Movie Review: SONS OF HERCULES In The Land Of Darkness

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sons of herculesEmbasy Pictures
1964
NR

“Tomorrow, in the arena, you will be torn into pieces by my elephants.”

Okay, so, stay with me as I try to go through trying to explain this one to you all. I might fail spectacularly, but that’s just part of the fun. So, there was this syndicated television series in the 1960s that was known as The Sons Of Hercules that were essentially repackaged sword-and-sandal films made in Italy. As to be expected, the original movies really had little to do with either Hercules or his sons, but they were gathered together, given opening and closing themes and narration to tie things into either the Greek demigod or any one of his sons, even if said movie they were chopping up had nothing to do with either.

In the case of the serial “In The Land Of Darkness”, this originally started life as the Italian movie Hercules The invincible, yet for whatever reason this American redux refers to the lead as Argolese. After getting past the theme song, where we’re informed that these progeny of the Greek demigod “were man as men could be”, despite wearing what looks like a miniskirt, and some voice-over narration, we meet up with Argolese, who immediately saves a damsel from a lion attack. The lady happens to be the daughter of King Tedaeo, who offers her hand in marriage to Argolese, if he could bring back the tooth of a dragon. You would have thought saving her from becoming lion chow would have been enough, but no, he has to sweeten the pot a bit. After acquiring a spear from a witch that will kill the dragon — with the witch wanting the same tooth as compensation — Argo fights the dragon, but then learns that the denizens of the village of his betrothed have been taken prisoner by the hordes of Demulus, a tribe that has a nasty habit of eating the hearts of their prisoners. So, Argo and a sidekick “comedy relief” by the name of Babar are off to save everyone. Will we be able to pay attention long enough to see if Argo is successful? That’s the question of the ages, folks…

So, this being an Italian film repackaged as an American television serial, Sons Of Hercules In The Land Of Darkness hits all the classic Bad Movie beats that makes this rather enjoyable in the way that I’m sure the movie producers weren’t going for: cheep budget, so much hammy acting, bad voiceover dubs, even worse wardrobe choices, etc. I will give the movie this: At least they utilized a real lion for the opening action scene. Sure, you knew that Argo would win, but still, I really was rooting for that lion.

Overall, Sons Of Hercules In the Land Of Darkness is cheesy bad in the kind-of-good sort of way. I should point out that I was only made aware of these repurposed serials by way of Rifftrax, having watched this riffed edition. And I still found myself laughing at points that had nothing to do with the riffs going on. Recommended in that this has to be seen to be believed.

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Movie Review: POLTERGEIST

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poltergeistMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
1982
R

“It lies to her. It tells her things only a child can understand. It has been using her to restrain the others. To her, it simply is another child. To us, it is The Beast.”

Years – decades, even – before this recent glut of crappy “haunting” movies started clogging up the horror section at the video stores, there was this nifty little haunted house / malevolent spirits movie that managed to scare the earwax out of everyone who watched it much more effectively than any of those so-called “based on a true story” movies we’re getting nowadays. And, they did so with just a PG rating, if you can believe that.

In Poltergeist, Steven and Diane Freeling are a happy, successful American married couple, raising three children in their new planned community home in California. Steven is a real estate developer, and everything is just hunky-dory…until one night their youngest child, Carol Anne, starts acting a bit odd. She awakens at night to hold conversations with the static on their television, to which she utters her famous line, “They’re here.” The next day, even more weird stuff starts happening in the house: glasses break suddenly, silverware bends, and chairs and other random bits of furniture move around on their own. And then the tree tries to eat their middle child, while Carol Anne is sucked inside a portal in her bedroom closet. A bunch of parapsychologists from the nearby college are called in, where they determine it’s not one apparition, but a bunch of them. That’s when Steven discovers that the housing development was built upon a cemetery where only the headstones were moved, not the bodies. Lovely. I think that’s Rule #1 from the How Not To Get A Haunted House handbook, “Don’t Build On A Cemetery”. Anyway, they then call in the medium (spiritualist medium, not a dig at her physical stature) Tangia Barrons, who proceeds to succeed in getting Carol Anne back, but not until after a bunch of weird, mind-bendy things happen. After everything is declared “clean”, the family starts packing things up to move, but then the demon that started all of the wackiness tries for a second kidnapping, resulting in the infamous scene that kick-started several generations of fearing clowns and clown dolls…and dolls in general. *shiver* As the family struggles to escape, skeletons and coffins begin erupting out from the ground everywhere, and the family makes it out and away before the house is sucked into the portal inside the closet. The end…until the sequel, that is.

The original 1982 Poltergeist is a classic in horror movie making. The reason behind this lies in the fact that Steven Spielberg – who had already floored audiences with Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and E. T., among others – had a hand in the overall story and writing the screenplay, not to mention producing the thing. Sure, Tobe Hooper directed the thing, but let’s face it: Poltergeist is a Steven Spielberg horror flick from when he was at his peak.

What more can I say, really, that hasn’t already been said about the movie? It’s one that gets shown periodically in Uncle NecRo’s movie dungeon, and still holds up. The effects are still effective, with several that still evoke nightmare fuel. This movie is the reason I still don’t like to clean under my bed, well into adulthood.

Poltergeist is a classic. Forget about the remake, that one doesn’t exist in my reality. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, check it out. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: JASON GOES TO HELL

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jason goes to hellDimension
1993
R

“We’re going to Camp Crystal Lake.”
“Oh, yeah? Planning on smoking a little dope, having a little premarital sex and getting slaughtered?”

Quick, what do you get when you make a Friday The 13th movie without Jason? If you said, “Part V: A New Beginning,” well…you’d be right. And also, not paying attention to the title of the review, here.

Jason Goes To Hell was not a real good entry in the overall Friday The 13th franchise. It’s remembered as a major trip-up, probably the most infamous of them all, and yes I’m including Jason X in with this. See, after Part VIII (the one where Jason takes a boat ride) in 1989, Paramount sold its property to Dimension, home of contemporaries Nightmare On Elm Street and Hellraiser series. Even though Paramount still held onto the rights to the title Friday The 13th (hence titling this merely Jason Goes To Hell), things looked promising — not only did Jason find a home with Freddy and Pinhead, but also a new movie was immediately put into production, one that was going to be helmed by guys who were a couple of fans who grew up on the iconic slasher series. Things were looking up from the perspective of us horror geeks.

And then the movie finally came out, leaving fanboys everywhere scratching their heads as to what the heck happened to our beloved series.

We begin with Jason Voorhees doing what he does best: chasing a neekid young lady around Camp Crystal Lake. It’s soon revealed that the neekid young lady was merely bait to lure the infamous slasher into a trap set by FBI, which takes him out by blowing him to bits by way of air strike. After effectively getting the only good part of the movie out of the way immediately, what’s left of Jason is sent to a morgue, where his still-beating heart is consumed by the coroner, because he was possessed by it. You heard me. Coroner-Jason goes off to do some more killin’, while a bounty hunter is trying to find members of Jason’s family bloodline, because apparently only member’s of Jason’s family can kill him, and also if Jason possesses a family member, he can become reborn back into the nigh-invincible killer zombie and continue his ongoing death spree. The bounty hunter finds Jason’s half-sister Diana, his niece Jessica, and Jessica’s infant daughter Stephanie, which makes Jason a Great-Uncle, I guess? Anyway, Jason shows up, kills Diana, but is fought off by Jessica’s ex-boyfriend / father of Stephanie, Steven. Steven is blamed for the murder, Jessica’s current television reporter boyfriend is trying to exploit the situation for ratings purposes, Jason is possessing people left and right, Jessica doesn’t believe Steven, but then does when Jason kills off everyone is the police station, other stuff happens, and then the final showdown happens at the old Voorhees house where a “mystical dagger” that’s totally from Evil Dead 2 is used to off Jason, but not until he’s finally reborn as he wanted, in a very, very disturbing and literal way. Then souls are released from Jason’s torso, and demon hands pull Jason to hell. Then Freddy’s glove takes down his hockey mask. The end.

Jason Goes To Hell is just a confusing mess. To be fair, this isn’t the first time the series hasn’t made sense — least we forget the telekinetic angle in Part VII — and one could argue that the Friday The 13th series jumped the shark long before this one — I maintain it did so twice, with Part V and Part VIII — but here, they really messed with the recipe to the point where I began to wonder if they just greenlit a 13-year-old’s fan fic and went with it.

I get wanting to go in bold new story directions, but Jason Goes To Hell lost sight of the core of the series, and Jason in general. Body possession by wormy homunculus-like critters from Jason’s still-beating heart to be reborn from another Voorhees? I…can’t even. Add to this the incredibly dull 3/4 after the admittedly cooler opening where they blow Jason up with an air strike, the pointless inclusion of the Kandarian Dagger from the Evil Dead franchise, by the time the famous stinger of Freddy’s glove pulling Jason’s mask down into the ground at the end, I was groaning in sadness and anger. Also, Jason doesn’t really go to hell during any part of the movie.

If you, like myself and my long-suffering heterosexual lifemate Nex did all those years ago, you want to watch all of the Friday The 13th movies in order, take my advice: You can skip Jason Goes To Hell. There’s no need to do so. Do yourself a favor and pass this up.

Yeah, you’re probably not going to be following my advice, are you? Eh, whatever. The pain killers are in the cabinet.

Movie Review: BIG TOP PEE WEE

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big top pee weeParamount
1988
PG

“I call it…the hot dog tree, because…it’s a hot dog tree.”

 

The sequel to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure has a different distributor studio (Paramount), a different director (Randal Kleiser), and a different dynamic than the first movie. As a matter of fact, “sequel” seems the wrong word to use. Perhaps “follow-up”, or “second movie starring Pee Wee Herman” would make better sense. After all, Big Top Pee Wee is an all together different, original story that references nothing of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. So let’s go with that.

When Big Top Pee Wee was first released, I didn’t get the chance to catch it on the big screen at first. I did manage to catch it as a weekend matinee summer special showing during the summer of 1989, but I missed the last 10 minutes or so, because whoever set the projector timer was a bit short on the length. Soon thereafter, though, we just bought the VHS copy to own, so that was remedied. Anyway…

After a Hard Day’s Night-inspired dream sequence, we meet Pee Wee Herman, farmer and agricultural science genius, constantly coming up with innovative and rather odd ways to revolutionize the science of farming. He’s the eccentric genius who lives on a farm with his talking pig outside of a rural community full of uptight old people who disdains his audacious attempts at making things fun. He’s in a relationship with the town’s schoolteacher, one that doesn’t exactly melt the chrome off of your bumper, if you catch my drift, here. Still, he carries on, making the most of the rut he’s dealt…until one day, the circus literally blows into town after a bad storm. The circus folk tries to make the best out of a bad situation, but after being kicked out of the town for daring to bring their fun show in, they shack up at Pee-Wee’s farm to regroup. Meanwhile, Pee Wee falls smitten for the trapeze artist, which doesn’t sit well with his fiance’, as the townsfolk continue to be stuck-up jerks to the circus people. Then Pee Wee comes up with a way to bring back the childlike exuberance and sense of wonder — by turning them all back into children. That way, the circus can finally perform and everyone ends up happy. The end.

Overall, Big Top Pee Wee still retains the patented whimsical surreal and absurdist humor, and the story is pretty good, with everyone working well and bringing things together. However, I have to admit that the absence of Tim Burton’s influence is noticeable. However, that certainly hasn’t kept this from being on my frequently watched collection, along with Pee Wee’s first movie. I still throw Big Top Pee Wee on from time to time, and get lost in the whimsy and the memories of a different time.

Great, now I’m sounding like the sentimental middle-age weirdo I am.

Movie Review: BATMAN & ROBIN

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batman & robinWarner Bros.
1997
PG-13

“What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!”

So, here we are, at what is universally thought of as not only the worst Batman movie, but maybe the worst superhero movie ever made. I personally disagree with the later assertion (Catwoman? Barb Wire? Freakin’ Superman IV, anyone?); as to the previous — that this is the worst Batman movie — yes. I whole-heartedly agree that Batman & Robin is a rank pile of bat-guano. Pun intended.

Again, I watched Batman & Robin the weekend it was released. I went with my brother-from-a-different-mother Scott. We’re both aficionados of bad, cheesy movies; watching Batman & Robin was nearly our undoing. That’s right, people. I deliberately watch movies like Manborg, and this was the movie that nearly broke me back in 1997.

Here’s the rundown: Batman (now played by George Clooney) and Robin (still played by Chris O’Donnell, but sporting a costume more in keeping with Nightwing) go up against the nefarious Mr. Freeze, who’s stealing the diamonds from the Gotham natural history museum to help power up his suit needed to keep him alive. Meanwhile, at a Wayne Enterprises lab in Brazil (wow, his corporation can be found anywhere), a Dr. Isley is helping to develop the Venom drug under Dr. Woodrue (hey, shout-out to the Swamp Thing, nifty), which leads into the creation of the hulking Bane. Then Dr. Woodrue tries to kill Dr. Isley, which only results in turning her into Poison Ivy and destroying everyone and everything in the lab, except for Bane, who is essentially her muscle, escaping to Gotham to wreak havoc on Wayne Enterprises. Meanwhile meanwhile, back at stately Wayne Mannor, Alfred Pennyworth’s niece, Barbara Wilson, surprise visits. Both Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze crash a charity event attended by the Dynamic Duo, Robin starts getting all angsty with Batman, Alfred is dying from the same affliction that Mr. Freeze has, and Barbara stumbles upon the Batcave and becomes a nipple-less Batgirl. They all team up and defeat Poison Ivy, then head out to stop Mr. Freeze from freezing Gotham and making horrendous ice-based puns. They arrive at the spot a bit too late, is attacked by Bane, where Robin and Batgirl take him out, while Batman stops Mr. Freeze with hope for finding a cure for his wife. Also, a few punches. Gotham is de-iced, Alfred is cured (because of course he would be), and we end on the silhouettes of the three heroes running away from this awful movie. The end.

Batman & Robin is a glorious train wreck that is still talked about 20 years after the fact. It’s easily the worst superhero / comic book movie to have been released in 1997, and that was the year that the live-action Spawn movie was released. The camp is turn up to past 11, with every opportunity for puns exploited to full effect. If you groaned at the idea of Bat Shark Repellent from the 1966 Batman movie, you’re going to love things like the Bat Credit Card, pop-out ice skates in the boots, the numerous ice-based puns and one-liners that Arnold Schwarzenegger chews up and spits out at an 87% efficiency rating. To say nothing of the head-scratching decisions this movie decided to go with. Batgirl is now Alfred’s niece, and not the daughter of Commissioner Gordon? Bane is a meat-headed, non-articulate muscle regulated to Poison Ivy’s bodyguard, instead of the criminal mastermind who broke Batman in the comics? The Nightwing costume for Robin? George Clooney? Truly, Batman & Robin is the worst Batman movie ever made…

…and yet, I can’t not watch it whenever I stumble upon it. It’s horrible, yes, but it’s gloriously horrible. For the same reason I love the 1960s Adam West Batman series, I will watch Batman & Robin just to glory in the campy badness. Really, to quote a better Batman movie, Batman & Robin may not have been the Batman movie we wanted, but (for 1997) it was definitely the Batman movie we deserved for the time. Recommended to watch at least once.

Movie Review: The DEVIL’S HAND

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devil's handRoadside Attractions
2014
PG-13

The Devil’s Hand is a one of the movies that was available for streaming on my Prime account on Amazon (for all the plugs I do for them, I should really look into getting some kind of monetary kickback or something), with a cover that looked straight out of one of those small rural-based horror flicks of the 1980s. Eh, it looked like a nifty way to kill 90 minutes or so on a Saturday morning.

Doing a bit of research on this movie, it seems that this movie went through several working names, including Where The Devil Hides, The Devil’s Rapture and The Occult. Nothing really too shocking, really. On the Staci Layne Wilson review of this movie on Dread Central, she mentions that, having been on-set when it was being filmed, what she expected based on interviews with the cast and director wasn’t what she got when she watched the movie. Not necessarily a bad thing, but still. I bring this up, because the description of The Devil’s Hand on the Amazon Prime site describes it as “Five young Amish girls accused of being ‘Satan’s children’ must fight for their lives when their devout community elders insist they be ‘cleansed’ before turning 18.” After watching The Devil’s Hand, I find that to be not quite accurate.

So, we begin on a dark night on June 6th, when six girls are being born to six mothers (this sounds like the beginning of a nursery rhyme). Since this community has a prophecy that states that on the sixth day of the sixth month, six girls will be born, and on the day of their 18th birthday, one of them will become the Devil’s Hand. Because of this prophecy and incredible coincidence (*cough*), this prompts the town’s head Elder Beacon (Colm Meaney! Star Trek’s Miles O’Brian to my fellow geeks out there) to come over and try to kill the newborns. The father of one of the babies takes umbrage with this, and stops the Elder from his grizzly purpose, but not able to stop one of the mothers from smothering her own baby out of fear of the prophecy.

Infanticide. Always a great way to kick off any movie. [/sarcasm]

Anyway, fast forward a few years, and the remaining five girls are on the very cusp of their 18th birthdays, and during a group dip in the nearby lake, a couple of towny boys decide it would be hilarious to go skinny dipping with them. This inspires the girls and their chaperone to pack up and head back to their respective homes. Turns out, all the girls have been deliberately left ignorant of the whole prophecy bit, but are being watched closely by the Elders for any evil shenanigans and the like. One by one, however, the girls are being systematically murdered by a mysterious cloaked knife-weilding individual. Of course, this makes the townsfolk begin to get paranoid, looking upon the remaining girls with suspicion. It also doesn’t help that one of the girls seems to have epilepsy, with her episodes being chalked up to devil fits or something like that. This also causes the “good” Elder Beacon to turn up the fire and brimstone…and use that as an excuse to perve on the girls. One of the girls gets the full shunning and ejected from the community (which makes one wonder…how is New Bethlehem — the name of the community — supposed to be a “beacon of light” to the outside world, as one of the elders mentioned, if they’re shunning it completely? It makes no sense, but more on that later), which leads to the remaining two girls to go after her and, with the help of one of the towny boys who seems to have fallen smitten with the girl with epilepsy, find sanctuary at the house of another former New Bethlehem resident who was shunned for allegedly making a pact with Satan…who happens to be the biological mother of the epileptic girl who thought her mother died when she was an infant. The reunion is short lived, however, as Elder Beacon comes calling to retrieve the girls, who manage to escape back to New Bethlehem under cover of Day For Night filter, they’re pursued by the townsfolk and that hooded knife-weilder, when everything comes to a head when it turns out [SPOILERS] it was the mother of the epileptic girl that was the knife-weilding killer, leveling the field for her daughter to become the Devil’s Hand. Which she totally does at midnight of her 18th birthday, which leads to her killing everyone and burning down New Bethlehem.

My 18th birthday involved a pizza buffet and a trip to one of the malls in Omaha. Anyway…

The Devil’s Hand is mediocre at best. It doesn’t seem fully developed as far as what kind of movie it wanted to be. It starts off as a slasher, but then switches into a kind of CW style drama that’s set with…well, I’m certain the label “Amish” is not the word to use. The style and look seem more in keeping with Puritanism, and John Calvin’s experiment with a community of holiness with Geneva, especially with the reference to New Bethlehem being a beacon of light to the world. Also, the men don’t have the standard Amish beards.

Cultural pedantic nature aside, to be fair, I actually thought The Devil’s Hand’s main strength actually was when it was a harrowing drama about spiritual abuse at the hands of spiritual leaders, and finding the strength to break free. There’s a scene that is more horrifying to watch than any of the slasher moments, involving Elder Beacon groping one of the girls under the guise of inspecting her for any evil influence. It made me sick to my stomach, and considering the recent controversy involving a former youth group pastor investigated for sexual abuse of students, it’s especially despicable. Of course, then at the last quarter of the film, it turns into a bad imitation of The Seventh Seal, and the big “twist” only leaves you groaning, “really?”, as it felt ham-fisted in there at the last minute.

As I mentioned at the top of this review, The Devil’s Hand is a good way to kill 90 minutes, but that’s really it. Again, it’s mediocre at best, comes off as more of a CW drama for the most part, with a disjointed plot and flat characters. It doesn’t insult your intelligence too bad, but except for Colm Meaney’s delightful scene chewing performance, there’s not much to care about when the end credits run. Worth a look-see, but not much beyond that.

Movie Review: The DARK TAPES

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dark tapes, theEpic Pictures Group
2016
NR

Oh, hey, look: a found footage anthology movie. On the Amazon Prime streaming. Who’da thunk it? Well, I chose to watch this due to the cover art itself, so let’s get this review over with.

If you’re new to this blog of mine, you may have noticed that I have kind of a low expectation upon found footage movies. I watch ’em because sometimes I’ve been surprised before, like with the V/H/S series, or with the first Cloverfield movie. But more often than not, they’ve turned out to be formulaic and stale, mostly involving invisible ghosts and such, always at some haunted location. Or family curse. I’m looking at you, Paranormal Activity series. I do very much enjoy the anthology style of horror movie, so at least there’s that going for The Dark Tapes. So, does this anthology flick stand up, or does it fall flat? Let’s see…

The first segment is kind of the wrap-around short, the one that is shown in segments between the segments, acting as a lose glue to hold the films together. It’s called “To Catch A Demon”, and starts kind of weak, but then gets a bit more interesting as the segments go on. It does have a Lovecraftian sci-fi feel to it, and works on a certain level, with the low point being when the trans-dimensional creature speaks. Kind of unintentionally funny, there. Anyway, the first proper short is “The Hunters And The Hunted”, which comes off as a cheap Ghost Hunters/Paranormal Activity knock-off, for the most part losing me in the “been there, done that” feeling, when suddenly there’s a twist at the end that made me nod and smile in approval. Good save, there. Up next was “Cam Girls”, and is pretty much the weakest short in this, more or less an excuse in girl-on-girl titillation and gore, all on web cams. The end “twist” is the biggest middle finger to those watching. I do give them props for not featuring any nudity in this one, just letting the story stand on its on unmitigated suckiness. And finally, “Amanda’s Revenge” centers on the titular young lady who finds herself constantly visited and tormented by otherworldly beings, frightened at first but then figuring out a way to turn the tables and chase away these ETs for good.

Overall, there’s a lot of really good ideas featured here in The Dark Tapes that suffer greatly from the execution. The strongest point here, I thought, was the wrap-around “To Catch A Demon”, which reminds me of the Lovecraft story “From Beyond”. Second best is “Amanda’s Revenge”, with “The Hunters And The Hunted” saved from a strong ending but still doesn’t justify the weak first part. “Cam Girls” is just pointless. The low-budget effects can be off-putting at times, as well as some of the acting.

In the end, The Dark Tapes doesn’t do anything to justify the continued production of found footage movies, other than they’re cheep to crank out and make money on. Check out the three V/H/S anthologies for a much better example of doing the style right.

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