Friday, 30 December 2011

Diary: Daily Arrivals Of Nastiness

My vintage VHS horror addiction is continuing to dominate both my movie-viewing and my hobby time right now. Searching for classic and less-than-classic titles out in various cities or snapping them up on eBay is proving to be both fun and lucrative, as I have got back into VHS dealing in a big way recently. Yup, this is down to the Facebook group I remain obsessed with, Horror VHS Collectors Unite! My passion for horror has always been strong, but I am now in a position to seek out the titles I loved as a teenager (or craved, yet never got to see) and also find titles that I know people will want to buy.

Case in point is a guy called Ian, who I have come into contact with via the group. He's very cool indeed, and as we're both in the UK we have struck up a kinship over tatty old VHS tapes of bad horror movies and other genre delights. This has come to a head over the Christmas period with us swapping gifts of rare VHS tapes that we knew the other would enjoy.

My girlfriend finds this both sweet and amusing, that two grown men who barely know each other have started sending shady looking brown parcels back and forth between themselves in the name of gathering obsolete media, and I can't say I blame her.

I feel like a big kid right now, searching out all of the films I never got around to renting in the video heyday, as well as gathering all of the titles that mean a lot to me. I see these my collection as somewhat autobiographical now, which is a weird thing to say about old video tapes, but I would liken it to people who collect vinyl – that same sense of an item evoking a period in your life.

Of course, I am not just picking these things up for nostalgia's sake and to watch a few flicks, but also to sell some on as I tend to be broke (and as we have a baby on the way, I will be broke for the rest of my life) and to get quality tapes back into circulation on the collector market. I hate to think of these items going to waste, being thrown away by their old owners or just scrapped by charity shops for being obsolete.

They belong with us, the freaks who value those beautifully trashy covers and sleazy films the most. This is probably why I spend far too much time feverishly looking for forgotten gems online and why I have to raise a sheepish grin at my girlfriend when the postman arrives and there is the tell-tale THUNK of another VHS tape hitting the mat. Thankfully, she understands my fascination even though she doesn't share it, and as long as my core collection remains largely the same size and the transient tapes are sold off and recirculated, then I can't see any problems to come.

That is, aside from hipsters collecting tapes for kitsch value alone. You weren't there, man. If you don't love the films and the era, then leave them to those of us who do. I mean, I need my fix of hearing the daily arrivals. It's almost as much fun as picking out where films were cut and bitching about it online. Almost.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

DOLLS (1987)


A precursor to the Puppet Master movies, Dolls is a thoroughly enjoyable b-movie horror yarn stuffed with murderous living toys, some nonsensical plotting, a partially-brilliant cast and a typically silly ending. The cover alone is enough to send some people into fits of screaming, but if you're familiar with the work of Charles Band and his merry, erm, band of cohorts, you'll know what you're in for with this film. If you find dolls to be terrifying thing, then for crying out loud, don't watch this flick, ever.

Dolls wasn't directed by Band, though. That honour fell to none other that Stuart Gordon, which is probably why Dolls plays and looks much better than it would have done in other hands. The film is cheap and schlocky, but also contains sequences that are surprisingly creepy, thanks to the use of myriad methods of bring the dolls to life, including puppets, animatronics and stop-motion animation, all executed with great flair and style.

The story is sadly pretty stupid, to be honest, but come on, we don't watch a lot of these things expecting to have our minds expanded and enriched do we? A family stops at a creepy mansion to shelter from a storm, soon followed by a loveable oaf of a guy with the same problem. These are then complemented a little later by – out of absolutely nowhere – two punk girls (one with a ludicrous English accent which is torture to hear to these English ears, but probably 'quaint' to everyone outside of the UK).


The old couple who live in the creepy mansion are pantomime-scary old timers (featuring none other than Guy Rolfe - Andre Toulon himself from the Puppet Master movies) with a passion for making terrifying dolls. Of course, the group of unwitting guests soon discovers that these dolls are more than just toys, and very soon there is mayhem, mutilation and murder as playtime gets underway for the army of chilling toys.

Something that is immediately frightening about the dolls is that they really do look like toys rather than movie props, which is where other films with a similar concept fall down dead. These things are freaky. The flick is basically an excuse to have some horrible living dolls kill a bunch of people in nasty ways, and on that level it succeeds completely. As a coherent narrative, it fails miserably, but hey, there are dolls, so who cares?

Stuart Gordon's direction demonstrates the visual ingenuity he is known for (even on such a small budget production), while the effects team brings a unique addition to the animated doll genre, namely gory skulls that are revealed within the dolls' heads when they are destroyed. Nice touch there guys. Thanks for the nightmares.


The kill scenes are well done, but the creepiest has to be the slow-motion death of one character who falls foul of a squad of toy soldiers. In true war movie style, the footage slips into slow-mo as the soldiers unload their ammunition at their enemy. The look of horror on the character's face as they are gunned down in a cloud of their own blood is actually very effective.

One of the finest moments in the whole movie comes very early on, when the daughter of the snotty family that first arrives at the mansion (played by Carrie Lorraine, who incidentally makes for a very cool lead character as she's played so well) visualizes her teddy bear growing to monstrous proportions and eviscerating her parents in a shower of gore. This is played out on camera exactly how she pictures it, and it's a beautifully mad moment worthy of the Evil Dead movies or indeed Gordon's own Re-Animator.

With a short running time (about 75 minutes in total) and no pretence of being anything other than a slightly patchy and nonsensical horror movie, Dolls does exactly what you would want it to with that title. They're watching you, y'know. Be nice to your toys, folks.


Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Cynthia Rothrock – B-Movie Master


One name that popped up throughout my formative years as a genre addict was that of Cynthia Rothrock, the martial arts and action movie heroine who has starred in more films than I have had hot dinners, and that's a hell of a lot of dinners.

The blonde ass-kicker first came to my attention via a big-box copy of the first CHINA O'BRIEN movie, then its sequel, and then titles like UNDEFEATABLE, HONOR AND GLORY and a ton of others. After a while I discovered her earlier years as a Hong Kong action star, in films that came across as harder-edged versions of Jackie Chan's Police Story movies.


Often derided for her acting ability, I personally think that Cynthia is one of the greatest stars of action cinema, ever. Her films rarely disappoint, and in fact films like Guardian Angel or Lady Dragon outstrip many bigger budget flicks in terms of entertainment value. She is a diminutive figure, but there is never any doubt that she could tear you limb from limb, and even though some of her roles have been painful to watch (Sci-Fighter) or just kinda nonsensical (her cameo in 24 Hours To Midnight, before she puts on a mask and is suddenly played by someone else for the whole film), she puts in a great effort every time.

A lot of the films she has featured in do follow a certain blueprint, but hey, don't all action movies follow a set routine? Just enjoy them. Basically, Cynthia's films tend to be centred around any possible method of getting her to kick people's backsides as often as possible. This is no bad thing, as Cynthia is a former Karate world champion (many times over) and is one of the most consistently entertaining and exciting martial arts movie stars to watch onscreen.



Yes, some of the films are formulaic (Undefeatable is a prime example), but they are a ton of fun too, and who can't fail to enjoy watching her beat the crap out of the bad guys? In addition, from what I have read she is very accomodating with fans at conventions and suchlike, which is always nice to know.

Mind you, I doubt anyone would NOT be pleasant to her, in case they put themselves at risk of one of her legendary kicks.

Cynthia, I salute you. Cheers for the years of beating up the bad guys in the name of keeping geeks like me entertained.

A 'suggested viewing' list of Cynthia Rothrock movies: 

CHINA O'BRIEN

CHINA O'BRIEN 2

MARTIAL LAW

LADY DRAGON

UNDEFEATABLE

GUARDIAN ANGEL

TIGER CLAWS

RAGE AND HONOR

RAGE AND HONOR 2

HONOR AND GLORY

SWORN TO JUSTICE

Saturday, 17 December 2011

CREEPOZOIDS (1987)


It's a blatant rip-off of ALIENS, with added stolen bits of THE THING and a bunch of other high-end sci-fi/horror crossover movies, but Creepozoids captured my attention as a teenager thanks to two factors. First, the cover art for it was brilliant, and second, it had Linnea Quigley in it. The film follows a bunch of army deserters who take shelter in an abandoned lab while acid rain pelts the land outside after an apocalyptic nuclear war has taken place in the near future.

Of course, this being the sort of film that it is, the lab was home to a genetically-engineered monster, which lives on deep within the lab. The deserters, when not bickering amongst themselves, having sex in the shower or being macho, discover they need to band together to overcome the threat of the monster and also the secret threat which is lurking within one of their number.

It's cheap, tacky, a complete rip-off and rather wonderful. Creepozoids was one of the earliest films of my development as a genre addict, it being one of my first 18-rated VHS tapes back when I was far too young to be buying videos with that certificate.


What can I say? I knew where to go to find people with very shaky morals who would sell horror movies to kids. I turned out okay – honestly! Sadly, I can't say the same for kids who are seeing today's horror output. I guess they just don't make 'em like they used to.

Anyway. Creepozoids introduced me to many things that would play a big part in my further development as a fan of low budget cinema. The first and foremost of those things is of course Linnea Quigley, who I had a crush on in my early teens due to this film and whatever else I could find her in (of which there was plenty).


It also introduced me to the concept of forcing big ideas into tiny budgets and how suspend disbelief even further (the 'secure' lab looks about as secure and sturdy as a limp banana skin). Ladies and gentlemen, Creepozoids is one of the worst, and best, films I have ever seen. It reeks of cheese from the script, the acting, the effects and the score.

Thankfully there's enough swearing, violence and nudity to keep the teenager in all of us sated. Once the Creepozoids are revealed, there may be a bit of a sense of underwhelming disappointment unless you expect rubber, vaseline and, erm, just one of them. It's a far cry from the giant scale of the Ridley Scott and James Cameron epics the makers stole so many ideas from (right down to the John Hurt chest-burster scene from 'Alien' homage), but in it's own way, Creepozoids is awesome. Trash, yes, but awesome trash. B-movie gold.


3 ON A MEAT HOOK (1973)


This is one of the sleaziest films I've ever seen, and certainly the sleaziest that I have covered here for the diary. It's far from being a great film, but as nasty exploitation films go, it does have its entertainment value. One thing I'll say is that as horror flicks go, it certainly lives up to its title. There are far more gore scenes than your average slasher, and the tiny budget and low production values give the film the air of prime time grindhouse filmmaking.

Apparently based loosely on the crimes of notorious maniac Ed Gein, 3 On A Meathook tells the story (I use the term loosely, by the way) of four girls who go off on a road trip, go about the hi-jinks of the time and then run afoul of a lunatic when their car breaks down and a young man takes them to a farm to shelter. Thus begins the meat of the movie, if you will.


The girls are stuck at this guy's place until their car can be fixed, and while there they discover that their time is running out fast. One by one, the girls are butchered, until only one is left alive to discover the truth about the farmer and his meat.

There's actually a pretty good twist if you can stomach the low grade quality of the film stock, the production and the music (that poor, abused wah-wah pedal), and while there is a great deal of padding (entire musical performances by a club band, lingering sequences of the girls skinny-dipping), 3 On A Meat Hook does contain some fun exploitation thrills.


This is a proper, old-school drive-in horror movie, with grisly shots of mutilation, murder and butchery that are surprisingly nasty, if not completely convincing. Liberally stealing ideas from PSYCHO, having the girls onscreen without their clothes for large chunks of screen time, aiming great swathes of exposition at the camera and wah-wah-guitar-playing its way through woodland frolics as well as demented violence, 3 On A Meat Hook is not a film for the modern horror fan.

Much more suited to the connoisseur with a taste for low-budget 70s exploitation movies rather than slick, modern yawn-fests, it's a mean, nasty and shoddy little gem that really evokes an era of horror cinema.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

SLAUGHTERHOUSE (1987)


Rowdy teens, sweaty hicks, lots of pigs and a huge lunatic with a meat cleaver – welcome to SLAUGHTERHOUSE. Quite a sought-after tape amongst the VHS geeks I frolic with, it's a flick I've wanted to check out for a while on the strength of the marvellously tacky cover. I'm not disappointed now I've seen it, either. A steal on eBay, even with a battered cover, the film ticks off 80s horror tropes one by one; The soundtrack is a great slice of cheese, the cast are pretty and pretty irritating, and there's chaos with a cleaver. What's not to like?

Buddy, the simpleton son of a pig-farm owner, goes on a killing spree inspired by his father when their dilapidated slaughterhouse is put at risk of closure by the local sheriff and officials. A group of teenagers who are joking around making a shot-on-video horror movie get caught up in the mayhem when they stop off at the slaughterhouse for kicks, and eighties low-budget horror fun ensues.

There are plenty of high-spirited hi-jinks from the teenagers which tell us quite clearly that they are full of mischief and ever so slightly naughty, but they're not all that bad really. There's even a party montage scene with obligatory eighties edits and a bouncy pop band onstage who are described as 'Rock n' roll' despite their synths and smart haircuts.


It's all a bit wholesome, until the slaughter starts for real. Buddy, the giant, idiot, mute maniac on the cover, is in turn hilarious and formidable. The performance from Joe. B. Barton as Buddy Bacon (seriously) would have made for a fine Leatherface knock-off had it not been for the forced moments of comedy evident in his every facial expression and each scene featuring him when he's not hacking people to bits or hanging them from meat hooks. He is constantly snorting, squealing and grunting. Just like his piggies.

Now, as someone who loves bacon (and indeed pork products galore) very dearly, while also thinking that pigs are delightful creatures (hypocrite, I know, but they're cute and delicious, so everyone wins really), it's great to see pigs being pigs throughout the movie. It's when anyone tries to push the plot forward in a sensible direction that it falls apart entirely. The makers should really have spent less time trying to turn the film into a cop drama and more time with Buddy swinging his cleaver at people's heads while jaunty country music plays in the background, as that's when Slaughterhouse really makes a killing. Now I want a bacon sandwich.



Saturday, 3 December 2011

Evilspeak (1981)


One of the DPP's notorious (I really need to use the word 'notorious' less, don't I?) 'Video Nasties', Evilspeak is a brilliant piece of trashy horror entertainment that his head and shoulders above most of the films that make up the 72 that were lumped in with the controversy.

This may well have something to do with the lead character being played by Clint Howard, who, dear addicts, is a god amongst men when it comes to horror movies.

He rapidly became a go-to man for the freaky/weird/oddball in many movies and TV shows, but he's more than just a distinctive face. Clint Howard is also an extremely talented actor, and he brings a great deal of pathos to the role of Stanley Coopersmith, the computer nerd at a military school who is the butt of endless jokes and pranks from his peers.


Of course, he winds up with incantations left behind by a mad Satanic cult leader from hundreds of years ago, which enable him to harness the power of the underworld in order to wreak bloody mayhem upon his enemies.

The film is a little slow to offer much in the way of horror material, but when the chaos kicks in, it's mental. I say a little slow, but the film is actually kinda painful in its build up towards the inevitable bloodshed.


Actually, at several points in the first 50 minutes of the movie, Evilspeak could be taken for a regular comedy/drama film, albeit one with satanic rituals. And demonic pigs. And flashbacks to a mad cult. In fact, forget I said it could be taken as anything other than a horror movie.

The thing is, it feels rather comic-booky in terms of tone rather than pure evil. I can understand the controversy surrounding this particular entry on the Video Nasties list to a certain extent due to the graphic gore and some of the more unsettling scenes (the simulated killing of a puppy is all wrong), but overall Evilspeak is a bit of gory fun with Clint Howard mugging for the camera with all his might.

A fun film for an evening session with beer and salty snacks. Just watch out for the rubber-faced fake pig head which is used in close-ups. You may snort your snacks up with mirth.