimenting on him? What’s his purpose? Does it have anything to do with the Senator that keeps popping up at random intervals? Of course it does, you silly billy! If you can’t figure out where the plot is going to go, the movie gives you constant nudges through repetitive flashbacks!  There you go, you don’t have to think at all.
Oh, did I mention that Heather Langenkamp is the love interest? Well, Heather Langenkamp is the love interest.  Don’t that beat all?

While this film is pretty much the definition of video store rack filler, it’s blandness is at least eased a bit by its actors. First off there’s Dudikoff, who is a decent enough chunk-head action star. He’s no Stallone but he can at least act better than Van Damme and he doesn’t have the girlish scream of Reb Brown. That pretty much puts him in kind of in the middle of the chunk-head Pantheon.  He’s also easier on the eyes than Robert Z’Dar.  He get’s a pass here mostly because he doesn’t have to emote much.
We also get L.A. Law’s Michele Green as Dudikoff’s eeeevil wife who is cursed in this film with way too much mom jeans for one human being, Ian Ogilvy from Witchfinder General and And Now the Screaming Starts, and John Putch who is the son of Jean Stapleton and was a TV sitcom staple in the 80’s and 90’s.
And then there’s Heather Langenkamp who I’ve had a huge crush on since I plowed through all of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies a few years ago. She’s a pretty good actor but she hasn’t done a whole lot of films simply because she doesn’t want to! According to IMDB, she’d rather spend time with her family than use all of it acting and is happy having enough money to live comfortably on. There’s something heartening in that.  Her genuineness really comes through in all the roles I’ve seen her in and this one is no exception.
I’m not sure how Olen Ray roped all of these decent actors into being in a quicky straight to video action film, but they all certainly make the most of it and the film is much more watchable because of their efforts.
Otherwise the whole thing is kind of bland.  For a Fred Olen Ray film, there’s a distinct lack of B and B, that is: Boobs and Blood.  This is the  man who gave the world Attack of the 50 Ft. Centerfold, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, and Evil Toons, a Roger Rabbit rip-off that stars several hardcore porn stars!  The lack of exploitative elements in this one is certainly a disappointment and with the sleaze gone you’re left with a decent movie that’s not a whole lot of fun.
Fugitive Mind is exactly the kind of thing you’d pick up at the video store back in the day, take home, watch, and then never think of ever again. A true middle of the road b-movie time waster. But isn’t Heather Langenkamp just the cutest though? Sigh. My love will always go unrequited…

Rating: C

Random Things

  • You’ve gotta love a movie that’s so cheap that it looks like most of its actors just wore their own clothes. My favorite is the dude that plays the investigator who wears my grandpa’s jacket and several “witty” old man hats!
  • Ray’s wife Kim plays a secretary and gives the movie it’s only bit of chest related interest, as she’s the only female character that displays any visible cleavage. Thanks muchly Kim!
  • If you’re keen on Fred Olen Ray, he has his own kind of neat Facebook page. If you’re keen on Heather Langenkamp, she’ll be appearing in my dreams tonight but that’s a private party and you’re not invited unless you’re Halloween/Prom Night era Jamie Lee Curtis.  If you are, come on in! Hope you like rockabilly records and cream soda!

Cupid (1997)

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You know what I think is kind of strange? Zach Galligan has been in quite a few films but until I got my grubby hands on this DVD, I had never seen him in anything but the Gremlins movies. He’s a talented actor so it’s odd that he’d have to stoop to films like Warlock: The Armageddon and Cyborg 3: The Recycler (you know they’re both quality because they have a colon in the title).  The same goes for Ashley Laurence, a beautiful and talented actress who I’ve seen in nothing but the Hellraiser films.  Maybe it’s the curse of the horror genre that brands an actor to a certain type of role. Some of them can milk it and make a decent living doing this kind of thing (Bruce Campbell being the ultimate example, if I may slip in a rhyme) but some get stuck doing movies like Warlock III: The End of Innocence and today’s sad excuse for a horror thriller…

Galligan is strange young man with a passion for Greek mythology. Well, not really a passion so much as a delusion.  See, not only is he obsessed with the story of Cupid and Psyche, he thinks he is Cupid and he has to find his perfect woman so they can both die and be bound together for eternity or some such nonsense.  Unfortunately, no girl has worked out yet and the discarded bodies keep piling up (although the movie never really explains where he’s putting them). Then he meets Laurence and…you know where this is going. There’s also the problem of Galligan’s nosey sister/ex-lover, Laurence’s ex-boyfriend, her trampy sister, a random detective …blah blah they’re all just meat for the proverbial grinder.  It’s not a good sign when I start checking how long the movie has left when it’s only 10 minutes in..

I don’t know why but I seem to keep stumbling on movies lately that give me no reason to recommend that anybody besides hopeless nerds like me ever watch them. I suppose it’s the curse of the dollar DVD. They hardly cost anything to buy and you can find a lot of good stuff if you don’t mind wading through piles of feces.  I wouldn’t say Cupid is that bad, it’s just a waste of time. It’s not crappy enough to be enjoyable but it’s not good enough to be worth anything. I’d say it’s frustrating that it wastes the talents of it’s actors but it’s more frustrating that it’s an hour and half long when I wanted it to end much much sooner than that. Like, almost right after it started.
I suppose if you really want to see how not to write an exciting film, this would be a perfect example. Despite a few missteps, the direction isn’t that bad, but it takes a huge talent to overcome an awful script and Doug Campbell is not that talent at all (unless you really like Big Bad Beetleborgs. Remember that show? He directed a few episodes of that.)

And with that it’s time for:
Script Writing Lessons I Took Away From Watching Cupid

  1. Even if you manage to finagle talented actors into your movie, you have to give them something to do that isn’t just standing around and talking. Even if you do just have them standing around blathering, try to not make their dialogue suck.
  2. Having your characters be impossibly stupid until it’s time to make them smart just because you need them to do something to advance the plot is fucking lazy and I hate it more than Republicans limiting access to birth control (okay, maybe not that much.)
  3. If you’re going to kill somebody, make it interesting. If the rest of your movie is boring you can at least be forgiven with a couple sprays of blood or a tumble off the side of a cliff.  Choking somebody with a phone cord does not count, especially if your special effects guys can’t even make it look realistic.
  4. A thriller should “thrill” for fuck’s sake! Have interesting things happen in your movie! Have anything happen at all! You can do it! You’re only limited by your imagination and budget! Go nuts! If you’re going to fail at least fail with a bang instead of a wheeze.

So, yeah. Cupid is a wheeze and a justly forgotten one at that. The only sort of memorable thing about it is some outdated 90’s-isms, like beepers and used bookstores and there’s movies that are even better to watch if that kind of thing gets you off. If you really need to see the dude from Gremlins play a psycho the film fucks that up by not giving him anything to really do beyond staring crazily all the time and making out with his sister. Ahhh, good things, good things, got to find some good things to say. Always have to find the good. Ummm…the house the crazies live in is pretty cool looking. It’s one of those massive old school mansions with all kinds of neat looking paneling and huge ass staircases. There you go. This film has a cool looking house in it.  Hoo-fucking-ray.

Rating: F

Don’t bother with this movie. Take it from me, I love you.

Or take it from Wanda Jackson:

Skeletons (1997)

Poster

What a dumb title for a horror movie. Pfft, “Skeletons.” Why don’t they just call it “Boo, Ghosts and Shit?” Oh, there’s no skeletons in the actual movie? It’s just a damn metaphor? *Looks at 10 pack horror DVD case*  I done got gipped! Well, I guess it is kind of a horror movie. It’s certainly strange enough to qualify for a review on this most prestigious of blogs…

Ron Silver is a journalist living in New York. He has a nicely trimmed beard, a pulitzer prize, a hot wife (Dee Wallace, the mom from ET!) and an annoyingly mid-90’s dork of a son. The only problem is that he’s got a heart condition. The solution? He packs his family up and heads out to a small out of the way town in the backwoods of Maine. Could this town harbour a dark secret? Of course it fucking does. Has there ever been a Hollywood movie about a small town in the history of ever that wasn’t about it being fucked up? This small town’s dark secret is that it hates gay people. No, you don’t understand. It really hates gay people.  After we get a good look at this slice of Republican party heaven, where the whole town has a picnic on the common and everybody owns an assault rifle, we’re introduced to a gay man who’s sitting in jail for killing his gay lover. It’s not hard to figure out that he’s been set up. This is pretty standard TV movie drama stuff and, indeed, this ended up being a TV movie, probably on HBO judging by the overuse of the ‘F’ word and some graphic violence.  What really makes this one special is how hard it fails. For the whole first half it tries so damn hard to make us take it seriously as a drama. It’s a bit dull, but it’s decently written. The problem is that it’s about as blunt as a two by four to the face. This is a small town that could only exist in the masturbatory fantasies of Dick Cheney. It’s that fucking perfect and that fucking white.  This manufactured fairy tale setting gives what should be a run of the mill TV drama a really weird vibe.  It almost feels like it should be in a totally different movie!  And that extends to some of the characters as well.  At first it’s not that bad. You’ve got your typical small town sheriff, the useless mayor, and cast of local hicks. You’ve also got Christopher Plummer (The dad from The Sound of Music!) as the nutso local preacher who has a penchant for taxidermy. Where we really get our first hint of just how off the rails this thing is going to go is when we get our first glimpse of the preacher’s son, a brain dead man child that repeats the same two or three phrases over and over. This character is so strange and out of place that he really does feel like he’s in the exact wrong film. It’s pure camp that somehow found it’s way into a serious drama about hatred and homophobia!
But like I said, the movie starts out really wanting you to take it seriously and then about halfway through everything changes when Silver’s wife and kid get run off the road by a couple of rednecks wielding an axe and a chainsaw! Jesus, did that come out of left field! This is the point where the previously just sort of hate filled town patrons become these over the top villains that end up chasing our heroes through the bowels of the local church with grenades and AK-47s! This strangely out of place camp trash culminates with the death of the retarded man child in what can best be described as being in hilariously awful taste and then it goes right back to trying to be serious again! There’s also taxidermied ethnic people and James Coburn mixed into this boiling pot of madness that someone thankfully thought enough of to release to the general public.

I’m not quite sure if I’ve adequately conveyed just how odd this film is but I don’t think it’s possible.  You’d really just have to sit through it. How in the Hell did it get this way? Well, according to IMDB, it had two directors. The first one got fired partway through and was replaced. There you go, that pretty much explains why the film goes from “The bullies beat me up because my dad is investigating the murder of a gay man” to “The local preacher’s family has been murdering and preserving the bodies of non-white people beneath the church for 300 years.”  Sometimes a film just falls so hard on it’s face that it becomes much more interesting than if it had actually been decent. What a fantastic mess.

Rating: B+

Random Things

  • The whole taxidermy angle really brought back strong vibes for me of both Dead Alive and Psycho.  At least the animals that Plummer is working on were already dead. Hopefully the people were as well…
  • Ron Silver doesn’t seem to quite know what to make of his role here and he spends most of the film looking pensive.  Dee Wallace tries to act scared and just ends up looking confused. James Coburn knew exactly what he was doing: earning a paycheck. God bless.
  • I’ve read quite a few reviews of this movie on the net that tell you to avoid it like the plague. We here at Dollar Horror like to encourage the exact wrong type of thinking and we strongly urge you to track it down. And preferably force your friends and loved ones to watch it as well. Nothin’ like spreading the wealth around!