The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: H.P. Lovecraft’s Monster Portal (dir by Matthew B.C.)

After the mysterious disappearance of her father, Celine (Sian Altman) travels to his estate with her boyfriend, Rich (Louis James) and their friends, April (Sarah Alexandra Marks) and Nick (George Nettleton).  Celine wants to deal with her memories and figure out what led to her father disappearing.  Rich wants to help her.  Nick, meanwhile, just wants to get drunk.  April just wants to be anywhere but near Nick.  It’s a bit of a dysfunctional group.  Personally, I probably would have left Nick behind but I guess the hope was that Nick would lighten the mood whenever things started to get too heavy.

Upon arriving at the estate, they notice a few weird things.  For instance, the housekeeper (Judy Tcherniak) has a habit of chanting and she keeps talking about the old ones.  There are dead rabbits all over the place.  The housekeeper says that the cat must have killed them but there doesn’t seem to be cat anywhere nearby and, as Rich quickly notices, it looks more likely that the rabbits were murdered as a sort of sacrifice.  There are strange books and paintings to be found all over the house and there are black-robed cultists who only seem to come out at night.  And, of course, there’s the portal in the back yard, which leads to another dimension but also from which spring giant, sacrifice-demanding demons.  One should probably be careful about building one of those.  I mean, sure, a gazebo looks nice but is it worth losing your soul over?  It’s something to consider.

You can probably guess where H.P. Lovecraft’s Monster Portal is heading.  Just the appearance of H.P. Lovecraft’s name in the title should tell you all that you need to know.  (The film is also known simply as The Offering, which again kind of gives away the plot.)  To the film’s credit, it actually does make proper and respectful use of the Cthulhu mythos and, even more importantly, it frequently captures the feel of a H.P. Lovecraft short story.  Lovecraft often wrote about people who were investigating the mysterious sins of their family and, of course, he was never hesitant to toss in a robed cultist or two.  Even more importantly, the film captures Lovecraft’s view of humanity as just being an insignificant pawn in the grand scheme of things.  There have been a lot of films that have claimed Lovecraft as an inspiration but Monster Portal is one of the few to really convince you that it was made by fans of his work.

The film’s low budget is obvious in nearly every frame but the monsters themselves are actually pretty impressive and director Matthew B.C. does a good job creating a properly ominous atmosphere.  The estate itself looks great.  The acting is a bit inconsistent but, for the most part, Sian Altman and Sarah Alexandra Marks are sympathetic in the lead roles and Judy Tcherniak goes so over-the-top as the housekeeper that she’s actually a lot of fun to watch.  Monster Portal is an enjoyable tribute to Lovecraft’s work.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman (dir by Daniel Farrands)

The 2021 film, Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman, is yet another film about the life and crimes of America’s first celebrity serial killer, Ted Bundy.

In this particular film, Bundy is played as being a handsome nonentity by Chad Michael Murray.  The film follows Bundy as he moves from Seattle to Utah to Colorado and eventually to Florida, leaving a path of death in his wake.  Investigating his crimes are Seattle Detective Kathleen McChesney (Holland Roden) and FBI profiler Robert Ressler (Jake Hays).  McChesney not only has to track down Bundy but she also has to deal with her sexist police chief and his idiot son, both of whom think that Bundy’s victims are to blame.

Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman is the latest true crime horror film to be directed by Daniel Farrands.  The frustrating thing about Farrands is that, if you can overlook the subject matter of his recent films, he’s actually a talented horror director who knows how to create suspense and who can be counted on to come up with at least one effective jump scare in all of his films.  That said, he keeps making films that are almost impossible to defend because they exploit real-life tragedy.  Farrands’s best film, The Haunting of Sharon Tate, worked because of Hilary Duff’s committed performance in the title role and the fact that the film itself was fully on Tate’s side.  However, Farrands’s The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson was a tacky piece of exploitation that, despite Farrands’s strong visuals, appeared to have little compassion for the woman whose murder served as the film’s inspiration.

Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman is neither as effective as The Haunting of Sharon Tate nor as bad as The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.  For the most part, the film plays loose with the facts of the case.  At one point, McChesney even shows up at one of Bundy’s crime scenes and takes a shot at him as he flees.  (Tarantino also played around with history in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood but, by allowing Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio to kill the members of the Mason family, he also allowed their victims to live.  Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman, on the other hand, is willing to change history to allow McChesney to arrive at the crime scene but it’s not willing to change history to allow any of Bundy’s victims to survive.  It’s hard not to feel that the film would have benefitted from following Tarantino’s approach and allowing Bundy’s victims to beat him to death.)  There are a few odd scenes in which Bundy is showing fondling several mannequins.  The scenes appear to pay homage to William Lustig’s Maniac but again, it doesn’t seem to be based on anything the actual Bundy did.  The film hints at the intriguing idea of Ted Bundy being America’s first celebrity serial killer but it doesn’t really follow up on it.  The whole thing feels rushed and rather icky.  It certainly doesn’t add any insight into Bundy or killers in general.

That said, our longtime readers know that I hate to end on a totally negative note so I will say that the film uses its low budget to its advantage.  The sparse sets and the small cast give the film something of a surreal feel, with Bundy as an evil specter who randomly shows up to haunt the dreams of a nation.  Lin Shaye and Diane Franklin appear in small roles.  Franklin plays a distraught mom who asks McChesney to kill Bundy rather than arrest him.  Shaye plays Bundy’s overprotective mother and gives a nicely creepy performance.  As I said earlier, it’s not so much that the film is badly made as the subject matter is so icky and the script is so bereft of any new insight that most viewers will wonder why the film needed to be made at all.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Bunker Game (dir by Robert Zazzara)

The Bunker Game, which made its debut on Shudder earlier this year, opens with what appears to be a bit of alternate history worldmaking.   The viewer watches a black-and-white documentary that presents a world in which the Nazis conquered Europe during World War II but, ten years after Germany’s victory, the United States dropped an atomic bomb.  As a result, Europe is now an atomic wasteland.  A handful of survivors managed to find shelter in Italy, hiding out and forming a new society in an underground bunker that was built by Mussolini in the 30s.  The underground society is an authoritarian one, where mad scientists experiment on the citizens and storm troopers seem to be around every corner.  However, there is a small rebellion brewing….

Sounds potentially interesting, right?  Well, don’t get too attached to the alternative history spin because, within the first few minutes of the film, it’s revealed that the people in the bunker aren’t actually citizens of an authoritarian state and, while the Bunker is indeed real, the rest of Europe is just fine.  It turns out that documentary was just a part of an elaborate and very expensive game.  Instead of being the last refuge of the Third Reich, the Bunker is full of LARPers, people who have spent a good deal of money so that they can spend a week pretending to be …. well, Nazis.

Now again, this sounds like it could be potentially interesting.  Why would a group of people pay money in order to enter a real underground bunker and pretend to be some of the most evil people who have ever existed?  It’s an intriguing premise but, just as with the alternate history angle, don’t get to attached to it because it doesn’t take long for the film to abandon the whole LARPing plot.

Instead, unforeseen circumstances lead to the game ending early and most of the LARPers heading home. The Bunker Game proceeds to tell a fairly standard story about a handful of people who find themselves isolated in the now-deserted Bunker.  When one of their friends disappears, they split up to search for him and soon, some sort of supernatural force is killing them one-by-one.  The group is made up of identifiable types.  One person is quirky.  Another person is serious and professional.  Another is a stereotypical zoomer.  Another one is too uptight and obviously destined to go crazy before the movie is over.  For the most part, the film focuses on Laura (Gaia Weiss) and her cousin, Harry (Mark Ryder).  Harry is determined to leave the Bunker and never again deal with any LARPers.  Laura, meanwhile, finds herself strangely drawn to the Bunker, even once it becomes obvious that something is killing all of her friends.  Harry cannot understand why Laura would want to be part of the Bunker Game in the first place.  Laura cannot understand why anyone would want to live in the real world.  Most viewers will probably be able to guess where this is all going.

That said, The Bunker Game gets the job done.  The underground bunker is a wonderfully creepy setting and, even if they are playing types, the cast still does their best to bring their characters to life.  (Of course, all of them are playing characters who spent a lot of money so that they could pretend to be Nazis so, well-acted or not, most viewers will have limited sympathy for them.)  Though it’s hard not to regret that the film didn’t do more with its potentially interesting plot, director Roberto Zazzara does a good job of creating and maintaining a properly ominous atmosphere.  For what it is, The Bunker Game works well enough.  One can regret that it’s not thematically challenging while also acknowledging that, whatever flaws the narrative may have, the film still gets the job done.  Those who are just looking for a well-made horror film and who aren’t necessarily concerned with whether or not the plot makes total sense will probably enjoy The Bunker Game.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Astrologer (dir by James Glickenhaus)

Quite possibly one of the most boring film ever made, 1975’s The Astrologer tells the story of …. well, I’m not really sure what the point of it all is.

Basically, an astrologer named Alexi Abarnel (Bob Byrd) has figured how to combine the zodiac with 70s technology and, as a result, everyone’s potential for good and evil can be determined simply by typing their birthdate into a computer.  The U.S. government funds his agency, which is known as Interzod.  And let’s be honest, that does sound like the type of dumbass thing that the government would fund, especially when the Democrats are in power.

According to the stars, the second coming of Christ is only a few days away.  Alexi is convinced that he has married the woman who is destined to give birth to the Savior.  Because of this, he refuses to consummate his marriage because it’s very important that she remain a virgin.  However, he hasn’t bothered to inform her of any of this so poor Kate (Monica Tidwell) spends all of her time wondering why her husband hasn’t touched her in five years of marriage and why it’s also so important to him that she never tell anyone the actual date of her birth.

Meanwhile, a group of gypsies are traveling the country and, under the leadership of Kajerste (Mark Buntzman), they are both murdering people and also compelling people to commit suicide.  Interzod is concerned about Kajerste because of his “zodiacal” potential but Alexei is also concerned that he doesn’t have Kajerste’s exact birthdate.  But the fact that Kajerste is commanding his followers to kill people should be enough to clue Interzod into the fact that Kajerste is bad guy, regardless of whether he’s a Capricorn or an Aquarius.  Fortunately, Interzod has come up with a plan on how to kill Kajerste, one that involves implanting thoughts in his head via electrodes and tranquilizer dots.  A young congressman (Al Narcisse) wants to help because he’s so interested in Interzod’s work.  However, it turns out that the ludicrously complicated plan to take out Kajerste is …. well, ludicrously complicated.  If my tax money is going to fund Interzod, I would hope they would make better use of it.

The film’s plot definitely has the potential to be interesting but, unfortunately, The Astrologer is a very, very talky film.  It only has a 78-minute running time and the majority of the film is made up people having very long and very dry conversations about how Interzod works and why its work is important.  The problem is that there’s not really any need to convince the viewers that Interzod is important or to show us how it works.  No watching this film is going to be interested in an in-depth examination of a fictional government agency.  Everyone knows that this isn’t 60 Minutes and it’s not like the NSA has hand-picked the correspondent who is going to be reporting on them.  This is a film about spies, astrology, and a killer cult.  It should be a lot of fun but instead it’s incredibly boring.

That’s not to say that it’s a total waste.  This was James Glickenhaus’s first film as a director.  Glickenhaus went to direct some well-regarded action films in the 80s and there are a handful of isolated moments in The Astrologer where it is obvious that the film was made by someone who had a good visual eye.   A cult ceremony scene that is almost totally made up of freeze frames is nicely done.  And, as always, it’s hard not to admire the ambition of someone trying to make a metaphysical thriller and tackle the big questions of existence on a budget.

In the end, though, the most interesting thing about The Astrologer is its insistence on having its characters frequently use the term “zodiacal.”  Take a drink every time that you hear someone say, “zodiacal” but don’t drive afterwards.

6 Trailers For October 2nd, 2022

With Horrorthon underway, it’s time for a special October edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse Trailers!  Today, I bring you 6 spine-tingling trailers from the 30s and the 40s!  Say hello to old school horror at its best!

  1. Dracula (1931)

First off, here is the original trailer for the 1931 version of Dracula!  Yes, it’s a bit grainy and it’s a bit creaky and …. well, it’s old.  But listen, if I had been around in 1931 and I saw this trailer, I definitely would have been at the theater on opening day.  “Do vampires exist?” the trailer asks.  No, they do not but who knows?  Maybe the trailer would have made me question my beliefs for at least a day or two.

Apparently, the odd scene with Edward Van Sloan and the mirror was taken from an outtake.  The scene itself is not in the film and presumably, that mirror was not supposed to fall off the wall.  Also, it’s interesting to note that Dracula was not a Halloween film but instead, it was released just in time for Valentine’s Day!

2. Frankenstein (1931)

Of course, Universal followed Dracula from Frankenstein.  Again, this is one of the original trailers for the film and not a trailer that was put together and released in later years.  The trailer does, at one point, say, “It’s coming back!,” so I’m assuming that this version was sent to theaters where the film had played previously.  The trailer features a few scenes that were cut from the film and also a few alternate takes,

3. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

If you have a weak heart …. you better leave now!  The early Universal horror films are not necessarily thought of as being grindhouse films but this trailer is pure grindhouse.

4. The Wolf Man (1941)

In the 40s, Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster were joined by a werewolf named Larry.  Here is the original trailer for The Wolf Man.

5. Cat People (1943)

In 1943, horror took a new, psychological turn with the original Cat People!

6. House of Frankenstein (1944)

Finally, in 1944, all of the great monster came together.  Before The Avengers, before the Justice League, before the Snyder cut, there was the House of Frankenstein! 

Next week …. more horror trailers!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Embrace of the Vampire (dir by Anne Goursaud)

In this incredibly silly film from 1995, Martin Kemp plays The Vampire.  He doesn’t get a name but he does get a backstory.  Back when he was mortal, the Vampire pursued a secret and forbidden affair with a princess.  One day, after making love, the man who would became the Vampire was laying down next to a stream when he was approached by three naked women who proceeded to bite his neck and vampirize him.

Centuries later, the Vampire is sickly and approaching the end of his existence.  He only has three days to convince the reincarnation of his former lover to allow him to drink her blood so that he can continue to exist.  And apparently it won’t work unless she’s a virgin and unless she rejects all others and loves only him.  That sounds like a lot of rules to me and, to be honest, most of them seem to be kind of arbitrary.  Not only does The Vampire have to find the reincarnation of the Princess but he has to find her before she loses her virginity or otherwise, what?  She’ll cease to be the reincarnation?  Her love will somehow be devalued?  Her blood will no longer be worth drinking?  If this vampire has had to spend centuries only drinking blood from virgins who were in love with him, no wonder he looks so sickly.  I really think that maybe the other vampires were playing a practical joke when they explained the rules to him.  Hazing the new guy, it has consequences!

Anyway, the princess has been reincarnated as Charlotte (a young Alyssa Milano).  Fortunately, for the Vampire, Charlotte was raised in a convent and, even though she is now a college student, she’s still a virgin who blushes when she even hears the word sex.  Unfortunately, Charlotte has a boyfriend named Chris (Harrison Pruett) and she’s thinking about losing her virginity if she can convince herself that she loves Chris more than any other person that she will ever possibly meet.  So, the Vampire not only has to convince Charlotte to fall in love with him but he also has to make sure that she doesn’t have sex beforehand.  It’s going to be difficult because everyone on campus is determined to get Charlotte laid.  This has all the makings of Italian sex comedy but Embrace of the Vampire instead takes its plot very seriously.

The Vampire starts to appear in Charlotte’s dreams.  He gives her an ankh to replace the cross that Chris gave her.  Because the Ankh is a symbol of desire, just wearing it makes Charlotte more sexually aggressive and soon, she’s wearing short skirts, low-cut tops, and white stockings.  She’s also making out with Sarah (Charlotte Lewis), the photographer who lives in the dorm room next to hers.  (As played by Charlotte Lewis, Sarah is actually an interesting character and it’s a shame that the film pretty much just uses her for titillation.)  But since the Vampire’s whole thing is keeping Charlotte from losing her virginity, why would he give her something that would make her more open to sexual experiences?  Again, it’s hard not to think that the Vampire is just the victim of an elaborate practical joke.

As I said at the start of the review, Embrace of the Vampire is incredibly silly.  It’s also a film that seems to be a bit popular with viewers of a certain age.  I’m assuming that’s because of the frequent Alyssa Milano nudity and that one scene with Charlotte Lewis.  For the most part, Alyssa Milano gives a bland performance in Embrace of the Vampire.  It’s not so much that she’s bad as everything about her performance is on the surface.  One gets the feeling that there’s really not much going on with Charlotte’s inner life, both before and after she starts dreaming about The Vampire.  As The Vampire, Martin Kemp appears to be absolutely miserable.  He comes across as if he’d rather be anywhere than appearing in this movie.

That said, the film’s director got her start working with Francis Ford Coppola and she has a good eye for gothic scenery and atmosphere.  A scene where Charlotte imagines a frat party turning into a Hellish orgy is effectively done.  Jennifer Tilly has a small role as a vampire and she has said that Quentin Tarantino approached her at the Oscars to tell her that he enjoyed the movie.  It’s a silly movie (yes, third time I’ve used that specific term and that should tell you just how silly it is) but, for better or worse, it epitomizes an era.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Steele Justice (dir by Robert Boris)

“You don’t recruit him!  You unleash him!”

That’s what they say about John Steele, the man who Martin Kove plays in 1987’s Steele Justice.  John Steele served in Vietnam and he was one of the best and most fearless members of the special forces.  On the final day of the war, he was on the verge of arresting the corrupt General Kwan (Soon-Tek Oh) until Kwan suddenly announced that the war was over and the Americans were leaving.  Steele laughed, shrugged, and turned his back on Kwan and started to walk away.  Was Steele planning on just walking back to America?  Well, regardless, Kwan shot Steele and his friend in the back.  Fortunately, Steele survived.  Steele may be stupid but he’s strong.

Years later, both Steele and Kwan are now living in California.  Kwan is a prominent businessman who is also the secret leader of the Vietnamese mafia.  Naturally, his main henchman is played by Al Leong.  If Al Leong’s not working for you, are you even evil?  John Steele has not been quite as successful.  He was a cop until he got kicked off the force.  Then he got a job transporting horses across California.  Despite his cool guy name, John Steele doesn’t seem to be that good at anything that doesn’t involve killing people.

But then Kwan murders Steele’s best friend and former partner, Lee (Robert Kim).  In fact, Kawn not only murders Lee but he also kills Lee’s entire family.  The only survivor is Lee’s daughter, Cami (Jan Gan Boyd), a piano prodigy who is supposed to be 14 years old even though she’s being played by someone who is in her 20s.  Steele and Lee’s former boss, Bennett (Ronny Cox), gives Steele permission to track down the people responsible for Lee’s death.

John Steele sets out to destroy Kwan.  The film gives us a lot of reasons to be on Steele’s side but it’s hard not to notice that a lot of innocent people end up getting killed as a result of Steele’s vendetta.  Any time that Steele goes anywhere, Kwan’s people attack and a bunch of innocent bystanders get caught in the crossfire.  For example, Steele’s ex, Tracy (Sela Ward), agrees to look after Cami.  It turns out that Tracy is a music video director and, of course, she takes Cami to work with her.  The video shoot turns into a bloodbath, with even the members of the band getting gunned down.  And yet, not even Tracy seems to be particularly disturbed by that.  One might think that Tracy would at least sarcastically say something like, “Hey, John, thanks for getting the band killed before I got paid,” but no.  Tracy just kind of laughs it all off.  At no point does Steele or Bennett or really anyone seem to feel bad about all of the people who get killed as a result of the decision to unleash John Steele.  Those people had hopes and dreams too, you know.

I really like Martin Kove on Cobra Kai.  I love how his portrayal of the over-the-hill and burned-out John Kreese manages to be both intimidating and pathetic at the same time.  I’ve also seen a number of interviews with Kove, in which he’s discussed his career as an exploitation mainstay and he always comes across as being well-spoken and intelligent.  That said, Martin Kove appears to be totally lost in Steele Justice, unsure if he should be playing John Steele as a grim-faced avenger or as a quick-with-a-quip action hero.  Whenever Steele is angry, Kove looks like he’s on the verge of tears.  Whenever Steele makes a joke, Kove smiles like an overage frat boy who, while cleaning out his old storage unit, has just discovered his long lost copy of Bumfights.  It’s a confused performance but, to be honest, no one really comes out of Steele Justice looking good.  This is a film that features a lot of talented actors looking completely and totally clueless as to why they’re there.

On the plus side, Steele Justice did give this world this totally intimidating shot of Martin Kove, preparing to be get and give justice.  Recruit him?  No, just unleash him!

6 Classic Trailers For Umberto Lenzi’s Birthday

This week’s edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse trailers is dedicated to Umberto Lenzi, who was born, on this date, in 1931.  Lenzi was one of the most prolific of the Italian directors who came to prominence in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  A craftsman at heart, he directed films in every genre.  Admittedly, he was never quite the critical favorite that Argento, Margheriti, Deodato, Bava, Fulci, and Soavi were.  That’s a polite way of acknowledging that Umberto Lenzi was responsible for a few very bad films.  But he directed some good ones, as well.  Even if he’s not as acclaimed as some of his contemporaries, I think every Italian horror fan has at least one or two Lenzi films that they will happily defend to the grave.

Today, in honor of Lenzi’s life and work, here are 6 trailers for 6 Umberto Lenzi films!  These trailers, by the way, could be considered NSFW so watch them at your own discretion.

  1. Spasmo (1974)

I will be the first to admit that I have shared this trailer quite often on this site.  What can I say?  I just love the way everyone keeps going, “Spasmo!  Spamso!”  Spasmo is giallo, one with the a plot that will keep you guessing.

2. The Tough Ones (1976)

Though Lenzi is probably best-remembered for his horror films, he also directed his share of violent, French Connection-inspired crime films.  The Tough Ones is a good example.

3. From Corleone to Brooklyn (1979)

From Corleone to Brooklyn is another one of Lenzi’s crime films.  While Corleone is a town in Sicily, there’s little doubt that the main purpose of the title was to trick people into thinking that this film was somehow connected to The Godfather.

4. Eaten Alive (1980)

Eaten Alive was one of the many cannibal films that Lenzi directed.  This is actually one of the better examples of that rather icky genre.  It’s certainly superior to Lenzi’s own Cannibal Ferox.  Ivan Rassimov as Jim Jones turns out to be perfect casting.  The trailer below is actually an edited version of the original trailer.

5. Nightmare City (1980)

This was Lenzi’s best-known contribution to the zombie genre.  Uniquely, for the time, Lenzi’s zombies were fast and clever.  The film was not acclaimed when it was originally released but it has since been cited as an influence on many recent zombie films.  This is probably Lenzi’s most effective film as a director, even if the ending will probably have you rolling your eyes.

6. Nightmare Beach (1989)

Finally, in one of his final films, Lenzi brought together the spring break genre with the slasher genre.  There’s some debate over how much of this film was directed by Lenzi and how much by a mysterious figure known as Harry Kirkpatrick.  When I reviewed this film and mentioned the controversy, the film’s star, Nicolas De Toth, replied that Lenzi was definitely the one who directed.  As he would definitely be in the best position to know, that’s good enough for me!

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Blood Games (dir by Tanya Rosenberg)

First released in 1990, Blood Games opens with a birthday celebration gone terribly wrong.

Somewhere in the rural South (at least, I assume it’s meant to be the South if just because of the big Confederate flag that appears in one scene), Roy Collins (Gregory Cummings) is celebrating his birthday.  Roy’s father, Mino (Ken Carpenter), has invited Babe and the Ball Girls, a women’s softball team, to come to town to play an exhibition game against Roy and the local boys.  When Babe (Laura Albert) and her team not only beat but also thoroughly humiliate the hometown team, Mino doesn’t take it well.  He yells at Roy and Roy and his idiot friend, Holt (Don Dowe), decide to get revenge.  After Roy is killed while trying to assault one of the girls, Mino gathers all of the rednecks together and declares, “I WANT JUSTICE!”  Everyone in town grabs a shotgun, jumps in a pickup truck, and heads off in pursuit of the Babe and the Ball Girls tour bus.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the bus itself breaks down in the middle of the woods and the team is forced to hike to safety while being pursued by Mino, Holt, and all of the rest of the shotgun toting locals.  It turns out that Mino is a deadly shot with a crossbow and Holt, at times, seems to be close to indestructible.  However, it also turns out that Babe and the Ball Girls are far tougher than any of the men expected.  The film reaches its bloody conclusion at a deserted farm, complete with a dramatically-scored flashback montage that reminds us of everyone whose life was lost during Roy’s birthday weekend.

Just to state the obvious, Blood Games is just as exploitive as it sounds.  This is the type of film where, early on, the action stops so the camera can linger on Babe and the Ball Girls in the locker room after they win their game.  (George “Buck” Flower shows up as the redneck who inevitably ends up peeking in at them.)  The team’s uniforms were probably popular with the film’s target audience but short shorts and crop tops don’t really seem practical for a game that would involve sliding through the dirt and the weeds on the way to home plate and, as a Southern girl who spent many a summer in the country while growing up, I cringed a bit when I thought about all the bugs that were probably in the grass and the dirt, waiting for a chance to hop onto a bare leg.  (It didn’t help that the game was apparently just being played in some random field.)

And yet, as exploitive as many viewers will undoubtedly find Blood Games to be, the film definitely works.  The rednecks are so loathsome and they overreact so severely to losing one game to a team of girls that it’s impossible not to cheer when Babe and the Ball Girls turn the tables on their pursuers.  “Batter up!” the film’s trailer announces and it is true that the Ball Girls use the same teamwork that won them the game to survive in the wilderness.  At the same time, they also use baseball bats, ropes, guns, and anything else they can get their hands on.

The acting is a bit inconsistent, though Don Dowe and Ken Carpenter are both well-cast as the main villains.  Dowe plays Holt as being someone who knows that he’s in over his head but who is too weak-willed to go against the mob.  The fact that he’s weak makes him all the more dangerous because a weak man will do anything to try to convince others that he’s strong.  Carpenter, meanwhile, is chillingly evil as Mino, who quickly goes from mourning his son to taking a sadistic pleasure out of hunting down human beings.  The film’s real strength is to be found in Tanya Rosenberg’s direction.  Along with keeping hte movie moving at a fairly steady pace, Rosenberg also captures the atmosphere of being lost in the country in the summer.  Watching the film, you can literally feel the heat rising from the ground and hear the cicadas in the distance.

Incidentally, I convinced my sister to watch this film with me because I assumed it was a baseball movie.  However, as Erin quickly pointed out to me, it instead turned out to be a softball movie.  I have no idea what exactly the difference is between baseball and softball but Erin assures me that there is one.  Well, no matter!  Whether it was softball or baseball, Babe and the Ball Girls did a good job striking out the hometown boys.

Batter up!

The TSL’s Grindhouse: World Gone Wild (dir by Lee H. Katzin)

“World Gone Wild!?  What’s that about?”

Don’t ask me.  I just watched the movie and I’m not particularly sure what the point of it all was.  Released in 1987, World Gone Wild is one of those films that was made to capitalize on the post-apocalypse boom of the 70s and 80s.  Basically, imagine a Mad Max film that sucks and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what World Gone Wild is like.

There’s been a nuclear war.  Civilization has collapsed and now, there are just tiny outposts of humanity who are trying to survive.  It hasn’t rained in decades.  Old-timer Ethan (Bruce Dern) is in charge of a town called Lost Wells.  He remembers what rain was like and he also remembers what rock music used to sound like, too.  As for Lost Wells, it’s one of those dreary little desert communities that always tend to pop up in movies like this.  Angie (Catherine Mary Stewart) teaches the community’s children in an abandoned school bus.  They have a bunch of books on etiquette.  One little girl can recite every word ever written by Emily Post.  That gets annoying fast.  Emily Post didn’t live on a school bus in the desert.

That etiquette doesn’t do much good when it comes to protecting Lost Wells from Derek Abernathy (Adam Ant), a cult leader who dresses in all-white and who wants to take control of Lost Wells away from Ethan.  (In a somewhat clever twist, it turns out that Ethan learned how to become a cult leader by reading a book about Charles Manson.)  Knowing that the majority of the people in his town are too obsessed with Emily Post to fight off Derek and his army, Ethan recruits a group of mercenaries led by George Landon ( who is played by Michael Pare, who looks like he was absolutely miserable while shooting this movie).  George and his men agree to protect Lost Wells from Derek and, in the process, they regain some of their lost humanity and they start to believe in the possibility of rain.  Or something like that.  Fortunately, one of George’s mercenaries is played by the supercool character actor Anthony James.  He doesn’t get to do much but hey, it’s still Anthony James and Bruce Dern in the same movie!  Yay!

For a film called World Gone Wild, this is a strangely low-key affair.  Even the most unimpressive of Mad Max rip-offs will usually have an exciting car chase or two.  At the very least, there’s usually a big battle where people sacrifice their lives for the future of humanity.  In World Gone Wild, the mercenaries pretty much just go to Lost Wells and then wait for Derek to come back.  And when Derek returns, there’s a few explosions and some gunfire but that’s pretty much it.  Neither side really puts up much of a fight, which leads me to wonder if Derek really even cared about Lost Wells.

On the plus side, the film has got Bruce Dern, doing his wild-eyed old-timer bit.  That’s always fun to watch and, if nothing else, Dern appears to be having fun in this movie.  At the very least, he’s having more fun that Michael Pare and Catherine Mary Stewart, both of whom seem to spend the majority of the movie looking for a way to make a quick escape.  And I suppose the film does win some novelty points for casting Adam Ant as the main villain, even though Derek ultimately turns out to be not much of a threat.

In the end, World Gone Wild‘s greatest strength is Bruce Dern.  He’ll make you believe in the rain again.