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.

Wishmaster sequels (1999-2002) [31 Days of Gore]

I wanted to link my review of Wes Craven’s Wishmaster only to discover I never actually wrote it. It’s a shame because I rewatched it as recently as a couple years ago. In summary, it was a movie I really admired despite its many faults. If you enjoyed that movie, but passed on the sequels, this post is for you.

Don’t say I never did nothin’ for ya.

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies

I avoided Wishmaster 2 for over a decade because everyone said it was awful. Even mega fans of the original said it sucked. In fact, the film currently holds a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. The director himself admitted he hasn’t seen it since he made it.

These are bad signs for the franchise.

The opening credits, which didn’t get Craven’s seal of approval this time around, make it clear Wishmaster 2 isn’t going to have any horror icons making cameos like the original did. Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Robert LaSardo, and Bokeem Woodbine from Fargo’s second season make substantial appearances, but beyond that there’s rarely a moment of “Hey, it’s that guy!” Fortunately, Andrew Divoff returns as the evil Djinn. His performance isn’t something I can gloss over. It’s the entire reason the picture works.

Sometimes good acting and compelling acting aren’t one in the same. Even though I wouldn’t call Divoff a good actor here (he’s been good in movies which didn’t have “Wishmaster” in the title), there’s something interesting about him—something playfully sadistic and bizarre. You can almost hear the director calling, “Okay Andrew, be menacing here,” before Divoff puts on a mischievous face which looks like he secretly farted. Whether or not this facet of his performance is intentional, it works. He’s a demon so why shouldn’t his expressions be completely alien to humans? I imagine it’s something Crispin Glover would do in a similar role.

We’re going to see a lot of the Djinn this time around. If you disliked that Hellraiser: Bloodline made Pinhead a little too pedestrian, you’re probably going to hate this movie because the Djinn doesn’t lurk about the shadows anymore. But if you want to see Ernest Goes to Jail starring an evil genie as opposed to a clumsy idiot, you’re going to get your money’s worth. (I’m going to be very upset if they never make a Wishmaster in Space. Seriously. I want that movie so bad it hurts.)

In the first film, whose tagline was, “Be careful what you wish for,” the Djinn had twisted interpretations of his victim’s wishes. This time around we quickly learn that the rules regarding the Djinn’s powers are murky. When a police officer tells him to “freeze,” the Djinn encases him in a block of ice. This would have been clever if the character had said “I wish I was cool” or something like that, but whatever. I’ll take what I can get. More often than not the setups to these ridiculous payoffs are poorly worded from the get-go.

I do have to say my favorite wish fulfillment is when LaSardo’s character wishes his lawyer would “go fuck himself.” The anticipation of that moment is supremely satisfying. Whether or not the payoff itself is any good is debatable so I won’t ruin it for you.

the biggest stars in the entire movie

There’s also a scene in which the Djinn is having a dull conversation, which is unexpectedly interrupted when the heroine pops out of nowhere and shoots at him. It’s one of the most awkward and hilarious things I’ve seen in a long time. Anyone who’s ever gotten a case of the giggles during a movie like this should be able to relate to the fun of that non sequitur moment.

I know what you’re thinking: it sounds like I actually enjoyed this movie. Well, I hope this doesn’t ruin my street cred’, but I did. I’m sure you can say this of any film, but I was in the right frame of mind. Even though the practical effects can’t hold a candle to the original, and it’s severely lacking in the blood department, it’s an oddly satisfying film. And not only because it’s so honest and pure in the misguided era that gave Jennifer Love Hewitt leading roles.

So yeah, if there’s ever a Kickstarter for Wishmaster vs. Leprechaun, I’d fund that shit in a heartbeat.

Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell

First off, there are no ‘Gates of Hell’ and nobody goes beyond them. Knowing nothing more than the erroneous title, I was expecting someone to, like, end up in the Djinn’s domain or something, but I guess they already did that in the previous installment.

I wasn’t aware Wishmaster 3 didn’t have Andrew Divoff in it. I probably would’ve skipped this one had I known that beforehand. For some reason I thought Bruce Payne might be in this one, but I was probably thinking about Warlock 3.

Look, I’m talking about other movies here because I want to do anything but talk about this one. I’m sighing as I type this. Really.

The previous film opened with a shootout. It wasn’t spectacular by any means, but it was entertaining enough. Wishmaster 3 opens with a drawn-out introduction to some of the tamest college co-eds I’ve ever seen. If these kids were any more wholesome, they’d be organizing church activities. And I’ve got a hunch the casting director chose his talent from the pages of a hairstyle book at Supercuts. Although the series’ acting was never its strong suit, it gets worse. Much worse.

this is the villain (I’m not even kidding)

At the end of Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, the heroine hid Pinhead’s puzzle box deep in freshly poured concrete. As temporary as that solution turned out to be, the heroine of Wishmaster 2 must have done an even lousier job of hiding the Djinn’s summoning stone. (Maybe it’s supposed to be a different jewel and a different Djinn entirely, which could explain Divoff’s absence. Either way, the new actor sucks and the special effects take yet another step in the wrong direction.) Without explanation the jewel ends up in the hands of a college professor so bland I couldn’t wait to see him die.

When the demon finally gets around to killing the professor off, in what proves to be the dumbest wish fulfillment to date, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief because you think you won’t have to see that actor’s stupid face anymore. Unfortunately, the Djinn decides to wear the character’s skin as his own (so that the makeup crew no longer has to do anything), a creative decision which makes it clear the filmmakers weren’t even trying to make a likable movie. Imagine Simon Pegg without any interesting characteristics whatsoever and you’ve got a good idea of what the villain looks like this time around.

the leads are straight out of a Stridex commercial

Wishmaster 3 kills fewer victims per hour than the previous films did per scene. You keep hearing about this big party on campus and expect the Djinn to crash it for the movie’s climax. But he never does and you end up watching the end credits with the bluest pair of balls in history. The one moment that almost redeems the entire production is the hilariously anti-climactic resolution, which reminds me of a gag from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

At this point I’m so militantly anti-Wishmaster, I have no desire (or energy) to watch the fourth film in the series. But hey, in for a penny, in for my soul, right?

Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled

I figured it was a safe bet the prophecy would go unfulfilled in this one. I was partially right.

The heroine of this film actually makes three wishes—which is further than the Djinn has ever gotten before. Unfortunately her third wish is a paradox due to the bullshit rules of the Djinn’s magic (read: lame excuses to stretch this film to feature length). We quickly learn the foretold apocalypse will be postponed once again.

I don’t know what else I was expecting. If the prophecy ever does get fulfilled, it’ll bring the kind of fire and brimstone that straight-to-video producers can’t afford. We’ve also got the same director we got last time, Chris Angel (no, not the Mindfreaker guy… at least I don’t think it is), whose climax in the previous film proved he’s not the go-to guy for an exciting ending… or an exciting anything, really. I will say this about the director: although Wishmaster 4 is more or less the same movie as Wishmaster 3, it’s a helluva lot better. I mean, it’s still not very good, but the difference is stark.

The new heroine is the girlfriend of a man who lost movement of his legs in a motorcycle accident. Three years later, the lawyer they’ve been working with surprises her with a gift: an artifact which inexplicably contains the Djinn’s summoning jewel. The Djinn, played by the same guy who played him last time, is up to the same ol’ tricks: he uses the lawyer’s form to worm his way into the main characters’ lives. There are plenty of opportunities to be clever here, but the filmmakers apparently had other plans.

a car chase so cheap, they could only afford one car

It takes twenty minutes until we see the first victim meet his demise. The special effects here are way more convincing (and gruesome) than anything in the previous entry, but nothing after the first kill hits the same mark. I’m happy to say there are a lot more unintentionally hilarious moments (an unexpected decapitation is one, a stupidly gentle car crash is another, but just wait until you see the camera linger on the phoniest sword in movie history). The increased cheese factor makes this one a lot more watchable than its predecessor.

I think the biggest missed opportunity will be apparent to anyone: a bartender casually remarks he would give his soul “just to be a pimple on her ass” in regards to an attractive stripper. Naturally, the Djinn grants him this wish, but we never actually see it happen. Remember the human face on the meatball in Nightmare on Elm Street 4? Wouldn’t it have been great if they had showed a human-faced pimple sprout on the woman’s ass? Even better, I would have loved to see her go twirling down the pole, intercut with reaction shots of the pimple-face drawing toward the stage which would ultimately squish him.

the “soul pizza” scene from Nightmare on Elm Street 4

What we have here is a director whose intentions are admirable: you can tell by the amount of drama he shoehorned into it that he wanted a more mature horror movie. The problem is parts three and four were filmed back-to-back while he was trying to make Titanic on a soap opera budget. We ultimately got two films for the price of one and it really shows. This one was a lot easier to get through than the last, but I can’t recommend it to anyone but masochists.

Brainscan (1994) [31 Days of Gore]

I was unreasonably stoked to see Brainscan back in ’94. Not only was it hyped to the moon and back, even Entertainment Tonight was pushing it as some kind of historic cross between iconic horror and modern technology. I wasn’t disappointed, either. The teenage characters were addicted to bloody movies, the sets were dressed with piles of Fangoria, and there was just enough violence to keep its intended audience—teenagers—entertained.

Terminator 2’s Edward Furlong plays Michael, the kind of cynical outsider who’d probably be suspected of shooting up his school today. Moodiness aside, eleven-year-old me really identified with Michael. I still want to live in his hyper-90s, pseudo-cyberpunk bedroom, playing CD-ROMs all day while using a voice-activated interface that puts Siri to shame. Why would a teenager need his own refrigerator, especially when his mother’s dead and his father’s never home? Because fuck the rest of the house, that’s why. That attic bedroom is the tits and I could live in it forever.

Although Michael used to love horror, he’s become exceedingly blasé about it. He turns cynical whenever video game companies oversell their “terrifying experiences,” and he talks about his favorite movies with all the enthusiasm of someone doing house chores. By the time he gets his hands on a copy of the mysterious video game Brainscan, he rolls his eyes like the angsty little piece of shit he is. The game ends up blowing his mind (never mind the seizure it somehow caused him before he actually played it) and he raves about it to his metalhead friend (his only friend) on the way to school the next day.

So in a plot twist no one didn’t expect, Brainscan’s depictions of murder seem real because they are. Michael finds out he unwittingly killed a man and has to spend the rest of the movie covering up his crime. Each cover-up requires an additional cover-up and so on and so on. I’m afraid I’m making this sound cleverer than it is, but it’s not not clever, either. Just average clever.

That’s when the Trickster enters the picture, played by T. Ryder Smith. If you don’t recognize the name, that’s okay. The film’s marketing department wanted you to believe this guy was a big deal. The impish Trickster is a cross between Freddy Krueger and an obnoxious MTV veejay. Smith, who was previously a stage actor, doesn’t exactly suck in the role, but he’s probably miscast. No amount of guitar riffs and scenery-chewing antics will convince you this guy’s comfortable in the role of a bad ass, nor will you believe he’s eating the raw chicken as advertised in that Entertainment Tonight promo.

The film’s really punching above its weight when it folds in Frank Langella as a surprisingly likable detective. Whereas all the other adults are either missing in action or portrayed as clueless squares (Parents just don’t understand, right kids?), Langella gives it his all and it really shows. Other portions of the movie are surprisingly mature, too, which is why I give it a cautious recommendation.

And here’s why you should be cautious: whenever Brainscan gets odd—and not in an entertaining, so bad it’s good kind of way—you just have to remind yourself: “Because the nineties.” The oddest thing about Brainscan is probably the romantic subplot. The filmmakers go for a Judy Blume approach to sexuality, but come off as wildly misguided… and creepy. See, Michael secretly video tapes his high school crush whenever she gets undressed in her bedroom window. At first you think the film means to damn his voyeuristic proclivities as a despicable character flaw, but later the filmmakers make it clear it’s supposed to be cute. I guess if you’re as hopelessly vapid as these teens are, it would be kind of cute, but that’s missing the point.

Despite the film’s many misses, it gets a lot of points for effort. Yes, they were being just a little too derivative of Nightmare on Elm Street and yes, there are so many holes in the plot they begin forming clover shapes. Yet where so many other “serious” horror films miss the mark entirely, Brainscan is almost there. I really enjoyed it at times and managed to keep my snickering to a minimum. It could very well be the fulcrum point between 80s slasher flicks and the following era’s abundance of Scream knock-offs. That alone is interesting for historical purposes.

Bad Biology (2008) [31 Days of Gore]

Director Frank Henenlotter insists he makes exploitation films, not horror. The line is blurry in Basket Case and Brain Damage, but Frankenhooker made the distinction a little bit clearer. With Bad Biology, Henenlotter goes all the way. This is technically not a horror movie, but it should certainly appeal to the fans of the genre.

The paradox of Bad Biology is A) you should see it without knowing anything about it and B) you really ought to know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s easily the most offensive movie I’ve featured this month. The most offensive thing for gross-out veterans will be how the lighting and the camerawork take on a soap opera quality while the abundant voiceovers sound rushed. For most viewers, however, the offending material will probably be the rampant psychosexuality and violence toward mutant babies.

The main character, Jennifer, is a sex addict with an abnormal vagina. Not only is she helplessly compelled to sleep with strangers every night, she frequently murders them before giving birth to a baby two hours after its conception. You read that right.

Then there’s this guy nicknamed Batz on account of him being bat-shit insane. His penis was accidentally severed at birth and although the doctors managed to reattach it, it never quite worked right again. In an effort to rejuvenate his beloved member, he began experimenting with steroids and other drugs. Now his penis has developed a drug deficiency and, inexplicably, a mind of its own.

You remember the phallic rocket gag in the Austin Powers movies? There’s a scene kind of like that near the end of Bad Biology. To say more would give it away, but it’s much funnier because it doesn’t require cheap cameos to sell it (only cheap effects). Just when you think the sequence is over, it starts all over again, and the sheer stupidity of it makes you snicker. A lot of R-rated Hollywood comedies certainly try to be as outlandish as Bad Biology, but Henenlotter does it effortlessly.

Henenlotter’s done this shot from baskets, zippers, and now the holiest of holies

Obviously Jennifer and Batz are made for each other, but they don’t even meet until the second half of the movie. That may sound like the movie plods, but it doesn’t. It’s actually one of the best modern exploitation films I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the shittiest-looking. No, it’s not quite as shitty-looking as yesterday’s Video Violence, but movies like that get a pass because a bonafide film shouldn’t look as bad as Bad Biology does. Thankfully, the offensiveness of the cinematography all but disappears by the end of the movie.

I can’t think of many genuine exploitation movies made in the 21st century. Bad Biology gets a ton of points for pulling that off. Despite the gore and the bizarre subject matter, it’s a cute little picture. Now it’s time for Basket Case 4, Frank. We all want to see it.

Video Violence (1987) [31 Days of Gore]

Here’s what you need to know: a New Yorker opens a video store in a small town. One day a homemade snuff film finds its way in the overnight return box. Naturally, the cops don’t believe his “crazy story” because otherwise the movie would be over as soon as they do their job. Or maybe they’re in on it… maybe. (I’m not just being flippant here. It really is kind of hard to tell.)
I began snickering almost as soon as Video Violence began. In the opening scene, a couple of store clerks wait for an unsuspecting shopper to go into the dressing room before bursting in and beating her to death with a baseball bat. That, of course, isn’t the funny part. What’s funny is these aren’t actors, just people who the director probably talked into being in his little horror movie. I imagine the writing process was like this: “Hey, I know a guy who owns a grocery store, so let’s set a scene there.”

In 1985, United Home Video gave us Blood Cult, which was billed as the first straight-to-video horror movie. Whether or not that claim is true is debatable, but I cherish the VHS copy I found in the clearance bin because it was shot in and around my hometown. (United’s follow-up, The Ripper, has scenes shot about two blocks from my current address.) Video Violence references Blood Cult twice and there’s something oddly pointed about it.

According to Wikipedia, Video Violence is an angry response to the cheap horror films which were infiltrating the newly created video market at the time. The director, who worked in a video store, claims he was disheartened by the fact so many people were into these types of movies. So what did he do as a response? He created one of the sickest of the bunch. At least one section is as uncomfortably brutal as the scene in A Clockwork Orange, complete with the instigators using scissors to reveal the victim’s nipples.
So it’s remarkable that out of Blood Cult, The Ripper, and Redneck Zombies, Video Violence is easily the most watchable. The other movies were boring more often than not, but even though it’s longer, Video Violence has that certain undefinable trait found in Neil Breen films and The Room. The actors probably have no business being in a movie, but what they lack in talent they make up for with charm. And imagine driving through a small town and seeing this guy on the sidewalk:
I always loved the idea of everyday people picking up a camera and making a movie. Youtube has kind of ruined the novelty of it, but back then it was great to think an impromptu horror movie was the talk of a small town in a Waiting for Guffman kind of way. Video Violence drags a little towards the end, but atones for its slip-up soon enough.