31 Days of Gore: Knock Knock (2015)

It’s October. Time to talk horror. This year I’m reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.
chocolate with… sprinkles!

Keanu Reeves plays a forty-something architect whose family has gone on vacation without him so that he can focus on a project for his job. Later that night, a couple of young women show up on his doorstep, seduce him, then refuse to leave his home. When he threatens to call the cops, they giggle and say they’ve got a good story to tell: “You want to check her ID?” asks one of the women. “She’s too young to have one.”

From that point forward, Keanu’s character is forced to take part in their sick games. After tying him to a bed, one of the women wears his daughter’s clothes and rapes him while the other woman videotapes. At various points throughout the movie, Keanu gets the opportunity to make a run for it, but he chooses not to, hoping until the bitter end that he’ll find some way to fix this problem and keep his wife from finding out about his infidelities.

I’d like to point out that I’m a fan of Keanu Reeves, who the internet seems to think is a joke. Not many movie stars would do a picture like this. Hell, most stars would have run the other way when offered The Matrix, especially after getting burned by the Johnny Mnemonic movie. Judging by some of the roles he’s chosen to do, he’s a genuine fan of genre films. Knock Knock is obviously not a movie he did just for the paycheck—the entire film budget was less than most movie star’s salaries. It’s a brave move to take a role like this and I’m sure his agent tried to talk him out of doing it.

Knock Knock is probably Eli Roth’s best-looking film, but it’s also the least entertaining. Maybe I would have liked it more if I had seen Death Game, which Roth apparently wanted to remake, but I missed the old Roth—the fun Roth—and he doesn’t get up to his old tricks until right before the credits roll. There’s actually a very funny bit towards the end involving Facebook. Had the rest of the movie been like that, I probably would have been able to recommend it.

My biggest complaint is the movie doesn’t seem to have a message. When you subject viewers to this kind of humorless violence, you should either have a reason or make it entertaining. This is like Funny Games without the point. I’ve always enjoyed Eli Roth’s films, but this one’s a misfire. It’s a shame, man. A downright shame.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

31 Days of Gore: Mark of the Devil (1970)

It’s October. Time to talk horror. This year I’m reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

this is a terrible “trailer,” but so is the rest of the promotional material

There are those who will tell you Mark of the Devil is a proto-torture film along the lines of Saw and Hostel. I’ve even heard it compared to films like Cannibal Holocaust and Blood Feast. Those people are wrong. This is no more a simple torture film than Passion of the Christ. It’s probably a lot less exploitative, too.

Mark of the Devil was certainly marketed as an exploitation film. The producers even drummed up publicity by having theaters pass out barf bags before showings. It was undeniably a cash-in on Vincent Price’s Witchfinder General (a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm), which came out two years prior. Unfortunately, I think too many reviewers are remembering the hokey way Mark of the Devil was promoted rather than the film itself. Here’s a movie that deserves a lot more credit than its reputation gets.

At the beginning of the movie, a man who’s been accused of witchcraft has his fingers chopped off before he’s tarred and feathered for the villagers’ amusement. Moments later, two more accused witches are burned on the pyre. The blasé man responsible for hunting witches in the village is known as “the Albino,” and business is booming until a traveling witch hunter arrives with his eager protege, played by Udo Kier.

Olivera Vuco and Udo Kier

The first time we see Kier’s character is when he humiliates the Albino for falsely accusing a woman (Olivera Vuco) of witchcraft simply because she won’t have sex with him. Naturally, Kier falls in love with the woman, which leads to one of the film’s major conflicts: Kier’s mentor also accuses this woman of witchcraft and temporarily convinces Kier he’s going against God if he doesn’t do the same. While Vuco’s official indictment is prepared, which will make her torture legal, the other accused witches are burned, stretched, and mutilated in various ways until they fabricate confessions which name future victims.

This is a film which is full of memorable villains and beautiful antagonists. To see Kier this young (one of his first roles) clenches the fact he was born to be a movie star. I’m very surprised some of the supporting women in Mark of the Devil didn’t go on to make dozens and dozens of movies like this. The photography is also masterful in its use of contrast, juxtaposing beautiful faces and images of horrific violence. If anything is a surefire sign this isn’t a typical exploitation movie, it’s the music, which isn’t the ominously droning theme you’d expect from a movie with a title like “Mark of the Devil,” but something softer, akin to Theme from a Summer Place. It’s clear the music is meant to underline the tragic love story, not the senseless murders and torture.

If you ever thought I was too insensitive to the subjects exploited by the films featured on this blog, A) you’re mistaken and B) here’s one that automatically makes my blood boil: witch-hunting, both literally and figuratively, not to mention the kind of mob mentalities that fuel these senseless panics.

A lot of films about literal witch-hunting are metaphors for modern issues. Mark of the Devil, though, is literally about witch-hunting, which was a long chapter in human history which should never be forgotten, much less watered down by panning the camera away from the unspeakable violence “good people” committed in the name of dearly held beliefs. Despite any historical inaccuracies or technical problems it may have, Mark of the Devil is one of the most effective films about any subject, period.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

31 Days of Gore: Deranged (1974)

It’s October. Time to talk horror. This year I’m reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

Oh yay, yet another movie inspired by Ed Gein.

There’s a good chance I’ve seen Deranged before and completely forgot it. That’s because it’s completely forgettable despite decent acting, better-than-average camerawork (for a movie like this), and a wonderfully odd séance, which involves a lonely widow pretending she’s possessed by the spirit of her dead husband; his spirit, the woman claims, wants Cobb to “make her feel like a woman again.”

That’s the best part in the entire movie.

The movie opens with the following card: “The motion picture you are about to see is absolutely true.” I’ve never believed a movie when it went out of its way to tell me it was a true story, but I believe it even less when it feels the need to add the word “absolutely.” For added realism, the movie is hosted, 70s documentary style, by a man who claims he’s a real life newspaper columnist.

Uh-huh. Sure.

The newsman’s asides give the film a hokey Faces of Death feel, which is fun, but the filmmakers completely forget this character by the time they get to the second half, which drags like a tortoise in molasses. The first half of the film is actually promising. It’s a quietly bizarre affair that somehow makes a sympathetic character out of Erza Cobb, the film’s serial killer. Unfortunately, the only reason I didn’t fall asleep during Deranged’s second half is because I was hopped up on coffee.

Roberts Blossom, who’s probably best known as the sweet old man in Home Alone, plays Cobb the serial killer. In an introductory scene it’s made clear he loves his mother very much, so much so he’s trying to feed her pea soup even though her nose is bleeding all over it. When she dies he’s left heartbroken. A year later, he gets the brilliant idea to dig her up and take her back home. When the town sheriff pulls Cobb over with his mother in the passenger seat, the policeman mistakes the smell of a rotting corpse for alcohol on Cobb’s breath… and lets Cobb drive home anyway.

“Do you know what the real meaning of Christmas is, Kevin?”

All is well for Cobb now that Mom’s back at home—other than the fact her skin is deteriorating. Well, no matter. He’ll just borrow skin from other women to keep her fresh. It’s not long until Cobb himself is wearing the skin of his victims, baiting far more women than he really needs to complete his restoration project.

Like I said, I really enjoyed the first half of Deranged, but the second half is stretching the taffy a little too thin. I like good horror movies and I like bad ones, but mediocre is unforgivable with material as inherently deranged as this.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

31 Days of Gore: Manborg (2013)

It’s October. Time to talk horror. This year I’m reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

Here’s a movie which was reportedly made for a little over $700 ($1,000 CAD according to Wikipedia). Yes, it’s probably the cheapest looking movie I’ve reviewed all month, but it certainly doesn’t look like they only spent $700 on it. I would have guessed the budget was at least twice that.

Manborg’s influences include Star Wars, Robocop, Shadowrun, Mortal Kombat, DOOM, Hellraiser, and The Running Man, and that’s only to name a few. The cyberpunk costumes are made out of spray-painted duct tape, plumbing parts, and a handful of communications electronics the producers likely found lying around thrift stores. The hovering robot which patrols the holding cells is obviously a modified action figure, animated with stop-motion, and the set designs utilize everything from CGI to cardboard and glue.

And guess what. Manborg is probably one of the funnest movies I’ve watched this year.

I’ve heard of Astron-6, the small production company behind Manborg and the Troma-distributed Father’s Day, but this is the first movie I’ve seen from them. It reminds me of another ultra low budget spectacle called The Taint, which indicates a movement of poor moviegoers who are likely pissed off studios no longer make entertainment for adults.

Manborg opens with a hilariously cheap-looking war between humanity and Count Draculon, who’s leading an army of mutated (or something) Nazis straight out of hell. The character who will later be resurrected into Manborg witnesses his brother’s death mere moments before his own. When he wakes up, now a cyborg, he and a ragtag crew of misfits are forced to fight in a gladiator arena for hell’s amusement.

The supporting characters include a Liu Kang knockoff, whose voice is dubbed by an obviously caucasian actor (a nice touch), a female kung-fu assassin, and an illiterate pseudo-Australian with a penchant for revolvers. There’s a little too much mugging and winking for the camera, but that’s a minor complaint because most of the movie is wisely deadpanned, which makes it feel a bit more authentic.

Hollywood isn’t making movies like this. The exclusion of production value is a small price to play for something so incredibly kick-ass.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

31 Days of Gore: Terrorvision (1986)

It’s October. Time to talk horror. This year I’m reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

With a title like Terrorvision, a movie can really go either way, but you know it won’t be mediocre. The very first shot is a close-up of the monster, which reminds me equally of Audrey II and the one-eyed creature from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. What we have here is a bonafide monster movie on our hands.

Reminiscent of Night of the Creeps, an alien civilization disposes of something which, naturally, finds its way to Earth. This is the prologue before the opening credits, which are accompanied by an 80s pop song designed specifically for the movie. It’s not a particularly good song, but it hints Terrorvision is the kind of movie which doesn’t take itself too seriously. The filmmakers obviously think you might as well go big or go home.

And they go big in such a way it’s almost exhausting, but rarely boring. The acting is so over-the-top it goes well past the point of being funny, becomes downright stupid (and sometimes obnoxious), and somehow gets funny again. Its sitcom-quality sets frame the actors—many of who you’ll recognize—in a way it’s perfectly clear this is a boiling hot piss-take on suburban life in the eighties.

The Puttermans have just installed a satellite dish on the edge of their property. Home systems back then were the size of SETI dishes and were usually found in between above-ground pools and broken trampolines. Grampa thinks it’s a radar dish; when the family channel-surfs to an old war movie, he shouts, “Troop movements!” and tightens his grip on the loaded gun which never leaves his side.

The Puttermans’ little boy idolizes his nutty grandfather while the daughter is an MTV- and Cindy Lauper-obsessed mall punk. Mr. Putterman drives a Porche with the vanity plate MR. COOL and enthusiastically pursues the swinger lifestyle with his vain and conceited wife. While the couple is preparing to wife-swap, Mr. Putterman puts on his disco-flavored gold chains and complains that his daughter’s new boyfriend “looks ridiculous.”

Funny stuff.

What the Puttermans don’t know is a monster, which is later described as an energy being, has made the new TV system its new home. Grampa and the little boy are the first to discover the terror in the television and waste no time arming themselves with the old man’s collection of military-grade weapons, which are stockpiled in his vault-like bunker beneath a confederate flag. The monster begins picking victims off one by one and the movie doesn’t go amiss until the extended parody of E.T. Don’t worry, though: it won’t be long until the monster flips out and starts killing again.

Terrorvision is a refreshingly fast-paced horror film which currently scores a 0% on the Rotten Tomatoes. Sure, it’s stupid, but it’s not stupid, if you know what I mean. I would guess very few directors could succeed at making something so oddball even if they tried—and most wouldn’t want to. This movie is just too damn weird not to enjoy.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

31 Days of Gore: Tremors 5 (2015)

It’s October. Time to talk horror. This year I’m reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

First we lost Kevin Bacon. Then we lost Fred Ward. Then I stopped giving a shit. Fast forward several years later and Netflix recommends I watch Tremors 5. I thought, Hey, why not?

I’ll tell you why not: Jamie Kennedy. As soon as I saw him put on a helmet so that his stunt double could ride around the opening credits on a motorcycle for five minutes I almost turned the fucking movie off. Here’s an actor who sucks so bad, instead of trying to make better movies, he made a documentary to openly attack his critics. What a fucking crybaby.

You’re probably thinking: Surely he’s an expendable character, right? Surely no one thought they could replace Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward’s chemistry with Michael Gross and Jamie Kennedy! Nope, Kennedy really is the supporting actor. Here’s a character who says “dome” because he thinks it makes him cooler than just saying “head.” The rest of the time you won’t know if he’s parodying famous movie lines or outright ripping them off. Either way it’s not very funny.

Neither is the addition of piss humor. This movie seems to think piss is hilarious. Getting pissed on, drinking piss, singing deliriously while spreading piss all over your body. I guess these things could be funny, but they’re not here. And while Michael Gross still seems genuine as Burt, the filmmakers think they can make us laugh simply by having him do little more than speak in military jargon. Are words like “rendezvous” really that funny? (Let me suggest Nick Offerman for the inevitable reboot. While we’re dream-casting, let’s have Kevin Bacon move to Ward’s part. I’ve heard Bacon wants to be involved with a new Tremors anyway, so why not? It couldn’t be any worse than this one.)

At best the movie is kind of entertaining and at worst it isn’t bad enough to turn off. Considering it’s free for anyone who has Netflix’s streaming plan, the price is just about right. Never mind the setups early on are so obvious you’ll figure out almost exactly how they’ll be used in the resolution (“Hey, look! A phosphorous grenade!”), or that it’s all too easy to guess which characters will live and which ones will die. And never mind there are scenes ripped straight out of Jurassic Park or the fact that guns don’t seem to work against the monsters, but a couple of arrows do.

Honestly, I think the franchise derailed with the addition of shriekers and ass-blasters. I get that using graboids again would have made the sequels exactly like the original, and some of the solutions to the shriekers’ thermal vision were fun in Tremors 2, but you just can’t generate suspense when your antagonists are literally farting fire. And speaking of those creative solutions we liked so much (pole-vaulting to a truck, for one) there’s nothing as fun as that in this movie.

I will say Tremors 5 probably has the best CGI I’ve ever seen in a straight-to-video movie and the camerawork is pretty impressive, too. Considering some of the other stuff I’ve recommended this month, I have a feeling I’m being a little too hard on it. I honestly don’t know why I expected more. If you liked the last couple of films, you might have a good time with this one. At least until they reveal…

Eh, I won’t spoil it. Best to let you throw popcorn at your TV, too.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

31 Days of Gore: Lifeforce (1985)

It’s October. Time to talk horror. This year I’m reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

What’s strange about Lifeforce is I enjoyed the movie, but have little desire to talk about it this month. Maybe it doesn’t belong in 31 Days of Gore despite the fact it certainly has some gory stuff in it and a ton of nudity. The thing is, none of that stuff is presented in an exploitative way. It may be even be the most tasteful, least gratuitous movie I’ve featured this month.

I know, I’m slipping. I’ll try to do better tomorrow.

Sexuality aside, Lifeforce has more in common with modern blockbusters than it does with the horror film the trailers seemed to advertise. Which is probably why it bombed: the people it was intended for didn’t know it was made for them and the people it was marketed to were probably expecting something a lot different from the guy who brought us Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It feels like a big budget alien invasion story with various shades of science fiction and horror.

This is serious stuff. And it’s effective, too. The acting is good. The special effects are great. The Blu-Ray edition was worth the wait—and I did wait because the Netflix copy I got about a year ago was in 4:3 ratio and the Scream Factory edition is going for around fifty bucks on eBay. If the plot made just a little bit more sense (or any at all) it might have been considered a classic by now. It’s just not very compelling when all the aliens want from us is mystical blue stuff that might as well be fairy dust.

A mission to Haley’s Comet discovers a gigantic derelict spaceship (150 miles long) hidden in the corona. Once inside, the astronauts are shocked to discover two men and a woman preserved in see-through capsules. After transferring their bodies to their own ship, the human aliens are brought back to Earth for experimentation. Just as they begin to dissect the female specimen, she wakes up and sucks a scientist’s life force right out of his body, leaving him a decayed shell of his former self. The beautiful woman escapes the facility in the nude, like that’s not the kind of APB every cop in the country would scramble after.

While the main characters are trying to track the woman down, the corpse of the man she drained unexpectedly comes back to life and steals the life force of another victim. The scientists later discover that people who’ve been drained in such a manner always come back—via awesome animatronic effects—and if they, too, don’t drain others of their life force they’ll explode. It’s essentially a zombie movie in which the infected don’t crave brains and flesh, but the spiritual mumbo jumbo of others. London is the center of this pandemic so it won’t be long until the military quarantines it and prepares to wipe it off the map with nuclear weapons. The aliens, however, have other plans for the inhabitants.

Like I said, it’s a serious film. It’s not even laughable in its attempts to be a serious film. Tobe Hooper has made something unique here, which makes it hurt all the more that he’s still making movies like Djinn, which looks goddamned terrible. Considering movies are rarely made for adults anymore (I guess that’s what TV’s for these days), it’s hard to imagine a time when movies with extroverted sexuality could get marketed to summer crowds. And if you ever wanted to see Patrick Stewart get possessed by an extremely feminine creature and subsequently make out with another man, here’s the movie for you.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.