Friday, November 22

Some quick thoughts on Dead in Tombstone (2013)


Betrayed and brutally slain by his own outlaw gang over control of a town, Guerrero (Danny Trejo) descends into Hades for his sins, but strikes a deal with Satan (Mickey Rourke) to trade the six souls of his murderers to save his own from damnation. Resurrected yet very much mortal, the black angel digs himself forth from his earthen tomb to exact vengeance, but he only has twenty-four hours to kill 'em all...

Before tearing into this dog, I must thank the kind folks over at HorrorTalk.com for the opportunity to win this Blu-ray combo. Upon receiving it a few days ago I was at first was baffled before realizing I had entered their contest! You'll soon see that my review isn't colored from the pleasant surprise of actually winning something for once.

Danny Trejo in an action "horror western" was an inevitability, but the Western genre is deceptively complex. To produce even a "decent" example a convincing drama needs to be constructed around punctuated violence. The screenplay, penned by the duo behind the awful killer clown slasher Drive Thru (2007), instead strings along action sequences with scattered bits of shallow exposition. In that respect, Dead in Tombstone succeeds and shows how well a measly five million dollars, and major studio backing, can be utilized. The Deadwood aesthetic is in full effect with a western town backlot and actors drenched in that unnatural "readymade rustic" grit. Frenzied editing hampers most nuance of the camerawork, but the sound design is extremely impressive and the film never once sounds its low cost.

Trejo seems well aware he can phone-in these DTVers with his now widely recognized marquee and unique badass visage. So the veteran actor doesn't even try beyond mumbling one-liners with his more expressive lines coming off totally unbelievable. Hearing him act surprised at his gang's betrayal or the realization he's in Hell actually provokes chuckles. He's definitely no Bronson.

The supporting cast is sketchy as well with Mickey Rourke lumbering along looking like he's given up on himself in a boring turn as Beelzebub. Anthony Michael Hall appears as the gang's new leader responsible for Guerrero's murder, and while not given much, his grizzled performance makes one wish he were in Trejo's role instead. Dina Meyer, the only actress to appear besides some background boobs, provides a thankless performance as a shorn woman out to avenge the murder of her husband at the gang's hands.

Finally, there's a few weird odds-and-ends like the story never making the effort at a redemption arch for Guerrero. He's just a nicer shade of scumbag that instructs his gang to limit collateral damage. Nice guy, eh? Satan is apparently a dumb yet trustworthy emperor of the damned, failing to realize the gang's souls are already condemned before making the deal and ultimately granting Guerrero's life back.

The film makes a point of showing us Guerrero's dual three-barreled engraved revolvers (pictured), but we only see him use a single Smith & Wesson Model 586. A revolver of precisely machined parts introduced over a hundred years (1981) after this film's depicted time. Way to go, prop master. Also unexplained is Rourke obviously being dubbed by a voice actor for the entire scene of Satan's deal with Guerrero, only for his natural voice to appear in later scenes.

Unless you're a Trejo diehard or hate Westerns, it's safe to pass on this made-for-Redbox quickie. Although billed as a "horror western", the only thing horrifying is how much of a wasted opportunity this represents. More consideration toward Guerrero's internal plight and maybe even a lack of Trejo as lead could have resulted in one of the best low budget Westerns in years. Instead Dead in Tombstone feels spearheaded by a pair who believe gunfights and explosions are the only thing the genre is good for.

Sunday, November 17

Some quick thoughts on All Hallows' Eve (2013)


A young babysitter (Katie Maguire) on Halloween discovers an unlabeled VHS slipped into one of the kid's trick or treat bags. Hesitant to watch, the contents are reveled to be a horror movie of several stories involving a terrifying clown, but the more she watches the more an intense sense of something unwanted lurking about permeates the house.

Built around two of writer/director Damien Leone's prior shorts, The 9th Circle (2008) and Terrifier (2011), his debut feature All Hallows' Eve might prove the anthology the wisest approach for agreeable indie horror. This kind of storytelling's resurgence in the genre could be indicative of filmmakers realizing the advantages of the format especially when tackling projects on a shoestring. Everything can be streamlined to save precious money, and to the benefit of the viewer, if a particular tale gets stale just wait a few minutes and another will begin.

Although All Hallows' Eve is a bit different since Leone had the ingenious idea of mining a feature through the use of his two already completed shorts. The babysitter wraparound and sci-fi tinged second story are new with the shorts respectively serving as the first and third. Without giving anything away, all three stories are straightforward with understandably little involvement with the wraparound. Due to the meager budget, everything moves with brevity so it's not advised to expect the second coming of Trick 'r Treat (2007). Even Steve Sessions' ultra cheap Cremains (2001) exhibits a greater degree of creativity in each of its yarns. That's not to say they're bad, just nothing new done well enough to hold interest with a surprisingly effective score by new retro wave artist Noir Deco (listen here).  

However, the one constant, Art the Clown (Mike Giannelli), is terrifying. Leone, who also provided the make-up effects, gives the character gaunt, almost alien-like features while Giannelli's silently gleeful performance imparts the murderous force with much untapped potential. The swiftness of this anthology helps the character only become scarier as there's zero hint of his origins or reasoning behind his methodology. Sure, there's quite a few psycho clowns roaming the horror landscape ever since Pennywise left his mark, with most being awful, but you'll be left wanting as the credits roll.

That's ultimately a nagging aspect to All Hallows' Eve, it's like a test run by a filmmaker ironing out the kinks of venturing into his first feature. That's not a slight, Leone clearly shows an ability to stage frightening sequences along with building atmosphere and Art the Clown has the legs to perhaps become a recognized future slasher figure. Thankfully, according this interview over at HorrorTalk.com, Leone is planning a conventional sequel with a focus on Art. Given this film has landed on Wal Mart shelves, it'll receive a fair amount of undeserved criticism from such exposure, but if you want to experience a burgeoning talent and his creation that could both go somewhere in the genre give this one the time, preferably after midnight.

Friday, November 15

Halloween's 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Has Shed That Damn Cardboard!

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This might seem like a small detail, but I knew I'd pass upon finding out Anchor Bay's recent 35th Anniversary Halloween (1978) Blu-ray came packaged in a cardboard digi-pak that housed the disc in a freakin' envelope. Blu-ray does have a hardcoat meant to resist scratching (and protect an incredibly sensitive data layer), but after years of collecting the DVD format, I still get antsy over the prospect of disc contact. Inevitably the disc will receive a degree of wear, especially over repeated viewings if slipped in and out of its sleeve. Not to mention every copy I spotted in-store had dings to the cardboard.  

So this regular Amaray case release stuck to my hand until bagged when spotted at Best Buy today. There's an identical steelbook edition released by Anchor Bay in the United Kingdom; however, I personally don't care much about going out of the way to collect esoteric and rare BDs. This standard case release also might indicate the digi-pak being a limited run, so if you're a collector snatch one up soon. It may not be as eye-catching, but I'm glad to slip it next to the slew of other releases of this classic in my collection.              

Wednesday, November 13

Some quick thoughts on Fallen Angels (2006)

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IMDB synopsis since it's apparently written by the director: "When a turn of the century prison is slated for demolition, a grisly discovery is made. Hidden deep beneath the west cell block is a structure that has not been entered in 100 years. Inside are the skeletal remains of brutally slain children. As a CSI team arrives at the prison, an even more disturbing discovery is made that will unveil a legion of seven demons, each responsible for one of the seven deadly sins."

Ever since seeing Jeff Thomas's 13 Seconds (2003, review here), his unfairly maligned debut; I've wanted to review his second feature, Fallen Angels. Truth is, I bought the DVD soon after writing that old review, and literally fell asleep in the middle of watching. Nothing like endless dialogue to kill a horror all-nighter.

If only the little plot outline above were that simple. There's a big slug of exposition marbled throughout that makes the experience a real grind. That's not to say cheap horror shouldn't reach for depth, but all the boring conversation never leads anywhere as you squirm in your seat. Given the budgetary strain this production plainly exhibits, like some of the primary characters never interacting directly, frivolous details like a missing girl, a mysterious eighth demon, a string of ritualistic murders, and the lead detective's loss of faith were added just pad to ninety minutes.

Despite being a failure, it's still strangely interesting for its parade of familiar cult faces (check out the impressive cast list). Although most of those actors only pop in for a few brief moments. That is except for Michael Dorn and Bill Moseley who get a little more time to talk (and talk) as fellow detectives on the case. Dorn and his powerful voice seem to be composing a showreel for a future stint in a police procedural. Moseley instead does his best and manages to have one of the more memorable scenes that echos the "ball scene" from The Changeling (1980).

Alone in the prison, Moseley is seen leafing through some crude satanic illustrations when suddenly one depicting a demon waving flutters into his lap from above. He crumples it up and tosses it into a corner, but a few seconds later the same drawing again floats down from nothing. Looking over he sees the piece he just discarded missing and promptly gets up to leave with a perfectly said "time to go". Kevin McCarthy and David Hess also both provide well-delivered monologues on Christian theology. Which is eerie considering their deaths a few short years later. Reggie Bannister shows up with shades of the sly Reggie from the Phantasm series that lead his police officer to slaughter by a demon representing Lust.

Aside from the recognizable cast, Thomas exhibits a nice handle on staging creepy sequences but the story is sleep-inducing as told. Direction also flounders with many claustrophobic close-ups of actors talking with a slow motorized zoom. This very abused effect, that I assume was meant to impart tension, becomes extremely irritating. From these problems, the entire film feels compartmentalized, as if shot in bits at different times around actor schedules, and like 13 Seconds too much talk bogs things into boredom. Maybe the core issue is such specialized casting taking away funds from other more important aspects? It's great to see these actors get work, but was it worth the expense of the movie's basic entertainment value?

Finally, concerning Fallen Angels' preachy religious message, it's interesting Thomas's latest feature appears to be an unabashed Christian drama. So this could mark his final horror film and might be unique to the genre for having such positive outlook on faith. The first Christian gore flick (discounting Mel's Passion). A few years ago Thomas promised a new director's cut, but I can't find any mentions now. As it stands, I'd choose 13 Seconds as the recommendation, but don't blame me if you instead choose Fallen Angels and fall asleep with the TV on.

Thursday, November 7

Some quick thoughts on The Executioner, Part II (1984)


Bad movies are great, except when they're actually bad, and James Bryan's Executioner Part II is definitely that. Snapping into the very definition of "z-grade", this cobbled together mess was fashioned purely as an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of James Glickenhaus' The Exterminator (1980). It's a feat unto itself something so shitty could come from an ultra cheap melding of that rough-hewn exploiter and Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976).

Christopher Mitchum, one of the sons of the infinitely more famous Robert Mitchum, "stars" as a detective on the case of a mysterious assailant in army fatigues and black mask brutally murdering street thugs by kicking the shit out of them and then stuffing live grenades down their pants. Meanwhile, a frumpy young virgin drawn into prostitution out of drug addiction eventually crosses paths with the Executioner's bodycount. Mitchum finally discovers the vigilante is an old 'Nam buddy that once saved his life, but is that enough not to bring him in? (queue the big still on the back cover for an obvious clue)

Okay, that sounds way better than this actual endurance test. Looking over the also-ran Mitchum's filmographyExecutioner II marks the exact point where his screen career was shot in the face. He could have literally instead stared at a wall for what his character adds to the story. More interesting is a declining, skin-like-glazed-ham Aldo Ray during his glorious acting twilight. The once immensely popular and talented actor known for his war pictures shows up for a couple scenes, fumbles all over flustered lines, and uncomfortably sweats in every shot. Non-actor Antoine John Mottet as the flashback nutter dispatching gang members turns in the "best" performance, but it's drowned out by the dubbing. In fact, except for a scant few scenes, the entire movie is laughably dubbed over.

Still, there might be a few morsels if you're a diehard (and thoroughly drunk) trash fanatic. The grenade kills consist of a sloppy cutaway to a stock explosion filling the frame...in widescreen(?!?). A female reporter that keeps hounding Mitchum has one of the worst Germanic accents in film history. White gang members sporting bandanas showing their total disregard for authority by being loud and hopping off walls. Terrible fistfights scored to swingin' porn music. A strange and total lack of nudity. Or an inept Taxi Driver-riffed climax of the Executioner saving the homely girl from imminent deflowering.

Otherwise, stay away if you want to save seventy-eight (or eighty-six) minutes of your life. Director James Bryan, best known for Don't Go in the Woods (1981), exhibits no zeal despite the fun that could have been mined from such a cheap piece of crap. Overall, The Executioner, Part II is something you'd stop watching after twenty minutes if made today, but being from '84 and landlocked on VHS, you'll watch twenty minutes and then slam Fast Forward out of desperation. If you're still interested, Continental Video cut the movie down to seventy-eight minutes for their double feature big box VHS paired with an also chopped down Frozen Scream (1975). The scarce Japanese VHS above from MiMi Video presents the presumably uncut eighty-six minute version, only prolonging the head pain.

Saturday, November 2

Code Red's Just Before Dawn (1981) Blu-ray is up for Pre-order

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Update: That was quick, this and their Voices from Beyond (1991) Blu-ray have begun shipping!

Code Red DVD have decided to dip their toe into the Blu with Jeff Lieberman's great heyday slasher Just Before Dawn. Unlike the old Shriek Show SE with quite a number of edits, the 1.78:1 widescreen presentation is promised to be uncut for the first time on stateside digital disc. Also included will be an international extended version which I'm assuming might be the longer cut previously found on the now scarce British Odeon Entertainment DVD.

No word yet on whether both versions will be presented in high definition. CR's limited Blu-ray is available for pre-order here with a tentative date of "when it's finished". It's still unclear how many copies this release will be limited to, but a single press run is usually about three thousand. As always support Code Red (they're basically just one guy), and I'm sure this release will live up to expectations, fingers crossed!

Five friends set out for a weekend camping excursion, to drink, frolic and skinny-dip on an isolated piece of land one of them has inherited. Despite ominous warnings from local forest ranger (GEORGE KENNEDY, AIRPORT, DEATHSHIP), strange backwoods families, and a hollering drunken hunter (Mike Kellin, SLEEPAWAY CAMP) claiming to have witnessed his friend’s evisceration by the hands of "Demons", they trek further into the foliage.

Beautifully shot, extremely eerie, and with a horrifying twist that will make you wonder...Will any of them survive those dark hours Just Before Dawn? Starring Gregg Henry (MEAN DOG BLUES, RICH MAN POOR MAN), Deborah Benson (SEPTEMBER 30, 1955), Jamie Rose (TV's LADY BLUE), Chris Lemmon (TV's THUNDER IN PARADISE), and Ralph Seymour (UNDERGROUND ACES). CODE RED proudly presents JUST BEFORE DAWN painstakingly restored from the original 35mm internegative.


...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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