Movie Review: DOLLY DEAREST

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dolly dearestTrimark Pictures
1991
R

“I want my dolly!”

Stand back, everybody, as I’m about to nerd all over you again. Because this movie we’re reviewing today stars Denise Crosby, who is known in Star Trek fandom as both Lt. Tasha Yar and her own daughter Sela on The Next Generation. Mind you, her acting career stretches over a decade before then, but there’s no life before Star Trek for some geeks. Or after, sometimes. To horror fans, she’s known famously for playing the mother in the original Pet Semetary movie in 1989. But, this isn’t a review of that good movie. No, this is a review of the schlocky possessed evil doll movie Dolly Dearest.

In Dolly Dearest, an enterprising American Guy purchases a quaint doll factory in Mexico. He probably got it cheep due to its proximity to an ancien Mayan burial tomb for an entity with a name that translates as “Satan on Earth”. After he and his family — his wife (Denise Crosby!) and young daughter — arrive, they all check out the factory, which, as it turns out, leaves a bit to be desired. But, they discover a bunch of pristine leftover dolls, and one of them is given to the daughter. this doll manage to creep out their housekeeper, because DOLLS ARE CREEPY. Those soulless eyes, staring at you, unblinking, emotionless, you know they’re watching you as you sleep…

Okay, I’m back, after hyperventilating in the corner a bit. Where were we? Right, then…

Seems that, due to the close proximity to the fenced off bomb cave of Satan on Earth — and also because of a recent mishap while unearthing the remains of this delightful sounding corpse — the girl’s new dolly has been set to EVIL, and is trying to possess the kid. As dolls tend to do.

In the pantheon of “evil doll/toys” movies to come out in that time period, Dolly Dearest is probably the lamest of the bunch. It’s dull, slow-moving and about as tension-filled as a tea break with your great-grandma. It gets a bit more entertaining when all the dolls come alive and it’s evident the effects doing so are not exactly up to snuff. The big highlight here is Rip Torn, who plays an archaeologist and tries his darnedest to maintain a plausible accent. Otherwise, I found myself checking the clock on my phone way too often while trying to get through this Child’s Play knockoff. Pass on this one.

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Movie Review: HOTEL OF THE DAMNED

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hotel of the damnedUn’Corked Entertainment
2016
NR

Abandoned hotels are a staple of horror movies. You have your haunted hotel, or…well, that’s pretty much it. Unless we’re talking about an abandoned hotel that has cannibal hillbillies squatting in them, like in Hotel Of The Damned.

This being one of the offerings on the Amazon Prime streaming, I really wasn’t expecting much. I had my expectations lowered. And, it seemed like one of those movies I could throw on, and not pay too close attention to while I transcribed stuff on my laptop and still could follow along with the plot.

I mean, the plot itself is a tried and true one: dark and stormy night, car wreck, nearby abandoned building to take shelter in…this is the standard beat of every “true ghost story” legend in my personal library. Only, instead of ghosts, this hotel is haunted by cannibals. Also, instead of your typical group of annoying young adults being the ones finding themselves stranded and spending the night there, the movie does get a bit creative with that trope.

A recently released ex-con is hoping to make things right with his estranged daughter. Things get to a bit of a rocky start when he learns that she has run off with her junkie boyfriend. So the ex-con and his pal track them down to bring the daughter home, with her boyfriend in the trunk of the car. On the way, they manage to crash the car and left stranded, so they take up refuge in a nearby abandoned hotel until morning. Things go well enough as to be expected, until they happen to run into a family of cannibals living in the hotel as well. From then on, it’s a game of avoid being captured and eaten and try to escape, with varying results.

Overall, Hotel Of The Damned was the kind of horror survival movie that gains some points with making the cast not a bunch of annoying teenager stereotypes, and going with a more nuanced gangster father/daughter/junkie boyfriend setup (with the friend of the gangster father for that extra zip and zing). However, by the time they get in the accident and hole up in the abandoned hotel and encounter the cannibals, things settle into the standard cat-and-mouse game you would expect.

As a movie, Hotel Of the Damned is okay. It works better with its family drama aspect, and maybe should have ditched the cannibal horror aspect and worked with that angle. Otherwise, it’s not a bad way to kill some time.

Movie Review: The REVENGE OF DOCTOR X

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revenge of doctor xToci Company
1970
NR

“How in the hell can anybody be so utterly stupid as to build a rocket base on the coast of Florida?”

 

Usually, when you mention celebrated director Ed Wood, the very first thing that pops into your head is probably Plan 9 From Outer Space. As well it should, as it’s easily in the Top 5 of famous So Bad It’s Good movies. While that may very well be his ultimate legacy, most don’t realize his prolific output, not only as a director, but also as a writer. There were several movies made that were strictly written by Ed Wood, like the subject of this review, The Revenge Of Doctor X.

In this instance, Ed Wood was uncredited for the screenplay. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Anyway, filmed in 1966 and released in 1970, this movie also has gone by the titles Venus Flytrap, and Body Of The Prey. As always, the version I watched went by the title of The Revenge Of Doctor X, so that’s the title I’m going with.

In The Revenge Of Doctor X, a burned-out NASA scientist whose introduction we see raging against a rocket taking off on the Florida coast, is ordered to take a vacation. So, he decided to fly out to Japan for some R&R, but then picks up a Venus Flytrap plant before heading out. I don’t know, that seems to be something that would have a bit of trouble with customs officials, I would think. Anyway, he takes his new-found interest in botany and stays in an abandoned resort that’s situated next to an active volcano. So, the guy decides to fully embrace his mad scientist vibes and goes ahead with tinkering the Venus Flytrap, thinking this is the next evolutionary step between humans and plants, and creates a humanoid carnivorous plant monster by cross-breeding the Venus Flytrap with an undersea carniverous plant he picked up after diving with a bunch of locals. Soon, the plant monster escapes, does some damage at the local nearby town, and the doctor goes and tries to stop the carnage. Goofy wackiness ensues.

As campy, low budget sci-fi movies go, The Revenge Of Doctor X is pretty campy. The lead actor constantly chews up the scenery, flying into angry outbursts at the drop of a hat. It’s actually rather amusing to witness this guy. The rest of the acting from others is hammy, there’s some surprise topless nudity that is beyond gratuitous (I don’t know if they were trying to exploit the Japanese culture with that, but still…thanks for the mamories, there), and the creature effects are…well, they’re what you would expect from a low-budget 60s sci-fi flick. Cheesy, campy and right fun to look at.

Bad directing, bad acting, momentous leaps in logic…meaning, you have to see this to believe it. Sure, The Revenge Of Dr. X languishes in obscurity, and I would have never heard of this had this not been on the Amazon Prime streaming I was browsing through, but really this movie needs to be watched at least once just for the experience alone.

Movie Review: SOLO A Star Wars Story

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solo a star wars storyLucasfilm / Disney
2018
PG-13

“So, what’s your name, anyways?”
“Rrraaawwgghhhyyy.”
“You’re gonna need a nickname, ’cause I ain’t saying that every time.”

The second release in Disney’s supplemental films in the Star Wars universe, Solo: A Star Wars Story delves into the back story of everyone’s favorite intergalactic scoundrel with a heart of mythra, Han Solo. While there was the Han Solo trilogy of books that was regulated to the Legacy non-cannon section since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, that didn’t stop Disney from delving into the past and giving us an official canon back story for Han — how he met Chewie, got into smuggling, and came across that little space boat called the Millennium Falcon.

Having been released a mere six months after The Last Jedi, I think that contributed to the lack of enthusiasm with the release of Solo. There wasn’t as much of a buzz, and preview reports were lackluster at best. Also, there may have been something about the change of directors midway through that could have been part of it. I have to admit, I wasn’t really all that jazzed to watch it myself, and my fellow partner in crime, Nex, kept referring to it as the “Ill-Advised Star Wars Movie”. Regardless, I watched Solo, along with the other Exalted Geeks (recording the podcast about it here), and so let’s get to my thoughts on the movie. But first, as always, the Rundown (spoilers ahead):

We open on the planet of Corellia, where a young Han is livin’ the Dickens style street urchin life, stealing shiny things for a giant worm alien gang leader. This is the day that he and his love interest named Qi’ra make their escape from the gang to get off of the planet to a better life; only, it doesn’t exactly go as plan, as Qi’ra gets recaptured, while Han manages to get off of the planet, but at the expense of joining up with the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet. Fast forward to three years later, and we find that Han and the military aren’t exactly a great fit, as he’s been downgraded to the infantry, and while on one of them Imperial conquests of a planet, Han tries to hook up with a bunch of criminals posing as infantry soldiers, but is then thrown into a pit to be fed to a beast of some sort. Of course, by the law of plot conveniences, this “beast” turns out to be none other than Chewbacca, and after a bit of a rocky start, they bond by working together to escape. They catch a ride off of the planet by the same batch of criminals Han ran into earlier, because one of the members — the one with the big neon I’M GOING TO DIE FIRST blinking on his forehead — took a shine to their moxie. Or whatever. After a heist to steal a shipment of a super hyperspace fuel called coaxium goes south due to the interference of SPACE PIRATES!, the crime lord who hired the group to steal the stuff decides to let them try and make it up to him, by taking raw coaxium from the mines on Kessel, and assigns his top lieutenant, who turns out to be Qi’ra, to tag along and make sure nothing goes wrong this time. Or, you know, death. So, they hire the guy with the fastest ship in the galaxy, which turns out to be some guy named Lando Calrissian (I’m sure he’ll be of no consequence later in the series), who pilots a certain heavily modified YT-1300 Corellian light freighter he calls the Millennium Falcon. After a bunch of chest-puffing between Han and Lando, they take off for Kessel, where they pick up the raw (and highly unstable, I should add, otherwise there wouldn’t be much tension and drama involved) coaxium, all the while causing a riot and freeing a bunch of Wookiee slaves and triggering a droid uprising. Han manages to make the jump in 12-ish parsecs through the Maw and gets the shipment safely to the planet Savareen to process the coaxium. Then the SPACE PIRATES! show up, say they really aren’t the bad guys in this movie, and then Solo tries to do the right thing by confronting the crime lord. There’s a bit of cross/double cross going on, the crime boss dies and then Han takes off while Qi’ra decides she’d rather be the new crime boss and stuff. Then Han wins the Millinnium Falcon from Lando, and he and Chewie flies off to join up with some gangster on the planet Tatooine. The end.

So, overall, while I feel that Solo wasn’t exactly necessary as a movie, it was still pretty good. There were plenty of cheesy bits in there — how Han got his last name, an inverse of the “I love you / I know” exchange, and a surprise cameo that seemed a tad shoehorned in. Also, did we really need a social justice warrior droid, or implied human/droid sex? Did they really contribute to the story, here? But, I digress (I look forward to all of your comments and emails)…

Alden Enrenreich does a decent job portraying the younger Han. But Donald Glover is the best one here as Lando, channeling his inner Billy Dee Williams, convincing me he’s gonna break out a Colt 45 at a moment’s notice.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is an enjoyable distraction but not exactly essential watching. It’s a good matinée flick, and I’ll probably watch this again sometime when the DVD gets released.

Movie Review: MOTEL HELL

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motel hellUnited Artists
1980
R

“I’m the biggest hypocrite of them all. My meats…I used preservatives.”

Well, here we are. One of the pantheon of legendary cult favorite horror movies that I knew, as a fan of horror flicks, I was required to watch. Hotel Hell was one of those titles that I remembered always seeing on the shelves at the old Applause Video store whenever my family would make the weekly pilgrimage to Fremont, Nebraska in the 1980s, in the Horror section, the box artwork hypnotizing me with the two smiling leads on the cover, somehow conveying a nice balance between friendly and inviting with complete insanity. It simultaneously intrigued me and repulsed me at the same time. Which meant, I so wanted to watch this movie. Of course, at that age, that wasn’t going to happen, as there was no way I was going to convince my parents to rent it. It was always some obscure live action Disney movie or something we would end up getting.

Anyway, long story short, I recently finally gotten around to watching Motel Hell by way of the Amazon streaming service. Having done so, and knowing what kind of cult following this thing has, did I like this? Would my younger tween self have liked this had my parents consented to let me watch it? Well, let’s get to the rundown, and then let’s see if I’m able to ‘splain m’self.

The titular Motel Hell is actually Motel Hello, only the neon light “O” is on the fritz, and keeps blinking out. It’s an out-of-the-way cozy place that’s owned by Farmer Vincent, who is known all over the 30-mile radius for his extremely tasty meat snacks. Along with his sister Ida, they take care of their customers as well as keep up with the meat production. The secret to his famous smoked meats is a blend of pork, which he raises himself organically (or so he says), and also some humans that he can trap from the road that passes by the place. One night, while doing just that, he snags a biker and his girlfriend, knocking both of them out. The biker went into his “human garden” hidden on his farm; the girlfriend gets told her boyfriend died, and so she develops Stockholm Syndrome and begins helping out on the farm. This causes a bit of a rift when a bizarre love triangle between the new girl, who has fallen in love with Farmer Vincent (eeeew), Ida, who doesn’t want to share her older brother (eeeeew) and the younger brother, who’s also the local sheriff, who has the hots for the new girl but is unreciprocated (SEE: in love w/ Farmer Vincent…eeeeew). Things come to a head (no pun intended) when the humans in the Human Garden manage to escape and attack the family, which leads to a chainsaw showdown at the end.

After watching this movie, going in with minimal knowledge of it beyond a couple of hick folks make meat snacks out of people (which always elicits a cry of “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!” from me, regardless of who’s around to hear it), I emerged from this experience…well, not a changed man, per se, but I now understand why Motel Hell is held in such high regard. It’s a black comedy about back road cannibals that isn’t exactly the best one of this sub-sub genre — movies like Parents and the second Texas Chainsaw Massacre would come out later in the decade and prove to be far more effective — but it has a kind of laid-back charm that casts aside the whole political commentary side of things, and just gives us an off-beat story that’s chock full of WTF moments (those swingers, a rock band called Ivan and the Terribles, and the one and only Wolfman Jack as a local televangelist) but also a kind of charm to it, as well as the lo-fi effects kills on and off screen.

Overall, I found Motel Hell quite enjoyable on that campy fun level. It’s not the best one, and you get the impression that the writer and director could have pushed the limits just a bit, but were maybe afraid to do so halfway through the production. But, Motel Hell also is far from the worst one of the bunch. It’s available on the Amazon Prime Streaming, which is how I watched it, but however you take in your movie watchin’ experience, I would urge you to check out Motel Hell at least once.

Music Review: DANIEL AMOS – Darn Floor ~ Big Bite

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daniel amos darn floor big biteDANIEL AMOS
Darn Floor ~ Big Bite
Alarma
1987

The eight studio release for Daniel Amos – and also the final release of theirs in the 1980s – Darn Floor ~ Big Bite finds the band’s music going back to a more guitar-driven sound. The title, of course, is famously derived from an incident with Koko the gorilla, who was trained to understand limited amounts of American sign language. After an earthquake, Koko reacted by signing, “Darn darn floor bad bite. Trouble trouble.” So, the band used this as a way to highlight mankind’s oft-inadequate attempts to describe God.*

That previous bit of information is always included in pretty much every review I’ve read on this album; however, my friend Terry Glenn was the first one to inform me of this, and was far more entertaining in the delivery. Anyway…

The album starts with the song “Return Of The Beat Menace”, which seems to be it’s angriest song on the record. Not “angry” as in “loud and grating”, but more to do with the lyrics married with the more driven pace and guitar hook of the song. Like they had a bit of something to say about certain criticisms being lobbied at them. Or something. It’s a good song to kick things off, regardless. “Strange Animals” takes things back to a normal – for Daniel Amos, anyway – pace with a nice jangle pop hook; the title track “Darn Floor~Big Bite” is a bit darker, but has a good bass hook at the beginning before it settles into a nice groove; “Earth Household” continues things with a slower pace, one of those not quote a ballad, but with a dark, kinda Peter Gabriel style going on; “Safty Net” picks things up with a faster, punkish pace and an Elvis Costello kind of hook and an interesting guitar riff; “Pictures Of The Gone World” is upbeat yet melancholy, with a waltz beat and a more avant gard style; “Divine Instant” is more of a psychedelic, slide guitar, kind of Chris Issac style song; “Half Light, Epoch, And Phase” guitar style reminiscent of The Edge from U2; “The Unattainable Earth” has a nice psychadelic, dreamy hook with a good guitar progression; and “The Shape Of Air” ends the album with a lush, psychadelic ballad, not too bad there.

Overall, I found Darn Floor~Big Bite to be a very good, very multi-textured and very smart collection of gutiar-based alternative rock put out by a band that, by now, you would expect nothing less from, regardless of how modified they make their moniker. Listening to this was a pleasure, and probably one of my top favorites from Daniel Amos. I really do prefer the guitar based stuff rather than the keyboard and synth based stuff, but they never seem to disappoint no matter what they do. Recommended.

[* = while it doesn’t pertain to the album itself, I did play this in its entirety the night I learned of the recent death of Koko…rest in peace, pretty girl]

Book Review: BRIEF CASES (The Dresden Files)

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brief cases dresden filesJim Butcher
ACE
2018

It’s been three years since the last book in the Dresden Files series was released. Three long years without our favorite Chicago-based wizard detective to experience exciting supernatural wackiness vicariously through. Fortunately, there’s been a recent publication of another short story collection by Jim Butcher, something that will tide me over until the next book in the series comes out. Loves me some Dresden Files.

Anyway, yeah, Brief Cases was recently released through ACE Books, collecting several short stories that Butcher wrote for other publications, plus one that was only released on this collection, if I have my information correct. Let’s dive in and see what we got, shall we?

  • “A Fistful Of Warlocks”

We take a trip back to the Wild West of the 1800s, where the warden Anastasia Luccio rides into the town of Dodge City, hot on the heels of a warlock, and teams up with a deputy sherif named Wyatt Erp to take on the warlock’s posse and their zombie horde.

  • “B Is For Bigfoot”

Harry Dresden takes a case from a Bigfoot named Strength of a River in His Shoulders (River Shoulders for short) to check up on his son, who goes to school in Chicago. The kid might be being picked on by bullies; only, it turns out to be more than that.

  • “AAAA Wizardry”

Dresden regales a class of young wardens in training with a tale of when he took on a case involving a boogeyman to illustrate the five “A”s of wizardly investigation.

  • “I Was A Teenage Bigfoot”

Once again, Dresden takes a case from River Shoulders, this time to check up on his son — who is now a teenager and attending a private school — and find out why he’s sick. On account of, the son of Bigfoot shouldn’t be getting sick, let alone lain out in the infirmary. It might be black magic afoot…but you’d never guess for what ends.

  • “Curses”

Dresden is hired to try and get a curse put on Wrigley Field in 1945 lifted so the Cubs can actually win for once, darn it. This takes him deep in the realm of the Tylwyth Teg, to speak to the caster of the curse. Who knew the creatures of folklore were big baseball fans?

  • “Even Hand”

A story told from the point of view of John Marcone, the Chicago crime lord that’s a perpetual thorn in Dresden’s side. Here, Marcone is best upon by a rather nasty member of the Fomor — Cantrev Lord Mag — who’s there to collect a baby that was stolen by the White Court’s human servant Justine. Things go boom.

  • “Bigfoot On Campus”

One last case from River Shoulders, and this time he wants Dresden to check in on his now college-age son due to a premonition of danger. Which may hold some water, as Dresden discovers that the kid is dating the daughter of a White Court vampire.

  • “Bombshells

Told from Molly Carpenter’s point of view, from her post-wizard apprentice days, due to Dresden still being considered dead at this point; she takes a mission to infiltrate a Swartves stronghold to rescue Dresden’s half-brother Thomas Raith; only, she discovers things aren’t as cut and dried as they seem. To be fair, they never are.

  • “Cold Case”

Another one from Molly Carpenter’s point of view, this time as the newly-minted Lady of the Winter Court. She is charged with collecting a long-overdue tribute from the Miksani. After arriving at the small Alaskan seaport, she discovers the reason why they’ve been so tardy, and teams up with the young Warden Ramirez to get things back in order.

  • “Jury Duty”

Harry Dresden is summoned to jury duty in the case of a former bodyguard for a crime boss accused of the murder of a man one year prior. It seems fairly cut and dried only Dresden has that inkling that something’s not quite right. So he goes investigating, along with one of his werewolf friends. Wackiness ensues.

  • “Day One”

A story told from the perspective of everyone’s favorite polka-loving, Sword of Faith-wielding mortician, Waldo Butters; this one concerns Butters’ first case as a newly-minted Knight of the Cross, which involves a rogue baku that’s feeding off the fear of the children in a hospital ward.

  • “Zoo Day”

The final story in this collection has Dresden taking his ten-year-old daughter Maggie and his dog (and current guardian of Maggie) Mouse on a daddy/daughter/doggie day at the zoo to look at some animals. This one takes turns with the point of views, starting with Dresden, who encounters a young warlock; Maggie, where she faces off with some nasty haunts that are possessing other kids at the zoo; and finally Mouse, where he meets a dark figure from his past. Also, there’s french fries.

Of the stories in this collection, I believe I enjoyed “A Fistful Of Warlocks”, the three involving Bigfoot and his half-human, half-bigfoot son (especially the “Bigfoot On Campus”, as things really go boom there), and “Zoo Day”, as we not only get a good story involving Dresden trying to be something he’s not accustomed to — being a father — but also the three points of view, one being the ironically named Mouse. That was great, there.

Mind you, all the rest of the stories contained are all top-notch, containing the quality type of action, mystery and humor that comes with this series, only contained in easily digestible bite-sized pieces. I’m afraid I went through my Kindle edition of this a bit too fast, as per usual. It was that kind of engrossing. Recommended.

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