Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Beast Within (1982)

The Beast Within
The Beast Within is an absolute classic of the horror genre, regardless of its status as a "drive-in" or "Grindhouse" or "Midnite" movie. This film has never had the recognition it deserves. It is atmospheric, edgy, and extremely well acted. The teenager undergoes a gradual transformation into a giant man-cicada swamp creature, but about 85 percent of the film focuses on his mental change. It is not a cheesy swamp monster physical transformation, but it is more like in the film "Christine" where you watch this ordinary teenager slowly degenerate into a blood-crazed loony.
His change is kind of a metaphor for puberty, much the way the "Ginger Snaps" films depicted turning into a werewolf as a metaphor for a girl going through puberty. What carries the film is the boy's acting ability as he grows creepier and creepier. Ronny Cox (the guitar playing city slicker from Deliverance) is great as his concerned father coping with the fact that his son may actually be the offspring of a savage beast-man. And L.Q. Jones is another recognizable face, reprising his role as a rural southern sheriff.
Another quality of the film is the way the story deals with the way some small towns have a guilty secret. Some vile crime against humanity lurks in their past. This is a quiet place in the middle of nowhere, yet something horrible happened there 17 years earlier that they just want to forget. Then along comes this boy...
I love movies about small towns, and I especially love films about the rural American South. There is an anthropological edge to this movie. It is almost as if the film, made in 1982, is telling America to wake up. The time of the sleepy, innocent farming community is over. Or so it may seem for so many small communities in the South. A violent incident reminds us there is a “beast” within us all, and 17 years later everybody remembers. The film uses the metaphor of the 17-year cycle of the cicada bug. This is probably the only film ever made about a man turning into a giant cicada monster. It is actually a good animal to choose if you are going to make a monster movie about teenagers, as many generation gaps are 17 years wide. It is an approximate timeline from human birth to sexual maturity.
In 1982, 17 years ago would have been the year 1965, which may have a turbulent time in parts of the south. There was the civil rights movement and all the violent resistance to it throughout the south, not to mention the birth of a counterculture that still isn't completely accepted. A town can erupt in violence and paranoia, and later people feel ashamed for having acted a certain way or still harbor resentments towards their neighbors. They just want to forget and go back to being a sleepy little farm town.
The climax of the film features quite incredible creature effects that will satisfy the gorehounds and probably nauseate the film critics. This film is an absolute must-see for horror fans, especially if you enjoy similar films like those of David Cronenberg and Stephen King. I would love to see a special edition release of this film with extras and more info about this lesser known horror gem.

Horror Hospital (1973)

This film is absolutely great! It's kind of like a 90 minute R-rated episode of The 70s TV show "The Monkees" if it was produced by Hammer films. There are lots of cheap thrills and sick jokes, sex, nudity, violence, drug abuse, midgets, and of course a good amount of blood and guts.
One of the first scenes in the movie introduces our hero, a Mick Jagger look-alike living in the excesses of rock and roll decadence. He's had too much to drink and sniffs too much coke and starts a fight. He gets beat up and his band members are fed up with him so he agrees to go somewhere to chill out and get his head together. There was this one scene where the guy booking his trip to this "health spa" (the "Horror Hospital" of the title), and the guy is slyly eyeing his crotch and the bulge in his super tight 70s pants. By this time I was cackling with laughter at the plentiful tasteless humor, and this is all just within the first 15 minutes of the film!
This is a great, great 70s tongue in cheek horror movie. It's basically a satire of the UK rock and roll lifestyle done as a horror comedy, much the same way as the films Rock n' Roll Nightmare and Hard Rock Zombies are horror movie satires of the American hair-metal music scene of 1980s. There is a playful nature to the movie that makes it stand up to repeat viewing. The film is also quite atmospheric with some great visuals and scenery of old England. I especially recommend this movie to those who enjoyed the Hammer horror films of the 70s, or any of the horror films starring Christopher Lee and/or Peter Cushing. If you like this movie, another one I would recommend is Dr. Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, that one is even trashier!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cookers (2001)

It’s about time somebody made a horror movie about meth heads. Hector and his girl manufacture methamphetamine for a living. They take up residence in an abandoned house in the middle of the deep woods and set up a little meth lab. As they descend into amphetamine psychosis, it seems the house may be haunted. Or are they just getting too high on their own supply?
This shot-on-video thriller is an absorbing journey into the paranoia of hardcore drug bingeing. Low on budget, but high on atmosphere, Cookers is a typical episode in the life of heavy speed freaks, but with a spooky, supernatural horror edge to it. At times it gave me goose bumps.
It is more of a suspense film and psychological horror film than a blood and guts type movie. There are hardly any special effects, just three very talented new actors running around geeked out on meth in a big old house. The video footage has a soft, muted look to it, but the dialogue and soundtrack are well done with good sound quality. The almost constant indoor setting gave the movie an eerie look. Inside a house with no electricity, the characters blacked out the windows so nobody can see their meth lab. It is easy to convey the sense of isolation and the feeling these people must have of being in their own little drugged up world where anything could happen.

Automaton Transfusion (2007)

Automaton Transfusion is great. I don’t know what the title means. It’s a straight-forward zombie movie. The zombies are the fast moving kind that can think and run, like in the Dawn of the Dead remake, and some of them even seem a little stronger than an average living person.
Like the zombies, the movie is very fast paced, and the run time is only 75 minutes. It wastes no time in getting the mayhem started up. The opening scene features an extremely bloody, painful looking zombie attack to kick off the apocalypse. The characters are just high school kids, so there’s the usual mild drama nonsense going on.
But the real highlight of the film is the gore, glorious gore! The film is a throwback to the days of the Italian zombie gore films. There are several scenes lifted right from some of those movies that well versed fans will recognize immediately. There’s the usual eye gouging, face ripping, and intestine pulling. Blood spurts every which way, and there are several scenes of entire rooms full of zombies feasting on cadavers. The living dead eat their victims’ flesh right down to the bone. Don’t watch this one hungry, it’ll make your mouth water!
Besides being an excellent rehash of zombie films past, there are also some pretty cool original scenes. The best was when our heroes charge full speed at a bloodthirsty mob of undead. Armed with only a few meager weapons such as a shotgun, a baseball bat, a fire axe, and best of all, a chainsaw, an insane frenzy of ultra-violence. The camera work is deliberately jumpy, and at times I even thought my DVD was skipping. It is a clever way of disguising the lack of professionally choreographed action sequences.
Overall, Automaton Transfusion is a fast paced zombie adventure. Most Gore hounds will be delighted by it if they can suspend their critical eye. And even if they don’t like it very much, it’s still only about 10 minutes longer than a TV episode, so they really won’t be wasting much of their evening if they watch it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Mutilator (1985)

An odd blend of campy college kid humor, 80s pop, and typical low budget horror acting and screen writing combine with extreme gore and violence, and some eerie settings to make a pretty good slasher movie. The film opens with a stupid little kid whose Dad should have taught him a few gun safety lessons. He accidentally shoots and kills his mom with a huge M-1 rifle, in a scene that is both disturbing and hilarious in the way it is executed.
The rest of the film plays out like a standard slasher movie. The boy who shot his mom is all grown up and at college, and is a relatively healthy, mentally sound young adult. Him and five of his friends go to his dad’s beach house on the North Carolina coast for some fall break party time, and the usual underage drinking and premarital sex ensues. For whatever reason, however, the boy’s dad has chosen to finally flip out after all these years. He is a hunting and fishing enthusiast and kills of the kids one by one, using a variety of edged and pointed weapons. There’s a pretty disgusting involving a gaffing hook, the kind used for marlin and tuna fishing. There is also a battle-axe, a machete, and a power saw. But I don’t want to give the whole thing away. You’ll have to watch the film yourself, if you can ever find a copy.
It was released on VHS by Vestron Video, but never released on DVD in North America. The PAL Region 0 disc is uncut, as is the the Vestron Video release. This film is probably available on bootleg DVD. Code Red DVD has announced plans to give it a deluxe DVD release in NTSC format, probably with a good transfer and some extra features.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Scalps (1983)

Top to Bottom: 1. Scalps is filled with strange images, often appearing as short flashes in the minds eye of the characters that add to the creepy atmosphere.
2. A scan of the UK VHS cover.
3. Scalps was originally released with The Slayer (1982) on a double feature VHS tape by Continental Video.
4. The uncut DVD by Retromedia features some colorful cover art

Cheese-meister Fred Olen Ray directed this odd supernatural slasher flick, with some pretty graphic gore and an incredibly eerie atmosphere. Of all the Fred Olen Ray films I’ve seen, and I’ve seen more than a few, I think this is by far his best one. It’s also one of his first. He pretty much went rapidly downhill after this, and descended into the world of b-grade sci-fi and softcore skin flicks. It’s a shame, although it’s pretty obvious why. Hollywood doesn’t reward art (sigh). Skin flicks make more money.
I once read a review of this film in which the viewer compared the first five minutes of this film to a documentary about the highways of America. There are long shots of the lonely roads that cut through the barren desert wastelands of the Southwestern United States accompanied by eerie music and sounds, similar to the kind heard in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The 16mm film used gives it a very soft look which helps set an atmosphere of gloom and dread. It’s almost easy to imagine you are watching some deranged killers home movies.
This film has a real mean streak to it, something that isn’t seen in most 80s horror films, especially those made by guys like Fred Olen Ray. It doesn’t play around when it gets violent. It’s one of those rare 80s amateur horror films that isn’t completely laughable. Sure, there are gorier and more action-packed films to be seen, but I would highly recommend this one to those looking for a slight change of pace from the usual 80s campy horror fare.