Welcome to Four Horsemen Films!

Here at Four Horsemen Films, we're dedicated to some of the very best and worst cinematic masterpieces you know, love, and despise. Think of us as Bad Movies for Bad People, or as a liaison to the inner sanctum of cinema. Or, just think of us as quick and entertaining reads. That's what Four Horsemen Films is all about.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Toxic Avenger (1985)

The Toxic Avenger (1985)

Directed By: Michael Herz

Written By: Joe Ritter

Starring: Andree Maranda, Mitchell Cohen, Pat Ryan, Jr., Jennifer Babtist, Robert Prichard, Cindy Manion, Gary Schneider, Mark Torgl

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
Troma. No film company exemplifies an innate ability to reach cult status quite the way Troma does. During the 1970’s, a fledgling company started by Lloyd Kaufman and this film’s director, Michael Herz, began to churn out low-budget sex comedies that were…sophomoric at best. Granted, the term “sex comedy” really doesn’t lend itself well to upstanding, high society, but hey, that’s not the point.

When Troma broke into the 80’s, Kaufman and Herz began to move forward with their biggest story yet: a tale of a weakling pool boy who, thanks to a cruel prank, becomes a radioactive mutant monster capable of destroying evil and saving the small town of Tromaville! Introducing, in all its glory, The Toxic Avenger, a mid 80’s answer to the early superhero film, as well as a statement of dominance from a low-budget, big-aspiration movie company.

To set the record straight, The Toxic Avenger cannot be reviewed just like any old film. Sometimes, films with the “Troma Team Release” tag in front of them make an honest effort to be terrifying or serious. These films, particularly as it comes to cult status, find themselves buried in the lexicon of society. This movie is something that really symbolizes what Troma is all about: intentionally bad schlock, and damn proud of it. Whenever someone sets out to make a movie awful from the start, they realize that they’re providing the world with something truly charming even though it might be difficult to watch. So, because it served as the flagship film for Kaufman, Herz, and legions of bad movie fans, The Toxic Avenger deserves a different kind of review.

In simple terms, the story of Toxie is quite like a lot of other superheroes from the comic books. Here we have a lovable (okay, hideous) loser working the pools in the local establishment who can never catch a break. Young women borrowed from one of Russ Meyer’s dubious flicks (read: they have gigantic breasts) taunt Melvin mercilessly until one day, they, and their lunkhead boyfriends, decide that they want to play a practical joke on poor Melvin. Just as Melvin thinks he’s gonna get some action, he ends up being forced to make out with a lice-infested sheep. Life can’t get much worse for Melvin, until another accident sees him covered with toxic waste left arbitrarily out in the open. Soon, our pathetic pee wee finds himself undergoing huge genetic mutations, as he morphs into a 6-foot 4-inch general hell-bent on revenge.

Some of his first victims are smalltime crooks that die in grisly fashions. In fact, one of the calling cards of a Troma film (this being the ideal Troma film) is brutality in death. Never have I seen more characters have their heads explode, dissolve, or deteriorate to blobs in an instant, and I’m including the hundreds of “living impaired” films I’ve viewed. Anyway, as a way to rub out the criminal influx in his town, Melvin (now Toxie, though always referred to as Melvin) uses his trusty mop from his janitorial days to wipe out the enemy…literally! Think about this: a mop to the face could completely obliterate your template. Now that’s a fucking superpower! He’s equipped with sulfuric acid mops! Mr. Clean be bitchslapped.

Word begins to spread about Melvin’s antics as he continues to fight crime where the police force (crooked and corrupt cops, you know the drill) will not. Eventually, Melvin rescues a blind woman from a robbery at a local fast food restaurant. Let that sentence soak in, and you get the general obscurity we find in most every Troma film. Her name is Sara, and she moves in with Melvin at the city dump soon after the traumatizing (or is it Tromatizing) incident.

Meanwhile, the townspeople are split, some praising the monster’s heroic efforts, others lambasting him for interfering with their community as a horribly disfigured man. Sound familiar? That’s probably because through all of the bad acting, editing, directing, writing, and, well, anything else I left out (that includes you, costuming), this movie is a classic example of the superhero ideal. For every person who supports your aid, there is one to balance on the other end. It’s a realistic and tragic statement on the way people operate, but it fits perfectly for those interested in the whole “Good vs. Evil” mindset. Toxie is only so popular with the community, because if he were 100% over, then we wouldn’t need a movie. Conflict. It’s a beautiful thing.

We wander from scene to scene as often crime fighters do until Melvin/Toxie is finally absolved and accepted into the world that created him, and the narrator reveals the nickname (and subsequent title) The Toxic Avenger. Cue credits, and everyone goes home a winner.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: All of them. That’s the point of a Troma film. Every single member of the crew is in some way flawed and should face ten lashes, then walk the plank.

Best Name in the Cast: Marisa Tomei has a brief (about one second) cameo in this film long before she was ever discovered. Just another perk from the Troma legacy; truly films of the future!

Quote of the Film:
“Honest cops are all alike: A bunch of fucking faggots.” -Cigar Face, confidently believing he’s in the Dick Tracy universe.
Final Thoughts:
It’s too bad that most of the Tromatic Cinema following The Toxic Avenger (save for Class of Nuke ‘Em High) signaled the demise of the world’s first (and only) b-movie mainstream schlock purveyor. Sure, they still produce direct-to-video releases, but its not the same as the huge middle finger they gave Hollywood. After all, they take movies and make parodies just like we see today, the difference being that their spoofs are made like spoofs should be: low-grade, low-budget, with a heart of gold. After all the bullshit, “make a quick buck” flicks that come out every year (like say, Disaster Movie) we should at least be able to take solace in the fact that Troma had them beat long before, and with character, originality, and a mop-wielding super beast named Melvin. Sure, he would later come to be Toxie, but maybe a good Melvin is exactly what Hollywood’s unoriginal, untalented “fun bunch” needs.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mortal Kombat (1995)

Mortal Kombat (1995)

Directed By: Paul W.S. Anderson

Written By: Kevin Droney (Screenplay), Ed Boon & John Tobias (Characters)

Starring: Linden Ashby, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Robin Shou, Bridgette Wilson, Talisa Soto, Christopher Lambert

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
More often than not, filmmakers are always in a position where they have this inane desire not to be creative; to do the most predictable and least complicated idea on their slate. Hell, most of the time, they don’t even provide the ideas, rather, they understand that they can simply adapt something terribly underdeveloped into box office bank. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen movies based on board games, children’s toys, and comic books, just to name a few. However, the one medium that always seemed most suited to having a big screen adaptation was video games. After all, most gamers will tell you that they play not just for the game, but for the experience of a masterfully crafted story that delves into a new, albeit unrealistic, element of society. So why, then, do we find that most video games transferred to the big screen never have the same ferocity they did when you were holding a controller? Mortal Kombat might just have the answers.

Here we have the idea to create a movie based upon one of the most graphic and controversial video games of its time, a game that, without the hype, is button-mashing mayhem loosely tied together by a story about ninjas. The game itself was a standard one-on-one fighter that had brutal fatalities and cool power moves, but also concealed a thin overall plot with mere paragraphs about each of the original 7 playable characters as well as the 2 big bosses. In short: it seemed to be a thin premise with which to make money on in theatres. What’s worse: Two years prior to the release, Super Mario Bros. was deemed a colossal flop at the box office for steering too far from its video game inspiration, and one year after that, Street Fighter (pretty much the same premise as MK) failed miserably. Doomed to fail? It probably should have been, but somewhere along the line, Mortal Kombat learned how to make itself a pretty lucrative franchise.

When you begin watching the film, you’re expecting to see aspects of the game incorporated pretty quickly. After all, you want some accuracy for your fictional basis, right? Sure enough, we get it, within about three seconds. That beautiful Mortal Kombat theme kicks in and we open on a flaming dragon emblem, followed by dark skies and an immediate fight. The fight, taking place between Shang Tsung, MK’s first resident bad guy, and Liu Kang’s brother is as one-sided as can be. Tsung quickly disposes of him, only for us to learn that it was a Liu Kang nightmare. Damn, I already know that Kang wants revenge and has motive to fight. Good way to get that out there.

30 seconds later, we’re transported to Hong Kong, where Sonya Blade and her partner Jax are mercenaries looking to take out a criminal named Kano, who just so happens to work for Shang Tsung. If you’ve played the games, you already understand one important factor of this film: its completely accurate. The game characters rarely had much story early on, so they only had one or two instinctual urges. Those urges are quickly being fulfilled as the movie progresses. From Hong Kong, we hit Los Angeles, where Johnny Cage is an action star trying to abandon a “fake” image. We know our main characters, each of which has reason enough to want to explore the tournament they have all been invited to compete in. Makes me wonder why Mortal Kombat isn’t an Olympic sport. I mean really, a gold medal for ripping your competitor’s spine out? Well worth the price of admission.

Eventually, all of our fighting protagonists (save for Jax, who is a complete pussy in this film) end up on a boat, traveling to an island for the competition. They are joined by Raiden, and challenged rapidly by Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Shang Tsung. Both Tsung and Raiden act more as guardians throughout the battles rather than actual fighters, leaving their lower fighters to do the competing. Raiden explains, quite simply, that his good heroes must win the tournament. Sure, there’s a massive history lesson about the tournament, but it isn’t as important as the goal: win the tournament. At this point, only about 25-30 minutes into the film, we have completely explained what Mortal Kombat (game and movie) is all about. Now, all we have left to do is fight.

And, believe it or not, there is a lot of very well choreographed and unique fighting. Each battle is distinctly unique, and manages to incorporate traditional MK locales (like The Pit in the finale) and grapplers with the storyline. Sure, there are any number of fictional warriors that drop off faster than a red shirt, but there’s also a letter-perfect amount of characters that have, you know, purpose. All of the original MK characters are included, even the massive, four-armed Goro, who is a make-up and special effects marvel for 1995. Hell, even Reptile makes an appearance in his green-masked form to battle Liu Kang. In total, there are 10 MK 1 fighters in the movie and (if you include a special cameo by the Emperor at the end of the film) 3 from MK 2, so it keeps true to the origins of Kombat pretty closely.

This is not to say that this movie doesn’t deal with any number of flaws. I mean, first of all, we’re led to believe that all of these humans are completely copasetic with the idea of traveling to an undisclosed location on the map and compete in a tournament that could mean the end of your eternal flame. Did they sign a release waiver? How is this tournament not sponsored by Pepsi, MetLife, or Goodyear? What, no live TV coverage on ESPN?

As if our characters inability to show even the slightest sense of reason or logic isn’t bad enough, there is a great deal of mentions of parallel universes and alternate planes of reality. I am referring, of course, to the inclusion of an area known as “Outworld,” where the Emperor (Shao Kahn for all you nerds out there) resides and where chaos roams the streets. It is designed to be a polar opposite of the real world, yet has all the makings of any town on the verge of total chaos. After all, dilapidated buildings accompanied by streetwalkers and fire just don’t have that same “hell on earth” feel they once did. So how do you get to Outworld? Well, that’s easy. You simply step inside a giant wormhole until you are engulfed by something that appears to be silly putty until you are beamed (at the speed of light mind you) to a portal of another realm. Kiss my ass, reality, I can step into a giant blob, shoot through a gigantic intestine and into East Compton. What now?

However, if there is any problem in this movie that can’t be overlooked, its Goro’s death. Here we have a supposed 8-foot tall (more like 7, by the way), four-armed Shokan with the ability to rip apart any two-armed mortal. Despite this knowledge (and his age, hundreds of years by the time of this tournament), Goro moronically falls into trap after trap that Johnny Cage lays for him, including a nutcracker suite and a perilous plunge off of a cliff. How, after hundreds of dominant outings could you be this idiotic? Were you raised under power lines?

Once Goro is eliminated, Shang Tsung is left with few alternatives and time is running out. Considering you already know that this film had a sequel, our ending at least leaves us with something a little less inconclusive than the games would have. Oh yeah, and the world’s most obvious sequel setup sequence. I really can’t wait to tell you how bad Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was, because it made this decent (but not overwhelming) action flick look like an Academy Award Winner.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: If anyone, its Gregory McKinney, who plays Jax for about a cup of coffee in this movie. Yes, Jax Briggs returns in the sequel to this particular movie (review coming soon!), but he’s definitely not played by this butcher, who is incapable of not just human emotion, but ability to do anything but scream to Sonya. You’re are a large, black man who will eventually have steel arms. DO SOMETHING YOU CLOTZ!

Best Name in the Cast: Linden Ashby, better known as the show-stealing Johnny Cage. If you’ve ever had your doubts about the MK fighters not having any personality, then you clearly missed how Ashby portrays the perfect chauvinist capable of mass destruction with his fists, and, in real life, he’s actually trained in Tae Kwon Do and Karate.

Quote of the Film:
“A handful of people on a leaky boat are gonna save the world?” -Sonya Blade, summarizing our premise.

Final Thoughts:
This movie does a very smart job of executing what a Mortal Kombat film should be. Paul W.S. Anderson went on to write and direct for the Resident Evil franchise, thus making him huge bank for decent scripts, and while the writing and dialogue is shoddy in parts, they know better than to just leave you hanging in the general scope. Actually, MK feels more like a nod to Enter the Dragon than it does a freestanding film, given the obvious similarities in twists, fights, and settings. I would highly recommend watching them back to back if you want some good, generic kung-fu style action without all the deep, moral, and most importantly logical thinking, because in the end, this movie was based upon a video game. If its deep, moral, and logical, I’d rather shove the controller up someone’s ass than mash the buttons.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972)

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972)

Written By: Benjamin “Bob” Clark

Directed By: Benjamin “Bob” Clark

Starring: Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly, Anya Ormsby, Jeffery Gillen, Paul Cronin, Valerie Mamches, Seth Sklarey

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
Lately, I’ve taken a new interest in discussing films that were made solely to capitalize off of a picture that “revolutionized” the industry. In the horror genre, there are a good 10-15 different flicks that can be deemed revolutionary. And, in the wake of their release and success, there are more than 9000 clones waiting to make a quick buck off of their success. The same can honestly be said for any genre of film. Just look at the last decade. When The Ring made it big domestically, producers scrambled to adapt as many horror films as they could from Japan. Even that style of filmmaking, adding different views, colors, and even length, to a film (thank you very much Gore Verbinsky) was the focal point of copycats nationwide. Look at the Saw franchise. Is gore more important than a thrills and spills? How about the world outside of horror? I mean, The Watchmen is supposedly a novel that can’t possibly be filmed…or at least that was the theory ten years ago. You know, before X-Men and Spider-Man made a huge impact.

So what does it all mean? Well, when dealing with a picture like Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, you have to recognize that this zombie-esque satire was made just a few years after the monumental Night of the Living Dead, and, in recognizing this, you need to know that the only thing that can save it from being just another clone is a different and unique approach. Enter Benjamin “Bob” Clark, our writer and director. When he created this cinematic gem, little did we know what was on the horizon, but I’ll get to all of that a little later. For now, let’s just sit back and enjoy (or valiantly attempt to enjoy) Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.

Open on the most incoherent man on Earth who, not surprisingly, gets eaten. Cue green slime opening credits. Already I know that I’m watching a film that would’ve played during an Unrated MST3K. The majority of the beginning of this movie is really hard to watch. There’s a lot of characters shuffling about, moving things around in an all-too-boring fashion, and if all that wasn’t nauseating enough, we have to listen to the inner sounds of the small intestine as our soundtrack. Luckily, we’re broken out of our deliberate coma by a foghorn, and more dark visuals. After roughly five minutes of this nonsense, we get our plot, setting, and characters in all of thirty seconds.

Alan, the leader of the pack, sports a killer Van Dyke and plans to dig up a dead body in a secluded graveyard next to a cottage. Alan’s a director of a small theatre group, and also, a gigantically homosexual pervert. Even though he hits on his newest acting member, Valerie, he’s still a flaming bag of asses. Alan leads his group of “children” through the dark woods and to the graveyard for this insidious, if not entirely unexplained, plot. The score of the film hasn’t improved any from scene to scene. Is this the woods, or fucking Jurassic Park? By the way, it might be important to note that every character is playing themselves. That’s right, the names haven’t been changed to protect the innocent. Rather, they remained the same to confound the imaginative. But hey, Writer Bob Clark was just spreading his wings with this hunk-o-junk.

After fifteen minutes (no joke, fifteen!) of walking through the world’s lamest ambiance while Alan narcissistically fellates himself, we finally make it to the cottage/dig site. I want to let it be known that I’m bored out of my mind right now. If this was intense and thrilling in 1972, then somebody should repeatedly fist 1972 until they find it’s spine. Thus far, no character, especially not Uncle Alan Assclown, has made themselves socially redeemable. What keeps me watching is the hope (and pretty much guarantee) that they’ll all be eaten in the next hour. As of right now, all we have is children. Children who are actually well prepared for any “mishaps” that may occur during the night. Where are my dead things?

Turns out Alan is harboring a secret from his theatre troop. Looks like he wants to conduct a little satanic ritual on the dead rather than just grave rob them. How sentimental! Alan explains himself and his intentions so homosexually that he makes Liberache look like a womanizer. Soon enough, they dig up a corpse only to find that it is part of a cruel trick Alan has masterfully crafted. What a douche this guy is. Alan planted his other cohorts in full zombie garb to scare his friends, and apparently it works. FIVE times good ol’ fat man Jeffery announces that he peed his pants. Does he want a bronze medal for pissing himself?

Anyway, even through all of the practical jokes, Alan actually has a real corpse to perform satanic experiments on. Why do people follow this guy? I mean really, what the fuck? Okay, I’ll try and go beyond all this stupidity, and back to the story. Alan’s best efforts to invoke Satan have failed, and now, he’s cursing the very thing he just embraced as we still lack any moving corpses. Instead, we have dissention in the ranks as the children call Alan out on his douchebaggery. Luckily, we have satirical summoning of the dead as well in an attempt to patronize Alan the Impetuous. Eventually, we learn that the gang has taken “Orville,” their corpse of reality back to the cabin where they can defile it in many ways non-sexual. Rule 1 of Zombie Movies: Don’t desecrate the dead. They hate that.

During these sequences, the film actually shows flashes of brilliance. We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time up until this point waiting for something good, and we finally get it with strong dialogue amongst the characters and some genuine chills from the impending doom in the graveyard. Yes, while it was poorly executed for most of the film, it looks like we might finally shatter through the glass ceiling if only we could get to the point in the express lane. Sadly, by the time it all comes to a boiling point, the intrigue has faded away. The Evil Dead is vaguely similar in these scenes, but the difference was that the doom hit early and hit often. Here, the doom is as lifeless and stiff as Orville.

Face it, you know what happens from this point on. The dead come back (finally) and take down the living one by one. Problem is, we simply don’t care. We only really want to see what becomes of King Alan the Douche, so the rest is all window dressing and high frequency noises. Thank God for a (if not all too predictable) payoff.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: The Sound/Music editor on the film needs to be killed. His use of EVERY STOCK SOUND IN THE UNIVERSE makes me wonder: did he inherit a soundboard for his birthday and then fall asleep on top of its keys? An owl hoot has never been and will never be scary. NEVER. Bank on it.

Best Name in the Cast: Jane Daley, who plays Terry, and by that logic, is the only main character that DOES NOT play herself. What, did they cast someone named Terry (like Terry Bollea) in the roll and then have a last minute replacement? And we were too lazy to go along with our already lazy theme?

Quote of the Film:
“I’d whistle past the graveyard by my lips are afraid to be separated.” -Jeffery, ever the comedian.

Final Thoughts: Through the majority of this satirical “masterpiece” made to capitalize on a true cinematic achievement, Bob Clark buried himself worse than he buried his bland, comatose cast. Clark didn’t achieve much in this film well, but he showed signs of potential in his script writing and humor. He understood what it took to make something entertaining and funny, but he hadn’t a clue how to do it properly. That’s why Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things serves as another copycat to the George Romero lineage. Luckily, there was still hope for Bob Clark. He may have started as the apprentice, but he soon became the master. Following his work here, he went on to create the film adaptation for A Christmas Story, and then, he created his own revolution: the teen sex comedy Porky’s. Not a bad way to make a living after he helped to set new standards for sub-par schlock. After all that, you’ve got to figure that Bob had a good laugh over the fact that there were dozens of people trying to do with Porky’s exactly what he had tried to do with this picture. The moral of the story is the same here as it was in Children, in that sometimes you have to wait a long, long time to get to the good stuff, but when you do, the payoff makes you realize why you started in the first place.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Written By: Robert Hiltzik

Directed By: Robert Hiltzik

Starring: Mike Kellin, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, Jonathan Tierston, Felissa Rose, Christopher Collet, Karen Fields

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
I make a point of watching the original, theatrical trailer for any movie before I watch and review it. If you’re scratching your head and asking why, my answer is simple: I do it so I can get into the minds of the producers and find out what kind of message their film was supposed to send. After all, I’m sure you can name several movies that you wanted to see simply because they had an awesome preview at your local cinema, and then, those movies delivered the pound-for-pound adrenaline you desired. Of course, there is the other side of the coin, which, if I’m not mistaken, is the side that allows you to believe that cinematic garbage is entirely viewable thanks to the trailer that provided as an accompaniment. The trailer for 1983’s Sleepaway Camp might just have been the most straightforward trailer in the history of cinema.

“Welcome to Sleepaway Camp. Someone is watching you.” Two sentences, which, by themselves mean nothing, but together, send the exact message you would expect from a film created solely to capitalize off of the Friday the 13th phenomena. As we gear up for a remake of Friday the 13th in 2009 and even more from this series, why don’t we look at an equally shocking film that provides a swerve on par with Vader as Luke’s father. Ladies and gentlemen (or, rather, gentlemen playing ladies if you’ve ever seen the film), I present to you: Sleepaway Camp.

Anyone attempting to defend this film for not being a rip-off of the hugely successful Voorhees lineage will find themselves guilty of buffoonery and will be sentenced to watch this film over and over again until they admit to all of the all-to-convenient similarities. First off, we start this flick with, get this, a dramatic score and a look at a dreary camp circled around a large, open lake. Welcome to Camp Arawak: a tarnished spot of land that holds up an ominous “For Sale” sign. Any of this sound familiar? We’re 4 minutes into the film and already I’m praying for a hockey mask and a machete. God I’m sick.

Once the “acting” actually begins in the film, I pray even harder for someone, anyone really, to murder both the kids and adults on the screen. Luckily, I don’t have to wait long, as a freak accident on the lake leaves one man dead and several children traumatized. Lame, but effective for the 80’s. Cue the 8 YEARS LATER graphic and the most terrifying woman in the whole movie: A Mother! She’s sending her kid, Richard and his cousin, Angela off to camp for the summer. This woman is seriously troubled, and I don’t mean in a she’s-going-to-chop-you-to-bits way. I mean in a she’s-just-a-fucking-lunatic-who-we-are-meant-to-think-is-the-killer way. She’s actually a vital participant in the plot who doesn’t show up until we need to tie up the loose ends. She claims to be a doctor, too. Did she give herself a lobotomy?

Anyway, off of that tangent and onto the good stuff. And boy, is it good stuff. Once we get to the camp, we’ve got your standard issue incompetence running the joint, complete with a straw-chewing pedophile that just reeks. Soon, we learn that Richard, or Ricky, is quite the friendly type and his friends are exactly what you’d expect from 14-year old boys: perverts. Angela, however, is quiet. She says nothing at all; she just watches her feet. Moving on, Ricky runs into Judy, a newly stacked bitch of a teenager. She’ll be dead in 30 minutes. Bet on it.

While in the girls cabin, we get an introduction to several more “prosti-tots,” all of whom are deeply disturbed by Angela’s code of silence. Ronnie, the male camp counselor whose dick is way too close to popping out through his short shorts (thank God this isn’t high definition), wants to take care of her and get her comfortable. Luckily for Angela, she ends up with PedoMan who attempts to give her his hotdog. He gets caught by Ricky, and everything becomes real awkward. Guess who is about to bite it? That’s right, PedoMan soon gets dumped into an obnoxiously large pot of boiling water. Gruesome, sure, but we don’t know who did it because it was all filmed in first person view. You know, just like Friday the 13th.

Through all of its problems, the film does have some upside, like the foul-mouthed little fuckers on the baseball field. What’s the perfect response when someone says “Eat Shit and Die?” “Eat Shit and Live.” Or how about “Come on, take the bat off of your shoulder!” “Fuck You!” is the correct response. Really manly stuff considering all of these guys dress like they’re at the roller disco. Honestly, the underage swearing seems to save the movie from any number of other flaws it might have.

Back to Angela, who hasn’t said a thing to anyone yet, but she’s showing interest in Paul, Ricky’s only friend who is not a dickface. In fact, her first word spoken on screen was to Paul. Romance is in the air, so place a bet on Paul getting massacred, too. This is a horror film, romance has no place unless it is smutty. Speaking of smut, skinny dipping and other shenanigans are running roughshod over the camp at night. And murder. You know, just like Friday the 13th.

The difference between this and that Jason-related series seems to be direction. This film just kind of ambles in no particular direction for a long, long time. There certainly aren’t many moments we’re supposed to scream at, and I don’t just say that because of the desensitization of our culture. I say it because literally, there isn’t a god damn thing that could shock you…that is…until you reach the end.

This film is based on one thing, and one thing only: a twist ending. You spend 80 minutes questioning why your summer camp wasn’t this eventful, and then, suddenly, you’re hit with a real swerve. Sure, you’re lead to believe several people could be the killer, but only one person really fits the bill for the motive: Angela. So if it comes as no surprise, then what’s the twist? That’s easy: Angela is a guy. You know, just like Friday the 13th. Wait…what? I know, I spoiled it for you. But, to be fair, it really serves as one of those moments when you throw your hands up and question why it mattered. She wasn’t allowed to just kill people; so she had to have a dick, too? I guess if Jason had a vagina, that’d be shocking, too. Maybe I just missed the part where a girl with a penis was more terrifying than a lackluster body count.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Writer/Director/Executive Producer Robert Hiltzik, who can only claim that his name would be worth a shitload of points in Scrabble. His directing of the actors was terrible, he wrote a script that borrowed over 9000 elements from a much more successful camp slasher, and then, in a stroke of brilliance, he packaged the film as horror. It’s not really a horror film. It doesn’t make you jump out of your seat. You just watch, and get a little grossed out by the special effects. We got lucky that he didn’t do those, otherwise we’d be watching a chocolate syrup masterpiece.

Best Name in the Cast: It would be impossible to overlook Karen Fields for her incredible job as Judy in this film. Seriously, she plays the world’s best tease/bitch character and no matter what you think of the film, you’re happy to see her get hers in the end. That, and her death scene is one of a kind, and will make anyone, man or woman, quiver at the sight of it. She had such potential, but then, disappeared in a flash soon after. Tragic.

Quote of the Film:
“She’s a real carpenter’s dream: flat as a board and in need of a screw!” -Judy, antagonizing Angela about puberty, and the lack there of.

Final Thoughts:
We know full well that this film has gore, a terrifying background for Angela (one of her two dads, yeah two dads, was the first guy killed in the movie), and enough sexual angst to make Anthony Michael Hall blush. But what it lacks is creativity, and that’s saying a plethora considering that the whole transgender murderer thing was new at the time. I’ve seen it all before, in a movie that was ten times better and also had Kevin Bacon in it. Hell, there’s even an infamous drowning child scene. But such was life in 1983, because Sleepaway Camp was successful, if only for chicks with dicks. Everyone could disregard what a blatant knockoff it was because the end was completely new. You wonder why they remake every standard setting horror film nowadays? Sleepaway Camp makes it possible, proving that if you tweak something ever so slightly, it seems altogether fresh. That, and adding penises automatically equal a bigger box office gate.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Night of the Demons (1988)

Night of the Demons (1988)

Written By: Joe Augustyn

Directed By: Kevin S. Tenney

Starring: William Gallo, Hal Havins, Mimi Kinkade, Cathy Podewell, Linnea Quigley, Alvin Alexis, Lance Fenton

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
At some point in the 1980’s horror cinema took a turn for the worst in regards to thrills, chills, and spills. What was once a terrifying experience with greasy, buttered fingers at the multiplex had become an experiment in schlock film that left many audiences lukewarm rather than boiling. This concept, known as “camp,” gave fans of mainstream movies something valid to bitch about: The amount of B-Grade bullshit skewing the line between the good, the bad, and the ugly. The following film is the essential example of camp, and speaks to the core of what an excellent campy film can be.

My first exposure to Night of the Demons came when I was only eight years old. My parents, bless their hearts, had me watch clips of this film following what was our feature presentation of the evening, Friday the 13th Part 4. After that less than humbling experience, I remember being scared out of my skull by the images of this picture. So it should come to no surprise then, that I avoided the flick until high school and never spoke of it again.

When Night of the Demons made its way to the silver screen, it was seen as hokey and often had far too many errors within the characters to really produce strongly for 90 minutes. It also found reviewers complaining about the lack of lighting or direction in many season, often being cited as a hard watch based simply upon the motor skill of visibility. Now while these gripes are not without merit, it leads me to believe that most reviewers overlooked everything that this perennial underdog stands for.

The plot is simplistic and unoriginal. Teenagers looking for a great party find themselves headed to Angela’s bright idea, the abandoned and awfully creepy Hull House. For absolutely no reason whatsoever, I’d like to take this time to tell you that Hull House has a large wall built all the way around it with an underground stream beneath the wall. These are important plot details, for sure, but they also make me want to take the architect out to a nice dinner followed by a swift clubbing to the head with a 9-iron. Angela, portrayed smashingly by up and coming scream queen Amelia “Mimi” Kinkade, has lead her friends to Hull House in an attempt to have as good a time as any teens could be expected to have on Halloween Night. For you see, the film never skips on sending us the message that these events occur on Halloween, with several references to the silly old superstition that the Gates of Hell have opened for one night, and one night only. You have no idea what a tangent I could go off on in trying to explain the whole Horror Movie “Gates of Hell” Theory, so best leave the idea at that.

Anyway, this crew of misfits isn’t short on stereotypical horror movie protagonists. Oh no, we’ve got the token black guy and traditional jock-hole represented, as well as a vast array of races in our promiscuous girls and even one member of Christianity for good measure. Guess who lives? Moving on, we are led to believe that Angela has summoned the restless spirits that live within Hull House’s once bloody walls for massive havoc. All of it, and I mean literally all of it, is transmitted through a singular tube of lipstick. Don’t worry, this is also a reoccurring theme for the Night of the Demons Saga, as the lipstick is a focal point of the fairly indistinguishable sequel.

However, in its greatest scene to date, the tube of lipstick finds a way to give us something great to talk about. Linnea Quigley, in an act of pure possession I’m sure, begins to decorate her entire upper half with the tube and then disposes of it in a manner most interesting. She seals the cap, and carefully, without hesitation, inserts the lipstick into her body through her nipple. I want you all to carefully reread that last sentence. Particularly the part about INSERTING LIPSTICK INTO HER NIPPLE. If that doesn’t make this movie $100 million nothing will.

Back on topic now, the body count rises (sort of) and so do the gratuitous tit shots. But hey, if you read the last paragraph you were very well aware of the use of boobs in this movie. Finally, after all the carnage has passed, we reprise with an elderly couple who hasn’t been seen but in a bit part at the beginning of the film. I bring this up because the ending is of completely no consequence without the rest of the film and chances are you would have missed it if you didn’t know it was there. The old man in the sequence mentioned in his early scene that he was going to be putting razor blades into apples and give them to children who were trick or treating. We have all heard this old legend, and time and time again, it never ceases to amaze me that people actually bought the idea. Still, the old man sits now stewing about the fact that he didn’t get rid of even one measly apple. His carefree wife joins him at the table and gives him his breakfast. It isn’t until he has taken about a half a dozen bites that he realize that she took those dangerous apples and made them into his breakfast. His throat is then slashed from within several times for having presumably swallowed many razor blades. Think about it. How the hell do you not notice sharp, jagged, metal slicing through your system? Are you Bart Simpson? This little bit of closure to the grand story is so devoid of intelligence that it has officially and completely invalidated the Theory of Relativity.

Member of the crew who should have been fired: Writer Joe Augustyn, who made the intelligent statement of the century by writing it in his script that these demons could close doors with great success, yet their opening prowess was less than worthy. Seriously, they can’t turn a fucking handle. Does becoming a demon automatically create a rift in the bare basics of hand/eye coordination? Did you even think about that when you penned this flick? Or the sequels? (Read: yes, there were two sequels, each of which had the same exact plot as their predecessor. Perhaps the writing wasn’t so bad after all.)

The EFF One-Line Synopsis: “Party turns ugly.”

Best Name in the Cast: Linnea Quigley. In the event you are wondering why this spacey blonde makes the cut, then you obviously don’t watch enough horror flicks. Quigley is a, no, strike that, the perennial Scream Queen of the 1980’s. She was already a Troma Team mainstay during this time period, making appearances in several Toxie-related schlock masterpieces. And if that wasn’t enough, Quigley was also well remembered for her role as Trash in Return of the Living Dead (1985), in which she is turned into a flesh-eating nuisance following a lengthy nude scene. And I mean entirely nude throughout 45 minutes of the film. Awesome.

Quote of the Film:
“Bodacious Boobs, Sis!” -Judy’s Little Brother, spying on his (facepalm) older sister.

Final Thoughts: This is by no means the world’s greatest horror flick, and it isn’t all that scary, either. Hell, I can’t even remember why it gave me chills when I was about eight years old, but perhaps that’s simply because I was eight. Still, despite its seemingly all-too-obvious flaws and foibles, this film is a piece of nostalgic horror schlock and a chapter in the book of B-Movie Paradise. If nothing else, watch the opening credits and the final five minutes to get the full effect of a simpler time in horror cinema. Why do most scary movies flop at the box office these days? Because they’re not allowed to be intentionally silly like this one was. And for that goofiness alone, Night of the Demons holds a bodacious place in my heart, likely right next to the lipstick.