Saturday, February 27, 2010

Fi' Dolla' Show! Night of the Living Dead (1990)


Greetings, ghouls. Today I'm introducing a new feature here at the Toolshed. Fi' Dolla' Shows! Cheapy-cheap DVDs I found at Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon, etc. First up: Night of the Living Dead (1990) directed by Tom Savini.

Regular readers of the Toolshed (both of you) know I'm not averse to remakes in general. Advances in filmaking tech or the chance to introduce a classic staple of the horror genre to a new generation are worthy reasons to film remakes. If done with respect to the original, I say bring 'em on. My chief peeve with the rash of remakes Hollywood is generating ad nauseum these days is that they're simply trying to generate cash while exploiting a license languishing in their vaults. Happily, Night of the Living Dead '90 (hereafter known as NOTLD 90)falls into the first category.

NOTLD 90 took a crictical thrashing when released but has garnered more respect over the years. As well it should. I think most critics were espcially harsh simply because Mr. Savini had the audacity to be remaking a classic. What seems to be overlooked is that Savini was no iconoclast; his remake honors the original without being a shot-for-shot refilming.

Director Savini is famous for his brilliant makeup effects and practical effects as well as occasional turns in front of the camera. Mr. Savini knows the genre and genuine affection shows in his directorial debut. NOTLD 90 features a familiar cast of horror favorites, including Bill Moseley (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and most everything Rob Zombie puts on film) and Tony Todd (of Candyman fame) as the iconic Ben. I was also very impressed with Patricia Tallman's Barbara. Possibly the best feature of NOTLD 90 was the re-imagining of Barbara as an alpha-female personality.
Ms. Tallman ably goes from shocked and bewildered to can-do over the course of the film. I may be cursed by the horror fanbase at large for saying this but Judith O'Dea's Barbara in the original bored me to tears. She was a one-note character.

Of course, anything associated with Tom Savini is going to have top-notch makeup effects and though NOTLD 90 has been eclipsed by twenty years of innovations, the zombies are still grody enough to pass muster. I was a little surprised by the restraint on the gore quotient, however. I would've thought a Savini-helmed Night would feature blood by the buckets.

The supporting cast, for the most part, turned in a competent though not stellar performance. Tom Towles, for example, as the sleazy Harry Cooper seemed to fall short of being sleazy enough. William Butler (Tommy) and Katie Finneran (Judy Rose) were earnest and well meaning but just not ENOUGH. To be blunt, I didn't care all that much when they were killed when I was supposed to be shocked.

And that is NOTLD 90's failing. Mr. Savini's remake is competent but didn't really reach for the notoriety of the original. Of course, it's harder to shock us these days, and who doesn't know the well-worn plot Mr. Savini tried to tell the story with? Simply put, if you're going to remake a classic, you gotta give us something new to be amazed over. NOTLD 90 doesn't give us anything that George Romero or Lucio Fulci hasn't shown us already. Hell, even Dan O'Briens Return of the Living Dead gave us fast zombies.

Still, Tom Savini's directorial debut shouldn't have been as lambasted as it was. NOTLD 90 has it's heart in the right place, if nothing else and it was fun viewing. Although I couldn't say that I was emotionally invested in any of the characters it was still worth the $5 I gave Wal-Mart.

Final verdict? NOTLD 90 has some great zombies and is a fun, if overly familiar, flick. Nothing special but deserves a viewing or two.

Toolshed gives it 6.5/10 shrieking bonesaws.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lo (2009)


Quick! Go to your Netflix account and find Lo on instant viewing! What? You don't have a Netflix account? Grrrrrr! Okay, go get a trial account and watch Lo. Then come back and see me.

Okay, done? Wasn't that AWESOME?

I've noticed Lo for awhile but the little plot-sketch didn't blow my skirts up. Despite cool artwork on the cover, Netflix describes Lo as:

"Lovelorn Justin (Ward Roberts) sees his life change for the better when quirky April (Sarah Lassez) lands in the middle of it. When she's abruptly kidnapped by a band of demons, Justin sets out to rescue her, with the help of the hellion Lo (Jeremiah Birkett), who has an agenda of his own. Hell, musical demons and oversized rats complicate the path to love in writer-director Travis Betz's horror-comedy hybrid.

A musical horror romantic comedy? No thank you. I only have room in my life for one and that's Rocky Horror. Still, despite much misgivings I was bored so I bit. So glad I did.

Lo opens with Justin calling forth the demon Lo using a mysterious book (which looks pretty familiar to horror fans) belonging to girlfriend April. I've gotta tell you I lost all doubts after Lo's creepy appearance.

To put it mildly, Lo isn't too interested in helping Justin rescue April. In fact, he begins to refer to Justin as "Dinner" as soon as he shows up. Nonetheless, the power of the summoning spell obliges Lo to help. It just doesn't make him any easier to deal with. Malice oozes from Lo's every word.

WARNING! Major Spoiler Ahead! Although if you haven't watched Lo yet, despite my entreaties above, let it be on your head!

In a series of vignettes drawn from Justin's memory, Lo introduces the viewer to Justin's "quirky" girlfriend, April. And quirky she certainly is. Mysterious, paranoid and ignorant of almost every facet of human society would also describe April. It didn't take me long to realize just why April is so "quirky".

Yes, she's a demon. A special demon with a human heart. Or at least a partly human heart. And therein hangs the tale.

To reveal any more really would ruin the movie but I do have a few viewpoints I'd like to throw out.

Lo is written and performed as though it were a "bare-stage" play. I'd really love to see Lo performed on stage and I think, with a few tweaks, it easily could. Writer/Director Travis Betz obviously worked with a miniscule budget but spent the money where it counted: accomplished actors and effective makeup. Jerimiah Birkett's turn as the demon was wicked, malicious and ultimately poignant.

So, was there anything I didn't like about Lo? Honestly, the musical interludes were lost on me. I did appreciate the whimsical touch of a demon advancing the plot as part of a diabolical '50s rockabilly song, but it seemed a bit overlong.

But, other than that minor peeve, I was cheerfully surprised by Lo. See it!

Toolshed verdict? 9/10 gore-smeared pitchforks.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Albino Farm (2009)

albino farm2

Okay, stop me if you've heard this one before. A group of college students/Abercrombie & Fitch models, whilst researching for a paper on rural culture, run afoul of a clan of inbred cannibalistic hillbilly mutants. One by one, they're picked off until only the most likeable of the women are left. Of course, she's driven crazy by the experience.

Now I realize that I've spoiled the ending of Albino Farm for you but no self-respecting horror fan of note couldn't spot that ending a mile away. Hell, I knew who would die and in what order ten minutes in. We've all seen this movie before, the characters and plot-beats as familiar to us as family. With that caveat in mind, is Albino Farm a bad movie? And is it so bad it's good? Or is it just meh?

Albino Farm has it's bright spots. First and foremost, the makeup effects by Industrial Monster and Props/Jason Barnett are inventive and disturbing. Looking for the next generation's Savini or Baker? Look no further. I give you exhibit A:

albino farm 2

Of course, this is the tip of the iceberg. Fans of creative monster design will LOVE this film.

So is there anything else? I was abashed to discover wrestler Chris Jericho ("Levi") could turn in such a creditable performance. So call me a snob, I assumed he was cast as a novelty. Honestly, though, Jericho's sordid, twitching hillbilly was so realistic I began to wonder about his personal life. (Just kidding, Mr. Jericho, please don't beat me to a pulp.)

Aside from these gems, that's about all to recommend Albino Farm. The well-worn plot was directed in a distinctly workmanlike way by the directing team of Joe Anderson and Sean McEwen. The balance of the cast were forgettable and the dialogue was pretty hacky. I was also very distracted by the choppy editing in the last act. Rushing to make a release date, Albino Farm? Gore quotient was fairly restrained and skin shots were almost non-existent (with the exception of one lingering topless shot of the beta female's body double).

Having said all that, I can't find it within myself to completely condemn Albino Farm. For all it's faults, Albino Farm is not the worst example of "backwoods mutants terrorize pretty people" out there (>cough,cough, Wrong Turn 3, cough<). Folks, if you are seriously jonesing for great makeup effects and have 90 minutes to kill, you could do a lot worse.

Toolshed verdict? 4/10 hayseed chromosomes.

Brighter and better things next time, fear fans. Check out Lo (2009) and wait for me to gush about it next time!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mr. Andy, why you no post?

Hello blood fiends! Just want to set ya'll straight (both of you) on the score. Pretty much the past week or so has been the perfect storm o' crap. Firstly, my computer died and I'm living on my laptop (made by the good folks at the Etchasketch corporation). Secondly, I'm working different hours at work, which while that's cool and all, comes with a lot of overtime both voluntary and involuntary. And lastly, I just haven't had time to catch any new flicks or book-type thingys. Oh, sure, I saw The Other Side (kickass!) and Altered (kickass!) and re-read From a Buick 8 (sorta, kinda kickass, of the semi-lame variety), but I also saw Carnage the Destroyer, which has deeply damaged my faith in the universe.

So, until my real internets box is back up and running and I catch up on some zzzz's I'm gonna be out for a bits. Not to fret homies, if I have to resort to this lame-o laptop, that's what I'll have to do!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Motel Hell (1980)

motel hell Pictures, Images and Photos

Ah, what can we say about Motel Hell that hasn't been said a million times by a million other blood-fiends? Probably not much but that hasn't stopped me so far. Released in 1980, Motel Hell kicked off the decade with a wicked bang. Like that of a beartrap, bursting a tire. But before we get ahead of ourselves, a little synopsis for the uninitiated.

"Sometimes I wonder about the karmic implications of these actions." Right you should, Farmer Vincent. It seems Farmer Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun) is famous in local parts for his fine smoked meats made from the best select cuts he can find. And where does he find them? Why, they're just victims of the highway accidents he causes nightly.

Vincent and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) are rural psychopath cannibals in the time-hallowed tradition of B-cinema. But Vincent isn't all kill-crazy entrepeneur. In fact, as the movie opens, he finds a warm spot for Terry (Nina Axelrod), his latest victim. Dazed by the "accident", Terry is taken in by Vincent and Ida. As time passes, she finds herself attracted to Vincent's gentle charm.

Of course, she hasn't seen Vincent's "secret garden". In order to prepare his "animals" (read "captives") for slaughter, Vincent slices their vocal cords and buries them in the ground up to their necks! Look for John Rattzeberger as one of Vincent's cutlets-to-be. Wolfman Jack also has a too brief role, mostly wasted, as a greedy, horny televangelist.

Motel Hell's heart is in the right place but I can't recommend it too highly. A semi-spoof of slashers, the gore quotient is actually pretty low. There are a few nude scenes but are pretty quickly gone. The humor strikes the right chord but is aimed specifically at horror fans. Viewers without an appreciation of B-cinema will probably miss the point entirely.

Still, Motel Hell is definitely worth dragging out and dusting off on occasion. Toolshed verdict? 6 1/2 meat-cleavers, dripping Vincent's "secret spices"!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Spider Baby (1968)

spider baby

Spider Baby (aka Cannibal Orgy or the Maddest Story Ever Told) is a classic of black-comedy cinema! Writer/Director Jack Hill's 1963 low-budget film is something of an "Addams Family"/Psycho/Rocky Horror with a touch of Lovecraft. But before we dig in to Spider Baby, first a synopsis.

Pity the poor Merrye Clan. Due to a degenerative brain disease brought on by inbreeding, the unfortunate members of the family gradually regress down the evolutionary ladder during puberty. Eventually, the disease causes the afflicted to become raving cannibals.The trio of remaining siblings dwell in the ancient homestead, lovingly cared for by Bruno (LON CHANEY freakin' JR!) the family chaffeur. The eldest of the trio is Ralph, mute and borderline functional as played by none other than SID freakin' HAIG! Younger sister Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) relishes her role as the domineering sibling. And lastly we have Virginia (Jill Banner), the "spider baby" of the title. Seductive, curious, homicidal and quite mad, she adores arachnids though this doesn't stop her from occasionally eating one.

Into the Merrye's parlour come creeping two distant relatives, "Uncle" Peter (Quinn Redeker) and "Aunt" Emily (Carol Ohmart), eager to banish poor Bruno and claim the ancestral manse (and attendant wealth) "for the good of the children". Also in tow are Emily's lawyer, the boorish Schlocker (Karl Schanzer) and secretary Ann (Mary Mitchel). Although repulsed by the children and the state of the mansion, Emily and Schlocker quickly impose on Bruno and the children and invite themselves to dinner. And what a dinner it is!

To go any further would be to give too much away. You'll simply have to see this film for yourselves. Horror film fiends will not be disappointed.

Made for about $65000 and shot over a week, Spider Baby is still wonderfully rewarding. There are simply too many good points to list with this film. Even the opening credits have a lovely wicked theme sung by Mr. Chaney! All of the actors seem to have had huge fun performing and it shows. But Miss Banner will simply blow you away with her performance.

spider baby 2

Jack Hill is one of Roger Corman's many protoges and went on to direct several classic explotation films of the 1970's inclucing Coffy, Foxy Brown and Switchblade Sisters. Apparently, legal troubles prevented him from releasing Spider Baby for five years after filming and poor marketing kept in from becoming more recognized than it has been.

Obviously, Spider Baby has given me a warm fuzzy and I'm very glad I found this film on Netflix instant viewing. Trust me, I'll be checking Amazon or E-Bay for a copy.

Toolshed verdict? It's a TEN baby! Ten wrapped up bugs in a wonderfully creepy web!

Monday, February 1, 2010

[REC] 2007


Young TV reporter Angela (cutie-pie Manuela Velasco) and her unseen cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) spend the night with a Barcelona fire station, filming for their show "While You Are Asleep". While responding to a call at an apartment building, two firefighters, Angela and Pablo find the police trying to speak to an elderly woman inside. The woman attacks a policeman and one of the firefighters, badly wounding them before she is shot and killed. As the remaining policeman trys to calm down the building's residents, the entire building is suddenly quarantined by the government. No one is allowed out due to an unspecified "biological hazard". When the "dead" old woman and critically injured people turn viciously violent, the remaining people inside find themselves slowly being cornered and slaughtered.

I loved [Rec]. While it is an example of "shaky cam" cinema, I've never had a problem with that. The "suspension of disbelief" comes much easier for me with the hand-cam likes of Cloverfield, Blair Witch and the like. But I think even detractors of those kind of movies will like [Rec].

The movie is a bit slow at the beginning but builds a claustrophobic suspense later. Despite the fantastic premise, I found myself "believing" [Rec]. Clocking in at about 85 minutes, the movie doesn't have much time to develope the characters but I still identified with the terrified residents and wondering how I would deal with the situation.

So, is [Rec] a perfect horror movie? Well, no, not perfect. A few tired old cliches are still dragged out and whle the jump scares were effective, they were still just jump scares. And while the penultimate scene is novel (and the final "monster"-wow!), the last few frames are very predictable.

[Rec] was followed by a sequel, [Rec]2 in 2009. Additionally, an American version, Quarantine, was released in 2008. Quarantine is available on Netflix instant-view

I haven't seen [Rec]2 yet and I have heard it's not even close to the original for scary viewing. Still, I'll probably check it out based on the strength of the original. I can't say much about Quarantine althought I have scanned through it quickly. Seems to be a shot-for-shot remake of [Rec] though I really haven't watched completely. So, until I give it an honest shot, the jury is still out.

Toolshed's verdict? [Rec] recieves 8 1/2 shaky-cams.

Up next? Spider Baby (1968), featuring a very young Sid Haig! Also available on Netflix instant-view, check it out and let me know what you think.