Maniac Cop (1988) [31 Days of Gore]

This is it, folks: the year’s final 31 Days of Gore post. It’ll be eleven whole months until the next one.

I hadn’t seen Maniac Cop in so long I forgot how good it is. With a screenplay by the legendary Larry Cohen, who wrote some seriously offbeat genre flicks (It’s Alive, God Told Me To, Black Caesar, and The Stuff), the pacing of the movie is extraordinary. The movie opens with a kill, does a normal scene, shows another kill, normal scene, kill, normal scene, etc, etc. The titular maniac cop snags himself more victims in the first twenty minutes than the average horror movie dispatches in its entirety. Sometimes you see where an individual scene is going—and sometimes you’re right—but overall this is one surprising cookie.

Imagine you’re being chased by a couple of thugs through the dark, curiously empty streets of New York City. Then you spot a rather large cop (Robert Z’Dar) standing in the shadows of a nearby park and race to him for assistance. When you get close, however, you realize something is wrong and, before you have the time to recoil, he wraps his hand around your throat with superhuman strength and wrings your neck. It’s a creepy premise, the implications of which are properly explored through news segments which reflect the city’s growing fear and distrust toward police officers. Most genre films wouldn’t bother going so deep.

Now check out this cast of players: Robert Z’Dar, Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Lauren Landon, William Smith, and Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree. As far as exploitation movies go, can it get any better? It rarely does. I love this cast.

Tom Atkins plays a straight-shooter lieutenant who can’t stand the thought of some bozo walking around in a police uniform and killing people. When Bruce Campbell’s character, also a cop, is implicated as the serial killer, Atkins is the only one who stops to consider it could be a setup. It turns out the real maniac cop knows exactly how to set someone up because he has inside information. And he has that inside information because he really was a cop at one time in his life, which leads to the whodunnit elements of the film.

Naturally, when the maniac cop shows up to the police station to tie up loose ends, Bruce Campbell escapes custody with the help of his mistress, fellow cop Lauren Landon. The two lovers then team up with Atkins to work out the killer’s identity and clear Campbell’s name.

I love this movie. It turns out Nicholas Winding Refn, the director of Drive and Bronson, is also a big fan. He and director William Lustig are co-producing a remake. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a remake in my life.

Cameos include Jake LaMotta (Lustig’s uncle) and Sam Raimi.

Note: I was planning to feature the entire trilogy, but I think I’ll be getting the sequels on Blu-Ray to review at a later date. Right now, the streaming options available to me aren’t even in widescreen. 

Would You Rather (2012) [31 Days of Gore]

Would You Rather looks like the kind of movie I usually despise. But recently, Bloody Disgusting’s YouTube channel give it a recommendation so I decided to check it out because I haven’t covered many newer movies this year. I must say I’m impressed.

Iris (Brittany Snow) is a wholesome young blonde who’s had to put her life on hold in order to care for her sick brother. One day she meets the super rich Shepard Lambrick (Jeffery Combs) who invites her and a handful of others to a mysterious dinner party. Iris reluctantly accepts, but when she makes it known she’s a vegetarian, Lambrick offers her a deal: if she eats all the meat on her plate, he’ll give her ten thousand dollars, cash. When Lambrick notices another dinner guest (John Heard) hasn’t touched his wine because he’s sixteen years sober, the charitable host offers the ex-alcoholic a similarly fucked up deal.

And that’s only the appetizer. What the guests soon learn is they’ve been invited to play a twisted version of Would You Rather, which goes something like this: Would you rather stab the person next to you in the leg, or give the person at the end of the table three lashes with a whip? The problem with most movies with built-in candy bar scenes is they find trouble topping the previous ones. Would You Rather manages to top everything that came before it time after time. This is one diabolically entertaining movie with a lot of gruesome surprises. The pleasure Lambrick gets from orchestrating the game is some darkly funny stuff to see.

Brittany Snow’s presence makes you suspect this is yet another mindless horror movie aimed solely at the kind of teens who’ve never seen a legitimate horror movie in their lives, but it feels more like a Twilight Zone episode or a Richard Matheson story. I think I would have preferred it more if the dinner guests were voluntarily playing the sick games, rather than forced by gunpoint, but that’s a superficial complaint. (I mean, come on, isn’t it sicker when good people do fucked up stuff when they don’t actually have to?)

I made three predictions during the movie and two of them (including the end) turned out to be right. Even so, I hesitate to call this movie predictable. “Predictable” suggests I disliked the movie, yet I really, really liked it. No, I don’t think it’s predictable, just that it’s a certain kind of a story that has to go the way it did. The more I think about Would You Rather, the more I like it.

Tourist Trap (1979) [31 Days of Gore]

Strap in, folks. It’s another “who needs bathing suits for swimming?” movie which somehow manages to show absolutely no nudity whatsoever. I mean, why even have that scene at all if everybody’s just going to be bobbing lazily up to their necks? No playful splashing? No horsing around? ZZZzzz….

The teens of Tourist Trap, which I happen to think is a great generic title for a horror movie, go skinny dipping after their Volkswagen Type 181 breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Chuck Connors, playing an overall-wearing good ol’ boy, happens upon the kids and warns them about the moccasins who nest in the very water they’re swimming in. Cut to: everybody fully clothed and miraculously dry, and Connors offers them a ride to his home.

His home, as it turns out, is a “museum” full of all manner of junk. The overwhelming majority of his collection seems to be mannequins, which the movie calls “wax statues,” but nope, they’re everyday department store mannequins. One of the mannequins looks suspiciously like his dead wife and its “wax” feels a lot like flesh. You can see where this is going, yes?

I’m usually careful with spoilers, but it’s hard to extend that rule to anything that’s so shamelessly derivative of Psycho. Tourist Trap thinks it’s pulling a fast one on us, but anyone who’s ever seen a movie will know, almost immediately, that Chuck Connors is the killer. It’s as obvious as a punch to the face.

Yes, The Rifleman is the killer. The movie initially wants us to believe the strange happenings are caused by Chuck Connors’ unseen brother, but we all know better. My fucking dog probably called it, too. I don’t know if 80s filmmakers really thought audiences were this stupid or if they just didn’t care. (Considering the film’s director ain’t no slouch, I’m wondering if it’s somehow supposed to be satire? No, that’s stretching far.) The “big reveal” is so obvious, in fact, they don’t even save it for the end, but give it to us two-thirds of the way into the movie.

Then it actually becomes a fun little movie. You get to see Chuck Connors dressed as a wonderfully bizarre mannequin, playing with dolls, and chewing the scenery in the best way possible. The only reason I can’t give it a recommendation is it’s too little too late and only leaves you wanting more. They had such a great gag here, but more or less squandered it for an hour of the ninety-minute running time. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.

The Ice Cream Man (1995) [31 Days of Gore]

Oh boy, I think I’ve hit my limit. I’ve blown my fucking mind out on bad movies this year. Here’s one so egregious I don’t even want to talk about it. This is the second time I’ve seen it, too. Somehow I remember it being kind of fun. Maybe decent horror was just hard to come by back then. I don’t know.

In its 85-minute running time there are about fifty seconds of awesome. The rest is slow, plodding, and poorly shot, not to mention completely illogical. It’s like one of those “rad” (bad) children films that frequently turned up in video stores in the early-to-mid 90s, only there’s a little bit of gore, which feels like it was only filmed to ensure a journalist from Fangoria showed up to take publicity photos. (The severed heads, by the way, look amazing. Everything else… not so much.)

Clint Howard plays the titular ice cream man. When his character was a kid, he witnessed the so-called Ice Cream King get gunned down during a drive-by shooting. His concerned mother found the boy sitting on the curb, eating an ice cream cone, mere inches from the dead body. The shocked child glanced up at her and asked, “Who’s going to bring me ice cream, Mommy?”

That part was kind of funny, actually. That’s the problem, though: a lot of the movie is kind of funny. It’s just not funny enough. It would have been a lot funnier if they weren’t trying so hard. Those are the best kinds of bad movies: the ones that are genuinely trying to be a serious movie, but totally fuck it up, and Ice Cream Man is nowhere near that. This would have been a lot more watchable, too, if most of the killings didn’t take place off camera. Despite the subject matter, the movie’s so tame I don’t think they would have had to edit much out of it to show it on the USA network twenty years ago.

Anyway, now that he’s all grown up the ice cream man kills children, grinds them up, and mixes their remains into the ice cream he sells around town. Three neighborhood kids uncover his evil deeds and take matters into their own hands. Armed with giant model rockets, they decide to finish the ice cream man, once and for all.

Fuck, haven’t we seen this movie too many times before? It’s the same ol’ shit, only a decade too late and a decade too stale.

So the main character, whose name is Tuna, is supposed to be fat kid. Instead of casting a tubby kid, the filmmakers cast a skinny kid and stuffed his hooded shirts (remember, it was the 90s) with what appears to be an ordinary bed pillow. The entire effort seems pointless until the supposed payoff at the end of the film: once the ice cream man is dead, Tuna no longer eats so much ice cream and therefor loses all his weight.

Excellent character arc, that.

The Exorcist III: Legion (1990) [31 Days of Gore]

I have a confession to make: I never really liked The Exorcist. There, I said it. I know I should like The Exorcist, because it has some wonderful effects and it freaks out overly religious people, but it’s just one of those things, I guess. I’ve seen it twice (the third time, with the unnecessary CGI, doesn’t count) and both times I felt a little let down despite appreciating almost all aspects of it. I’ve been meaning to watch it again for a long time now, but just haven’t made the time for it.

The Exorcist III, on the other hand, came on TV when I was home sick from school one day and I unexpectedly enjoyed the hell out of it. In the years since I’ve always wanted to see it again. Cue Scream Factory’s re-release of the movie, which is hands down the best way to see it. I watched it last night long after I should have been in bed and it’s easily one of the finest horror films ever made. The new sound mix alone is better than most of the stuff I reviewed this month.

You likely won’t find a review with fewer spoilers than this one. The trailers give away one of the film’s biggest surprises and I bet all the reviews do, too. If, by some chance, you haven’t seen any of the marketing material, I won’t spoil the great mid-movie reveal about the man in Cell 11, who’s played by Brad Dourif. Dourif’s performance here is really something special. I’ve seen hundreds of actors go for the same kind of batty creepiness, but few have been as believable as him.

You can tell writer William Peter Blatty, who directed the film himself, wanted to protect the secret as well, because the moment it’s revealed is done with so much care. Blatty apparently battled the studio on a lot of unnecessary changes. For one, he didn’t even want the word “Exorcist” in the title because the second one, which he had nothing to do with, was so terrible. This one isn’t a cash-grab by any means. It’s an organic continuation of the original story.

George C. Scott plays William Kinderman, a grizzled police lieutenant whose best friend was Father Karras, the very priest who threw himself out the window at the end of the original film. (Kinderman was also in the original Exorcist film, briefly portrayed by Lee J. Cobb.) He’s investigating the murder of a twelve year old boy who was crucified and decapitated on a pair of rowboat oars. The killing, it turns out, fits the MO of the so-called Gemini Killer who was shot dead by police around the same time little Regan was exorcised. What does this have to do with anything? Well, it’s a stretch, but the film is so well made it’s not hard to believe within the context of the story.

I love horror-comedies, but a movie that’s legitimately creepy is such a rare thing. If you ever wanted to know why I tend to hate the horror movies of the 2000s, it’s because they were made with the exact opposite sentiments of movies like this. If you liked Jacob’s Ladder and Angel Heart, you’re probably going to like this one, too.

Splinter (2008) [31 Days of Gore]

Splinter stars a gifted young actress by the name of Jill Wagner, one of the bro-dudes from Road Trip, and a guy who kind of looks like Robert Carlyle. In the cold opening, a gas station attendant is attacked by what appears to be roadkill (A rat? A possum? A rabid squirrel?). Then we’re introduced to an attractive young couple who suck at camping and then a not-so attractive couple who are running from the law. Their paths cross in the middle of nowhere and the fugitives take the would-be campers hostage. But when the getaway car overheats, the four of them have to make a pit stop at the very gas station we saw in the beginning of the movie, which seems abandoned.

And that’s when things get predictably weird… just a little too predictable, in fact, which is one of the film’s few flaws. The writers even employ a nifty biologist character who makes huge leaps of logic and spouts a ton of technobabble nonsense. They don’t explain the origin of the monster, so why did they feel the need to explain how it functions on a cellular level? All I’m saying is I could have used a little more peer-reviewed research.

I certainly wouldn’t say this is a cheap-looking film, but it’s definitely the poor man’s version of Splice. Taking cues from John Carpenter’s The Thing, the creature effects are fantastic, if not fleeting, while the acting is, overall, much better than most of the stuff I feature here. In fact, my only complaint about the acting is it breaks down whenever the performers interact with the special effects. I think that’s more of a critique on the direction, than anything, as I have a hunch the actors had nothing physical to react to. Beyond that, the acting is phenomenal as far as horror movies go.

I don’t want to spoil what, exactly, is attacking the characters, but it’s sufficiently hideous and makes the title relevant. The thing traps the characters inside the gas station, which forces them to resort to desperate measures, some of which reminded me of the creative solutions in Tremors and Tremors 2. Unfortunately some of these solutions are a little too goofy for the film’s otherwise serious tone. I’m also reminded of The Blob and Jurassic Park, but I’ll let you discover why on your own.

I tend to dislike movies which try too hard to be creepy. This one certainly tries, but not too hard. It’s a good one for daytime viewing… not too loud, not too spacey, and not too boring. The sweet spot.

Madman (1982) [31 Days of Gore]

There’s something comfortably familiar about old slasher films. Even when they suck, which they do ninety percent of the time, they make me feel like a kid again. I guess it’s the collector’s mentality: the thrill is in the hunt. A day at the flea market isn’t wasted even if you come home empty handed. If there wasn’t so much crap to wade through, the gems wouldn’t be as exciting to find.

This one came out around the time of The Burning, which is among my favorite slasher films. I don’t think there was ever a bigger year for the genre than ’82. Madman has every ingredient it needs and absolutely nothing it doesn’t. It’s as basic as these kind of movies get.

The film opens on a spooky campfire story, which serves as the backstory for the ax-wielding psychopath. We’ve got a group of campers consisting of teens and small children. The children’s plot armor will prove extraordinary even though, in real life, they would be the easiest victims to dispatch. The teens are played by adult actors, who will be easy pickin’s for the titular madman. As usual we’ll have to endure one plodding POV shot after another. As usual, the beater pickup truck will never, ever start when the characters need it to the most, and the most gratuitous scenes involve people ambling about the woods and cabins aimlessly.

The star of Madman is Gaylen Ross, who was also the star of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. She’s more than adequate in the role, which isn’t particularly demanding, but she looks uncomfortable appearing nude in an awkward sex scene. As soon as the sex is over, her boyfriend goes wandering the woods and gets himself killed. Naturally, another character goes looking for him and also gets killed—off screen, of course.

A little bit later, Ross’s supposedly spunky friend pokes her head into a tent where two of their friends are getting freaky. It’s a missed opportunity that the killer didn’t separate her head from her body so that it could tumble into the tent onto her horny friends. In another scene, the killer is hot on the trail of a young woman who takes the time to empty the contents of a refrigerator so she can hide in it. The killer is so close when she does this, he’s in the same shot… it’s the worst attempt to hide ever.

The expected elements, tropes, clichés—whatever you prefer to call them—are all present. Madman hits its notes with such soulless precision it’s artless and robotic. As a carbon copy, it’s pitch perfect. As a watchable movie, it’s terrible. Ross appeared in Creepshow the same year and never acted again. I’m going to go ahead and blame Madman for that.

It turns out there’s a documentary about Madman. Early on, those involved admit the production was just a stepping stone to the art film they really wanted to make, which indicates just how lazy they were. How a documentary got made about this forgettable film, I’ll never know.

Near Dark (1987) [31 Days of Gore]

Director Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days, The Hurt Locker) was married to James Cameron around the time she made Near Dark, which is probably why three of his preferred actors appear here: Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein. At one point the main character even walks past a theater which is playing Aliens. Meanwhile, another Cameron staple—semi trucks—features prominently in the plot.

Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) is a good ol’ southern boy who gives a ridiculously attractive hitchhiker a ride. Her name is Mae (Jenny Wright) and the chemistry between her and Caleb is immediately apparent if not initially hormonal. Their necking quickly turns into an accidental bite on Caleb’s neck which changes him into a vampire. Then he’s thrown into Mae’s world, which involves drifting from one town after another in order to stay in a fresh supply of blood. His worried father, played by Tim Thomerson (Trancers’ Jack Death), takes it upon himself to start scouring the countryside for his missing son.

It turns out Mae belongs to a very odd group of outlaw vampires who have some pretty clever (and pretty gruesome) methods of acquiring fresh blood. Homer looks like a young boy yet Jesse (Henriksen) calls him “old man.” Then there’s Goldstein’s Diamondback, who’s kind of the irresponsible mother of the group, and Paxton’s Severen might be the weirdest of the bunch. At one point Caleb asks Henriksen’s character how old he is and the response is: “I fought for the south.” Following a perfectly calculated beat, he adds with a smile, “We lost.”

I’m not even sure what that means, but I love it.

Due to Caleb’s reluctance to kill, he’s going to have to work hard to win acceptance with this batch of psychopaths. Time and time again they give him the opportunity to prove himself. Time and time again he lets them down. Cowboys just ain’t cut out to be vampires.

Near Dark is no more a horror movie than it is a western, providing the themes and violence we expect from both. The title doesn’t just describe the tone, but the cinematography as well. You’re going to have a very bad time trying to watch this one in a bright room. The picture below is about as bright as the movie ever gets.

My favorite thing about Near Dark is how cool it is. It’s not much without its style, but that style happens to be great, especially coming from a director who was as young as Bigelow was at the time. There’s a punk rock energy about it and a downright contempt for convention. It’s probably the best of the 80s vampire flicks. It may even be the best movie I featured for 31 Days of Gore this year.

Recently, someone thought it was a good idea to market the film to the Twilight crowd now (see: Exhibit A). That’s like cramming a long list of keyword spam into a Craigslist listing—you’re wasting everyone’s time unless you’re specifically targeting your market. Yes, it has vampire romance, but the similarities end there.

Stephen King’s Desperation (2006) [31 Days of Gore]

“You have the right to remain silent,” the big cop said in his robot’s voice. “If you do not choose to remain silent, anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. I’m going to kill you. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand your rights as I have explained them to you?”

It’s been almost twenty years since I read Desperation and its parallel-universe “sequel,” The Regulators, yet I remember a lot about them. Why ABC didn’t make the obvious decision—simultaneously producing two television adaptations with the same cast—is beyond me. According to Wikipedia, the network practically sabotaged the movie by airing it at the same time as American Idol.

Still, I try to look past the limitations of a medium, but made-for-TV movies are so quickly produced you’d have to be blind not to see the problems. What ends up on the screen often feels like a first rehearsal and Desperation is no exception. At one point you can plainly see the squib jacket on an actor’s back after his character’s shot in rapid succession. I can forgive the camera operators for not noticing it on the set and I’ll assume the editors were under similar time constraints. What really hurts is that shot could have been easily trimmed to hide the flub without screwing up the continuity of the scene because the very next shot is in another location anyway.

What Desperation gets right is the casting of Ron Perlman and Tom Skerrit as Collie Entragian and John Edward Marinville. Although Perlman looks nothing like the Entragian I imagined (wasn’t he way bigger in the book?), he organically slips the “Tak!” catchphrase into his dialog with uncanny timing. Meanwhile Skerrit looks pretty much what I thought Marinville would look like, which makes him the least distracting of the cast. The best acting is when these two actors share screen time.

The movie is surprisingly chilling at times, but that has more to do with King’s involvement than anything else. There’s just something inherently scary about a psychotic cop framing unsuspecting travelers on a rarely traveled road in the desert. The helplessness and the isolation comes through despite Standards’ best efforts to censor the hell out of it.

I really like the director and I obviously admire the writer (King also wrote the teleplay), but I don’t have much more to say about it. The end product is so mediocre there’s no point dwelling on it. Read the book instead and watch the movie in twenty years so you can remind yourself why the book was so damn good. In the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed The Regulators will get produced for a Netflix miniseries.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie!

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988) [31 Days of Gore]

Full Moon and Charles Band generated a lot of hype to promote Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama coming to Blu-Ray. I don’t blame them. This is a cinematic relic which deserves to be preserved on the very best home video formats. You know, for historic purposes… and because of boobies. 
I hate to fault such an admirable effort at unadulterated sleaze, but it takes damn near forever for the film to get around to introducing its villain: an imp who’s been trapped in a bowling trophy like a genie in a lamp—twenty-eight minutes, in fact. Once the genie’s out, you’ll wish he’d stayed there because the terrible puppet soaks up valuable screen time. Screen time which could have been better spent on naked bodies. Not that I mean to insinuate there’s a disappointing lack thereof.
What there is a disappointing lack of is blood and gore, horror and comedy, and most of all coherence. At least two of the kills involve shoving someone’s head into something (and out of sight of the camera). One of the babes is ripped in two without spilling a single drop of blood. Somewhere along the way, the imp magically transforms another sorority babe into Bride of Frankenstein. 
It all begins when a trio of nerds and a pair of freshmen girls are trapped in a bowling alley as part of a college prank. There they meet a tough-as-nails biker babe who’s ripping off the cash registers and arcade machines. Unfortunately for them, they accidentally release the imp, who offers to grant each of them a wish. As we’ve learned in countless Leprechaun and Wishmaster movies, you should really be careful what you wish for.

The nicest thing I can say about Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is it has some of the finest T&A the 80s ever produced. Porky’s and Meatballs have nothing on this film, because those films didn’t star Linnea Quigley, Robin Stille, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer. I’m not being hyperbolic here: these are four of the best scream queens who ever lived. And although the film is reluctant to show any of its violence, I’m reminded of these words from Revenge of the Nerds: “We’ve got bush!” Lots and lots and lots of bush.

I’ve mentioned three Animal House ripoffs because Sorority Babes is in the same category. For reference, director David DeCoteau got his start with Roger Corman and later made what could very well be the hardest softcore porno ever featured on 90s Cinemax: the mostly lost, uncut version of Beach Babes from Beyond. Later in his career he defied convention by making the men the eye candy in his films. As one writer put it, “Although at first glance it’s not clear exactly who these films are aimed at—gay men? teenage girls? desperate housewives?—what is clear is that DeCoteau, who is actually a pretty talented filmmaker, knows exactly what he’s doing.” I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.
The thing about Sorority Babes is this: it is what it is. I actually prefer it to Porky’s and Meatballs and, hell, I might even like it a little better than Nerds. Then again, I adore 80s scream queens, so maybe I’m not the most objective person to review this.