Tag Archives: Beware

CAPSULE: ASSASSIN 33 A.D. (2020)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jim Carroll

FEATURING: Morgan Roberts, Ilsa Levine, Geraldo Davila, Donny Boaz, Lamar Usher, Jason Castro

PLOT: Muslim extremists use a time machine to go back to 33 A.D. to try to assassinate Jesus; with the encouragement of his Christian girlfriend, an agnostic genius tries to fix the time stream.

Still from Assassin 33 A.D. (2020)

COMMENTS: I wouldn’t say its impossible to make a good Christian time travel movie; would have nailed it. But I am pretty sure it is impossible to make a good Christian time travel movie that involves terrorist strike teams with assault weapons going back to 1st century Judea to assassinate Jesus. Assassin 33 AD is Donnie Darko meets The Passion of the Christ done on the kind of budget usually reserved for an episode of “The 700 Club.”

Assassin33ad.com boasts that the script has “won more International Screenplay Awards than any know [sic] script in history.” Starting straight off with the line “I’m just struggling. I went from saving an embassy and killing terrorists to being head of security at a research lab,” delivered casually by a rugged man to his wife on a Sunday drive, you can see why. That’s the kind of expository introductory dialogue slick Hollywood movies are too afraid to put in for fear it might sound “clumsy.”

The wife who needs filling in on what her husband has been doing with his life is Heidi Montag, a former Playboy model and current aspiring Christian pop singer who, like much of the cast and crew, was drawn from a cable TV show called “Marriage Boot Camp Reality Stars.” In another fine bit of screenwriting, Montag’s husband chuckles fondly, “That British accent!” This is necessary foreshadowing, because the accent will turn up as an important plot point late on, and without that bit of dialogue we’d have no way of knowing  that she spoke with a British accent. Assassin33ad.com reveals that a producer warned the director when he was planning to cast Montag that “Reality stars can’t act.”

Maybe all the praise for the screenplay comes from its nimble handling of the multiple timelines that infest the second half of the movie. I can’t opine on that, because I quickly lost track of how many time-clones there were running around, and which one were alive and which ones were dead, after the second or third time the hero (Ram Goldstein!) and/or villains leapt  backwards or forwards in time like chronological yo-yos. Personally, it seemed to me that they made up the rules of time travel on the fly:  somehow, even though he just invented time travel accidentally twenty four hours ago, Ram knows that there’s a lag between changing the past and overwriting the present that could take “minutes, possibly hours, maybe longer,” Continue reading CAPSULE: ASSASSIN 33 A.D. (2020)

CAPSULE: SPOOKIES (1986)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Genie Joseph, Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner

FEATURING: Felix Ward, Maria Pechukas, Alec Nemser, Dan Scott

PLOT: A mad warlock with his would-be bride in a coffin needs human blood to bring her back to life, so he sets up a mansion full of monsters to slaughter hapless travelers; the plan almost works.

Still from Spookies (1986)

COMMENTS: Bear with me this time, because Spookies takes some explaining. It’s well-established as a bad movie, and yet has a cult following. That cult, contrary to the norm, loves Spookies not in a so-bad-it’s-good ironic way, but for being a certain kind of niche “good.” The limited appeal of Spookies depends upon one’s appetite for carnival dark rides, AKA ghost trains, the horror-themed indoor track ride you find at every state fair and boardwalk. These rides are chock full of random scary props, rubber suit monsters, blaring air horns, blasts of compressed air, strobe lights, hairpin turns leading from mad scientist’s laboratories into mummy’s crypts and whatnot, and—attend carefully here—no logic. Here’s dark ride YouTuber Carpetbagger with a tour of one. The point of a dark ride is not to experience an enriching story. The point is to make your girlfriend scream and cling to you when the rubber bats swoosh overhead.

I have just perfectly described the experience of watching Spookies, right down to the “no logic” part. It is unrelentingly stupid. But if you’re the kind of person who never passes up a tour through those haunted house attractions that pop up around Halloween, this is your Citizen Kane. Come and get your monsters, we got all your monsters here! We got your vampire monsters, your zombie monsters, your eight-limbed spider-woman monsters, your possessed demon monsters, your green goblin monsters, a werecat monster, a skeleton monster, any monster you want! Grim Reaper fans, yes, you too, we got a Grim Reaper attack just a little after the 1:00 hour mark. It’s never a dull moment here at Mad Marvin’s Mansion o’ Monsters, come on over for Witching Hour when all our curses are half-price!

Just leave your brain at home. This movie was also allegedly produced in sections: either two half-finished movies nailed together or an unfinished movie that later got footage added, depending on who you ask. I’m going to try telling it in alleged filming order, not movie order, because this will help it make what little sense it can.

We have two carloads of teenagers, plus older people hanging out with them for some reason, who are driving around lost at night looking for someplace to party. They find the big spooky mansion located in a cemetery surrounded by foam headstones. “What a silly place for a house!” they titter as they stagger inside. Doors slam, lights go out, monsters attack for about an hour and fifteen minutes. This is all triggered when one member of the party finds a Ouija board in the house—she obviously missed her OSHA class on “Never Use A Ouija Board In An Abandoned Mansion In A Cemetery” day. This part of the movie was supposed to be a horror-comedy called Twisted Souls, but it was never finished.

In the tacked-on part, we have a “warlock” Kreon (Felix Ward) brooding in a secluded sanctum, far from the action, as he laments his late, pretty bride in a coffin, Isabelle (Maria Pechukas). To bring Isabelle back to life, he needs human sacrifices, so, it turns out, he is the one controlling the monsters. Earlier a young boy, Billy (Alec Nemser), ran afoul of one of Kreon’s monsters while running away from home because his parents forgot his 13th birthday. He got buried alive and resurrected as a vampire boy in a Little Red Riding Hood outfit, who plays candle-lit chess while Kreon discusses his plans in his Transylvanian Baron Von Hissing-Lisp accent. With all those people he slaughters to bring Isabelle back to life, is she going to be grateful? What do you want to bet? Ah, posthumous love, thy name be treachery!

So like I say, this is a stupid mess. Nobody can act, the scripts for both film fragments suck hot vacuum hose, and everyone on Team Carload of Teenagers is an idiot who obligingly stumbles right into the claws/fangs/tentacles of Team Monster. Team Monster, however, brings its A-game of practical effects at the cutting edge of 1986 technology (but sadly not a minute later). Although at one point even Team Monster has a setback, with a gang of sludge monsters (made of mud?) who fart when they walk. In a group, every step, “Prrt! Prt! Prrrrt! Prrt!” But for the most part, we keep to that dark ride pace, a fresh monster attack in a fresh room every ten minutes, whether you were ready for the next one or not. Which, once again I have to point out, makes it braindead, but never boring for a second.

As confounding as Spookies is, I still can’t recommend it specifically for our list.  We have haunted house movies, and when it comes to monster-per-minute low-budget horror, Turn in your Grave‘s weirdness-factor flush beats Spookies‘ bigger-budget straight. By sheer nose (snout) count, The Cabin in the Woods has more monsters. In fact, B-movie monster-mashes aren’t that uncommon; it’s just that Spookies did it in peak ’80s style, when rubber masks with pulsating goop were in their prime.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[The later additions] made an already kooky movie even weirder, creating a disjointed plot no matter how hard they tried to shoehorn in the sorcerer. Yet, it also made it even more memorable at the same time, because it’s so nonsensical.”–Meagan Navarro, Bloody Disgusting

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

The story behind making-of Spookies

Thorough YouTube review of Vinegar Syndrome’s 2020 Blu-ray

CAPSULE: VEROTIKA (2019)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Glenn Danzig

FEATURING: Ashley Wisdom, Rachel Alig, Alice Haig, Scotch Hopkins

PLOT: Three tales of “violent eroti(k)a”: a woman’s albino spider kills when she sleeps, a stripper cuts off women’s faces, and a Countess bathes in blood.

Still from Veroitka (2019)

COMMENTS: I’ve got this crazy theory that heavy metal musicians should not be allowed to make horror movies as vanity projects. Sure, has directed a couple that weren’t totally embarrassing (and many more that were); after that, the field was slim… until Verotika comes along to (hopefully) put the final nail in the headbanger crossover coffin. You may have heard this film is bad. It’s worse than that. Watch it to the end and you’ll be begging for the sweet release of death.

Each of the three segments—adapted from Danzig’s horror comic series of the same name—is introduced by a nondescript goth chick, who’s comelier than the Cryptkeeper but has nowhere near the sense of humor (after gouging out a captive woman’s eyeballs in the opening, the best she can come up with is “Welcome, my darklings, this is Verotika.” Whatever happened to lines like “Welcome to our cornea-copia of horror, my pupils!”?)

The first story, “The Albino Spider of Dajette,” is the “best.” It features a French girl (Wisdom) with eyeballs on her nipples (a la Gothic). She also has an albino spider who turns anthropomorphic whenever she falls asleep and goes out and snaps hooker’s necks. Are these two freaky deformities related? No, it’s just an incredible coincidence that eye-nipple girl also owns a killer dream spider. The spider-man makeup is not bad, but he merely goes around killing random lingerie-clad women when his strawberry-shortcake-haired mistress dozes off at her S&M photoshoots or at the porn theater (where she goes to see a screening of Les Nue sans Visage to try to stay awake). By far, the funniest part is watching Wisdom try to express—well… any emotion—in a stereotypical Pepe le Pew accent. (Lines like “keeler… keeler… you… are a murderair!” are a lot funnier when delivered in a blasé French accent.)

Another plus is that “Albino Spider” is the only segment that has anything resembling a conclusion. If you wanted to stop watching after the first installment, you’d have my blessing. If you wanted to stop watching after the opening credits, even better. But if you soldier on, you’ll see that “Change of Face” is about a stripper who steals the faces of pretty girls with breast implants. It’s the kind of kink a serial killer might get up to in Psycho or Silence of the Lambs, but here, no reason is suggested for her actions. (Beat cop, standing over the bloody corpse of a face-stripped victim: “We’ve got nothing. Zero evidence, which means no leads or motive.” Detective: “There’s your motive. They wanted her face.”) The detective chases her, but she just moves to another gentlemen’s club and changes her stage name from “Mystery Girl” to “Mysteria.” Now, the heat will never catch up to her, and she will continue to de-face harlots for eternity.

After a while, we move on to the final story, “Drukija: Contessa of Blood.” Apparently threats of litigation from Elizabet Báthory’s estate made them change the protagonist’s name, but it’s the familiar old story of a decadent Eastern European noblewoman who buys up the local village virgins and bathes in their blood to keep up her youthful appearance (this was in the days before you could get two-day delivery on Pond’s Rejuveness Anti-Wrinkle cream from Amazon.hu). This Countess also indulges in jugular showers, enlists the help of a wolf, and pulls the beating heart out of a nude girl. She doesn’t, however, follow any kind of plot arc—she starts out bleeding virgins, continues to bleed virgins, and ends up bleeding virgins. None of the locals care, and neither will you.

Birth. Movies. Death. suggested crowd-watching this atrocity on Twitter. As far as I can see, the response was about as enthusiastic as Ashley Wisdom’s line-readings after discovering her best friend has just been killed by an anthropomorphic spider. This isn’t the metalhead horror movie version of The Room, folks. It’ s not even Sharknado. You’ve been warned. Avoid. Avoid. AVOID.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The inexplicable choices and illogical elements give the film a hypnotic vibe. Verotika is a thoroughly baffling work that has to be seen to be believed. And aficionados of movies that are crazy-town banana-pants absolutely should see it.”–Mike McGranaghan, Aisle Seat (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SLAPSTICK OF ANOTHER KIND (1982)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Steven Paul

FEATURING: Jerry Lewis, Madeline Kahn, , Pat Morita, Jim Backus, voice of

PLOT: A pair of rich, American, and (allegedly) beautiful parents give birth to hideously ugly and mentally-challenged twins, who turn out to be super-intelligent aliens implanted by a galactic civilization to fight back against the Chinese.

Still from Slapstick of Another Kind (1982)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Slapstick tries hard to reach comedy by piling on the surrealism, and ends up just being surreal. This is a time-honored path to mediocrity taken by many a crashed comedy, but adding in the ham-handed Hollywood fumbling of Papa Kurt’s source material is the icing on this insanity.

COMMENTS: We’re coming up on a review of Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) so I opted to review Slapstick of Another Kind (1982) first, as an aperitif. I choose it for this honor solely because I consider Slapstick to be the weirdest Kurt Vonnegut adaptation I have seen so far. But don’t mistake this for praise: this movie is mostly unfunny and a chore to sit through. Reading the book first helps, but only a little.

As bad as Slapstick is, it has several million more miles of hell to plunge through before it lands at the same level of awful as Breakfast of Champions (1999). Slapstick has a coherent and logical structure and attempts to make good use of Vonnegut’s novel. Somebody gave at least a fraction of a rat’s ass about it. Most admirably, it feebly attempts to capture the spirit and letter of Vonnegut’s ethereal humor, sometimes catching a whiff, but often losing the scent. When it fails, it settles for sight gags, prop comedy, and actual pratfalls. It’s a mix with a rough texture to choke down.

Caleb and Letitia Swain (Jerry Lewis and Madeline Kahn) are well-to-do glamorous celebrities who give birth to hideous fraternal twins, boy and girl. Meanwhile, China has announced that it’s severing all ties with the rest of the human race because the Chinese are just too advanced to talk to the rest of us anymore. Among their other achievements, they’ve mastered miniaturization, shrinking themselves to inches in height. This news is delivered in an interview between a newscaster (Merv Griffin) and the Chinese ambassador (Pat Morita), who travels about in a fortune-cookie-sized flying saucer. Cut to 15 years later. The twins, Wilbur and Eliza (also played by Lewis and Kahn), mature in isolation, tended to by Dr. Frankenstein (John Abbott) and butler Sylvester (Marty Feldman). The adult twins are truly disturbing to behold and act insane, but this is actually a put-on because they feel people want them to be dumb. The Chinese ambassador, observing through planted spies, pays a call to the parents to inform them that their twins are actually secretly clever and advanced aliens. Since the parents haven’t bothered to check on their offspring in fifteen years, this comes as news Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SLAPSTICK OF ANOTHER KIND (1982)

CAPSULE: JACOB’S LADDER (2019)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: David M. Rosenthal

STARRING: Michael Ealy, Jesse Williams, Nicole Beharie

PLOT: Returning home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, army surgeon Jacob Singer begins to suspect that his brother Isaac, whom he saw die in the line of duty, may in fact still be alive.

Still from Jacob's Ladder (2019)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Jacob’s Ladder rarely ventures beyond the borders of a psychological thriller that occasionally dips its toe in horror-ish imagery. As a remake, there is, unsurprisingly, nothing about its occasional dabbles in weirdness that the original didn’t do better (and weirder).

COMMENTS: In an era where unneeded remakes are more common than ever, it’s easy to forget that films like ’s The Thing, ’s The Fly, and Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers have proven that celebrated stories, redone right, can become classics all over again. Of course, this is dependent upon the remake taking some creative new approach to old material, ironing out the flaws of the original, or, at the very least, retelling the tale in a fresh and intriguing manner. Sadly, none of these things are to be found in 2019’s iteration of Jacob’s Ladder.

Well, perhaps that’s a little unfair. It’s hardly as if this new version is a stale shot-for-shot reiteration of ’s original. Indeed, the film makes efforts to take a new approach to the original premise—rather than centering on the title character’s PTSD, for instance, it’s Jacob’s brother Isaac who takes on the role of the damaged and paranoid military veteran (at least at first). It could be an appealing angle—an opportunity to take the original’s central theme of accepting the finality of death, and approach it from the perspective of a grieving family member rather than the dying individual.

Unfortunately, while this remake takes the time to work in a few basic plot elements (and some recreated shots) from the original, it’s uninterested in engaging with the source film’s spirit. As a result, where the 1990 film was about the necessity of letting go and accepting death when the time comes—using chilling imagery and a thriller plot to communicate this point—the remake instead chooses to treat the surface-level plot as the film’s be-all and end-all. It expands upon—and, in many ways, builds itself on—the “conspiracy thriller/experimental drug” subplot, despite that being anything but the central point of the story (and arguably the script’s weakest element). Likewise, the cinematography and backdrops have a bland, Lifetime-movie feel to them, none evoking the original’s bleak and claustrophobic decay. And while grotesque imagery may not be inherently necessary to make an effective psychological horror, the fact that this film’s only attempt to evoke the sensation of fear and paranoia amidst a hellish urban landscape is to smear a little acne-like makeup on the occasional extra is very noticeable.

Like so many remakes before (and no doubt after) it, the main problem plaguing 2019’s Jacob’s Ladder is that it simply never convinces us that it needs to exist. Everything that made the first so intriguing—the mystery, the surreal horror, the underlying theme of accepting death—is dumbed down, for little discernible reason. Instead, we’re treated to a standard-issue TV movie that would have been just as unremarkable under a different name.

As its own stand-alone film, Jacob’s Ladder could have made for a decent, if ultimately forgettable, psychological thriller that included some cursory examinations of the effects of PTSD. As it is, however, by usurping the name of Lyne’s classic, 2019’s Jacob’s Ladder comes off as thinking far too highly of itself, riding the coattails of a far superior psychological drama despite sharing nothing but the most basic, shallowest elements with it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The new ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is less strange and scary, and more mindlessly action-packed. It doesn’t feel like a dream. It’s more like hearing a stranger describe a dream.”–Noel Murray, The Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: ODISSEA DELLA MORTE (2018)

AKA Valley of the Rats; Odyssey of Death

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Vince D’Amato

FEATURING: Jesse Onocalla, Momona Komagata, Lynne Lowry,  Tristan Risk

PLOT: A man has rented a limousine and travels around town talking with his associates as he tries to figure out who killed his girlfriend.

Still from Odissea Della Morte (2019)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Amidst all the random shots of walking around, limo-bound conversations, and pseudo-BDSM, there is a quiet aura of nothingness going on. As there is virtually nothing doing in this movie, there is virtually nothing weird about it.

COMMENTS: With money, generally, comes a modicum of competence when it comes to filmmaking. The middle-to-big-budget movie you watch may not be particularly entertaining, but it’s at least technically well done. But low budget films are odd beasts. Some cost as much as a used economy car, and are unceasingly entertaining. Others, costing as much as a higher-end mid-budget sedan, are unceasingly tedious. To what end do I type all this garbled verbiage? My reason is twofold. First, I am somewhat frantically trying to think of what to write about Vince D’Amato’s Odissea Della Morte (translation probably not needed). Second, having begun the review in this stylistic manner, it occurs to me that it’s a fairly decent textual translation of Odissea‘s cinematic style.

Jesse (Jesse Onocalla) rides around in a limo, much to his friends’ bemusement, going on a bender while interviewing various people who saw his girlfriend (I don’t remember her name, it doesn’t matter) before she was murdered. While chewing over various evils of modern society in this mobile backdrop, various nonentities enter and exit the vehicle and make various unimportant observations. Intercutting these vignettes are shots of largely naked, occasionally gothed-out women doing ambiguously sexy things and photographing each other until the whole movie becomes this weird (!) and tedious dream thing that culminates in what is perhaps a twist.

I hope my record of reviews can attest to the fact that I am generally a very patient viewer who is eager to give every movie the fairest shake possible. The closest I’ve ever gotten to “cheating” for this website is with this movie. I did watch it, all of it, and even have some notes to prove I paid attention for portions of it. However, when your film’s two highlights are a brief conversation with an affable limo driver and some blandly cryptic remarks from an actress most famous for a small part in a movie known mostly for its theme song by David Bowie, your film is probably doomed, and no amount of T&A, canted angles, and color-to-black-and-white shifts can obscure that.

Forgive me, there was a third highlight: an aura of menace, a tied up woman threatened with a knife, and some beardo shouting, “I AM THE CITY!” in a way that made Jack Skellington‘s declaration of pumpkin-kingship seem altogether Shakespearean by comparison. That gave me a chuckle.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a love letter to the works of David Cronenberg and Jess Franco set to [D’Amato’s] unique take on the giallo film.”–Film Bizarro

CAPSULE: AGAINST THE CLOCK (2019)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:  Mark Polish, Dianna Agron, Andy Garcia, Justin Bartha

PLOT: Chandler, a medically enhanced superspy on a mission,  falls into a coma and his wife Tess tries to bail him out.

Still from Against the Clock (2019)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This is art-house wannabe fodder for the hypothetical and stereotyped millennial audience who eat a bowl of sugar-frosted molly every morning for breakfast. It is strange by the measure of misguided and incompetent work, but true “weird” should be an intentional choice.

COMMENTS: I’ve gotten in trouble on this site for reviews like Breakfast of Champions and The God Inside My Ear, so I’m going to clearly ask up front: take Uncle Pete’s word for it and have faith in me this time. Against the Clock is not, again, not a movie. It is a tragically aborted fetus that came close to showing vital signs, but went wrong. What went wrong was a special effects team, fresh off an online Adobe Premier Pro course, who masturbated furiously all over the film with strobe-light-paced jump-cut CGI scored to literally every noise from a stock sound effect CD, followed by a director who subsequently fed the film stock through a wood-chipper until it was confetti and glued it back together with flypaper strips. With these chaotic monkeys turned loose on the production, the attempted movie has no room left for story, characters, dialogue, or a cubic centimeter of breathable oxygen in which to make clear its artistic statement. Picture Max Headroom on cocaine, turned loose with a camera for 100 minutes in the seedy side of The Matrix.

If you thought Oliver Stone’s style in Natural Born Killers wasn’t hyper enough, if Run, Lola, Run stressed your attention span, or if you felt The Wall just did not indulge itself in enough psychedelic show-offs, then get ready to put on your boogie pants and dance. Not to compare Against the Clock to those greater efforts; those works use trippy imagery and sugar-rush effects as tasteful seasonings on a competent recipe. Against the Clock unscrews the cap and dumps in the whole bottle.

Nevertheless, if you take the movie at its own terms and approach it with the right frame of mind, it does have some kind of artistic vision. But once you’ve become used to an experience that’s like viewing a pinball machine from inside the ball while the bumpers and flippers whack it around—and taken enough Dramamine not to barf—the movie’s novelty wears off. Rather than amping me up, the ADHD editing has the opposite effect: it lulls me into a relaxing daze, like watching a fireplace. This movie would make a pretty screensaver. It even held my cat’s attention for a record ten minutes before he wisely curled up in an adjacent chair for nap time, an option I envied as I contemplated running a Monster energy drink through my Continue reading CAPSULE: AGAINST THE CLOCK (2019)