Saturday, August 1, 2015

An Ode to the Hot Rod

An Ode to the Hot Rod

I never met Roddy Piper to tell him that I thought he was the greatest. No, not just his iconic roles in such movies like the take no shit anti-hero Nada in They Live, or his performance as the last fertile man Sam Hell in Hell Comes to Frogtown. It wasn't only his role in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia as the bat-shit crazy past his prime wrestler The Maniac. Nor was it the days worth of content in Roddy's vast career inside the squared circle. I wanted to tell Mr. Piper that he was a great life inspiration.

My first introduction to Roderick Toombs was John Carpenter's They Live when I was around the age of 10. I wasn't a wrestling fan until a few years later in my life, but the way Roddy carried himself oozed charisma. I believed everything he said, and every action he did. The character of Nada was real to me, but while I loved his performance I never researched Roddy's body of work. When the USA Network aired B-Movies on late Saturday night in the early 90's I caught Hell Comes to Frogtown, and again I was reminded of how awesome Roddy was.

By the time I entered middle school I was introduced to the world of professional wrestling, and, while Roddy at the time was working for Ted Turner at World Championship Wrestling, I learned the history of Piper's in-ring work. The numerous Piper's Pit segments which laid way for the biggest storylines in wrestling. The Hollywood Backlot Brawl he had at Wrestlemania XII with Goldust parodying the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase. How personal a feud between he and Brett Hart could be. The list is endless with how awesome and memorable Piper was. Yet, even with the impression left on me by the above examples, I was not yet enamored with the man they call Hot Rod.

I started learning more about the man behind the venom spewing anti-hero. A man who, at the drop of a smile could make the crowd cheer, and, by the same token, be kicking in the guts of his opponent to make him the most despised person in the building. The more we learn about how important family was to a person who once worked 97 days on the road straight, the more we can apply to our own lives. Through his 50 plus episodes of the podcast Piper's Pit I heard him say how important it was to be a dad. Roddy said in many installments that any asshole can have a kid, but it takes a real man to be a daddy. The conviction this man spoke about how to raise his kids was inspired.

Perhaps it's that for almost every week for a year Roddy made it a point to talk for me, and thousands others on his Podcast. Each week I looked forward to hearing the stories Rod told of being trained by Judo Gene LeBell. Counting the amount of times he'd say "Sweet Baby Jesus" in an hour span. Hearing how genuine he sounded when he said "I love you" to someone with whom he had respect for, and I guess that's why I felt the urge to write this. I never got a chance to tell Roddy I loved him too.

- Chris Nichols

Monday, July 13, 2015

Episode 33 - Hard Hunted (1992)

The Murder of Sgt. Macklin (1993)

For most movie fans the idea of finding a new film to enjoy is one of pride. While most cinephiles like to think we’ve seen it all, the sad matter of fact is that we’ve only scratched the surface. Sure, we try to broaden our pallets with foreign films and obscure shot-on-video titles from the mid-80’s to late 90’s, but the truth is that there are thousands of movies left untouched, and unfortunately, forgotten by the masses.  The past few years have shown that films once thought lost, like The Basement or Run Coyote Run, can be seen again and appreciated by new audiences.

What I’m getting at is that finding a film that has no history, or barely a mention anywhere on the internet is pretty much the bee’s knees of being a movie fan. Where was it made? What was the background?  How many copies were distributed? Was it primarily a regional release? The more questions come up, the sooner the answers arrive.

As those who have been reading the blog and listening to our podcast are aware we’re avid VHS hunters.  While following a Craigslist post for a media sale in Southern New Hampshire I found myself digging through banana boxes of analog titles, grabbing a few sealed blanks and couple other random movies. Then, I see a title released by a company I was unfamiliar with: Stage 1 Productions. With the haunting visage of a scowling man adorning the cover, the name of the movie would become a quest: The Murder of Sgt. Macklin.

The Murder of Sgt. Macklin spills the legend of a school house in La Junta, Colorado that just so happens to be built on the same ground as the horrendous Sand Hill Massacre. New owner Harry Furgeson experiences a chilling spiritual attack while walking the school, and finds drifter Mike Broderick to take on the roll of manager for his new building. Soon, Mike himself starts to experience strange goings-on inside the empty school, even seeing a ghastly apparition come out of the night. Alongside locals Ellie Franklin and Harry’s wife, Sylvia, Mike and the women get to the bottom of what exactly happened all those years ago.

“Like many of my generation, I had wanted to make movies as long as I could
remember. We bought the old schoolhouse and moved to La Junta in 1991 with the intent of making it into a film production center. Because we had very little money, I wrote a script to use the building, people and equipment available. Macklin's Sand Hill Massacre theme was a fictional adaptation of the horrendous Sand Creek Massacre committed in this area in the 19th Century. I figured anything of that magnitude should have at least one unsettled spirit hanging about.”

With smaller films you’re apt to expect and forgive a few shortcomings in terms of production value. However with Macklin, most aspects you’d expect to be lackluster are surprisingly tip-top.  The actors and actresses, while being of no significant note and without national recognition in 2015, all fit their characters well, and handle the dialogue with enough believability to bring you into the world. The story, while being a slow-burn, offers ample atmosphere with the talents of Director of Photography Vincent Gearhart with Key Grip Bill Milliken and the synth-centric soundtrack from Kevin Foster.

“The whole project took a little over a year from scripting to release. A local group here in La Junta held a Dinner Premier for us and we ultimately sold maybe 250 copies”

After I had enjoyed Macklin more questions bubbled up. I listed those questions earlier, so try to keep up.  Thankfully on the back of the film there was contact info for the writer, director and producer Bob DuBois. Through a few emails back and forth I was able to learn more about this unique little ghost story out of south-eastern Colorado.

“The actual shooting schedule was 22 days, but because of a volunteer cast and crew it took about 10 weeks to complete. Our principal acquisition camera was either a Panasonic AG 450 or the 455, I don't remember exactly when I upgraded. For a couple of scenes (such as Mike & Sylvia exploring the building in the dark) we used our DP's personal Sony (C or 8mm, I forget which) in tandem with the Panasonic. We used his for low-light acquisition and the Panasonic for recording with better audio.”

An interesting note I had learned in talking with Mr. DuBois in regards to the production of the Macklin. Key Grip and friend Bill Milliken had taken residence in the school house that was purchased for the hopeful production studio. Roughly halfway through the making of Macklin Bill Milliken suffered a heart attack, and although he survived and is living to this day, that had to make for a nervous bump in the road. One has to wonder if there were more spiritual happenings going on than just what was captured on video.

Ultimately, The Murder of Sgt. Macklin is a prime example of someone who has an idea, and goes about creating a story using the location and actual historical events to elevate the yarn being spun. While learning the background of the film is one mystery solved, I feel the bigger question is how this independently made and distributed VHS survived a trip halfway across the country to a little church book sale in southern New Hampshire. However the trip may have started, I’m happy that Macklin ended up in my hands. It was a fun, no-nonsense spiritual trip that I now aim to offer to a like-minded and wide audience.

**Thanks to Josh Schafer from Lunchmeat for the editing of this article.**

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Episode 30 - Satanic Attraction/Ritual of Death

*Normally I'd add trailer(s) for the films, but as we said in the podcast they're really full of spoilers. Watch at your own risk!*

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Blood Salvage (1990)

As my years of watching and collecting movies progresses I find myself taking less of a chance on a "blind buy" as I used to. Recently I came to the conclusion that reasoning is completely stupid, and if I'm not willing to stick my neck out on some ridiculous movie (new or old) then what type of movie fan am I really? The answer is a shitty one.

To correct this genuinely lazy mistake I've taken to seeking out a few movies that I had never heard anything about, good or bad. Just crossing off more movies to say it's worth a look, or its Curse of the Blue Lights bad. This morning I gave the 1984 flick Dreamscape a watch, and that was pretty damned entertaining. Don't know why I never saw it before, but better late than never. In the same lot of tapes I decided to pick up this silly cover of a junkyard worker holding an eyeball in wrench.

Blood Salvage tells the tale of the Evans family, who attend a county fair in which their wheelchair bound daughter April is a contestant. Jake, a local junkman, takes a shine to miss April, and sets about to have his insipid sons conspire to damage the wheels on the Evans' Winnebago. As the family embarks on their trip back home the wheel magically comes undone, and the camper veers off-road. Along comes Jake to "assist" the Evans, and brings them all back to his home. Unfortunately for the Evans what they don't realize is Jake is a mad doctor who just so happens to be sell the organs on the black market!

Blood Salvage is an absurd movie; let's get that out of the way first. If you're expecting a thought provoking chill fest you're shit out of luck. This is a movie played strictly for laughs, more in the vein of Blood Diner than Hills Have Eyes. The company who released the film, Magnum, has not been my best friend when it comes to quality views. I keep beating the dead horse that is Curse of the Blue Lights, but then there's also the shit-show that is Street Asylum. After viewing those two films I was a bit reluctant, but I'm happy I did. This was the simple, no nonsense type of horror comedy I like. Not as heavy on the slapstick, but black humor in the dialogue and absurdity of the overall situation. The gore was also a fun aspect here, but not played for anything more than comedy.

Another aspect of Blood Salvage that elevated the viewing for me was the inclusion of some familiar faces in John Saxon as the patriarch of the Evans household, and Ray Walston as the seedy head of the black market organ trade Mr. Stone. The rest of the cast is more than acceptable, but my main gripe with the film comes in how predictable the whole thing was, right down to the last scene. Perhaps I'm just too jaded from seeing so many movies. I guess it's easy to blame myself, but honestly, maybe everything was predictable for the sake of adding levity to the plot. That's all a personal thing, and doesn't really detract from the viewing, but something I felt I should share for those who watch a lot of horror movies.

For those of you who look for something a little sillier in your upcoming horror viewings, I suggest giving Blood Salvage a watch. With an engaging plot, solid acting and great gore you’re sure to enjoy it. There are a lot of other crazy backwoods killer movies out there, but due to the humor involved with Blood Salvage I would say it’s one that holds up on repeat viewings more than most. Also, lookout for the random fucking cameo from Evander Holyfield. This must have been some paycheck, champ.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Trash Bags

Blood Salvage is currently not available on DVD, but copies of the VHS are available on Amazon starting at around $10.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Mutilations (1986)

There are really only a few routes an alien invasion film can go. You can have the mass-destruction styling of Roland Emmerich, or maybe the film is an allegory for some part of our society like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There's also just the good old fashioned "aliens are here to fuck shit up" approach.

Prior to the CG-laden adventures of a cigar smoking Will Smith in Independence Day, most films dabbling in alien invasion were left to the devices of practical and traditional special effects. Unless you're Ray Harryhausen it's probably pretty hard to show alien spaceships attacking metropolitan areas. Case in point: Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Mutilations takes the approach of most pre-CG alien invasion films, and isolates the action to a central location and group of characters. The benefit here is it would be silly to tackle such a broad story with what is obviously a small budget. With that we're given a pretty run-of-the-mill stalk and slash alien movie, and that's by no means a detraction.

Mutilations tells the story of a group of science students who hear tale of group of townsfolk who have noticed strange lights occurring in, and around the town. On top of that, apparently the cattle and other animals have been found stripped of skin, and partially consumed. Of course being the brazen young group that they are, they venture into the mountains to find out what has been causing all the... Mutilations.

At its 65 minute run time, Mutilations is a breeze in unabashedly fun stupidity. The minimal amount of character development here is all just fodder for the impending alien attacks. I guess the first question your asking is, "Hey, Chris. Does that scene on the cover happen in the movie?" Yes, yes it does. And it is glorious. Being someone who grew up with 50's Sci-Fi I always love when a film is not afraid to take some bold risks in the effects department. It was very pleasing to see a nice combination of stop-motion animation, and practical effects in regards to the antagonistic aliens in the film. Although I'm never really sure of the size of the creatures in the film, they are a fun sight and cause some great fatalities.

From a technical standpoint however, Mutilations falls into the "So bad, it's good" territory. From one-liners that would make Bruce Campbell balk to actors (a loose term here) inserting far too many "dramatic" pauses between words, the direction of Larry Thomas is that of someone that just wanted to tell a fun story.

Outside of the acting and dialogue, there really aren't too many negative aspects to Mutilations. From a time period of filmmaking where limitations were pushed to the extremes, this is a film that encapsulates what I really love about 80's movies. Silly story, quick-paced and absurdly violent.

Mutilations is a pretty hard tape to track down. It's available from Baron Video, and, if you can find one at a decent price, is totally recommended.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 Trash Bags

Mutilations IMDB

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Satan War (1979)

Recently I've been on a real kick with TV shows and movies dealing with spirits, ghosts, demons, etc. Ghost and haunted house movies don't have as much of an affect on me as they used to as a kid, but I just blame that on desensitization. The real hard part as a fan of film is that I've tried to see it all, and in my 20-someodd years of doing so have seen some pretty messed up shit. No matter what though, I still seek out new stories about families or persons who become prey to otherworldly forces.

The film in topic is the 1979 film, Satan War. From a VHS collector standpoint this is a pretty hard-to-find movie, as I had never heard of it until one of the contributors of Bleeding Skull posted a picture a month or so back. The lurid cover of a leather-clad Satan was enough for me to be curious, but then upon hearing it was pretty much a Amityville Horror rip-off, I was 100% into it.

Satan War starts off with a narration describing how the stories you are about to see are based off of real life events in the realm of the supernatural. Louise and Bill, a newlywed couple who have just moved into their new home, start experiencing strange occurrences right after moving in. Their emotions fly abandon as they realize something is changing their surrounding. As Louise hangs the crucifix from their wedding cake, strange events start to occur. Like the cross turning itself upside down to the coffee pot and kitchen cabinets spewing out foul slime. Suddenly they're prisoners in their own home by an unseen entity that will do anything to have them out!

The second story within the credits of Satan War revolves around a tribe that does the mambo, a religious dance that is designed to have the spirits of demons, or whomever, enter your body to allow for their wishes to be realized.

So, yeah. That's basically Satan War. If it sounds like it was a bit trying to get through, it was. This isn't to say it's the worst film I've seen recently (that title still goes to Lunchmeat), but the biggest detractor to a film like this is the constant and ever present music in the film. The synth score, while repetitive, isn't the worst. What is the worst about it is that the film is never able to create its own tension and atmosphere as we're always waiting for the next scare based on the music cues. Over the 60-minute run time of the first segment, there were only maybe 2 minutes that did not have music over it. It just got to the point where it would have been better on mute.

The other big issue I had with the Satan War was, much like the music, the repetitive scares. We get the demon doesn't like crucifixes. We get that it can make lightning, thunder and an earthquake when it's mad. We get it can make animal smelling diarrhea come from every point in your kitchen. That's it. These are basically the only things that happen while the newlyweds move in. Well, Louise also finds herself at the end of 2 sexual assaults by an unseen entity.

Now what's interesting is that some versions of the film appears to have an extra scene prior to the Amityville Horror rip-off that involves a Black Mass. I have included that full, 92:00+ version below.

At the end of the day, Satan War is nothing special. I respect what Bart La Rue was trying to accomplish, but due to the repetitive score and the unwillingness to go balls-out with the scares, this is a film only for those really searching for rare and hard to find movies. I don't think you'll hate yourself after watching it, but you may want to have The Changeling, Legend of Hell House or The Evil as a good pallet cleanser.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Trash Bags

Satan War IMDB

Satan War Wiki