All Cheerleaders Die (2001)

written and directed by lucky mckee and chris sivertson
mckee, sivertson, shelli merrill, jeff rimmer, kevin sparks et al.

So, this is essentially a home movie, you know, shot on video during daylight hours, with a game but novice cast, beginner FX, and an interesting storyline that devolves into standard zombie fare. It’s also wildly ambitious and somewhat unconventional in structure, particularly for the type of amateur production it is, and for what it’s worth also flaunts an independent and presumably localized soundtrack. If I said I could tell from this beginning where co-director McKee’s career would head – or for that matter, that of his co-director – I’d be blatantly lying to you, because it only occasionally evinces any hint that its makers even had such a goal in mind, much less the abilities to achieve it. They must at least have had motivation and perseverance, though.

why did i watch this movie?

I have admired some of McKee’s other work, and as I pondered seeing the 2013 version of this film, discovered that it was possible to track down this artifact.

should you watch this movie?

It’s kinda interesting as a historical artifact, but that status doesn’t make the sophomoric moments any more palatable – nor the lack of production values.

highlight and low point

As hinted above, the setup is pretty interesting, especially as it takes time to take effect – a significant delay is involved, giving the filmmakers more time for character and story development. The scene that eventually triggers the mayhem is also quite unexpected, and amongst less successful thespians, Shelli Merrill stands out for her concerted efforts. The cheerleading, however, is atrocious and unconvincing. Other drawbacks have been covered, and although the “bloodthirsty undead” angle is pretty tired, I won’t fault that here.

rating from outer space: C−

The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

directed by don sharp
Hammer film productions

Wellnow, this production was obviously made before Hammer decided to up its game for the ’70s, as it’s a staid affair that owes more to classical horror depictions than to the more adventurous era that immediately followed. Without much in the way of suspense and featuring very little that could be regarded as action, the most interesting thing about this flick are the godawful interior sets. Actually, Noel Willman as “Dr. Ravna,” the, uh, head vampire, also occasionally imitates Bela Lugosi’s oddly cadenced speech from the original Dracula … but only occasionally. It’s very subtle. Edward de Souza and Jennifer Daniel are the leads here, which is too bad, and the possibly intriguing subplot – the vampires are essentially just a weird cult – is basically ignored. Perfunctory and negligible.

why did i watch this movie?

It was an accident. I intended to watch Hammer’s 1970 The Vampire Lovers, but I wound up with this instead.

should you watch this movie?

You do appear to be in need of a soporific.

highlight and low point

Frustrations pile up throughout the proceedings, as motivations of key characters remain unclear or undeveloped and a backstory fails to develop … and when we finally get an explanation for what compels a major character to mount an offensive, it sheds no light whatsoever on his inability or unwillingness to have been proactive much, much earlier. (I would say they should have expounded on many of these themes at greater length, but who would be interested in any more of this slog?) One upside is the hilariously offhand display of totems and fetishes and whatnot, which also go largely without illumination, and the bizarre demise of the weirdo clan (oops, sorry, spoiler) features spectacularly crude FX.

rating from outer space: D+

Equinox aka The Beast (1970)

written and directed by jack woods
tonylyn productions, inc.

Of the many mysteries this inspired flick presents, perhaps none is more pressing than why in hell it’s called “Equinox.” A scatterbrained adventure of sorts, it unfolds as a long and involved tale of why a guy named Dave now resides in a sanitarium. Seems Dave, his friend Jim, Jim’s girlfriend and Dave’s blind date all went out looking for a certain Dr. Waterman, only to encounter all manner of bizarre things. These include a crazy old man living in a cave; a strange forest ranger who calls himself “Asmodeus”; a disappearing castle; an ancient book of weird incantations and illustrations (which we should find very familiar); a passage to a different realm; a Kong knockoff; another giant creature; what may be intended to be The Devil himself; and lots of other fun stuff. The dialogue is of course cardboard flat and the acting no better, but this preposterous affair’s a real throwback pleasure.

why did i watch this movie?

I found it on YouTube quite by accident, and a brief inquiry made it a must-see.

should you watch this movie?

They quite literally do not make pics like this anymore, such as that cannot even be called “B” movies, and its independence alone is appealing.

 

highlight and low point

As hinted above, it seems fairly obvious that Sam Raimi and crew must have seen this film at some point before they made The Evil Dead, just as it’s obvious that Jack Woods et al. were familiar with works such as, oh, I don’t know, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers. For trivia fans, Jim is portrayed by the future Herb Tarlek, and co-producer/writer/director Dennis Muren would eventually work on blockbusters such as E.T.

rating from outer space: C+

Matriarch (2018)

written and directed by scott vickers
new light films

For a picture with nary an original idea, this production set in Scotland ended up being a taut, gripping, well-paced story, with a twist here and there – some interesting, some incredulous, and some superfluous – to differentiate it from the pack … slightly. Overall, however, very little happens in this flick that you haven’t experienced before, except for maybe the nearly impenetrable Scotch accents of a pair of extremely minor characters. (Seriously, I could have used English subtitles for their dialogue.) On the plus side, it’s very well filmed, acted and directed and all that. But c’mon, this is the synopsis: “An expecting mother and husband crash their car in the countryside and are offered shelter by a farmer and his wife. Soon they realize,” etc. I suppose the intense Christianity of the rural family qualifies as an innovative attempt, but let’s face it, twisting the orientation and bearing of religions and the religious isn’t exactly a brand-new concept for a horror movie, either.

why did i watch this movie?

Well, it didn’t seem to involve demonic possession, so that was a plus.

should you watch this movie?

I mean … it has its moments, but it just kinda follows the template, really.

highlight and low point

a tense and gripping scene

The isolated family is very effectively creepy, particularly the taciturn father played by Alan Cuthbert, who expresses malevolence with naught but his baleful silence at times. What could have been an overwhelmingly terrifying sequence was mostly spoiled by a dire lack of acceptable realism, however, and what may have been intended as a SHOCKING twist at the conclusion just falls flat. One minor unexpected revelation manages to be humorously chilling, and the dismal ambience is effectively sustained.

rating from outer space: B

La Terrificante Notte Del Demonio aka La Plus Longue Nuit du Diable aka The Devil’s Nightmare aka Au Service du Diable aka The Devil Walks at Midnight (1971)

directed by jean brisme’e (sic)
delfino film/cetelci s.a.

Literally titled “The Terrifying Night of the Devil” in its native Italian and “The Longest Night of the Devil” in French (it was an Italian and Belgian co-production), one might immediately suspect they’d find a mishandled feature in which nobody was too invested, but this classic European sleaze actually impressed me no end. Well, at least the middle portion did, as for a while this tale of seven travelers unwillingly spending a fateful night in an eerie castle became intriguing and stylish. The latter third is less trashy than the first third and more pedestrian than that which precedes it, though it does introduce some priceless camp elements and is not without its moments. On the whole, the picture surpasses reasonable expectations. Oh, and it disproves the widely held notion that castles don’t have phones, for those keeping score at home.

why did i watch this movie?

Well, whilst I was scouring sources for stuff to screen, I saw the English sobriquet for this picture and was immediately agog. “The devil’s nightmare?” I wondered, suspecting linguistic malfeasance. Ergo …

should you watch this movie?

A good time would be had by all, assuredly.

highlight and low point

Somewhat surprisingly, given the overall mood and orientation of this affair, it boasts the least passionate “lesbian” scene one may ever witness. (To call it “tepid” would be a wild exaggeration.) It counterbalances this shortcoming, however, with the most floridly literal depiction possible of signing a contract with the devil. Somewhere in between these extremes, it presents a panoply of themes and settings familiar from such fare as House on Haunted Hill, Clue and Se7en, to name just the most obvious. Erika Blanc’s succubine Lisa Müller is a particular treat throughout.

rating from outer space: B+

Vampire Circus (1972)

directed by robert young
hammer film productions

“Better no mother than a mother that worships the devil!” proclaims a vindictive villager as this picture comes out with all guns blazing. (Torches, actually.) I immediately wondered if I needed to start watching everything with the Hammer name from this time period. Child slaughter, nudity, lust, arson, mayhem … and that was all in the first 15 minutes, before the credits ended. Things settle down after that, once the gypsies show up with the “Circus of Nights,” although a hearty massacre of three members of a family – by a panther – does find its way in there. (The panther is rather amusingly animated and exaggerated by the FX of the day.) Despite getting a bit bogged down in the villagers’ struggle to understand what has befallen them, however, enough eldritch touches recur to keep things moving along nicely toward the expected ending.

why did i watch this movie?

Look, I try my best to keep my motives pure and my intellectual pursuits respectable, but this damn flick is called “Vampire Circus.”

should you watch this movie?

terrifying muppet gore

If you don’t find the title “Vampire Circus” deliriously fetching, then probably not.

highlight and low point

The Circus has an attraction called “Mirror of Life,” and it is within this enclosed tent that nefarious truths are revealed, of course. One of the scenes that takes place in said location is pretty impressively intimidating. Some of the moments when the main vampiric henchman Emil brandishes his fangs verge on silly. Oh, and if you’re keeping track, herein it is once again revealed that removing the stake from the undead’s heart will allow it to return to its imitation of life. So apparently I forgot that bit of mythology somewhere along the way.

rating from outer space: B−

Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak (1995)

directed by stuart gordon
full moon entertainment

The movie business is a cutthroat and fickle marketplace, of course, and that reality is exemplified in the fact that this entertaining little horror was consigned to the straight-to-video realm despite its director’s pedigree and track record. Or because of it, maybe. Whatever the case, this Italian production deserved at least a short run in the second-thought weekend theaters of Middle America. An outlandish tale of an inheritance gone terribly wrong due to an incredible oversight (or two), with comedic values so dark they border on sick, and some distinctive gore that yet manages to preserve an air of restraint, I could not locate whatever intrinsic flaw condemned it to its rental-store destiny. It even has random, unnecessary nudity, for crying out loud. Sure, it doesn’t really follow some of its convoluted plot points to any sort of conclusion, dodging an opportunity to make things really interesting, and ends abruptly without much of any resolution, but I rather doubt such a condition would negatively affect anybody’s overall opinion.

why did i watch this movie?

I think this one falls into the “why hadn’t I already seen this?” category … Combs! Crampton! Alleged H.P. Lovecraft inspiration!

should you watch this movie?

Why haven’t you already seen it?

highlight and low point

The sequence beginning with Jeffrey Combs’s John Reilly getting drunk and culminating in the polizia coming to talk to him about a missing woman features all of the little things that make this picture work: passion, pathos, subtle humor, grievous bodily harm. It takes kind of a long time for the action to start rolling, however, and maybe a little too long for any of the muddled family stories to begin to make sense.

rating from outer space: B+