A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

directed by larry cohen
larco Productions/420 demons

As this picture began to unspool, I didn’t know if I’d be able to stand it, because once we reach the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, the production quality (acting, costumes, props, makeup) takes a severe nosedive – and it was iffy from the get-go. I persevered, however, and was amply rewarded by general weirdness. (I also greatly enjoyed the credit “Based on characters created by Stephen King,” as the only way in which that is true is if one considers the town of “Salem’s Lot” itself to be a character.) Okay, look, in terms of actual credibility, this flick is nowheresville; it plays more like a made-for-TV movie than the 1978 Tobe Hooper-directed Salem’s Lot CBS “miniseries” and is chock-full of several stripes of bad acting that run the gamut from half-baked to hammy. Throw in a Nazi hunter to save the day, and you’ve got everything you always wanted in a fear, and less! This is where sequencing can be important: after watching Scarecrows, this flick wound up being highly enjoyable.

why did i watch this movie?

As acknowledged, I am a bit of an S. King obsessive, so I’ve wanted to investigate this one for quite a while, especially after having viewed Cohen’s Special Effects.

should you watch this movie?

It depends on how SERIOUSLY you take “Salem’s Lot” to be a “gripping masterwork of horror,” or whatever people consider King’s (or Hooper’s) Dracula redux to be, because this is a tongue-in-cheek treatment of the (purported) source material.

highlight and low point

The last time I watched a vampire flick I learned how to revive a bloodsucker; this time I found out a mortal can impregnate one and that its ashy remains may spontaneously combust. This is the terrifying leader of the hemovores:

rating from outer space: D

Scarecrows (1988)

directed by william wesley
effigy films

I would be inclined to call this picture “comically inept” except for the fact that nothing about it is funny – especially not the hour and a half or so I wasted watching it. Laborious, idiotic and pointless, this film has three characteristics in preponderance:

  1. voiceovers, to the point that it seems as though large swaths of the flick were shot without any dialogue whatsoever
  2. a repeated closeup* of one of the appellative dummies so prevalent it lends itself to disbelief
  3. blatantly obvious continuity problems for roughly the first third of its running time, which also return at the end

The latter involves an aircraft out of which hijackers are parachuting in pursuit of their heist money, for which they’ve been double-crossed. When the paratroopers land – allegedly this flick is known as “Paratroopers” on the German DVD market – they’re in pitch-dark night, but all shots of the airplane flying are in varying levels of daylight (early twilight at worst). As for the narration, one of the voices illuminates the turncoat’s thoughts, except that when he actually speaks, it’s … in a different, accented voice. As to the “action,” you may reasonably inquire why the scarecrows are killing people. Well might you wonder: no one knows. “I think this place is possessed by demonic demons,” one annoying character says to another. And they can’t be stopped! Except for when they can.

why did i watch this movie?

I have lousy decision-making skills, apparently.

should you watch this movie?

Bake a cake. Ride a bike. “Mail” a “letter.” Take a long walk off a short pier. Write poetry, even!

Highlight and low point

Paced as poorly as the rest of this venture, the credits last more than seven full minutes.

rating from outer space: f

*this one

Dark Souls aka Mørke sjeler aka Zombie Driller Killer aka Drill Murders (2010)

written and directed by césar ducasse and mathieu péteul
addict films

At this late date in the human experiment, it’s downright surprising to come across a picture that presents a fresh take on the undead/zombie genre, but this Norwegian offering does just that. Or DOES it. Deliberately vague, the flick doesn’t really sustain its momentum, but it never ceases to lure one along, either. Along about the climax, I suddenly detected a THX 1138 vibe, and some 28 Months Later – or maybe Shaun of the Dead – parallels occurred to me as well. (One man’s zombie is another man’s walking dead, as the old saying goes.) Largely dialogue-free for its final 20 minutes or so, the disconcerting nature of the proceedings persistently is heightened. You know things aren’t going to end well, but you’re just not sure exactly what that might mean. Not bad, could’ve been better, can’t think of any specific improvements offhand. Well, maybe a little more action wouldn’t have hurt.

why did i watch this movie?

Description: It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out. Haha, no, but the breathless review I saw did say it was depressing, confusing, and worth giving a look-see. Et voilà.


should you watch this movie?

I have made similar observations before, but this film-festival favorite (IMDb lists 36 screenings) will be acceptable to, and more than likely appreciated by, the sorts of viewers who enjoy productions of that ilk and/or on that scale.

highlight and low point

Without giving too much away, the various depictions of the stages of affliction of the most prominent victim are both poignant and blackly humorous to a degree. One serious bit of bad planning, though, involves a rather large discrepancy in the time-release nature of the malady. Also, an amateurish sheen prevails.

rating from outer space: B−

The Dark Side of the Moon aka Parasite (1990)

directed by d.J. webster
wildstreet pictures

If you had, like, a minimal straight-to-video budget, one might wonder why “space epic” would be the kind of production you’d attempt. Music video director D.J. Webster ignored these constraints and the results are visually reminiscent of John Carpenter’s debut Dark Star, along with the inspired stagecraft of Plan 9 From Outer Space. This ripoff mashup of Star Trek: Voyager, 2001, The Thing, Aliens et cetera also features shots cribbed directly from Star Wars and some acting laughable enough to compete with the output of its costume department. I haven’t even mentioned the questionable theory advanced, which somehow links “Centrus B-40” (the title location) with the Bermuda Triangle – I’m not an astrophysicist, but that seems dubious to me. It does, however, set up a pretty great ending to this otherwise turgid melodrama. Oh, and lest I forget, Satan.

why did i watch this movie?

The search for ’90s fodder led me here, with the bonus that this picture was completely unknown to me.

should you watch this movie?

Though I have no idea why you’d want to try, one note of interest may be that this script is by Chad and Carey Hayes, who eventually would write The Conjuring, among many other credits. (So, kids, if at first you don’t succeed … )

highlight and low point

For starters, the captain of the spacecraft smokes a lot of cigarettes, and sports a leather baseball cap. The onboard computer is a female … android, I guess, which for some reason is dressed like this:

It’s set in 2022, and its dialogue includes the statement “It looks like the Shuttle … Discovery … from the old NASA probe,” answered with the observation that “NASA hasn’t been flying for 30 years.” And then there’s this graphic:

rating from outer space: d+

 

Don’t Go in the Woods aka Don’t Go in the Woods … Alone! (1981)

directed by james bryan
jbf

This picture is almost breathtakingly incompetent. It features possibly the most ersatz blood I have ever seen, its soundtrack is a wildly inappropriate symphony of treated electronic squawks and bleeps – and it is also a vivid reminder of a time when independent horror features could carve out their own niche at the nation’s “nabes” and drive-ins. As such, despite its excessive documentary-style nature shots, unnecessary scenes, continuity problems, clearly overdubbed dialogue, utterly superfluous moments, endless stream of unidentified cast members, and overly linear “plot,” this flick demands a place at the cult-classic table with the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Midnight movie weekends should definitely feature people screaming nonsensical audience-participation crap at this epic.


why did i watch this movie?

I don’t know about you, but I’m almost always up for a film with a title warning “DON’T GO IN” this, “DON’T GO NEAR” that, and so forth.

should you watch this movie?

If you had a venue where you could screen this as part of some event or other, or project it as a sideline feature or during an interlude or something, it would probably go over pretty well. Otherwise?

No.

highlight and low point

The best part of this adventure, hands down, is the incredible scenery of the beautiful location in which they filmed, which may be Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

This isn’t even one of the good shots

Whatever it is, I wanna go there, even if it’s inhabited by a deranged mountain man or any survivors of related massacres. Honestly, though, I also enjoyed the completely unpretentious portrayals of the members of the sheriff’s department. Managing to stand out even in a completely haphazard production, the bewildering parade of random characters is sui generis.

rating from outer space: D+

Dracula’s Dog aka Zoltan, Hound of Dracula aka El perro de Satán (1977)

directed by albert band
vic cinema productions

So, “Dracula” as the world knows him doesn’t really appear in this movie – but an “Igor Dracula” does, along with one last descendant, a modern family man named “Michael Drake.” The story, such as it is, is a cockamamie concoction about a canine that I. Dracula long ago enlisted for some reason or another, along with its former owner – this picture’s Renfield, essentially – a quasi-vampire that can wander around in the daylight to do his bidding. Here, having been revived and in need of a master, these servants want to deliver M. Drake to his legacy. (Did you know that if you remove the stake from the heart of a vampire or near-vampire in its coffin, it comes back to, uh, “life”? I didn’t.) I cannot possibly convince you how preposterous this film is. I would like to point out, however, that relying on dogs to be your lead actors is not the world’s greatest idea.


why did i watch this movie?

A “Dracula” flick without Dracula, but with his … dog …

should you watch this movie?

It will certainly make you laugh – though it’s debatable what kind of laughter it will provoke – but unless you really want to see how NOT to make a movie, it’s not worth it.

highlight and low point

I did mention that this pic relies on dogs to carry a lot of the action, right? Zoltan himself dismantles the roof of a cabin at one point while his comrades compromise the walls. The overdubbed dog noises are also pretty special – barking, howling, growling, you name it. Nothing, however, tops the experience of repeated shots of loyal servant “Smit” staring idiotically into the camera while a voiceover intones “ZOLTAN.”
The family RV interlude comes close, though.

rating from outer space: n⁄a

adorable vampire puppy!

The Mutations aka The Freakmaker aka Dr. of Evil (1974)

directed by jack cardiff
getty picture corporation/cyclone productions

Roger Corman’s name somehow is not attached to this tale of a mad scientist creating hybrid creatures by meshing flora and fauna. “My theory of Total Genetics is all-embracing,” intones the dependably taciturn Donald Pleasence, playing the nutter professor with his hair and beard varying its balance of black and white from scene to scene. Presumably this movie has played countless times on the types of late-night programs that specialize in daffy, misbegotten, or just plain awful cinema. Not merely horror, this flick is equally science-fiction-flavored, all the better for those sorts of showcases. Contents: Plant/human hybrids, plant/animal hybrids, fake deformities, actual sideshow freaks, and a whole lotta stock footage of vegetation. The real star is either the ludicrous monster costume that looks like a deconstructionist Creature from the Black Lagoon (or Swamp Thing, I guess) or the hilarious props in the lab of Dr. Pleasence, a cross between the Little Shop of Horrors and the workplace of Bunsen Honeydew.

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t remember, but probably because it sounded completely ridiculous. And Donald Pleasence.

should you watch this movie?

It’s the kind of presentation you enjoy while wondering how in the world any of the people involved possibly could have been taking their jobs seriously. It’s … definitely amusing.

highlight and low point

Once “Tony” escapes the lab in his hybridized form, the proceedings shift into another realm entirely. It’s almost must-see stuff, almost enough to justify sitting through the rest of it … such as the blatant exploitation of Freaks, for instance. Basically, the plot of Dr. Freakmaker (hmm … ) is grafted onto a rehashing of certain themes of that infamous pic, including an approximation of the “One of us!” scene and an abridged version of the revenge piece.

rating from outer space: C+

that’s not subtle