Saturday, July 30, 2011

Street Trash (1987)

"To alcohol; the cause of AND solution to all of life's problems" - Homer J. Simpson

The above quote couldn't be more accurate of the film 'Street Trash'. A vile beverage that causes those who partake to melt, and parts of your body just fall off. Well normally that would equal a pretty grotesque movie, but here we have people melting into neon reds, blues, greens, and yellows.

This review will be a little bit different as this viewing of 'Street Trash' was at the wonderful Coolidge Corner Theater, and they have the fantastic local metal band Sexcrement kicking off the evening.

Sexcrement started the evening off right at midnight with an awesome set. I've seen these guys a few times in the past, and they were just as enjoyable as ever. A little weird seeing them in a seated arrangement. Kind of like sitting during Slayer at Ozzfest. I'd imagine most of the people who watch films like 'Street Trash' like extreme metal, but I'd also think there were some people who were appalled at the music. Those are the people who classify Disturbed, and Godsmack as metal. Ugh.

After they finished up their set, assistant program manager Mark Anastasio introduced the film with a contest for a DVD of 'Street Trash' and some original lobby cards provided by the writer/producer, Roy Frumkes. Three (un)lucky contestants volunteered for a contest to drink some homemade Tenafly Viper, the drink causing people to melt. The goal between the three contestants was to see who could finish their respective drinks the fastest. In a 1, 2, 3 order they all finished their drinks, and walked away with prizes from The Coolidge. Not only can you see rare, and great films you can also get free shit.

With that the lights dimmed, and a few trailers for some coming attractions. Next weekend the classic 'Critters' will be eating its way to the cinema, and the trailer for the bat-shit crazy looking 'The Last Circus'. All I know about 'Last Circus' is that it's about clowns who murder. Sounds good to me.

The film begins in the desolate wastelands of suburban New York. Hobos rule the streets, and will do most anything to stay drunk and alive. Local liquor store owner Ed finds a sealed crate in the bottom of his basement, and notices that it's been a liquor that hasn't been sold for almost 60 years, Tenafly Viper. All sorts of characters run into Ed's liquor store, and one is Fred who is the antagonist of the film. Fred and his younger brother Kevin have been runaways for a few years, and it's been especially hard on Kevin. The boys live in a junkyard in a makeshift tire house. Very time consuming, but they probably paid other hobos in booze to help.

The junkyard is not a free place though, and is ruled by Bronson, a Vietnam vet who had some pretty fucked experiences as a hitman. All booze, and cash are brought to him by the dozens of homeless troops. With Ed selling the Viper for only $1 it's an easy sale for those who don't have much to spend. The drink however, might have been spoiled as any internal consumption causes melting and or exploding. Something tells me this product was not FDA approved.

This movie is one of the reasons I started this blog. From the first time I saw this on VHS when I was a youngin', I was entranced by the brutal imagery, and yet laughing my fucking ass off with the tongue-in-cheek black humor. The acting is one of the things that really shines for me here. Everyone looks to be loving their role, and enjoying the absurdity of the premise. The direction by Jim Muro is fantastic. One of my all-time favorite shots in any movie is when a steady-cam is used to maneuver through the rubble of a building to highlight the hobo melting into a toilet. It's a pretty iconic cult image.

Then there's the special effects. These are some of my favorite low budget effects outside of Troma Entertainment, and that to me is a huge compliment. We see people melt all over the place; toilets, sidewalks, and even a guy exploding! It's all very funny, and allows for a very enjoyable film. Even though this is a movie focusing on the melting we are also given an impressive villain in junkyard warlord, Bronson. Bronson was a Vietnam vet who is experiencing very HEAVY flashbacks. You can tell he's not all there, and the portrayal by Vic Noto is really intense.

I cannot endorse 'Street Trash' highly enough. It's offensive, violent, hysterical, and great fun! I was very pleased to be able to see the original print at The Coolidge Corner Theater, and hope this won't be the last time on the big screen. 'Street Trash' is available on DVD from Synapse Films, and comes in the spectacular Meltdown Edition which contains a two-hour documentary. Easily one of the best documentaries I've seen as a bonus feature, and the work that went into it really shows.

Later this week check out my interview with assistant program manager, Mark Anastasio about the work that goes into tracking these prints down, and his love for 35mm!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Trash Pile Love Notes: Independent Theaters

If there's one thing I wish I owned it would be a time machine. Most people seem to think that the advantage of owning a device that can transport you through time is financial. While yes, I would obviously exploit the future there is a bigger appeal in enjoying the culture of the past. With my preference to older movies I would be at the cinema almost every weekend seeing my favorites. Travel back to the late '70s to see all the schlock on display on 42nd St. in New York, visiting the Combat Zone in Boston, and probably any premier at Grauman's Chinese Theater would be pretty cool. Alas, my faith in technology has been shattered. Automatic toilets, and no way to travel back in time? For shame, science, for shame.

One benefit of living in the city of Boston is that we have a large amount of independent theaters, and many of which who are able to show 35mm versions of great cult films. For most movie viewers seeing the original print really doesn't matter to them, but for an anal-retentive nerd like myself it's pretty cool to say I've seen the original print of 'Suspiria', 'Escape from New York', and even 'Nightmare City'. Theaters in and around Boston have started to really push the demand for classic original prints on the big screen, and every year there are new prints discovered to be shown to audiences.

The Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, MA is one of these theaters that really shows their love for cult genres. Every weekend could contain Italian gore, '70s exploitation, slashers, and classic comedies. The program is called Coolidge @fter Midnight, and I must say the people who run this are able to secure some great films. I've been going to this theater now for about 5 years, and they have been getting a better variety every year. I've seen 'Friday the 13th 3D', 'The Thing', 'Dream House' and many more. So far this year we've seen films like 'Hobo With a Shotgun', 'Jaws 3D', 'Rolling Thunder', and 'The Burning' just to name a few. Later this year we'll get the epic melt movie 'Street Trash', the Fulci masterpiece 'The Beyond', 'The Warriors', 'Critters', and even the Alicia Sliverstone...uhh...classic, 'Clueless'. If you're in the Boston region I suggest check these guys out as they really put a lot of time and love in getting such amazing films for their audience. This weekend I will be catching their showing of Peter Jackson's 'Dead-Alive' which is one to cross off the list.

Another great theater is in Harvard square, and it is The Brattle Theater. The Brattle opened its doors in '54, and is a non-profit organization. This is another theater I've visited numerous times over the years, and I love the experience. It's a one screen theater, but has a phenomenal balcony. I've seen films like 'The Great Escape', 'Escape from New York', 'The TrollHunter', 'Suspiria', 'Nightmare City', and even 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' in 3D! That was one of the best experiences I've had going to this theater as the Creature has always been my favorite Universal Monster. Later this month at The Brattle you can catch the recent Grindhouse saga including Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's 'Grindhouse','Machete', and the fucking epic 'Hobo With a Shotgun'. You can also check out some classic Hitchcock like 'North by Northwest' in their celebration of the great composer Bernard Herrmann (also showing is the classic Ray Harryhausen films 'Jason and the Argonauts' and 'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad'.)

The Strand
in Clinton, MA is another theater that takes a lot of time in making time for the classics of cinema. The first time I went there was to see 'Ghostbusters', and that was one of the best movie going experiences of my life. Granted, I was quoting most of the movie (I'm pretty sure I've seen this movie around 75 times), but the excitement of seeing it not only on the big screen but also the original print was fantastic. Every year The Strand shows the Steven Spielberg classic 'Jaws', and that is also something pretty fantastic. The Strand was built in 1924 as a Vaudeville and movie theater up until the last '70s. Every year there is "The Classics" series in which many films are shown over the summer weeks including 'Monty Python and The Holy Grail', 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' and 'The Sting'. If you're only searching out the cult and exploitation movies I'd look elsewhere though. The Strand is pretty family friendly, but will get recent R rated hits in (primarily comedies and dramas)

One of the last theaters that I'll take the time to promote is the Somerville Theater in Somerville, MA. The Somerville Theater was built in 1914, and much like The Strand was a place for Vaudeville acts to shine. The one thing to really love about this theater is that they show current movies, and at a very affordable price. However they will also show classics like the theaters mentioned above. 'Jaws', 'The Goonies', 'A Clockwork Orange', and 'The Princess Bride' are just some of the films that will show this summer alone. You can find some great cult and horror films come October. Last year the theater saw the J.Cannibal's Feast of Flesh in which the fantastic Fred Dekker film, 'Night of The Creeps' played.

These are just some of the theaters that I've been to in the Boston area, and I'm sure I haven't even scratched the surface. At some point I need to take a road trip to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to catch the amazing films they show every month. I'm sure I'm not the only who appreciates the effort that is given to find these prints of rare films, and I hope now some of you will visit these and other theaters.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Waxwork (1988)

Sometimes I wonder how many people get as weirded out by wax museums as I do. I'm a little hard pressed to see why anyone would want to see wax replicants of celebrities and notable historians. It's just all too creepy for me. All those eyes following you. Fucking terrifying, but I guess that's why it's a great location for a horror film. The best example is obviously the Vincent Price classic 'House of Wax', and deservedly so. Price's chilling portrayal of villain Henry Jarrodd is one of my favorites in history. To be frank, I found the 2005 version (yeah, the Paris Hilton one) to be pretty fun. It was stupid, but knew what it was and executed it well.

Most wax museum themed films tend to riff off the vibe of someone either turning their victims into wax creations, or a murderer stalking nubile teens amongst the scenery. In 1988 director Anthony Hickox shat all over that formula by offering this; what if the display was a portal to the world depicted?

A violent struggle between two men breaks out in the study of a castle. Yes, a castle. A man's head is thrust into the fire, and simply dies. The assailant then smashes open a glass case, stealing the objects that lay inside. Pretty fucking intense way to open a movie, but the mood is lightened by a upbeat jazz number.

We flash forward an unknown number of years to see two young girls. Both China (Michelle Johnson) and Sarah (Deborah Foreman) are on there way to school, but are stopped by an interesting new building in the neighborhood. The Waxwork is operated by David Lincoln (David Warner) who invites the girls, along with up to 4 others, to get a sneak-peek at the new museum. It's always at midnight, and it's always the man with the sleek blazer and charming accent.

Mark (Zach Galligan) is in a fight with his W.A.S.P. of a mother who is denying her son some coffee; she really doesn't want him to grow up. Storming off to class his butler hands him his caffeine (coffee), and his nicotine (smokes). How do we to relate to these characters? If I had a butler handing me coffee and cigarettes I sure as shit wouldn't be working a full time job, that's for sure. Mark meets up with the rest of the gang in history class, lectured by an obvious Nazi sympathizer. Apparently, China and Mark have broken up, and she's opening the hanger, so to speak.

China and Sarah tell the gang (Tony, James, Gemma and Mark) about the viewing at the Waxwork while hanging out after school. A few find the option amusing while others would rather sit at home, and watch monster movies. They decide to venture over at midnight, but James and Gemma bail. This leaves China, Sarah, Mark, and Tony to venture into the museum. The door opens, and NO ONE IS THERE! Oh, wait. There is the guy who played Alf. That was actually the actor in Alf's costume. He's three feet tall.

Then they go into the display room, and it is beyond anything they've seen, but when Tony drops his zippo in the Werewolf display, he is transported to the world depicted. Where a pissed off Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) is transforming into a woflman, and Tony gets got. The camera pans away from the display to show the body of this asshole slumped against the back wall. China on the other hand just waltzed into the Count Dracula display where she's to be the bride of the Count. She too, gets got and is added to the display. Sarah and Mark must now find out what happened to their friends, but who knows what awaits them in the 'Waxwork'. Mu-ha-ha-ha.

The concept of the display is the ghost, and those who enter are transported to that time is pretty spiffy. I'm sure there was a big debate as to what monsters and villains to use for the museum, but I feel they got some good ones in there. You see 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', 'The Invisible Man', 'The Wolfman', 'The Phantom of the Opera', 'Dracula', 'Frankenstein', 'Night of the Living Dead', and many more. The references to other films was the perfect way to add humor into the script. You can be self-aware, but still give some atmosphere/tension to the scenes.

One thing this movie does in spades is the gore. We see people split in half, heads ripped off, flesh skewered, and bones crushed. There were two versions of the film, but if you're able to get your hands on the DVD (comes with part 2) then you'll get the gorier, "uncensored" version. As violent as the film is it off balances with great visual gags, one-liners, and good acting. Zach Galligan is as fun here as he was in 'Gremlins', and has even more fun with the role as he can swear all he wants. Cock. Balls.

Anthony Hickox does a great job with the visuals in the film, almost replicating the look of the films the displays are based on, but with his own eye. He also has a great detail for minor characters as some of the people in the ghost displays steal their respective scenes. I must admit, seeing John-Rhys Davies in a period werewolf story seems pretty fucking awesome. Hollywood, get on that.

'Waxwork' is an absolute blast from start to finish. Never too serious, but always on the offensive it shows it's affection for horror cinema of yore on its sleeve. With great directing, special effects, and acting it's a real treat for those looking for something a little self-referential. Take that, 'Scream'. 'Waxwork' is available on DVD from Lionsgate Entertainment, and also streams on Netflix a few times a year.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Trash Bags

Original Trailer on YouTube


Wikipedia Page

Amazon Page

Friday, July 15, 2011

Trash Pile Love Notes: H.G. Lewis

When my I was a kid my dad would tell me stories about this film, 'Two Thousand Maniacs!', in which real cadavers were used for the special effects. That claim was incredibly false (thanks pops), but the film was splattered with gore unlike anything I had seen. By today's standards the violence is pretty hokey with animal parts used for innards, and red paint for blood. However, for 1964 they were pretty fucking outrageous.

H.G. Lewis (Herschell Gordon) began making pictures with skin films in the late '50s and early '60s. Titles such as 'Nature's Playmate', 'Living Venus' and 'The Adventures of Lucky Pierre' were his earliest "claim" to fame, but it wasn't until 1963 that something new would be tested. The market for skin flicks was waining, and looking for ways to get money in an untested market Lewis and producer David F. Friedman unleashed 'Blood Feast' on the movie public.

"We didn’t think it would have the profound effect it had. With Blood Feast, David Friedman and I set out to make a movie that the major companies either could not make or would not make." -H.G. Lewis in an interview with Louder Than War

And with that spark of creative genius the world of horror would never be the same. A few other films had on screen violence, but it wasn't until 'Blood Feast' that it was so viscous. Armed with a budget of $25,000, and a 15-page script Friedman and Lewis brought gore to the world. 'Blood Feast' tells the tale of an Egyptian caterer by the name of Fuad Ramses who slaughters women to create the Titular Feast. The Feast is designed to bring about the second coming of the Goddess Ishtar. The film packs a punch with severed limbs, cut out tongues, and brains removed. All in glorious blood-red color.

The film, technically speaking, is pretty shitty. The acting is abysmal, the score is hysterical and inappropriately placed, but as H.G. Lewis said:

"I've often compared 'Blood Feast' to a Walt Whitman poem -- it's no good but it's the first."

With the success of 'Blood Feast' at Drive-In's across the country, the team of Lewis and Friedman set on a new film titled 'Two Thousand Maniacs!'. 'Maniacs' told the story of a group of travelers who set foot in the town of Pleasant Valley. The town is celebrating their centennial, and it turns out these lost travelers are the guests of honor. Unfortunately for them, "guests of honor" means to be murdered by ravenous, cannibalistic Southerners!

'Maniacs' is my personal favorite of Lewis's Blood Trilogy. The acting is even more over the top than 'Blood Feast', and the death scenes more elaborate. Since 'Feast' made a killing (hah) at the Drive-In the budget for 'Maniacs' nearly tripled, and with that a much beefier script (70-pages). The cast seems to be having a blast making 'Maniacs', and with an entire town full of psychopaths it's great to see who might just be the next to kill. 'Manics' was remade in 2005 as '2001 Maniacs' with the always great Robert Englund ('A Nightmare on Elm St.' The good one) playing the town's mayor. The film is outrageous and super offensive. If you're a fan of the original I suggest checking out the remake, but I hear the sequel '2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams' is pretty fucking shitty.

Lewis's trilogy would complete with 'Color Me Blood Red' in 1965. The story tackles that of a struggling artist, who with the help of murder, achieves his finest work with the blood of his victims. The acting improves in this installment, but I don't find the film as fun as the previous two entries in the series.
After this last installment, Friedman left to produce in Hollywood leaving Lewis to handle the rest on his own. Friedman felt that the market was to be overrun by imitators, and wanted to try something new again. This left Lewis to try a few more films before retiring for a few decades. 'The Gruesome Twosome' tells the tale of a mother and son combo that murder women to make their famous wigs. Equally absurd, and entertaining. 'The Wizard of Gore' revolves around the magic show of Montag, and the investigation of those patrons who die after being included in a stage show. 'The Gore Gore Girls' features a serial killer attacking strippers, and the best scene involves the nipples being severed off a woman. The left containing whole milk, and the right dispenses chocolate. It's great to have options.

Lewis has since returned to directing in 2002 with the sequel/remake (think 'Evil Dead 2') 'Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat', and his new film, 'The Uh-oh Show!' is currently awaiting release. This actually sounds like the most promising feature yet from Lewis, but does remind me of 'Deathrow Gameshow' in which contestants compete for fabulous prizes, but wrong answers will get your limbs dismembered! Sounds like a blast, and I anxiously await the arrival of the film in theaters some point in the future.

Herschell Gordon Lewis obviously has a lot of fun when he's behind a camera, and it makes more some really awesomely awful entertainment. The Blood Trilogy is available on DVD from Something Weird, and will be released on Blu-Ray this fall. Check out Something Weird's site for awesome examples of classic schlock cinema.

H.G. Lewis's Wikipedia Page

H.G. Lewis's IMDB Page

Something Weird

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Quest (1986)

I'm a sucker for a good family friendly movie. Films like 'The Sandlot', 'The Goonies' and 'Ernest Scared Stupid' have all been watched by me at some point this year. I know I'm a pompous asshole (I have a blog), but I really do think family films have gone to hell. There was a time that films aimed towards families didn't have to rely on 3D, or computer generated effects to hold the audience's attention. I don't really blame that on anyone. That's just moving through the times. Your grandparents were right guys; everything really was better when you were kids.

Obviously, some films really stick with you when you're a kid. You watch them until the tape breaks (or for you youngings; the DVD was scratched), and unless you were able to record the film off of cable, you might not see that movie again for a long time. As was the case with Brian Trenchard-Smith's 'The Quest', or as it was known it Australia 'Frog Dreaming', or as it was known in the UK 'The Go-Kids'. I always find it funny that they have to name it something different depending on where the film was released. For instance 'Boogie Nights' roughly translates to 'His Great Device Makes Him Famous' in Chinese. Look it up.

A pond sits still at the bottom of a quarry as a man drifts lazily in a canoe. Suddenly the windmill starts spinning without the assistance of mother nature's farts. The blades spin faster and faster as violent bubbles emerge to the surface. The man violently paddles towards shore as the waves become intense from what stirs below the surface. As he climbs to land a creature breaks the surface causing the man the die in shock. The lake returns peaceful as the blades of the windmill slow to a halt.

Enter a kid named Cody ('E.T.'s Henry Thomas) who is working on a device that will connect his bike with the local railroad track, to break the record of train station to school in 3 minutes. Cody's parents died in America, so he is living with his uncle Gaza (Tony Barry) in Australia. While on his way to beat the record a local passenger car comes, and knocks him of the track.
Rushing to his side would seemingly be his girlfriend, although that was never really discussed. Apparently, Cody is a real rebel, but with that, quite smart for his age. Cody, his maybe-girlfriend and her sister go out for a picnic in Devil's Knob, a park with the mysterious quarry-monster that you read above. The three find the quarry, and find themselves experiencing the same phenomena as earlier. The three don't die, but instead find the body of the man who died before. What is the creature that lurks in the lake? Cody is determined to find out, and will go far into the realm of Aboriginal myth to understand what is simply known as "Donkegin".

What really brought me to the movie was the way that B.T.S. (Brian Trenchard-Smith) beautifully shot the location in Mount Eliza, Victoria. This was my first venture into the catalog of B.T.S., but it hasn't been the last. 'Leprechaun 3', 'Escape 2000', 'Night of the Demons 2', 'Dead End Drive-In'. His use of color is what really makes a lot of his films shine through, and is able to get humor in the madness that he unfolds. With him again is composer Brian May who has done a good chunk of B.T.S.'s films. The film is up to par with May's other work, and greatly uses a good array of instruments to heighten the tension at the quarry.

Henry Thomas seems more rigid here then he was 4 years prior in 'E.T.'. With the little emotion he shows his character seems focused on only one goal; discovery. Never really caring about anything else, so we never see him really enjoy his surroundings. Maybe he subconciously hates it. The kid's spirit though reminded me of Indiana Jones, Johnny Quest and Sherlock Holmes rolled into one completely awesome adventure burrito. This is one boy adventurer that would make Dr. Jonas Venture proud. The rest of the cast does their part well, but it's not really about the acting and about what lurks below the surface.

The biggest fault in 'The Quest' is the action, or lack there of. The cover promises (two of the three covers, anyway) that this kid is going to get in some serious shit. Doesn't happen, and instead we're given only 3 action sequences and the best is the reveal towards the end of the film. Don't get me wrong I enjoy 'The Quest' a lot, but it's that I find enjoyment in Cody's adventure to learn about the happenings at Donkegin Hole. That can't be all the film needs more than just this to really hit home with most viewers. I understand that it's a movie aimed towards kids, but you should add risks to the story by adding more action sequences. While Cody searches the outback we are never really worried about his safety. There is no threat, and with that, it is hard to buy that Cody is this fucking bad-ass adventurer when he has nothing playing against him.

This is a fun and basic family film. While the story might not be as action packed as the cover would suggest, it's still a decently acted, well directed and scored movie. At the end of the film you realize the world is a big place, and there are many things that we'll never be able to understand. 'The Quest' is not available on DVD. There were a few separate VHS releases in 1986 from Charter Entertainment, and 2000 from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Trash Bags



Wikipedia Page

Amazon Page

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Warning Sign (1985)

There is a respectful fear that comes with the thought of the end of the world. Although you know it's the last days of your life you will still freak the fuck out. Filmmakers like Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay have destroyed civilization so many times it's hard to believe that apocalyptic films are still a draw at the box office (Emmerich's '2012' made over $700 million world wide. Then there is the $2.1 billion dollar cash cow that is the 'Transformers' series.) For every disaster, or apocalyptic movie that hits there are countless more that fail.

Not every downfall of mankind is brought by natural disasters or shape shifting robots. Although both aforementioned directors would love you to keep buying tickets to think so. Often we're our own demise as is the case with the 1985 film 'Warning Sign'.

The film takes place within the confines of the pesticide manufacturer BioTek. A crew working diligently in the P4 lab are fitted with the highest tech (by '85 standards) safety gear. A crew member knocks over a vile (obviously sinister as this is five minutes into the movie), and it falls to the ground.

Celebrating the company's new chemical the crew gather to take a group photo, aimlessly kicking the vile around on the floor. How has no one seen this brightly colored plastic container? Doctor Tom Schmidt (G.W. Bailey) says he can't see their faces, and asks them to unzip their suits. In doing so he accidentally steps on the vile, and unknowingly infects the room. Dr. Bailey leaves to leave for the day, but in doing so takes off his infected contact lenses and stores them for his post shower duties. Simple folks. The message here is get LASIK, or you'll get some terrifying disease.

Security guard Joanie Morse (Kathleen Quinlan) is in her office checking the labs while people prepare to leave for the three day weekend. While talking on the phone to her husband, sheriff Cal Morse (Sam Waterston) a bio-hazard alert (or, 'Warning Sign'. Eh? Eh???) goes off. Every level of the compound is being sealed off to prevent further contamination, and the staff is terrified. Joanie tells Cal that there was a scientist who left the company a few months ago by the name of Dr. Dan Fairchild (Jeffrey DeMunn). Cal says he's a drunk who just can't be trusted.

Meanwhile a crowd forms outside BioTek, and Cal thins the heard by using some muscles. By this time a helicopter arrives with Major Connolly (Yaphet Koto) who is determined to keep this under control. It turns out that BioTek is really a front for the Department of Defense who are beefing up their germ warfare division. Meanwhile, the crew that stayed behind in P4 are found to be unconscious, or dead. The fear spreads throughout the compound as the virus starts to spread. The virus is designed to kill the victim, re-animate them and cause their most viscous violent actions come forth. As more staff are infected the race is on to find a cure, and stop the disease from reaching the outside.

'Warning Sign' wasn't a big hit upon it's release in the late summer of '85, and I'm actually a bit surprised by it. The cast is rounded out by a few familiar names like Sam Waterston ('Law & Order', for the better part of a quarter of a century) and Kathleen Quinlan ('Event Horizon'). Yaphet Koto (Alien) is as always awesome although his role isn't as awesome as 'The Running Man', but that has the Schwarzenegger factor going for it. You also may recognize a solid performance out of Jeffery DeMunn, who is currently playing Dale on AMC's 'The Walking Dead'.

The first time I watched this movie a few months back I was amazed to find the plot similarities in so many movies, and comics. The phenomenal Garth Ennis series, 'Crossed', finds use of a virus that causes those who are infected to fulfill their most sinister and depraved desires. Although far more graphic that what's contained in 'Warning Sign', the similar concept was something I noted. '28 Days Later' is another example of similar elements, but then again that movie was influenced by many sources.

The plot itself is basic. The government runs the show behind the scenes while the sheriff tries to rescue his wife from the inside; all the while keeping the alcoholic doctor around. The acting is what elevates the movie, and even the bit players are very well cast. What really surprised me about this movie was that the characters were all very well defined through the ordeal, which itself was pretty awesome. The soundtrack by Craig Safan was when he was doing a lot of synth work, and it really fits the atmosphere of the film well.

What would normally be a generic end of the world story is elevating by a compelling score, very competent acting, and a setting that oozes atmosphere. 'Warning Sign' is out on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment, but is currently out of print. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment currently holds the distribution rights.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Trash Bags.


Wikipedia Page

Amazon Page

Monday, July 11, 2011

TerrorVision (1986)

Remember when you actually went out to video stores? And I'm talking pre-DVD. Having enticing artwork was a way to get renters to choose unheard of movies. Some genres that capitalized more on this than any other were Science Fiction, Horror, and Action. Notoriously known for having less than stellar plots, acting and effects; these genres produced hundreds of titles a year. Though cheap Comedies, and innocent Family/Children movies were a dime a dozen, those markets are pretty easy to go after. Kids will fucking watch anything you throw at them. Cheap comedies? Teens that aren't "allowed" to go see R-rated films by themselves are a great market to go after with cheap knockoffs.

The real tricky thing is pulling off a successful cult movie. I mean, most people hope that their movie is a huge hit. Movie making is a business after all, but they can't all be hits. (I'm looking at you, Adventures of Pluto Nash!) Sometimes a film becomes a hit on video, primarily through word of mouth. 'TerrorVision' would be an example of that. Originally bombing at the box office 'TerrorVision' would later find life on VHS. I saw this cover for years in a local video store, and on a 2-for-1 Tuesday, I picked up this and 'Killer Klowns from Outer Space'.

Stanley Putterman (Gerrit Graham) has just got a new satellite TV for his whole family. All Raquel (Mary Woronov) wants to do is watch her jazzercise show, Suzy (Diane Franklin) wants to watch the new "It" band on MTV, Sherman (Chad Allen), their son, is playing soldier in the yard,and Gramps (Bert Remsen) hates everyone. While setting up the dish out back a lightning bolt comes and hits the satellite! Holy shit! What are the odds, out of the hundreds of locations, that it lands in this one family home? Familiarity, how I love thee. Suddenly, the reception is great and the Putterman family goes to see what channels they can get lost in. Monster movies, troop movements, Channel 69, and a weird creature that just stares at you. Doesn't really do much other than leer your down, and want to munch on your innards.

Suzy's boyfriend O.D. (Jon Gries) comes. He's into metal , so much that he asks Sherman to "Kiss the Boot". They ask mom if they can use the jacuzzi, and she says no because they'll be swinging this evening. That leaves gramps and Sherman to watch hours of monster movies, thanks to Medusa's (Jennifer Richards) late night horror show. Everything is all swell, that is, until the monster comes out of the TV and eats grandpa! Sherman is the only one who witnesses the horrific ordeal, and everyone else thinks it's one of his episodes. Sherman, with his soldier training (from his senile grandfather) plans to kill the monster, save the world, and turn off the TV once and for all!

There are many things, as a bad movie lover, that I loved about 'TerrorVision'. From the soundtrack, to the set design, to the over the top dialogue. The sub-plot of the swinging parents is fucking outrageous. First off they talk about it openly with their kids as if it's no big deal. Your 16 year old daughter might know what that is, but your 10 year old son sure won't. The couple they pick up to do the eight leg shuffle is great. Cherry (Randi Brooks) is the perfect airhead blonde. Never really fully aware of what's going on, but coherent enough to chime in idiotically about some acting audition. Her lover is Spiro (Alejandro Rey), a manly man. He means that in the gay way, or as he refers to it "I'm into Greek." The reaction from Gerrit Graham is awesome. He's really one of my favorite character actors, and it's always nice to see my favorite actress Mary Woronov.

Jennifer Richards is hysterical as Medusa, and Jon Gries (another favorite of mine) is very over-the-top as metal head 'O.D.'. O.D. becomes a father figure for the creature at a point as his spiked cuffs remind him of his master on his home world. I'm glad they give the creature a decent enough back story here. It's nice to know that this thing was someones pet. This thing:

The highlight in the movie is the effects, and puppeteering of the monster. The effects of Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc. is just phenomenal. The detail put into every inch of the face of the monster. It it's all pretty impressive for this low budget of a movie.

If I were to fault the movie in any areas it's that the whole riff on E.T. is a little forced. I mean sure, have the kids try and tame the monster but it goes on for too long. Kill off a character, and speed it along. At the 80 minutes that would bring it down pretty low. That's the other issue. The film moves too quick for its own good. The attraction is of course the creature, but you can take it in a few directions to lengthen to plot out another 10 minutes or so:

One: Hire more actors. Problem solved. You kill off the characters, and more screen time for the monster which means more people renting. The crowd who rents this wants to see the violence, and the absurd situations.

Two: Let the creature break out of the house, and they have to track it down through the neighborhood. Add some suspense, and potential gags to the ending which is where you want to audience to be riveted to know how it's all gonna end.

Overall the tone is in the right place as an ode to '50s science fiction, but with a tongue-in-bloody -cheek about it. While the pacing might be quick, it delivers with the monster goods. The availability of this is quite low. There is no DVD available, nor is there any on the horizon. Netflix has offered it streaming off and on since October of 2010, so that might be your best place to catch it. The studio who owned the film, MGM, had its back catalog purchased by Sony Pictures.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Trash Bags. 

*UPDATE* - 'TerrorVision' has been recently released in Blu-Ray combo pack with 'The Video Dead' by Scream Factory.


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